April 10, 1998


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 starting point?

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 against us.

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 presided.

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 western confessions.

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 Church:

"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

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