The Christian Activist - Vol. 12
Spring/Summer 1998


Back To Basics

The War Against the Greek Orthodox Hierarchy

By Frank Schaeffer

There are a number of recent issues that have troubled some members of the Greek Orthodox Church here in America. The response to these issues, by a small but vocal minority of persons within the Greek-American community, has been such as to cause heartache, doubt and confusion within the Orthodox Church at large.

The appointment of Archbishop SPYRIDON, his personality and some of his actions have apparently rubbed some people the wrong way. The Archbishop's recent reassignment of a number of faculty members at Holy Cross Seminary has been the catalyst for bringing together a number of his critics. These critics tend to be the reassigned faculty members themselves, their supporters and those who, for various other reasons oppose the new Archbishop. Some of these persons have joined together in both covert and open opposition and have called for the Archbishop's dismissal. Their voices have been amplified by the use of the Internet beyond all proportion to their few numbers.

Certain critics of the Archbishop have spread rumors by an anonymous letter and the Internet about the Archbishop. In some cases they have used the secular media to voice their opinions and have even threatened the use of the law courts. Some of the rumors the opponents of the Archbishop have spread, have been vile and unsubstantiated gossip of the lowest sort.

The critics of the Archbishop have behaved in a scandalous manner. They have thrown mud, not only on His Eminence, Archbishop SPYRIDON but on all Orthodox Christians by extension. We at The Christian Activist feel it is time to do our part to come to the defense of Archbishop SPYRIDON. We note that The Christian Activist is a pan-Orthodox organization wholly independent of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. We also note that an interview with the Archbishop appeared recently in these pages. We at The Christian Activist consider the Archbishop a friend of traditional Orthodox Christianity.


The "issues" raised by the Archbishop's critics center on the claim that Archbishop SPYRIDON does not have the personality to lead the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The stated accusations against the Archbishop have nothing to do with theology, doctrine or heresy. They have everything to do with style, personality and special interest groups and individuals defending their turf.

The Archbishop has called for a return to Orthodox tradition. This naturally offends non-traditional Orthodox. The Archbishop has called for changes at Holy Cross seminary to make it more traditional, more spiritual. This naturally offends the Westernized Orthodox who have dominated the seminary. The Archbishop is said to lack personality. His personality is quiet. This naturally offends the kind of American Greeks who think leadership should be smooth, political and savvy.

Underlying the criticism of the Archbishop is the implicit repudiation of the Greek Orthodox hierarchy in Constantinople in the person of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW. Indeed the criticism of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW extends to a general rejection of the authority of the Patriarch in the affairs of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

The volume of criticism leveled at Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW has increased since his visit to America when he made it clear, in a speech at Georgetown University, that he was distancing himself from talk of reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally this offends those who have invested heavily in so-called ecumenical dialogue.

In other words, several things are going on here. Much of the controversy involves a clash of personalities but underlying all of this is a larger issue: the direction of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The controversy surrounding Archbishop SPYRIDON represents a collision between some few modernized, Americanized Greeks and the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Some of the criticism leveled at the Archbishop is just another way of getting at Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW. Some of those stirring up the trouble know what they are doing. Others are just fellow travelers ignorant of the facts but easily misled.

If the issues at stake were not so grave the whole matter could be dismissed as a tempest in a tea pot. However this particular "tea pot" happens to be a corner of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church! The controversy is being generated by only a handful of people, but its effect may well be eternal. Consider how many people are seeking for the Church at this time and what effect all this will have on them.

To an outside observer, unfamiliar with the excitable temperament of the Greek community, the issues raised by those criticizing the Archbishop might seem petty, small-minded and frankly mean. After all, if the personality of a bishop is his qualification for church leadership then many saints-- quiet, humble, strict, traditional, slow of speech and often retiring of nature-- would be, "unqualified."

Most of the critics of the Archbishop seem to fall into five categories:

    1. Friends of the previous archbishop who resent the fact he has been replaced.

    2. Those personally adversely affected by the administrative changes made by the new archbishop who are now in the process of "settling" personal scores.

    3. A handful of Greek-Americans who are highly self-aware regarding their material success in America. These Greeks are determined to be socially acceptable to the surrounding culture. This group is offended by the Archbishop because, according to them, he does not project a charismatic enough personality. (This group might be described as the part of the Greek-American community that sees the job of an archbishop as being able to look good in a White House photo opportunity!)

    4. Those few Orthodox ideologically committed to a modernist approach to the Church. This last group would include some liberally inclined priests, some faculty at the seminary, some feminists, some Orthodox from other jurisdictions and others who are quietly trying to change the Orthodox Church and make it "modern."

    5. A few wealthy Greeks who equate their worldly success with the right to throw their weight around in church affairs. (This group might be described as the ,"I paid for the new Parish hall so do what I say", faction.)

In a letter widely distributed by those opposing the Archbishop he is criticized for not being as distinguished as, "American religious leaders of our time, like King and Graham." The Archbishop is also criticized in the same letter for not being a, "Talented communicator who can get close to people." Above all he is criticized for speaking up about the unique qualities of the Greek Orthodox Church, in contrast to the surrounding Protestant culture and other religious bodies. In other words the Archbishop is criticized for not being sufficiently smooth and politically correct. In the letter he is called to lead the Greek Orthodox community so that it might be, "Recognized by American Society and Government to receive our nation's highest honors."

Clearly the, "sin" that the Archbishop has committed is not to be fashionable and American enough to suit a certain type of Greek-American's self image. Perhaps the Archbishop's critics can be understood to be those Greek-Americans suffering from an inferiority complex. The idea of the Archbishop being a spiritual father rather than civic leader, engaged in Protestant-style public relations, seems to be a foreign concept to those who fault him for not being enough like Billy Graham.

Implicit in the criticism of the Archbishop, and of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW for appointing him, is the idea that somehow we should be American in our approach to our religion. There is a strong whiff of anti-hierarchical fervor in the criticisms of our Archbishop. The message of the critics is that we should be ashamed of our Greek Orthodox heritage and move beyond it and become thoroughly Americanized, "democratic" and up to date.

The Archbishop is primarily disliked by his critics because both through his words and administrative changes he has called the Greek Orthodox community back to its basic Orthodox traditions. However, this is not a message that social club type Orthodox wish to hear. They much prefer photo opportunities at the White House than to be called to fast, confess and uphold our Orthodox traditions. They want to fit in with the surrounding culture, not to be reminded that the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the ages and that every other claim to truth is false.

The small, discontented minority that have gone public with their criticisms of the Archbishop have shown a willingness to tear the fabric of the unity of the Greek Orthodox community in their quest for petty satisfaction. They have been eager to wash our linen in public and to invite the ridicule of the Orthodox Church. They have gone to the secular media and onto the Internet bearing false witness and rumor against our church and Her bishops. This in itself is of far greater importance than any particular issue they raise. The question we must ask is, why?


Since my conversion to the Orthodox Church (I was chrismated December of 1990, and am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Newburyport Massachusetts where I serve on the parish council), I have had the privilege of speaking at many Orthodox communities across this country. In fact I have visited over 150 communities of all Orthodox jurisdictions. This opportunity has been afforded me because of curiosity as to why the son of one of the 20th century's most famous evangelical theologians would convert to the Greek Orthodox Church.

During my travels I have come to know hundreds of priests, monks, lay people and of course our bishops. Moreover as editor of The Christian Activist, I receive hundreds of pieces of mail a year from non-Orthodox interested in the Church, converts and Orthodox all over the world. (Seventy five thousand readers generate a lot of correspondence.) All this is to say that my perspective on the Church is informed by daily contact with many people deeply involved in the life of our church.

The good news is there are tens of thousands of committed Orthodox Christians. Our numbers are growing daily as new converts come into the Church. Also there are many in our churches who are rededicating themselves to Christ's work. The bad news is that there seem to be a few Orthodox who do not know much about our church and therefore are easily misled by people with a personal, political or psychological agenda.

To the many converts coming to the Orthodox Church one of the most exciting things about our church is the fact we have a hierarchical tradition that goes back, in authentic and unbroken Apostolic succession to Christ Himself. In fact this continuity, order and tradition is exactly what tens of thousands of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and even some non-Christians are looking for in great numbers.

Recently the dramatic growth of the Orthodox Church has been reported on in such places as U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Times and National Public Radio. All the reports note that the movement toward Orthodoxy, by so many modern day Americans is a surprise since the Orthodox Church is perceived as old fashioned.

But the fact that thousands of converts are coming to an, "old fashioned" religion is no surprise to those of us who have studied the contemporary religious scene in America. In fact tradition and hierarchy are exactly what many thoughtful people are looking for.

Many Protestants have watched their denominations disintegrate under the twin hammer blows of modernization and liturgical innovation. They have seen laity groups, such as feminists and modern liturgists demolish the traditions of their denominations. For instance many Episcopalians watched in horror as modernists rewrote their prayer book and turned it into the product of trendy committees of politically correct professional liturgists. And there have also been the well-publicized departures from tradition in moral teaching not to mention the ordination of women to the priesthood that has shocked the faithful. Many traditional Episcopalians have been dismayed at what has happened to their church and have left. Not a few have become Orthodox.

In modern America, Roman Catholics have fared no better than the Episcopalians in keeping their traditions intact. Lay committees have worked with modernized nuns and priests to push their church as far toward Western, American-style innovation as possible in such areas as theology, moral teaching and of course the liturgy. As a result, the Latin Church is a pale imitation of its past self. No traditional Roman Catholics, from say fifty years ago would recognize it today as the church they grew up in. Indeed the problem of the secularized, spiritually-ignorant laity taking over more and more functions in the "new improved" Roman Church has just been addressed by a document issued by the Vatican called, "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the non-Ordained." This document is just one of many signs that the Vatican is trying belatedly to reestablish the lines of authority between the laity and clergy that became hopelessly muddled after Vatican II.

Both conservatives and liberals, in the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge the fact that the increasing role of the laity, in taking over tasks once reserved for priests and bishops, has caused chaos and a disintegration in the authority of the Roman Church. The participation of a theologically illiterate laity in liturgical life has also greatly diminished the Roman Catholic Church's ability to propagate its faith.

Above all, one thing binds all the modernists together, Roman and Protestant: They distrust if not hate the traditional hierarchies of their churches. They seek to increase lay power in the name of participation and democracy. Once in positions of influence the modernists have sought to "democratize" their churches by recreating their churches in the image of their own special interests, be that feminist, theologically liberal, left-wing what have you. In other words they take their churches over and use them as a vehicle for their own agenda. The result of such, "democratic reform" has been that one church body after another has become secularized and indistinguishable from the surrounding American culture. The churches have, in the words of one Wall Street Journal commentator become, "The church of what's happening now."

The results of the "democratic" modernization of various church groups has been predictable. The modern Roman Catholic Church and modernized, so called, main line Protestant churches are empty. Respect for the clergy has been lost. The role of the laity has been confused with the clergy to the extent that in many Protestant churches all sense of the necessity for clergy has been lost. We see confused Protestants writing their own wedding vows and services and in Roman Catholic Churches new, " liturgies" are made up on the spur of the moment. The "new improved" American Roman Church is so determined to keep up with the times they no longer even have fixed hymns let alone chant. Today the local "Liturgical Office" issues "Music Issues" that change week to week!

Ironically it is the most traditional "old fashioned" Roman Catholic and Protestant groups that have seen growth. It turns out that secularized, democratized "New Age" religion made easy is not what people are looking for when they seek out the sacred and timeless.


In the United States there are now, according to the latest United Nations statistics, 22,000 denominations with an average of five new ones formed per week. This is the fruit of the Protestant Reformation that, building on Western humanism and rationalism did away with the hierarchy and traditions of the Western, Latin Church. The Reformers demolished the old structures of the Western Church in the name of reforming a corrupt hierarchy. Instead of bringing true reformation the Reformers themselves, and subsequently every individual Protestant pastor and leader, became their own, self-proclaimed, "Pope." Individualism and personal autonomy became the hallmark of the Protestant movement. The result has been schism without end and one power struggle after another between self-proclaimed church leaders. It is no coincidence that Western religious culture has lost its sense of the sacred. How can anything be sacred that can be self-invented? What is eternal and ageless about a religion that mirrors contemporary culture and conforms to the surrounding society at every turn?

The claim of the Reformers was that the Holy Spirit would lead any individual lay person to understand the Bible, without benefit of tradition, bishop or priests. The way to be saved was, according to them, to follow the path of individual conscience as revealed in the Scriptures. The slogan of the Reformers was, "Sola Scriptura!" (The Bible Alone!) Yet even from the beginning of the Reformation the doctrine of Sola Scriptura proved to be a fiasco. The problem was no one could agree on what the Bible said!

The Reformers victory over the traditional Western hierarchies was in the end disastrous. The laity "won" but it was a pyric victory. The orderly life of the Western Church disintegrated in one generation. By the time Martin Luther died there were over 250 competing denominations, some of which were actually taking up arms against each other in endless rounds of what soon became the European wars of religion.

Now, some 500 years after the Reformation, rather ironically, just as thousands of Protestants are beginning to look to the Orthodox Church for guidance, here in America, because they are sick and tired of individualistic, democratized, Americanized, ecclesiastical chaos, some Orthodox seem to be forgetting the best of our own unique tradition. As we have seen we now have some people claiming to be Orthodox who have even gone so far as to attack not only our hierarchy but the very idea of hierarchy itself. They have subtly, and not so subtly called for modernizing, democracizing and the Americanizing of our church. Sometimes they have been forthright in their demands. But often, as in the present crop of malcontents, they have been dishonest and tried to hide their efforts to fundamentally change the structure of our church by pretending that all they are doing is calling for more, "accountability " and "lay participation."

These "Orthodox" reformers would like to see our hierarchy diminished in stature and replaced or "balanced" by an activist lay leadership. They want social club leaders with dynamic personalities not spiritual Fathers with the authority to make them change their secular ways. They have gone so far as to wash the Greek Orthodox Church's linen in public in an effort to forward their political agenda. They have even used secular media outlets, the Internet, the law courts, accreditation boards and other means to carry on a campaign of vilification against those in authority in our church. They have whispered shameful lies.

To be blunt, there are a few loud complainers in a struggle against our Archbishop for the life and direction of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. If it were up to them our church would be, "modernized" and turned into a participatory democracy of sorts, call it the parish council mentality run amok. The bishop would be a "good old boy" who would come in to bless what they were going to do anyway and perhaps give a rousing speech. In other words, whether they admit it or not, the church they want to coerce the Orthodox into imitating is Protestant and congregational. It is also social and political. Apparently these modernizing, Americanized, "Orthodox" have learned nothing from the recent calamities that have overtaken both the Protestant denominations and the American Roman Catholic Church. It is up to the rest of us, the vast majority of the Orthodox faithful, to stop them.


It seems to me that no matter what one thinks about any individual issue that is being raised by certain Orthodox lay persons and clergy, regarding real or imagined problems in our church, the fact is that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle such matters. The worst of all possible ways to resolve issues confronting us in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is to take these issues to the court of worldly public opinion. This is the ultimate case of throwing our pearls before swine.

In the Bible we are strictly prohibited from taking cases against other Christians to the world for resolution. "Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.[ie the bishop] But if he refuses even to hear the church,[ie the Council of the Apostles or bishops] let him be to you like a heathen." (Matthew 18.15-17) In other words those Christians who refuse to settle their disputes within the structure of the Church are to be outcasts, treated like the, "heathen," whether they be bishop, priest, or layman.

The Fathers speak with one voice against those who would set themselves in judgment of our bishops. "For Jesus, our inseparable life, is the will of the Father, just as the bishops, who have been appointed throughout the world, are the will of Christ. It is fitting, therefore, that you should live in harmony with the will of the bishops. It is clear, then, that we must look upon the bishops as the Lord himself? Indeed, when you submit to the bishops as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men, but as Jesus Christ." (St. Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians AD 110)


The problem we are discussing here did not begin with the appointment of Archbishop SPYRIDON. It is no secret that for some time now there has been a power struggle carried on by some persons against our hierarchs. Certain individuals, and so called Orthodox laity groups have made a specialty of harassing our bishops in an effort to secure for the laity, whom they claim to represent a, "greater voice" in the Church. This struggle has it's roots in the fact that some persons are ashamed of how, "old fashioned" and, "backward" and "undemocratic" our church is. They desire the respect of the secular world and, it seems, are quite prepared to worship at the altar of modernity as the price of admission into American culture as they understand it.

The hallmark of our secular world is a total lack of humility and an unwillingness to obey any institution or tradition if it contradicts us. It is this humanistic-Protestant spirit that has been in evidence in the critics of our Archbishop. Some have even gone so far as to try and organize a boycott of our church by withholding funds from the Archdiocese! Others have formed new and semi-secret organizations and delighted in back room dealing to undermine the structure of our church. These are the same lay people who proclaim themselves eager for an American Greek Orthodox Church. They say they are ready to help guide such an institution! In fact one such little group dedicated to overthrowing our Archbishop, has even declared itself, in the pretentious title of its organization, to be the, "Greek Orthodox American Leaders." The very title of this organization is instructive. It proclaims that one can be a self-appointed, Greek Orthodox leader outside of the structure of, and without the blessing of, the Church. Here is a repudiation of the very idea of Apostolic authority let alone obedience.

Those at war with our Archbishop are tainted by the spirit of an immigrant population that wanted to "make it" in America at any price. Their heroes are business men and women who have "made it" in America. Their "qualification" for being "leaders" in the Church seems to be the fact that they have been successful in the world of business. They look at other Christian bodies and wish to be, "democratic like them." It also seems they like to play that favorite old Greek game: politics. They see the Orthodox Church as a ready-made vehicle for their own social, business and political aspirations. They tell us that, "Things are different in America, the Church must change." however, ironically they are more Greek in their love of factions and intrigue than America.

But, like the bank that only makes accounting errors in its own favor the "change" these people suggest is suspect. It always seems to be one way. It is in the direction of greater secularity, never toward a resurgence of traditional, Orthodox monastic life and practice. The call is for dynamic leadership and respectability, not for prayer, fasting and illumination. Lip service is paid to tradition but never to the deepest tradition of Orthodoxy, humble obedience.

According to the literature the critics of the Archbishop have sent out they happily proclaim the fact that they are out to frighten the Archbishop and to intimidate him. For instance, in one of their publications they pronounce that, "The Archdiocese is in a state of panic. The reason is our new organization --Greek Orthodox American Leaders [GOAL]. Archdiocese officials are frantically trying to find out who the members of this organization are and how determined they are to continue their efforts. Each day that goes by without revealing their names the panic reaches new heights. Our advice to His Eminence is that he might be better off now that he does not know than later when he will." (From a GOAL letter of February 20 1998 soliciting funds and members.)

Clearly, the spirit emanating from the public message quoted above is sophomoric and rude. It is also a calculated insult. The tone is as threatening as it is silly. One would suspect that this was the statement from a secret society of naughty twelve year old boys.

To speak of a bishop in the way the GOAL letter does reveals an evil intention. To delight in claiming to cause "panic" in the leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church is an insult to all Orthodox.

The critics of the Archbishop have not been honest. In private letters to those people who's support they seek, they have presented modest aims. Yet their public pronouncements and resolutions have turned out to be extreme and disrespectful of the Orthodox hierarchy.

The public resolution of GOAL of March 21, 1998 (clause 10-0) states:

"If our concerns are not resolved by May 1 1998, we call upon His Eminence Archbishop SPYRIDON to resign .... and that the Ecumenical Patriarch immediately ... elect a new Archbishop."

Then, in a press release sent out to all the major secular media, GOAL states that "[Our] concerns include the inadequate leadership and management style of Archbishop SPYRIDON..." The press relapse goes on to publicly threaten "to institute legal action against the archdiocese" and to consider recommending that "The five hundred Greek Orthodox parishes temporarily suspend their ..... financial support to the archdiocese."  (March 21, 1998 GOAL press release)


In the last few months I have been constantly reminded of the activities of our church's malcontents. Because I am the editor of The Christian Activist , many national newspapers have called me asking for my opinion on the controversy being stirred up by the opponents of the Archbishop. They called because they have been contacted by certain "Orthodox" persons who have been trying to get them to write stories against our Archbishop and against the Patriarch of Constantinople. In fact a number of "Greek Orthodox" actively tried to spoil the Patriarchs recent visit. One group even started a page on the Internet dedicated to "debunking" claims that the Patriarch's visit was going well! Often the secular journalists who called said they could not understood why a Greek Orthodox person would call them to denounce the Greek Church. In fact some of these journalists asked me, "What's wrong with your people?" "Are these Greeks nuts, or what?" "Why do they want to shoot themselves in the foot in public?" One even asked me, "Are they really Greeks or is this some kind of front for the Turks?"

When journalists called me for a comment I tried to explain that there is a small but vocal, highly secularized group of people within the various ethnic Orthodox communities. Such people, I explained, do not speak for our Holy Tradition, even if some of them claim to be Orthodox and occupy high worldly positions. How could they? If they spoke for our Holy Tradition they would not break the law of the Bible and the Fathers and set themselves up to judge our Archbishop in public or behind his back in such a vile way. They would not go out of their way to embarrass the whole Orthodox community so that they could score their personal points. A true Orthodox would have no part of any organization that would spread whispered rumors and unsubstantiated and malicious reports about our bishops. An authentic believer following Christ would rather die than take his bishop, church or seminary to court, let alone try and spoil his Patriarch's visit by going to the court of public opinion on the Internet.

I explained to various journalists that just because some individuals use the word "Orthodox" in the title of their self-proclaimed laity group, or just because some person is a priest, or once taught at an Orthodox seminary, does not mean that they have the good of our Church at heart, let alone speak for the vast majority of loyal and steadfast Orthodox Christians.


There are always malcontents, people hungry for personal vindication at the expense of the Church. An Archbishop with all his responsibilities is an easy target. Anyone can spread malicious, false rumors via the Internet. In fact even fairly intelligent people can be taken in by such rumors. (Consider the example of Pierre Sallinger and the TWA debacle!) What has surprised me however is that some people who should know better have been swept up into this much too public debate.


I recently spoke to a priest, (not my priest and not in my community, thank God!) who said that he would rather quit the priesthood than be part of the Greek Orthodox Church if our seminary lost accreditation due to the recent reassignments made by our Archbishop. This priest's attitude was that the good opinion of the non-Orthodox academic world is more important than the authority of our Archbishop. After this priest vented his feelings, in front of me and several other persons, he went on to criticize Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW for being, "out of touch with our American ways."

The fact that this priest would rail against his Archbishop in a public place was astounding to me. How does such a priest expect to maintain his own authority when he will not protect the authority of his archbishop? Does such a priest no longer believe in the Holy Spirit leading our church?

This priest's secularized and disrespectful attitude goes a long way to prove just why it has been so necessary for our Archbishop to do a thorough housecleaning at our seminary. After all, the priest who shot off his mouth in front of a roomful of scandalized people is the product of our accredited seminary.

Over the years many pious persons have noticed the lack of spiritual life at our seminary. Change is long overdue. Our Archbishop is to be congratulated for his courageous stand in making some very necessary, if painful changes.

For far too long a secularized group of scholars, that sought the respect of the world ahead of the preservation of our spiritual treasures, has dominated our seminary. These scholars have included some feminists, (men and women) who, slavishly following modern fashion, have worked to change the language of our liturgies to be politically correct and, "inclusive." (Some of the dreadful translations of our holy texts, that have come out of the seminary speak for themselves.) They have also treated Orthodoxy like an academic subject rather than a way of life. Some graduates of Holy Cross have seemed more adept at quoting Protestant theologians than at quoting the Fathers of the Church much less teaching them by example.

Our seminary has been bereft of a timeless, monastic, spiritual dynamic that should be present where Orthodox priests are being trained to be spiritual fathers. Instead our seminary has been home to several modernized professors with liberal theological leanings and sympathies for non-Orthodox Christianity. Our seminary has not trained priests for evangelism nor has it worked with our monastic institutions to prepare young men and women to become monastics. It has graduated a generation of priests who have had to make their own spiritual discoveries after leaving the seminary.


It seems to me that the hysterical reaction to some of our Archbishop's actions, on the part of people who disagree with what he has been doing to restore the health of our sadly secularized priesthood, churches and seminary, prove an important point: Our church is not a church mature enough to think about becoming independent of the Mother Church of Constantinople. We need more links with our tradition not less. We need to recognize the hedonism of our culture and become less American and more Orthodox. Our commitment must be to the universal, Ecumenical Church not to an "American" interpretation of the ancient faith. Our history is told in the bones of our Saints and Patriarchs buried around the world and in the Phanar not in the US Declaration of Independence or The New York Times! (This is not to say that in time the problems of our various "jurisdictions" do not need to be addressed. See Fr. Alexander Schmeman's article elsewhere on this sight [TCA Volume 12].)

The way some people have carried on recently, and more importantly the way a few priests and individuals in some of our institutions have jumped on the ugly bandwagon and thrown mud on our Archbishop proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Greek Orthodox Church in North America should not be encouraged to move toward independence from the Mother Church in the near term." For if they do this in the green, what will they do in the dry?" The last thing we need is to be cut off from the Historical Church and turned into an "American church." The last thing we need is yet more individualism!

What we have witnessed recently, in the vicious way Archbishop SPYRIDON has been mauled, is the action of an immature, "adolescence." The sad immaturity of some Orthodox should not surprise us. After all we breathe the same air as the secular world we inhabit. Our seminary professors received their PhD's from universities dominated by humanists and feminists. We live in a world that is in love with individualism and insists that everything from the church to the family be "democratic." Children are allowed to raise themselves and have no respect for authority. Families disintegrate as women and men pursue careers at the expense of the sacrament of marriage. Babies are murdered through abortion because individuals do not want their, "life style" changed. We live in a culture of narcissistic individualism. We Orthodox are not exempt from the pernicious influence of our times.

Obedience is out of fashion in our culture whose true national anthem is Frank Sinatra's song, "I Did It My Way." The critics of our Archbishop, who talk about lay involvement in the Church, often use quotations from church history. But the quotes they use are torn from the context of history. They are from another time and place that have nothing to do with our own situation. They are usually quotes from saints who struggled to preserve Orthodox doctrine against heretics even when those heretics were emperors or bishops. Such quotes have no application whatsoever when used in some petty dispute over personality, position or who is teaching at a seminary!


The new self-styled Orthodox reformers know that they must at least act a little religious from time to time if they hope to take in the faithful. So they use bits and pieces of writings from church history, that happen to emphasize the place of the lay person in the Church to bolster their position. They offer such quotes as "proof" that the laity, in other words they, should have a, "greater voice." They take such arguments out of context to help them in what is fundamentally a dishonest, anti-hierarchical crusade for power.

Laity involvement in the historic Church has principally been through the monastic community, philanthropy and intellectual pursuits. It has been in the context of a unified Orthodox culture, whether Byzantine or Russian. And the laity involved in the affairs of the Historic Church have not been a pack of secularized Americans ashamed of their own tradition! Nor have the laity in the historic church been a pack of wealthy Greek-Americans who think that parish councils "own" the church or that because they are wealthy they have the "right" to tell the Archbishop how to behave.

Ours is a very different situation than that of the Orthodox of ages past. We live in the chaos of our present moment with its 22,000 "churches." The lay people who have done good work for the Church through Her history have always done so in the context of loyalty to the Church and Her bishops. The only exception has been over grave matters of doctrine. And even then the authority of a bishop has been upheld as layman have made appeals to other bishops to have wrong teaching corrected.

Moreover it is one thing to enter into a public debate on doctrine within the context of the Byzantine Empire, when the larger culture was Orthodox, and quite another thing to enter into a public debate on petty matters unrelated to the core teaching of the Church, in a culture that is, by and large hostile to the Orthodox Church and our tradition of hierarchy and order. It is one thing to call on the secular authorities to help resolve a church dispute in an Orthodox society, where the emperor is the guardian of the Church. It is another to invoke secular powers in a Western, humanistic and secular culture like ours. It is the same difference as an American politician arguing in America about foreign policy and one that visits a foreign country and criticizes his home government. One action is loyal opposition, the other is treason.

I believe that it is not too much to say that any person who would use some secular public forum to criticize the actions of a bishop or priests by name, such as the courts, secular media, a press release, an accreditation board or the Internet, is not only showing extraordinary bad judgment but has left the Orthodox fold. And any persons who would be party to vile unsubstantiated rumors have lowered themselves into a pit from which only repentance and confession can provide an escape. Such a person is self condemned. One cannot break the specific commands of Scripture and ignore the Church Fathers and claim to be doing so, "for the good of the Church."


I believe we need the unity that only loyalty to our Holy Tradition and hierarchy can provide. This is not some political unity on paper but the unity that comes only from shared principles. This is not some theoretical "pan-Orthodox" or "ecumenical" unity, this is a practical unity based on day-by-day obedience. This is not a unity that comes from respect for the personality of an archbishop but out of respect for our Mother Church and Her legitimate time-honored institutions. If some people disagree with our bishops they should in humility, and with great respect talk to them in person as they would to Christ. Above all such discussions should be private and confidential.

If we love Christ we will love His Church. And if we love the Church we will love our bishops. Twenty-two thousand Protestant denominations bear witness to the grim alternative.

If we expect our bishops to be perfect then we are fools. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is greater than the sum of Her parts! The Holy Spirit continues to lead His Church in spite of us and in spite of the fact that none of us is without sin. This is the great mystery of the Church and we must honor Her mystery. If we honor Christ we will defend His bishops. If they stumble, we lift them up as we would Christ carrying His cross. In the end it is our bishops who have the heavy responsibility to deliver the truth as they received it.


You can show your support for His Eminence Archbishop SPYRIDON by sending a letter or fax or calling:
His All Holiness BARTHOLOMEW
The Ecumenical Patriarchate
Rum Patrikhanesi
342 20 Fener - Halic, Istanbul
Tel. (long distance prefix - 011-90-212) 531-9670 (76)
Fax (long distance prefix - 011-90-212) 534-9037


Frank Schaeffer is the editor of The Christian Activist. He is also the author of a number of novels as well as two books on Orthodoxy, "Dancing Alone" and "Letters to Father Aristotle."

[ The Christian Activist - Spring/Summer 1998 - pp. 1,4-7 ]
[ The Christian Activist -  -  May 1998 ]