hellenic times - February 5, 1999
Priests should contact Presbyters Council
instead of signing letters against Archbishop
By Evan C. Lambrou
Chicago: Rather than signing letters against His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, letters which can only engender divisiveness within the Church, clergymen should stick to business at the parish level and let Church hierarchs come to terms with themselves, according to Father Chris Kerhulas, president of the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council.
The unrest within the Greek Orthodox Church in America is a product of transition at the Archdiocese, "a transition that will continue to take some time," Father Kerhulas said, and it is unfair for some to accuse the Archbishop of being "autocratic" or "abusive," as it is stated in a letter signed by 99 priests of the Archdiocese.
On the contrary, Father Kerhulas added, the true picture of the Archbishop is precisely the opposite of that which His critics are painting of Him, and the Presbyters Council has had very positive experiences with Him.
WARM AND LOVING
"His Eminence has been very open with us. He is a good and loving man, very warm and cooperative. I think He has been criticized unfairly. He has demonstrated to all the important issues in our Archdiocese (i.e., Archdiocesan regulation of monasteries and changing the program at the seminary). That's been our experience with Him. People need to remember that He is a man who spent a lot of time in Europe. We need to give Him more time to acclimate to His new surroundings. He obviously hasn't been given that chance," Father Kerhulas said.
"I don't think it's proper for clergy to get involved with hierarchical issues. I've always seen the Church as One. I love Metropolitan Iakovas (of Krinis, presiding bishop of the Chicago Diocese), and I love Archbishop Spyridon. Writing letters like that just doesn't do any good. If anything, it's counterproductive. Priests should worry about being priests and stay out of politics. We have parishes to look after, so it's our job to be the best priests we can possibly be. We have to let our hierarchs resolve the larger issues among themselves and have faith in the outcome. It's not our place to take sides," Father Kerhulas added, referring to a November 7 letter originally signed by 73 priests (on November 19, 26 more priests added their names to list, raising the total to 99).
OVER 500 DID NOT SIGN
Signatories claim the letter is a "call for unity" among the faithful (e.g., to rally them against the Archbishop). But such tactics only end up causing division and do far more harm than good, Father Kerhulas said, pointing out that there are more than 500 priests in the Archdiocese who did not sign the letter, "so the signatories obviously don't speak for all the clergy in the Archdiocese."
STRENGTHENING OUR FOUNDATION
Letters Against Archbishop Unproductive
SENSATIONAL BUT NO SUBSTANCE
Signatories openly admit that the letter is directed against the Archbishop, but it makes no direct reference to Him, in fact, and it is inflammatory in nature with little to no substance attached to it.
The letter hurls eight accusations (against the Archbishop supposedly), but none of the statements are accompanied by any evidence which might support them, and while it offers a six-fold solution to what the signatories perceive to be a wider problem, it does not develop any specific points.
Under "major factors and aspects of the crises," for example, the Archbishop's alleged "disregard for the Clergy-Laity Congress, the Archdiocesan bylaws and procedures of the Archdiocesan institutes" is cited, but the statement lacks any concrete examples which might back up what it tries to assert. All eight statements lack the same.
"In support of our Synodical Metropolitans," the letter was circulated after two other letters signed on October 1 and October 14 by Metropolitans Iakovos, Anthony of Dardanellion (Diocese of San Francisco), Maximos of Ainon (Pittsburgh), Methodios of Aneon (Boston) and Isaiah of Proikonisos (Denver) were released.
On October 1, the five titular Metropolitans issued a general call for "no litigation, retaliation, violence and resistance." Because it was not entirely clear whether the Metropolitans were directing it toward the Archdiocese, however, the Archbishop asked them on October 13 to clarify for Him if they were, in fact, officially referring to "a serious legal matter" regarding the use of Archdiocese property (e.g., the Archdiocese mailing list) by the self-appointed group known as the Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL - a group that has no official or canonical status in the Church).
On October 14, the Metropolitans affirmed that their letter of October 1 was indeed related to what was then the still-unresolved legal action taken by the Archdiocese against GOAL (on November 24, a federal court imposed partial limitations on the uncanonical organization, which was told by the court that it may not use the mailing list for financial solicitation or commercial purposes, although the court did not grant complete protection for the confidentiality of the list) and expressed their discontent with Archbishop Spyridon's stewardship of the Church in America.
In doing so, the Metropolitans thereby entered into an open conflict with the Archbishop, and it is precisely this type of conflict that Father Kerhulas said he wants the ordained clergy of the Archdiocese to avoid.
PRESBYTERS COUNCIL PROPER CHANNEL
"There are better ways for clergy to get involved. The concerns of my fellow priests for the Church is of concern to the Presbyters Council. The reason I got involved with the Presbyters Council is because it has direct access to the Archbishop about clergy matters. The Presbyter's Council is the clergy's sounding board. There are 18 of us on it. I want to take my fellow priests' concerns to His Eminence. That's what I'm here for. That's what all of us are here for. And I can assure you that the Archbishop has been wonderful to us," Father Kerhulas said.
Father Kerhulas was born in South Carolina and moved to Chicago, Illinois when he was two years old. He graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1974 and has been a priest for 23 years. He has served the parish of Saint Basil in Chicago for the past 18 years and was elected president of the Presbyters Council this past July during the Clergy-Laity Congress in Orlando, Florida.
The Presbyters Council administers the National Society of Presvyteres and Clergy Benevolent Fund (a fund established for priests and spouses of priests in need of financial assistance), Father Kerhulas said, and deals with other financial concerns of the clergy: "Salaries, health insurance and pensions for retired priests are major issues for priests in this day and age. They're major issues for anyone in America, really, so priests are no different in that regard. We're hoping to build our retirement fund, but these things aren't easy. They don't happen overnight."
To make the council's objectives a reality, Father Kerhulas added, there needs to be unity and cohesiveness within the Church, "but cohesiveness is very difficult for our community in this country" because America is so geographically expansive and culturally diverse.
"Our geographic and cultural setting presents us with certain challenges," he explained, and this is one of the stumbling blocks which has contributed to the current conflict between Archbishop Spyridon and the five Metropolitans: "It makes communication more difficult, so people need to be more patient."
Patience seems to be the order of the day for Greek Orthodox faithful supportive of the Archbishop. Since Father Kerhulas offered the above comments, Archbishop Spyridon and the Hold Eparchial Synod have been to Constantinople to discuss their respective views on the state of affairs in the Church here. The Metropolitans demanded that either His Eminence voluntarily resign, or that the Holy and Sacred Synod forcibly remove Him from the helm of the American Archdiocese.
The Ecumenical See's response to the Metropolitan's demands was clear and decisive: "(Spyridon) is your Archbishop, period. He will remain your Archbishop until the day He dies," said His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on January 12, a day the organization known as GOAL refers to as "Black Tuesday." His All Holiness also instructed them to return to the United States and find a way to work together "in a spirit of mutual, love and cooperation."
The Eparchial Synod met in New York City on January 26. The Archbishop presided. Business was reportedly conducted in an amiable fashion, and more details are forthcoming. Since January 13, no significant moves have been made by the clergymen who signed the letter on November 7, so some questions remain:
Those clergymen are generally on friendly terms with members of GOAL, but in light of the recent message from the Patriarchate, what will they do next?
And how will the Metropolitans handle members of GOAL now? The Metropolitans have yet to discourage members GOAL from conducting their ecclesiastically divisive activities. Meanwhile, members of GOAL continue to push for an autocephalous Church in America (a secession, in other words, from the Mother Church in Constantinople). "Not while I'm your Archbishop," His Eminence says.
[ hellenic times - February 5, 1999 - pp. 3 and 8 ]