Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
State of Orthodoxy in the U.S.A.
Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) completed its 30 years of service calling for transparency, accountability, unity and advocating to maintain the voice of the laity as an equal in the administrative life of the Orthodox Church, thereby contributing to Church renewal. As we have seen and experienced in 2017, disrespect and disregard for this principle has contributed to the disorder, financial mismanagement and disunity that has furthered the decline of Orthodoxy in the USA. The census statistics, surveys, research on the status of growth, retention and development confirm this decline.
Since its inception, OCL has been advocating for the establishment of an autocephalous Orthodox Christian Church in the USA. On October 10, 1998, at its 11th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, it adopted a resolution for Autocephaly. In 2000, it issued an Occasional Paper entitled “An Orthodox Christian Church in the United States: Unified and Self Governed.” Almost all of its 30 Annual Meeting Programs have dealt with topics and issues related to Unity and have highlighted Pan Orthodox programs established by Orthodox Laity working together on local, diocesan, national and international levels. Since 2008, its website (ocl.org) has followed the developments related to creating, developing and hosting the Holy and Great Council. OCL was an early supporter of the development and workings of the Assembly of Bishops in the USA and offered a $20,000 contribution for the first meeting of Bishops in New York City.
We are dismayed by the Assembly’s lack of progress, posturing, stonewalling, and inability to establish logical rules of operation to foster consensus and the ability to move forward on establishing canonical order and unity. After nine years of meetings, studies and research, the Assembly seems more fragmented and disunited as a body of bishops. When will the tribalization of the ethnic, parallel, jurisdictions stop? When will the bishops put the spiritual needs of their faithful before their seeming racist ethnicity? When will they depart from their colonial mentality and become a synod and elect their own head? How many more faithful need to depart, and how many more resources must be squandered by this fragmentation before canonical order is established? The time for unity is now!
The meltdown of the largest and wealthiest Archdiocese, which claims primacy in the unity movement, is a sad development. It is time for new leadership at all levels in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. There was hope with the election of Archbishop Demetrios, who early on in his stewardship of the Archdiocese asked us to trust him. Our trust was misplaced. He must assume responsibility. He has been presented with facts, studies and input about problems in the Archdiocese, but he has not acted to redress the decline of Hellenic College / Holy Cross School of Theology, the rise of Orthodox Fundamentalism, the supervision of the monasteries under the Archdiocese, the financial costs of the Shrine at Ground Zero NYC and the mismanagement of funds at the Archdiocese. His leadership style has been to ignore problems and refuse to act. When he arrived, he should have set up his own management team. He was a caretaker. But he failed to “take care”.
In truth, he has been undermined by the imposition of the Charter over the clear objections of the Los Angeles Clergy Laity Congress. The new Charter removed the voice of the laity from the administrative life of the Church and made the Laity a rubber stamp. Where was the voice of the Archdiocesan Council in helping him confront the problems outlined above? Even before his coming, where was the Archdiocesan Council when Archbishop Iakovos was forced to retire? When the Archdiocese was divided into Metropolises and the office of Archbishop was reduced to a figurehead? When canonical disorder was imposed by empowering a priest, representing the Patriarchate, to have more to say in running the Archdiocese than the bishops? Why were they not safeguarding the integrity and autonomy of the Archdiocese as it was being undermined by the Patriarchate? How can they, who are all appointees of the Hierarchy, now be called upon to explain how and why this financial meltdown happened and where the funds have gone? Are they now capable of re-empowering themselves to make the systemic changes that will bring transparency and accountability to the administration of the Church, without “permission” from the Hierarchy?
This undermining by the Patriarchate continues apace. The Archdiocese has been brought to a spiritual standstill by not being able to appoint a Metropolitan for Chicago selected by the U.S. Synod according to the agreed-upon procedures. The Patriarchate has established competing parishes and institutions in the USA including the Patriarchal Institute in Oakland; and the ” Stravropegial Monasteries” with Parish “dependencies” in Brooklyn, Florida and Chicago. What is the status of the Malbis Memorial Church in Alabama? It should be noted that other Patriarchates undermine jurisdictions here including the Moscow Patriarchate and the Romanian Patriarchate.
The present crisis has exposed a critical fact. There are limits to how much funding the laity is willing to provide to institutions that are not accountable and transparent. They are not in a disposition to pay and obey. Even the wealthiest among the laity, who have generously provided funding to cover shortfalls, are hesitant to continue to do so. Institutions must live within reasonable budgets. Budgets need to be debated and presented, and feedback obtained. How can 450,000 faithful continue to maintain the financial demands of Archdiocesan and Metropolitan projects that are out of control? Strategic Plans are being designed in Metropolises to control parish finances.
Marginalizing the voice of the laity and the strategy of “divide and rule” has been disastrous, not only to the Church in the US, but to the ancient Patriarchates which continue to foster the canonical disunity of the Orthodox faithful in America. The Patriarchates in the Old World must understand that a united, single autocephalous Orthodox Church in the US is in their own best interests. It is the only way to reverse the downward spiral we are in. Pray that it isn’t already too late.
Wishing us all a blessed and more hopeful 2018.
George E. Matsoukas