An Open Letter to the Holy and Sacred Ecumenical Synod

By dogcatcher on November 20th, 2014

Can we in North America survive the “Brotherhood?”

Below is a letter written to the current members of the Holy and Sacred Ecumenical Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Holy and Sacred Synod is presided over by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW and is currently comprised of the following Hierarchs: Demetrios of America Iakovos of Chicago Jeremiah of Switzerland Augustine of Germany Germanos of Tranoupolis Sotirios of Toronto Irenaios of Crete Athenagoras of Belgium Eugenios of Rethymno and Avlopotamos Amphilochios of New Zealand Nathanael of Kos and Nisyros Athenagoras of Kydonies Your All Holiness and Eminences: It is with deep respect and love for the Church that this open letter is written to all of you. We hope and pray that God gives each of you the strength of purpose and resolve to address the problems set forth in this “open letter”. It is open because the Hierarchs have failed to shed sufficient light on serious problems. These serious problems have existed for several years resulting in numerous complaints by the Laity. Nevertheless, the complaints were not addressed and led to no resolution by the Hierarchs. Perhaps this correspondence shared by you and all Orthodox Christians may expedite desperately needed solutions. Thus far, efforts, discussions and dialogues on the following issues have been unsuccessful in convincing the Hierarchs to develop solutions. The words of Christ can guide you to an understanding of these problems. Christ said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)” It is with deep hope that we write to all of you for protection from these cancerous encroachments upon the Faith and the greater operation of the Church in North America. Strong decisive actions are needed to stop continuous irreparable damage to the servants of God you were called to guide. Several of our leaders stand on a pedestal of history claiming we have endured 2000 years of problems and troubles. This is no longer an acceptable answer to many of us who have seen our leaders fail us. In our current world, people are choosing to walk away from the Faith of their Fathers and Grandfathers because they are faced with a religious institution that simply fails to take any action against the severe cracks undermining the depths of our foundation caused by a tide of growing Heresy and a perversion of our accepted Theology and practices. We ask that you address the following issues which have negatively impacted the stability of our Church in North America. 1.  Declining Membership/Stewardship It is clear that our Parishes are emptying. It is a trend that several churches are talking about but it seems to go intentionally unnoticed or ignored by our Jurisdictional Hierarchs. As long as they continue to collect their “Fair Share” assessments from the Parishes, they either pretend all is well or worse yet, they literally see nothing. To stem the tide of ignorance about the actual condition of the Church our leaders must act. Taking action demands strong character. We ask how much time has any of you, as leaders, committed to conduct your own due diligence to determine where this is happening and why. Leaders are often called upon to discern the truth in order to guide. They must establish priorities to effectively guide. In the context both inside and outside the Church, they must learn in order to grow as a leader. Declining membership continues to grow because the Church as an institution does not have the courage to recognize and speak to the issues it faces. Nor do they have the vision to learn from others what they should do. If they take the time to study the issue of declining membership, they will learn very well documented facts. Parishes are emptying for a number of reasons. We understand that some factors are within your control, while others not. There is every excuse given to the laymen for these deteriorating conditions; most often we hear them cite modern trends. Some like to point to other Christian Faiths and seem quite happy to say “well they are shrinking too” or “They are losing people as well”. The fact that none of your fellow Hierarchs ever cite the factors that you can control and could change has not gone unnoticed. It is here where there is a great loss of respect and appreciation for the Church by its loyal Laity. One such factor that is within your collective control is the issues emanating from Monks like Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi and Elder Ephraim of Arizona (formerly of Philotheou). One of these “Holy Men” has made money and power his central goal, while the other seems intent on undermining the structure of the Archdioceses of Canada and the United States. Failure to react to either aberration has damaged the general perception of our Faith and Church and especially its leaders. This damage continues to grow because none of those sworn to protect the Faith and the Faithful have the courage to take a position. Instead you all appear to have created an insular world where only the courtiers have influence over you or can have access to you. The following Letters to the Editor accurately demonstrate the general perception of the current conditions of our Church in its decline:  


First Letter October 4-10-2014 “Orthodox Church May Have More Per Capita Scandals than Catholics” “To the Editor: The headline of your September 26th edition of ‘Greek Priest arrested for child porn’ was distressing enough. But why you even describe this so-called Priest as ‘Greek’ is beyond me. He was born in Michigan. Not in Greece. His last name is Greek, but that does not make him Greek any more than the name Smith makes someone British. The correct title should have been ‘Priest of a Greek Orthodox Parish is Accused of Child Porn’. Also, while we’re on the subject of priests being accused of various crimes, is it my imagination or is it true that we have had more scandals than the Catholic Church, if you adjust for the size of the church and the number of parishes? Just last week a priest in the Midwest was accused of skimming off the top. Then the priest in Texas, accused of child molestation. Before that Paisios in New York. Then the Monastery in Arizona, with the young man committing suicide. Before that the priest in Vermont. And there are more. Some parents are saying that they will not bring their children to Church because they are concerned for their safety—in all places, church! I was under the impression that this was the Catholic Church’s problem, due to the celibacy of their priests. How wrong I was. I totally agree with one of your reader’s observations that priests accepting tips for mysteria, on top of the more than $100,000 salary that many make is wrong and immoral. Maybe we have attracted many that consider the priesthood a career that pays well. If they enter the priesthood solely for the pay, without having the calling, then they are prone to all kinds of sins. Our Orthodox Church is withering. Sunday attendance is way down. Weddings are half of what they were 10 years ago. Weekday liturgies are not attended by more than a few people, if any. With all these scandals, it will be next to impossible to attract the youth. Something has to be done. Lambros Karpodinis, Brick, New Jersey” Second Letter October 11-17-2014 Bravo, Mr. Matsoukas for Striving for Change “To the Editor: George Matsoukas’ recent article ‘Latest Clergy-Laity Conf. Illustrates Need for Families to Pave New Path,’ (Aug. 16) should be applauded. His points regarding the poor status of the trust relationship between the hierarchy and the laity has persisted since the 2003 Congress, in fact, probably has worsened. The tragedy of the clericalism defined by Webster as maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy seems to be the goal of our present religious leaders. Whether it is the Patriarchate, Archdiocese or Metropolises who are guilty seems evident at the Clergy-Laity Congresses. That the Laity finds it near impossible to bring up any subject on the agenda begs the point. As Matsoukas remarked committees are appointed, little turnover of members, etc., and it seems only sycophants of the hierarchy are allowed any voice. When our Church had its founding, the clergy and priesthood were accepted as the only educated of the populace and the laity were the uneducated followers, which had to be led. Now 2000 years later, our society both in the clergy and non-clergy has changed considerably. Unfortunately, no credit or influence seems to be given to the laity even after this interval of time. That priests are assigned by their respective metropolitan and not even allowed to be interviewed by the receiving community seems unfathomable. As shown by some recent appointments it has caused great chaos. Although our Greek Orthodoxy is not democracy, it has become a total ‘clerocracy’. In this day and age of technology, and subsequent flow of information it seems our church leadership is stagnant or even regressing. The major points seems that the clergy leadership does not seem willing to accept that its communicants are capable or should have no voice in the future of our governance. The control of theology is clearly clerical but guidance of the lay aspects of the church administration, etc. should be under the guidance of the laity. To further exasperate our future, the pool of our future hierarchical leaders—patriarchs, archbishops, and metropolitans—is shrinking. The requirement of the future patriarchs be of Turkish citizenship is most difficult to understand. Without change, it seems our church is regressing to the back ages. William Maniatis, MD., Denver, Co.” What do the authors of these two letters have in common with our Editorial Board? They, as do we, see a decline of our Church. Study the key language used “regression, stagnation, scandal, Sunday attendance way down, impossible to attract youth, clericalism, sycophants, clerocracy, and finally one phase that sums it all up ‘Without change it seems our Church is regressing to the back ages’”. Our Hierarchs seem bent on preserving their ceremonial positions while turning their back on their executive roles. Can we, in North America, survive the brotherhood? 2. Lack of Institutional Character and Courage It is common knowledge that to lead any institution, its leaders must possess certain qualities which include character and courage. A leader’s character is demonstrated through his or her actions. We have so many examples of inaction in our institution which results in lack of confidence and again in declining membership. Clearly much needs to be done here. Respectfully do any of you have the courage to stem the tide of “sweeping things under the rug?” There is the case of Fr. Adam Metropoulos, the Priest recently arrested in Bangor Maine. He has already admitted such things as video-taping a “…female parishioner staying with them [his family] who was an adult. He stated that he had recorded her in the shower without her knowing it.” The National Herald October 18-25 Edition page 8. He then admitted to fondling, in the genital areas, two 15 year old sons of his parishioners. First, it is an undisputed fact that Adam Metropoulos was arrested and convicted of sexual assault on April 25, 1983 in Saginaw, Michigan. Second, here is an example of the lack of character and courage within our Church. We have had numerous reports that the same Adam Metropoulos was a student at our Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline Massachusetts in the 1980’s. It is alleged that he was removed from our Seminary after being caught engaging in the same behavior that lead to his arrests in Michigan and Maine. So we ask, as good Orthodox Christians, why was he not arrested in the first instance at the Seminary in the 1980’s? Then we would like to know who allowed him to enroll once again in our Seminary after the first campus incident and his arrest in Saginaw? Was it a lack of courage that allowed Adam Metropoulos to re-enroll in our seminary? Lack of courage to do the right thing has now crept into our Seminary. Furthermore, our leaders have not had the courage to proclaim the faith when we are taught by Ephraimite Priests that “Aerial Toll-houses” exist or that our married couples must live like brother and sister once they are done procreating or that all important decisions are to be made with the blessing of their spiritual fathers. There are countless more examples. As our leaders, we wonder what your vision is for the Church in North America. How do we grow our Church in North America? How do you continue to grow and learn as leaders? How do you fulfill your role as our servant-leaders? We wonder what the real goals are of your “leadership” and whether we can survive them. 3. Treatment of our Laity Here there has been a complete lack of direction to stop the ship from sinking. The Laity feels the wrath of our “loving” Hierarchy every time an issue that lacks consensus is discussed. Here in the Metropolis of Chicago, the Laity is voting with their feet and disengaging from the Greek Orthodox Church. We pride ourselves in surviving within the most vindictive atmosphere of any Metropolis in North America. As a result, a new kind of Greek Orthodox Christian has been generated, the “transitional” Parishioner. The transitional parishioners are those who are so outraged with their leaders in the Church that they literally only go to Church when they have to. Is this really a goal of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople? Let us give you one example of this dysfunctional atmosphere. Ten years ago many of our Editors would be in Church regularly, barely missing an opportunity to practice our Faith. How and why things have changed? Today many of our Editors and other Laity are repulsed by the prospect of going to Liturgy when they know one of our Hierarchs will be there. Yes, we said repulsed. This is not hyperbolic rhetoric, it is our new reality. Ultimately your collective treatment of the Laity hurts all things Greek, not just the institution you are all sworn to protect. Take a look at the rise of Protestant Parishes in Greece. Several decades ago there were a handful; today they have populated many of Athens’s Suburbs and neighborhoods. When will you begin to treat us as valuable participants of our Faith? Do you really want to make conditions here so unbearable for the Laity that our Church continues to decline and become a “boutique” religion in North America? 4. Functionaries at the helm of our Church Let us define this term for purposes of a mutual understanding: “A functionary is someone who fills a specific role in a political party or some other organization. We tend to picture them as people in gray suits who follow the boss’s orders and don’t think for themselves. The origins of this word go back to the French Revolution, specifically Napoleon. After conquering most of Europe, Napoleon needed lots of people to help carry out all the functions or duties of his huge, centralized state. To build an empire you need soldiers; to run an empire you need office workers.” The Church is overrun with Functionaries and as a result we are dying! No one wants to admit this, but the results are crystal clear for those who want to commit an appropriate amount of time to study the problem, learn how to fix the problem and grow as a result of action. Men and women who think for themselves are now an endangered species within our Church. This problem is within your control to change, but let us be honest; collectively you do not want to. Just look at Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago. Ask your brothers in Christ about his appointments to the Metropolis Council of Chicago and his recommendations to the Archdiocesan Council. The list does not include those who are intelligent leaders within the Greek community and can discern the truth and communicate the same with clear strong voices but who have disagreed with the Metropolitan publically. A case in point is Attorney George Karcazes of Chicago. In this entire nation, there are few who can match his intelligence or vision for the Church. Yet a man having his strong character and courage, immense quality and undeniable integrity has not been asked to participate in either council by his Eminence. Who has he been appointing; those who are best for the Church as a whole or those who will serve him first? What does your brother fear? Instead, functionaries have been appointed who are used like weapons to stifle independent and intelligent thought within our greater Church. Ideas and opinions are no longer shared by our Laity; they have lost hope in their leadership’s ability to affect positive change within the Church. Is this another goal of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople? Why don’t you allocate more time to take an in depth look at how the institution truly operates instead of devoting so much time to protecting the brotherhood. 5. Your method of operation is to protect one another-close ranks and never admit to any mistake. It is now common to hear our Laity describe our Clerics as the “Mafia in Black”. Do you want this to be your collective legacy? This is the current perception of our Church by its people. There are two excellent examples of this problem that you may look into, if you had a real desire to affect change. The first is the lack of a thorough investigation of the death of former novice Scott Nevins near the gates of the St. Anthony Monastery in Arizona. Here the Church had the opportunity to lead and address the multitude of issues emanating from this young man’s unfortunate death. In the Nevins matter your Monastery system took in a young man and spiritually defaced him to the point of death. (We will eventually publish an article in the future on this topic and address things that sicken us and lead us to believe that you and your synod do not really care.) The second is the situation in Milwaukee and the unconscionable defense of Fr. James Dokos by the leadership in the Metropolis of Chicago. Here we will wait for the final resolution of this case and then speak to their behavior. By the way have any of you Hierarchs that received funds from this Ervin and Margaret Franczak Trust returned them to the Annunciation Parish in Milwaukee? Is this really acceptable behavior condoned by the Ecumenical Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople? We find this entirely morally wrong and offensive. Why are these evils allowed to continue without address and amends? Why has the brotherhood remained silent? 6. The misunderstanding you have as Church leaders that the Laity of the Church should be treated like ignorant obedient servants of yours and not reason-endowed followers of Christ. The obvious evidence for those willing to certify is that the Laity has reached a “breaking point”. Clearly someone recently had a grand plan for the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. The plan was ill-conceived and lacks an understanding of the Laity in North America. The misconceived notion that “our church has existed for 2000 years and will continue until the end of time” is used by lesser minds to justify inept stewardship. How long do you really expect those of character to be led by those who refuse to take action? Your Church is at a critical crossroads. Will you proclaim the Faith by becoming accountable and taking measures to lead us? One of our Editors goes to Liturgy every Sunday and is in constant disbelief about the lack of attendance knowing very well that many of his fellow laity members attend Church at the monastery, especially in the Metropolis of Chicago. He has accurately coined the phase we are becoming a “Transactional Religion” as he is horrified bearing witness to the decline. Will we ever publish and analyze real numbers? People are rightfully voting with their feet and leaving based upon what they have seen. There is no larger problem facing the Church in North America than the Ephraimite issue. Yet there are those among you that lack the courage to acknowledge it much less to face it and address it in any meaningful way. We all know that one day the Church will suffer from great shame and embarrassment when it must face the reality that a criminal enterprise has been operating under its nose. In the same manner that Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi has damaged the Laity’s faith in the Institution in Greece, here we will suffer a worse outcome. The most important component of our institution is clearly understood by each of you to be the Hierarchy. Your lack of actions in the face of overwhelming and tangible evidence speaks to the contrary. Your lack of actions is driving the Laity away. Many go un-Churched as a result; is this to be your legacy? As we look to the future we do so with great apprehension because we see a Church in disarray and confusion. Our Laity is confused, disenfranchised and demoralized as there continues to be a void in any of you proclaiming the Faith and protecting our Laity from the wolves at our door. Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them”. (Matthew 7:15-20) Universally there seems to be an unwillingness to discipline those who are living sinful lives within the Church. Those of us who have witnessed this first hand understand the effect, do any of you? It can not possibly be a shock to any of you that we the Laity see things for what they are. A vindictive Hierarchy is now the norm rather than the exception to the rule. But it is actually worse than this, as there are vivid examples. These examples are ties to the Ephraimite problem in North America. It was decided that there should be an investigation into the issues emanating from our Ephraimite Monasteries. The Hierarchy has heard all the complaints from their Laity and Clergy for years concerning toxic theology and practices. Yet it was not until evidence of financial irregularity was brought to light that a “Monastery Task Force” was appointed in October of 2010. That occurred over four years ago and yet no report to the Laity has been forthcoming. Then your esteemed Hierarchy in the United States was apparently swayed to first change the name of the committee to the “Monastery Review Committee”. Then the lay person in charge of the committee was removed and a Hierarch appointed in his place. Thus once again we the Laity are effectively told by actions “……we really only care about your money, we are not interested in your help in repairing anything that needs fixing. We only fix what we want fixed, not what needs fixing!” So adding insult to injury of the Church and its Faithful, two of your “respected” brethren decide on their own to form their own Metropolis Monastery Review Committees. Too what end we ask? If the Archdiocese appointed a Monastery Review Committee over four years ago, why have two Metropolises decided that they live in their own vacuum and can independently govern their own fiefdoms? The question we hear repeated too many times is why Elder Ephraim and his brotherhood in Arizona seem to be “protected” as if they are here for some special purpose. What is that purpose? Currently, we are a unified and indigenous Church with 4th and 5th generation of American faithful. We are proud of our Hellenic Heritage and roots. Although we are fighting for our Church, it is not guaranteed that future generations of Greek-Americans will do the same for an institution that is failing them. Thus we have begun the great descent into religious obscurity in North America. Your brethren have fostered this toxic environment. It is their leadership, or lack thereof that is turning us into a “boutique religion” in North America. Why do we write such harsh words—is it a lack of respect, an anger, perhaps desperation for change or a cry to be heard? It is all of that and more as we understand that heads are being buried in the sand at an alarming rate by the very people who should be leading the charge against these problems. Are your heads among them? Where is the love of Jesus Christ? The opposite of love is not hate but apathy. Our cries are simply ignored. We pray that more of you will hear our cry stand up and take action as an accountable leader with strong courage and character to make difficult decisions that put others first and as a result we can continue to learn and grow into a formidable religious institution with a vision for all. Editors Notes: For those wishing to get a fuller understanding of the specific issues emanating from the Ephraimite problem we recommend the following articles on our website: A. Ephraimite Fallacies (Part One) Link to article: B. Are The Lambs Being Poisoned? Link to article: C. We Are Not “Under One Umbrella”: Link to article: D. Designed for Extinction? Link to article: We have approximately 70 articles on our website underscoring the current condition of our Church. We invite each of you to read them carefully in order to educate yourself about the problems and implore you to start developing solutions.