CHURCH SURVIVAL: The Real Crisis

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Steven P Stamatis

Steven P Stamatis

by Steven P. Stamatis 

Repeated calls from Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) for Orthodox Unity often results in gatherings to discuss Unity and the need for a Great and Holy Church Council. The participating hierarchy who usually attend include the Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and other dignitaries from the Orthodox landscape. Conspicuously absent almost every time are the Greeks.

The Greek Orthodox hierarchy continues to abstain from these “unauthorized,” laity-driven pan-Orthodox discussions and remains silent in the sidelines. Claims of “Royal Priesthood” status notwithstanding, these Metropolitans do not recognize the laity’s  authority to convene such discussions. Furthermore, they, themselves are not allowed to support nor participate in such initiatives—although Mother Churches of other jurisdictions have sanctioned fruitful dialogue. We remember Archbishop Iakovos who spearheaded a one-of-a-kind inter-orthodox summit in Ligonier, PA in 1994 to explore a vision for the church in America; and we all know how that turned out!

Clearly, since the subsequent removal of Iakovos, the ‘90s proved to be a decade of tumult for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA)—although I had difficulty finding a hierarch who would admit to it! The Patriarchate flexed canonical muscle and carved up the hemisphere and restructured the administration of all the churches. It was a sort of quiet, ecclesiastic coup d’état that caught the faithful unaware and still trying to figure out what happened. In fact, many reading this copy may not even be aware that such reorganization ever took place. There was no Patriarchal Encyclical, no press release, no announcement from the pulpits. It just happened! All they know is the bishops are now called Metropolitans and the word “Diocese” is replaced by “Metropolis.” Everything else is the same! Well, not really!—but that’s another story.  It was somewhat like a hostile corporate takeover. But, it succeeded because, except for OCL, no one seemed to care. Traditionally, Greek Orthodox in America rarely concerned themselves with inner administrative workings of the church and avoided it, much like the “Third Rail.”  They were taught to never criticize the church or priests lest they get “zapped” by God himself!

I’m reminded of an old friend and koumbaro who confided in me recently with the following piece of wisdom: “Don’t underestimate the intelligence and cunning of provincial hierarchy. A hundred years ago they came here with their holy books; we made fun of their English while they adjusted because we had the money, the property and we put up the buildings for them. Today, they have the money, the property and the buildings, and WE have the books!”

Orthodox leaders are protecting their own turf and tread gently in the minefield of Unity. In all fairness to the GOA, perhaps a reason the other jurisdictions are more passionate about Unity is because they know the Greeks don’t want it, and without the Greek Orthodox hierarchy participating, it’s not going to happen! So, for now it’s a win-win commitment to display an “ecumenical” spirit of brotherhood without risk. At the same time, let the Greeks take the blame for standing in the way of progress and allow OCL to hold a lantern for a REAL Orthodox Summit that may never take place.

Bla, bla, bla, bla!  Talk, talk, talk! Back and forth—and we’re not looking at the big elephant in the room.

If we look closely we can see two major predators in the water that can render all this discussion a moot point. The first Great White is the Catholic Church with its own territorial concerns, circling around a wounded, fragmented Orthodox Church. Not far behind, in darker waters, lurks a bigger Great White called Islam. And as Will Rogers would say, “If one doesn’t get you, the other one will!”

The Politics of Religion—Take I

The Orthodox of a common faith from14 different jurisdictions have been trying to find common ground to just begin talking about Orthodox unity for decades. Every initiative stalls and triggers innumerable obstacles that will continue to keep them apart indefinitely—especially if the Greek Orthodox leadership continues to stay away. One wonders what happened to the trust, the sense of fellowship and brotherhood among Bishops of the same faith! And please!, don’t bring up the canons! This is not about theology, it’s about turf; it’s about giving things up; it’s about accommodation; it’s about politics!

To show how it’s really done, Roman Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs gathered with facility on November 15, 2007 in Ravenna, Italy. They met, discussed and drafted a joint document “The Ravenna Document” which hopes to end the near 1,000-year separation between East and West. Whether church unity comes about is not the point. The fact is they met and signed a general understanding. That’s more than the Greek hierarchy has ever accomplished with its own sister churches! You just can’t help but wonder. Here we have two faiths officially separated since 1054 by the doctrine of infallibility and that infamous, incomprehensible theological bugaboo the Filioque Clause of the Creed. Both Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Cerularius unceremoniously excommunicated each other. Was it really theology or power politics?

According to Ruth Gledhill of TIMESONLINE, Pope Benedict XVI envisioned a restored unified Christian church in which the Pope would be the most senior Patriarch among the Orthodox churches. He also acknowledged unification would create some limitations to papal authority, reducing his absolute power.

Historically, the Bishop of Rome has always been looked upon as the first among hierarchs. Scholars agree this is reasonable since Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. And when Constantinople became the Second Rome, its Bishop enjoyed the second spot in rank. Forgive me for bringing up the canons, but it’s important to know; this command structure can be found in the third canon of the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381.

For the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul), this union can provide the necessary support and resources for survival in a Muslim world and perhaps restore the Holy City to its former magnificence. The Greeks and “Phanariotes” must be salivating at the prospect of restoration of religious freedom in Anatolia. They’re already envisioning graduates from the Theological School in Halki as well as Liturgy at Hagia Sophia!

The Politics of Religion—Take II 

Of course, serious problems are bound to surface. None of these dreams will see the light of day if the Turks have their way. The Ottoman conquest of Asia Minor over 500 years ago slammed the door shut on Christianity, locked it and threw the key away. Do you think they would stand for an East-West Christian Church to take root again in the region? Don’t bet on it! Turkey is 99.5% Sunni Muslim, and they aim to keep it that way! The .5% of Christians is their contribution to religious diversity—and getting smaller!

The Turkish government will most certainly feel threatened if the Patriarchate is buoyed by outside support not seen in its history of captivity. Indeed, the Latin connection will conjure up images of the infamous Crusades—and the region may heat up again!

And then we have the monastics at the Holy Mountain in Greece. They’re still reeling with outrage from the Pope’s visit to the Patriarchate and Greece just several years ago. And now they have to imagine concelebrating and breaking bread with the Catholics? For them this is unimaginable! So, if you hear cups rattling in the cupboard or feel any earth tremors, they must be coming from the Holy Mountain in the Halkidiki Peninsula. And the monks are probably turning and tossing in their Spartan beds hoping the image of the Pope wearing an Omophorion is just a bad dream. And this can slowly turn into a nightmare when the Orthodox Church in most of the world becomes an obscure cult and vanishes into the pages of history. Their focus on monasteries in the U.S. is an admission the church isn’t doing the job. Perhaps this is their response to Modernism thrusting a final dagger into the heart of church evolution in America.

History shows us time and again, extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary alliances. The Orthodox Faith is almost extinct in the Middle East and weakening elsewhere while the Catholic Church is taking a beating in Europe and Asia. Orthodox unity should have happened 50 years ago along with an independent Patriarchate in America. But it didn’t! If politics still rules the day, it seems there’s more hope in an East-West alliance. Yes, there’s more light there than wasting time trying to unite the Orthodox whose common faith doesn’t seem to be strong enough to transcend ethnic differences—even for survival!

In a sea of over six billion people, almost one third are Muslims. And if just 1/2% of them are radical, that’s millions of potential Jihadists hell-bent on destroying Christianity.

Let’s not forget, it only took 250,000 communists to control millions of people in the Soviet Republics. And in the years ahead, it’s going to take a great deal more than just Orthodox Unity to preserve Christianity.

Steven P. Stamatis has published numerous articles on ethnic and religious issues in magazines and newspapers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Illinois and a Master’s Degree in English from De Paul University. He is a former student of the Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, MA. Chicagoan Stamatis is retired from industry and enjoys writing most of his time.  He is the author of The Janissary Factor.

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4 Comments

  1. First off, there will be no “Great and Holy Council.” This is a pipe dream of + Bart. Any council with this title will not be fully representative of all the Orthodox and just represent Greek interests. All of this WHOLE WORLD stuff is just bunk. What Orthodox Christians everywhere must remember is that the Orthodox Church is LOCAL. Forget all these Patriarchs and push for an “Eastern Pope.” The Orthodox Church exists within a small group of believers who gather to celebrate the Eucharist and follow Christ. As long as there are living rooms where this can take place, the CHURCH exists. The big, huge churches may have to be sold and smaller communities join together without ethnic barriers to be the CHURCH. Forget the bishops who only look for $$$. Forget the Phanar. Forget all of these foreign bishops looking for $$$ and trying to control Americans. Live the CHURCH; we are the CHURCH; follow Christ in your own lives and community. This is what Christ has called us to do!

  2. “And this can slowly turn into a nightmare when the Orthodox church in most of the world becomes an obscure cult and vanishes into the pages of history’

    That is well said.

    A top down authoritarian structure and system of power and control rule that is a closed, isolated, segregated and subjective system and that has an exclusive we alone are Gods only right and true church mindset is the set up to be turned into a Christian cult. It is exclusive in thinking and Christ is inclusive in thinking. It is authoritarian and Christ is love, truth, mercy and grace.

    Christ met us in the Gospels at our authoritarian rule abused bottom and came to raise us up and out of that spiritual abuse suppression and spiritual abuse of corrupt religious power and control. That is the freedom in Christ that John 8:31-59 is talking about and Christ confronted them over their idolatry of TRADITION. It was a comparison of His bottom up and open system of freedom compared to the top down and closed system of bondage.

    A top down authoritarian structure and system of church rule pushes you down and molds you into what it is. A bottom up structure and system of church comes under you and raises you up by Christ transformation. It is easy to tell the difference between a molded push you down church and a raise you up transformation church.

    Christ in the Gospels simply did not come to us as the structure and system of Eastern Orthodox authoritarian rule power and control. He did not come to us as a closed, isolated, subjective and exclusive structure and system that is not inclusive.

    Those Christ confronted in the Gospels also believed they were Gods only true and right belief, worship, fathers, traditions, structure and system of rule, theology, history and salvation. They were exclusive in thinking and not inclusive in thinking.

    The problem is the authoritarian church structure and system that has an exclusive we alone are only Gods right and true church viewpoint of itself. It is the same basic structure and system and exclusive viewpoint of itself that a cult has.

    Yes, I know, in the authoritarian and exclusive Orthodox Mind I have not identified the problem correctly. In fact, if anything I am made the problem for pointing out what the real world problem is. What I just stated as the problem in seen in the Orthodox Mind as heresy practicing apostasy. Yet, the corrupt, failed, irrelevant, abusive, cultic and dying state of Orthodoxy in America is not the result of heresy practicing apostasy in the Orthodox Mind.

    The EOC is structurally and systemically corrupt with an exclusive self righteous viewpoint of itself that is anti West, anti Modernity and anti Rational. There is simply no way that ‘we are Gods only true church’ exclusive thinking is not anti freedom of religion of western rational modernity America. Since when is church/state exclusive thinking that wants to place Christianity in America under foreign patriarch rule power and control not anti freedom of religion?

    Yet, the Orthodox want to convert American Christianity into their Gods only true and right structure and system of corrupt authoritarian rule power and control under foreign Patriarch rule. They want to convert Christianity in America into their corrupt structure and system failure that they will tell you is not heresy practicing apostasy.

    I am not Eastern Orthodox. This is what I know for a fact. If it had been left up to the Orthodox in America to bring the salvation of Christ to me it never would have happened. For instance, in my city of about 200k there is a Greek parish that has been here for 60 years and on a good Sunday maybe 100 of Gods only true and right Christians show up. In that same 60 year period several large churches with thousands in Sunday attendance have been established.

    Bottom up and open system Christ in the Gospels compared exclusive to inclusive and freedom in Christ to the bondage’s of idolatrous traditions based in authoritarian and corrupt dead religion. Those He confronted could not be wrong about themselves by their exclusive we alone are God right viewpoint of themselves. They would not listen to freedom in Christ.

    The Gospels are a warning to all Christians and churches not to turn themselves into what Christ confronted or there will be serious consequences. Let’s not forget that the Orthodox did not come to America as the Great Commission. They came here as the omission of the Great Commission which is the omission of Christ in the Gospels. Orthodoxy came here as dead religion and not the living Jesus Christ. The dead end dying outcome proves it.

    The exclusive Orthodox do not listen. They are so God right about themselves they only have to listen to themselves.

    I will not be winning any Archon of Ecumenical Patriarch award for stating the truth of what has happened to Orthodoxy in America.

  3. One last truth I forgot to mention. Eastern Orthodox monasticism is the most closed, isolated, segregated and exclusive system in all of Christianity. It has an exclusive viewpoint of itself and believes it is established by God. Jesus was not the first elder and His disciples were not the first novice monks. Christ and the Apostles did not live out their lives in a tree, on a rock, in an isolated compound, in the desert or in a cave. There is simply no Gospels or NT basis for monasticism. None. It is just another exclusive, closing, isolating, segregating and subjective Orthodox tradition.

    The consequences of who the Orthodox really are have caught up to them in the modern world that they reject. It is not a dagger of modernism that has brought them down. It is a dagger of exclusive we alone are Gods only true and right Christians and church based in corrupt authoritarian power and control and dead traditions of men that have brought them down. The Orthodox have done this to themselves and they only have themselves to blame. It is not the fault of modernity. The problem is that the exclusive and authoritarian thinking in traditions cannot admit the cause of its downfall. As long as the Orthodox can blame something other than themselves they will not take ownership of their failure and why they are failed in America.

    Jesus Christ in the Gospels is bottom up and open system paradigm shift to freedom in Christ. Orthodoxy is a top down and closed system that cannot paradigm shift by its traditions. Christ was not necessarily opposed to tradition. He was opposed to legalism in tradition turned into idolatry that could not paradigm shift to relevancy in the society and culture it was found in.

    Christ left those who would not paradigm shift with Him behind to die in their dead religion paradigm of authoritarianism, tradition and exclusiveness. Those who do not listen hand themselves over to evil, John 8:42-44. It all goes systemically corrupt and it refuses to systemically repent of its corruptions. In the exclusive EOC Mind the tradition of the structure and system of rule cannot be the wrong structure and system of rule. Yes, EO please explain how your structure and system of top down authoritarian power and control in a closed system is the Christ structure and system of rule found in Philippians 2.

    The NT tells us that our sin will find us out. It just does not say how and when it will find us out. The Orthodox state of corrupt and failed church that cannot find repentance is it being found out in America. Some Orthodox actually believe if rule power and control was more centralized than it already is that will be the solution to its dying state in America and when centralized top down rule power and control is the problem undermining it. That is irrational to think more centralization is the solution to its dying state in America. Orthodoxy is not rational in Christian thinking and it shows. Its subjective closed and isolated thinking is not objective rational thinking and it shows.

    The Orthodox of today share many things in common with the orthodox Christ confronted in the Gospels.

    Christ and His disciples were not monastics and monasticism is not a reflection of the life of Christ in the Gospels and no matter how the exclusive Orthodox in their traditions disagree. Christ came to us outward inclusive and not inward exclusive. Get the basis of your church wrong and it will all go wrong over time and eventually it will catch up to you with serious consequences. No church is immune and no matter who or what it exclusively claims to be.

    If you want to get an insight into what has happened to Orthodoxy Google search church congregation life cycle diagram and see your church dying right before your eyes. Living in the practical reality of the objective rational is how a church can find solution to its dying and corrupt state and living in the delusional reality of the subjective irrational can determine the real world outcome of a church over time. I have the proof, the EOC.

  4. My mistake, I should have said ‘in the delusional UNREALITY ‘ in the second to the last sentence in the last paragraph of the previous post.

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