By f. Ilias Makos
In the past, the priests subsisted on the gifts of goods by the believers, such as oil, wheat, olives. This regime, in force until the middle of the 20th century, caused both injustices and inequalities.
The priests of larger church communities did not face livelihood problems, while the priests of small communities had to subsist on the offerings of the believers to feed their families.
The 1945 law prohibited the remuneration of clerics by goods from believers by establishing a special account (“Account for the payment of clerics’ wages”).
The 1945 law provided for two funds for that special account:
(a) a special contribution of all parish churches of 25% (and from 1968 to 35%) on their gross income; and
(b) a “parish contribution” of the flock, that is, an annual payment to the local Public Funds from GRD 300 (EUR 0,80) up to GRD 3,000 (EUR 8,80) for each Orthodox Christian family (the law was abolished in 1962) and replaced by State resources.
But this regime did not solve the problems of the priests. Thus in 1968, for the first time, the clerics earned the same wage as a civil servant. The state undertook to increase the salary so that the priest would receive a salary equal to the civil servant.
When the crisis broke in, there were 1,070 fewer priests
When the economic crisis broke out in 2010, the Church had about 10,368 priests. Due to the limitation of the ordination now it has 9,298, that is 1,070 priests fewer.
Besides, because of the opening up discussions on the State-Church relations and the labour status of the clergy, it is likely to limit the number of ordinations.
However, either because of the restriction of hiring in the public sector or the unwillingness of ordination in the case of changes in payment regime, the lack of priests will become even greater, taking into consideration that the majority of church staff in the province reaches the retirement age.
Many metropolises are obliged to merge the parishes, since a priest have to officiate in more than one, even six or more parishes. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy is weakened in a country with a long Christian tradition, and there are people wondering if the priests should be concerned about the payment regime.
The answer is not unequivocal. They are not concerned at a spiritual level since they do the best possible in order to keep the faith of the people alive and engage in social work. However, they must be concerned to guarantee a sufficient minimum income. The reason is that the priests must get a decent living for them and their relatives.
If they have to beg or depend on charity, then their pastoral role is automatically degraded.
They can not pray for the salvation of people when, due to personal problems, they will not have the psychological well-being to act in such a way as to fulfill their duties and obligations. It has been said that beauty will save the world. What beauty?
Certainly it is the beauty of God. And this is beauty served by the priests. If their mission is hindered because of external factors, then they will not be able to convey this beauty.
Despite any weaknesses, the priests are a useful instrument for the presence of the Church in the world, as long as they are fully aware of their mission.