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Honoring Celibacy – yet still not evidence of Character

Ambrose’s work “On Virgins” is beautiful. For those clergymen that actually were Virgins when they were ordained Celibate, I applaud and revere them. Even the one’s that were not but remained pure afterward, I applaud their beautiful commitment also, that witnesses to Christ and His Gospel.

As for my comments on Celibacy, you (and maybe others) misread my spirit. This is commonplace with regard to online comments like the ones here.

I acknowledge that any normal human being that chooses to make the faithful step of being ordained celibate, is truly making a huge sacrifice. Respect should be given.

Being, and remaining, celibate is a sacrifice with the intent to pursue a truly spiritual life. I think St. Paul refers to it as being like the Angels.

It is not, however, something that should be used as evidence of accomplished authority and knowledge. And while it might be an indicator of a proven character, it is not a litmus test for character, nor character necessarily itself.

The same can be said for marriage. It is a beautiful state. The union of 2 people is a sacrament of the Church ordained by God. The crowns that the bridal couple put on are the crowns of martyrdom. You really give up living for yourself.

Celibacy is not proof of being a loving priest, anymore than being married is.
Celibacy is not proof of being extra holy, anymore than being married is.
Holiness can be found in the Monastery.
Holiness can be found in the local parish too.

There are examples of “celibate” priests that are scandalously disgusting. The same can be said for a few married priests too. Conversely, there are examples of celibate priests that are a deep inspiration and manifest the loving presence of Christ. The same can be said for some married priests too.

I do not think it reasonable to start saying one priest is better than another because he is married or celibate. How low have we sunk to start judging the holiness of a man because he is celibate or married?

I believe that part of the reason our Church is in such a turmoil is because of the following:

1. We have a critical absence of true Hierarchical leadership that proactively involves itself with issues of today in a substantive manner. “Feed my sheep” the Lord said to Peter. We get platitudes and cliches, not nutritious enough. I am saddened to say that I would not want any of my sons to emulate any of our Hierarchs. Had our Hierarchs been parish priests for 20 or 30 years, I feel they would have a keener understanding of their flock, and the real world we all live in, and therefore would have been a better leader.

2. Spiritual arrogance has run rampant in our Church under the banner of Ephraim’s movement, which does NOT represent true Athonite Monasticism. Ephraim’s monasteries have undermined the local parish. The irrational excuse is that this-or-that clergymen at the parish is not spiritual enough. Had Ephraim and his followers just had their monasteries and not undermine the local parish, and, exploit and divide us, I don’t think there would have been any problem. But this was not the case. The line was drawn with statements such as “only true Orthodox Christians worship like Ephraim and his followers” For the sake of brevity, I will refer to them as fundamentalists. This arrogance and divisiveness has done a great disservice to our Lord’s Church.

3. People have left our Church in disgust because of the uncanonical and unscriptural teaching of Aerial Tollhouses that insults the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It dismisses the notion of Divine Grace. It is not in the funeral service. It is not in the Liturgy. It is a notion that is not Christian. Fr. Maximos Constas is clearly against it. Common sense and logic see it for the nonsense it is. It has so little credibility that obscure citations are made and mischaracterized as “universal”. Our Church has very few proclaimed Ecumenical Fathers and Theologians. Fr. Rose is not one of them. I do not disrespect his piety. Nor do I disrespect the piety of any Saint, no matter how obscure. But the Church has not always agreed with the writings of every saint that ever existed. In typical fashion, our Hierarchs are woefully silent and inarticulate on this and other real matters.

4. I started speaking up against the Ephraimite Fundamentalist movement and its many outspoken arrogant adherents because of their critical and judgmental statements. When asked to go deeper, their arguments are self-referencing, circular, or just ridiculous. As evidenced with some statements I have read here, they cannot articulate a deep thought with substance. I am not speaking about the sincere pious ones that attend a monastery service. I am talking about the big-mouths that like to condemn clergy and laity alike.

I have witnessed these people damage their own families and divide communities with their shallow and myopic arrogant statements. Not one of those people could ever hold a candle to the accomplishments of Mr. Stotis, and yet they assassinate his character with great zeal and vigor. Disgusting. I see what kind of Christians they are. They have shown me.

I am short and pointed with them, because I do not like loud mouthed bullies that are basically stupid. They have no clue how blessed our Church was to have men like Mr. Stotis.

Mr. Stotis was personally asked by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios to serve on the Archdiocesan Council, to participate on the Monastery Review Committee, and help our Church address some of its problems. Mr. Stotis is a remarkably successful businessman, trial attorney, bank founder with stellar reviews, Greek basketball team owner, and CEO/Partner of a large reverse logistics company where just one of its buildings is over 600,000 square feet. Here we have a man that has excelled in life, and the self-possessed and self-acclaimed super-Orthodox cast his name out as evil, when they should be grateful that such a man wants to serve our Church. He is not celibate, but has been married to his one and only wife of many years, and has raised a beautiful family. I did my homework. That is more than his critics could say. Mr. Stotis is a man of faith and action. I hope my sons turn out like him.

How many other such people, like Mr. Stotis, have we chased away? Wait, I can here their predictable rationalizations “oh but we are not the ‘country-club’ Orthodox”. What bullies and character assassins! Yeah, we have chased away a lot of people – just look at the Pew report. Of course “they are not Orthodox” could be their rebuttal. I would reply, your doctor (or surgeon) is probably not either. I know who I would go to in a time of need. As for our Church’s time of dire need, may our Lord save us.

Epiphany 2018 and the Revelation of GOA Clericalism

For the past 114 years, the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, Florida, has been a cooperative effort of the hard working members of the local church of St. Nicholas Cathedral, and also a great deal of assistance from the local city government.  Unfortunately the cooperative relationship was dealt a harsh blow this year when the Parish Council and the Epiphany Committee of the St. Nicholas Cathedral (with the guidance, leadership, blessings and support of Fr. Haros and Metropolitan Alexios, the only Hierarch present this year) decided to prohibit laymen (politicians in particular)  from standing on the platform that overlooks the bayou where the young men dive for the Cross, thus breaking the long standing practice of clergy and lay leaders being together. Amidst a downward trend of the membership in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), this is another sad day.

In a dramatic scene, as the Mayor of the City (the host) tried to go up the few steps to go on to the viewing stand (as has been the practice for the past 114 years), in full view of Metropolitan Alexios and Fr Haros, he was physically blocked by a councilman and prohibited.  Also prohibited from being present on the viewing stand were U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the Counsel General of Greece, Mr. Dimitrios Sparos, and others civic leaders.

There were 2 reasons given for prohibiting these laymen from being on the viewing stand – safety and liturgical protocol. Both of these reasons are highly suspect.  Because it was cited as a “liturgical event” it was concluded that only clergy should be there. Yet the Holy Water was already blessed in the Church. One is left to wonder how this was indeed liturgically exclusive to clergy only.   In previous years when there actually were numerous people, many of the lower ranked clergy and general laity refrained from being on the viewing stand.  To state that this prohibition of laymen on the viewing stand was purely a safety decision, vividly appears inaccurate, if not suspect.  According to one city official, the Tarpon Springs Police Department and the Tarpon Springs Fire Department have not issued any official statements regarding safety concerns (thereby prohibiting laymen), even though it was suggested in the Church’s bulletin that they did. To add insult to injury, there were at least 3 laymen on the viewing stand, they were not politicians. Politicians and lay leaders appeared to be the target of this exclusion.

The Church’s bulletin suggested that it did not want anyone with “titles” by their name to be grand-standing in order to be seen. However it appears that the clergy themselves gave the appearance of grandstanding.  Dozens of priests are not needed for this simple event. After all, this is not a divine liturgy, nor a sacrament, but a simple service wherein only laymen were targeted for exclusion.The question then arises: is this the onset of clericalism in the GOA?  Is clericalism a by-product of the fundamentalism that has swept the GOA?  Is this the reason attendance is so dreadfully down since the onset of fundamentalism? It appears that clericalism has now reared its divisive head. We will will lose more membership.  It is sad.

In one fell swoop, the peace of the community of St. Nicholas Cathedral was stained and will inevitably result in a divided, if not polarized, community. It has already begun. Some support what happened. Some do not.  The net result is division.  When frivolous and ridiculous positions like this are made, enthusiasm deteriorates and even more people will leave the Church. Pew research has already reported that the GOA national membership is down about 37% over the past 5 years.  This will only make matters worse.

It is one thing to verbally proclaim that “we are one”, but if the Church starts alienating people, especially elected officials who are the representatives and the servants of the people, a rift is made in the community and it will only get worse. City Councilmen are not pleased with what happened, neither is anyone else. After all, tax-payer dollars were used.  Consideration, one would think, should have been shown by Cathedral.

One would think that this action MUST have had the blessing of the Dean of the Cathedral, Fr. Haros, and also his superior, Metropolitan Alexios. It is foolish to think otherwise.  The Church has many examples of communities ripped apart by priests who are subsequently transferred while the community is left to try and pick up the pieces, and hopefully, heal. Epiphany 2018 has revealed the gaping disconnect of our ordained leaders from the laymen entrusted to their spiritual care. It seems to many that this disconnect reveals a self-aggrandizing clerical ego emanating from our executive leaders. This kind of stubborn insistence appears to be born more of insecurity and pride, than matters of safety and protocol.

The question is then naturally raised as to the caliber of the clergy today, and especially the Hierarchs who direct them.  By the way, the day started with Divine Liturgy, where the police were called to remove a priest from the Altar, who did not have the Metropolitan’s permission to be there.  They also removed his son who is a chanter.  While we are not taking a position here on who is right and who is wrong, we can all agree that this day of festivities was tarnished from the beginning.

While Epiphany (aka Theophany) is very much about the revelation of the Holy Trinity, this year revealed just how broken we are, clergy and laity alike.

Yianni Pappas