Greek•American Review - September, 1997

OCL Tilting to Autonomous Orthodox Church in America

An interview with George Matsoukas, President

By Dr. John A. Xanthopoulos

George Matsoukas is the fifth president of OCL. He follows in the steps of Jim Koulougeorge, George Karcazes, Sotiris Tsoutsouras and Nicholas Karakas.

This is my third interview with you. The first was in 1993 when I was introduced to Orthodox Christian Laity for the Project for Orthodox Renewal.

Q. What is new with OCL?

A. OCL is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This event will be highlighted at our tenth annual meeting in Boston November 14,15,16 1997. Our meeting follows the Patriarchal visit and the keynote will be delivered by Dr. James Counelis, professor of education at the University of San Francisco. He is also a prominent orthodox scholar. The Conference theme is "the American Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Conference headquarters for the meeting is the Harvard Club. The keynote program will take place at the Maliotis Center at Hellenic college, Holy Cross seminary, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Q. Congratulations on ten years of survival. This is a milestone event. what has OCL accomplished in these years?

A. OCL was organized in Chicago in 1987 as an educational ministry to challenge the laity to assume responsibility for the direction of the church. There was a crisis in church governance and accountability and the voice of spiritually mature laity needed expression. There was no organization that expressed the concerns of the laity. The greatest accomplishments have been the publications. We have produced 26 issues of the Forum newsletter. In 1993 we publish the project for Orthodox renewal which you and many others favorably reviewed. It is a thoughtful, careful, conciliar review of seven issues of continuing concern to the Orthodox Laity as we mature as a church. The issues include: Faith and Culture, Spiritual renewal; Orthodox women and the Church; Mission and Outreach; the Selection of the Hierarchy; Church Administration and Accountability; and Orthodox Unity. In 1996-97 we prepared feasibility studies requested by His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon: the challenge of Outreach and the History and future of the female diaconate. The outreach study was published as a special report and we have been overwhelmed with requests from clergy and laity of all Orthodox jurisdictions. In honor of our tenth anniversary year we have developed an occasional papers series. The first was by Bishop Iakovos formally locum tenens of the Diocese of Atlanta now retired. The topic is transition and renewal, One Faith, One Church. A paper will be published in October by Dr. Daniel Sahas, of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada titled "The Theological Foundations of the Role of the Laity in the Church.."

Left to right: Peter Marudas, Anastasia Tsoutsoura, George Coupounas, George Matsoukas, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon. Nicholas Karakas, CLO President Dr. Nikolas Gvosdev, Fr. Steven Vlahos, Dr. William Tenet, during a meeting of members of the CLO Board with Archbishop Spyridon at the Archdiocese in New York.

We have conducted about 20 open forums in various cities throughout the United States where we held quarterly board meetings in inviting the faithful to dialogue with us. We have met thousands of Orthodox faithful. through these forums. In 1992 at the New Orleans clergy-laity congress it was through the activism of the OCL that the archdiocesan council was restructured. It is supposed to be composed of 31 members elected by the archbishop and 30 members elected from the diocese in the U.S. This reform approved by the Patriarchate has not been implemented.

We sat down and dialogued with Archbishop Iakovos on three separate occasions and Archbishop Spyridon in two times since his election December, 1996 and June 1997. All meetings were at the archdiocese in New York and more concern for the needs of the faithful at the direction of the church. We also had a wonderful dialogue with Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar in November 1994.

Another highlight of our historical journey was the 1995 pilgrimage to the Holy Land which resulted in reports about the condition of the Jerusalem patriarchate and its insensitivity to Arab Christians. We have since participated in two task force conferences on the Jerusalem Patriarchate. We have also nurtured and energized the development of the Justinian center which has as its mission the vision of developing the Commonwealth of countries with Orthodox Christian ethos. St. Symeon the new theologian was selected by our membership to be our patron saint in 1993. May he continued to guide us. He wrote "behold the creation of the world, all of him within myself, and I know that I shall not die, for I am with in a life." Visit us on our web site

Q. Has the crisis of church governance ended?


"Can a Church in captivity send leaders to govern Orthodox Christian Churches that flourish in democratic environments? Have the hierarchy become enamored with the Roman Catholic models of governance?"


A. It is my opinion as we speak- no! The crisis continues. Change and transition are difficult. Two years from now we may see this change in a different light, but today we're still in a crisis state. Maybe we expect too much from the church and its leaders. The founder of the church our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught us to love one another. This is his commandment- His organizational principle. But I don't see it as the operating principle of the church. I see very little love expressed in the church. For example, this transitional year has been marked by intimidation of the clergy! Instead of trying to gather us altogether clergy and laity in the in the spirit of love to understand and reason together, the clergy have been hardest hit by intimidation. Some have been suspended. We must ask, are no canonical rules on clergy suspensions? Should spiritual courts be part of the process? There seems to be a plan to intimidate and control the clergy. Trial balloons have floated all year. One such problem is that clergy salaries will be paid directly from New York and clergy will be assigned from New York. In this way the clergy will know the archbishop is the boss. Their allegiance is not with their parish.

How do all these changes relate to the uniform parish regulations (UPR)? Was there a meeting between the clergy, laity and hierarchy to meet these deconstructionist changes? Where did they come from and why?

Q. Is the church moving toward centralization?

A. As human history moves toward decentralization in the third millennium, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese moves toward centralization. This makes no sense. Who authorized this move toward centralization? The strength of Orthodoxy has been at the parish level and it will remain so. A task force of the best minds needs to think about the consequences of centralization.

The dilemma of the dismissal of faculty and staff of Holy Cross and Hellenic College is an example of a crisis in church governance. The principles of due process and academic freedom have been violated at Hellenic College and Holy Cross. We're told these are secular concepts? There is no concern for accreditation because it seems like a hierarchy wants to "dumb down " the priests, pay them less and control them.

Q. Can Orthodox Christianity come to grips with being in a democratic pluralistic American society?

A. These gestures are a form of intimidation in control of the clarity. Where is syndiaconia in all this? Why have not the clergy, laity, hierarchy, faculty and students met together to develop changes in the governance of these institutions?

The laity who built the schools and all archdiocese institutions and who can constantly contribute to maintain these institutions want a professionally educated clarity, and a willing to pay for them. We want our clergy educated in an excellent American Orthodox Christian Seminary. The laity sacrifice to pay salaries, contribute to the education of clarity and maintain the schools. Clergy, laity, and hierarchy working together have to face these problems. The accreditation of our college and seminary has been hard fought and hard earned and we want its accreditation maintained. We don't want our institution sacrificed to build foreign schools at Halki or anywhere else. And we do not want a foreign curriculum that does not meet the needs of American Orthodox Christians.

The crisis at the seminary is symbolic of the crisis of government in our church. There is a lack of respect for process and procedures that are part of our American culture setting. Our church has evolved in this American culture setting and is an American church. Can Orthodox Christianity come to grips with being in a democratic pluralistic American society? This is the challenge. The dilemma of the archdiocese is that it has been inattentive to administrative policies, procedures and norms that are part of the government in this country. The faithful have moved the governance of the institutions of the archdiocese and parishes to conform to the standards that are part of our national character and community norms. The administrative policies and processes from the parish to the archdiocese must conform the faithful. This is the unique character of Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy respects the culture of the people. Our cultural norms are based on standards of fairness and justice, and our church must work within this context.


George Matsoukas, president of OCL, is a member of St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, West Palm Beach, where he served six years on the parish council and taught Sunday school. He has been an educator for 25 years and a consultant onfundraising and grant writing.

[ Greek•American Review - September, 1997 - pp. 7-9 ]
[ Voithia | | September 20, 1997 ]