Letters To Our Editors

By dogcatcher on September 17th, 2015

[Below are two different letters/submissions received by our Editors. The first is from someone well known and who has worked for the Church over many years. The second is from a retired Clergyman. We have not edited or altered either one for content. They speak of the conditions in the greater Church and more particularly the Metropolis of Chicago.]

This was received on September 1, 2015:

The current Snynaxis of the Hierarchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and the Beginning of the New Ecclesiastical Year should be a cause for hope within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. It proclaims the commencement of another year and may also be preparatory to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America as the church prepares for the highly anticipated Ecumenical Council of 2016 — the first in over 1,200 years.

Similarly, construction is underway at the St. Nicholas National Shrine heralding the strength and resiliency of the parish of St. Nicholas while showcasing the Greek Orthodox Faith to the world in this very significant location.

This stands in great contrast to what appears to be a black hole in the Metropolis of Chicago. The continued, deliberate misuse of power by the hierarchy accelerates the decline in stewardship and fellowship of parish after parish. The number of stewards appears to be in such serious decline that the Metropolis has not provided the actual number of stewards for the last 5 years on a year-to-year basis. Strong parishes are being destroyed. Can this be exacerbated by offering of Protopresbyter positions to clergy who are in favor either through personal relationships and loyalty to the Hierarchs or by their worship of Elder Ephraim?

This week, we learned that Fr. James Dokos, who was presumably placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the criminal case for the alleged misuse of funds from a trust fund (a Class G felony), served liturgy in the parish of Ascension of Our Lord Church in Lincolnshire, IL. We have also learned that Fr. Dokos has been serving in other parishes throughout the Metropolis at the will of the Hierarchs. Has Fr. Dokos quietly returned to active status “under the radar?” Does this indicate that his unpaid leave has ended? Will the possibility of taking communion from an accused clergyman draw stewards to the parish or turn them away?

There are numerous issues here – one of excusing or allowing misconduct, one of a future where parishes need to close their doors either due to lack of adequate active clergy or due to decreasing numbers of stewards providing financial support to the parishes, Metropolises and GOA.

Faith should not be dependent upon the particular priest at a parish (we all are fallible, clergy included). That said, we have had (and have) some phenomenal priests in our Metropolis. We have watched two of our eldest and most respected clergy members fall asleep recently, Fr. Chiganos and Fr. Papanikolaou (leaving Fr. Kutulas as the last of our dedicated, respected and long-serving priests). Are the newer, younger priests capable of providing the great leadership, educational, spiritual and leadership skills that are needed to restore the strength and vitality of this Metropolis that our elder clergy members provided? Is there an effort to help develop these young priests? Will there ever be youth and young adult programming that resembles that of the golden era under their guidance – when parishes worked together and provided the opportunity for the summer campers to continue their friendships through shared church programming? Why does this Metropolis not participate in the GOA programming for youth?

We do not hear of innovative programming ideas from our Hierarchs. Instead, we hear of many actions by the Hierarchs that reflect focus on financial concerns (fair share assessments and honoraria).

Rather than our clergy leaders forging new programs and cross parish opportunities, the Chicago Metropolis sees some of their clergy spend more time at the monastery in Wisconsin than in their own parish.

Many are aware of the questionable theology and practices at the monasteries that are under nominal GOA jurisdiction. Perhaps our leaders should ask our stewards, and even compare notes with their brethren of other denominations, how aware are they of the many issues relating to misconduct, suit versus Rassa and more that is in this hotbed of Ephraim worship in the Metropolis of Chicago. Despite what is assumed as the Hierarchs’ protestations that these matters should be handled internally and that they will work themselves out without the need for intervention, none of these critical issues are well-kept secrets. The lack of publicity and failure to acknowledge that these issues even exist does not bring about their resolution nor do they render the issues invisible to the faithful or to the outside world.

We deduce that the Metropolis of Chicago Hierarchs are not concerned with the effects on young children of dark sermons in parishes regarding the evil one with a focus on sin, sermons that threaten and alienate couples with non-Greek spouses and divorces in marriages in which one spouse is not willing to worship Elder Ephraim (as often advised by the parish priest loyal to Elder Ephraim). There is no alarm amongst our Hierarchs. There is no urgency in the GOA to address and correct these matters. These issues have been going on for years and have been brought to the attention of the Hierarchs, but they have done nothing to change the paradigm. If anything, their insistence on the status quo without examination of the issues speaks to one and only one solution.

This was received on August 28, 2015:

If not Incompetence, then what is it?

The Greek Orthodox Church in America is in a crisis. Our Metropolitans have loads of information, people of means and resources, all at their disposal, and yet the records of vital statistics received from the GOA illustrate that we are significantly dwindling in size as a community. The question is why?

Can we blame that on the priests? Maybe some share responsibility in that. Can we blame that on the Seminary? Maybe the Seminary has played a role in that also. But by and large, our priests have been repeating a mantra lately – complete obedience to their Bishop. Now that our Bishops have been “elevated” to Metropolitans, the “ruling Hierarchs” (as they are referred to in the Uniform Parish Rules and Regulations) share a major portion of responsibility for the condition of the Church since the “retirement” of Archbishop Iakovos and their subsequent elevation to Metropolitans.

Why then are our Hierarchs missing the mark? Are our Hierarchs incompetent, or something else?
The standard definition of the adjective “incompetent” is “not having or showing the necessary skills to do something successfully”. Synonyms include: inept, unskillful, unskilled, inexpert, amateurish, unprofessional, bungling, blundering, clumsy, inadequate, substandard, inferior, ineffective, deficient, inefficient, ineffectual, wanting, lacking, leaving much to be desired; incapable, unfit, unqualified.

This definition sounds harsh; however this is what the word means. We actually do not believe they are as incompetent as some have suggested. So that leads us to think that it is “something else”. What could that “something else” be?

One suggestion is that they are Inexperienced. They all seem to lack any significant record of achievement as a proven parish priest.

To be one of the select executive leaders (Metropolitan) of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is a lofty position that intuitively requires that their qualifications must be substantially more than just choosing not to be in a heterosexual relationship that leads to marriage. Being qualified means more than just having a good relationship with the Phanar. Academic degrees are nice, but even that does not appear enough to give an understanding of the practical “real world” environment we have in our culture in America. This understanding is important to understand so that one may effectively infuse the Orthodox Faith by understanding exactly where our people are at.

It is felt by many that a pre-qualification for being a “Metropolitan” must be a proven record of achievement as a parish priest. And yet this quality is severely lacking in our executive leaders today. Which one of our executive leaders, (our Metropolitans, the ruling Hierarchs) have had a successful and substantial tenure in a parish as a loving pastor? We could not find one with such experience:

Atlanta
Metropolitan Alexios served a brief number of years in New York as a priest, in a community that is extensively “Greek” (i.e. services all in Greek, parishioners that predominantly spoke Greek, etc.). Prior to that he was a monk at Vatopedi in Mount Athos. He is from Patras, Greece. Some have alleged whatever he learned in Greece, he is trying to impose here. But we are different.

Boston
Metropolitan Methodios served for many years as the GOA Archdeacon under Archbishop Iakovos. While we cannot find any information as his being a proven parish priest, he does seem very in touch with where we are in America today. We believe him to be one of the solid leaders we have.

Detroit
Metropolitan Nicholas is reported to have served in Corona, NY for about a year. He was subsequently made a Bishop.

New Jersey
Metropolitan Evangelos briefly served in New York in a parish, and then was made a Bishop.

Pittsburgh
Metropolitan Savas served in Grand Rapids, MI, for about 6 years. He was later taken to the Archdiocese where he served in some administrative capacity, and then made a Bishop.

Chicago
Metropolitan Iakovos and Bishop Demetri have served together for many years and are close. Metropolitan Iakovos was in Sommerville, MA for some years. Bishop Demetri does not have any reported experience, which I could locate, as a Proistamenos.

Denver
Metropolitan Isaiah served at the Seminary for many years. He filled in in New Hampshire for Sunday liturgies.

San Francisco
Metropolitan Gerasimos was also the Archdeacon for Archbishop Iakovos, after Metropolitan Methodios. He has no known experience at all as a parish priest.

What does this mean?
Given the current condition of our Church, it is vital that our executive leaders be in-touch with the pulse of American Culture, and with the pulse of their Parish Priests. They could learn a lot from many priests who have proven themselves. Micromanaging and suffocating the priest can dampen their effectiveness. This might mean that our Metropolitans may need to give up part of their 2 month vacations to Greece, and spend more time listening and loving their priests and their flock.
We also feel that there should be more financial transparency – not only in financial reports of the Parish, but full disclosure of gift and honoraria as well (domestically and abroad) – for Priests, but especially for Metropolitans (and all Hierarchs). Example is one of the best forms of leadership.

Conclusion

This reflection does not hope to answer every question we may have about what is going on in our Church. But what we do hope to accomplish is a dialogue where we are not afraid to ask questions. We have brought up the question of experience in a very candid way. We did so in a respectful and forthright manner.
These are difficult topics, but we are in a crisis and must ask why? Examining ourselves should be done from the top-down. Maybe this way no one can use that old Greek adage that “the fish smells from the head first”.