The GreekAmerican - May 12, 2000


Too Much Money

They say there's no such thing as too much money. But in the case of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, that's certainly not the case. Not that the archdiocese itself is rich - on the contrary. The church finds itself in debt to the tune of nearly $1 million, parishes have withheld their contributions to archdiocesan coffers, and many of the church's institutions (such as Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology) are in drastic need of funds. No, the church itself is not too rich, but the community it serves might be. In spades.

The fact that an archbishop who served just three years at his post in the archdiocese - as part of a three-decade-long career conducted (mostly) abroad is reportedly asking for a six figure pension is an indication of the extent to which the archdiocese is infatuated with the vast wealth that Greek Americans have amassed for themselves in the last century. And make no mistake, this is no argument for or against that pension it's just an example of how money has dominated most aspects of the church, from the bottom to the top. The $250,000 pension that the preceding archbishop receives, as one member of the Archdiocesan Council's Executive Committee claims, is one more profane example of our distorted preoccupation with wealth.

A third example of that preoccupation is Leadership 100. While ostensibly created so that wealthy members of the community can support the works of the church with donations of $100,000, the organization has, in effect, become an instrument with which to influence those works. Leadership 100 is, as of late, an independent body, allocating funds for specific reasons. So, if the leadership of Leadership decides to withhold money until, for example, a particular "demand" is met, it has that authority. Although its not to say that the group practices extortion as a matter of course, it is certainly structured to, should it be deemed "necessary." Of course the idea that individuals are not only recognized for their generosity, but given such potential power to go along with it is antithetical to Christian principles. Charity, we are told, is its own reward. When it comes to giving, the right hand should not know what the left is doing.

The extent to which the patriarchate in Constantinople is preoccupied with wealth was the focus of allegations and accusations last year, as opposing camps lobbied for or against the former archbishop's removal. Scores of e-mail messages and gossip columns brimming with "stories" of lavish gifts allegedly sent to Istanbul to win the patriarch over to either camp's side accused the patriarch of cowtowing to one faction or another. While there is little to substantiate those accusations, the accusations were levied nonetheless.

The fact that Greek Americans as an ethnic group rank second in the accumulation of wealth in the United States is usually considered a blessing. A cursory examination of how that wealth has affected its oldest and most precious institution - the Greek Orthodox Church of America - suggests it could be a curse because, in reality, that wealth is often misused for Machiavellian purposes. Power plays and machinations appear to be modus operandi for both the clergy's and the laity's upper echelons.

Until the community learns to come to terms with its wealth and use it exclusively for constructive purposes, we'd better give up hope of passing that camel through the eye of the proverbial needle.

[ The GreekAmerican - May 12, 2000 - p. _ ]