THE TIME FOR ORTHODOX UNITY IS NOW!

As Archdiocese’s Woes Spill Over, Beware of Rabble-Rousers

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Source: The National Herald

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

The crisis in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has become manifest over the past year, appears to have reached a climax. With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reportedly asking Archbishop Demetrios to submit his resignation, the Greek-American community and Hellenism worldwide – considering the importance of this eparchy – awaits to see how the final act of this drama will play out and what the future will hold.

After the archbishop seemingly refused the patriarch’s request, stating that he wanted to stay on and see the Archdiocese through the financial crisis, the Patriarchate must decide whether to either grant his request, or remove him from office by electing him to a titular see and essentially retiring him.

Among the problems that Archbishop Demetrios and/or his successor will be called to manage are the economic woes that have led the Archdiocese to seek a multimillion-dollar loan to cover its debts, the dramatic overshooting of the budget for the St. Nicholas Church at the World Trade Center and the stoppage of construction, as well as the serious financial/academic/administrative crisis affecting the Greek-American community’s lone institution of higher learning, Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology.

In addition, there is the serious crisis that Greek-American parochial schools are facing, which, by and large, operate under the auspices of the Archdiocese. In fact, although this issue has not received analogous coverage in recent months, it could rightfully be considered as the greatest threat to the future of Hellenism in America.

Due to prevalent uncertainty in the air, certain paraecclesiastical organizations or isolated individuals have capitalized upon the opportunity to speak out against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and call for changes in the Archdiocese’s jurisdictional status. The latest example was an inappropriate diatribe – groundless as it was brash – delivered by a guest speaker at the Holy Cross Seminary Graduation last month, which set off a new round of internal strife in the Church. It would not be surprising if these squawks multiplied ahead of next month’s Clergy-Laity Congress.

Those taking aim against the Patriarchate (including certain persons of affluence) seem intent on ignoring the fact that most of the problems in the community are endemic and require solutions that must arise from internal reform and a sweeping change in existing practices and attitudes. Those engaged in the blame game are usually hard pressed to identify actual solutions that the “institutional boogeyman” is keeping them from implementing. Just as in Greece, where people waste countless gray matter arguing about conspiracies involving foreign agents, new world orders, etc., but hardly concern themselves with transforming domestic affairs within their power, similarly Greek-American exceptionalists seem obsessed with worrying about conditions abroad and overlooking chronic problems deeply rooted right in the Archdiocese’s backyard.

The dysfunctionality facing the Archdiocese today is chiefly homegrown and has nothing to do with its status as an eparchy of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople. In all likelihood, today’s issues would remain the same or perhaps be even worse if the Archdiocese was autocephalous.

Those aiming to break the organic relationship between the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese also seem to ignore their share of direct responsibility or culpable indifference in relation to these problems.

Surely, the bad decisions associated with the rebuilding of St. Nicholas at WTC belong exclusively to the local hierarchs and lay leadership of the Archdiocese. The same can be said regarding the personnel and finances of Hellenic College/Holy Cross, and the decision to leave our parochial schools to fend for themselves, underfunded, outspent, and outmaneuvered.

Holy Cross Seminary graduates’ Greek is poorer than ever (bordering on educated illiteracy), while their salaries are skyrocketing. There isn’t one substantial endowment fund aimed at promoting Greek education on the primary and secondary level, let alone some greater strategic framework for our parochial schools. Parishes and community organizations often compete with one another, offering either overlapping programs or presenting huge gaps in target areas, without ever pooling resources. Some of our priests or lay leaders are content to operate as CEOs instead of pastors, closing down decades-old institutions maintained by sweat and toil in order to luxuriate like satraps or medizers. Sadly, rabble-rousers misdirect criticism and never address the grass roots problems choking the community’s dynamism like weeds.

Hence, what purpose does a separation from the Phanar really serve? Perhaps it just boils down to controlling all the money… Still, considering the staggering wasted resources and inability to form strategic partnerships taking place in the Archdiocese and wider community, the only certainty about this argument is that penny pinchers in the U.S. worried about the Phanar draining Archdiocesan coffers are “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”

Instead of misdirecting public opinion and speaking divisively, critics should contribute to the desperately needed improvement of the Greek-American community’s internal administration. Hellenism has traditionally stood out thanks to its amazing ability to govern itself under any type of regime. From large cities, to settlements in the Diaspora, to the most humble village “in autonomous lands under Turkish occupation,” Greeks manifested this virtue, which consistently produced quality and nobility.

Clearly, the time has come for true leaders in the community to leave aside inopportune talk regarding jurisdictions and autocephaly, which historically has always been spurred by hostile foreign elements, and deal with the substance of the problem at hand: good administration and reforming dysfunctionality in the organized community. This is the greatest challenge facing the Greek-American community today.

Demetrios, now a nonagenarian, will logically be relinquishing power at some point. Regardless of whether this happens immediately or in due time, the problems and challenges facing the Church in America and community at large will continue to exist. Naturally, every leader’s personality and leadership style impacts their exercise of power, however the cultivation of a proper mindset and resolution of chronic internal dysfunctionality represents the surest guarantee for the future; because people come and go, however, institutions remain. It’s high time that leaders and faithful alike show immediate concern over simmering endemic problems and stop irresponsibly projecting responsibility onto third parties.

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Mr Tripoulas some how does not understand that there is little interest in learning Greek among current members of the church except in certain large metropolitan areas. The church is no longer the Greek-American community.

  2. Thomas Owens on

    I agree with Johnkal 100%. So many younger people have told me over the last few years that they would enjoy the Liturgy more if it was recited in English. If we’re going to make retaining the Greek language in the church a fundamental point that cannot be changed, we will continue to lose families; and, we certainly will not gain any.

    • Tom, my concern about language is not practical — it is spiritual. Worship can’t be experienced without understanding. My first language was Greek, and I can’t even pray the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. Most choir members who sing Greek can’t read Greek and thus read the music phonetically. St Paul stated, it is better to say 10 words in a known language than 10000 words in an unknown language.

  3. The argument to keep foreign languages in the services in American churches is moot. Languages are used when the congregation doesn’t understand the vernacular of the country. Having Greek, Russian, Arabic, etc. really isn’t necessary in 95% of American Orthodox churches. Go to Russia and see if they’ll use English for you; or Greece or Syria, etc. We can no longer be isolated ethnic communities that are rotting from the inside. We must bring those who some consider “outsiders” into the Church. Isolation brings death in a community, opening doors to everyone brings growth. Christ came to everyone; teach them!

  4. George D. Karcazes on

    I agree with JOHNKAL, NIKOLAI and THOMAS OWENS. Mr. Tripoulas and The National Herald are diasporists. They are fighting rear-guard actions against assimilation and demographics. They, along with the Greek government use the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America as a means of holding together the “Greek American Community” .. which they frequently refer to as the “Omogenia” (those of the same race).

    For diasporists the Church is “Greek” and the Greek Church and the Greek-American Community are synonymous. They exist primarily to be (1) lobbyists for Greek national issues, and (2) preserving modern Greek language and culture in the U.S. Diasporists expect the Archbishop to be an “Ethnarch”, filling a ceremonial role at White House photo-ops on Greek Independence Day; marching in the front row at Greek Independence Day parades, etc. These efforts are secular, rather than religious in nature. Appropriate for AHI, HALC and perhaps, the AHEPA, but not for our “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

    You seldom hear diasporists speak of Christ, or Orthodoxy, or outreach, or mission, or the Great Commission of Pentecost. They never speak of the late Fr. Peter Gillquist’s challenge to: “Make America Orthodox!” Twenty-six years ago, the late Professor Charles Moskos wrote: “Secular ethnicity will slowly erode, despite rearguard actions by the diasporists. Sacred ethnicity, on the other hand, can strike roots in the new world — a Church adaptable to changing social conditions and changing generations, while not deviating from its traditions and transcendental truths. If the Greek Orthodox Church in America were to emphasize secular ethnicity over sacred ethnicity, it might end in a situation in which the descendants of the immigrants are neither Greek nor Orthodox.” [p. 30, Project for Orthodox Renewal; Seven Studies of Key Issues Facing Orthodox Christians in America, Orthodox Christian Laity, 1993]

    Increasingly, it is clear that the descendants of the immigrants who built the parishes in America are, in fact, neither Greek nor Orthodox. The only question that remains is whether it is already too late to change directions and build a united, welcoming, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic “American” Orthodox Church?

  5. Harry G. Coin on

    We know almost everything said or sung in church is said or sung more than once. There is great value in having one occasion be in English and the other occasion in the older, richer language as a reminder that we know the translations are approximate at best. Many learning moments of lasting impact arise when a person hears what the original words meant in their original context. Even the modern Greek speakers have learning moments when they hear discussions about the original meaning of the antique Greek words — discussions they wouldn’t have if another language wasn’t in the mix.

    Indeed many English translations use words that carry new politically charged meanings piled on over recent decades as a result of debates in other churches. Debates that were not to do with us and burden us with recent contests among others that steal attention time from the great spirit of the originals in the context.

    What we’ve seen in NYC over the last couple years is the sort of financial and political shenanigans that we’ve always seen when we find ourselves entangled in overseas political games. Money in vast amounts vanishes like ‘smoke’, controversies embroil the school, explanations are limited, pleas for generous donations are unabated.

    It seems the table has been set in a way we’ve not seen in about 20 years. How did it work out last time? What tone did the Paschal Encyclical from the Phanar convey this year.. as a sign of being aware of the facts on the ground? Was it comprehensible to the folks massed in the parishes, or more for Ph.d’s?

    Will the overseas folks listen to the advice from those pastors whose churches are growing as to who should lead and when to make such changes? I think that would be a very good idea. A very, very good idea.

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