The Christian Activist - Vol. 12
Back To Basics
The War Against the Greek Orthodox Hierarchy
By Frank Schaeffer
There are a number of recent issues that have troubled some members of
the Greek Orthodox Church here in America. The response to these issues,
by a small but vocal minority of persons within the Greek-American community,
has been such as to cause heartache, doubt and confusion within the Orthodox
Church at large.
The appointment of Archbishop SPYRIDON, his personality and some of
his actions have apparently rubbed some people the wrong way. The Archbishop's
recent reassignment of a number of faculty members at Holy Cross Seminary
has been the catalyst for bringing together a number of his critics. These
critics tend to be the reassigned faculty members themselves, their supporters
and those who, for various other reasons oppose the new Archbishop. Some
of these persons have joined together in both covert and open opposition
and have called for the Archbishop's dismissal. Their voices have been
amplified by the use of the Internet beyond all proportion to their few
Certain critics of the Archbishop have spread rumors by an anonymous
letter and the Internet about the Archbishop. In some cases they have used
the secular media to voice their opinions and have even threatened the
use of the law courts. Some of the rumors the opponents of the Archbishop
have spread, have been vile and unsubstantiated gossip of the lowest sort.
The critics of the Archbishop have behaved in a scandalous manner. They
have thrown mud, not only on His Eminence, Archbishop SPYRIDON but on all
Orthodox Christians by extension. We at The Christian Activist feel it
is time to do our part to come to the defense of Archbishop SPYRIDON. We
note that The Christian Activist is a pan-Orthodox organization wholly
independent of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. We also note
that an interview with the Archbishop appeared recently in these pages.
We at The Christian Activist consider the Archbishop a friend of traditional
The "issues" raised by the Archbishop's critics center on
the claim that Archbishop SPYRIDON does not have the personality to lead
the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The stated accusations against the
Archbishop have nothing to do with theology, doctrine or heresy. They have
everything to do with style, personality and special interest groups and
individuals defending their turf.
The Archbishop has called for a return to Orthodox tradition. This naturally
offends non-traditional Orthodox. The Archbishop has called for changes
at Holy Cross seminary to make it more traditional, more spiritual. This
naturally offends the Westernized Orthodox who have dominated the seminary.
The Archbishop is said to lack personality. His personality is quiet. This
naturally offends the kind of American Greeks who think leadership should
be smooth, political and savvy.
Underlying the criticism of the Archbishop is the implicit repudiation
of the Greek Orthodox hierarchy in Constantinople in the person of Patriarch
BARTHOLOMEW. Indeed the criticism of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW extends to a
general rejection of the authority of the Patriarch in the affairs of the
Greek Orthodox Church in America.
The volume of criticism leveled at Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW has increased
since his visit to America when he made it clear, in a speech at Georgetown
University, that he was distancing himself from talk of reunion with the
Roman Catholic Church. Naturally this offends those who have invested heavily
in so-called ecumenical dialogue.
In other words, several things are going on here. Much of the controversy
involves a clash of personalities but underlying all of this is a larger
issue: the direction of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The controversy
surrounding Archbishop SPYRIDON represents a collision between some few
modernized, Americanized Greeks and the traditions of the Orthodox Church.
Some of the criticism leveled at the Archbishop is just another way of
getting at Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW. Some of those stirring up the trouble
know what they are doing. Others are just fellow travelers ignorant of
the facts but easily misled.
If the issues at stake were not so grave the whole matter could be dismissed
as a tempest in a tea pot. However this particular "tea pot"
happens to be a corner of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church! The
controversy is being generated by only a handful of people, but its effect
may well be eternal. Consider how many people are seeking for the Church
at this time and what effect all this will have on them.
To an outside observer, unfamiliar with the excitable temperament of
the Greek community, the issues raised by those criticizing the Archbishop
might seem petty, small-minded and frankly mean. After all, if the personality
of a bishop is his qualification for church leadership then many saints--
quiet, humble, strict, traditional, slow of speech and often retiring of
nature-- would be, "unqualified."
Most of the critics of the Archbishop seem to fall into five categories:
1. Friends of the previous archbishop who resent the fact he has been
2. Those personally adversely affected by the administrative changes
made by the new archbishop who are now in the process of "settling"
3. A handful of Greek-Americans who are highly self-aware regarding
their material success in America. These Greeks are determined to be socially
acceptable to the surrounding culture. This group is offended by the Archbishop
because, according to them, he does not project a charismatic enough personality.
(This group might be described as the part of the Greek-American community
that sees the job of an archbishop as being able to look good in a White
House photo opportunity!)
4. Those few Orthodox ideologically committed to a modernist approach
to the Church. This last group would include some liberally inclined priests,
some faculty at the seminary, some feminists, some Orthodox from other
jurisdictions and others who are quietly trying to change the Orthodox
Church and make it "modern."
5. A few wealthy Greeks who equate their worldly success with the right
to throw their weight around in church affairs. (This group might be described
as the ,"I paid for the new Parish hall so do what I say", faction.)
In a letter widely distributed by those opposing the Archbishop he is
criticized for not being as distinguished as, "American religious
leaders of our time, like King and Graham." The Archbishop is also
criticized in the same letter for not being a, "Talented communicator
who can get close to people." Above all he is criticized for speaking
up about the unique qualities of the Greek Orthodox Church, in contrast
to the surrounding Protestant culture and other religious bodies. In other
words the Archbishop is criticized for not being sufficiently smooth and
politically correct. In the letter he is called to lead the Greek Orthodox
community so that it might be, "Recognized by American Society and
Government to receive our nation's highest honors."
Clearly the, "sin" that the Archbishop has committed is not
to be fashionable and American enough to suit a certain type of Greek-American's
self image. Perhaps the Archbishop's critics can be understood to be those
Greek-Americans suffering from an inferiority complex. The idea of the
Archbishop being a spiritual father rather than civic leader, engaged in
Protestant-style public relations, seems to be a foreign concept to those
who fault him for not being enough like Billy Graham.
Implicit in the criticism of the Archbishop, and of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW
for appointing him, is the idea that somehow we should be American in our
approach to our religion. There is a strong whiff of anti-hierarchical
fervor in the criticisms of our Archbishop. The message of the critics
is that we should be ashamed of our Greek Orthodox heritage and move beyond
it and become thoroughly Americanized, "democratic" and up to
The Archbishop is primarily disliked by his critics because both through
his words and administrative changes he has called the Greek Orthodox community
back to its basic Orthodox traditions. However, this is not a message that
social club type Orthodox wish to hear. They much prefer photo opportunities
at the White House than to be called to fast, confess and uphold our Orthodox
traditions. They want to fit in with the surrounding culture, not to be
reminded that the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic
Church of the ages and that every other claim to truth is false.
The small, discontented minority that have gone public with their criticisms
of the Archbishop have shown a willingness to tear the fabric of the unity
of the Greek Orthodox community in their quest for petty satisfaction.
They have been eager to wash our linen in public and to invite the ridicule
of the Orthodox Church. They have gone to the secular media and onto the
Internet bearing false witness and rumor against our church and Her bishops.
This in itself is of far greater importance than any particular issue they
raise. The question we must ask is, why?
Since my conversion to the Orthodox Church (I was chrismated December
of 1990, and am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
in Newburyport Massachusetts where I serve on the parish council), I have
had the privilege of speaking at many Orthodox communities across this
country. In fact I have visited over 150 communities of all Orthodox jurisdictions.
This opportunity has been afforded me because of curiosity as to why the
son of one of the 20th century's most famous evangelical theologians
would convert to the Greek Orthodox Church.
During my travels I have come to know hundreds of priests, monks, lay
people and of course our bishops. Moreover as editor of The Christian Activist,
I receive hundreds of pieces of mail a year from non-Orthodox interested
in the Church, converts and Orthodox all over the world. (Seventy five
thousand readers generate a lot of correspondence.) All this is to say
that my perspective on the Church is informed by daily contact with many
people deeply involved in the life of our church.
The good news is there are tens of thousands of committed Orthodox Christians.
Our numbers are growing daily as new converts come into the Church. Also
there are many in our churches who are rededicating themselves to Christ's
work. The bad news is that there seem to be a few Orthodox who do not know
much about our church and therefore are easily misled by people with a
personal, political or psychological agenda.
To the many converts coming to the Orthodox Church one of the most exciting
things about our church is the fact we have a hierarchical tradition that
goes back, in authentic and unbroken Apostolic succession to Christ Himself.
In fact this continuity, order and tradition is exactly what tens of thousands
of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and even some non-Christians
are looking for in great numbers.
Recently the dramatic growth of the Orthodox Church has been reported
on in such places as U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Times and
National Public Radio. All the reports note that the movement toward Orthodoxy,
by so many modern day Americans is a surprise since the Orthodox Church
is perceived as old fashioned.
But the fact that thousands of converts are coming to an, "old
fashioned" religion is no surprise to those of us who have studied
the contemporary religious scene in America. In fact tradition and hierarchy
are exactly what many thoughtful people are looking for.
Many Protestants have watched their denominations disintegrate under
the twin hammer blows of modernization and liturgical innovation. They
have seen laity groups, such as feminists and modern liturgists demolish
the traditions of their denominations. For instance many Episcopalians
watched in horror as modernists rewrote their prayer book and turned it
into the product of trendy committees of politically correct professional
liturgists. And there have also been the well-publicized departures from
tradition in moral teaching not to mention the ordination of women to the
priesthood that has shocked the faithful. Many traditional Episcopalians
have been dismayed at what has happened to their church and have left.
Not a few have become Orthodox.
In modern America, Roman Catholics have fared no better than the Episcopalians
in keeping their traditions intact. Lay committees have worked with modernized
nuns and priests to push their church as far toward Western, American-style
innovation as possible in such areas as theology, moral teaching and of
course the liturgy. As a result, the Latin Church is a pale imitation of
its past self. No traditional Roman Catholics, from say fifty years ago
would recognize it today as the church they grew up in. Indeed the problem
of the secularized, spiritually-ignorant laity taking over more and more
functions in the "new improved" Roman Church has just been addressed
by a document issued by the Vatican called, "Instruction on Certain
Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the non-Ordained." This document
is just one of many signs that the Vatican is trying belatedly to reestablish
the lines of authority between the laity and clergy that became hopelessly
muddled after Vatican II.
Both conservatives and liberals, in the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge
the fact that the increasing role of the laity, in taking over tasks once
reserved for priests and bishops, has caused chaos and a disintegration
in the authority of the Roman Church. The participation of a theologically
illiterate laity in liturgical life has also greatly diminished the Roman
Catholic Church's ability to propagate its faith.
Above all, one thing binds all the modernists together, Roman and Protestant:
They distrust if not hate the traditional hierarchies of their churches.
They seek to increase lay power in the name of participation and democracy.
Once in positions of influence the modernists have sought to "democratize"
their churches by recreating their churches in the image of their own special
interests, be that feminist, theologically liberal, left-wing what have
you. In other words they take their churches over and use them as a vehicle
for their own agenda. The result of such, "democratic reform"
has been that one church body after another has become secularized and
indistinguishable from the surrounding American culture. The churches have,
in the words of one Wall Street Journal commentator become, "The church
of what's happening now."
The results of the "democratic" modernization of various church
groups has been predictable. The modern Roman Catholic Church and modernized,
so called, main line Protestant churches are empty. Respect for the clergy
has been lost. The role of the laity has been confused with the clergy
to the extent that in many Protestant churches all sense of the necessity
for clergy has been lost. We see confused Protestants writing their own
wedding vows and services and in Roman Catholic Churches new, " liturgies"
are made up on the spur of the moment. The "new improved" American
Roman Church is so determined to keep up with the times they no longer
even have fixed hymns let alone chant. Today the local "Liturgical
Office" issues "Music Issues" that change week to week!
Ironically it is the most traditional "old fashioned" Roman
Catholic and Protestant groups that have seen growth. It turns out that
secularized, democratized "New Age" religion made easy is not
what people are looking for when they seek out the sacred and timeless.
THE CHAOS OF "DEMOCRATIZED" RELIGION
In the United States there are now, according to the latest United Nations
statistics, 22,000 denominations with an average of five new ones formed
per week. This is the fruit of the Protestant Reformation that, building
on Western humanism and rationalism did away with the hierarchy and traditions
of the Western, Latin Church. The Reformers demolished the old structures
of the Western Church in the name of reforming a corrupt hierarchy. Instead
of bringing true reformation the Reformers themselves, and subsequently
every individual Protestant pastor and leader, became their own, self-proclaimed,
"Pope." Individualism and personal autonomy became the hallmark
of the Protestant movement. The result has been schism without end and
one power struggle after another between self-proclaimed church leaders.
It is no coincidence that Western religious culture has lost its sense
of the sacred. How can anything be sacred that can be self-invented? What
is eternal and ageless about a religion that mirrors contemporary culture
and conforms to the surrounding society at every turn?
The claim of the Reformers was that the Holy Spirit would lead any individual
lay person to understand the Bible, without benefit of tradition, bishop
or priests. The way to be saved was, according to them, to follow the path
of individual conscience as revealed in the Scriptures. The slogan of the
Reformers was, "Sola Scriptura!" (The Bible Alone!) Yet even
from the beginning of the Reformation the doctrine of Sola Scriptura proved
to be a fiasco. The problem was no one could agree on what the Bible said!
The Reformers victory over the traditional Western hierarchies was in
the end disastrous. The laity "won" but it was a pyric victory.
The orderly life of the Western Church disintegrated in one generation.
By the time Martin Luther died there were over 250 competing denominations,
some of which were actually taking up arms against each other in endless
rounds of what soon became the European wars of religion.
Now, some 500 years after the Reformation, rather ironically, just as
thousands of Protestants are beginning to look to the Orthodox Church for
guidance, here in America, because they are sick and tired of individualistic,
democratized, Americanized, ecclesiastical chaos, some Orthodox seem to
be forgetting the best of our own unique tradition. As we have seen we
now have some people claiming to be Orthodox who have even gone so far
as to attack not only our hierarchy but the very idea of hierarchy itself.
They have subtly, and not so subtly called for modernizing, democracizing
and the Americanizing of our church. Sometimes they have been forthright
in their demands. But often, as in the present crop of malcontents, they
have been dishonest and tried to hide their efforts to fundamentally change
the structure of our church by pretending that all they are doing is calling
for more, "accountability " and "lay participation."
These "Orthodox" reformers would like to see our hierarchy
diminished in stature and replaced or "balanced" by an activist
lay leadership. They want social club leaders with dynamic personalities
not spiritual Fathers with the authority to make them change their secular
ways. They have gone so far as to wash the Greek Orthodox Church's linen
in public in an effort to forward their political agenda. They have even
used secular media outlets, the Internet, the law courts, accreditation
boards and other means to carry on a campaign of vilification against those
in authority in our church. They have whispered shameful lies.
To be blunt, there are a few loud complainers in a struggle against
our Archbishop for the life and direction of the Greek Orthodox Church
in America. If it were up to them our church would be, "modernized"
and turned into a participatory democracy of sorts, call it the parish
council mentality run amok. The bishop would be a "good old boy"
who would come in to bless what they were going to do anyway and perhaps
give a rousing speech. In other words, whether they admit it or not, the
church they want to coerce the Orthodox into imitating is Protestant and
congregational. It is also social and political. Apparently these modernizing,
Americanized, "Orthodox" have learned nothing from the recent
calamities that have overtaken both the Protestant denominations and the
American Roman Catholic Church. It is up to the rest of us, the vast majority
of the Orthodox faithful, to stop them.
It seems to me that no matter what one thinks about any individual issue
that is being raised by certain Orthodox lay persons and clergy, regarding
real or imagined problems in our church, the fact is that there is a right
way and a wrong way to handle such matters. The worst of all possible ways
to resolve issues confronting us in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic
Church is to take these issues to the court of worldly public opinion.
This is the ultimate case of throwing our pearls before swine.
In the Bible we are strictly prohibited from taking cases against other
Christians to the world for resolution. "Moreover, if your brother
sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear
you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses
every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it
to the church.[ie the bishop] But if he refuses even to hear the church,[ie
the Council of the Apostles or bishops] let him be to you like a heathen."
(Matthew 18.15-17) In other words those Christians who refuse to settle
their disputes within the structure of the Church are to be outcasts, treated
like the, "heathen," whether they be bishop, priest, or layman.
The Fathers speak with one voice against those who would set themselves
in judgment of our bishops. "For Jesus, our inseparable life, is the
will of the Father, just as the bishops, who have been appointed throughout
the world, are the will of Christ. It is fitting, therefore, that you should
live in harmony with the will of the bishops. It is clear, then, that we
must look upon the bishops as the Lord himself? Indeed, when you submit
to the bishops as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you
are living not in the manner of men, but as Jesus Christ." (St.
Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians AD 110)
The problem we are discussing here did not begin with the appointment
of Archbishop SPYRIDON. It is no secret that for some time now there has
been a power struggle carried on by some persons against our hierarchs.
Certain individuals, and so called Orthodox laity groups have made a specialty
of harassing our bishops in an effort to secure for the laity, whom they
claim to represent a, "greater voice" in the Church. This struggle
has it's roots in the fact that some persons are ashamed of how, "old
fashioned" and, "backward" and "undemocratic" our church is. They desire the respect of the secular world and, it seems,
are quite prepared to worship at the altar of modernity as the price of
admission into American culture as they understand it.
The hallmark of our secular world is a total lack of humility and an
unwillingness to obey any institution or tradition if it contradicts us.
It is this humanistic-Protestant spirit that has been in evidence in the
critics of our Archbishop. Some have even gone so far as to try and organize
a boycott of our church by withholding funds from the Archdiocese! Others
have formed new and semi-secret organizations and delighted in back room
dealing to undermine the structure of our church. These are the same lay
people who proclaim themselves eager for an American Greek Orthodox Church.
They say they are ready to help guide such an institution! In fact one
such little group dedicated to overthrowing our Archbishop, has even declared
itself, in the pretentious title of its organization, to be the, "Greek
Orthodox American Leaders." The very title of this organization is
instructive. It proclaims that one can be a self-appointed, Greek Orthodox
leader outside of the structure of, and without the blessing of, the Church.
Here is a repudiation of the very idea of Apostolic authority let alone
Those at war with our Archbishop are tainted by the spirit of an immigrant
population that wanted to "make it" in America at any price.
Their heroes are business men and women who have "made it" in
America. Their "qualification" for being "leaders"
in the Church seems to be the fact that they have been successful in the
world of business. They look at other Christian bodies and wish to be,
"democratic like them." It also seems they like to play that
favorite old Greek game: politics. They see the Orthodox Church as a ready-made
vehicle for their own social, business and political aspirations. They
tell us that, "Things are different in America, the Church must change."
however, ironically they are more Greek in their love of factions and intrigue
But, like the bank that only makes accounting errors in its own favor
the "change" these people suggest is suspect. It always seems
to be one way. It is in the direction of greater secularity, never toward
a resurgence of traditional, Orthodox monastic life and practice. The call
is for dynamic leadership and respectability, not for prayer, fasting and
illumination. Lip service is paid to tradition but never to the deepest
tradition of Orthodoxy, humble obedience.
According to the literature the critics of the Archbishop have sent
out they happily proclaim the fact that they are out to frighten the Archbishop
and to intimidate him. For instance, in one of their publications they
pronounce that, "The Archdiocese is in a state of panic. The reason
is our new organization --Greek Orthodox American Leaders [GOAL]. Archdiocese
officials are frantically trying to find out who the members of this organization
are and how determined they are to continue their efforts. Each day that
goes by without revealing their names the panic reaches new heights. Our
advice to His Eminence is that he might be better off now that he does
not know than later when he will." (From a GOAL letter
of February 20 1998 soliciting funds and members.)
Clearly, the spirit emanating from the public message quoted above is
sophomoric and rude. It is also a calculated insult. The tone is as threatening
as it is silly. One would suspect that this was the statement from a secret
society of naughty twelve year old boys.
To speak of a bishop in the way the GOAL letter does reveals an evil
intention. To delight in claiming to cause "panic" in the leaders
of the Greek Orthodox Church is an insult to all Orthodox.
The critics of the Archbishop have not been honest. In private letters
to those people who's support they seek, they have presented modest
aims. Yet their public pronouncements and resolutions have turned out to
be extreme and disrespectful of the Orthodox hierarchy.
The public resolution of GOAL of March 21, 1998 (clause 10-0) states:
"If our concerns are not resolved by May 1 1998, we call upon His
Eminence Archbishop SPYRIDON to resign .... and that the Ecumenical Patriarch
immediately ... elect a new Archbishop."
Then, in a press release sent out to all the major secular media, GOAL
states that "[Our] concerns include the inadequate leadership and
management style of Archbishop SPYRIDON..." The press relapse goes
on to publicly threaten "to institute legal action against the archdiocese" and to consider recommending that "The five hundred Greek Orthodox
parishes temporarily suspend their ..... financial support to the archdiocese." (March 21, 1998 GOAL press release)
In the last few months I have been constantly reminded of the activities
of our church's malcontents. Because I am the editor of The Christian Activist
, many national newspapers have called me asking for my opinion on the
controversy being stirred up by the opponents of the Archbishop. They called
because they have been contacted by certain "Orthodox" persons
who have been trying to get them to write stories against our Archbishop
and against the Patriarch of Constantinople. In fact a number of "Greek
Orthodox" actively tried to spoil the Patriarchs recent visit. One
group even started a page on the Internet dedicated to "debunking"
claims that the Patriarch's visit was going well! Often the secular journalists
who called said they could not understood why a Greek Orthodox person would
call them to denounce the Greek Church. In fact some of these journalists
asked me, "What's wrong with your people?" "Are these Greeks
nuts, or what?" "Why do they want to shoot themselves in the
foot in public?" One even asked me, "Are they really Greeks or
is this some kind of front for the Turks?"
When journalists called me for a comment I tried to explain that there
is a small but vocal, highly secularized group of people within the various
ethnic Orthodox communities. Such people, I explained, do not speak for
our Holy Tradition, even if some of them claim to be Orthodox and occupy
high worldly positions. How could they? If they spoke for our Holy Tradition
they would not break the law of the Bible and the Fathers and set themselves
up to judge our Archbishop in public or behind his back in such a vile
way. They would not go out of their way to embarrass the whole Orthodox
community so that they could score their personal points. A true Orthodox
would have no part of any organization that would spread whispered rumors
and unsubstantiated and malicious reports about our bishops. An authentic
believer following Christ would rather die than take his bishop, church
or seminary to court, let alone try and spoil his Patriarch's visit by
going to the court of public opinion on the Internet.
I explained to various journalists that just because some individuals
use the word "Orthodox" in the title of their self-proclaimed
laity group, or just because some person is a priest, or once taught at
an Orthodox seminary, does not mean that they have the good of our Church
at heart, let alone speak for the vast majority of loyal and steadfast
There are always malcontents, people hungry for personal vindication
at the expense of the Church. An Archbishop with all his responsibilities
is an easy target. Anyone can spread malicious, false rumors via the Internet.
In fact even fairly intelligent people can be taken in by such rumors.
(Consider the example of Pierre Sallinger and the TWA debacle!) What has
surprised me however is that some people who should know better have been
swept up into this much too public debate.
JUDAS IN A COLLAR
I recently spoke to a priest, (not my priest and not in my community,
thank God!) who said that he would rather quit the priesthood than be part
of the Greek Orthodox Church if our seminary lost accreditation due to
the recent reassignments made by our Archbishop. This priest's attitude
was that the good opinion of the non-Orthodox academic world is more important
than the authority of our Archbishop. After this priest vented his feelings,
in front of me and several other persons, he went on to criticize Patriarch
BARTHOLOMEW for being, "out of touch with our American ways."
The fact that this priest would rail against his Archbishop in a public
place was astounding to me. How does such a priest expect to maintain his
own authority when he will not protect the authority of his archbishop?
Does such a priest no longer believe in the Holy Spirit leading our church?
This priest's secularized and disrespectful attitude goes a long way
to prove just why it has been so necessary for our Archbishop to do a thorough
housecleaning at our seminary. After all, the priest who shot off his mouth
in front of a roomful of scandalized people is the product of our accredited
Over the years many pious persons have noticed the lack of spiritual
life at our seminary. Change is long overdue. Our Archbishop is to be congratulated
for his courageous stand in making some very necessary, if painful changes.
For far too long a secularized group of scholars, that sought the respect
of the world ahead of the preservation of our spiritual treasures, has
dominated our seminary. These scholars have included some feminists, (men
and women) who, slavishly following modern fashion, have worked to change
the language of our liturgies to be politically correct and, "inclusive."
(Some of the dreadful translations of our holy texts, that have come out
of the seminary speak for themselves.) They have also treated Orthodoxy
like an academic subject rather than a way of life. Some graduates of Holy
Cross have seemed more adept at quoting Protestant theologians than at
quoting the Fathers of the Church much less teaching them by example.
Our seminary has been bereft of a timeless, monastic, spiritual dynamic
that should be present where Orthodox priests are being trained to be spiritual
fathers. Instead our seminary has been home to several modernized professors
with liberal theological leanings and sympathies for non-Orthodox Christianity.
Our seminary has not trained priests for evangelism nor has it worked with
our monastic institutions to prepare young men and women to become monastics.
It has graduated a generation of priests who have had to make their own
spiritual discoveries after leaving the seminary.
AN "AMERICAN ORTHODOX" CHURCH?
It seems to me that the hysterical reaction to some of our Archbishop's
actions, on the part of people who disagree with what he has been doing
to restore the health of our sadly secularized priesthood, churches and
seminary, prove an important point: Our church is not a church mature enough
to think about becoming independent of the Mother Church of Constantinople.
We need more links with our tradition not less. We need to recognize the
hedonism of our culture and become less American and more Orthodox. Our
commitment must be to the universal, Ecumenical Church not to an "American"
interpretation of the ancient faith. Our history is told in the bones of
our Saints and Patriarchs buried around the world and in the Phanar not
in the US Declaration of Independence or The New York Times! (This is not
to say that in time the problems of our various "jurisdictions"
do not need to be addressed. See Fr. Alexander Schmeman's article elsewhere
on this sight [TCA Volume 12].)
The way some people have carried on recently, and more importantly the
way a few priests and individuals in some of our institutions have jumped
on the ugly bandwagon and thrown mud on our Archbishop proves, beyond a
shadow of a doubt, that the Greek Orthodox Church in North America should
not be encouraged to move toward independence from the Mother Church in
the near term." For if they do this in the green, what will they do
in the dry?" The last thing we need is to be cut off from the Historical
Church and turned into an "American church." The last thing we
need is yet more individualism!
What we have witnessed recently, in the vicious way Archbishop SPYRIDON
has been mauled, is the action of an immature, "adolescence."
The sad immaturity of some Orthodox should not surprise us. After all we
breathe the same air as the secular world we inhabit. Our seminary professors
received their PhD's from universities dominated by humanists and feminists.
We live in a world that is in love with individualism and insists that
everything from the church to the family be "democratic." Children
are allowed to raise themselves and have no respect for authority. Families
disintegrate as women and men pursue careers at the expense of the sacrament
of marriage. Babies are murdered through abortion because individuals do
not want their, "life style" changed. We live in a culture of
narcissistic individualism. We Orthodox are not exempt from the pernicious
influence of our times.
Obedience is out of fashion in our culture whose true national anthem
is Frank Sinatra's song, "I Did It My Way." The critics of our
Archbishop, who talk about lay involvement in the Church, often use quotations
from church history. But the quotes they use are torn from the context
of history. They are from another time and place that have nothing to do
with our own situation. They are usually quotes from saints who struggled
to preserve Orthodox doctrine against heretics even when those heretics
were emperors or bishops. Such quotes have no application whatsoever when
used in some petty dispute over personality, position or who is teaching
at a seminary!
The new self-styled Orthodox reformers know that they must at least
act a little religious from time to time if they hope to take in the faithful.
So they use bits and pieces of writings from church history, that happen
to emphasize the place of the lay person in the Church to bolster their
position. They offer such quotes as "proof" that the laity, in
other words they, should have a, "greater voice." They take such
arguments out of context to help them in what is fundamentally a dishonest,
anti-hierarchical crusade for power.
Laity involvement in the historic Church has principally been through
the monastic community, philanthropy and intellectual pursuits. It has
been in the context of a unified Orthodox culture, whether Byzantine or
Russian. And the laity involved in the affairs of the Historic Church have
not been a pack of secularized Americans ashamed of their own tradition!
Nor have the laity in the historic church been a pack of wealthy Greek-Americans
who think that parish councils "own" the church or that because
they are wealthy they have the "right" to tell the Archbishop
how to behave.
Ours is a very different situation than that of the Orthodox of ages
past. We live in the chaos of our present moment with its 22,000 "churches."
The lay people who have done good work for the Church through Her history
have always done so in the context of loyalty to the Church and Her bishops.
The only exception has been over grave matters of doctrine. And even then
the authority of a bishop has been upheld as layman have made appeals to
other bishops to have wrong teaching corrected.
Moreover it is one thing to enter into a public debate on doctrine within
the context of the Byzantine Empire, when the larger culture was Orthodox,
and quite another thing to enter into a public debate on petty matters
unrelated to the core teaching of the Church, in a culture that is, by
and large hostile to the Orthodox Church and our tradition of hierarchy
and order. It is one thing to call on the secular authorities to help resolve
a church dispute in an Orthodox society, where the emperor is the guardian
of the Church. It is another to invoke secular powers in a Western, humanistic
and secular culture like ours. It is the same difference as an American
politician arguing in America about foreign policy and one that visits
a foreign country and criticizes his home government. One action is loyal
opposition, the other is treason.
I believe that it is not too much to say that any person who would use
some secular public forum to criticize the actions of a bishop or priests
by name, such as the courts, secular media, a press release, an accreditation
board or the Internet, is not only showing extraordinary bad judgment but
has left the Orthodox fold. And any persons who would be party to vile
unsubstantiated rumors have lowered themselves into a pit from which only
repentance and confession can provide an escape. Such a person is self
condemned. One cannot break the specific commands of Scripture and ignore
the Church Fathers and claim to be doing so, "for the good of the
I believe we need the unity that only loyalty to our Holy Tradition
and hierarchy can provide. This is not some political unity on paper but
the unity that comes only from shared principles. This is not some theoretical
"pan-Orthodox" or "ecumenical" unity, this is a practical
unity based on day-by-day obedience. This is not a unity that comes from
respect for the personality of an archbishop but out of respect for our
Mother Church and Her legitimate time-honored institutions. If some people
disagree with our bishops they should in humility, and with great respect
talk to them in person as they would to Christ. Above all such discussions
should be private and confidential.
If we love Christ we will love His Church. And if we love the Church
we will love our bishops. Twenty-two thousand Protestant denominations
bear witness to the grim alternative.
If we expect our bishops to be perfect then we are fools. The One Holy
Catholic and Apostolic Church is greater than the sum of Her parts! The
Holy Spirit continues to lead His Church in spite of us and in spite of
the fact that none of us is without sin. This is the great mystery of the
Church and we must honor Her mystery. If we honor Christ we will defend
His bishops. If they stumble, we lift them up as we would Christ carrying
His cross. In the end it is our bishops who have the heavy responsibility
to deliver the truth as they received it.
You can show your support for His Eminence Archbishop SPYRIDON by sending
a letter or fax or calling:
His All Holiness BARTHOLOMEW
The Ecumenical Patriarchate
342 20 Fener - Halic, Istanbul
Tel. (long distance prefix - 011-90-212) 531-9670 (76)
Fax (long distance prefix - 011-90-212) 534-9037
Frank Schaeffer is the editor of The Christian Activist. He
is also the author of a number of novels as well as two books on Orthodoxy,
"Dancing Alone" and "Letters to Father Aristotle."
[ The Christian Activist - Spring/Summer 1998 - pp. 1,4-7 ]
[ The Christian Activist - www.tca1.org/vol12/editorial.html - May 1998 ]