The Possible Future(s) of Greek Orthodoxy in North America

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The Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (L to R) Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, Archbishop Demetrios of America , Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh and Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey.

The Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (L to R) Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, Archbishop Demetrios of America , Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh and Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey.

Source: The National Herald

By Steve Frangos, TNH Staff Writer

Of all the many cultural institutions Greeks brought with them to North America none will prove more lasting than their efforts at permanently establishing in this nation the Eastern Orthodox Church.

To be sure, Greek immigrants did not accomplish this goal alone, nor were they even the first among the various branches of the Eastern Orthodox faithful to do so. Yet it is also clear, to any who attend church even on an irregular basis that we are now every much in a period of transformation. Two issues occupy the conversations Greeks have among themselves concerning church the ever growing presence of converts and the current total management of church business by the clergy.

Since the end of World War II most cultural problems within the Greek Orthodox Churches, at least, were managed in the large metropolitan areas in any event, by individual parishes coming to be dominated by distinct groups. So, one parish would be composed of Greeks who had arrived after World War II, another parish in the same city would be largely composed of the children of the 1880 to 1920 generation of Greek immigrants, another church by those who were of mixed marriages, parishes of different economic classes were established in the early 1890s and many have remained so until the present, yet other parishes were made up of those who wished a more ardent religious focus for all services within the parish, and other parishes drawing upon their origins in the eastern Mediterranean have never been a part of the Archdiocese in New York City but are affiliated and administered by the Patriarchates of Jerusalem or Alexandria. These divisions based on personal preferences are not simply limited to large cities.

One has only to look at the parishes surrounding Tarpon Springs, FL to see a large cluster of such churches established and maintained largely by Northern Greek and Greek-American retirees. But wherever one goes in the United States everyone is very much aware it’s not yiayia’s and pappou’s church anymore.

In the troubled conversations about what will become of the church, among Greek-Americans with whom I have spoken, the future of their individual parish is primary. They wish to pass on what they had received from their parents. As with all things Greeks this hope is also mixed with the wish that they have improved on what they were given. There is no question that the huge cathedrals and beautifully appointed individual parishes are a gift to all future generations that was difficult to initially build in an American society openly hostile to Orthodoxy, maintain in the hard times of the Great Depression and more so to improve upon since the end of World War II.

With the Greek clergy now legally in charge of individual parishes all church owned properties can be sold without consultation with the congregation. Annual fees of individual parishes to the various Metropolitans can be changed and have been. These new rates are set without consultation with the individual parish boards, with no explanations for their increase given even in the face of drastically changing general economic conditions. A further level of grievance by the individual parishes is that no public accounting of Metropolitan or Archdiocesan funds is offered. All in all the Archdiocese and the various Metropolitans can legally close individual churches and recall priest as they elect.

I came to hear of these persistence concerns by various parishes around the nation as I have been contacted about individual church histories. Many parishes are closely reviewing their historical documents not so much for learning about their collective past but to determine their legal relationship with the Archdiocese.

A commonly expressed rumor by those persons of Greeks descent I have spoken with is that the Archdiocese has already determined that many of the smaller parishes are filled with converts. As this urban legend goes given that the Archdiocesan clergy is largely Greek-born the determination has been made to simply let go of these parishes and only retain the Greek dominated parishes of the major cities. This tale actually includes demographics such that of the over 350 Greek Orthodox parishes now in the United States only some 200 will be retained by the Archdiocese and those kept in the fold will have to become more and more Greek-oriented or they too will be dropped. This scenario is clearly a merger of two separate topics: a resentment of the new converts and the current legal status of the clergy over the parishioners.

While I do not hold with this rumored tale of dark conspiracy, I can see that uncertainty about our collective future as an individual church in North America is clearly on everyone’s mind.

Given my own view of the world, I would look to the past to see the possible futures available to Eastern Orthodoxy in the Western Hemisphere. I am not alone in this point of view. This sees no better proof than in terms of historical investigation and publication. Eastern Orthodox Christians are experiencing perhaps the most dynamic moment in our faith’s presence on American shores. Dozens of new books, a virtual flood of essays, the issuance of a seemingly endless stream of locally produced parish histories, websites, conferences across the country and the formation of ever new organizations aimed at documenting our history are all available to any who will but seek them out.

Something is underway that no one is investigating; why are so many people undertaking such studies? I would venture to say that it is because these researchers do not see their own experiences or their own culture in the general American histories now being written. In the past I have written about the New Preservation Movement among Greeks in the United States. Greek-Americans are writing and publishing a wide array of individual parish histories, autobiographies, documentary films and even works of fiction all aimed at documenting our collective past.

Without consent from any outside authority figures Greek-Americans around the nation are making every attempt to systematically preserve their history and cultural heritage in North America. As never before, Greek-Americans are establishing museums, historical societies, archives, and libraries. Already, various organizations have amassed a wide array of historical photographs, documents, and artifacts. Beyond the hard task of preservation, many of these groups have also issued books, documentary films, and catalogues based on their collections, exhibitions, lecture series, and ongoing research.

Clearly this is one of those moments in history where a spontaneous social movement is emanating from deep within the Greek community. Once again, Greek-Americans are collectively seeking to solve a community-based problem. All of these organizations have essentially the very same goal: To collect, preserve and share with Greeks and non-Greek alike the Greek-American historical experience – as understood and interpreted on a community level. But I may have been short-sighted in the true nature of this movement. But more may be underway.

According to the United States Bureau of the Census Greeks among the most educated and economically prosperous in the nation. Logically, then, this group of well-educated, socially successful, moneyed individuals would, one would think, issue finely-researched, readable, filled with historic photographs and related church documents all produced in physically handsome volumes of history. And in point of fact they have.

But are Greek-Americans the only ones undertaking such historical studies? What of the Arab-American Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Rumanian/Serbian orthodox and all the rest? It may well be my focus was too confined? What if all these forgotten ethnics in North America are all—each in their own fashion—involved in such a self-examination focusing on what could be called a historical re-discover project?

As can be seen in the explosion of historical studies on the presence of Eastern Orthodoxy in the new world clearly all these fellow Orthodox faithful are fully engaged with recovering and documenting our church’s actions since, at least, the 1700s. According to the late Fr Alexander Doumouras, by the 1830s clusters of Orthodox faithful were worshiping together in seaports around the nation. A few Greek-American researchers are among those undertaking these new studies. I believe becoming more aware of our collective past will offer us new directions in which to chart our collective futures. Thinking through problems has always been a Greek-American practice. Are we to do less to preserve the future of our faith in the Americas?

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7 Comments

  1. George D. Karcazes on

    Mr. Frangos has written an interesting article blending rumors, urban legends, legitimate and unwarranted fears expressed to him by laity across America. I am writing to correct one factual error which appears in his otherwise excellent piece. In the article, Mr. Frangos states: “With the Clergy now legally in charge of individual parishes all church owned properties can be sold without consultation with the congregation.” This is simply not the case. Although some Metropolitans may be trying to perpetuate this myth hoping that uninformed parishioners may agree to transfer their property to them, it is simply “wishful thinking” on their parts. Each parish is separately incorporated by its local parishioners, each has a board of trustees (or Parish Council) elected by the parishioners, and each parish owns its own property, both real and personal. The priest is not a voting member of the Council and he has no legal authority to sign any documents relating to the parish real estate or personal property, including checks drawn on the parish bank accounts. The Metropolis of Chicago recently attempted to influence the Judge in Milwaukee County handling the criminal theft charges against Fr. James Dokos to dismiss the criminal case by claiming that the money allegedly stolen by Fr. Dokos from the Franczak Trust (which was supposed to go to the parish) really belongs to the Metropolitan who can decide what to do with it, and that the criminal prosecution interferes with the Free Exercise of Religion guarantee of the 1st Amendment! This claim was definitively rejected by the Archdiocese in correspondence from the Executive Director, General Counsel and Legal Committee Chair, all of which are Exhibits to the Court filings in the case. Copies of these letters clearly inform the Court and our entire Greek Orthodox Community of who “owns” and controls the assets of each parish. The letters are available by clicking here.

    • Philip Demos on

      Mr. Karkazes corrects one fact but perpetuates another “myth” or untruth. The Metropolis of Chicago did not argue at anytime in court what he suggests. Dokos’ legal defense attempted to make an argument more subtle that Mr. Karkazes lets on. Dokos’ attorney, not the Metropolis, made the argument. I believe Metropolitan Iakovos–not Bishop Demetrios as widely circulated by many online–wrote an opinion regarding Archdiocesan dispute resolution procedures, but not that the court had no jurisdiction on a criminal matter. Nor did the Metropolitan seek to lay claim to the money himself. Yet even so, it was Dokos’ attorney who made the argument, not the Metropolis. Mr. Karkazes, an attorney, clearly knows better. Defense attorney come up with all sorts of theories, but Dokos’ legal defense is not associated with the Metropolis or Archdiocese in any manner. Witnesses, not attornies swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Something else Mr. Karkazes knows well.

  2. George D. Karcazes on

    Mr. Demos does not reveal whether he is an attorney, or if he represents the Metropolis, Metropolitan, Bishop, Dokos, or acts as an advisor to the Dokos defense team. He does, however, claim to understand the subtle(ties) of the Dokos defense and accuses me of perpetuating a “myth” or untruth. His accusation is based on (1) his “belief” that Metropolitan Iakovos wrote an “opinion regarding Archdiocesan dispute resolution procedures, but not that the court had no jurisdiction on a criminal matter.”<; (2) it was Dokos’ attorney who made the argument, not the Metropolis; and (3) “Dokos’ legal defense is not associated with the Metropolis or Archdiocese in any manner.”

    The court pleadings in the case of People of Wisconsin vs. James F. Dokos, case number 14-CF-002934 in the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County are public records except for the opinion letter Mr. Demos refers to. The file contains a Motion to “File and Maintain Under Seal Document Supporting Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction” filed by Dokos’ defense team. Paragraph 1 of the Motion states that Dokos “has obtained a letter from Metropolitan Iakovos” and that “According to canon law, the Metropolitan is the final arbiter of disputes between a parish priest and a parish council concerning church property.” Paragraph 5 claims that “Public disclosure of Metropolitan Iakovos’s letter regarding those Procedures in the context of addressing this Court’s jurisdiction would violate the confidentiality requirements of the proceedings under ecclesiastical law and would also result in impermissible public intrusion into the internal free exercise of the tenets of the Greek Orthodox faith.
    Paragraph 6 states: “Nevertheless, the Metropolitan recognizes that his letter is critical to this Court’s analysis of whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction
    over Father Dokos’s authority to use church funds, as it inherently requires inquiry into the Regulations, tenets and practices of the Greek Orthodox Church.” The motion concludes by asking the Court to accept the Metropolitan’s letter “in a sealed envelope” for the Court’s consideration and that the “letter remain under seal pending further order of the Court.”

    Unless Mr. Demos is a member of the Dokos defense team or the prosecutor’s office, or had a hand in writing the letter for the Metropolitan, he has not seen the Metropolitan’s secret letter to the Court. The Motion to file the letter and to keep it under seal surely supports my contention that that “the Metropolis of Chicago recently attempted to influence the Judge in Milwaukee County handling the criminal theft charges against Father James Dokos to dismiss the criminal case by claiming that the money allegedly stolen by Fr. Dokos from the Franczak Trust (which was supposed to go to the parish) really belongs to the Metropolitan who can decide what to do with it, and that the criminal prosecution interferes with the Free exercise of Religion guarantee of the 1st Amendment.

    Mr. Demos’s efforts to distance the Metropolis from Dokos’s defense lawyers are the “myth” and untrue. The Judge didn’t buy it, and neither should the people of God in this Metropolis and Archdiocese. Case closed.

  3. Philip Demos on

    As Karcazes states, I have no more, nor less knowledge of the contents of the document than he does. My point, essentially, is that his “contention” is speculative: what is revealed in the court record is basically a paraphrase of tje Archdiocesan Regulations. There is absolutely no factual basis, as Karkazes admits, to suggest the Metropolitan sought to control the fund in question. I do not doubt Iakovos is sympathetic to his priest, but it may also be noted that canon law (and not modern regulations) does place all ecclesiastical property in the control of the bishop, at least in theory with some limitations, and that Dokos is accused of theft from the Trust, not the parish itself… Be that as it may, Karcazes’ suggestion that Iakovos made an argument that the trust fund really belonged to him is plainly absurd and just another example of the gross exagerrations and hyperbolic hysteria from a so-called reformer of the Church. He has been spinning and bitterly criticizing the Greek Archdiocese for years and while he has often had a legitimate point, his tenor, tone, and general contempt for the hierarchy renders his voice impotent and unpersuasive. If he would put as much effort into positive efforts to growing the Church as he expends in his vitriolic rants against the hierarchy, we would all be better off.

    • Philip Demos on

      And to be clear, neither am I an attorney nor an advisor to the Metropolis or the Dokos defense team. I am simply one who does not believe conclusions should be reached prior to all the facts being revealed. It is unbecoming for Christians to judge on appearances. I believe someone central to the faith teaches so…

  4. George D. Karcazes on

    Shooting the messenger is a time-honored tactic of those who do not like the message. If the Metropolitan is not trying to hide behind the secrecy of the Court’s “seal” he can simply publish his letter in the Orthodox Observer, or release the letter to Mr. Demos, who can post here. Or, he can advise the court to lift the seal, so that anyone interested can see it. It should be noted that the Judge read and considered the letter and denied Dokos’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Why does the Metropolitan insist on keeping the letter secret? If Mr. Demos didn’t have a hand in writing the letter for the Metropolitan, and he doesn’t know what is in it, Mr. Demos (if that is his real name) can file a FOIA request with the Court and ask that the document be released. Citing “canon law” and “ecclesiastical law”, without setting forth the words of the canon or law; the date (century) the “canon” was adopted; whether it remains in effect; and how it relates to our Church in America in 2015 is just blowing hot smoke at all of us. The Court didn’t buy it and neither should any of us. The response to the contentions of the Metropolitan and Dokos is set forth in the letters from Jerry Dimitriou, the Executive Director; Emmanuel G. Demos, General Counsel; and Cathy Walsh, Legal Committee Chair of the Archdiocese. The letters can viewed by clicking on the link at the end of my first post, above.

    • Philip Demos on

      I bow before Mr. Karcazes…if D. is really his middle initial, who is certainly correct to note that most ancient provisions of the canons regarding property are not applicable today, nor do I advocate that…although George (if that is his real first name) may have actually realized that on this point we are agreed if he had read my words with greater care to actually understand what I meant rather than what he presumed my words would say.
      I do find it interesting that while Karcazes (?) Posts tesponses to a D.A.’s inquiry, he does not post the letter from the DA to which all his supportive documents are replies. Actually, none addresses anything concerning the Metropolitan directly. Again, George speculates. I actually dont care enough to submit a FOIA request. The matter is irrelvant to me or those I care about. I do care, however, about the Church. Again, as I would point out to the man claiming to be George Karcazes, your poisonous pursuit of your agenda by speculating and relishing someones punishment (Dokos) or downfall (hierarchs) helps nobody.

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