I am a third-generation member of the Orthodox Christian Church in the United States, dating back to 1906, when my paternal grandparents settled in Springfield, MA, and then Poughkeepsie, NY (1908), when my maternal grandfather settled in Pittsburgh, PA. At 28 years old, my grandmother died of the Swine Flu in that city in 1918, leaving a 3-month newborn and a 4-year-old child. Eventually, this branch of the family settled in Garden City, L.I., N.Y. I grew up with my parents in Jersey City in 1942. My views on this Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Charter development process relate to this impressionistic immigrant and assimilationist history of my American Experience. I have been a sacramental adherent and active member in all aspects of the growth and development of the Greek Orthodox Church. I am a member by choice and based on my extended family participation, I am a remnant member.
My assimilated immigrant forbearers were actively involved in developing local churches wherever they settled. In Poughkeepsie, my grandparents housed the itinerant priest who conducted services when he could. My grandmother was President of the Philoptochos in 1932 at Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church in Jersey City. My father and uncle served on the parish council of that church for many years and were the driving forces involved in building a new sanctuary in 1956. The Long Island branch actively developed St. Paul Parish in Hempstead, and my aunt was a driving force on the cookbook committee.
These immigrants and first-generation folks built the infrastructure of the church. They also participated in the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), advocating education and citizenship since its start. My father served as District Governor in the mid-1950s, and I am a 63-year member. The idea of re-Hellenization of the faithful and that teaching the Greek language will retain our children and young adults is not the church’s work. Developing Orthodox Christian Education and lifelong learning is a better alternative. Keeping our funds here in the USA, building up a world-class College, developing full care facilities for the elderly in each Metropolis, and actively promoting Orthodox Christian unity are ways to retain our faithful.
Listening to the Archbishop’s February 2023 address to the GOA Chamber of Commerce (known as Leadership 100) expressing his vision for the new Charter, we agree that the stakes are high. We are losing the future because we are different today from one hundred and fifty years ago. We were a grassroots church 100 years ago, respecting our adopted country and using its ethos and laws to build up the body of Christ. The hierarchs who governed until 1994 respected the laity (laos) and were parish-centered, working in synergy with the laity and they with the Archdiocese. The administration of the church through its mixed councils included the active and dynamic participation of the laity. There was respect for the laity.
This changed after 1994 with the retirement of Archbishop Iakovos and was formalized in 2003 with the 5th Charter given to us as “a gift from the Patriarchate.” Indeed, the changes were brought about because the Patriarch himself chose to see himself as a superpower and a global leader. His survival depended on reinventing himself. As a result, he decided to divide and conquer Orthodox Christians in North America. This fragmentation and elimination of the active participation of the laity is the direct result of this survival mode of the Patriarchate and its need to impose a charter created without the input of the laity. The assignment of Archbishop Spyridon and the imposition of a new charter represent the takeover of the Archdiocese by a global Patriarch who uses this geographic area to bolster himself.
The Patriarch appointed a Patriarchal nuncio within the Archdiocese to set up a two-tier church. Foundations were established to siphon off funds from the mission and work of the church in the United States. These funds are sent abroad to bolster the Patriarchate. Leadership 100 and The Archons are set aside from the rest of the faithful in a priority category. They network and are continually showered with honors and glory. The rank-and-file laity and parish leaders are continually asked to give more and more to keep the parishes afloat. We must ask, how do the Archdiocese and Metropolises support the parishes? The new Charter must address this fragmentation.
The canonical order of the church, its history, and theology clearly show: where the bishop is, so there is the church. The church is not a colony to be governed from abroad for reasons to bolster a titular hierarchy or ancient patriarchates. The church is a mission unto the world. Historically, Orthodox ecclesiology and missionary outreach has respected the culture and language with which it engages. The Charter is a missionary document. Archimandrite Roman Braga, held captive in Romania in the Communist period, observed and taught, “Orthodoxy is the same everywhere.” In America, it “must bear the mark of the nation… If the missionaries are wise, they will sense and understand the character of their nation…This is a utilitarian nation, and I think Orthodoxy here will be practiced for the benefit of many nations.” Furthermore, he believed that the utilitarian nature of the American Church enhances charity and the help of the community. These historical truths and realities must govern the Charter. The Archdiocese in America must serve the needs of the faithful in America.
As the process continues, we must ask: what happened to the work of the first committee consisting of 80 members suggested by the Archbishop and Metropolitans? They met once or twice. Where are copies of their work? Were the committee members formally dismissed?
Who picked the members of a new committee established and meeting in Istanbul after the Clergy-Laity Congress held in New York in July 2022?
Why does this committee meet in Istanbul when making a charter for the Archdiocese in the United States?
Have all those officially discussing the Charter studied and been guided by the questions and comments presented in the open discussion on the Charter held at the Clergy-Laity Congress in one of its last sessions? Why is Metropolitan Savas not part of this Charter Development Committee?