Reflections on GOTRUTHREFORM

By dogcatcher on January 26th, 2016

Reflections on GOTRUTHREFORM and its impact on the
Issues that concern the Church

In 2009, our Editors started this website because we were revolted, disgusted and repulsed by what was being perpetrated on the Laity of the Metropolis of Chicago. The Editors felt that for any chance for the Church to survive in any meaningful form into the future, some type of attention was necessary to bring forth the replacement of the present leadership embedded in Chicago, and then in other Metropolises which are also failing. Our position was clear in our mission statement, which stated:

“Mission Statement”

We Greek Orthodox Christians of the Metropolis of Chicago will no longer accept the conditions that have spread and caused irreparable harm to our Faith. We are of the opinion that our current Hierarchs of the Metropolis of Chicago are complicit in allowing a cancerous cult to permeate the theology of our church. Therefore, we will focus the efforts and attention of our members to expose inappropriate teachings, practices and customs as they concern our Faith.”

With end of the old year and the start of a new, we have reflected on the effect of the website and any future influence that we may have. But the overriding thought over the last six years has been that “Boy, were we naïve!” The underlying problems of our Church go way beyond the vast damage done by the cancerous cult of Elder Ephraim. It should now be clearly evident that this highly entrenched cult has introduced heretical teachings contrary to our faith. However, it has also served as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, or as a bellwether, exposing much deeper issues. The Ephraimite issue is a catalyst bringing to the light areas of deficiency in the management, operations and the administration of the Church in North America. We have found that the deeper you dig, the more you will find, as we have uncovered an enormous vein of misfeasance, malfeasance, avoidance and vindictiveness.

So with the New Year, we reflected on our efforts. Our goal is to tell you our understandings and observations concerning the Church. We believe that we have learned a lot over the last 6 years. We have seen great movement within the faithful of our Church that is unprecedented within living memory. Tens of thousands have left their stewardships, have become disenchanted and even have stopped attending the liturgy. The ship has been found to be rudderless; when questions are asked of those who are ostensibly in charge, we find the little man (men) behind the curtain are not only not divinely inspired, but have all the failings of most humans, and sometimes more so.

Notably, we learned that in Greek Orthodoxy, as administered in the United States, there appears to be no “reverse gear” at any level. What does this mean? In effect it means NO Repentance. There is a wonderful article written by Wallace Daniel in a publication called “The Christian Century”. This is a periodical that religious scholars of all Christian denominations read, yes, even Orthodox scholars. In fact, one of the Orthodox clergy referred this publication to us.

In Mr. Daniel’s article entitled “Nationalism and the Russian Orthodoxy….The church under Putin” (December 9, 2015 edition, volume 132, No. 25), he discusses Alexander Men and Men’s perspective of the Orthodox Church in Russia. So who was Alexander Men and why does anything he has to say significant to those of us who are concerned about the wayward path taken by Greek Orthodoxy in America?

First, to understand you need to know Alexander Men. “Alexander Vladimirovich Men was born on January 22, 1935 and died on September 9, 1990. Men wrote dozens of books (including his magnum opus, History of Religion: In Search of the Way, the Truth and the Life, the seventh volume of which, Son of Man, served as the introduction to Christianity for thousands of citizens in the Soviet Union); baptized hundreds if not thousands; founded an Orthodox Open University; opened one of the first Sunday Schools in Russia as well as a charity group at the Russian Children’s Hospital. His influence is still widely felt and his legacy continues to grow among Christians both in Russia and abroad. He was murdered early on Sunday morning, 9 September 1990, by an ax-wielding assailant just outside his home of Semkhoz, Russia.” His murder case is unsolved to this day. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Men

Men was concerned about the [unorthodox] role of the Church in many areas including its working with the Russian government. The Church it would seem had crossed lines and operated in a way that bears a resemblance to the way our Greek Orthodox Church currently operates, not just in the Metropolis of Chicago, but in many places throughout the Archdioceses. Daniel’s states that “Men emphasized that in order for the Russian Orthodox Church to speak effectively it had to come to terms with its past. The Church had to seek repentance for its association with violence and its complicity in acts that betrayed Christianity, both in czarist and Soviet eras. Repentance, Men pointed out, is the first step to healing, and he noted that the Greek term “to repent” means ‘to rethink one’s life.’ The Church took no such step during his lifetime nor has it done so now.”

At every level of operation of our Church we have example after example of failure to repent, to rethink a position on anything and the most disturbing characteristic of all, a disregard of looking backwards. Repentance requires looking backwards, only through self-reflection can one see one’s errors and try to correct them. As an institution we now lack a “reverse gear”. The Church makes a decision, transfers an inept Priest to a new Parish to destroy it or takes a position in error and then refuses to do anything. If you are lucky and they act, they generally wait until they “blow it up” and then try to put it back together.

So what guidance if any does our Faith give us on this subject since it is now unacceptable to go backwards and reflect?

The Branch of Righteousness

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD. “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. Jeremiah 23 New King James Version (NKJV)

Clearly this Bible verse would keep any clergyman of normal sensibilities up at night if they understood the consequences of failure. How can so many issues be swept under the rug, ignored or denied by our leaders, by our Hierarchs. Over 150 years ago a pastor of note, in rural South Africa looked at this Bible verse and here is what he concluded: “If a pastor avoids difficult truths they are not a pastor; they are a motivational speaker, or a false prophet offering false hope (cf. Jeremiah 23) [emphasis added by our Editor]. The cross only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin. “To convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible” (Andrew Murray; 1794-1866).

We have written a series of articles about the current failings of the Greek Orthodox Church in our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (“GOA”). There are many and they exist on every level. We believe that our Church is dying and that those charged with proclaiming the Faith and protecting it have failed. We did not say failing, we said failed. Here are three examples to that point:

1. At the Parish level. Here where an Ephraimite Clergyman infected with this theological disease does irreparable to damage to a Parish there is silence from the Hierarchy. Does the local Hierarch come into the Parish to explain the issue? Does he try to calm the waters, to aid in reconciliation among the warring parties? No, he merely sends another Priest and perhaps it may include a hope for the best. On occasion the Priest will rebuild and perhaps even bring back the Parish to a better financial place. It will never recover spiritually, as there is no Christian desire to repent. But, more often than not the Parish will never recover.

Families will be lost and hard feeling will continue to exist. When a Parish blows up you cannot always fit the pieces back together. Some pieces are lost forever, many of our fellow Laity take a position that all is fine if the Parish checkbook is back in the black. (Please read our article on this topic entitled ‘Rejuvenated Parish – Chicago Parish Rejuvenated – Parish was in Danger of Closing…Saved by the New Priest’. Here is the link: http://gotruthreform.org/rejuvenated-parish)

You see more often than we care to acknowledge, even our theological normal or unaffected Priests are really just as Pastor Murray points out “Motivational Speakers”. This is because the truth, institutional repentance and growth borne from reflection are “too hard” or “too divisive” for us. So we do nothing. Not only do we do nothing, but, nothing is not only expected, but promoted by our inadequate leadership. Here again there is yet another example of the complete failure of leadership within our GOA. If the Hierarchs can’t lead their flocks then they should be removed before it’s too late. As one of our Editors points out………..“they are one generation away from having to secure full time paying jobs because they are destroying the base of the Church. There will only be a few left and those few may find themselves in the “Church of Ephraim”. Sadly, another Editor sees the future differently, pointing out that “the shortfall of revenues will carry certain Hierarchs yet closer to the Ephraimite camp as they find the Ephraimite infrastructure ready, willing and able to pay their bills and cover up the mismanagement that has led to a mass exodus of our Laity.”

2. The curious case of George Karcazes, Esq. Who is George Karcazes and why does he matter? He is in his 70’s and a graduate of the University of Chicago for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. His graduate degree happens to be a Juris Doctorate, or in plain English, he is a licensed Attorney. He has served the Church for many years including several terms as President of the Sts. Peter and Paul, Glenview Illinois Parish Council. (We all remember that Parish; it was the one that Fr. James Dokos was removed from recently after he was charged with a felony He is awaiting a criminal trial in the Milwaukee County criminal courts.) George has represented his Parish at 10 different National Clergy Laity Congresses and is a founder and past President of the Orthodox Christian Laity (“OCL”). In addition to all of George’s achievements and accomplishments in the ecclesiastical world he was also an accomplished Banker and served on the Board of, and was Legal Counsel to one of the largest privately held Bank Holding companies in the Midwestern United States. By all objective measures, this layman of our Church is a success, an asset to any organization he is affiliated with. But is this who we value in our Faith? Do we value someone who is concerned, competent and committed?

George is that rare mix of common sense, bravery and reason. He is well read and has spent a number of years studying the Church and its history. He frequently publishes articles about the faith and will argue against the current conventional thinking as to what is causing the Church to disintegrate. He fights against the decay and inept reasoning that is now commonplace within the power base of the Church. A man like George is definitely someone the Church should honor, an asset to be used for the good of the Church. George, unlike the courtiers that surround our Hierarchs, was one of the named Plaintiffs that sued the GOA many years ago to stop the unilateral change of our Charter. Today, anyone having a dime’s worth of knowledge about the Church understands the irreparable damage done to our Church by this Charter change. Never before have we witnessed more dysfunctionality and disunity in our Faith in North America as a result of this disastrous organizational change. So where does someone like George, a man who attempts to save us from those that have placed the Church on this road to disaster, find themselves today? If you live in the Metropolis of Chicago the answer is simple EXPENDABLE, that’s the answer!

In other words, George is among the new class of expendable Laity in the Metropolis of Chicago. He is dedicated, accomplished and intelligent. Clearly there is no room in the Church for competent people like him. The GOA now only want those who agree! Yes, we want only those who suffer from confirmation bias, that’s what the Church needs, or is it? You see a man like George does not suffer from Confirmation bias. So what is confirmation bias?

“A confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. For example, imagine that a person holds a belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this “evidence” supporting their already existing belief. This individual might even seek out “proof” that further backs up this belief, while discounting examples that do not support this idea. ”http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/fl/What-Is-a-Confirmation-Bias.htm

It recently came to our attention that George was unilaterally removed from the Stewardship Committee at his Parish. So, how does someone who has given selflessly to the Church, is on the cutting edge of thought and vision regarding the Church and desires to continue his efforts find themselves removed from an unpaid volunteer position? To understand this better, we secured an email written by George to his Parish Priest that sums up the situation. Thankfully George copied the entire Parish Council on this email exchange; it was then forwarded to us. It only confirms our truly held belief that perhaps the Holy Spirit has left the Greek Orthodox Church in the Metropolis of Chicago. Here is his email summarizing the situation:

“Fr. Panagiotis,

This will confirm our phone conversation of today, in which you informed me that you are removing me from the Stewardship Committee I have served on for many years. I tried to dissuade you from taking this step because I believe that it is not in the best interests of the parish or your ministry to this, or any future parish. I suggested that you take some time to reflect on the wisdom of such an action. To conduct a “cost/benefit” analysis of removing me from this volunteer position and your own efforts, and those of some of the members of the Parish Council, to heal the divisions in the parish caused by the Kantzavelos/Dokos scandal.

How does removing me from this committee heal divisions and bring reconciliation to those in our parish family who were hurt by the removal of Fr. Angelo and the ensuing Kantzavelos/Dokos scandal? You acknowledged that the UPR provides that Parish Councils establish committees and appoint their members. Nevertheless, you claimed that, as the parish priest, you have the authority to unilaterally remove committee members. You further stated that the reason for removing me was the Chicago Tribune article which attributed a quote from me that the Kantzavelos/Dokos scandal had caused “irreparable damage” to our parish. You acknowledged that the Stewardship statistics I referred to were entirely accurate and the contents of my letter to the Editor of The National Herald were completely factual. The response to “bad” publicity is not the suppression of publicity, but “better” publicity. You may recall that Bishop Demetrios’ response to the “bad” publicity in the Chicago Tribune about Fr. Dokos that he attributed to Jim Gottreich, was the removal of Jim from his position as president and from the Parish Council. How effective was that in terms of suppression of publicity?

Fr. Panagiotis, I don’t know if you consulted with (or were influenced by) Burton Place in connection with your decision to remove me from the Stewardship Committee. To the extent that you, or Burton Place (or 79th Street, or the Phanar) believe that you can influence or control the information people receive about the church, the recent history of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in the US is instructive. Peggy Noonan is a well-known author, columnist and member of the Roman Catholic Church. The following quote from her Wall Street Journal article of April 16, 2010 succinctly frames the issue:

“In a way, the Vatican lives outside time and space. The verities it speaks of and stands for are timeless and transcendent. For those who work there, bishops and cardinals, it can become its own reality. And when those on the inside fight for what they think is the life of the institution, they feel justified in fighting any way they please. They can do this because they rationalize it, they are not fighting only for themselves – it’s not selfish, their fight – but to protect the greatest institution in the history of the world.”

“But in the past few decades, they not only fought persons‘If you were loyal you’d be silent” – they fought information.

What they don’t fully understand right now – what they can’t fully wrap their heads around – is that information won.
The information came in through the cracks, it came in waves, in newspaper front pages, in books, in news beamed to every satellite dish in Europe and America. The information could not be controlled or stopped. The information was that something very sick was going on in the heart of the church.
“Once, leaders of the Vatican felt silence would protect the church. But now anyone who cares about it must come to understand that only speaking, revealing, admitting and changing will save the church.” [emphasis supplied]

With respect to the Kantzavelos/Dokos scandal, there is this quote someone sent me from the Facebook page of John Kass [Editor’s note: Mr. Kass is a highly respected journalist who writes for the Chicago Tribune]:
John Kass: There are many agendas now at play. Some masquerading as legitimate, but also much about power and leverage as the others. I am not opposed to hierarchs. I am not opposed to authority in church matters. I guess you could say I’m orthodox (small o) in this. But church leaders must understand, by hiding things, by taking money, by intimidating, by imperiousness and pride, they weaken the legitimate authority they have. Be good shepherds! Bring all issues into the light. Hiding in darkness is not our way. It is not Christian. It is not good. Leadership isn’t about extending a hand to kiss. It is about humility, humbleness and love of Christ. This is why I hope the Patriarch takes notice. To see the attacks against myself and others was an eye-opener. What do they do to others, to good priests, to lay people like those at Sts. Peter and Paul? Everything in the light from now on.”

Finally, a word about the power you believe the UPR invests in you to remove me from the Stewardship Committee. I do not intend to discuss the question of whether that power was given you upon ordination, or elevation to the position of “Proistamenos”, or some provision of the UPR as you claim. My response to your removal of me from the Stewardship Committee isn’t about power. It is about the exercise of power. Is it exercised to teach? To heal? To deliver a message of reconciliation? Or is it exercised to silence; to punish; to deliver a message of intimidation to others?
As for your power to remove me, I will close with this quote from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”:
“O, it is excellent/ To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous/ To use it like a giant.”

In Christ,
George”

3. The regrettable, sad and very disturbing Case of the late Scott Nevins is an issue that has now been successfully “swept under the rug”. In this matter the lack of information, transparency and accountability is unacceptable to our Laity. Rather than give you a number of websites for information on this matter, we trust that a simple search will give you additional background information. Briefly, Scott Nevins was a novice at the “mothership” of the Ephraimite movement, the “Monastery” in Florence, Arizona. Below are links to both versions of the tragic events. We have secured the official Sheriff’s report and additional documents and will comment on this later in this article.

Here is a link to the written demand letter (In a PDF format) written by an Attorney representing the Nevins family:

http://www.weareorthodox.com/usersubmissions/DEMANDLETTER-FINAL.pdf

Here is the link to the announcement of the Metropolis of San Francisco:

http://sf.goarch.org/blog/announcement-regarding-scott-nevins-death/

So where is the flaw in the operation of the Church with this tragic event? How did the Church fail its Laity and the Nevins family? Why do we as a website continue to draw attention to the issues that we feel are undermining the healthy and normal operation of the Church?

Here are our reasons for being so depressingly disappointed with the situation now, and since our formal inception in November of 2009. Understanding why there is malfeasance with not just the Nevins matter, but the Church as a whole is necessary:

A. In October of 2010 a Task force, later renamed the Monastery Review Committee (“MRC”) was appointed by the Archbishop to investigate the Monasteries operated under the “spiritual guidance” of Elder Ephraim. Where is their report? Over 5 years have transpired!

B. Shortly after the death of Scott Nevins, the Metropolises of San Francisco and Atlanta announced they had appointed their own MRC. Where are their reports?

C. We obtained a copy of the official reports and found they were insufficient in the following ways. These are deficiencies that should have been looked into by competent people working on behalf of the Church, i.e., any real committee. Here is what these official documents were missing that should have caused a reasonably run institution to be concerned and expend resources to investigate:

a. They lacked observations about any entrance and exit wounds from the weapon that terminated the life of the victim.

b. They lacked information about “powder burns” or “stippling patterns”. These would give one insight to the distance of the gun’s muzzle to the point of entrance of the bullet.

c. The documents should specify the caliber of the bullet involved. They should have described the condition of the slug recovered.

d.There appears to be no Gun Shot Residue (“GSR”) exam of the victim’s left hand at the time of the autopsy.

e. There was one “witness,” a monk from St. Anthony Monastery. He was never given a GSR exam on his hands. Is it true that this monk had a weapon in his car? Did anyone from any of the MRCs ever interview this monk? Where is the interview if one was ever taken, will it ever be released?

f. All reports we have reviewed lack information about the slug being compared to the firearm that was allegedly used, the recovered ammunition or the weapon that was allegedly in the possession of the “witness”.

g. The “witness’s” statement is extremely short and appears to have handwriting very close to that of the investigating officer.

h. The statement is dated, but unsigned by the “witness”.

i. The “witness’s” initial statement and a later one (June 11, 2012) have material discrepancies.

j. Lack of a suicide note, while not bearing on how he died, it is unusual here for many reasons. First Scott took the time to start a website “debunking” the Ephraim myth. Then he had in his possession other weapons indicating a “fight” or encounter he was concerned about. Then and perhaps the most interesting fact that has been confirmed is that he was eating a meal shortly before his death. This meal was eaten less than one hour before his death.

k. Why does Scott drive for 22 hours from Salem, Oregon to the Monastery, enter Monastery property and not commit suicide on the property of the Monastery? Why did he drive off the property and then allegedly kill himself?

l. There were emails between Scott Nevins and monks at St. Anthony before his death. What was written by those monks? Was he manipulated in such a manner by those that knew him best to cause him to go back to the Monastery armed for battle? Was he incited by active prodding, did someone cause him to seek revenge? It was alleged that he left personal property (such as his dental retainers) behind when he left the Monastery. It is also alleged that they were not returned to him when he requested it, why not?

m. The police report makes reference to other governmental agencies investigating the Monastery. Our Laity deserves to know this information.

n. If there have been other Governmental agencies examining the activities at our Monasteries, why has this information been withheld?

We could go on with more but what is the point when our Hierarchs refuse to face a problem within their clear jurisdiction? The Deny, Defend and Deflect model is at work here. Anyone seeking the truth may want to consider finding it somewhere else, we suggest other Orthodox jurisdictions. It seems there is a lack of intestinal fortitude that is now embedded within the administration of our dying Church.

Mr. Ashley Nevins, Scott’s father has written us over 70 emails. His loss is tragic and without reason, or precedence. We feel ashamed of our Church, Mr. Nevins. It is getting worse and not better. Nothing we say or do seem to make a difference. Everything falls on “deaf ears” in the Greek Orthodox Church. People in our Church that tell the truth, Mr. Nevins, end up like George Karcazes, ostracized and marginalized.

Over time, many have been critical of our Editors for remaining anonymous. This was deliberate and in anticipation of an expected vindictive, hostile and toxic environment that has become normal in the Metropolis of Chicago. These expectations have been fully borne out. Accusations and recriminations have been made against certain people who may or not be in the Editors’ group. This situation is acting as a repellant to the Faithful. Nowhere is it more evident than in what is now considered normal behavior. Lack of Repentance and the maliciousness shown to our Laity by the forces beholden to the Ephraimite movement causes them to remain silent out of fear. Fear of retribution against themselves, their families; fear of being held out by Hierarchs of questionable moral authority as being lapsed Orthodox Christians; fear of withdrawal, by these same Hierarchs, of their ability to take part in the Sacraments, essentially, the rule over the faithful by fear. This is not a Christian attitude, but more like the Empire strikes back from science fiction movies.

All we can say is “how sad for all of us”! Regarding George Karcazes, the Parish Council at that Parish and others have been reduced to “rubber stamps”. People that do not move in “lock step” to the tune of the local Hierarchs are leaving in great numbers. All of this while the Patriarch, the Archbishop and the ostensible leadership, who should control what happens in our Church, do nothing. If you need more proof of decay of our Church than the case of the removal of George Karcazes, an unpaid volunteer, from a Parish committee dedicated to increasing Church membership, how sad for you not to get it. All of this clearly show the Church Hierarchs collectively are suffering from CONFIRMATION BIAS when they allow these toxic conditions to exist.

There is a great word making the rounds this election season. It is an old word from the mid-19th century. The word is bloviate or the present participle bloviating. It means to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way. This one word describes how we are spoken to by our Ephraimite Priests and many of the Hierarchs. Great leaders are those in conversation with the “laity” of their times. No such conversation exists. The growth of the Ephraimite movement is evidence of a “Faith and Spirit” vacuum in our Church. We are in the preliminary stages of a schism or a complete disintegration of our Faith. It is coming, and it is engineered by those dressed like lambs. Abraham Lincoln, quoting the Bible, said “a house divided against itself is a house that cannot stand”. Ask yourselves will we be standing in 20 years at this rate? Is your answer “we have been here for 2000 years and we will continue until the second coming?” In that case, be ready to welcome the Orthodox Church of Ephraim.