April 5, 1998

Violating the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Church in America?

A letter from Timothy Krantz to "Voithia"

Date: 98-04-05 16:11:12 EDT

Dear Voithia:

Since the beginning of your website, much has been offered by you and your readers regarding their personal opinions as to whether or not the actions taken by the Archbishop against the professors at Holy Cross School of Theology were "legal" or not. Likewise, everybody has offered (and continues to offer) their opinions regarding the further actions of the Archbishop - that they are "illegal" in that they supposedly contradict and violate the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Church in America (hereafter "Charter"). These personal opinions are good for mutual discussion but they contain no legal (or spiritual) authority which is necessary to resolve the matter.

What everybody has failed to ask is "what does the law of the United States say in regards to these allegations?" The Archbishop's dissenters have made a legal conclusion - that the Charter is a binding contract which gives them rights which no hierarchal member of the Church (i.e. bishops, metropolitans, Archbishop, Synods and Patriarch) can modify, alter or contradict without their approval or without exact compliance with the Charter, bylaws, etc. The Church hierarchy says otherwise.

What your readers need to do next in order to see if their position is correct is to look at the laws of the United States and see how our courts have interpreted those laws (ie. the US Constitution) in relation to the spiritual authority of the Church and in light of the allegations made against the Church hierarchy. Believe it or not, the Supreme Court of the United States has already decided this issue for us. Below, I have set forth a synopsis of that information as well as other information on the issue from other legal cases and law review articles.

In order to properly address the allegations of violations of the Charter, one must first understand the relationship between the Church and the corporate structures which are a part of the Church. The ecclesiastical structure of the Greek Orthodox Church is hierarchical. In this hierarchical system there are superior ecclesiastical tribunals (i.e. Patriarchate, Synods, Archbishop, Bishop, etc.) which have the ultimate power of control over the entire membership of the Church. All institutions and members of the Greek Orthodox Church in America (i.e. churches, corporations, etc.) are subordinate members of the Archdiocese (which in turn is subordinate to the Patriarchate). As such, all subordinate institutions are required to obey the hierarchical pronouncements of the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese. A review of the first few paragraphs of the Charter of the Archdiocese confirms this hierarchical structure and required spiritual (and legal as shown below) obedience. Further, any institution (church, corporation or other entity) within the Church which has by-laws or charters which contradict the Archdiocese's Charter (i.e. do not recognize this ecclesiastical hierarchical structure and obedience to it) are deemed to be illegal and its decisions likewise null and void. The reason for this is that in a hierarchical church, prevailing civil law holds that the members who have chosen to join the Church are deemed (legally) to have assented to its hierarchical system of authority and are bound by the rules, decisions and judgments of the hierarchy. Thus, whether they like it or not, Church members must accept the ecclesiastical hierarchical structure of authority. Failure to accept this hierarchical structure puts one outside the Church.

When these ecclesiastical tribunals or individuals invested with such power act, their actions/decisions are given full deference by the courts of law in America. That is, civil courts must accept the decisions of the Church authority which has spoken on a certain subject even when a dissenting party claims that the Church has no jurisdiction to act or has violated its own internal procedures (i.e. Charters, bylaws, etc.).

In the case of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese vs. Milivojevich, the United States Supreme Court stated that a court of law may not examine the claim of a bishop that an action taken against him (removal from his office) by the Church hierarchy violated the constitutional procedures of the Charter of the Serbian Church. The Court reasoned that, in a hierarchical Church, the decisions of its ecclesial leaders are valid as to all its members/institutions even when said decisions are not in compliance with the Church's own governing rules and regulations (Charter, bylaws, etc.)! This is so because under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which allows for the exercise of free religion, the civil courts of America will not substitute their judgment for that of the Church's hierarchy. As the civil courts rightly point out, the remedy for those who have complaints about the Church's decisions is to appeal to the ecclesial hierarchy of the Church because this is the system that they have agreed to by becoming members of a hierarchical Church.

The above statement reflects the law of the United States when it comes to the Orthodox Church in America. These cases point out that anything less would amount to a removal of the hierarchical structure of the Orthodox Church and the creation of a Protestant type of structure for the Church, whose form is one of a local, corporate structure (i.e. the same way that a corporation operates) with each local church having its "own say" and being allowed to disagree and not follow the other local churches. Thus, the hierarchical structure would no longer exist but would be put on the same level as the voice of the laity - a democratic type structure. This "democratic" type structure is one that many of your readers believe exists in America or should exist.

In conclusion, as the law of our country clearly tells us, it is the Church's hierarchy who have correctly stated the position of the Church regarding the Archbishop's actions. All others who disagree are not only outside the Church but also outside the laws of the United States of America.

In Christ,
Timothy Krantz, Esq.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  April 5, 1998 ]