The National Herald - February 25, 2006

The Patriarch's eyes in America

The airplane on which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew flew back from his trip to Central America landed in New York, en route to Constantinople, for less than 24 hours.

He did not use his time in New York to visit the Church in America's headquarters in Manhattan, nor did he used it visit a community in Astoria or Brooklyn or New Jersey, or anywhere else.

In fact, nobody knew that he was making a brief stop until it was reported in this newspaper. Had it not been for the resourcefulness of our longtime religious affairs correspondent, Theodore Kalmoukos, only very few well-placed people would have known that the Patriarch was going to be spending a little time in Southampton, the fashionable summer resort on the southern tip of Long Island, where the well known priest, the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, serves as pastor of Kimisis tis Theotokou (Dormition of the Virgin Mary) Church.

Father Alex, as he is widely known, is the priest many believe has been, in effect, the Patriarch's representative in America since the ouster of then Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory, an impression which is reinforced - if not confirmed - by the Patriarch's visit to the Southampton parish last week.

It is clear that the Patriarch's visit there was not an official visit. Had it been an official visit, the Greek American community in the tri-state area would have doubtlessly been notified - and mobilized - to welcome the Patriarch well in advance.

Indeed, it would be great for the Patriarch to visit a small parish, even one where most of the parishioners attend in the summer time. And, of course, such a visit would have to be prepared for accordingly.

But none of the above took place. This was a private visit, and one which carried an important message: It was meant to demonstrate the appreciation for, if not the quasi-coronation of, Father Karloutsos as the Patriarch's representative in America.

And that's what's wrong about it.

The Patriarch's representatives are, and should be, the Archbishop of America and the Holy Eparchial Synod - and no one else.

The Patriarch is entitled to have his personal preferences in dealing with people; he is entitled to choose his friends, associates and advisors. There is nothing wrong with that.

But he never stops being the Ecumenical Patriarch no matter where goes, and no matter what he says. That's why his actions and words are followed so closely by the media, and by clergy and laity alike.

The message His All Holiness has conveyed to our community with this private visit, one which he had to go out of his way to make, is quite clear: This is my main man in America; the person I'm close to; the person I trust.

The implication is that this is the person through whom the Patriarch sees the lay of the land in America, and is therefore the person who influences the Patriarchate's decisions regarding the Church in America - the person who has effectively displaced the Church Hierarchy here.

This type of management - through unofficial third parties who are neither accountable nor responsible - no matter how capable they might be, and no matter how sincerely they may care about the Patriarch and the institution of the Patriarchate, runs counter to all rules of how any organization should be run. At the same time, it is degrading to the Church's official channels and the persons who hold official positions, and who are responsible for running the affairs of the Church. Sooner or later, this leads to total mismanagement, confusion and administrative disarray.

This is inevitable in any system when its established mechanisms and traditional dynamics are neglected, deliberately ignored or arbitrarily bypassed.

If the Eparchial Synod is either powerless or unable to protect the Church and discharge its responsibilities in an appropriate manner before God and His flock, then the community itself can not continue to observe the unfolding of these events in silence.

The problems of the Church in America are manifold and serious. And such actions and decisions on the part of the Patriarch only exacerbate these problems.

If there ever was a time for His All Holiness to think hard about his vision for the Church in America and its relationship with the Patriarchate, it is now. Greek Americans are a very patient, God-fearing and respectful lot. In turn, they expect respect and appreciation from their leaders, and the Patriarch's most recent visit to America indicates the opposite.

It is also time for the Eparchial Synod to stand up and be counted. This is the morally correct thing to do, and it is unconscionable to do otherwise. 

[ Orthodox Truth |  -  February 25, 2006 ]