The National Herald - January 30-31, 1999

On the 'Prestige' of the Mother Church




Disappointment, discouragement, and despair are the words used to describe the impressions resulting from the last of many meetings at the Phanar "to solve the problems confronted by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Christ-named faithful of the Archdiocese of America." But such impressions must apply to those who are naive or to people who do not know the Fanar, and who neither want to learn nor to know anything. For, otherwise, the disappointment and despair cannot be explained.

And what did they expect? Did they perhaps expect some different decision by the "Mother" Church? Did they perhaps expect that the Ecumenical Patriarch would acknowledge the failure of his personal selection and would have proceeded to replace the head of the Archdiocese of America? But, then, what would happen to the "prestige" of the Mother Church? Truly, how well off we would be without the concern about this prestige which is personalized and identified with the personal prestige of the hierarchs!

Certainly, the Prestige of the Church (with a capital "P") should be protected in every instance. But this has no connection with the prestige of individuals. Alas, if the prestige of the Mother Church was indeed identified with the person of the presiding Patriarch or whatever hierarch of the Ecumenical Throne! It would have been torn into shreds long ago. In the long history of the Fanar there have been Patriarchs who have honored Orthodoxy and the Greek people, while there were also others whom history covers with eternal oblivion, but who did not diminish the prestige of the Church in the least. This prestige has been preserved intact to the extent that today's ecclesiastical leaders are able to use it as a screen.

To us, the result of the meeting, the decisions of the Fanar and the empty news releases about their [the Bishops'] return to their sees and the restoration of the synodical system in America, all have but this fallout: they reinforce the impression that the Fanar does not care whatsoever about the Greeks of America, as well as the Americans of Greek lineage, all of whom according to the contention of the Fanar are Greeks of the Diaspora - that is, villagers of the 19th century. And it fights to contain them within these bounds in order to support the claim that the Church of America cannot become autocephalous, or that it cannot come under the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece or any other Church because the Diaspora belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate according to the canons!

The entrance to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople

This backward attempt to impede the progress of our Church here became manifest immediately after the death of Patriarch Athenagoras and broke out thunderously after the famous meeting of all the Orthodox Hierarchs at Ligonier. That meeting had one singular purpose: to unite administratively all Orthodox of the new world in order that Orthodoxy may present itself as one united entity under the jurisdiction of course of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and thus be able to project powerfully its views on the political and social life of the land. The Patriarchate had been informed in timely fashion and its views were requested. But it acted like a quiet duck and preserved the silence of fish. The meeting resulted in a series of relevant decisions to be certified by each of the Mother Churches. The once glorious Archdiocese of North and South America, as obliged, also submitted these decisions to the Fanar with the request to be reviewed in a positive spirit.

The silence of the ecclesiastical leadership at the Fanar was then broken into a thousand pieces. Striking at the assessment of the American Orthodox Hierarchs that the Orthodox in America are no longer Orthodox of the Diaspora but American Orthodox citizens, the Fanar let loose with bombshells at the head of Greek Orthodoxy of the Americas whom it characterized with a series of qualifying adjectives, including "matricide." It made his further ministry unbearable and ineffective in order to force his "voluntary," according to the Fanar, resignation.

According to the pre-planned design, there followed the election of the new Archbishop of America — only of America, since the Archdiocese of North and South America had been divided into four Metropolitanates — and his enthronement in September 1996. Then, immediately, the new Archbishop began the implementation of the Fanar's directions:

1) He proclaimed that "we would restore" Orthodoxy, and forced old-style hats on our priests, long hair and robes to be worn in American streets. The goal of this "restoration" was to have us return to 1821 and for us — together with the children and grandchildren of the third, fourth and fifth American generation, to become Greeks of the Diaspora. Naturally, this measure did not take hold except around the circle of the Archbishop.

2) He projected by any means that he was "American-born." When we wrote that he must cut this tune because it brought to the surface an old division in the Omogeneia which had virtually vanished, he did cut it. But when later he discovered that the "American-born" were not inclined to be Diaspora, he changed the tune and embraced the "Greek-born." The others, he claimed, did not love Greece, nor the Fanar!

3) He abolished the truth and created a false, plastic milieu in which he has cultivated the seed sown in the Americas by the Fanar. The examples are countless: that all of us stand by him; that only five to ten rich people disagree with him because they lost their positions! And other similar tiresome claims which have exhausted our patience.

4) He created a laicistic environment around him — as the five Eparchial Metropolitans confirmed in their report to the Fanar — in which all of the above plans can succeed without opposition.

It would take many pages to describe his initiatives in all areas — Greek and religious education, the Theological School, the Academy of St. Basil, the Youth, financial affairs, the entire non-existent area of ecclesiastical advocacy for our ethnic interests, as well as our priests, our bishops and the parishes which he remembers only for the collection of contributions.

We all — and all without exception — have made and continue to make a serious mistake. From the beginning we regarded the Archbishop as responsible for everything and called for his replacement. Devoted to our tradition and history, and brainwashed by the 37-year ministry of the predecessor of our present spiritual father, we wanted to view the Fanar as our true Mother Church, with tender and deep care for her distant children. Thus we turned to the Fanar explaining the evil which had fallen upon us and called for the replacement of the hierarch imposed upon us by the Fanar.

In answer to our request, we got a good lesson. Or, rather, we suffered a blow which should serve as a good lesson. For two years now the Fanar has been assuring us of knowing well and of following closely the situation of the Archdiocese of America. From time to time, whether directly or indirectly, it has been assuring us that things would change. Four months ago it pacified us, saying, let us give another four months to the Archbishop. We have given him directives to conciliate and to change...

We, as gullible Americans, believed the Fanar. When the four months elapsed and nothing changed, we expected news of replacement from the recent meeting at the Fanar. But, alas, the same song was heard. "This is your Archbishop forever. He is the one until he dies..." That declaration was made by the First. And it was followed by no explanation. His All Holiness could have at least told us what has really changed, what improvement has been shown since the time, four months ago, of his assurance, "Let us give him a little more time. He will straighten out!"

Has he straightened out, Your All Holiness? If they do not find a solution and return again to the Fanar, as you said to the Metropolitans, what will the Mother Church offer to them? Perhaps another louder declaration that he will be the Archbishop until the Second Coming?

However, having referred to the Metropolitans, what attention does Fanar give them? All of them, from the oldest to the youngest, have devoted their whole life to the ministry of the Church in America and to the service of the Omogeneia. According to the Fanar's directive, they submitted to their reigning ecclesiastical authority a report of immense force. This report cannot be filed, as is customary in Istanbul, among the "urgent records."

The five Metropolitans describe the situation in America with black colors. They let loose with strong characterizations against the Archbishop. If these characterizations and descriptions are fabricated — if they are all lies — , the five Metropolitans have no place in our Church. But if their claims are accurate —and we believe that the Metropolitans, for the sake of the Church, maintained a relatively moderate tone in their report —, then what is required is not only change but also the punishment of all those who have consciously contributed to the creation of the present, deplorable and wholly unacceptable situation of the Church in America.

It has been recently stated that the decisions taken at the Fanar are not the end of the matter. They are a beginning, a beginning of new trials and new tribulations for our Church. But perhaps this was to happen in order that even the most gullible among us can see the bitter reality. We ought to ask ourselves, why do we expect that the few and distant hierarchs who remain in Istanbul should care about us, our children and grandchildren? The five Metropolitans have lived with us for a lifetime. They are flesh of our flesh and part of the core of the Omogeneia. And they certainly care about us, since the life and future of both, ours and theirs, go closely together.

But why should the beys in Istanbul care? What do they have in common with us? They have their own program. Their life has no relevance to ours. And their future — as much future as Turkey allows them — is anchored on an old notion, on something which is archaic and which does not exist in America, that is, "the Greek of the Diaspora." It is also anchored on the concept that the Greek of the Diaspora belong to them. They insist that we, that powerful Omegeneia in America, the dynamic Community of the Orthodox Americans of Greek lineage, are but Greeks of the Diaspora and belong to them. The canons declare it so, they insist.

Let us then don long hats and robes. Let us tie our long hair to a bun and send a thankful message to Istanbul for its recent decisions: Giasesin, Patisach ["We are yours"]!

* Gazouleas, a contributor to the Greek-language National Herald, served as communications director of the Archdiocese under Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America.

[ The National Herald  -  January 30-31, 1999 - pp. 1 and 7 ]