Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
“He who only England knows, knows not England.” – Rudyard Kipling
The month of July 1992 brought me into contact with two events in the life of Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States that provided me with the opportunity to reflect and pray. As Executive Vice President of Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL), I was privileged to be an observer and provide OCL workshops at the 31st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Church in New Orleans (July 3-9, 1992), and then to be an observer and exhibition participant at the 10th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America in Miami, Florida (July 26-31, 1992).
The contrast and tones of both meetings startled me! In New Orleans, it felt like the proceedings were taking place in shadows. The meeting and the agenda seemed to be defensive and disorganized. The delegates were uninformed of the issues and were mostly passive. Overall, the faithful were reacting to negative pressures. The clergy and laity were dissatisfied with the lack of clarity and direction on issues. The Church seemed in drift and in many ways dysfunctional. The meeting reflected this reality.
In Miami, I found a completely different picture. The All American Council was taking place in dramatic and bold light. It was truly a spiritual event. The center of each day was the Divine Liturgy attended by 80% of the participants beginning at 7:30 a.m. The liturgy itself is a contrast to our own. It is in English, and everyone participates in chanting and praying. It is not a passive experience. It was the daily focal point of the conference.
Besides focus, what other factors contributed to this dramatic difference in feeling and accomplishment in the two conferences? I believe the answer lies in preparation and process. The Orthodox Church in America began planning for the All American Council (which, like the Greek Orthodox Congress, is the highest administrative body of the Church) three years ago when the 1989 Conference ended. They were determined that this 10th All American Council would utilize a conciliar process and even called their planning committee the Pre-conciliar Commission. Ten months ago, the Pre-conciliar Commission surveyed the OCA parishes in order to gather data to create the agenda. Over 700 items were received. This information was categorized at the theological seminary and was used to establish the agenda. The information was available for all to examine, and anyone could see where their idea was placed in the organizational tables. The Pre-conciliar Commission encouraged delegates to trace their requests. The Pre-conciliar Commission was national in scope, representing a balance of clergy, hierarchy, laity, men, and women. It was syndiakonia in action.
Resolutions were developed before the meeting was convened and were based on the data that the Pre-conciliar Commission received. Each resolution was debated by the delegates. Alternately, three people could speak for a resolution and three delegates could speak against a resolution. Tellers were present to count votes which were expressed with white “Yes” signs and yellow “No” signs.
There was a resolution amendment process which occurred during the meeting. Amendments had to be completed in writing by 1:00 p.m. on the 3rd day (Wednesday) of the Conference.
The process which contributed to the tone of the meeting was open, respectful, Christian, and conciliar. It worked!
Contrast this to the Clergy-Laity process of the Greek Orthodox Church which has become an apostasy for the faithful clergy, laity, and even hierarchy. The Greek Orthodox Church process wastes energy, time, and money on creating the “cosmetics” of democracy, when in fact it is an autocratic process. Select, unelected individuals, who act like a Roman Curia, have been in control of the meeting for 30 years. This Curia controls the entire process from planning to implementation. The most visible and vocal parliamentarians are secular lawyers, who are well versed in the adversarial system. Even bishops assume roles of passive onlookers. The meeting consistently violates its own rules. As usual, no input was sought from anyone to create an agenda. An agenda was not circulated to the parishes 60 days before the meeting for comment, as required. The opinions of others are not respected nor sought. High-handed parliamentary procedures are employed by the entrenched Curia. As autocrats, they cut off the microphones of those expressing comments they do not want to hear, be they from clergy or laity. The process is an insult to the uninformed delegates who come with good intentions. Through ignorance, they are manipulated, divided, and usually remain passive.
After thirty years, this closed process threatens the well being of Greek Orthodoxy in America. Our Church is becoming nominally Christian in its liturgical life and even in its priesthood and teaching. We still remain a Greek-centered social club and secular lobby. Our Congress reflects this, and now with Leadership 100, we are becoming a Greek Orthodox Foundation.
Having seen the contrast in two major Orthodox Conferences, I suggest that the Greek Orthodox Church seek the help of the Orthodox Church in America to learn about syndiakonia and conciliar administrative processes. The OCA has been here for 200 years. In the 20th century, they helped preserve the Church in Eastern Europe and Russia and are working to bring them out of this dark period. The organizational experiences of the Greek Orthodox Church in America are 60 years old, and we need help to overcome the darkness we have created. The OCA has come to grips with many of the issues we avoid. Let’s build on their experiences and learn how we too can shine in light!
George Matsoukas, Executive Vice President
Orthodox Christian Laity
Orthodox Christian Laity will have a display table at the 19th All American Council in St, Louis, Missouri, July 22-26, 2018. Please drop by and say hello! Three OCL board members, George Karcazes, Roy Snyder and George Matsoukas, will be at the table and would enjoy meeting you.