hellenic times - June 25-July 8, 1999
ARE GOAL'S EFFORTS CHRISTIAN IN NATURE?
By Evan C. Lambrou
On June 5, the Boston Diocese clergy-laity assembly voted to readopt a report submitted to the Mother Church by the five Metropolitans of the Eparchial Synod, and to reintroduce it as an item for discussion at the next Clergy-Laity Congress in 2000.
Metropolitans Iakovos, Anthony, Maximos, Methodios and Isaiah (the bishops who preside over the Dioceses of Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston and Denver, respectively) filed a harshly-worded report to the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
In their report, the Metropolitans strongly recommended that the Ecumenical Patriarchate either remove His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon from the helm of the Greek Orthodox Church in America or procure his resignation.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate flatly rejected the Metropolitans' demands. According to Greek Orthodox canonical tradition, the case is now officially closed.
According to a deviant tradition which some are wittingly or unwittingly trying to engender in America, however, the case is apparently still open.
The vote was 58-51 in favor of readopting the report, a negligible difference when one stops to consider all the anti-Archbishop activity which has been going on in New England during the last two years.
FACT: The Archbishop also attended the clergy-laity assembly in Boston. After enduring months of severe criticism; after having largely unsubstantiated allegations levied repeatedly against him; even after a tremendous amount of unsettling propaganda has been generated, His Eminence makes a single appearance in New England, the center of his opposition, and wins nearly half the votes. From this perspective, then, which side really won?
FACT: According to the canonical tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church, neither lay people nor clergy can force an issue which has already been decided on by the Holy and Sacred Synod, the highest authority of the Church.
Moreover, Archdiocesan General Counsel John Mavroudis explained, the Metropolitans' report deals with canonical and ecclesiological matters, so reintroducing it at the Clergy-Laity level is simply out of place.
"What is the intent of the resolution? People fail to understand that under the charter and the UPR (Uniform Parish Regulations), the Clergy-Laity Congress can not concern itself with canonical or ecclesiological matters," Mr. Mavroudis said.
Even based on Voithia's account of what transpired at the Boston Diocese clergy-laity, the Archbishop was treated in a much less than amiable fashion.
At GOAL's recent "Open Forums" in Virginia and New England, attacks against the Archbishop were blatant. According to Voithia, of course, the attacks were justified.
According to the directors of GOAL, the dissident group is approaching the Archbishop's stewardship in a prayerful manner, in a spirit of Christian love.
But does an Orthodox spirit of Christian love really pervade the vociferous movement which seeks to oust the Archbishop? Can such a movement even be considered proper within the context of the Church?
According to some members of the Greek Orthodox community in America who were present at GOAL's open forums, as well as at the Boston Diocese clergy-laity, Christian love was not even remotely evident.
George Safiol, a member of the Archdiocesan Council's Executive Committee, said he felt the Boston Diocese clergy-laity was orchestrated by the Archbishop's critics.
GOAL managed to disrupt the process by covertly inserting copies of a 28-page document into the assembly's information packets, he explained, even though the Diocese rejected the document's inclusion as an item for discussion beforehand.
"My take is that the whole thing was staged. Several GOAL supporters from New York showed up, and a lot of local GOAL people were there, too. They handed out a brochure which the Diocese did not authorize. They didn't have permission to do that. That brochure was all anti-Spyridon propaganda. It took us by surprise," said Mr. Safiol, who is also a member of Saint Demetrios' Church in Weston, Massachusetts, the parish from which it is widely held that GOAL originated.
"It was pretty obvious that the resolution (to readopt the Metropolitans' report) and ballots were preprinted, so it wasn't a spontaneous act by any means," he added.
The most disappointing aspects of the entire affair, Mr. Safiol said, were…
- The irreverent way in which the Archbishop was treated and
- How obstinate GOAL supporters were in rejecting Archdiocesan financial reports, which are prepared monthly by the Archdiocese and reviewed quarterly by BDO Seidman, a major accounting firm.
"They preach Christian love, but several GOAL members were abrasively critical of the Archbishop," Mr. Safiol said.
"(Archdiocese Financial Director) George Chelpon was there, and he gave a marvelous presentation. He did an excellent job, and he answered all their questions, but they still weren't satisfied. They simply don't want to accept the facts. They just want to push their agenda," he added.
Mr. Safiol also said that the Archdiocese's invitation to GOAL was reconfirmed at the Boston Diocese clergy-laity assembly (an announcement was made at the end of February by John Catsimatidis, president of the Archdiocesan Council, that GOAL was welcome to hire a Big Eight accounting firm to review Archdiocese financial records).
FACT: From 1988 to 1997 (under the stewardship of former Archbishop Iakovos), the Archdiocese experienced operating losses of more than $13 million. From 1994 to 1998, it registered losses of more than $7.8 million: $3.71 million in 1994, $2.24 million in 1995, $1.1 million in 1996, $476 thousand in 1997 (Archbishop Spyridon's first year) and $290 thousand in 1998.
Mr. Chelpon echoed Mr. Safiol's sentiments.
"At the Boston clergy-laity, they asked some pretty hard questions, which was their prerogative, of course, and we answered them. But they definitely stacked the deck. It was a well-organized strike against the Archbishop. They had a large contingent controlling the mood of the room, and they really didn't have an interest in the truth. The truth is a hindrance to them," Mr. Chelpon said.
In spite of numerous written notices and reports issued both by the Archdiocese and the courts, he said, GOAL continues to assert misleading allegations of fiscal mismanagement at the Archdiocese and of an autocratic temperament on the part of the Archbishop.
LIES OR PARTIAL TRUTH
"They're spouting outright lies or telling half-truths, at best. We continue to give them the facts. The facts are on our side, but they just don't like the facts," Mr. Chelpon said.
GOAL's Open Forum in Dedham, Massachusetts on May 26 was not much better, he added.
"They gave me three minutes to respond to their entire presentation. I was timed. When my three minutes were up, they told me that's it. When I protested, they threatened to throw me out of the room. It wasn't so open a forum, after all. They'll do anything to squelch whatever is contrary to their sales pitch," Mr. Chelpon said.
George Rockas, a member of Saint Basil's Church in Peabody, Massachusetts and president of the Greek Orthodox Stewards, deplored the manner in which GOAL members conducted themselves during their open forums in New England.
At GOAL's meeting in Chelmsford, Massacusetts on May 19, Mr. Rockas said, GOAL officers made a case for seceding either partially or completely from the Mother Church in Constantinople.
The manner in which GOAL presented its case for secession was clearly intended to play on people's emotions, he added, as GOAL encouraged parishes to withhold funds from the Archdiocese.
"In Chelmsford, it was clear that they were preaching an alternative form of Church governance. They were busy presenting autonomy or autocephaly as options. They were trying to arouse our passions by saying that the Turkish government is involved with the election of the Patriarch, and that the UPR was violated under the Archbishop," he said.
WHICH REG? - MATTER OF CIVIL LAW
GOAL never pointed out specifically which section under the UPR has been violated, however, according to Mr. Rockas, and the withholding of funds from the Archdiocese is a violation of civil law.
"Parishes can't withhold funds from the Archdiocese. That would be a violation of civil law because parishes are incorporated as not-for-profit entities under the Archdiocese. If you're a member of the parish council, you're a trustee for the entity. That means you have a fiduciary responsibility. If you vote to withhold funds from the Archdiocese, you're in breach of your fiduciary responsibility as a trustee," he said.
Mr. Mavroudis agreed and said parsish council members who take such actions against the Archdiocese can be held legally responsible.
"The UPR is the set of bylaws under which a parish is governed. When a charter is granted to a parish by the Archdiocese, the parish accepts the UPR as its governing rules of conduct under the Archdiocese. There are serious civil consequences when a parish council knowingly violates the UPR. The trustees become personally liable," Mr. Mavroudis said.
The provision (UPR, article 15, section 3) is very clear, Mr. Mavroudis explained. "A vote to withhold funds from the Archdiocese is a direct violation of the UPR. Under civil law, it's a direct breach of fiduciary responsibility. The parish has to make its payment to the Archdiocese monthly, whether the parish council wants to or not."
GOAL busies itself with spreading misinformation, Mr. Rockas said.
"Misinformation was pervasive at all these meetings. In Dedham, for example, they said an entire payroll was missed at Holy Cross, and that Father (Damaskinos) Ganas' (president of Holy Cross) credit card was taken away. Can you imagine? I'm a member of the school's Executive Committee, and I was unaware of these things. Naturally, I looked into it, and naturally, there was nothing wrong. It was just more of GOAL's propaganda," Mr. Rockas said.
Mr. Safiol, treasurer of the Hellenic College/Holy Cross, confirmed that Mr. Rockas is correct.
Like Mr. Safiol, Mr. Rockas also pointed out that GOAL's conduct in New England was unbecoming of people who profess to carry themselves in a spirit of Christian love.
"I was embarrassed to be a member of the Boston Diocese. At the clergy-laity, they mistreated the Archbishop. It was disgraceful. In Chelmsford, people gave me dirty looks. In Dedham, they heckled and booed. People started hissing at me when I got up to speak. I'm expressing a different point of view which they don't like. Okay. But we all have to live together. We're all members of the Church. These were supposed to be open forums, and (GOAL Executive Director Dr. Thomas) Lelon told me to hold my own forum. People treated me so rudely." Mr. Rockas said.
"I asked Methodios if he embraced the report which was rejected by the Patriarchate, and he just sat there stone-faced," he added.
Alexandra Tsiatis of Little Neck, New York has also been attending the open forums and referred to them as a "kangaroo court."
Mrs. Tsiatis is a member of Saint Nicholas Church in Flushing, New York and a member of the Archdiocesan Council's Family Committee. She attended the meetings to see for herself what issues GOAL is trying to raise.
What Mrs. Tsiatis encountered, she said, was conduct which is totally inconsistent with Christian love; a lack of openness; and an unwillingness to answer questions.
"They're just doing a lot of name-calling. They called us hecklers when they themselves did all the heckling. It's the pot calling the kettle black. In Mclean (Virginia on May 16), we walked in and took our seats and listened to two hours of propaganda. When they were done, (GOAL Communications Director) Dean Popps said time ran out, and that they wouldn't be taking any questions. People had to raise their hands and vote on whether they should be allowed to speak," she said.
"In Dedham, Popps wanted a show of hands from people who wanted to ask questions, but not if you're from Saint Nicholas. It's okay for them to criticize my parish, but it isn't okay for a member of the parish to respond to their criticism. It was more like a kangaroo court," Mrs. Tsiatis added.
"It was obviously a setup. They mainly took questions from people they knew were their friends," she said laughing.
Like Mr. Safiol and Mr. Rockas, Mrs. Tsiatis also said that GOAL's behavior was totally rude and abrasive.
"I was shocked by their behavior. I got up to speak at what was supposed to be an open forum, and they pointed out that I'm from the Flushing parish as if it's a crime," she said.
Mr. Safiol said that if GOAL really believes in Christian love, GOAL members and their supporters should practice what they preach.
"They tell us that their loyalty is to Christ and the Church, but they attack the Archbishop, who is our shepherd in Christ's place. I was in the Army. You know, my loyalty was to the United States, but in order to prove my loyalty to my country, I also had to demonstrate my loyalty to the colonels under whom I served," Mr. Safiol said.
Mrs. Tsiatis said GOAL should be more mindful of how its movement is affecting the younger generation of faithful.
"I have three kids, and I'm very concerned about the rumbling and attacks they make against the Church… the unsubstantiated lies and half-truths they level against the Archbishop day-in and day-out. They need to consider how it affects our kids' views about our Church," she said.
Mr. Mavroudis said that at the local level, it basically comes down to how the Metropolitans handle problems when they arise.
"What happened at the Boston Diocese clergy-laity was a prearranged plan to push a particular agenda through, an agenda which the other Metropolitans have officially disavowed. It's rather disappointing that a similar approach was not taken by Metropolitan Methodios," he said.
Metropolitan Methodios was unavailable for comment at press time.
[ hellenic times - June 25-July 8, 1999 - pp. 5 and 10 ]