A LETTER TO ONE OF OUR EDITORS FROM A GREEK ORTHODOX PRIEST
I miss Archbishop Iakovos dearly. As a Priest of 30 years, I feel compelled to write this, albeit with some degree of anonymity to protect myself (even though I have fully disclosed who I am to you). This is my confession that I feel most sorrowful for. The poor leadership that our GOA is plagued with is a multi-faceted problem that has its roots from the Seminary. The Church is suffering. If you don’t realize we are, you are living in a cave. Everything Fr. Artemas has said is correct. No one in their right mind would doubt this. Bishop Demetri’s “behavior” is well known for many years by many people. The same can be said for Metropolitan Iakovos. Some say that Bishop Anthimos, “the black prince”, is starting to look like a hero compared to these despots (how sad). Yet all this is tolerated. Additionally, the Ephraimite Fundamentalist problem is transforming our churches across the country to be centers for monasticism – usurping the regular routine of parish life and dismissing it as inferior to monastic life. Fr. Calivas correctly stated that holiness can be found in the Parish, as well as the Monastery. Fr. Harakas confirms this too. Yet some Hierarchs dismiss these proven beacons of truth. The subtle pressures of looking and behaving like monks is being introduced more and more. With all due respect, we don’t have to look like monks or “Amish” to be holy.
With the Fr. Dokos allegations we see that priests are unjustly taking money and giving it to Hierarchs. The Patriarch is deaf. The Archbishop is a good man, but does not like making decisions, and consequently our Metropolitans are diminishing him while they scurry to amass more power. Donors that are very wealthy are giving substantial donations to other non-profits that have clear and honest transparency. By and large, they have stopped giving to our Church. Our Hierarchy is looked at by professional and educated people as a bunch of buffoons.Scores of our faithful are going to the Antiochians and even other Christian denominations. Yet no one is admitting our GOA is in a crisis. Denying any problem only means it is going to get worse. If a captain denies the hull is breached, the ship is going to sink. We are sinking. The numbers are self-evident. Look and see
A young Seminarian once asked at a convocation of Students and Faculty at the Seminary, if they could get training similar to large corporations to enhance their management skills and effectiveness. He mentioned that there are millions of dollars spent by corporations to train their leaders to be more effective. Whatever money they spent will come back to them in productivity. I was there for the response, otherwise I would not have believed it. The bright eyed and ever hopeful student was told that “this is something you need to learn on your own”. The smile on that student’s face left. There was a long pause. He slowly walked back to his seat. This is the beginning of handicapping and stifling leadership. And now there is talk of one of our Metropolitan’s taking over the Seminary. Do we really want that from a Metropolitan that seems quite endeared to the Ephraimites for many reasons? It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation.
At the Seminary today, there are more and more women wearing head-coverings and dressing homely, more so than in the many decades prior when I was there as a student. There is a profound spirit of fundamentalism that has a foothold in the Seminary. Of course what happens in the Seminary will find its way to the Parishes and each Metropolis across our country. The only measure of progress we seem to be insisting on is that we kiss the bishop’s hand, look monastic, chant in Greek nicely, and that’s it. In a word: shallow. It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation.
I see my brother priests hesitant to call a spade a spade. I see my brother priests, who are called to be leaders, afraid to make statements. Many of them say that it is for God to judge, and consequently are afraid to judge an action as right or wrong. What is to become of our Church when the Priests are afraid to speak truth? What is to become of our Church when her Priests are taught to be mere hierarchical sycophants and yes-men that are void of any direction, training, encouragement, and culture that empower them to say “enough”? A stifling theocracy is an impediment to the development of character. We went from a partnership to a despotic theocracy. The feelings and perspectives of the Laity and the Priest don’t really matter anymore. Our Hierarchs are more interested in building their agenda and themselves, than in addressing matters of Truth. The response from the Hierarchs regarding those who leave is “They will come back, don’t worry about it.”
Priests are afraid to speak up today, especially those in good parishes with good pay. They don’t want to rock the boat. Most priests become emotionally disengaged with matters they perceive as going beyond the borders of their parish. I confess, I am guilty of this. It seems that the Priests of today are not the same as the Priests of yesterday. Iakovos seemed autocratic, but at least there was a rule of law. Now it seems that litmus test for a Hierarch’s action is “what can I get out of this?”
Under the mask of “humility and obedience” our brother Priests are being trained to act like Eunuchs. The worst sort of this would be the brothers that fall into the Ephraimite category. Many of them succumb into being emasculated from exercising their conviction. They adopt “blind obedience” as a mantra held above logic and reason. These people have divided the Church. They, and the Hierarchs behind them, are concerned about building their own agenda which is ego and control.
Parish after parish is being infected by a cancer within our Church that is telling the young minds that want to go to Seminary to not trust the professors at Seminary and that all of our Hierarchy is corrupt. Cutting off your leg is not a good way to lose weight. It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation.
One Priest in a large parish said that the Holy Spirit will take care the of problems the parish has, and he will just pray for it. That’s nice to pray about problems. But it is also better to couple that prayer with action. Action requires conviction and faith. Action is risky. Sometimes inaction is because there is nothing that can be done. But sometimes inaction reveals the faint-hearted character and conviction of the men entrusted to speak truth. It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation.
At some point, our inaction and simply insisting “God will save us” is testing God. There is a good story that illustrates this. A man was in his house by a large river. A big storm came and the levee broke. It started to flood. The man prayed “God save me!” Just then a truck came by his house and the driver said they will take him to safety. The man refused and said “God will save me”. The truck left. The flood waters increased. A boat came by. They offered to take the man to safety. The man said “No. God will save me.” The boat left. The flood waters increased. The man had to get on the roof for safety. A helicopter then came by. They offered to take the man to safety. The man said “No. God will save me.” The helicopter left. The flood waters increased. The man drowned and went to Heaven. The man then asked God, “Lord, why is it I prayed to you and you didn’t save me?” The Lord replied “What do you mean? I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter. You refused them all.”
You see, my friends, our Church has the answer to all of its problems implicit in the majority of our Priests and Laymen. But we are being silenced to not act on our conviction with the accusation that it is pride. We are being taught to test God. Prayer is good. We should pray for our Church. But sometimes we need to act as people of faith, and put that faith into action.
The means to fixing our situation are within our grasp. One voice at a time we can orchestrate a deafening Chorus that shouts “Enough!” If we don’t use the gifts God has given us (especially the gifts of courage, conviction, and the faith to speak Truth), then we are complicit and guilty of testing God. When we test God like this, we make a mockery of God’s power. It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation.
Our Church at large in the United States is the product of the actions and direction of our Hierarchs here and abroad. We have our struggles and sometimes I feel it is like fighting a losing battle. All too often, Priests and Laity do not like when the Hierarch comes to visit. It is no wonder why so many Priests simply become functionaries that look forward to retiring. I did. But I can’t anymore. Someone wrote once that our Hierarchs have no real record of achievement. I am starting to see that. Better late than never. It is no wonder then that our Church is in this situation. I was part of the problem. I confess. I am admitting I was part of the problem, maybe others should too. I am starting to do something. We need to do something. I can’t do it alone. We are not alone. There is so much at stake here. Will you join me and others in speaking up?
In the spirit of genuine love, I remain yours
You can certainly feel the frustration here. As another long term clergyman told us “if the Dokos matter is swept under the rug you are going to see a mass migration out of our Churches. The laity has had it with all of this nonsense.” Are any of our Hierarchs paying attention to the voices of the people?