Greek Orthodox Stewards of America - March 30, 1999


Father Arey disassembles New York Magazine article from head to toe

Stewards' Editorial Comment: After reading Father Arey's surgical dismemberment of the New York Magazine article entitled "Crisis in the Cathedral", there should be no doubt that the article, to say the least, lacks journalistic integrity. It is devoid of objectivity and is filled with mischaracterizations, distortions and lies. The Stewards have taken this issue up directly with New York Magazine (see our letter to the New York Magazine editor which is posted on this site).

Orthodox Observer Editor's Note: The following is the complete text of a letter to the editor of New York Magazine written by Archdiocese Communications Director Fr. Mark Arey in response to an article on the Church in the March 8 issue written by Christopher Bonanos which contained numerous inaccuracies.

Letters to the Editor
444 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10022-6999

To the Editors:

As the Director of Communications for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time speaking with your reporters as they prepared the story, "Crisis In the Cathedral" (March 8, 1999). I was however, disappointed not only by the tone of the article, but by the factual errors in the piece.

May I please address the major factual errors, and you are welcome to check them out at your convenience. I realize that it is unrealistic that your magazine would print this letter in full, and I would respectfully request that if you are unable to do so, that you print it not at all. However, I would like you to know that this entire text will be printed in the official newspaper of the Archdiocese, The Orthodox Observer, inasmuch as your article - inaccuracies, fallacies and all-has been reproduced on at least one Internet site other than your own. The faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America deserve to hear not just the other side of the story, but the facts that you failed or omitted to mention in your own.

1) In referring to Father Stephanopoulos' assignment changes, the article wrote: "He'd be kept on at the cathedral, according to the letter he had been handed, but largely as an aide to the new priest, Gabriel Karambis." In fact, Father Karambis has been the Archiepiscopal Vicar at the Cathedral since January 1998, as was told to your reporter, hardly "new." In addition, Father Stephanopoulos is not an aide to the Vicar, but continues to serve the Cathedral in his priestly capacity as Dean, with his title, his salary, and his pastoral responsibilities intact, hardly a "demotion."

2) In referring to the ministry of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon here in the United States, your reporter wrote that the Archbishop "has made a series of unpopular theological rulings and even less popular personnel changes." The statement is offered as fact without any reference to what rulings or which personnel. While there have been personnel changes (somewhat natural after a 37 year prior administration), the assertion of "unpopular theological rulings" defies common sense. The last theological rulings of our Church were made at the Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Christian Church in 787 A.D., sufficient time for everyone to know what they are. The remark is at best uninformed and at worst irresponsible.

3) Your report that the Archbishop, in his response to his critics, "has simply removed anyone who openly challenges him." This statement is beyond belief. Your article fails to cite even one example of such an action. While granting that conflict drives the story, one would hope that New York Magazine would have at least confirmed the assertion of Metropolitan Maximos, the presiding bishop of Pittsburgh. While the remarks of the Metropolitan might indeed make good grist for the news mill, printing them, without any response from the Archdiocese, gives the mistaken impression that New York Magazine might for the mere entertainment value of it - have an interest in sullying the personal reputation of the Archbishop of America, which would be a most egregious insult to the Greek Orthodox Church of America.

4) Insofar as there have been "angry press releases," please clarify who has issued them. Are you referring to the press releases of the Archdiocese?

5) Your analysis that: "In 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States broke off from its mother ship, and it has been suggested that the American Greek church could do the same," is a complete misrepresentation of reality. In 1970, the Patriarchate of Moscow granted to one of the Russian Churches (the "OCA") in the United States autocephalous status, a status that canonically can only be granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. This status has not been recognized by the worldwide Orthodox Christian Community. If it were so recognized, then all Orthodox Christians in the United States would fall under the jurisdiction of the OCA. There are already many parallel ethnic-based jurisdictions in the United States. Therefore, to state that someone could suggest that there should be parallel autocephalous jurisdictions demonstrates an ignorance of the form and structure of Christianity's most ancient tradition.

6) By what poll numbers does your reporter determine that, "It's not surprising that the American church would want independence; the American hierarchy is far more democratic than its counterparts?" This statement is completely unsubstantiated and is thrown off the cuff in order to do...what? Apart from the sensationalizing tendency of the reporter which may be apropos to New York Magazine, it certainly does not reflect the inherent respect for the Church shared by the vast majority of the faithful. Leaving aside the oxymoron posed by the juxtaposition of the "Hierarchy" and "democratic," it is not demonstrated how the American citizenship of the Bishops of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America makes them any less hierarchical or any more democratic then any other Hierarch in the Orthodox world. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has always given a larger role to the laity of the Church than other Orthodox jurisdictions around the world. But this does not make it any less hierarchical - just as active lay participation does not make the church a democracy. In fact, given the representational nature of various National Diocesan, and Parish boards, one should rather use the term oligarchic, for the vast majority of the laity of our Church experience the Church as a worshipping community, rather than as a administrative entity, for that is the true nature of the Church.

7) Although not of Greek descent myself, please allow me to register a very serious protest over the reporter's remarks, "Greece is also a relatively poor country and a traditionally corrupt one." While your reporter may measure the wealth of a man or a nation by the size of the checkbook, I would ask that you consider that Greece, as the Mother of Western Civilization, is indeed a land replete with the treasure of the ages. As for your offhand remark that the Greek Nation is "traditionally corrupt," I believe that your publication owes an apology to the Government of Greece and the Greek-American community at large. This is an egregious and injurious insult that smacks of ethno-racism.

8) As for the Archbishop's feelings about the "so-called Protestantization of the American church, meaning its tendency to let congregants run their churches," I believe the fair thing to do would have been to allow the Archbishop's numerous remarks of record on the acculturation of the Greek Orthodox Church in America to have spoken for themselves. Your report's ascription of 'meaning' to the Archbishop's opinions, along with his casual attitude toward institutions and persons that Greek Orthodox Christians deem sacred, should explain to the editors of New York Magazine why your reporter was denied an interview with the Archbishop. More on that later.

9) As for your reporter's assessment of the "prospect of a stringently Orthodox church," your article has made two grave errors. You report that the use of English in the Divine Services "would be squelched." In fact, the Archbishop himself has affirmed repeatedly (once in an interview of National Public Radio with Ray Suarez on Talk of the Nation) that English is more than welcome in the liturgical life of our communities, hence his first-ever initiative in the history of the Archdiocese to create a standardized English translation of the Divine Liturgy for all the parishes. Archbishop Spyridon has enthusiastically continued the policy of his predecessor, the retired Archbishop lakovos, that encourages such decisions to be made at the local level, with pastoral considerations for the needs of the individual community, a far cry from 'squelching' anything. The second error is even more hurtful. To say, as your wording clearly implies, that Archbishop Spyridon requires "non-Orthodox spouses to convert," is to speak a lie, and a bold one at that. In fact, he has established the first ever "interfaith Marriage Ministry" staffed by a full time priest with a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy. Please refer to this passage from his Enthronement Address, which has been the vision statement of his Interfaith Marriage Ministry effort:

"Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the key to building such a Church is inclusion. Rome became great by opening up its citizenship to all people. Christianity became predominant by welcoming all people into the Faith. The United States became the strongest nation in the world by opening its doors to all people-raising a huge Statue of Liberty, in the middle of its greatest harbor, to let newcomers know that they were welcome. Each of these communities shared the belief that, by admitting new members, it would gain far more than it lost. Each of these communities was right."

"The Greek Orthodox Church is no exception. I read in a newspaper not too long ago that the greatest problem we face today is that the majority of our people in America marry persons not of the Orthodox Faith. I was shocked, not that they are a majority, but that anyone would regard this solely as a problem."

"It is not so much a problem as it is a promise of things that can be. It is an opportunity. Let us take advantage of it, for a church that is open to all people is a church that grows. Isn't this what happened when the Apostle Paul, the patron saint of the Archdiocese, took the message of Christ to the Gentiles, the Greeks, and the Romans of the Eastern Mediterranean, despite the disapproval of some of his fellow disciples?"

New York Magazine has printed a lie and you are obligated by principles of journalistic fairness to print the truth. Anything less would demonstrate that New York Magazine in unwilling to act responsibly. And please correct your factual error that states "about 90 percent of Greek-Americans marry outside the faith." Marrying outside the faith implies that they do not marry in a church rite of matrimony. Although in some Dioceses up to 90 percent of our faithful marry christians from other faith communities, they do in fact marry with the sacred rites of the Greek Orthodox Church. And very often, the non-Orthodox Christian spouses become Orthodox themselves, something your article failed to mention. Please be aware that these very points were made in one of the numerous interviews I gave your journalists during their preparation of the article. How they could get these basic facts wrong and go to press strains credulity itself.

10) As far as the quotation ascribed to me on separatism, I utterly reject the interpretation given my remarks. If you cannot restrain your reporters from reading the minds of their interviewees, please allow the full context of the remarks to be printed, rather than a skewed interpretation. Taking people out of their own context in order to fabricate a context of your own is neither worthy of the journalistic endeavor nor is it entertaining. My remarks were made in the context of sharing with your reporters the diversity that exists within our own community. Your interpretation smacks of the exact opposite.

11) As for the assertion the Archbishop Spyridon "has chosen celibate priests over married ones for almost all his administrative appointments," a simple fact check would have revealed the opposite. Of the fifteen administrative posts at the Archdiocese and ancillary institutions headed by clergy (there are many other positions filled by lay people), nine, including the Chancellor of the Archdiocese the highest ranking priest in the country, are held by married clergy and six are held by celibate clergy (two are bishops), hardly "all his administrative appointments." In addition, all three Deacons serving at the Archdiocese, including the Archdeacon, are married men. Where did your reporter get his information? Certainly not from the public records of the Archdiocese.

12) In addition, far from "requiring priests to wear the traditional long beards and tall black hats one sees in Greece," the Archbishop embraces the diverse personal styles of the clergy nationwide, a policy that was not so open in the past. Whether a priest chooses to wear a beard or not, or whether he chooses to trim his beard (as most bearded clergy do) is a personal choice respected fully by the Archbishop. In point of fact, two of the clergy serving at the Archdiocese headquarters in New York do not have beards. As for the "tall black hat," the kalimafki has been traditional headgear of Orthodox priests for centuries. And yes, it was imposed on Greek Orthodox priests under the 400-year Ottoman domination of Asia Minor, Greece and all the Balkans. Interestingly, this headgear was adopted by the Slavic Churches as well; perhaps as a sign of their solidarity with their oppressed Orthodox brethren. Today, in a society that has known very little of religious persecution, it can serve as a proud reminder of the heroism and bravery of the Greek People, who kept their faith intact for over 400 years, and whose descendants brought that faith to a new world. As for those who would describe it as Turkish, one can only regret the ignorance of their own history and the shame they show for their noble heritage.

13) As for your assertion of the Archbishop's "hard line on theological issues" and your attempt to substantiate this merely by stating that "only celibate priests may hold higher offices," you have once again misstated the facts. Archbishop Spyridon, like every other Bishop, Priest, and theologian in the Orthodox world subscribes to the 1,400 year tradition of celibate episcopacy. This is hardly a "hard line," but rather the center line of a Orthodox Faith and Practice, something that your reporter apparently omitted to investigate.

14) As for your description of Christmas Eve at the Cathedral, your reporter was either not there or had no idea what he was looking at. The Bishop's throne was never moved, nor could it be, since it is permanently installed. When an Orthodox Bishop celebrates the Divine Liturgy and is the only Hierarch celebrating, he presides over the beginning of the Service from the throne that is off to the side. When he celebrates with other bishops (as was the case on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral), he begins the service seated with the other Hierarchs in the middle of the Church, facing the Holy Altar. This is a sign of the collegiality of the episcopacy. And for the record, every Orthodox priest in the world celebrates the Divine Liturgy facing the Holy Altar. Please do not superimpose the legitimate practice of the modern-day Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Churches (both Churches turned their altars around in the late 1960's) over the Orthodox Church in order to make an illegitimate point about some invented controversy. It betrays both an ignorance of your subject and is unworthy of fair journalism.

15) Again, contrary to the specific information I gave to your reporters, you write that Archbishop Spyridon "removed the bishops from the executive committee of the archdiocesan council, the church's main lay-and-clergy governing body - and one whose remaining executives are named solely by Spyridon." As I informed your reporter, the bishops were members of the Executive Committee by virtue of their Synodical status only during the first two years of Archbishop Spyridon's reign. This was part of an expanded and inclusive Executive Committee and Archdiocesan Council, which included many more women and converts than had been appointed or elected to Council in the past. At his first Clergy-Laity Congress, the Archbishop promised to reconstitute an Executive Committee in strict accordance with the By-Laws of the Archdiocese, and he did just that. The Bishops were never de jure members of the Executive Committee, although they were and continue to be members of the Council As I told your reporter, the four officers of the Executive Committee are elected by the Council, and the Archbishop appoints five members of the Council to fill the at-large positions on the Executive Committee, which is the corporate board of the Archdiocese. This was explained in great detail to your reporter. How this could have been reported otherwise is an explanation New York Magazine owes the Greek Orthodox People of America.

16) As for the issue of the administrative changes at the Seminary, your scenario is not only incorrect, but perpetuates a lie that has been peddled by some people for nearly two years. The reassignment of clergy staff at the Seminary had nothing to do with any 'sexual harassment' that may or may not have occurred at the Seminary. Rather than go into this homophobic propaganda, I would refer your readers to the Report to His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon and the Board of Trustees of Hellenic College, Inc. prepared by the Legal Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, available from the Archdiocese for the asking.

17) Finally I can return to point 8 in this unfortunately long list, why your reporter was turned down for an interview with Archbishop. And no, it is not true, as he asserts, that Archbishop Spyridon "has turned down nearly all interview requests outside the Greek press." This appears to be a convenient excuse for why the reporter was denied the interview. Although he did request an interview, when it became clear that the tone of the article could be interpreted as demeaning not only to the person of the Archbishop, but to the Church itself, I deemed the interview inappropriate. While New York Magazine has the right to print the stories that they choose, the Church also has the right to protect the dignity of its own institution. Your story has confirmed, as least for this reader, that your magazine's interest is not in 'both sides of the story,' but in a story that sensationalizes the facts and scandalizes the sensibilities of the wider faith community. Had you been interested in the truth, you might have done a more responsible story investigating the deeper and broader cultural issues affecting the Greek Orthodox Community in the United States. You might have looked into issues of homogeneity and heterogeneity, assimilation and acculturation, social, educational, political and economic evolution. You might have approached the story not from abstract concepts, but from the real life experience of Greek Orthodox men, women and families. You might have looked at the Church with at least a semblance of respect, recognizing that behind dissident voices are complex phenomena, not always apparent at first glance. But then there might not have been the entertainment value your cavalier style of reporting attempts to create. For the record, I did not provide your reporter with an interview with the Archbishop of America because I suspected that your story would not merit his candor. Regrettably, I feel vindicated in my decision.

In conclusion, I can only hope that in the future, New York Magazine will demonstrate an informed discretion in dealing with faith communities, and provide your journalistic endeavors with more of the professionalism and sophistication that your cosmopolitan title suggests.


Presbyter Mark Arey
Director of Communications

[ Greek Orthodox Stewards of America
  March 30, 1999 ]