Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
I served on my Parish Council for more than twenty years; three as President. I also represented my Parish as a lay delegate to ten Clergy-Laity Congresses. I no longer serve on our Parish Council. Although I was removed from a volunteer position on our Stewardship Committee for sending an entirely truthful and accurate “Letter to the Editor” of The National Herald, I was still asked to come back and advise our Parish Delegates about what they should say and do at the Boston Congress as delegates to the Congress. In summary, the following was my advice to our Parish:
Send only the Priest, as he might be punished if he doesn’t attend. Send along a letter from our Parish that we will no longer send delegates to these charades until the rules governing the Congress (UPR) are changed to permit real input from the parishes and laity. This could have been done before calling this Congress. It can be done at any time by the Archdiocesan Council, which has all of the power to act as “the highest legislative body of the Archdiocese” between Congresses. Advise the organizers of the Congress that our parish will send the $6,000 our budget has allocated for the Congress to a local food pantry or shelter, or to our Metropolis. We will no longer waste the time, talent and treasure of our parishioners and parish by sending delegates to these scripted extravaganzas. My parish did not heed my advice.
I based my advice on my experiences as a delegate, and as I approach my 80th birthday, a lifetime of active participation in two parishes; plus, 31 years as a member of Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) traveling the country and seeing how “Church” is done in other Orthodox “jurisdictions” in America. For many years, there have been calls for reforming the Congress and making it a place where accountability and transparency are practiced, rather than empty phrases in press releases from spin masters at East 79th Street. The only substantive work of the Church that can only be done at a Clergy Laity Congress is done in the Administration and Finance Committees. These committees can propose changes to the UPR and can disclose the finances and approve the budget of the Archdiocese. Everything else can be done, better, cheaper and with wider effect at the Metropolis and in Parishes. The Congress should be held on a non-holiday weekend at a reasonably priced conference center. No politicians and no “dignitaries” giving speeches. No lavish banquets. No black-tie dinners. No exhibition halls for tee-shirt vendors. No “bread and circuses” committees to divert attention from the important work that needs to be done. With all the time devoted to the only two committees [Administration and Finance] that can make a difference as the “highest legislative body of the Archdiocese.” Parishes must be allowed to submit matters for the agenda of these two committees without jumping through hoops. Chairs of these committees should be elected by the committee members, not appointed by Hierarchs and ecclesiastical bureaucrats who rule matters that are in order, “out of order”. When these reforms are made, it will be worth the time, talent and treasure of parish delegates to attend these Congresses.
My answer to a retired priest who told me that boycotting the Congress means “surrender,” was that “the absence of the laity from this Congress sends a stronger message than trying to get parishes to withhold funds. Refusing to attend a Congress under the existing rules of engagement is not ‘giving up’ — it is strategic. Going to discuss matters of grave importance on a level playing field that affords everyone an opportunity for a robust exchange of ideas is worthwhile. Attending a staged theater of the absurd adds dignity to a “farce”.
My response to retired priests is that they should act as the tip of the sword to advocate for the reforms that are needed. They shouldn’t worry about their pensions. For years, good priests have failed to speak out for fear of reprisals from arbitrary, vindictive and unaccountable Hierarchs. Retired priests must not focus solely on their pensions to the exclusion of the reforms needed in order for the Church in America to survive and grow. They should lead the way to a single, Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the U.S., under a single Synod, strong enough to help the Suffering Churches in the Old World. The leadership of the Archdiocese must stop acting as Janissaries under Ottoman rule. The retired clergy are in a unique position to raise the banner!
What better timing than the 4th of July?!
George D. Karcazes
President, Orthodox Christian Laity