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Parish Council Resigns Amidst Hierarch-Clergy “Bullying”and Issues

As if the community has not suffered enough, a parish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church- had their Parish Council resign citing clergy “bullying” emanating from its hierarchical clergy leadership.

This is another sad episode in the life of this parish.  A court found one of its previous priests, Fr. James Dokos, guilty of basically stealing/embezzling money – reportedly hundreds of thousands –  from a trust.  Prior to litigation, when this was reported to the Metropolis, Bishop Demetri (the Chancellor of the Chicago Metropolis) indicated that Fr Dokos did nothing wrong.  Records indicate that Bishop Demetri received money from this priest, and did not recuse himself.  The replacement priest, Fr. Angelo Artemas, appears to have been punished by the Hierarchs of Burton Place (Metropolis of Chicago HQ), because he did not make the issue “go away” and actually sided with the parish community.  Fr. Artemas was removed from the parish and is no longer in the Chicago Metropolis. Google search this and see how this dreadful horror show unfolded, as reported by various media outlets. Here is one example:

After Dokos was charged, a prosecutor in Milwaukee had warned Bishop Demetrios against “potential efforts to intimidate witnesses” —
an apparent reference to his impending removal of the Milwaukee priest, the Rev. Angelo Artemas.
– The Chicago Tribune, Feb. 26th 2016 by Robert McCoppin

And now, 9 members of the Parish Council have resigned, citing that the bullying has produced a crippling tension that has stultified its ministry.  It is important to note that these are lifelong members of the parish, as evident in the resignation letter. There appear to be many examples of incompetent, self-serving and unwise leadership issues on behalf of the Hierarchs:

“You know the Greek expression, the fish rots from the head?     
Well that’s what’s going on here.
Jim Gottreich, former President of the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Council, Glenview, IL
removed by Bishop Demetri (per Chicago Tribune, Feb. 23, 2016 by John Kass)

As if a “domino effect” were taking place, Fr. Dokos was re-assigned after the Annunciation Church, to Saints Peter and Paul.  The community was not happy and voiced their concerns through the person of its elected official, Jim Gottreich, Parish Council President.  He was removed. They suffered too.

And now this:  lifelong members resigning.  You know what this means?  It means there is more trouble ahead for the Greek Orthodox in America.  We know many individuals have left the Greek Orthodox Chicago Metropolis, and beyond.  Now we have official church entities calling it quits.  It appears that the heart and spirit of these communities are being broken, torn down, and highly disrespected.  Out of self-respect, why would they want to remain?  They carried the burden a long time because of their love for their community.  But enough is enough.  Not that any Hierarch appears to actually care of course. One can almost hear a self-deluding thought that might be resonating in the smug space between their ears, “they’ll be back.”  God help our Church.

by associate editor of We Are Orthodox – Mr. Steve Johnson

Life long members of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, WI, resign amidst “bullying”.

The Heresey, Falsehood, & Lie of Aerial Toll Houses

The tollhouses. Fresco in the Monastery of St. John of Rila, Bulgaria.

Brothers & Sisters,

I wrote in another area of the esteemed “Orthodox Christian Laity” website, http://ocl.org in a section entitled “Tradition Without Fundamentalism“, concerning the deleterious effects that the “Ephraimite” style of Monasteries are having upon the cross-jurisdictional parish communities in the United States. In the section “Resolutions Relating to Monasteries Adopted by the OCL”  I spoke to one item in particular, the Aerial Toll House heresy, that the Ephraimite Monasteries are actively promoting. They even just published a 1000 page book teaching this heresy. I am reprinting this here on We Are Orthodox.

In a nutshell, the false teaching alleges that upon death, the soul undergoes a journey through a number of “Toll Houses” where the demons of Hell examine particular sins of the person at each toll house. If the person can successfully give an account , then he/she can pass through and go to the next Toll House. If a person can pass through each Toll House, THEN they can proceed to Paradise. Ephraimites teach that “Blind obedience” to your priest, abbot, spiritual father, will give you a free pass through these Toll-houses. One can easily imagine how that could be exploited by self-aggrandizing ilks of base character.

This falsehood, indeed this heresy, this lie, completely insults Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us. This falsehood, this heresy, this lie, puts the demons as our judge, and not the Lord. This falsehood, this heresy, this lie, dismisses the incredible phenomenon known as “grace”. Each liturgy we pray for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ – not the demons. Christ is our judge. And when we all face Him (indeed an intense event) our only defense, our only hope, is being released on a technicality – for what excuse can we give for sinning? Adam tried blaming Eve as his excuse. Didn’t work for him. It won’t work for us. Our only hope then is the technicality known as Divine Grace, through which (as scripture clearly states) we are saved. Indeed, as Orthodox Christians, this should not be news to us. There is no teaching of Aerial Toll Houses in Scripture, in Canons, in the Funeral Service, etcetera.

The proponents of this heresy clearly show their ego by:
1. Distorting Scripture to suggest that this teaching is there.
2. Using vague and ambiguous statements from certain saints to suggest “the Fathers and Saints teach this”

In some sense, they use this as a type of secret knowledge of what awaits us. This is a modern-day form of the Gnostic heresy.

I could go on. But let me only highlight on last item. The Monastery in Florence, AZ just published a book that is over 1000 pages long, alleging that Aerial Toll Houses are true and part of Orthodox beliefs. I don’t think doctoral dissertations are that long. To make matters worse, there are Orthodox Hierarchs that have foolishly given their endorsement of the book – as printed therein. This does not represent the dogma of the Orthodox Christian Church.

Let me predict something: The Protestant Church leadership (or some other Christian denomination) will get a hold of that book, and there will begin a campaign alleging that Orthodox Christians believe salvation is in the hands of demons. If you think people have left our Church now – “you aint seen nuthin’ yet!” There will be a profound exodus of people that is beyond what is already happening. Even those who think that this is merely a metaphor, or “theologoumenon” should re-evaluate and not give such credit to this profound insult and distortion. This heresy should not be given a foolish “de facto” endorsement either.

Here is a scholarly document refuting this teaching.  There are 3 links, the last being for commercial purposes if it is being read by more than 1 person (as in a classroom setting):

http://www.weareorthodox.com/usersubmissions/Nicholas-Constas-Fr-Maximos-To-Sleep-Per-chance-to-dream-dp55ch06.pdf

or https://www.doaks.org/resources/publications/dumbarton-oaks-papers/dop55/dp55ch06.pdf

or for commercial use: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1291814?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

The Dumbarton Oaks Papers are held in very high esteem amongst scholarly circles. While profane people like me point to simple and obvious truths, this scholarly approach by Dr. Nicholas Constas (now known as the Priest-Monk Maximos from Mount Athos) examines every minutia of detail and presents his conclusion that this is a false teaching.

I honor and respect the Parish Community as a place and source of holiness. I also honor and respect the same in unadulterated and healthy Monasticism (as is the case with the deeply respected Priest-Monk Maximos, and others). That is why I will speak out on anything that is of concern. I believe it is my responsibility as a human to speak the truth. Otherwise I would feel guilty of passively allowing a falsehood to continue. Please join me in addressing this. Do not be afraid to speak the Truth, even when it is uncomfortable. I read somewhere that: “Truth plus one person equals the majority”. That may take time, but that is the side I choose to be on. Ultimately the masses will discover that. The Lord knows. May He send us the Grace we need to overcome this evil challenge as we have historically overcome other ones. I believe the Lord does that through people like you and me.

Respectfully,
Steve Johnson