As one looks within the life of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, he will witness disunity, disagreement, and even enmity among some members of the clergy and the laity. Thankfully, these are only blemishes on the countenance of the Church. The Holy Spirit Who presides over the Church here and everywhere will not allow the Bride of Christ to be in any danger of unnecessary harm.
We know that from the Apostolic age the Church has been attacked from outside enemies but also from within. Saint John, the Apostle of love, testifies, saying, "Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us (1 John 2:18-19)." These words obviously apply to the false prophets of our day.
Even so, it is a sad testimony that, in less than one hundred years from the time when the yoke of foreign oppression was lifted from the Orthodox lands of the Balkans during the first part of the twentieth century, a yoke that lasted well over four hundred years, some of us do not seem to find or to rediscover the spirit of love and union which have been the main ingredients in establishing an esoteric peace among ourselves and rejoicing in the life of the Church. On the contrary, we appear to react negatively to anything that is not to our liking or way of thinking regarding the Church.
True, there are certain situations within the Archdiocese which are problematic and which can be considered essentially significant. But does anyone have the right to subject the Church of Christ to worldly or civil courts, for example? Is Christ to be placed under the yoke of Caesar again, but this time through legal procedures, rather than war? Or should it not be, as our Lord says through the Apostle Paul, that we should not sue our brethren (1 Corinthians 6:1-8) and force them to appear in civil courts? How ironic that Paul speaks to the Greek Corinthians regarding civil lawsuits. Could some cradle Orthodox have inherited this heretical flaw in their lives?
For several years, individuals, groups, and organizations, comprised of faithful members of our parishes, have gone public in order to redress matters that appear to be unfair or inequitable to some within the Archdiocese. I firmly believe that we, the clergy, have at times unwittingly influenced the emergence of such behavior in the life of the Church. We have not been the Servant-leaders in imitation of our Lord, but have acted contrary to the spirit of Christ. There is no doubt that the operational word, control, is the culprit which creates dissension and turmoil in our parishes. Both clergy and laity have fallen into this pit called control. This divisive spirit is responsible for changing our vocabulary from "we" to "them and us". Here we can again allude to Saint Paul and ask, "Is Christ divided?," from his very words to the Greeks of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
The fact of the matter, and the irony, is that all who express concern for the Church "the them and the us" do want to see the best for the Church and our holy faith. Those who are in the controversial lay organizations, I believe, love the Church. They must not be considered enemies or outsiders, although some of them appear to be by their vitriolic language and antagonistic behavior. By the same token, some clergy opposing these groups do not act any better. In regard to such behavior, it is difficult not to think of the words of Christ our Lord when He says, "... the time is coming when whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God (John 16:2)." I certainly cannot believe that anyone of the faithful would ever come to this point, although I can attest to the fact that in the past my life has been threatened by Greek Orthodox individuals. Did they mean it? Many parents have said the same thing to their mischievous children, besides being "boiled," "ripped apart," and "slaughtered." In respect to me, I do not believe that they wish to contribute to my sainthood, if they still feel the way they once did.
I am amazed that, from 1977, when we received that charter, no one, to my knowledge, ever referred to it for any reason until the current one was prepared by the Archdiocese committee and presented to the Patriarchate and then sent back to us. And I am equally convinced that, once the present crisis is over, at least 80% of our people will say, "Do we have a new charter? Oh, that's nice."
Our real problem as an Archdiocese is the fact that, for the past twenty or so years, the Archdiocese budget has been lower than the budgets of several of our largest parishes. Is it not embarrassing that, with over 500 parishes, the Archdiocese budget is smaller than the budgets of individual parishes? Does this not bother us? How can we, as a major faith in this country, accomplish even limited achievements with such shamefully low income? Am I the only one who feels embarrassed?
For over fifty years, we, Greek Orthodox Christians, have not allowed ourselves to put more than a one-dollar bill in the narthex for a candle or in the offering tray at the end of the Divine Liturgy. Is this our way of preserving our "unchanging" traditions? The poor one-dollar bill has nowhere to go but to church, while his older brothers, the ten-dollar, the twenty-dollar, and the one-hundred-dollar bills go to night clubs, race tracks, adult movies, country clubs, jewelry stores, and other such exciting places, not to mention the river boats and the gambling casinos.
If all of us, clergy and laity, are serious about our faith and truly desire to live forever in God's Kingdom, it may be necessary to back up to the time when our Church emerged from the centuries-old slavery in the 1800s, to reflect on the abject sufferings and sacrifices of our forbearers, to offer heart-rending thanks and gratitude to God, to express love for one another, and to pray earnestly "for the union of all," as our petition to God beseeches.
It is time to put childish behavior away and to realize that the Church which our Lord established through His death and resurrection is not ours, but His. We are only passengers in His Ark of Salvation, if we want to be; and we can have the assurance that, as His obedient sons and daughters, we will be under His Kingship forever. It is time, moreover, to shine the indestructible light of Orthodoxy, the glorious Light Who is our Lord Jesus Christ, to those around us, relatives and friends, yes, and even strangers who are in spiritual darkness, who are seeking the life-giving light of salvation, helping them in their journey and pilgrimage to the eternal harbor of grace, mercy, and love. This is our purpose. This must be our basic concern. Therefore let us put the childish quarreling away from us. Then we will live by the holy petition, "... for the stability of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all," thereby glorifying our holy ancestors who suffered and died for so many centuries, so that we today may enter into their eternal heritage.
October 6, 2003