Source: The National Herald
By Yianni Pappas
The 2016 presidential election cycle in America has been wild. Pundits on all networks have said that the old rules just don’t apply anymore. Many have stated that “this is not the America we knew.” A lightbulb may have finally lit up. The pulse of the people is beginning to register.
It is too late for most of the candidates, but perhaps in observing the political climate we can better understand the lay of the land within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA).
Our lightbulb is still out and our GOA leaders (metropolitans, bishops, priests, deacons, and monks) do not understand that this is not the Church they grew up in, either.
We as laity already know that there is one unofficial report that ourstewardship and membership is down 38% nationally, and about 45% in the Metropolis of Chicago. This is unsustainable. Remarkably, we have found no one who can officially comment on these numbers or give us an accurate number as reflected in their own records.
As Chris Chiames wrote in “It’s Time for the Greek Orthodox Church to Look Inwardly” TNH May 14), “when church leaders look out over empty pews and come up short on fundraising goals, they might want to look inwardly, start listening, and factor in their audience’s point of view before talking.”
Our GOA Leaders do not appear to understand us for who we are. Style of leadership, personality of people as a whole, ethnic identity (or in many cases lack thereof), cultural context, or respect for the laity, in terms of a reasonable service structure that emphasizes timeliness, and safeguarding from belabored/cacophonous music that makes one cringe.
The “leadership by mandate” approach does not work today. “Leadership by inspiration” is far more effective. The laity have been hushed, and our membership and stewardship numbers since the new charter all clearly reflect that. Yet, no changes have been made.
The relationship between clergy and laity is vastly different today than decades ago.
In its April 9 edition, this newspaper published “Prof. Kitroeff Speaks at U Mass about Archbishop Iakovos,” about the academician, who spoke at length regarding the late archbishop. Kitroeff stated that he would like to see tomorrow’s GOA leaders have a keen understanding of the evolution of the Greek-American community as good as Iakovos did. He did not mention that this is the case today. As a matter of fact, many believe we have regressed. Many have stated that our GOA has negatively changed since Archbishop Iakovos “left.”
There was no fundamentalist Ephraimite movement under Iakovos. The GOA used to be called the “Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America”. However, the patriarch decided to divide this massive region. Now the GOA only encompasses the United States. On top of that, the divide has been further exacerbated by changing each Diocese to be a Metropolis. Our diocesan bishops are now Metropolitans.
If the upcoming Great and Holy Council decides to give autonomy to the GOA, we pray it is not in the form of each Metropolis being an autonomous region. That would further divide, marginalize, and “hush” the voice of the people.
On top of that, instead of having only one leader of the Church in America, we would have nine. This may mean that there will be a different version of Orthodox Christianity that reflects the particular metropolitan who oversees each Metropolis. This has happened now as we see some metropolitans are more akin to the “village” mindset, some are to “scholarship,” and others yet are to being a bit more liberal.
Each Metropolitan will believe that his way is better than his colleagues. While theological matters of dogma will be the same, one can imagine that matters of policy will be quite different. Getting
all Metropolitansto agree on non-dogmatic matters of policy will be miraculous.
What about the cohesiveness of our GOA? Matters and controversies that affect the Church will not be dealt with in a universal, expeditious, and conciliar manner. As Metropolitans, they each will enforce their own systems of unilateral (non-theological) beliefs (policies) that may or may not include the input of the laity.
When our ruling despots surround themselves with sycophants, objectivity is further thwarted and “hushed”.
These are old issues to which many objected with the new Charter that was given to us. Our metropolitans appear to have a systemic failsafe in place to keep them from dealing with issues with which they are uncomfortable. This systemic failsafe is called stonewalling. It is nothing new. Why this emphasis with the leaders at the top of the GOA structure? Because as the old adage states: “the fish smells from the head first.” This will precipitate and act as a catalyst for the decay of the rest of the body. It is happening now. Unless something is done, we are in a severe irreversible decline.
The administration of the GOA is vastly different to what it was decades ago. It used to be that we grew up seeing our priests outside of church wear suits and most were clean shaven. Now we see them around town with their black robes and wearing their “kalimafi” headcovering.
Some of our priests have beards and hairsimilar to the Taliban, as if this were the litmus test of their Orthodoxy. Now, some priests even go swimming at Clergy-laity congresses wearing their “antiri” robe. Women in Church have suddenly started wearing head coverings. The Orthodox fashion is now to look frumpy and disheveled. It is as if this is a statement that the frumpy ones are modest and truly Orthodox, when indeed it is a testament of arrogance. They themselves project their arrogance when they judge others who dress socially appropriate and clean as “the country club crowd.”
This fashion change is vastly different to what it was decades ago. Thisreflects an emerging divide occurring within the Church itself in America.
As cream rises to the top, so the voice of the people was an important component of Church administration. People had input and our leaders were able to hear the voice of the laity. Notso much anymore. At a mere capricious whim, the people who question and call attention to some things are dismissed and marginalized. This is happening more so now than ever before.
Case in point are the monasteries and the message of Elder Ephraim and his proponents. This fundamentalist element has infected the body of the church with heresy and unhealthy teachings. The doctrine of Aerial Tollhouses (which make a mockery of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross) and that conjugal relations within marriage are only for procreation, are cases in point. The messengers that call attention to these (and other) concerns are looked at like they are the instigating causes of disruption. Indeed, some are looked at like they are crazy. The laity now wonder out loud if there is more to the story.
Why have the shepherds allowed their flock to be poisoned by fairytale “theology”? Are there economic benefits flowing upstream?
Our Hierarchs do not hear the voice of their flock as they did decades ago. This phenomenon is vastly different today.
Executive professionalism is a must for successful corporations. But one wonders if our Hierarchs ever ask the question “how we can improve?” If it is asked, one wonders which follow up questions were dismissed? Corporate structures are there for a reason, and should exist in a harmonious and mutually edifying way. We can learn from each other. But the fact of the matter is that the laity is dismissed just like an aristocrat would dismiss a peasant.
Our leaders have given many people the impression that we are insignificant members of a larger body that only they know how to run. While they have many gifts, the attitude of “aristocracy” (as one metropolitan proudly announced that we should emulate) is taken to new levels of ecclesiastical elitism.
The result is that many clergy and laity feel that our executive leaders are insulated and thereby disconnected from the community and all the issues contained therein. Clergy and laity both feel that our executive leaders simply don’t care.
One metropolitan is quoted as saying that he doesn’t bother to read what is posted on various sites. Another hierarch stated that he never wants to hear anything negative. The translation of this seems to be that our executive leaders do not want to know what is going on in our society and our lives. Thisis another vast change from decades ago: are leaders appear uncaring and outof-touch.
And so we have a disconnect similar to the disconnect from the political class from the average citizen. Our Hierarchical elite class is utterly disconnected from the average layperson. Some hierarchs have given orders to the sycophants around them that they “do not want to hear anything negative.”
Who are the “outsiders” to which the laity will turn? That is an easy question. The answer is another jurisdiction, but more probably another Christian denomination.
Orthodoxy has a war-chest of pricelesstheology, history, and robust spirituality. But like the war chests of many presidential candidates, it is not benefiting us. We are going belly-up on a case by-case basis.
We do not think that anyone in the leadership class will ever dare to actually take an objective look at what is happening, nor will they dare to actually converse with us. It is too negative. Unfortunately, this means oursituation will get worse before it gets better.
That is another vast difference from the pulse of the people today versus decades ago: It used to be we had a sense of excitement amongst us. But now, large churches are not full anymore. The administrative culture at various levels of our church is utterly toxic and negative. There are a few positive occasions, but they are the exception to the rule. Stewardship and membership numbers all across the nation reflect this. Mark my words and those of other jurisdictions, denominations, or faiths, who independently follow our Church: our Priests will soon be ordained “tax collectors” for their metropolitans. Of course the metropolitans will blame, or rather deflect thisto whoever is the archbishop.
This is another vast difference from years ago: our church culture now is more toxic, negative, and Byzantine.
When Archbishop Iakovos would visit, people were abuzz with joy. Today there is dread at the thought of any of our hierarchs coming to a local parish. The dread is because they will attempt to raise more money for their metropolis or one of their pet projects. The dread parishioners have is because our hierarchs would like to pretend they are corporate executives and mandate us into any given direction that appeals to them at the time.
Making a parish pay for a limousine service to cart our hierarch around in, and paying for a high-priced suite at a hotel for him, is not leadership. Closing down a parish and selling the assets, as will be more commonplace, does not require a “press agent,” multiple articles or announcements.
Recently, one of our bishops thought it best to get on a plane and fly to New York with the fanfare of a “Roman Cesare” instead of wiring the funds for $20.00. Do you want to guess who is paying for these excesses?
This is another vast difference today: there is a deeply acute micro-management of our local communities by the ruling class ecclesiastically elite.
Our people are fed up and their allegiance to the GOA is nominal if not vulnerable. This is not the GOA we knew. It is no wonder people are flocking to “outsiders”: the fundamentalist monasteries of Ephraim, and also to other jurisdictions and denominations. These are the “outsiders” that are now appealing to the masses of Orthodox Christians in the GOA. Our forefathers here gave their blood, sweat, and tears for our Church in America.
We were guided to bring Orthodoxy to America. Now we are told “if you are not Orthodox, leave.”
All of the sacrifices our forefathers made are for naught. If dwindling attendance and stewardship numbers are a sign of anything, they are a sign of the comfortable ecclesiastical elite being aloof from the realities of the average parishioner.
What is the record of achievement for our hierarchs? Nothing extraordinary. What did our hierarchs do to be elevated to the bishopric? They decided not to get married. That’s pretty much it. This is why the legacy and record of achievement of our hierarchs in the GOA today will be “ego-driven failure.”