Clergy Laity Congresses: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Philadelphia 2000-2014 – THE FAMILY IS THE SOLUTION

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Clergy Families at the Cathedral of St. George (photos© D. Panagos/GOA)

Clergy Families at the Cathedral of St. George (photos© D. Panagos/GOA)

Source: Orthodox Christian Laity

The theme of the 42nd Clergy Laity Congress, “The Orthodox Christian Family: A Dwelling of Christ and A Witness of His Gospel,” is very appropriate for us in this time of transition.   For it is truly within the home that the Orthodox faith will be learned, survive and grow by the example and actions of each of us.  However, for many, parish life and archdiocesan settings are an antithesis to the theme of the 42nd Congress.

 HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

On September 18, 1999, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios was enthroned as the sixth Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States.  On July 1-7, 2000,  he presided over the 35th Clergy Laity Congress with the theme “Ageless Traditions in a New Millennium.”  This was his first Congress as Archbishop.   The Archdiocese had experienced many changes since the resignations of Archbishop Iakovos and Archbishop Spyridon.   The main concern of the delegates was the development of a new Charter – the fifth for the Archdiocese since 1922.  It should be noted that the first Charter (1922) established the Archdiocese as an autonomous Church.   Each subsequent Charter eroded that autonomy.  The delegates of the 2000 Congress were concerned that the new Charter not take away the last remnant of autonomy of the Archdiocese.

The delegates to the 2002 Los Angeles Clergy Laity Congress, the last Congress with meaningful input from the participants, made it clear that they wanted an autonomous Archdiocese in the USA.  The eventual 2003 “gift” Charter imposed by the Patriarchate did not come forth for consideration before a Clergy Laity Congress.  It was eventually presented in New York as a fait accompli.  This modus operandi reflected the poor status of the trust relationship between the hierarchy and the laity and foreshadowed what their relationship would become.  

ARCHDIOCESAN LIFE 

The Charter weakened the role of the Archbishop and created an even more fragmented process of governance within the Archdiocese.

The Patriarchate is determined to control the Church in America and elevated the former titular Bishops of dioceses under the 1970 Charter into Metropolitans of United States cities under the 2003 Charter. In reality, it established autonomous Metropolises.

The traditions that have emerged for the new millennium since Philadelphia 2000 in this restrictive Archdiocesan environment are many.   The most profound is that the Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in general in the USA has succumbed to the tragedy of clericalism.  The synergy of clergy and laity working together in a respectful manner within the ethos of accountability and transparency, which is the Orthodox way and the American way, has been lost.  All committees are appointed.  There is little turnover in the committees related to the administration, finance, external affairs and the seminary.

In this environment of clericalism, Orthodox Christian Fundamentalism is pervasive as the new ethos of the Church.   The seminary is producing priests who believe they are fully in charge of parish administration.  Even our best and more mature priests look to leave the Archdiocese and work as fill-in priests with lay professions.  There seems to be no way to get control of the franchised monasteries that have developed all over the country where Greek is the required language.  They have become a drag on the Church in general.  Some married priests who are parish priests look to these monastic norms and emulate them.  It is interesting to note that some of the booksstores of these monasteries are full of books about the lives of different Elders and do not have an Orthodox Study Bible in stock.

Students attend the seminary and then are not ordained.  Mediocrity is becoming the norm within the Church.  Orthodox Fundamentalism needs to be addressed. It is a factor attracting a type of seminarian who is not appropriate for the future well-being of the Orthodox Church in America.

The Archdiocese has also undertaken a policy of “Hellenizing” the Church.   There is no definition of this concept.   One characteristic is to institutionalize the Greek festival as a fundraiser for parish operating cost,s because the concept of tithing is not taught and encouraged. Ethnic youth dancing is now a ministry. Indigenous Americans of Greek descent, fourth and fifth generation cradle Orthodox, have been marginalized.  It is interesting to note that the development of the St. Nicholas Shrine within the 9/11 lower Manhattan site of the American Memorial is being morphed into creating an Acropolis in New York City and “…a perpetual sacred shrine to Orthodoxy and Hellenism…”.

PARISH LIFE – CLERGY & LAITY 

The fragmentation of the Archdiocese into autonomous Metropolises has created problems for the clergy.  New patterns of relating to their superiors have emerged.  Priests can be assigned as a result of their relations with the Metropolitan.  In some cases, cronyism has been a factor in assignments. Ethnicity has been a factor in assignments.  There are cases where good priests were removed from parishes, because they are not Greek enough. Cash payments either by clergy themselves or influential laypersons have determined assignments. In general, our priests are troubled.  They are afraid to speak their minds.  Divorce rates are high among our Clergy.

Clericalism has also created problems for parish administration.  Priests are assigned to parishes without interviews by the parish council.  When there is not a good match, problems emerge within the parish and divisions become counterproductive.  If parish councils persist with their legitimate input, they are threatened with being dismissed.  The attitude is that the laity will continue to pay and obey.  But times are changing.  Before the imposed 2003 Charter, we heard criticism from clergy and hierarchy about the Church being oriented in congregational ways.  It should be noted that it was in this pre-2003 environment that most of the infrastructure of our Church in America was built and developed.  Our grandfathers used the ethos of this country, which was working in local committees with transparency and accountability, to build our parishes.  The good order of our Church at all levels depends on restoring the balance and synergy of clergy and laity working together.  Restoring this balance must be addressed.

Financial administrative costs to govern a relatively small church of an estimated 440,000 adherents have grown enormously.  The budget for 2014 is $27.3 million to support  a growing bureaucracy within the Archdiocese and each Metropolis.  What do we get with that budget?  Every parish in the GOA is under pressure to raise funds for parish, Metropolis and Archdiocese administrative costs.

FAMILY LIFE – THE NEW LEADERSHIP OF THE CHURCH

First-time observers to the 2014 Clergy Laity Congress have expressed that in administrative, informational sessions, the Archdiocese seems to be playing a catch-up game.  Like parish meetings, the main concern is just maintenance.  There seems to be a lack of vision for the future.  Very little input from the laity is sought; there is no give and take.  The event has become a social reunion at great cost to the participants and parishes.  Could this money be better used to benefit the ministries of the Church?  It seems that the Church faithful are resigned and apathetic while also concerned about the direction of a Church that feels stale.  Discussions about how to revive many of our churches that have become empty shells because of changing demographics are not a concern.  A highlight of Philadelphia 2014 from the perspective of the Metropolitans is that they can close parishes and acquire their assets without the involvement of the laity.

The Church needs leaders who will energize the faithful with a discussion of their faith and its application to their life. A more appropriate and uplifting highlight would have been a meaningful overview of the work of the Assembly of Bishops as they go about the development of a blueprint for a unified and self-governing Orthodox Church in the United States. Everyone knows and feels that the present uncanonical state of Orthodoxy in the United States with its separate jurisdictions based on ethnicity diminishes its mission to all of us.

The early Church laity, although living in the uncertain world about them, were yet strong in faith, following the Biblical tradition Jesus set at the Last Supper, where the Apostles were gathered together in the upper room. Laity discovered the empty tomb, then ran proclaiming the “Good News”.   Today’s Orthodox families can do the same in their parishes.  Surely, the Good News must be heard loudly again, resulting in parish strength and a deeper Orthodox Christian faith.

George E. Matsoukas, Executive Director, Orthodox Christian Laity

George E. Matsoukas is the author of A Church in Captivity: The Greek Orthodox Church of America available at Amazon.com.

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  1. “There seems to be a lack of vision for the future.”

    Not so. There is a vision and a strategy on the Gerasimos diocese website. The 2014 GOA congress was a save the GOA strategy. 50 religious codependent people helped design the Gerasimos diocese strategy and so it is sure to reach its goals of renewed church relevancy and growth. The demographic implosion is going to stop and be reversed into a church growth explosion. From church death implosion to church life explosion is the future of the GOA. Just ask the hierarchy and EP.

    The question is, is it the right vision and the right strategy? Will it change the GOA future outcome in America?

    The strategy found at this diocese website outlines what it believes are the threats to the strategy. One of them is the moral failure of other churches. In other words, forget about the moral failure of the EP over Astoria NY and instead all be impressed that he talks to the congress by Skype and sends his chancellor to the congress.

    Short term memory and attention span is a hallmark of the GOA. An authoritarian closed system exercises tremendous mind control over the followers in it. They are easily diverted to forget such issues as Astoria NY. When ever a scandal strikes the GOA the solution is Lord Have Mercy. Yet, there is no mercy really shown to the victims of the scandals. Real Christ centered mercy acts to stop unmerciful acts. Powerlessness is Orthodox Lord Have Mercy. Protecting the hierarchy over protecting the laity is the priority of the hierarchy. Everyone is expendable to their power and control. Everyone is really just a pawn used to prop up systemically corrupt power and control. You are a prop and not a priesthood of believers.

    One of the core values of this diocese strategy is integrity in transparency and accountability. That is, unless you are the EP or a metropolitan that tried to protect Katinas or a future situation like Katinas created. The double standard is glaring and hypocrisy is a failed strategy. How many have been damaged by elder ephraim?

    There are so many holes in the strategy by the time the church figures out what they are the strategy will have sunk to the bottom of a sea of failure. It will float back to the top face down in the water. When it does watch the GOA go into an even deeper and faster death spiral. It will accelerate exponentially. The let down of the failure will cause it. That is, if the apathetic and indifferent laity even notices the failure like they don’t notice what is really imploding the GOA. Oh, they may recognized some imploding issues now, but not all of them and the ones they do they are too little too late to effectively address.

    Gerasmios is the Rick Warren like visionary and strategic leader of the GOA and who is going to save the GOA? The GOA hierarchy and elder are going to lead the GOA into a dynamic, alive, growing and relevant church future in America? Warren had about a dozen people help him start his church. How many is Gerasimos starting with in his save the diocese strategy? Well more than a dozen? He has the foundation and so he can’t fail, right?

    It is going to be interesting watching the GOA transform itself from immigration, marriage and birth in the exclusive church into the Great Commission that is inclusive church. What is exclusive sees itself as superior. You know, like the hierarchy of the Sanhedrin. Pride, arrogance and self righteousness sees itself as superior. Moving from superiority to humility is going to be a feat to watch the GOA attempt. Gods only true church rulers are the most humble church rulers on the planet. Humility of hierarchical rulers drives the save the GOA strategy, right?

    That strategy is failed at the gate. For starters it does not list as threats to it being hierarchy systemic corruption, cult monasticism and a corrupt foreign rule EP. There are many more unseen and denied threats to it. Denial is failed strategy found in a wrong vision. Failure wrapped in denial of failure is the continued status quo future failure of the GOA.

    The greatest threat to any save the GOA vision and strategy is the GOA itself. However, you will not hear the hierarchy say that. The hierarchy are not a threat to the future of the GOA. They are its salvation from church death. That is what will be said in so many words and it will be believed by the religious codependent laity who think like they are told to think.

    There are many good points brought up in the article but they really only are addressing symptoms and not the cause and the cause is the top down authoritarian structure of power and control and its coinciding closed, isolated, segregated and subjective system that has an exclusive we alone are Gods only true church viewpoint of itself. All major problems facing the GOA come out of that source causation.

    The Orthodox would rather die as a church than reform and change their structure and system of rule. To change would be in their Orthodox Mind a form of heresy that is practicing apostasy. It would violate sacred tradition that Gods only true church cannot be wrong about itself in such traditions.

    Translation: there will be no transformation resurrection from the dead church to an alive church taking place in the GOA. Its a fools folly to believe that a systemically corrupt hierarchy is going to repent in front of the church to lead the church out of its obvious failure by SIN. There is not one word of repentance found in the Gerasimos diocese vision and strategy. Not one word of corporate and hierarchy repentance at the congress.

    Repentance is not the basis of the save the GOA strategy but denial of systemic corporate sin is. There is not any seen system bondage breaking being advocated by the hierarchy. Those in bondage cannot lead others out of bondage and when denial of what the bondage is takes place. Fear of dying as a church is the motivation and not repentance over the sin issues causing it to die. Fear of the hierarchy losing power and control is another motivation and it is a corrupt motivation.

    Is Gods only true church so God right about itself that it does not have to systemically repent over systemic sin destroying it? Going over the top of and around corporate church sin will not work. It is the set up for vision and strategy failure.

    I would wish the GOA success but I know what the outcome is going to be. Within 5 years of the 2014 congress any save the GOA vision and strategy will be proved a failure. The best I can say is, good luck.

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