Source: Everyday Saints, by Archimandrite Tikhon
In a town in Byzantium, there was once a bishop who was very much beloved by the townsfolk, but then something terrible happened: whether through his own weakness or light-heartedness or through the conniving of the devil, this bishop fell into the sin of fornication.
On a Sunday, when the entire town had gathered for the Divine Liturgy, the bishop addressed the people and removed his bishop’s stole, the symbol of his episcopal rank, said: ” I can no longer be your Bishop, for I have fallen into the sin of fornication.” At first, silence reigned in the crowd. Then sighing was heard all over the church. People stood and cried. The bishop was also crying as he hung his head and looked at his parishioners.
Finally, the people calmed down a bit and asked: “What will we do now? We still love you. Therefore, put your vestments back on and serve the Liturgy, for you will always be our Bishop and our pastor.”
To this, the bishop replied: “Thank you for your generous words, but I truly can no longer serve as your Bishop. By the laws established by our Holy Fathers, a bishop who has sinned as I have is no longer worthy to serve the Divine Liturgy.” The people answered him: “We know nothing about your laws. No doubt, they are very important and all correct. But we have come to love you for all those years during which you have served us in our town. All kinds of things happen in life. So put on your vestments and serve. We forgive you.”
The bishop laughed bitterly: “Yes, you have forgiven me. But I will never forgive myself, nor will the Church ever forgive me. I can never be forgiven before God. Therefore, make way for me. I will walk into the desert to weep and to repent of my sins.”
But the crowd only grew tighter and did not even let their Bishop leave the podium. “No!” The crowd was insistent. “You are our Bishop! Put your vestments back on and serve!”
The standoff continued until late in the evening. The people would not back down, and the unhappy Bishop had no idea what he would do. When he finally comprehended that the people would not let him go, he said: “All right! Have it your way! But I will stay only on one condition. You must all now leave the cathedral, and I will lie down upon the threshold of the door. And as you come back into the church, you must all walk over me so that you will all know what a sinner I am and how worthless I am.”
On this point, the bishop was no longer willing to compromise, and it was the people who had to back down. Everyone left the church, and the bishop lay down on the threshold of the door. Each and every one of his parishioners, from the oldest to the youngest, with horror (and many with tears in their eyes), walked back into the church, wiping their feet on the Archbishop.
And finally, when the very last parishioner was inside the church, everyone heard a voice thundering from heaven: “For such great humility, his great sin is forgiven!”
The subdeacons clad their Archbishop again in his holy vestments, and he served the Divine Liturgy.
Republished from “Doxa,” A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church [Fall Issue], by the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael, Canones, New Mexico.