Two recently published articles, one in the Orthodox Observer and the other in The National Herald caught the attention of our Editors. Both concern the administration and the future of our Church and Faith. They come from two different perspectives yet both accurately indicate the present condition. Both authors draw upon their own views and reach, in our minds, the identical conclusion that foreshadows the future of our Church. These authors have not yet fully appreciated the foresight, power or the precision of their observations. Remarkably, it is as if both of the authors transcribed dialogues of our Editorial meetings. At these meetings, one recurring question is often asked out loud: “Does anyone in a position of authority in the Church see this problem and is willing to do anything about it!”
In the Orthodox Observer dated June 2013 on page 19 is an Article entitled “Our Children Victims of Darkness?” written by Washington Lobbyist and Member of the Archdiocesan Council Andrew Manatos. From all accounts, Mr. Manatos is a dedicated and highly respected member of our community. He is considered a man of great character who commands the respect of those who have worked with him on a number of issues that affect our Church and the Greek Community in America. To find out more about Mr. Manatos click on the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Manatos. His observations about the future of our Church are noteworthy: “As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does the loss of our Church. In both instances there is twilight, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of changes in the air—however slight—least we become unwitting victims of the darkness….” “Disturbing data about our Church and our Country led me to use this paraphrase of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’ words at the Archdiocesan Council meeting in Boston on May 30.” Mr. Manatos goes on to say “When a child born today reaches his or her 30s, there will only be three marriages a year performed on average at each of our approximate 500 Churches [Parishes]. This is the reality of our National Church’s decline in marriages from 2008 to 2011, 2 percent per year, continues. And it could be worse. If our Church slips back to the 2003 to 2008 rate of 5 percent decline per year, our average Church would perform only one marriage in an entire year when today’s baby is in his or her 30s.” (http://www.goarch.org/news/observer/2013-06-Observer/issue).
Unfortunately, only three out of nine jurisdictional Hierarchs were in attendance at the most recent Archdiocesan Council meeting. We suggest that you read the article entitled “Archdiocesan Council holds spring meeting in Boston” on page one of the same issue linked above. How can an institution govern when only a third of those who preside over it attend important national meetings?
Mr. Manatos’ keen observations were soon followed in a letter to the editor sent to the National Herald. In the July 13-19 issue, Mr. Thomas Bletsas of Brooklyn New York made his feelings known about the Church and the conditions leading to its steep recent decline. Even Mr. Bletsas’ title was compelling in its summation of the harms plaguing our Church: “Greek-Americans Turned Off By Church Simony, Nepotism.” Just for a moment think about this man’s views about the condition of our Church. His use of the term “simony” was no accident. The term is simply defined as the making of profit out of sacred things or the sin of buying or selling ecclesiastical preferments or benefices (defined as: a position or post granted to an ecclesiastic that guarantees a fixed amount of property or income). In relevant part Mr. Bletsas writes:
“There are reasons Greek-Americans do not attend church regularly, especially those that are between the ages of 25-55. I often broach that subject when meeting with Greeks at conferences, social events, etc. A vast majority from within that age group, no matter where they may be from believe as amatter of fact that the Greek Orthodox Church is run by illequipped (sic) individuals lacking proper morals. The overwhelming belief is that the Archdiocese is concerned only with stewardship money from the parishes, rich benefactors, and little else. Generally, second and third generation Greeks that are well-educated professionals do not want to be associated with a religion where these things are going on. Many believe simony is a factor with the appointment of bishops and that nepotism is a problem. Misconduct needs to be addressed at some point. What other organization would allow corrupt activity to continue as it does here from one church to the next, week after week? The media reported tax evasion took place at the Jamaica church; elderly parishioners were threatened and spat upon, and a convicted felon was on the parish council. The fact is the Archdiocese wouldn’t care if Bernie Madoff sat on a parish council, provided their churches continue to pay their assessment to the Archdiocese in full.
May God help us.
Thomas Bletsas, Brooklyn, NY”
Both of these men, who seemingly have no connection to one another, are sounding an alarm. In very different ways, they are both signaling the beginning of the end. Is anyone listening?
The first author in a careful and perhaps too loving way to make a difference offers his view of the future, while the other just hits the Church leadership over its head with his views. One does not dare to opine as to the reasons, while the other offers his own perspective and sees darkness in the leadership. Gotruthreform.org has repeatedly published stories and voiced our strong opinions concluding that an unhealthy and spiritually void Monastic movement is driving our laity away from our Parishes. We speculate that one day this harmful movement will control the entire Faith as it is practiced by the dwindling number of members who will purposefully choose to support this fundamentalist agenda and theology.
We truly believe that the Laity must begin to speak about the condition and the future of our beloved Church. The time has come for all of us to voice our collective opinions and seek accountability from those responsible for the health and well-being of our Faith. As concerned members of the Laity, our Editors have used this website to address concerns over the future of our Church and the numerous problems generated by Elder Ephraim and his followers. The Laity certainly has a role in the decline of the number of Faithful who attend our Parishes, but they alone are not the reason we are all witnessing this catastrophe. We have generated a new generation of Hierarchy in America who are “untouchable”.
With the passage of time, assisted by many discussions, emails and observations, there is clarity of reflection and consensus from our Editors about the future of our Church. Our shared perspectives (from a diverse and dedicated group of individuals) point to a number of changes that are contributing to the decline of the Church in America. We unanimously believe and agree that the unforeseen consequences of these changes are placing the future of the Church in an unarguable danger of decline. For purposes of this article use of the term “Church” is a specific reference to all of the Parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America (“GOA”). We are NOT referring to our Faith as will be explained later in this article, there is a distinction.
While suffering from an organized chorus of dissonant voices moving us toward an extremely fundamentalist position, in the words of one of our Editors, our Faith has “become a dark place”. The misinterpretation of our Faith has shed a dark veil over the people of God. From a number of emails we have received, we now know that many of our Clergy have decided to use their pulpit as a staging area for the word of Ephraim. Also from our emails, we know that much more damage occurs one on one behind closed doors.
In the New Testament book of Matthew (chapter 16 verses 18) there is a passage concerning the Church which states: “And I say also to you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Editors of this website love, honor and cherish our Faith as a gift from God. Yet its administration is colored by the GOA institution. The administrative body of our GOA has many issues and problems that are affecting the present and future generations of the Faithful, many caused by inaction or neglect of its administrative bodies.
One of our Editors asks us the following question every time we meet: “Do our Hierarchs understand they are, by their actions or more often their lack of action, losing the valuable legacy Greek Orthodox Christians?” We as an institution are in a severe decline. This article examines three major factors that are damaging the Church and explains how these elements leave their mark on the future of the Church as an institution.
FACTOR NUMBER ONE: Changes to the Charter and Regulations of the Church
The first factor causing a decline of the Church concerns the changes to the Charter and regulations of the Church, coupled with the elevation of our Auxiliary Bishops to Metropolitans. It is important to remember that these Hierarchs were at one time Auxiliary Bishops. As Auxiliary Bishops, they assisted and supported the Archbishop in his role as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America. Now, because of the changes to the Charter, these Auxiliary Bishops are Metropolitans who no longer need to answer to the Archbishop. This change has allowed each Metropolitan to establish his own fiefdom. There are those within the Church that advocated and preferred these seismic changes. However, the state of the Church speaks for itself. We are diminishing in size as people are leaving in record numbers. Why? Because Hierarchs remain in office for too long, there is no longer any accountability or checks and balances and individual fiefdoms lead to inconsistent teachings and practices within the Faith.
The Hierarchs appear to be more and more insulated from the faithful and further isolated from humanity in their current roles. One wonders how some of our Hierarchs ever reached this exalted level. What exactly are the pre-requisites for becoming a Hierarch in terms of education, experience and achievements? Are they appointed for life? Is their health, physical and otherwise even taken into account with respect to their functions? Are they left in office even though they are unable to resolve difficult issues when they arise, comfortable in only participating in ceremonial tasks? It is common knowledge that the human condition avoids conflict and this avoidance is more pronounced as one ages. Is it asking too much of an older Hierarch, an elderly Archbishop or even the overwhelmed Patriarch to deal with difficult issues which bring on stress, aggravation and alienation? Are these positions of authority too much for those Hierarchs who are in their elder years? The answer is yes because the status quo that prevails is one of decline and atrophy and the disease progresses. As priests are transferred, should not Hierarchs also transfer or even be forced to retire?
The Hierarchs in the GOA are not answerable to anyone. There is a lack of exercised central authority at the seat of the Archbishop. None of the Hierarchs believe anyone is their immediate supervisor and thus are left to define their own duties, roles, privilege and obligations as they see fit. This is particularly damaging when implementing policies affecting the faithful and will certainly affect the long term viability of the GOA. That is why only 1/3 of the jurisdictional Hierarchs showed up the Archdiocesan Council Meetings in Boston in May, 2013. In fact one Metropolitan scheduled a Metropolis event that was in direct conflict with the recent Archdiocesan Council meetings in Boston.
What is a consequence of the lack of accountability? As one of our senior Editors with a wealth of real world experience reminds us, “…I can tell you from being in corporate America for over 32 years that this condition where everyone is their own boss is a recipe for failure”. Here is our dirty little secret…We as a Church are failing. Take an honest look at the GOA institution, objectively and without any filters. When you look beyond your Parish you will see that the changes to the Charter have created a class of untouchables, some of whom have permanently lost the respect of those they lead. This condition has caused a deterioration of the Church.
The Metropolis of Chicago has another dirty little secret. The Divine Liturgy of each Parish differs depending on whether the Priest is in or out of Ephraim’s camp. The communion prayers are different and so are the sermon messages. A unified faith in the Metropolis of Chicago does not exist. As a result, many ask themselves “How is our faith relevant to our lives in the modern day when the faith changes depending on where you attend Church?” Those who don’t see the Faith as being relevant just leave the Orthodox world. A majority of those who have left do blame the Ephraimite movement and the hard turn away from true Orthodoxy that many of the Clergy have taken as a result of fundamentalism and Ephraim’s influence.
As a result, a divided Church is developing not only in the Metropolis of Chicago but all over the United States, all predicated upon the individual Metropolitan’s prejudices and personal ideology. Church demographics indicate that Priests have migrated out of one Metropolis to join another Metropolis because of the style of leadership and spiritual adherence of their respective Metropolitans. In other words, they like the “vision” of one Metropolitan over another. The Laity in the Parish is left to suffer because they do not have the luxury to move to a more understanding and dynamic Metropolis.
As a result, Legacy membership is seeping out the threshold of our Parish doors. Only those who lack a full understanding of this phenomenon believe that any of these people will ever come back. We have seen Orthodox Jurisdictions other than the GOA “get it”. Many emails we receive talk about finding happiness in other Christian and even other Eastern Orthodox denominations. The GOA also lacks a centralized plan to deal with generational transitions among the Laity. It is just assumed the children will follow the Faith of the parents. Records show this is NOT the case. It is very sad that many of our parents and grandparents sacrificed so much to build these Parishes and now many of these Parish homes are almost empty on Sunday. Our young have decided to “vote” with their feet and leave the troubled situation they find in our Church and go elsewhere for their religious needs. Why is our legacy membership seeping out the back door? Is there even a protocol for examining the route of our Church, or, is it left to each Metropolitan to arbitrarily monitor and guide the activities of the faithful each in his own way? Is each Priest allowed to implement his own agenda?
Unless these issues are addressed and remedied, the future of the GOA will become largely marginalized and irrelevant in everyday life. As one Editor aptly states, we “are on the verge of becoming a transactional religion”. This is one where the major of our adherents only come to Church; pay their stewardship or dues for that calendar year simply to have a sacrament performed. The GOA will continue to suffer from institutional paralysis and our churches will become sacramental venues or a venue for funeral burials. Ultimately, if the course isn’t corrected, we foresee future generations either moving away from Orthodoxy or seeking a new home in another Orthodox jurisdiction as their connection to the Faith is diminished; and as their love of the Faith is slowly extinguished.
To illustrate this point, we ask why are the number of key sacraments down from the time that Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, was our Primate? It is only in the area of funerals we have seen growth; certainly not an increase that shows the Church to be a healthy body! Look at the numbers as they concern Baptisms for example. In 1996, our Church performed 7155 baptisms. In 2011 we performed 6289 baptisms (please see the GOA 2013 yearbook page 117). While the population of the United States increased 16% from 270 million to 314 million over the same period of time, our baptisms fell over 13%. One would reasonably expect that baptisms in our Church should have then increased. These statistics are not even studied by our Hierarchical institution.
There also appears to be no effective plan concerning those interested in converting to our Faith – especially when you consider that the majority of marriages are with one Greek Orthodox spouse and a Christian of a different denomination.
Since the institution of our Church, the GOA is not engaging in any quantitative or qualitative analysis or reflection, we must ask ourselves, “Are our Leaders; is our Hierarchy truly concerned about the health of the Church? There are so many examples of dysfunction and intentional disrespect to the Church that one must also ask “When will His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch understand we are losing valuable legacy stewards of our Faith?” At a recent meeting of Clergy in one of our Metropolis’, one single Priest had the courage to ask a bishop of our Church the following question: “Your Grace, I have a fundamentalist Protestant congregation near me, a Mega Church that has thousands of Parishioners every Sunday. Among them now are many former Greek Orthodox Parishioners that have left mine and other Parishes in the area, what are we to do?” The Hierarch’s response was “they will come back”. Does anyone see a problem with this response? Can we continue to be a viable religious institution when we close our eyes to the facts?
FACTOR NUMBER TWO: Monasticism is causing a schism in our Church
There has been a systemic tolerance of unhealthy and sick Monasticism and Fundamentalism that has bled over into many of our Parishes. This bleeding over has now caused each Mission Statement and Vision to vary from Parish to Parish. Let us be clear, that we as Orthodox Christians do not have to be Monks or Nuns to satisfy the will of God. One does not find salvation only on the grounds of Monasteries which follow dubious theology and which have customs and practices that damage the life of Parishes. Our beautiful Faith has always believed that the Parish is a sacred place as well.
The consequences of allowing this fundamental movement to spread among the Faithful is that we now have a generation of Greek Orthodox Christians who have a flawed view of spirituality, salvation, and the role of spiritual fathers (to name only a few issues that “sick Monasticism” generates). Most Orthodox theologians agree that our sacred Scriptures indicate that a minority of people will be saved. Yet, the Ephraimite movement has placed further conditions on salvation. Consequently this movement has caused a growing number of our Parishioners now to have an “elitist” attitude. Instead of looking within themselves so that they can examine their own spiritual health, some within the Church become complacent – and arrogant – because of the routine they enjoy of going to Church (as a layman or a clergyman). They go through the ritual but miss out on the substantive meaning. Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” ? “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.Isaiah 1:15 While Isaiah is speaking within a specific context, we can glean that some who allege they are people of God, might indeed be guilty of hurting others – whether this is verbally or physically. Such hurtfulness is still an act of violence and this violates the spirit of Christianity. Our website receives email after email after email of people from every corner of this country alleging that they or a family member have been victims of sick and un-Christian Monastic practices all occurring under the alleged control of our Hierarchs.
Non-conformance with the dictates of the Monastics or other Fundamentalists is met with threats of Hell. We know that the Church will continue forever, and not all will enjoy it. The easy thing to do is to blame those who will miss out. It’s easy to presume it is their fault. On some level this is true. On another level perhaps it is “our fault”. Maybe “we” chased them away. Instead of being emissaries of the spirit of love (which is the spirit of the Gospel) some become Pharisees burdening the masses and purport to banish some people to Hell. Another consequence which again has not been quantitatively analyzed is that Monasteries are performing Divine Liturgies in direct competition with their neighboring churches thereby causing a decline in Parish attendance. None of us have seen this concern as an agenda item on any Archdiocesan Council meeting.
FACTOR NUMBER THREE: The failure of our institution to follow or enforce its own rules.
By definition, an institution is supposed to affect and govern the behavior of an individual within its given community. Formal mechanisms are purportedly in place that govern our religious organization, its hierarchy and its members. Instead, there has developed a complete lack of will on the part of the Hierarchy to hold anyone responsible or accountable for their actions. The practice of Hierarchs transferring their problems from one Metropolis to another– as if the transfer will eliminate the problem– is a by-product of this lack of accountability. There is no protocol for a standardized and unified system of checks and balances at every level of the Church.
What role models do we (and our Children) have to emulate? We are losing respect for the men who occupy these honorable positions of Hierarchs and Priests. The radicalization of our Clergy through benign neglect at our seminary is affecting us. It’s not enough to know that there is a serious problem. Taking action is necessary to preserve the ideals, practices and standards of our GOA institution. It’s like being a firefighter coming on the scene of a fire that just erupted and standing by while you hear those in danger pleading for help and doing nothing. Our point is if you choose to be a Priest in the GOA, allegiance to the faithful and to Orthodox doctrine is to be expected and if you cannot abide by this – you cannot be a Priest. In the real world it’s called a Condition of Employment.
There are individual cases across the GOA where Priests have a healthy ministry with a vibrant community. The GOA should follow a program that uses these ministries as a model for other Parishes. There is only a minor emphasis from an institutional perspective on this positive method to generate success. In the Metropolis of Chicago, we have the opposite approach. We have young well meaning Priests sent to Parishes where they are effectively “brainwashed” by senior Ephraimite Clergymen. This has led to unforeseen consequences. We know of a number of older non-Ephraimite Clergymen staying in their own Parishes much longer than they want to out of fear that their Parishes may fall into the hands of an Ephraimite Priest.
Where is the accountability for Priests who give unhealthy counsel like that given to a woman who was raped, and the Priest told her it was her fault? Other examples include teachings that impair marriages, and also the teaching of Aerial Tollhouses. Our Hierarchs fail to govern the behavior of its Priests and teachers. Our Hierarchs do not have to answer to anyone for their failure of governing behavior that is destructive to the Faith. If there is no accountability then how can we expect proper discipline to be implemented to Clergy (Hierarchs, Priests, and Monks)? Instead we have in place a system where those responsible to discipline Clergy who are promoting heresies fail to do so. Nor do they discipline Clergy that harm the innocent by giving them “Ephraimatic” advice.
Allowing these problems to continue unaddressed provides the opportunity for the problems to grow and propagate. This means more people will become hurt, more people will leave, and the dysfunctional actions will continue and worsen.
When the methods used are 1) simply relocating Priests who have perpetrated indiscretions and 2) allowing Hierarchs to ignore recurring problems, the question is “who is there for us to appeal to?” Are we expected to fly to Istanbul and seek an audience with the Patriarch? The current conditions give the Faithful the impression that they are treated like an uneducated bunch of morons, expected to blindly follow incompetence. Many who left have done so because they have realized the deep dysfunction that exists in the administration of our Church. Those of us who are speaking up are not gluttons for punishment, but believe that we should persistently stand up for what is right regardless of any inconveniences.
The three factors we have illustrated here: (1) a disconnected hierarchy that was elevated through the new Charter (which in turn has further insulated and isolated them), (2) the rise of Fundamentalism and sick-Monasticism (which has caused some churches to empty and seeks to fill the void in leadership), and (3) a systemic lack of the institution of the GOA to govern behavior leading to a lack of accountability, all appear to be the perfect storm for a coming disaster. What we are witnessing is an historic end of an era. To borrow from Tom Brokow’s phrase, we are witnessing the end of the era of the “Greatest Generation of our Church” which began with the monumental sacrifices made by our ancestors who struggled and sacrificed to build many of our churches during the early part of the 20th century. This Greatest Generation of our Church era accelerated with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of Blessed Memory during his tenure as Archbishop from 1959 thru 1996. The era has surely ended with the Patriarch’s unilateral change of our institution’s charter in 2002 and the tenure of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who is viewed as a solely a ceremonial leader. One only needs to walk into one of our Parishes and see the decline. We genuinely fear that our beloved GOA is in dire condition and that sadness and emptiness awaits all of us as we look to the future of the Church.