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The National Herald - May 11-12, 2002

The Patriarch’s Problem

By Dimitrios G. Kousoulas

Clouds have again appeared on the horizon. The Charter the Patriarch wants to impose on our Archdiocese Bartholomew is becoming again an irritant that may escalate into a destabilizing controversy. I have no intention of entering the area of my colleague, Theodore Kalmoukos, and I will not touch on theological or ecclesiological issues. I will only discuss the problem as an old professor of Political Science because the issue is primarily political.

Having been honored with the officium of Archon, I feel genuine concern for the preservation of the ties between our Archdiocese and the Patriarchate I write the lines that follow as a friend, not as a foe.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate had a unique role to play during the centuries of the Byzantine Empire. The double-headed eagle, the symbol of the empire reflected the two pillars, the temporal represented by the Emperor and the sacred represented by the Patriarch. When Constantinople fell, Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror installed a new Patriarch, Gennadios, and acknowledged him as the spiritual leader and, in effect, the political representative of all the Christians in the Ottoman empire.

The Patriarchate’s temporal authority started to decline after the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the resurgence of nationalism in the ethnic, mostly Slavic, peoples in the Balkans.

Its governing authority was drastically reduced after the Asia Minor Catastrophe of August/September 1922 when one and a half million Greeks were uprooted from the area and moved as refugees to Greece. Still, at the time, more than 100,000 Greeks continued to live in Constantinople under the Treaty of Lausanne, providing support to the Patriarchate. This situation took a turn for the worse, first in 1955 and again in 1964 when, because of the dispute over Cyprus, the Turkish government forced thousands of Greeks through pressure and intimidation to leave their homes in Constantinople and seek refuge in mainland Greece. Today, only two or three thousand remain in that city.

The Patriarchate has ceased to function as a governing authority. What remains is only its spiritual authority derived from its history. It can only exercise influence with the lofty moral and spiritual value of its pronouncements. It can be venerated as a symbol, that is all. It cannot act as a governing authority.

It appears that Patriarch Bartholomew does not want to acknowledge this political reality. He has interpreted the legal construct that the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States is a “province” of the Patriarchate as his justification for the exercise of power and governmental authority, as if indeed the Patriarchate has the ability to impose its will in the way governments impose their will on the provinces of their own states.

That is the heart of the problem. Governments have the power to impose their will because they can enforce their laws enacted by democratic assemblies or dictated by autocratic regimes. They have a police force to apprehend violators and courts to impose punishment on the guilty.

The Patriarchate has no police, no courts, no prisons. It has no machinery of enforcement, no means of punishment. (Excommunication is an ancient sanction against foes of the Church, but I doubt if it carries much of a force in today’s world).

Worse. The Patriarchate does not legislate in a democratic fashion with the participation or at least the representation of those who will be affected by its rulings (as is the case in a democratic system). And it cannot legislate by fiat as a dictator because it has no machinery of repression to force the citizenry to obey.

The Patriarchate does not have the authority to collect taxes from the inhabitants of its “province.” Governments do have such authority because without funds little can be done – even if the money is used only to pay the policemen who keep the dictator in power. Without the power to tax, the Patriarchate has to depend for its sustenance on the voluntary contributions of the faithful. But voluntary contributors are just that, voluntary. They may be increased or they may dry up depending on the feelings of the faithful.

The Patriarch, an astute and enlightened leader in other fronts, seems to have closed his eyes on the realities we have outlined here.

He has chosen to act as a real governing authority without having the trappings and the machinery of such an authority. If the faithful in his “province” decide to cut all financial support, how could the Patriarchate survive?   |Five years ago, Greek Orthodox Communities in the United States, displeased with the unfortunate election of Archbishop Spyridon and the Patriarch’s insistence to keep him in his office, decided to withhold their contributions to the Archdiocese. Fortunately the “rebellion” did not spread beyond repair. But the incident revealed how counterproductive are any steps to impose unwanted arrangements.

The Patriarchate is a symbol. Its major source of strength is the affection, the support, the veneration of the faithful. The “province” in the United States will be much closer to the Ecumenical Patriarchate if the association is nurtured by love, respect, and admiration. I regret to say that Patriarch Bartholomew has disrupted this fountain of love and respect. To repair the damage, he will have to see the limits of his power and to act accordingly. Your Holiness, let the people in your “province” govern themselves and you will find that their support – emotional, political, and financial – will increase by leaps and bounds.

In 1996, when I visited the Patriarchate with my family, I was invited to have lunch with the Patriarch. I felt highly honored. The Patriarchate was held then in lofty esteem. Only six years have passed since then. What a change. During the Patriarch’s last visit in 2002, even the students of the Theological School chose to take their spring break and go home instead of staying to meet and honor the visiting Patriarch.

The next Clergy – Laity Congress in Los Angeles offers a unique opportunity for the Patriarch, to restore the Patriarchate as a respected, beloved, venerated spiritual symbol that all the faithful, freely and genuinely will uphold and support as the supreme center of our faith.

To bring back the old feelings of love an honor, the Patriarch – on his own volition, not as a grudging surrender under pressure – must declare that he wants his “province” in America to manage its affairs under the canons of the Faith, not the rulings of the Patriarchate. Then, this thriving “province” will let flow freely and generously its love, respect and veneration. The Patriarch will then be able to say that he is the spiritual leader not only of his American province but of all Orthodox Christians: But first he has to understand that His strength springs from the love of the faithful, not from Charters and legal rulings.

[ The National Herald - May 11-12, 2002 ]