The National Herald - May 21, 2006

New Strategy Needed
to Save Endangered Ecumenical Patriarchate  (IΙ)

   By Paul Marudas

When His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 51, was enthroned in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) on November 2, 1991 there was great hope in Orthodox circles that this relatively young, well-educated and energetic hierarch would restore the Ecumenical Patriarchate's role and lead world Orthodoxy to a new era of spiritual rebirth and secular status.

Nearly 15 years have elapsed since that event, and this expectation has evaporated like wisps of smoke from a flickering church candle.

Many political and ecclesiastical factors have contributed to this development, but a major influence has been a series of missteps and miscalculations by the Ecumenical Patriarch - serious mistakes in judgment which have alienated the Patriarchate from longtime supporters, as well as from important segments of world Orthodoxy.

The Patriarch is certainly not responsible for all these many contentious issues - although he has done his share - but he and his agents are culpable for handling them in a heavy-handed and counter-productive manner, responses and decisions which have steadily undercut the Ecumenical Patriarchate's international prestige and status. A brief listing is instructive:

•   Continuous feuding with the Patriarchate of Moscow, the largest Orthodox Church in the world, to the point where the two Orthodox centers had suspended relations. An uneasy truce prevails, but these strained relations have denied the Patriarchate the vital support of millions of Russian Orthodox Christians.
•   The highly publicized confrontation with the Church of Greece over jurisdictional and hierarchical control of the so-called "New Lands," dioceses located in Greece. The Orthodox and secular worlds were shocked and appalled by the bitter public exchange this dispute generated between Bartholomew and Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens & All Greece. Its coverage by international and Greek media was intense, lengthy and embarrassing. It divided Greek Orthodox faithful around the world; split Greek public opinion; and became such an intense political issue that only intervention at the highest levels of the Greek Government finally resolved it. Why Patriarch Bartholomew pushed this issue when his predecessors did not was never made clear. One explanation was offered by Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, generally viewed as the Patriarch's closest advisor in America, during a chance encounter in Baltimore in the summer of 2004. Asked why the Patriarch persisted on this issue, Father Karloutsos responded that, since His All Holiness was convinced that these Episcopal arrangements violated the Patriarchate's rights, he was determined to protect these prerogatives. One has to assume that Father Karloutsos was accurately conveying the Patriarch's position, a stance which was eventually both self-defeating and humiliating for the Patriarchate.
•   Treating the late and much-admired Archbishop Iakovos with disrespect and actively pushing for his ouster. Even if it was time for the aging prelate to retire, his departure should have been conducted in a manner befitting his many years of devotion and service to the Church. Instead, his retirement was abruptly forced, leaving a lingering resentment among many Orthodox in America.
•   Replacing Iakovos with Archbishop Spyridon, a well-intentioned, inexperienced hierarch with a very limited understanding of America. This appointment created four years of tension and controversy culminating with Spyridon's unceremonious removal; an action which sparked further division and rancor in America.
•   Arbitrarily destroying the unity of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North & South America by dissolving it into weaker Metropolises, concurrent with Spyridon's appointment. This unilateral reorganization was imposed without consulting either Archbishop Spyridon or the clergy and laity of the Church in the Western Hemisphere. It is a reorganization which has weakened the Church internally, and has also affected the Archdiocese's ability to assist the Patriarchate with greater unity and decisiveness.
•   A highly divisive and public confrontation with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and its primate, Archbishop Stylianos, another controversy which created ill will toward the Patriarchate in this growing corner of Orthodoxy.
•   Disregard for transparency and proper process in the governance of the Archdiocese of North & South America, since downgraded to the Archdiocese of America. This controversy centered on imposition of a new charter by the Patriarchate over the objections of many devout Greek Orthodox who felt that the Patriarch should have shown a greater measure of pastoral feeling and understanding in this matter.
•   The bitter struggle between the Patriarch and the monks of the Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos, which has turned into an international public relations nightmare for the Patriarchate. Even if one concedes that these monks are rebellious fanatics, the inability of the Patriarchate to resolve or manage this dispute, short of cutting off their food supply and electricity, represents a failure of leadership.
•   Bartholomew's trip to Cuba in January of 2004.

The Patriarch's heralded trip to Cuba takes the cake for an initiative where mature political judgment was virtually absent.

Why would the Patriarchate and its advocates, while actively seeking help from the Bush Administration, the most viscerally anti-Castro administration in recent years, undertake a high-profile trip to Cuba to dedicate a small Orthodox church in Havana? Did they not calculate how the Bush Administration would view this trip through the prism of trying to wrench concessions from Turkey with respect toward the Patriarchate?

The visit generated just enough attention from mainstream media to spark some controversy, while the Archdiocese released a barrage of press releases and photos showing the aging Cuban dictator wining and dining with Bartholomew, Archbishop Demetrios and a bevy of Greek Americans. To make matters worse, either through a mix-up or an intentional slight, the Patriarch skipped a special reception specifically arranged for him by the American special interest section with representatives of Cuban Human Rights groups. Archbishop Demetrios went instead, to the chagrin of American officials and human rights activists.

Is this any way to win friends and influence among people in Washington (or Athens, for that matter)? Playing a front-and-center role in the Patriarch's trip was none other than the deposed King of Greece, Constantine Di Grecia, a person whose actions many believe undermined parliamentary democracy in Greece and paved the way for the seven-year nightmare of the military junta. With the Patriarch's standing in Greece already weakened because of the New Lands dispute, appearing publicly with an unpopular ex-monarch could only increase public displeasure.

And what about the reaction of those Greek Orthodox in America (whether they take a hard or softer line toward Cuba) observing their spiritual head openly embracing a dictator who betrayed the Cuban Revolution and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war? Or those Orthodox Christians in the former communist countries who suffered severe repression, and even lost relatives to martyrdom, under totalitarian regimes which Castro extolled over the years?

In both conception and implementation, the Patriarchal extravaganza in Cuba demonstrated, with depressing clarity, an almost amateurish perception of contemporary politics and history.

By now, it should be evident that those officially responsible for advancing the Patriarchate's agenda lack a fundamental understanding of the complex political and religious issues whose interplay threaten, or can assure, the Patriarchate's survival in Constantinople. This status quo is unacceptable, and if it continues, it will eventually end up with a "last person to the leave the Phanar door" scenario.


New people and new approaches are needed immediately. What might be the components of such a new strategy? Here are a few suggestions to jumpstart a long overdue debate, which will hopefully encourage others to come forward with additional ideas:

No effort has ever been made to recruit to the Patriarchate's cause. But it is imperative to truly internationalize the effort to save the Patriarchate, first by severing its connection with Greek national issues, and second by creating entities which would maximize foreign pressure on the Turkish Government and possibly develop stronger ties with Turkish elites inclined to look favorably on the Patriarchate.

This would mean placing the sanctity and independence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the top of the world's religious freedom priorities. Committees of prominent public and academic officials would be formed throughout the world, heavily laced with non-Greek and non-Orthodox figures, like the late Sir Stephen Runciman, for instance the man who revolutionized world thinking about the Crusades and who also authored "The Great Church in Captivity," the definitive work on the Greek Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule, an individual who devoted an enormous amount of personal resources and energy to preserving the religious treasures and spirit of Mt. Athos.

It should go beyond bestowing awards and banquets upon leaders like Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel and Bishop Tutu and Mikail Gorbachev, or ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Requesting their services as honorary chairs, or even working members, of broad-based committees with real agendas in support of the Patriarchate is essential. Every European Union country should have such committees, all working in unison to hold Turkey's feet to the fire of religious freedom.

The Patriarchate must become truly ecumenical, not only in name, but also in spirit and practice. The Phanar and its supporters must decide whether it will remain merely a national Orthodox Center for Greeks similar to the Serbian and Bulgarian Patriarchates, or meet its ecumenical obligations as the spiritual leader of world Orthodoxy. Attempting to perform both roles has led to an ecclesiastical schizophrenia, sapping the Patriarchate's religious and moral position.

It is unthinkable that, in this post-Ottoman, post Cold War era, a Patriarch who asserts, as Bartholomew did over ten years ago, he is the leader of the "Apodemon Ellenes" (Greeks living abroad) can expect to be perceived as the Ecumenical Patriarch of all Orthodox. Assuming the role of a Greek ethnarch confuses the faithful; legitimately angers Greek secular and religious leadership; and incites the Turks. By assuming its ecumenical role, the Patriarchate increases its chances of survival. Continuing on its present parochial path, as recent experience strongly suggests, may well seal its doom.

The Patriarchate needs to become more ecumenical, but this does not imply de-Hellenization. Just as the Vatican remains Italian in spirit and staff, even though the past two popes have been Polish and German, so could the Patriarchate remain Greek.

It would become more ecumenical overnight, however, simply by appointing non-Greek hierarchs in its jurisdiction as rotating members of the Holy & Sacred Synod in the way the Roman Catholic Church became more inclusive by appointing more non-Italians to its College of Cardinals.

Two outstanding candidates immediately come to mind: Bishop Kallistos Ware of England, a member of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos, the most widely known author and proponent of Orthodoxy in the English-speaking world, and Metropolitan Nicholas, primate of the American-Carpatho Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA. A friend of Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Nicholas, who was also a student at Halki, is probably the most effective Orthodox bishop in the United States.

Additional appointments could be selected from the Patriarchate's other jurisdictions. By this and similar appointments, the argument that the Patriarchate is exclusively Greek in orientation would be removed.

The Patriarchate has demonstrated it can make wise decisions. A stellar appointment was the decision to send Archbishop Anastasios Yiannoulatos, a Greek national, to the Church in Albania, an essentially non-Greek country. Anastasios has transformed the Albanian Orthodox Church, one of the most suppressed during the Cold War, into a viable force for Orthodoxy and reconciliation among all Albanians.

Expanding the planning and leadership base of the Patriarchal effort in America is also crucial. This can develop in many forms. For instance, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese could establish commissions of clergy, academics, public officials and other laity to advise the Archons, and even the Patriarchate, on strategy and tactics. Such a process would have the advantage of diversifying information and ideas, while subjecting old and new policies to serious review. For too long, the Patriarchate has relied on a narrow, small group of advisors in America whose capacities have been either overtaxed, or who are of insufficient competence.

The Patriarchate must immediately convene a Great and Holy Synod of all Orthodox Churches. It is an ecclesiastical imperative to bring all Orthodox together in this post-modern globalized world, but most importantly, because it is essential to the Patriarchate's own survival. By this one single action, the Patriarchate would signal to the world - and to Turkey, in particular - that it is the only entity authorized to convene a Pan-Orthodox synod. In so doing, it would establish itself as the bona fide spiritual center of Orthodoxy in both the secular and religious worlds.

A Pan-Orthodox synod would also address the harmful jurisdictional disputes which have plagued contemporary Orthodoxy. Such a meeting would empower the Orthodox Churches to engage the modem world with renewed unity and re-invigorated intellectual and spiritual capacities.

In this process, and in all its dealings with other independent Orthodox Churches, the Patriarchate must understand that it has much more to gain by taking on its canonical role as the chief coordinator/convener and mediator for world Orthodoxy, rather than trying to act as its controller. Becoming a leader of Orthodoxy in this manner will strengthen its position with respect to Turkey by establishing a bedrock of support, both in Orthodox countries and among Orthodox wherever they live.

In fact, Patriarch Bartholomew told a group from America, to include myself, visiting him at the Phanar in November 1993 that a Great Orthodox Synod would be convened before the end of the 20th Century. It's now 16 years later, and a synod has yet to been called. Seventeen years have also passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the end of the cold war and the liberation of Eastern European Orthodoxy from the yolk of Communist atheism. Any further delay in arranging a Pan-Orthodox synod is inexcusable and threatens the viability of the Patriarchate.


It is supreme irony that the Orthodox Churches in former Communist states now have more freedom than the Ecumenical Patriarchate residing in NATO member and EU applicant Turkey. There is much to be done in a very short time. It is hoped that these observations and criticisms will stimulate new people with new ideas, as well as renew the spirits of those who have carried the Patriarchate's banner these many years.

Complete unanimity among Orthodox concerning the Patriarchate's future is lacking, however. Many believe the struggle is hopeless and not worth pursuing; that, in the end, it will be in God's hands. Others propose moving it from inhospitable Istanbul to more conducive locations like the island of Patmos, Mount Athos, Thessaloniki or even the United States. Others contend that the Patriarchate is so out of touch with the contemporary challenges and opportunities facing today's Orthodox that it is religiously irrelevant.

Each of the above observations have considerable merit. But for all Orthodox Christians, there are profound and practical reasons for keeping the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its ancient, spiritual home. It is one of the original five centers of Christianity, after all (the other four being Jerusalem. Antioch, Alexandria and Rome). For Orthodox and all canonical Christians, survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is a vital part of their spiritual heritage. It was founded by the Saint Andrew the First-Called Apostle, and is a holy place from which the river of faith runs deep and true.

The Patriarchate also has surprising contemporary utility, even for non-believers of good faith. It has had a long, if tumultuous, history of living with Islam. Consequently, it and the other historic Eastern Patriarchates have an accumulated and balanced institutional memory in dealing with Islamic peoples, one not distorted by the ignorance and arrogance of many "Western" religious, political and academic figures.

The present Patriarch has already demonstrated proven leadership in this realm. A revived Ecumenical Patriarchate operating as a free and independent institution could do much for alleviating the tensions between the so-called East and West, Christianity and Islam.

To even begin to think of these possibilities, however, the Patriarchate and its quasi-official supporters must reach out much more broadly for advice, information and support. Perhaps they should borrow a page from the great Athenagoras, who led the Patriarchate during the dark days of the September 1955 anti-Greek riots in Istanbul, and in the early years of Christian ecumenism.

Despite this awful and terrible event, Patriarch Athenagoras never looked back, and just ten years after this catastrophe, he reached reconciliation with the Roman Church; maintained Orthodoxy as an important part of the Christian Ecumenical movement; and restored the Patriarchate's dignity and authority unblemished. And he accomplished those feats not only under the most oppressive and dangerous conditions, but also with an abiding faith steeped in a spirit of openness and love for all. That spirit would serve us well today, as we seek to build a broad coalition in support of his beloved Patriarchate.

The above is the second of two parts. Mr. Marudas began his professional career covering government and politics for the Baltimore Evening Sun, for which he also wrote many articles about Greek-Turkish relations, the Cyprus question and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He also covered President Johnson's separate White House meetings on Cyprus in 1965 with the late Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and the late Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonou. In addition to serving for 23 years as Chief of Staff to Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, he also served as Chief of Staff to two Baltimore Mayors and as a senior staff person to a third.

[ Orthodox Truth |  -  May 21, 2006 ]