April 5, 1998
Violating the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Church in America?
A letter from Timothy Krantz to "Voithia"
Date: 98-04-05 16:11:12 EDT
Since the beginning of your website, much has been offered by you and
your readers regarding their personal opinions as to whether or not the
actions taken by the Archbishop against the professors at Holy Cross School
of Theology were "legal" or not. Likewise, everybody has offered
(and continues to offer) their opinions regarding the further actions of
the Archbishop - that they are "illegal" in that they supposedly
contradict and violate the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
(hereafter "Charter"). These personal opinions are good for mutual
discussion but they contain no legal (or spiritual) authority which is
necessary to resolve the matter.
What everybody has failed to ask is "what does the law of the United
States say in regards to these allegations?" The Archbishop's dissenters
have made a legal conclusion - that the Charter is a binding contract which
gives them rights which no hierarchal member of the Church (i.e. bishops,
metropolitans, Archbishop, Synods and Patriarch) can modify, alter or contradict
without their approval or without exact compliance with the Charter, bylaws,
etc. The Church hierarchy says otherwise.
What your readers need to do next in order to see if their position
is correct is to look at the laws of the United States and see how our
courts have interpreted those laws (ie. the US Constitution) in relation
to the spiritual authority of the Church and in light of the allegations
made against the Church hierarchy. Believe it or not, the Supreme Court
of the United States has already decided this issue for us. Below, I have
set forth a synopsis of that information as well as other information on
the issue from other legal cases and law review articles.
In order to properly address the allegations of violations of the Charter,
one must first understand the relationship between the Church and the corporate
structures which are a part of the Church. The ecclesiastical structure
of the Greek Orthodox Church is hierarchical. In this hierarchical system
there are superior ecclesiastical tribunals (i.e. Patriarchate, Synods,
Archbishop, Bishop, etc.) which have the ultimate power of control over
the entire membership of the Church. All institutions and members of the
Greek Orthodox Church in America (i.e. churches, corporations, etc.) are
subordinate members of the Archdiocese (which in turn is subordinate to
the Patriarchate). As such, all subordinate institutions are required to
obey the hierarchical pronouncements of the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese.
A review of the first few paragraphs of the Charter of the Archdiocese
confirms this hierarchical structure and required spiritual (and legal
as shown below) obedience. Further, any institution (church, corporation
or other entity) within the Church which has by-laws or charters which
contradict the Archdiocese's Charter (i.e. do not recognize this ecclesiastical
hierarchical structure and obedience to it) are deemed to be illegal and
its decisions likewise null and void. The reason for this is that in a
hierarchical church, prevailing civil law holds that the members who have
chosen to join the Church are deemed (legally) to have assented to its
hierarchical system of authority and are bound by the rules, decisions
and judgments of the hierarchy. Thus, whether they like it or not, Church
members must accept the ecclesiastical hierarchical structure of authority.
Failure to accept this hierarchical structure puts one outside the Church.
When these ecclesiastical tribunals or individuals invested with such
power act, their actions/decisions are given full deference by the courts
of law in America. That is, civil courts must accept the decisions of the
Church authority which has spoken on a certain subject even when a dissenting
party claims that the Church has no jurisdiction to act or has violated
its own internal procedures (i.e. Charters, bylaws, etc.).
In the case of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese vs. Milivojevich,
the United States Supreme Court stated that a court of law may not examine
the claim of a bishop that an action taken against him (removal from his
office) by the Church hierarchy violated the constitutional procedures
of the Charter of the Serbian Church. The Court reasoned that, in a hierarchical
Church, the decisions of its ecclesial leaders are valid as to all its
members/institutions even when said decisions are not in compliance with
the Church's own governing rules and regulations (Charter, bylaws, etc.)!
This is so because under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which
allows for the exercise of free religion, the civil courts of America will
not substitute their judgment for that of the Church's hierarchy. As the
civil courts rightly point out, the remedy for those who have complaints
about the Church's decisions is to appeal to the ecclesial hierarchy of
the Church because this is the system that they have agreed to by becoming
members of a hierarchical Church.
The above statement reflects the law of the United States when it comes
to the Orthodox Church in America. These cases point out that anything
less would amount to a removal of the hierarchical structure of the Orthodox
Church and the creation of a Protestant type of structure for the Church,
whose form is one of a local, corporate structure (i.e. the same way that
a corporation operates) with each local church having its "own say"
and being allowed to disagree and not follow the other local churches.
Thus, the hierarchical structure would no longer exist but would be put
on the same level as the voice of the laity - a democratic type structure.
This "democratic" type structure is one that many of your readers
believe exists in America or should exist.
In conclusion, as the law of our country clearly tells us, it is the
Church's hierarchy who have correctly stated the position of the Church
regarding the Archbishop's actions. All others who disagree are not only
outside the Church but also outside the laws of the United States of America.
Timothy Krantz, Esq.
[ EKKLISIA | www.ekklisia.org/elet-4-5.htm - April 5, 1998 ]