At first we thought, “Why aren’t people seeing this?” (regarding what’s going on in our Church).
Aside from the valuable and welcomed converts into our faith, we now seem to be predominantly 3rd and 4th generation Greek Orthodox Christians in the United States. We grew up learning from good priests that wore suits and were clean-shaven. A few had beards. They usually wore suits outside of church services; rarely we saw them wearing robes. No problem so far.
Over the past years, we have been seeing American born Greek Orthodox Priests leaving our Metropolis to be replaced by other good men, but they are from overseas, and what we would consider “old world”. There is a cultural difference, but we still love each other. We know we have a shortage of priests. Perhaps there is no one else to bring. No problem, so far.
We have been seeing an extra ordinary amount of emphasis being placed on “the monastery, the monastery“. It is a part of Orthodox Spirituality. No problem, so far.
But now we are hearing of incredibly harsh penances given by the monks from 18 of the 20 monasteries in the G.O. Archdiocese (+/-). We are hearing, first hand mind you, of married couples being instructed to only have sex when they want to have a child, to have separate beds, and to live like brother and sister. We are hearing, again first hand, of this idea of “Aerial Toll Houses”, twenty of them, that our souls must pass through after death, where we are tested by demons, and if we fail, they drag our souls to hell. We have people that have told us that their parish priest instructed them to be re-baptized, and not chrismated Orthodox, even though they were Roman Catholic. They were told to keep it a secret because their priest would get in trouble if anyone found out. We are hearing that absolute and blind obedience to the elder or spiritual father guarantees salvation because it gives you a free pass through each toll house. Now we have a problem.
We are not going to argue each of those points because we feel their objections are self evident throughout canons and Holy Scripture, as well as logic and reason. We will say a bit about there is a healthy part of obedience inasmuch as it alludes to accountability. This is an important discipline – but not absolute and blind obedience – the kind that makes one think that you must predicate even innocuous business decisions (like “what location should I have my business?“, or, “can I buy a new car?“, or, “can I have sex with my husband or wife?” ). Houston, we now have a big problem.
We still see the struggle with “what language do we use?” But this seems to pale in importance when compared to the first hand accounts that are illustrated in the earlier paragraph that strikes at the core of who we are.
So our question is not “are people seeing this?” – they obviously do. So what is the question then? It might be “Why isn’t anyone doing something about this?”
We think that answer has several parts to it. First, how many baptisms have we been to, where the Godparents, specifically people that have been raised in the Church, do not even know the Creed yet?! So the answer begins with “Do we as Orthodox Christians really know our faith, and do we take it seriously?” We can continue this: Do we read scriptures regularly? Do we complement this pre-eminent scripture reading, with readings of the notable fathers of the church? Do we concern ourselves with true outreach, evangelizing, feeding the poor, stewardship? Do we pray? Do our families have at least one time a week at home where we pray together? Perhaps we do not understand what prayer really is. We get confused sometimes because some priests teach us that our extemporaneous prayers are not sufficient because they are not the words of the fathers. Excuse me, but prayer from my heart is no less legitimate than “reading” something, albeit sincere, from a lengthy prayer in a prayerbook. Why do the two have to compete? Aren’t they supposed to complement each other?
We need role models. Who are our role models in the Greek Orthodox Church? With this apparent need to identify with someone, are we now being taught to mimic women that wear head coverings, have no make up, and wear long frumpy dresses? Are we now being taught to mimic men that look like they belong in a monastery in Greece? We ask forgiveness for the good souls that happen to actually look like that. This is not in and of itself bad. However, the fact remains we do not have to look or dress like that in order to be very serious about our faith! When this becomes a litmus test of sincerity, then we have become Pharisees. It may be that our growth has been stunted by not being challenged to go beyond “superficialness” of various forms.
Perhaps this crisis will force us to look at ourselves and start getting a better understanding of who we are.
Maybe we haven’t done enough – clergy and laity together. Are we sidetracked or is the problem systemic? Our parish Priests feel great pressure from their Bishop/Metropolitan and their congregation (that must be a very lonely place for our Priests), the Laity feels spuriously controlled or condescended to by the Clergy, the Metropolitans may feel their Priests don’t listen to them or are inept, and that the lay people are a bunch that do not really know the faith. Additionally, if parishioners do not like what is happening, they hold back money. Some feel disconnected. Inevitably, financial pressures come upon the priest and hierarchs. What a landscape! All of these demographics (laity, priests, hierarchs) start polarizing, and the unity of the community of the faithful becomes handicapped.
Then comes a beacon of hope. In this context that took decades to evolve into a perfect storm, someone comes onto the scene that embraces our estranged and isolated priests, that subsidizes our Metropolises with gifts that form grandiose monasteries, someone that inspires the disenfranchised parishioner, someone that is billed as our own alleged Saint! Our answer! Could the soil not have been more fertile for this to happen?
Now the message of Orthodoxy has become austere. So much that “seeking the sheep that was lost” has been replaced with “if you are not serious about being Orthodox, then go away.”
Houston (or Constantinople), we have a problem.
America is only now begining to witness the manifestation of Greek Orthodox Monasteries. The mysterious “other worldliness” of them is compelling. Monasteries innately carry with them a message of peace and spiritual connectedness. They offer the legitimate idea of a spiritual retreat for pilgrims that can get away for a short period to recharge themselves. This is the ideal and the hope for those isolated, disillusioned, and even disenfranchised. But it appears these monasteries have a hidden agenda to promote their understanding of a monastic mode of spirituality upon America’s Orthodox faithful.
The question is not “if” people are seeing it, but “why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?”.
Our people are basically good. Our Priests and Hierarchs, are basically good. Sure we can all point out exceptions here and there. But we think that good people don’t want problems. Good people want to give others “the benefit of the doubt.” Good people do not want to feel like they are going against those whom they were taught to respect all of their life. Good Clergy and Laity do not wish to make problems. Well, then we may be condemned as bad people because we are writing this. But if it helps our Church see what is happening, exploitation, then call us what you may.
Go beyond your comfort zone. Write letters to your Hierarchs, but copy them to the Archbishop in New York, and our Patriarch please. Be brave to stand up for the love that our Church has to give to the world. You, men and women of our beautiful Greek Orthodox Church, can do that while wearing a smile, make-up, after-shave, Gucci, Polo, or just Levis . But make sure you do it all with love.
What You Can Do Now:
Write to your Metropolitan but send copies to the Archbishop in New York, and our Patriarch. This will ensure your concerns do not get lost in the shuffle and are actually dealt with.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
8-10 East 79th St. New York, NY 10075
Tel: (212) 570-3500 Fax: (212) 774-0251
His All-Holiness BARTHOLOMEW
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
342 20 Fener- Haliç
Tel.: +90 212 5319670 – 6
Fax: +90 212 5349037
Thank you for your witness. Remember to pray for our Church. There is power there.