The Death of a Believer

By dogcatcher on September 6th, 2014
by Mrs. xxxxxxxx   At a funeral that I was at recently I noticed some telling signs that speak volumes about the discouraging condition of our Greek Orthodox Church in America. It made me think of the Church when we were growing up and how it has changed so much. This man’s death was heartbreak. The man that died was middle aged and had succumb to a sudden and completely unexpected heart attack. I arrived to the funeral home and made my way the chapel for his service. I noticed that about 110 or so people that attended were predominantly middle aged, with many on them on the younger side of that. Most of them seemed like educated and professional people. As far as I could tell there were only 2 older men there that had a Greek accent. This being a point or observation of some significance, as I felt that I had to analyze and study the attendees. I noticed that most of the people there did their cross in a typical Orthodox fashion. I also observed that some did not do their cross at all. I knew the family and but few others. I wondered why so few of these did not regularly attend the local Greek Orthodox Church that is my Parish. Then I remembered that this family was very hurt a few years ago when the beloved Priest of their community was illogically moved to a Parish 40 miles to the south. I consider this the grieving family’s first tragedy because of how it changed their perception of the Church and the Faith. This was a tragedy entirely produced by our Church and it’s Hierarch. Both the Priest and the community did not want this transfer. So this family that is now in the throes of personal tragedy has this funeral service very much negatively affected by this earlier tragedy. Even with the passage of time, the greater Parish community is still reeling from the shared “death” felt by all, with the transfer of this beloved Priest. As I sat quietly, it became crystal clear that this transfer would dictate the events that surrounded this funeral. The service that ensued shook me so that I had to share this story. What caught my eye next was a middle aged man that walked up near the casket. He looked like others there, in that he wore a suit and tie. He looked like a layman, yet the Funeral Director introduced him as “Father”. This man then put on a simple black robe, but did not wear the priestly “stole” that hangs down from their necks. He then asked everyone to rise as he did the most beautiful funeral service I have ever witnessed as a Greek Orthodox Christian. It seemed to be condensed from what I was used to, but it could have been just a perception because the service was simply and elegantly done. He spoke to us in a real and “connected” way. He touched us. He inspired us. He brought us great comfort. I wished he was my Priest! This act of kindness by him caused my mind to race with thoughts. I felt that I needed to know more so I asked the family. The family told me they could not get a Priest to do the service so they asked him to. They told me that they were very pleased with his words and deeds. I was equally thankful they found him. That of course led to more thoughts and questions playing in my mind. I asked myself why this man was no longer a Priest. So finding more courage I decided to ask him. I introduced myself and mistakenly called him “Father”. Then to my surprise he corrected me and said that I could call him by his first name, and not “Father”. I asked why. He explained that he made a decision of his own free will to leave the Priesthood because he was divorced. I told him that our current Parish Priest is divorced, and why hasn’t he left? He told me he (himself) did not have to leave, but he wanted to because he did not wish to remain celibate. He hopes to remarry one day. He said that he tells people not to address him as “Father” anymore but they still do. I guess that would be similar to a Congressman or a Judge who left their position, but are still referred to by the title as a gesture of appreciation for their service. Well, even though he told me not to, I continued to call him “Father”. All of this got me to thinking about our Church and its future. How many tragedies can one see in one day? In one day I witnessed the burial of a beloved family member, a death blow to a community, a death sentence to a connected and inspiring leader. Now we have what I have witnessed first hand in my passage through our Faith, the Ephraimite problem – a fundamentalist movement that I believe suffocates who we are and distorts our beliefs and our common sense. What is happening in our Church? I started to think about our Clergy; I conclude that many (but not all) of the Clergymen and Hierarchs strike me as being pre-occupied with superficial external forms, and communicate in platitudes. But I confess, I might be biased from my own experiences. I am a very verbal person. With that, I believe that I speak for many who see our Church as moving in the wrong direction. Nowhere is it more evident than the damage being done by the carriers of the beliefs of the Ephraimites. As I spoke to others there afterwards, I began to see how many of them had “throwing in the towel” as their personal reaction to this growing Fundamentalist movement in the Church. I see people as not being ignorant about the problem, there is always hesitancy in discussing it openly. But think about this funeral without a Priest. Is this the future direction of the Church? Will we now have our Clergy separate us into the believer category that gets a Priest for a funeral and the nominal category that doesn’t? Would a professional person in our Greek Orthodox community have been buried without a Priest in attendance 20 years ago? I know that as laymen we can all pray and read simple prayers in these situations. Prayers can and should be said by all – not just the clergy. On top of this, I am convinced that 20 or 30 years ago you would have never seen this much alienation from our Church; so much so, that a family had to ask a former Priest to say prayers for their departed. I believe so many of us are abandoning the Church, but NOT abandoning our Faith. We have now entered a new era and reality about our Faith. This new era for North American Orthodox Christianity was introduced by the Ephraimite movement. For the victims of this toxic movement, this new reality dictates that our Faith that can now be practiced without a Priest or a Parish. All of these events lead me to believe that our Church is heading in a direction that will increasingly be led by a Theology based upon this distorted (if not perverted) form of ultra-fundamentalist Monasticism. I am not against Monasticism – but I am against anything that is distorted and claims to be wholesome. We are in trouble! Lately I have come to believe that the “body of Christ” as witnessed by our Church has been seriously infected with these fundamentalist distortions. I now find myself wondering if salvation is possible within the Greek Orthodox Church. That might seem like a drastic statement, but be assured I trust more in the grace of Jesus Christ. I had to write this though. I need to get this message out there. I do not believe I am the only one that is seeing this! Perhaps this is also my own catharsis to reconcile the pain that I saw today. A community has suffered, a family lost a loved one, and I contemplated the pain of this man who was comforting, connected, and positive. The big picture began to take a sharper focus today. Will the Greek Orthodox Church in America be a bastion for “hatching, matching, and dispatching”? In other words, a place where people become baptized, married, and then buried? Where is the connection to everyday life? Why do so many Greek Orthodox Christians that I know attend other Christian denominations? “Let the dead bury the dead” is what Jesus spoke to the man who wanted to follow Jesus but asked to bury his father first. I pray that it was not a prophetic statement that addresses what the Greek Orthodox Church is becoming today. EDITORS NOTES: Here, the author of this article contacted us and wished to express concerns about the Church and the Ephraimite movement. We all share the concerns expressed by the author and see darker days ahead for our Church. We often discuss the lack of concern exhibited by the Hierarchy responsible for the author’s parish and worldwide to the diminishing condition of the institution of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. But in fairness to our readers, this was written by a parishioner in an area of the United States with an extreme Ephraimite problem and multiple Monasteries under the “spiritual” direction of the Ephraimite Hierarchy, even to the point of carrying a great deal of influence over the Metropolitan that allegedly governs this Metropolis.