If You Ignore It – – – It Will Go Away

By dogcatcher on February 14th, 2013

 

An Essay of an Apparent Modus Operandi of the GOA Holy Synod
By Yanni Pappas

  

A friend of mine recently asked me “How are we supposed to deal with heresy in our Church?” Seems like a simple enough question. The answer seems simple enough too. At the grass roots level: identify the problem, confirm it, formally report it (to various offices of our Church’s administration and Hierarchical structure), and start the wheels of ecclesiastical due process in motion. One would think that in turn, our Church’s leadership would likewise identify it, confirm it, and formally pro-actively respond and address this by issuing some communication indicating the solution and/or proper beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Church. In recent decades, it seems the GOA Holy Synod has not shown this kind of reasonably expected leadership in various issues that should be addressed. What do we think will happen then? Aside from our Hierarchs appearing to lose their base of constituents and supporters, we might expect the void in leadership to be filled by something or someone else and consequently might redefine what we believe in and the general spirit and ethos of the Church community itself. A void is usually filled, but sometimes filled with something unexpected or not preferred.

Whether it concerns people (Clergy or Laity), or issues (Orthodox, or, the community at large that we are a part of), each and every issue that is brought forward should be looked at. Some will have merit and must be further addressed. Some will not have merit and should be dismissed. Both Clergy and Laity are subject to actions that are well founded or not. We hear of Priests deplorably treated by their Hierarchs. We sometimes see Priests turn from pro-active thinkers and men with spines, to cowering yes-men that are taught that being humble means shut-up and do what you’re told. Individual Laymen have also been dismissed in similar fashion, as have various para-church organizations and groups with legitimate concerns that have likewise been placated if not dismissed by a simple methodology of ignoring. Ignoring seems to be a common thread throughout all of these various situations.

One fears that individuals that come forward to report legitimate indiscretions perpetrated by a Clergyman (Priests or Hierarchs) may be placated if not held in suspicion themselves. Decisions appear to be made, or ignored, in spite of and contrary to the evidence. How long can this continue? Do our leaders expect us to remain members of the GOA when this continues? These questions arise in the following pages, as the reader will see. Suffice it to say, we love our leaders and our Church, but ignoring seems to be an abdication of leadership and love. How long will we allow this? What do the actions of our leaders say about what they think of us?

At a past GOA Clergy Laity Congress a key note address was delivered by a respected Catholic Cardinal who proactively spoke on the challenges of the 21st century that Christianity in America will face, while the follow up message by the Patriarchal representative told us that they are proud of how we and the Church in the “diaspora” has “matured”. Instead of addressing the issues of the new millennium, we are simply regarded as a church “in the diaspora” and not yet seen as indigenous.

This mode of thinking clearly denies a major component of who we are in the United States: we are Americans first and Greeks second.

As evidence of this, a study of some statistics is very informative. In the GOA, 9 out of 10 active members are American born. (page 6, A.D. Krindatch, The Orthodox Church Today, Patriarch Athenagoras Institute, 2008). In addition “the share of the American-born persons is nearly the same among the younger (under 45), middle-aged (45-64 years old) and senior (65+) parishioners: 89%, 92% and 85% respectively.” (Krindatch, p.10)

“Today, the vast majority of Orthodox Christians are second, third, or fourth generation Americans of various ethnic and racial backgrounds (we saw in the third chapter that only 14% of GOA and only 8% of OCA current members were born outside the US).” (Krindatch, p.71)

The apparent denial of the Hierarchy and the Patriarchate to acknowledge that the church members are Americans first inherently creates an unintentional tension that will have consequences. That tension has facilitated a handicap in our outreach and evangelism. In 1961 the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America had approximately 347 parishes (1961 Archdiocese Yearbook). Today we have about 545 parishes (GOARCH.org). That represents a growth of about 200 parishes in 50 years; otherwise an average of about 4 parishes per year nationwide. In addition, the GOA reports that the number of active members who are converts is about 21% of all members, as compared to the OCA reports of having a 51% majority of active members who are converts. (Krindatch, p.6)

Are these reported numbers acceptable? We don’t believe so. But what we do know is how we treat our people today will affect the membership of tomorrow. Here is the stark reality: if we are ignored, many of us will go away. Many of us have already gone away. Our growth and outreach is worrisome, and consequently, so is our future as an institution. Yes the Church itself will stand and prevail against the gates of Hell. But do we not desire to give the talents God gave us, back to Him a hundredfold? Mediocrity is unacceptable.

In this same credible and important study of “The Orthodox Church Today” by Alexei D. Krindatch of the Patriarch Athenagoras Institute (September 2007 through May 2008) that profiled the GOA and the OCA, it is reported that the average age of the active Orthodox parishioner is 52 years old. The study acknowledges that the results of this study are skewed towards the most active and involved church members. Nevertheless, these are the people who have the most significant impact on the patterns of everyday life in their parishes and whose opinions and attitudes are especially important to examine and understand. (Krindatch, p.8)

The OCA is shown to have more success in their outreach and evangelizing, which in turn has brought more converts to the faith. It must also be mentioned that this report indicates that active members in the GOA have longer duration in a parish, but this may be because of the fewer converts to the faith than has the OCA, or the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese (“AOA”).

The AOA numbers are also impressive, although we have had difficulty finding authoritative studies. Many already are aware of the fact that the AOA is doing well in welcoming new members – converts, as well as former GOA members. There is no campaign to solicit members from the GOA, but the AOA has a commonly perceived vision as being sensitive and aware of our identity as indigenous. They are, after all, autonomous. This sentiment is confirmed in a post from a blog in OrthodoxChristianity.net that indicates the AOA had 65 parishes in 1966, and in 2007 the number grew to 252.
(http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=18866.0).

This is not surprising. This number includes the Evangelical Orthodox Church which was headed by the late Fr. Peter Gilquist, and remains a testament to the proactive leadership of the AOA. From this reported census of the 2007 AOA Convention, it was also indicated that from 2005 to 2007 the AOA had a 6% growth. These numbers are not evidence of success or failures necessarily, but they do beckon the question of outreach/evangelizing/vision versus the temptation to perpetuate ethnic ghettos reminiscent of another time and place.

One can easily deduce from these numbers that when compared to the OCA and AOA, the GOA does not appear to have this same growth, nor does it bring in converts at the same pace. In a time where the GOA has an average age of 52 years amongst active parishioners, in a time where 2/3 of the active member are 45 years old or over, it is easy to deduce we are in a crisis. While the OCA has similar statistics as the GOA, they differ in that they are bringing in more converts.

This Patriarch Athenagoras Institute report mentions that the GOA has proud and strong ethnic ties to its Hellenic heritage (and we support this), but at the same time, 76% of the active members polled feel that a “clearer vision of the parish future” is what is helpful if not urgent for the parish to strengthen and grow. (Krindatch, p.35)

What is the GOA doing now? What is our vision? How long will we be able to weather the storms we have? When we have Metropolitans that routinely do not attend meetings of the Holy Synod, the question is beckoned as to the value of these meetings to our nationwide health as a Church? The question is also beckoned that if the Metropolitan(s) who do not frequently attend the Holy Synod meetings really care about what is going on in our country? Are problems really being dealt with properly?

We have problems in the GOA; huge problems. No institution is humanly perfect. But there are some issues that are simply monstrous. Currently, we have a cancer that is eating us up from the inside. This cancer is not monasticism per se; but it is the Ephraimite Fundamentalist movement masked by their version of Monasticism.

In January of 2013, a website entitled “Mystagogy” operated by Mr. John Sanidopoulos, had a powerful article posted entitled “Healthy and Sick Monasticism”. This was written by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Greece. That Metropolitan defining, confronting and taking responsibility for “sick monasticism” bravely and decisively excommunicated the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Nafpaktos. We are sure he did not come to this decision impetuously. After all, he is seen as an avid supporter of some theological elements common to what is called “Ephraimite” monasticism. As a matter of fact, he even supports the erroneous and most controversial topic of Aerial Tollhouses. Nevertheless, he made what must have been for him a difficult decision.

Why would he take this action against a Monastery? Why would he alienate so many supporters that are allied, and many would say obsessed, with “Ephraimite” fundamentalist monasticism? We believe the answer is simple: as a defender of the faith, the Metropolitan did so as an action not against the monastery or monasticism, but as an action to protect the many faithful he was consecrated to guide, love and pastor. There are more such incidents of this phenomenon appearing in the United States. Yet we have not heard of any single action taken by any Hierarch to counteract the corrosive effect of the “affected” monasteries in the US.

The December 13th 2012 National Herald had a powerful article written by theologian Mr. Theodore Kalmoukos that highlighted this dangerous disease brought on by Fr. Ephraim’s fundamentalist brand of Orthodoxy and Monasticism.

It is a cancer that dismisses who we are and appears to attempt to socially engineer us into what they think we should be. Its leader allegedly claims to have had a vision from the Virgin Mary who told him to return “pure Orthodoxy” to the GOA. This fundamentalism disparages who we are as an indigenous Church and in fact has been used as a militant platform that has created much pain throughout North America.

There are hundreds of stories from throughout this great Archdiocese, all complaining about the fundamentalist distortions of our faith. There is not just a perception, but the strong feeling of complicity that the victims are being ignored by the GOA. The burning question on the lips of those concerned is “how long can we weather this storm?”

When we have “Shepherds” that look the other way when problems are being reported in Chicago, Atlanta, Arizona, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Washington State, Florida, California, and beyond, how long can we weather this storm? When scores of parents are reporting “foul” in regards to the fundamentalist monasteries “headed” by Elder Ephraim what are we to think? Have we reached a point in our Church that when tactics that are both manipulative and exploitive are used to harm the naïve and unsuspecting should the Holy Synod really turn a deaf ear? Again we ask: how long will we be able to weather this storm? Why have some Metropolitans that at first appeared critical of this well-funded fundamentalist movement headed by Ephraim, now fallen silent? Who does the silence protect? Certainly not the victims — this we know to be true.

When a former monk returns to the St. Anthony Monastery in Florence Arizona and allegedly puts a gun to his head, and takes his own life near the Monastery gates, what are we to think? The sense is that our GOA Holy Synod has superficially looked at this and then has dismissed it.

Does anyone with the ability to look at this with their “critical thinking” skills in place believe that this young man’s action should be characterized as the result of mental illness without investigating any further? Some Priests who are adherents to this “theology” are even using their parish bulletins to promote their own Ephraimite agenda. What message does that send?

If http://www.pokrov.org/display.asp?ds=Article&id=1953 events caused by the Ephraimites are continually being ignored, what will become of us? When we have harsh penances imposed and absolute obedience to the spiritual father or elder are demanded, how long can we weather this storm?

When people are being taught that Chrismation is not sufficient to becoming Orthodox, and those brought in via Chrismation are treated as “untouchables,” how long can we weather this storm? When these monasteries of Elder Ephraim (interestingly not all other Monasteries) promote heresies like the pagan born Aerial Tollhouses that deny the salvific grace of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the heresies are taught more stridently without being challenged and addressed by our Holy Synod, how will we weather this storm if our own Hierarchs do not protect us? These heresies, such as teaching of Aerial Toll Houses, are clearly denounced by many, like the Rev. Dr. Stanley Harakas, and the esteemed Very Reverend Fr. Maximos Nicholas Constas, Ph.D. (and Athonite priest monk), in his work “To Sleep Perchance to Dream: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature”, in the prestigious Dumbarton Oaks Papers – http://www.doaks.org/resources/publications/dumbarton-oaks-papers/dop55/dp55ch06.pdf/view.

As zealous fundamentalism continues to suffocate our church from a healthy vibrant normal indigenous community to diseased, sickly remnant of itself, how will we weather this storm? Case by case, the modus operandi of the GOA Holy Synod is the same: ignore the problem. Fundamentalism will not go away unless it is addressed. Our condemnation of the leadership of the Church, Hierarchs, Clergy and Laity alike, will not stop if this problem is not addressed. You see we too love our Faith and will not sit idly by as it is compromised and defiled!

One thing has become crystal clear about this problem. It is that people are leaving our Faith in alarming numbers. In one Metropolis where the Ephraimite movement is rampant, there appears to be around 2000 less Stewards in 2011 than there were in 2010. Yes, a greater than 15% decline in Stewardship in one year. This is a frightening statistic of what has reportedly happened in this once thriving and bustling large metropolis. Ask yourself why the numbers of our Stewards is never disclosed; could it be that, as an institution, we are covering up a lie?

People are migrating to the Antiochians in record numbers. Many are simply going to other Orthodox Jurisdictions or Christian denominations. This is by no means a direct threat. It is simply a statement of what is already happening now. On the one hand, thank God the Antiochians are here to keep those who can no longer endure what is happening in the Orthodox Faith within their flock. On the other hand, how sad for our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that we find ourselves in this deteriorating state.

In the beginning of this article you will remember my conversation with my friend. As I concluded my conversation with that friend of mine, who happens to be one of the editors of GOTRUTHREFORM.ORG, they prompted my writing this article. Perhaps they saw it as an opportunity for me to “pen” my observations of this catastrophe. They suggested a rationale that alarmed me that I will share in tongue-in-cheek format:

Me: Do our diminishing numbers get rationalized away as people simply dying?

Ed: I don’t know but I am sure someone will say that we have been here for 2000 years, we will continue.

Me: But what about this internal cancer that is eating us away?

Ed: The Church has been here for 2000 years, we are not going away.

Me: What about our future?

Ed: The Church has been here for 2000 years. The Church will be here for another 2000 years. There may be only 4 or 5 parishioners left, but the Church will still be here.

Putting all joking and sarcasm aside, we need our Hierarchs to protect us and not turn a deaf ear. A problem has been clearly identified. It has been confirmed and reconfirmed. The National Herald has reinforced the magnitude of the problem in its December 13, 2012 edition. We now need action. With all due respect and love, dear Holy Synod members: “if you ignore us, we will go away. Many of us already have. Is anyone in the Church studying this phenomenon? Does anyone have any answers? What is being done? Does anyone really care?” Please help us stop the cancer from eating us away from the inside. What are you afraid of? Metropolitan Hierotheos was not afraid to protect his flock. Please do the same. What have you got to lose? You have a lot to gain. There is a whole country here waiting and thirsting for what Orthodox Christianity has to offer. Please do not let this cancer set us back from the work Christ has put us all here to do.

Editor’s note: Please note that this article was written and edited by our staff 4 weeks before the “Demand Letter” written by Attorney Stephan M. Murphy threatening a Law Suit for the alleged wrongful death of Scott Nevins. We can not help to wonder if this too will be ignored by those charged with protecting the inheritance of our Faith.