The National Herald - January 19, 2007

Church Life in America and its Protagonists

   By Theodore Kalmoukos

BOSTON - The most commonly asked questions of Greek Orthodox ecclesial life in America, by many who have some knowledge and opinion, and who also care about the present and the future of the Church in America are as follows: In what condition does the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America find itself in the New Year, and who are those persons who really influence its life?

It is a fact that, to an extensive degree, the Church influences the life of the Greek American Community because the ecclesial parish-community is the basic structural element, or cell, of the organism which is our community.

The course of our Archdiocese, like the course of every organization, is closely connected with the essential element of leadership, which is considered sine qua none (i.e., a necessary element) for the progress and advancement of an institution or organization.

It is quite painful to state that all indications point to a huge deficit of archiepiscopal, synodal and lay leadership. Neither visions are expressed for today and tomorrow, nor policies made on very serious and sensitive issues like education and cultivation of future priests-leaders of our parishes.

Moreover, those in leadership positions are not even able to confront secondary crises of limited and local concern, as was the case of the Transfiguration Church in Corona, Queens. It is really amazing that, after three years, the problem of Corona remains in the secular courts, with many hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on both sides. That alone speaks volumes about the total incompetence of our ecclesiastical authorities to nip issues in the bud and resolve them in their early stages - before they become amplified in significance.

Having no desire to intervene, I simply mention by way of observation that there many in the Archdiocese who say that it is now proven that, after years at the helm, Archbishop Demetrios might have scholarly charisma and abilities, but he has demonstrated no signs of able administrative leadership qualities - at least up to now, more than seven years since he was enthroned in September 1999.

I still harbor some hope that, at some point, the Archbishop will realize "the fullness of time has come," and that he does not have any more room for procrastination, feel-good statements, or downplaying of various problems, and that he will thus be fairly compelled to finally take the lead and arrive at some dynamic decisions on administrative issues which concern the entire life of the Archdiocese.

For example, the Communications Department needs a complete overhaul, as would a car engine which is not functioning properly. It employees so many individuals, some of whom are doing actually nothing, but its budget is up to $3 million or more.

Another example is the Department of the Greek Education, which requires total reorganization, even if that includes the elimination of certain positions or position. A third example is the Finance Department, which cries out loud for restructuring, greater transparency and more careful management of the faithful's sacred offerings.

It is hypocritical to speak of the sanctity and priority of HC/HC, but not to furnish the school with the funding it needs and deserves

It is hypocritical to speak of the sanctity and priority of Hellenic College/Holy Cross, our sacred theological school, but not to furnish the school with the funds it needs, and deserves - funds which, incidentally, have been approved by the Clergy-Laity Congress. Today, the Archdiocese continues to owe to the school some $1.6 million. Why?

Since we are talking about HC/HC, there are many close friends of the Archbishop both here in the U.S. and in Greece who are asking why the Archbishop has done almost nothing to advance the School since he spent so many years of his life teaching there, and thus should understand its needs better than anybody else.

That the school is allowed to continue drifting along its present course is embarrassing, both for our Church and the community at-large. Hellenic College can not continue to have an unsalaried volunteer as its dean because the school is in financial straits, nor should HC/HC's president continue to remain invisible from its campus, claiming that he is traveling to raise money without any money to show for it.

The school can not function in a serious and healthy manner by having its chief operations officer tow away the cars of faculty and staff, nor with a clergy professor who pretends to be spiritual, but who essentially controls the school behind the scenes; neither with the leadership at the helm of its board of directors, which is known for several failings since the 1970's.

The success of the school depends on the abilities of persons who are assigned to key positions, but those positions are consistently doled out to the wrong people who end up accomplishing nothing.

The degree of concealment and cover-up is an amazing mentality of the current Archbishop, who does not give any press conferences to inform the Archdiocese faithful of the issues, problems and concerns of our ecclesiastical life. He has yet to genuinely acknowledge that the faithful who sustain the Church financially, as well as those who receive their lofty salaries through the people's support, have the right to know. Furthermore, the Archbishop should also thank God we live in America, and not in Albania, and that we are privileged to have freedom of press in this country.

It seems to me that the Holy Eparchial Synod also has a huge responsibility for the present course of our Archdiocese, but unfortunately, it has not produced the work it could have and should have over the years, and this is where the power-brokering arrogance of Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, a "simple" presbyter, comes into play. Because of his close relationship with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, he acts as an Archbishop, undermining the Archbishop Demetrios and even the Eparchial Synod so visibly so often.

I tend to agree with the opinion of those, some of whom are even members of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, that three persons actually move the administrative threads of the Archdiocese: Father Karloutsos, who bears the title, "spiritual advisor" of the Order of Saint Andrew, as well as "executive director" of the Faith Endowment for Orthodoxy & Hellenism; Michael Jaharis, the billionaire whom the Archbishop continuously appoints and reappoints vice chairman of the Executive Committee, because of his financial status; and Jerry Dimitriou, the "chief administrator" of the Archdiocese, who is also Mr. Jaharis' koumbaros and close confidant, and who has steadily acquired complete control of the institution's finances and administration.

It is true that Mr. Jaharis goes to painstaking lengths to make sure both Father Karloutsos and Mr. Dimitriou are protected. It is also true that he at least gives the impression of a good-willed and gullible person, but it seems to me that, in many instances, he is misled on many issues, even by the Archbishop himself, who is known for his ability to manipulate and beautify even the filthiest of situations.

It also seems that nobody else except for the Archbishop, Mr. Jaharis, Rev. Karloutsos and Mr. Dimitriou knows about the inner workings of the Archdiocese, even the Holy Eparchial Synod (although, lately, Mr. Dimitriou's secretary also gets involved with Archdiocesan affairs). The Archbishop finds himself trapped by that triangle, and is trying to keep the balance in order to survive.

Yes, this is the drama of our Church in America.

In all fairness, however, it should be noted that the Archbishop is responsible for certain choices. Specifically, the chancellor who, instead of solving problems, creates more of them, placing the Archbishop in difficult situations (even with members of the Eparchial Synod), and the current president of HC/HC, as well as the vice chairman of the school's board of trustees, who are also the Archbishop's personal choices for those positions.

The concluding opinion of many in our Archdiocese, from clergy to laity, is that the New Year finds our Archdiocese in a bog. The New Year finds the Archdiocese with no vision and no set goals. This is the bitter truth.

Many ask whom should we trust? Where should we turn for hope?

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is desperately trying to survive under the most oppressing and depressing conditions in Turkey, while Archbishop Demetrios lives in his own world, which is carefully guarded. He continuously tries to assure us that he studies the issues, but he never touches them.

It all says something else, too. The Archdiocesan Council has lost its interest and its voice, and the Eparchial Synod has gone into a state of hibernation, except for some cases in which its members appear to be alert and concerned. I only have one thing to add: The Church is not, and should not, be the concern only of Archbishop Demetrios or Michael Jaharis, for all his good intentions, and certainly not of Father Karloutsos, who serves his own interests, but is and should be the agonizing concern for all of us.

[ Orthodox Truth |  -  January 19, 2007 ]