"Greek America" - Vol. 4 - Issue 3 - May 1998

450 Laypeople Demand Archbishop's Resignation

Patriarchate: Spyridon is here to stay

In an event unprecedented in the 75-year history of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, over four hundred people from twenty-eight states met in Chicago between March 20-21 for a dialogue on what some people are calling a "leadership crisis" in the Church. The new organization calls itself GOAL (Greek Orthodox American Leaders) and the result of their meeting was a list of resolutions, one going as far as demanding the Archbishop's resignation if their demands were not met by a specified date.

GOAL was founded by forty, anonymous members of the Greek Orthodox Church from around the country who met in Boston to discuss concerns they had with Archbishop Spyridon and the way he was running the affairs of the Archdiocese. Although press reports claim that the "original forty" are all upstanding members of the Church, with long records of support and involvement, GOAL has yet to make public the list.

The organization is headed up by Dr. Thomas Lelon, a Massachusetts educator who once served as president of Hellenic College and Dr. John Collis, a Cleveland surgeon. While many people have gone public with their support of the GOAL movement, a shroud of secrecy still remains over who comprises the organization.

The first National Conference was attended by over 450 people from 28 states, with one member traveling all the way from Hawaii for the two-day meeting. A long list of resolutions was passed by the group, touching upon subjects pertaining to administrative matters of the Church in America.

Lelon, Collis and other opening speakers each spoke of the issues that brought about GOAL's birth. Dr. Valerie Karras, a professor of patristic studies at St. Louis University offered theological insight of the movement, drawing correlations between the iconoclastic crisis of the 8th century, when the majority of the Church's hierarchs --even the patriarch-- were iconoclasts. It was the small, vocal minority that was seen as "para-church" or acting outside the church, that prevailed, Karras said.

Many people criticized the group as being anti-Hellenic, anti-Patriarchal and schismatic, seeking to break up the existing structure of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. But resolutions passed by the group prove the contrary. Resolution 2A stated that "we seek to maintain the order and unity of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and its unity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate..." At no time, publicly during the meetings, was discussion heard of breaking away from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese-- and other issues such as language of worship and traditions in the Church were simply not on the minds of these people. All discussion and resolutions passed focused on the issue of the Archbishop and how he was running the affairs of the Church in America.

Harry Coin, an organizer of the GOAL conference from Massachusetts summed it up in an opening statement, stating that no one person has the right to break or make unilateral changes to Archdiocesan structures, adding that the Archdiocesan hierarchs merely want the lay people to "pray, pay and obey". Coin is one of the creators of the Voithia internet web site which has acted as a communication vehicle for many of the dissidents.

Another participant took a more diplomatic approach. Wishing to remain anonymous, an active member of several church and community organizations noted that syndiakonia has always been the cornerstone of the Orthodox faith, referring to the term describing clergy-laity cooperation in the Church ministry. He urged "Christian love, reconciliation and meaningful dialogue" amongst the parties involved, "before it is too late".

While many speakers and participants took a belligerent approach toward the person and office of the Archbishop, conference organizers attempted --and for the most part succeeded-- in maintaining an environment of fairness and structure.

Peter J. Pappas, a prominent New York Greek American with a long list of involvement and support of various Church and community institutions attended the conference as an observer to hear their concerns and determine their positions. Following the deliberations, Pappas concluded that "GOAL is not a threat", and noted that "those who are unhappy with the Archbishop cannot expect to provoke or use radical tactics within our community. That would be disastrous."

Among the most controversial of the resolutions passed related to the financial account ability of the Archbishop's administration and encouraged the study of whether parishes should temporarily delay payments to the Archdiocese, unless the so called "serious concerns" regarding accountability were resolved. "What an ending," Pappas commented.

Talk of legal action against the Archdiocese, a non profit organization in the eyes of the IRS, in the form of a class action lawsuit, was also discussed but never received the full support of the delegates present.

The Archdiocese has yet to respond to the demands of GOAL formally. Following personal meetings in Constantinople with the Archbishop, Patriarch Bartholomew, although aware of the organization's concerns, has blessed Spyridon's ministry in America and gave him the approval to move forward in his "difficult transition."

Fr. Mark Arey, communications director of the Greek Orthodox Ardchdiocese in New York told Greek America that "we can't respond to an organization whose members are anonymous," adding that "a constructive dialogue is possible, but not with threats, conditions and ultimatums."

But in interviews prior to the GOAL meeting, Collis and Lelon had contended all along that GOAL was a result of the Archbishop's unwillingness to sit down at the table and talk about their concerns.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  May 1998 ]