Reflections on the meaning of the “Hierarchical Church” in America

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George D. Karcazes

George D. Karcazes

Source: The Greek Star

BY GEORGE D. KARCAZES

What does it mean when we say that the Church is “hierarchical”? Does it mean that Christ alone is acknowledged to be the “head” of the Church and that everyone else are His servants, regardless of “rank”? Does it mean that the titles of those ordained to the priesthood are in a “hierarchical” order — in the nature of the service all members of the Church are called upon to offer: where Patriarchs, Archbishops, Metropolitans,   Archimandrites, Proto-Presbyters, Presbyters, Deacons and the Laity (the “Royal Priesthood”) all offer their service to the Church in synergy with each other as “co-ministers”? Does it mean that “the people can do nothing without the bishop — and the bishop may not do anything without the people”? Does it mean that Hierarchs are loving and humble shepherds of their flocks, rightly teaching the truth of the Church and protecting it against false teachings, heresies and schisms?

Or does it mean that Church Hierarchs have absolute authority in all matters involving the Church, including the imposition of Charters in violation of the provisions of previous Charters agreed to by all parties, interpretation of Regulations, conducting Ecclesiastical courts in which the right to anything resembling “administrative due process” does not exist: where there is no right to representation, no right to confront and cross examine witnesses, no transcripts are kept… no right to appeal exists… where bishops can act in an arbitrary and capricious manner without recourse… where parish council members can be removed… where entire councils can be removed… where parishes can be denied the right to perform sacraments because of a disagreement over the payment of a tax (however characterized and whether legitimately imposed or not)?

In a state-separated environment, such as America where the church is not the established church of the territory in which it finds itself —where it does not have more wealth than even the state itself, where the land, Churches, schools, and all of the ministries have been established by the people and depend upon the people for their support — what does it mean when we say that the Church is not “congregational”?

The reality of the Church as it exists in America, in my opinion, is that the Church should properly be seen as both hierarchical and congregational.

It is a “new reality” in every parish I am aware of in the GOA (except the Cathedral in NY) —parish councils are elected, budgets are prepared and approved by parish assemblies, financial records are kept (and usually audited by outside auditors, or at least by non-council members elected under the UPR to audit the books). Financial statements are presented to the Parish Assemblies, stewards vote to approve major expenses. With very few exceptions the finances and ministries of the parishes are transparent and clergy and councils are accountable to the parishioners. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said at the Metropolis and Archdiocesan levels of the GOA. Even towards the end of the halcyon days of the late Archbishop Iakovos, Clergy Laity Congresses did not live up their promise as the “highest legislative bodies of the Church” where important issues could freely be brought before informed delegates for serious discussion and decision. Agendas and Budgets were never submitted to parishes and delegates in a timely manner as required by the UPR. Parish delegates rarely arrived prepared to have meaningful input into the important work of the Finance and Administration Committees. Changes to the UPR were pushed through reducing the opportunities of parishes to submit issues at the Congress. National lay leaders were appointed (even after changes were voted in New Orleans to provide for some elected representation, these regulations were thwarted by hierarchical maneuverings at the Diocesan Assemblies, which were less open and less inclusive than even the Congresses). In order to bring an issue to the Congress it was no longer possible for a parish council to submit it to the Congress planners. It had to be approved at a Parish Assembly and then at a Diocesan Assembly where they were usually quashed by the Bishop (in the Chicago Diocese the Bishop ignored the UPR and refused to convene Diocesan Assemblies annually, so that even the slim chance that something could be brought up and approved in time to be sent to NY was effectively removed). A herculean effort was required to inform and bring the issue of the Patriarchal Charter to the delegates of the Los Angeles Congress, where every effort was made to prevent a vote… every motion or resolution was unilaterally renamed a “recommendation’ and every “recommendation” was ignored. That Congress probably marked the last Congress that conk reasonably be considered to have had any legitimacy. All that have followed have been showcases for seminars and workshops… (and in keeping with previous Congresses’ Hierarchical Liturgies, spectacles ,luncheons, banquets, speeches by US and Greek Government politicians, etc.

We live in a fallen world. In a perfect world, all lay people would be generous stewards, giving freely because it is what the Lord asks of us; and we Laity would give for their own spiritual benefit — not because it is required by a decision of a Clergy-Laity Congress. They would give without demanding financial transparency and accountability on the part of Church leaders. In a perfect world Church leaders would be loving and caring stewards of the resources entrusted to them. They would be skilled in dispute resolution. They would lead by personal example: by persuasion and consent rather than by command and force. The problem of leadership in our present circumstances and in the American age we live in is that Church leaders need to understand that they cannot be effective by themselves… they are useless without followers. They need to learn a new style of leadership.. just as the Laity must develop a new quality of followership. Church leaders in America must be responsive to the people, and the people must be active and informed participants in the process.

Originally published on April 27, 2011.

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