The Hellenic Chronicle - January 20, 1999

To Fight for Our Church

We can conceive of no great leader who would repeatedly ignore reports from the field that there is trouble in the ranks. Why then does the leader of our Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, together with the. Bishops of the Holy and Sacred Synod of Constantinople, continue to ignore the reports from the field that the future of our Church in America is at risk?

The five Metropolitans of the Greek Orthodox Church in America presented themselves before the Holy Synod at the Phanar last week armed with a carefully prepared statement detailing the crisis, concluding that "the one responsible for this crisis" is Archbishop Spyridon. They cite paranoid behavior, lack of trust or love for his clergy, lack of appreciation for the great achievements of the 75 year history of our Archdiocese, dictatorial and tyrannical rule and more. We encourage our subscribers to read the entire report.

Now, the Archbishop's supporters quickly respond that the Metropolitans are in this for their own selfish reasons, each one looking to be his replacement. If that were the case, can anyone imagine five individuals all vying for the same job agreeing and working together and putting their collective necks on the line? These five hierarchs have served our Archdiocese with distinction, ministering to their flocks here in America, marrying us, baptizing our children, burying our loved ones and sharing our joys and heartaches as we grew from an immigrant group into one of America's leading ethnic communities. If one of them is to be Archbishop of America, he has earned it, in our opinion.

We welcomed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and his delegation from the Phanar with open arms twice in the last two years. But what is it that the Patriarchal representatives took home with them? Along with the extensive financial support and the awards and special gifts, did they take home with them a newfound appreciation for who we are, clergy and laity, for our dreams and visions for a bright future? We had hoped so, but there is no evidence of such. In the Fall of 1997 upon his return to the Phanar, the Patriarch's departing message was, "Put aside your differences and be true Orthodox." When he returned several months later, in the Spring of 1998 for an award at Yale, the response was: "Don't be sure that the replacement would be any better than what you have now." In September of this year following a critical meeting with Archbishop Spyridon at the Phanar, the message was reportedly, "Go home and make peace." But the first acts upon Spyridon's return were to sue the lay leadership of GOAL and to ensure that his new Archdiocesan Council and the new board at Hellenic College/Holy Cross did not include anyone that would offer a contrary opinion.

Last week at the Patriarchate, it was obvious that the state of denial, or even worse, of turning a blind eye, to the plight of our Church would continue. The concerns raised by our Metropolitans, the presiding hierarchs of our dioceses here in America, were virtually ignored. A few token measures were announced in a press release hurriedly prepared by the Archdiocese, including a review of the Archdiocesan Charter of 1977, twenty-one years after it was entered into force. Read the report of the Metropolitans and then reread the Archdiocese's press release from last week's edition. There is no reference whatsoever to any problems facing the Church by the Archdiocese, but rather. a "reaffirmation of a commitment and dedication to the unity of the Archdiocese," whatever that means in these divisive times.

The departing message from the Phanar to Archbishop Spyridon and the Metropolitans was: "Go home and meet soon in unity." At this point, what kind ofunity can be forged by a hierarch whose five brother bishops have unanimously reached the judgment that the Archbishop is the person responsible for the crisis facing the Church and that after two and a half years of dealing with him, they all believe him to be incapable of change? (This is evidenced most recently by the fact that this past Sunday evening in Paramus, NJ, the Archbishop refused to allow two priests who had signed the recent letter supporting the Metropolitans to officiate at services, saying he did not officiate with "his enemies.")

We have struggled valiantly to understand the reasons behind the Patriarchate's lack of regard for the Eparchy in America. Some say it is simply because the Patriarch will not admit a mistake and will not be seen as knuckling under to ultimatums from abroad. Others believe the Patriarch himself chose Spyridon for what Bartholomew referred to in his ordination message as Spyridon's "blind loyalty," following on the heels of the independent and forward thinking reign of Archbishop Iakovos. Still others subscribe to stories circulating of blackmail by the Turkish government against the Patriarch to maintain a divisive Archbishop in America so as to keep the Greek American community occupied with Church matters, rather than focused on lobbying Washington on Cyprus and other Hellenic issues.

Any one of these or other scenarios is possible. However, it is not so much the motives behind our betrayal by the Patriarchate that should preoccupy us. What matters is, what are we prepared to do to fight for our Church? Our Metropolitans and many of our clergy have put their ministries at risk by standing up courageously. Many lay individuals have written letters, spoken out at Clergy-Laity Congresses and voted at parish general assemblies. Now it is time for each and every one of us to search our hearts and speak our minds about what kind of Church we want to leave to future generations. Most importantly, where will its mission be determined, here in America or abroad?

[ The Hellenic Chronicle - January 20, 1999 - p. 4 ]