By Margaret Karakas
As a middle aged 2nd generation Greek American, I find attending Orthodox services in our church today difficult for numerous reasons and on many levels. Don’t get me wrong, I love and embrace the rich Greek culture and the countless accomplishments and contributions ancient Greece, Byzantine and Hellenism have brought to our civilization. I don’t however, proudly wear those contributions to society on my shoulders for all to witness, command attention or obtain significance.
I grew up like many of you celebrating the Name Days of Patron Saints, learning technique and cooking wonderful Greek foods with my dear elders, participating in GOYA events through our local church, attending the Ionian Village Summer Camp as a teenager and observing special Orthodox holidays and traditions in our church and home with relatives, extended family and with both Greek and American friends alike. All are cherished memories for which I am truly grateful, as these experiences have enriched my life and bind us forever together as Orthodox brethren in Christ.
But being Greek and having the culture and traditions engrained within me aside, services within the Greek Orthodox, Antiochian or All Saints Church today fail to either spiritually inspire or draw me any closer into a personal relationship with God just because of my ethnicity.
Most importantly, I am a God loving Christian first, an American second, who is of Greek descent third. It’s time that the American Orthodox Church and the Archdiocese Hierarchy both in America and in Europe recognize the differences in order to remain relevant for future Orthodox descendants to retain the faithful following and attract new converts.
We are justified by the blood of the sacrificial lamb and God’s unmerited grace. Ethnicity, race, color, sex, wealth, financial success or failure, level of education or intelligence do not make us any more important, significant, better qualified or “special” in the eyes of our Father and Savior, as we are all created equal.
While I have met many fine Greek Orthodox Priests, Monks and Deacons who are indeed truly anointed with the spiritual calling, heart, compassion, empathy, wisdom and the gift of spreading the Word of God and embracing the faithful, I personally find the church and it’s liturgical doctrines, void of the Holy Spirit and His presence. Call me ignorant of my own upbringing and religion, mis-informed or perhaps uneducated by the failings of the GO Church to teach the faithful. My relationship with God is directly with Him, not through some intercessory icon, saint or religious organization.
Therefore, I humbly ask as my father does, but for a different purpose. My questions come from the heart of my soul within, as I listen to the Holy Spirit as He commands me to speak the truth in love and understanding (Mathew 23:27; Zechariah 8:16) as I write.
Simply put Dear Faithful,
Is this a church which pays homage to, praises, edifies, and glorifies Christ that He would have us build? Or, is this a church so deeply misguided, that it is deceived and maligned by the enemy of our soul which actually separates us from our Lord Savior, Jesus Christ?
This is where the divide between the opinions of my beloved 94-year-old father and I begin, and where our conversations at the dinner table become lively. Much to my father’s disappointment, I stopped regularly attending the Greek Church about 32 years ago when I moved from my hometown in the midwest. It was only when I began my own spiritual journey some 13 years later after meeting my 2nd husband, that I realized my fear and feelings are that the church long ago has lost the real focus of Christ and continues to replace God with ritualistic traditions and pet doctrines, with church activity and man-made written religious rules, rather than an emphasis on a relationship with our Lord through His Word and Scripture.
Religiosity is about making a religion one’s God and we are all called to follow Christ, not to promote a “Greek” or “Orthodox”, or any religion specifically. Religious beliefs and religion are what separate and divide countries and nations from a relationship with our Savior. Why else does religious persecution continue to exist today, but to demonize, divide and separate? Our rich cultural heritage, faith and Christianity is what should unite us all into one.
When we as followers give higher significance and importance to kings, rulers and governmental authority and place significance in people, idols, saints, shrines, temples and edifices rather than in God, we have forsaken our souls.
A new Archbishop who is not of American descent, church rules and protocol, proud ethnicity, ego, financial corruption shrouded in secrecy by an exclusively “sacred” male dominated “club”, abuse of ecclesiastical power, theft on a historic scale of the St. Nicholas Shrine funds, sexual crimes against GO Nuns and sexual immorality within the brother hood itself, which publicly denies crimes against unsuspecting parishioner children is anyone really listening or care??? These are the distractions of the enemy of our soul within the church designed to divide and drive us further away from our walk with Christ.
When the GO Church’s motivation to obey, or to be involved in religious activity is to “look good” or to “impress” others (Mathew 6:1), such as in the case of the St. Nicholas Shrine at Ground Zero, only to have the funds raised several times over for the shrine be stolen; misused in order to grease, pay off and perpetuate the corruption within the swamp of the Archdiocese and its far reaching governmental tentacles worldwide; and to “earn” our “respect” and place as a “religion,” rather than to love God and honor Him, we have bought into
When our ecclesiastical hierarchy and clergy continues to hide behind the veil of their regally embellished robes, ornately adorned high hats, long black robes, tall black hats, unkempt beards and clerical positions, the church has been defaced. Financially bankrupt monumental edifices are the exact antithesis of what our Heavenly Father I believe, would prefer. In Acts 17:22-25, Paul the Apostle went to preach to the Greeks and admonished them for their religious ways, objects of worship, altars and temples. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
Religiosity by the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day hung and crucified Jesus on the cross. For me personally, the man made rigid guidelines of the divine liturgy ritually preached every Sunday given in conjunction with communion prevent prophecy of the true movement of the Holy Spirit, the meaningful worship of tongues, and edification in the Orthodox Church today.
The mass exodus from not only my generation of Christian American Greeks, our children and other Orthodox Christian faithful have left the church in search of, and in greater understanding of the real meaning of living a righteous, Christ centered life where they can feel the spirit of the Lord, commune with Him more intimately, love thy neighbor regardless of race, place and ethnicity, read scripture and find true fulfillment in life abiding and serving God.
This is the homage we owe our Savior and the personal relationship HE desires from us all. Not the political, religious quarrelsome, power grabbing controversy of an antiquated hierarchy who serves not the interests of the Orthodox Faithful, but serves to maintain the status quo of their very own existence while living life traveling and dining and in lavish extravagance at the sole expense of the generous, loving and giving hearts of the beloved Orthodox Faithful.
As Christians, we must remember the reason for the Gospel:
We are all sinners saved by HIS grace into a life-giving relationship with our Creator (Ephesians 2:8; John 10:10). Engaging with God wholeheartedly (Mark 12:30), and following Christ is not about adding another weekly Sunday activity to our overcrowded agendas for the sake of adhering to ceremonial rituals. He completes, changes and renews us (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:3), so that we don’t just become Christians, we become His children (1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:14-17).
Services spoken in ancient Greek, which few comprehend, or in partial Greek-English, while cantors chant; all while the choir sings hymns in Greek triplicate repetition to organ music stringing services out from anywhere between 1 1/2 – 3 hours, don’t exactly inspire worshippers of today where sound bites longer than 37-40 minutes fall upon deaf ears.
Where is the upbeat, English contemporary praise and worship music searching for engagement with Christ? Even the English services spoken in the Antiochian Orthodox Church where triplicate repetition has been “thrown to the curb” in order to rush through a watered down, abbreviated version of the Divine Liturgy in an attempt to attract and retain the Faithful, doesn’t make me rejoice with feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I humbly ask, why is our church void of Bibles where we as a congregation can read and better understand written scripture? Instead, you will find only books of the Divine Liturgy written by man which in many instances actually contradict God’s written word itself. Where is the outreach of small cell groups in homes and the alter calls for the troubled, unsaved, in-firmed, the addicted and the afflicted? Don’t we as Christians want to lovingly welcome and extend our hands to help the downtrodden in need, both within and outside of the Orthodox Church?
Following Christ is about honoring Him as our God, not the religiosity of our Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Turkish, and Ethiopian, etc., Eastern Orthodox Church heritage. To paraphrase as Dean Popps wrote recently, “We don’t need the political hierarchy of Patriarchs, Bishops, Archbishops, Vicars, Archdiocesan Counsel, Patriarchate, Archons or Oligarchs to articulate the priorities and the way forward.” This in my humble opinion, is the root of the problem at hand of the great divide within the church and the diminishing Greek Orthodox Church Faithful followers.
The financial and political corruption, Archdiocese insolvency and the looming demise of the Greek Orthodox Church worldwide and in America along with the valuable properties on which the HCHC institution and other GO churches reside is of absolutely no surprise or coincidence to God. In the book of Revelation “In the end days, Christ is going to sanctify his bride”. Bride references the church and the cleansing of which will take place within. We are made in God’s loving image and as such, we are His disciples. The “church” resides within the hearts of each and everyone of us.
The GO Church must be allowed to fail first in order for it to be rebuilt, if at all. And only once it is in full alignment with God, His Commandments and Covenants, will it be sanctified, justified and allowed to flourish. “But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48). Simply translated, to whom much is given, much is expected.
Lord may you forgive our sins, ground us with humility, open our eyes, soften our hearts, keeps us attentive, so that we may seek and understand your divine will and the wisdom imparted by the Holy Spirit within to transform, renew and bring us into your righteous kingdom. May we continue to serve, honor, praise and bring glory to you for the sacrifices you have made on our behalf and the many blessings and gifts you bestow upon us by your unmerited grace and love. Praise be to the Lord. Amen.