Clergy Compensation


If modern American Orthodoxy wishes to maintain the tradition of a married priesthood then why doesn’t it pay its priests enough to support their families. I understand that many Orthodox priests are forced to take second jobs in order to support themselves.

I would imagine that this destroys their spiritual lives and causes them t o serve two masters. This seems to be wrong to me. Shouldn’t the OCA and other American Orthodox jurisdictions pay their clergy enough to support their families? My friend met an OCA priest who works two jobs just to support his family because his salary as a priest cannot support his family.

Orthodoxy has to consider the realities of modern life. This is scandalous.


For many, many years, the OCA has had a clergy compensation guideline in place. In short, it asks that parishes pay their priests at the same rate that a professional of his particular stature, education, and experience would receive in their respective communities. It also requests parishes to give their priests annual raises as well as cost-of-living increases based on the Consumer Price Index. Further, virtually every diocese of the Orthodox Church in America has compensation guidelines which compliment those issued by the Central Church Administration.

It is only my opinion, but the problem does not necessarily lie with the hierarchs, the Central Church Administration, or the dioceses. They have done a stellar job in promoting fair and adequate compensation of our clergy. The problem is that many parishes choose not to comply, for a variety of reasons, some valid, others ridiculous.

I will give you a few examples.

In one parish with which I am familiar, a building program was initiated. The parish, which had a reported membership of over 500 souls a decade ago, today reports less than 200 adult members. A $2.5 million building program was put into place; the parish council decided to reduce the priest’s salary by several thousand dollars per year as a result!! Despite the protests of the bishop and the priest, the parish insisted on reducing his salary. The priest was forced to seek part time employment as a result. Of course, the parishioners then began to complain that the priest is not devoting his full energies to the parish! There have been those who feel that the bishop should “pull the priest out” of the parish because of the parish’s actions, but this would only harm the priest more, not to mention the toll it would take on his children.

I know of another parish which has suffered greatly because people have moved on to other parts of the country. The parish has dwindled to some 60 members—a decade ago it had a reported membership three times this number. Most of the remaining members are elderly, and most are retired and on fixed income. [It is not a very affluent area.] This remnant must bear the burden of rising utility bills and other expenses, not to mention maintenance and repairs to an aging and deteriorating 80-year-old building, which cannot be overlooked. [Repairs to the roof are the same, regardless of whether there are 20 or 2000 parishioners.] Faced with a dwindling membership, increasing expenses, and an dilapidated edifice, it becomes very difficult to offer the priest an appropriate stipend in this case. Recommendations to merge with a neighboring parish have been met with sharp resistance on the part of the faithful, even though the bishop in whose diocese the parish exists most wisely sees this as a viable option for all concerned and a way of offering his priest a fair salary.

I know of another instance in which three OCA parishes exist within 10 minutes of each other. The total adult membership of these three parishes is less than 200. Each parish supports a church and hall. Two of the three also own rectories. Each parish has its own priest, and these priests are receiving relatively low salaries. Suggestions to merge these parishes and to pool resources—it is in many respects impractical for three small, struggling parishes to support three facilities and three clergy when the combined membership is still relatively small—also have been traditionally met with sharp resistance on the part of the parishioners, and each of the three parishes continues to struggle financially. This dilemma, unfortunately, is then passed on to the priests in these three parishes.

I know of another parish which has gone through several priests in 15 years. Often, when a new priest is assigned, the parish sees an opportunity to reduce the salary, paying the new priest less than his predecessor had been paid. Repeated attempts on the part of the bishop and dean to rectify this situation have been ignored, although the parish finally, just last year, increased the pastor’s salary by $300 per month, bringing it in line with what was being paid several years ago. The priest, however, has over 30 years of experience and is making significantly less than he would if he were in the secular world. Because the parish does not own a rectory, he also has to own his own home.

Despite the increase, he still has to rely on outside employment as a teacher and chaplain.

The OCA, as I mentioned earlier, has what are, in my opinion, excellent guidelines. But excellent guidelines are meaningless if the faithful are unwilling to follow them. And I know of no instances, at least within my limited experience, in which bishops and deans have not pushed their parishes to comply with the guidelines set down by the OCA and the dioceses.

There are some parishes which I suppose may be just plain “cheap.” There are others which, through no fault of their own, have dwindled significantly, often because they exist in communities which have experienced tremendous downward turns in population. There are still others—fortunately few—who still “shop around” for the “best deal” when looking for a priest. [One parish I know of always prefers to have unmarried clergy because, as they often say, “it costs us a lot less than a priest with kids.”] No two situations are alike; hence, there may be no uniform solution other than to follow as honestly as possible the guidelines that are—and have been—in place.

I agree wholeheartedly that the plight of many clergy is indeed scandalous, but until such time as solutions can be found to the plethora of difficult situations which exist, little can be done. The Holy Synod, the Central Church Administration, and the local dioceses have been “on top of the matter” for years, as evidenced in the existence of compensation guidelines of which parishes are always being reminded. Annual reminders are sent by the OCA Chancellor’s office to all parishes, begging them to increase and upgrade salary and benefit packages at annual meetings.

The bottom line, however, comes in the response on the local level, by the individual parishes. This is where change must and, hopefully, will occur.