April 10, 1998
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
An open letter from Evan Lambrou
in response to the waywardness of groups like OCL and GOAL
For the past eight months, I have carefully observed the behavior of groups
like the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) and the Greek Orthodox American Leaders
(GOAL), as well as the reports on the Internet and in the various newspapers of
the Greek American community. In reference to my life outside the campus of Holy
Cross, I have maintained a strict and modest silence.
Because the above-mentioned groups have been feeding the Greek American
faithful with often deliberate misinformation, however, I will keep silent no
longer. Misinformation is insidious because it misleads people. When people are
misled, they walk down the wrong path. The wrong path, in our case, takes us
away from the Church. Hence, it is a path away from salvation.
With this letter, then, I will point out the errors and inconsistencies of
those who attempt to misinform and mislead us, and I will do so simply by
stating the truth, not as I understand it, but as it has been handed down by the
Church to the Church from generation to generation for centuries.
In other words, it is not my personal view, but rather the view of the
Church, that I will present to those of us who have been inundated with a flood
of one-sided poison. How do I know that what I am declaring is the correct and
appropriate message? Because my frame of reference is not some alien ideology.
It is the holy tradition of the Church Herself.
I have no doubt that this will be clear to my readers, the collective
intelligence of whom demands that the truth be disclosed. And the truth will be
disclosed. It will be disclosed by a story that has either been withheld or
that, on the infrequent occasions when it actually has been presented, is
slanted to suit the malevolent purposes of twisted agendas that distort, and
consequently oppose, the true teachings and tenets of our faith.
Before I begin, however, I should qualify myself. As a student of our holy
theological school, I have had the privilege of watching the inner workings of
both Holy Cross and the Archdiocese from close range. I have also enjoyed the
benefit of a sound theological education, an education that I am very happy to
share with my fellow Greek Orthodox Christians in America.
Moreover, unlike my counterparts whose articles you have been reading lately,
I am an award-winning journalist with the Associated Press. I am also a
published author, so I have legitimate credentials when it comes to writing and
informing the public accurately and objectively. I will therefore tell my
readers the truth in a consistent, fair and graceful manner, and the truth shall
set us free.
Let us begin then, not with anger, but with sobriety. To acquire a proper
understanding of the Church, we need to consider Her from an ecclesiological
perspective. No one explains this better than Saint Ignatius of Antioch, an
apostolic father who was martyred for what he believed:
Thus, it is proper for you to act together in harmony with the mind of the
bishop... For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of
the bishop together with the whole Church... God opposes the arrogant. Let us
therefore be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order that we may be obedient
to God... It is obvious, then, that we must regard the bishop as the Lord
Himself... For there are some who are maliciously accustomed to bearing the Name
while doing other things unworthy of God. You must avoid them as wild beasts...
for their bite is hard to heal [Letter to the Ephesians]... Indeed, it is not
right for you to take advantage of your bishop's youthfulness (inexperience),
but to give him all the respect that is his due in accordance with the power of
God the Father... yield to him as one who is wise in God; yet by yielding to the
bishop, you are not really yielding to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ,
the Bishop of all... be united with the bishop and with those who lead (those
who have been appointed by him), as an example and as a lesson of
incorruptibility [Letter to the Magnesians]... For when you are subject to the
bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that you are not living in
accordance with human standards, but in accordance with Jesus Christ [Letter to
the Trallians]... I know that the bishop obtained a ministry, which is for the
entire community, not by his own efforts nor through men nor out of vanity, but
in the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ... As children of the
light, therefore, flee from division and false teaching. Where the shepherd is,
as the sheep, you also must follow... For all those who belong to God and Jesus
Christ are with the bishop... Do nothing without the bishop [Letter to the
Philadelphians]... Flee from divisions, as they are the beginning of every evil.
You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father... Let no one
do anything concerning the Church without the bishop. Only that Eucharist which
is under the authority of the bishop is valid. Wherever the bishop appears,
there let the congregation be also; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there
likewise is the catholic (universal) Church [Letter to the Smyrnaeans].
There you have it my friends, not from me, but from Saint Ignatius of Antioch
(also known as Theophoros - he who has put on God). Saint Ignatius has set forth
the cardinal ecclesiological principle of our faith: where the bishop is, Christ
is, and there rests the unity of the Church.
In our tradition, the bishop stands in the place of Christ. He is the living
representative of the Lord Himself. Saint Ignatius has clearly pointed out that
the bishop is vested with heavenly authority on Earth. Saint Paul says the same:
"For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of
men in relation to God... And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he
is called by God, just as Aaron was [Hebrews 5:1,4]."
By inference, then, the sacrament of Holy Ordination is not simply a matter
of human aspiration or effort. It is not just an ornate human ritual. Divine
Grace is actively at work and mysteriously blesses, ordains and perfects the
bishop with the Seal of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit perfects the bishop to the extent that He makes him the
supreme guardian of our faith and tradition. If we do not believe that, then we
are not Orthodox. But if we do, it makes little or no sense for us to say, "We
know we're a hierarchical Church, and we respect our hierarchs, but not if they
make the wrong decisions. We don't believe in blind obedience."
Since we are a hierarchical Church, we are expected to obey the bishop, not
blindly, but lovingly. Loving obedience to our Archbishop, then, signifies an
ample, open and sincere demonstration of our faith, the faith to understand that
as a flock, we need to be led; and that as our shepherd appointed by God to
stand in the place of Christ, the Archbishop knows how and where to lead us. It
is not only wrong, but dangerous, to stand apart from our shepherd.
Those who wish to criticize the reality expressed in this logic are
ideologically conditioned by their own perverted perceptions, and I feel sorry
for them. I really do. Instead of conforming to the sacred standards of the
Church, they prefer conforming to the secular ideals of American Democracy. This
is awful because the minds of the faithful are enamored with, and deceived by,
the concept of "liberty and justice for all."
And just how has such a noble principle deceived us? Because we have
misinterpreted and misappropriated it. And why have we misinterpreted it?
Because we live in a society where abstract ideals take precedence over the
concrete needs of individuals and communities. And in which way have we
misappropriated it? By insisting that even though we are a hierarchical Church,
we have a vote.
This may sound strange to someone who calls America his or her home, but in a
hierarchical Church, the laity does not have a vote. It is by the grace of God
that a bishop is ordained, so ultimately, the bishop is someone God provides for
His Church. We do not elect a bishop ourselves. In our sacred tradition, he is
never chosen by the laity. He is appointed by God through a synod for us. Since
the bishop is appointed by God and stands in the place of Christ, we ought to
lovingly embrace him: "He who hates Me hates My Father also [John 15:23]."
The laity is therefore expected to abide by the decisions of its hierarchs,
who meet regularly as a synod to discuss the needs of the Church; and who have
a much wider perspective because they have a much wider set of facts to
consider, facts that we do not always have at our disposal. The laity can reject
the decisions of a synod, and thereby refuse to accept synodical rulings on
matters of doctrine, but this does not necessarily imply that the synod was
wrong. If a particular doctrine has already been accepted and practiced for
generations, then we would be way off-base to reject the fundamental
ecclesiological precept of Saint Ignatius, for example.
For almost two millenia, the Church has governed Herself in a hierarchical
fashion, and while American Democracy is arguably the finest system of
government in the world today, it is nonetheless a product of secular wisdom.
And throughout human history, secular wisdom has ever been at odds with the
Church. It is the same with the Church in America. The world's vanity continues
its relentless assault against the people of God: "A generation comes, and a
generation goes... All things are more wearisome than one can express. The eye
is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing... there is
nothing new under the sun [Ecclesiastes 1:4,8-9]."
Nothing has changed, my friends. It is we who are the arrogant ones, not the
Archbishop. Out of humility, therefore, let us have confidence in our
Archbishop. He is the one vested with heavenly authority, so he deserves our
respect. As the guardian of our faith and tradition (the way we practice our
faith) in America, he has a sacred duty not to accommodate us, at times, when it
comes to keeping the sanctity of the Church inviolate.
Rather than assume that the Archbishop is doing something wrong, why do we
not assume that he is doing things right, instead, and allow that to be our
Often, a bishop's actions might not seem to make sense because the bishop, in
his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal all of the reasons behind his decisions.
More often than not, a bishop has rightly determined that his flock is not ready
to handle the details of a specific situation. Lay people need to be protected
from all kinds of temptation.
All we need to do is look at the alleged scandals unprofessionally and
irresponsibly churned out by the Internet and by some of our newspapers, and we
can be sure that this is true. Innocent people have been hurt. I know them. They
have been viciously and wrongfully accused, their reputations unfairly maligned.
They told me how they feel. I wish all of you could see the pain in their eyes
and hear the anguish in their voices. You might not be so quick to judge them,
especially since they are people you have never even met.
Do not believe what you read on the Internet or in those newspapers. The
writers have a distorted sense of justice, and they openly proclaim their
ignorance when they impertinently exclaim their own expertise on theological
matters and the canonical order of our Church; and when at the same time, they
callously disregard the immense responsibility our Archbishop carries on his
shoulders. As Orthodox Christians, these writers are supposed to be much more
compassionate. Unfortunately, they have not demonstrated the qualities of mercy,
and this is manifested by the imbalanced way they write.
It is an insult to our decency, for example, when a small group of
individuals persistently slanders and defames people they do not even know. This
totally contradicts our Christian ethic and profanes our whole community.
Furthermore, the Archbishop gauges matters on a much larger scale than we do. He
is not as concerned with individuals as he is with the way the universal Church
expresses Herself at the local level.
This expression has to be uniform and consistent. A parish in New York City
must confess the same faith as a parish in Missoula, Montana. We do not vary our
liturgical practices from place to place. We can not say, "Well, we do things
differently here," because that is not Orthodox. As Orthodox Christians, we have
a certain way of practicing our faith and conducting ourselves both in and out
of church. We have a line of reasoning that has been defined and formed by our
sacred tradition, which gives our faith a living, breathing context. It is this
line of reasoning that we must follow, particularly in a society where we are so
vastly outnumbered by bretheren with different traditions. It is this line of
reasoning to which we must adhere so that the gates of Hades will not prevail
Saint Mark Eugenicos, the brilliant defender of our faith at the Council of
Ferrara-Florence, told his detractors, "Do not transgress the ancient boundaries
your Fathers have set, for it was not they who spoke, but the Spirit of God
(through them)." He stood alone in a hostile forum, but his words still ring
true for us today and for our children tomorrow.
Saint Mark was the Metropolitan of Ephesus. As such, he was under the
archiepiscopal jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. He was loyal to the See
of Constantinople. The Church in America sojourns within the ecclesiastical
orbit of the Great Church of Christ, and our Archbishop is loyal to the
Constantinopolitan throne, as he should be.
Moreover, we can not impose the laws of the land onto the Church. It is
ridiculous for any of us to think that we can take the Church to court,
especially in a land where there is a separation of Church and State. Those who
would dare to commit such an offense succeed only in bringing judgement upon
themselves: "Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your
doom; how bitter it is, for it has reached your very hearts [Jeremiah 4:18]." In
order to enter the future wisely, then, and to escape such evil misconceptions,
it is crucial for us to understand our own history, to which the Church in
America, as an extension of the Mother Church, contributes.
Constantinople was the imperial capital of a Christian empire. As far as
Church-State relations in the Byzantine Empire were concerned, the coexistence
of two parallel authorities was perfectly acceptable. There was an
ecclesiastical authority (the Ecumenical Patriarch) and a political authority
(the Emperor). Although each played distinctive roles, both authorities had a
common divine origin.
The Emperor was annointed by the Patriarch before the people, and the
Patriarch was presented to the people by the Emperor. The Patriarch was
responsible for the internal affairs of the Church, and as God's vicegerant
(administrative deputy) on Earth, the Emperor was entrusted with the proper care
of the State, on which the Church exerted a decisive influence. The State had a
powerful influence on the Church, as well. It was the emperors, after all, who
convoked the Ecumenical Councils.
There may have been deviations in the theoretical clarity of Byzantine
Church-State relations, of course, but those were always temporary in nature,
and in spite of human errors, there was a definite relationship of mutuality,
cooperation and concurrence shared by Church and State. Together, the two aimed
to foster a bilateral spirit of concord for the Christian world over which they
But what is the point of all this, and how does it apply to us? The point is
that our Christian heritage stems from a society in which Church and State were
not constitutionally separate, but intrinsically linked. The Byzantine Empire
was a theocentric state. There is a separation of Church and State in America,
however, so we can not possibly be the State Church here. And because other
confessions boast far greater numbers here, it is highly unlikely that we can
establish our faith as the indigenous one in America. Those are just some of the
practical reasons why autocephaly does not apply to us. There are other reasons,
of course. America is a heterogeneous society. Autocephaly, on the other hand,
normally functions in a homogeneous society where, geopolitically, the Church is
the national Church. From both a hypothetical and a pragmatic standpoint, then,
an autocephalous Church can not establish itself in a multi-cultural setting. By
the same token, it is simply wrong for us to separate ourselves from the Mother
Church. In a land where Orthodoxy is just a drop in the bucket, our connection
to the Mother Church is vital. Otherwise, we would get lost in an ocean of
The best we can do, then, is preserve the integrity of our own faith, and we
can not do that by constantly seeking the approval of those who profess other
faiths: "A city set on a hill can not be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it
under a bushel, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. So
let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give
glory to your Father Who is in Heaven [Matthew 5:14-16]."
If our neighbors can see our city, they might then choose to climb the hill.
So let us shine our light by remaining faithful to our sacred tradition, a
tradition that calls for us to love and respect our Archbishop, who stands
before us in the place of our Lord. We compromise our identity otherwise and
gradually lose our sense of Christian Orthodoxy. This is precisely what has
happened to groups like OCL and GOAL.
By claiming to be the Church Of America; by entertaining theologically
unsound and invalid ideas (like the ordination of women to the priesthood); by
placing a small handful of individuals above an entire theological school; by
claiming to understand what Holy Cross needs when their theological background
is insufficient; by threatening to withhold money from the Archdiocese; by
making demands on the Archbishop and issuing ultimatums; and by insisting that
even the Ecumenical Patriarch bend to their whims, they intrusively assert
themselves as an authority, but no authority appointed them. They appointed
themselves, and this makes them rebels; yet in their seditious insolence, they
cause dissension and make us feel uneasy. So they should be ashamed of
themselves for tempting us to question the legitimate authority of our
"For if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches
were broken off and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to
share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you
boast, remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root that
supports you [Romans 11:16-18]." Groups like OCL and GOAL remind me of wild
olive shoots. Some of their members are good people who really mean well. Many
of them are highly educated and very wealthy, but by trying to use their
financial clout against the Archbishop, they are acting like the Church is their
own special club; and by showing such an appalling lack of respect for the
sacred tradition that sustains us, they prove just how little they know about
the theology of our faith, as well as how little they care. They also prove that
they have hardly any faith, at all. For if they did, they would not be so
insensitive. By the Church to the Church means from the hierarchy to the laity:
"Let us hold fast onto what we have attained [Philippians 3:16]."
Our tradition is precious. We should stop looking for ways to change it. We
should avoid rebellion of any kind. At no time of the year is this more evident
than now, as we prepare to enter Holy Week, when we are called to solemnly
reflect on the Passion of our Lord. On Holy Thursday, we anticipate His
Crucifixion. Many of the hymns chanted that evening capture the spirit of
rebellion perfectly, so in a liturgical atmosphere, the Church teaches us to
recognize rebellion when it is brewing among us or within us.
The first hymn of the Sixth Antiphon, which precedes the third gospel lesson,
reads as follows: "Today, Judas (alert with treachery) is rushing to betray the
Lord; the pre-existing Savior of the world; the One Who satisfied the multitudes
with five loaves of bread. Today, the lawless one (the one without a conscience)
denies his Teacher. He who became a disciple betrays the Master; for silver, he
sold the One Who satisfied mankind with manna." The hymn is chanted in Plagal of
the Third Tone. The musical quality of this tone generates a strangely pleasant
feeling, and it is appropriate for this hymn, which is chanted quickly, as it
lends an air of inevitability to the action Judas is about to take. Judas'
rebellion is inevitable. He is driven to betray the Lord because rebellious
thoughts give him false pleasure. His mind thereby persuades him to turn his
clouded thoughts into grave action.
No other tradition brings life to the Christian faith like ours does. No
other tradition helps us experience the Lord's Passion as intensely. If we
listen carefully on Holy Thursday, we might discover that we ourselves are no
better than Judas. Judas could have stopped himself, but he chose to dwell on
his own thoughts, instead. We all do the same from time to time, except that
some of us have taken it too far. Those who are obsessed with their own agenda
are effectively separating themselves from the Church. They are not behaving
like Orthodox Christians. They are behaving like enfants terribles.
According to Saint Ignatius of Antioch, those who oppose the Archbishop are
revolting against Jesus Himself. They call on the Name of Christ; they claim to
cherish the sacred tradition of the Church; but by rebelling against the
Archbishop, they are denouncing the tradition. They are rejecting the
episcopate, which faithfully administers the Body and Blood of our Lord.
In the hymn cited above, we are told that Christ predates the world. In the
same manner, my friends, the episcopal office of the Church predates the laity.
As Orthodox Christians, this is something we are supposed to believe. Otherwise,
we render our faith a matter of convenience. On Holy Thursday, we should try to
suppress the Judas we each carry inside us. Hopefully, we will also remember
that as our shepherd, His Eminence has come to protect his sheep from those who
would impose their will on the Church; and that by reintroducing the sacred
tradition of the Mother Church to Her flock in America, he wants to save the
rebels, as well. Similarly, Saint Peter exhorts those who go astray to humble
themselves: "Likewise, you who are younger, submit to your elders [I Peter
5:5]." The Archbishop is our Elder. The rest are impostors.
Evan C. Lambrou
Ithaca, New York
April 10, 1998
Τo the editors of EKKLISIA:
Below is the text of a letter that VOITHIA has refused to publish, so far. It
is an attempt to provide a balanced and cohesive synthesis of Church History,
Dogmatics and Scripture in response to the waywardness of groups like OCL and
GOAL. Would you kindly consider publishing it on your web page? Thank you.
Sincerely, Evan C. Lambrou Ithaca, New York 617-232-1168 (at Holy Cross), April 28, 1998
[ EKKLISIA | www.ekklisia.org/elet-4-28.htm - April 28, 1998 ]