By Robert Arakaki

On 10 November 2021, Lawrence Wheeler posted on his blogsite Handwritings on the Wall (weborthodox.com) a forceful and eloquent essay about his reasons for cutting ties with GOARCH. One of the best lines in the article was:

When I became Orthodox, I committed myself to Holy Tradition. I am endeavoring to remain committed to that Tradition.

The article was written from the standpoint of a conscientious Orthodox Christian, not from a personal agenda. It is apparent from the article that Mr. Wheeler has wrestled long and hard with the decision to leave the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOARCH). For many people, changing churches can be deeply unsettling, creating emotional wounds that take a long time to heal. One ought not to leave a parish unless there are good, compelling reasons for doing so.

 

 

In this blog posting, I reflect on the possible consequences of Mr. Wheeler’s departure for GOARCH. I suspect that there are many other people within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese who are struggling with these issues of conscience. Mr. Wheeler’s article “It’s Time to Go” lists several issues: (1) Patriarch Bartholomew’s neo-Papist ecclesiology and his controversial intervention in Ukraine, (2) Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Elpidophoros’ ecumenical interactions with the non-Orthodox (Roman Catholics and Episcopalians), and (3) the way the Metropolis of San Francisco and local parishes have responded to the public health measures imposed by civil authorities. One does not have to be in agreement with all the issues raised by Mr. Wheeler, but some are significant enough and problematic enough to raise questions about GOARCH’s canonicity.

 

So, what are the possible cascading consequences?

  • Diminishing parish resources—The loss of conscientious Orthodox Christians like Mr. Wheeler will weaken local parishes. These people are hardworking, financially generous, and well-informed about Orthodoxy. These include godly cradle-Orthodox and recent converts, both of whom sincerely love Christ and his Church. Local parishes can expect to see a slight but noticeable reduction in financial giving or volunteers available to fill leadership roles or provide manpower for parish programs. The loss of their perspectives will diminish the quality of discussion about Orthodoxy.
  • More inward-looking parishes—The diminished influx of converts will change the internal dynamic of local parishes. Converts represent new blood that invigorates the local parish with their enthusiasm and their different take on things. The local parish leadership may become more inward looking, more concerned with institutional survival than advancing the kingdom of God. Parishes may revert to their ethnic roots rather than being a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17).
  • More nominal leadership—Desperate to fill leadership slots, parish councils may end up becoming comprised of nominal Orthodox whose thinking is shaped by secular culture than faith in God. The parish leadership may become indifferent to the historic teachings of Orthodoxy and to godly living. In addition, struggling parishes may find themselves beholden to those with deep pockets with personal interests. It will become harder for parish priests to shepherd the flock along the lines of historic Orthodoxy. The diligent priest may find himself more a religious functionary paid to perform religious rituals than a holy priest who administers the life-giving Mysteries of Christ. For example, the parish priest needs the approval of the metropolis in order to impose disciplinary measures for major transgressions. Yet, there are reports of the hierarchs being reluctant to approve the appropriate discipline despite the recommendation of the local priest. One wonders if this is because the metropolis is afraid of alienating its ethnic base or losing the favor of a wealthy benefactor.
  • Radicalization of GOARCH—The loss of Orthodox Christians zealous for upholding historic Orthodoxy will make it easier for those who are supportive of false ecumenism to advance their agenda inside GOARCH. In other words, we can expect to see the Patriarchate of Constantinople and GOARCH to take more extreme and scandalous steps towards false union with Rome and other religions. Within modern Orthodoxy there has been a dynamic tension between living in the modern world and holding fast to the Ancient Faith. The recent actions by the Patriarch of Constantinople and the GOARCH leadership are destabilizing this internal tension, resulting in a growing polarization within GOARCH, and between GOARCH and the other Orthodox jurisdictions.
  • Scandal and shame—If word gets out that people are leaving GOARCH, then prospective converts and inquirers may begin to steer clear of GOARCH-affiliated parishes. People may start to advise their friends to visit Antiochian, OCA, or ROCOR parishes, but avoid Greek Orthodox parishes. This will pose a major problem for outreach and evangelism among Greek Orthodox parishes. The scandal and shame of disunity will make it harder to convince the non-Orthodox that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church. The shame and scandal of disunity will fall not just on GOARCH but on all the other jurisdictions within the United States. For those of us who have discovered the Pearl of Great Price in Orthodoxy and who desire to see the spread of Orthodoxy within American society, this is truly a distressing state of affairs.

 

Stay or Leave?

So, what does one do if the building is on fire but the room one is in is still untouched? One option is to pull the fire alarm. But what does one do if the fire alarm is pulled and no fire truck pulls up? What does one do if one calls 911 and no one takes the call? Then, the time comes to seriously think about leaving the room and exiting the building. Should one leave quietly or should one lead a group as well? The danger of staying is that one could end up being trapped in a raging inferno.

The hour is late, but not too late. There is still time for the clergy and hierarchs within GOARCH and from the other jurisdictions to speak out against the scandalous statements by Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Elpidophoros. My suggestion is that clergy and hierarchs call for an American council to be convened in the next year or so (2022 to 2023) to discuss the current state of affairs that bear upon Orthodoxy in America. Rather than each parish and diocese echoing the position of their respective mother church in the Old World, we need a unified American Orthodox position on the Ukrainian situation. We need clarification on Orthodox relations with the non-Orthodox in the religious pluralism of the United States. We need a policy that is informed by historic Orthodoxy, not modern liberal ecumenism. And we need a unified policy on church-state relations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than have a hodgepodge of responses that vary from parish to parish, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This lack of unity in response to the COVID-19 crisis has allowed distrust and disunity to enter into American Orthodoxy. I would guess that many of us in GOARCH will pause our departure, and wait and see what the pan-Orthodox leadership will say about these pressing matters.

 

Time for an American Council?

To quote the Prophet Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together.” (1:18) The Orthodox Church is by nature a conciliar church. It expects the hierarchs and the clergy to make decisions in solidarity, not by top-down tyrannical fiats. The Orthodox Church is also by nature a local Church. It is gathered around the local bishop who by his ordination stands in succession to the Apostles. The local bishop is to be our shepherd and guide, not some remote despot in some far off land demanding his rent. To have a foreigner rule over our homeland is a form of colonialism. For freedom-loving Americans, this is an intolerable state of affairs and for Orthodox Christians who believe in historic Orthodoxy, this is an ecclesiastical novelty contrary to Holy Tradition.

To conclude, Lawrence Wheeler’s “It’s Time to Go” is a wakeup call to GOARCH and to other Orthodox clergy and hierarchs. If nothing is done to change the present situation, there may be others exiting GOARCH with deleterious consequences for local Greek parishes. This will generate cascading consequences for GOARCH and for the rest of Orthodoxy in the United States. In my opinion, if the clergy and hierarchs were to call for the convening of an American Orthodox council, we may avert this growing crisis. Lord have mercy!

Robert Arakaki

M.A., Church History; Ph.D. Political Science

Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy

References

Lawrence B. Wheeler “It’s Time to Go.” Handwritings on the Wall: Musings of Orthodox Thinkers (weborthodox.com). 10 November 2021.

30 COMMENTS

  1. And with GOA’s disgraceful Vicar General
    Alex Karloutsos enmeshed in so much scandal that he may be going to jail next year after the Jerry Dimitrou trial starts next January…
    well it doesn’t look good folks, us
    baptized Greek Orthodox & converts are rethinking it all just like Mr. wheeler.

  2. Good article. I am glad that Robert Arakaki cares. Simply having good relations with heterodox churches seems OK to me, but the CP’s new ecclesiology about First Without Equals is dangerous and destructive. It’s the key practical issue that divided the RC and EO Churches almost 1000 years ago because when one primate is the authoritative vertical head directing all other dioceses in the whole church, there is no way to “agree to disagree” about anything, as the CP can simply intervene disastrously against any Local Church with practically no accountability, absent the calling of a new Ecumenical Council or self-help by the Local Churches like the Russian Church is doing by suspending relations.

    An All American Council to at least discuss the CP’s new ecclesiology would be good, but the outcome would be relatively predictable. Abp. Elpidophoros formulated First Without Rquals in a paper even before the CP adopted this position in 2018. Foreseeably, he would just straightforwardly reiterate his position openly at any American (eg. SCOBA) council that discussed the issue. Around the winter of 2018/2019, GOARCH had a “Townhall” meeting that you can listen to online about the CP’s decisions in Ukraine and they cut the Q&A section well before the meeting ended. There does not seem to be much room for GOARCH to reconsider its position. Helleniscope would have much more information on this than I do, but one theory is that a few decades ago the lead hierarch of GOARCH was put into retirement by the CP in connection with the All-American council at Ligoniers, PA that the hierarch chaired.

    Meanwhile, on the other end of the table, the heads of other autocephalous churches in the US would not recognize the CP as their head, nor do their Churchrs accept the CP’s actions in Ukraine. Alexandria, Cyprus, and the GOC were the only ones to accept the CP’s decision in Ukraine, and those Churches do not have dioceses in the US.

    The Jerusalem Patriarchate should be commended for holding out, being the only “Hellenistic”-oriented Church to do so.

  3. Get out of your mind. Round and round you go like a gerbil on a wheel trying to fix what cannot be fixed. Being a warrior, putting on the armor of God is about honoring God. Do not obey tyrants in sheep’s clothing.

    Get out of your mind. Speak out about injustice. Do not shut up or babble on with legalities. This cannot be “fixed.” Speak up even louder.

    Ecclesiastes 3… There is a season…

    Listen and watch: The Devil’s Staircase

    https://youtu.be/uoLam2O3gtY

  4. ΤΙ ΟΡΙΖΟΥΝ ΟΙ ΚΑΝΟΝΕΣ ΤΗΣ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΟΥ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣ;ΤΗΝ ΔΙΑΚΟΠΗ ΤΟΥ ΜΝΗΜΟΣΥΝΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΟΙΚΕΙΟΥ ΜΗΤΡΟΠΟΛΙΤΗ ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΚΛΗΡΙΚΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΑΠΟΧΗ ΤΗΣ ΘΕΙΑΣ ΚΟΙΩΝΙΑΣ ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΛΑΙΚΟΥΣ,ΔΕΥΤΕΡΟΝ ΤΟ ΝΑ ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΗ ΚΑΝΕΙΣ ΣΕ ΑΛΛΕΣ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΕΣ ΠΟΥ ΕΧΟΥΝ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣΤΙΚΗ ΕΠΙΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ ΜΕ ΤΗΝ ΕΝ ΛΟΓΩ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΤΟ ΙΔΙΟ ΚΑΙ Η ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΗ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΑΚΥΡΗ,Η ΜΟΝΗ ΛΥΣΗ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟ ΠΗΔΑΛΙΟ ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΟΥΣ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΝΑ ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΟΥΝ ΣΕ ΣΥΝΟΔΟ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΛΑΙΟΥ ΗΜΕΡΟΛΟΓΙΟΥ,ΔΙΟΤΙ ΠΡΩΤΑ ΟΙ ΓΟΧ ΕΧΟΥΝ ΚΑΤΑΔΙΚΑΣΕΙ ΤΗΝ ΕΓΚΥΚΛΙΟ ΤΟΥ ΠΡΟΥΣΗΣ ΔΩΡΟΘΕΟΥ ΤΟ 1920 ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΑΙΡΕΤΙΚΗΝ ΚΑΙΝΟΤΟΜΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΠΙΚΟΥ ΝΕΟΥ ΗΜΕΡΟΛΟΓΙΟΥ ΠΟΥ ΑΠΟ ΤΟΤΕ ΤΑ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΑ ΗΝΙΑ ΤΑ ΕΙΧΑΝ ΠΑΡΕΙ ΟΙ ΜΑΣΩΝΟΙ ΟΠΩΣ Ο ΒΕΝΙΖΕΛΟΣ ΠΟΥ Ο ΤΟΤΕ ΜΗΤΡΟΠΟΛΙΤΗΣ ΑΘΗΝΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΟΧΙ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΘΕΟΚΛΗΤΟΣ ΕΙΧΕ ΑΝΑΘΕΜΑΤΙΣΕΙ ΤΟ 1915,ΕΠΙΣΗΣ ΟΠΩΣ ΟΛΟΙ ΓΝΩΡΙΖΟΥΜΕ ΤΟ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΚΡΑΤΟΣ ΕΛΕΓΧΕΙ ΤΟΥΣ ΜΗΤΡΟΠΟΛΙΤΕΣ ΠΟΥ ΣΧΕΔΟΝ ΟΛΟΙ ΥΠΑΚΟΥΟΥΝ ΣΤΑ ΚΡΑΤΙΚΑ ΔΙΑΤΑΓΜΑΤΑ ΕΤΣΙ ΠΟΥ ΤΟ ΕΙΔΑΜΕ ΜΕ ΤΟ ΠΡΟΒΛΗΜΑ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΡΟΝΟΙΟΥ,ΠΑΝΤΩΣ ΤΟ ΓΕΝΟΣ ΚΙΝΔΥΝΕΥΕΙ ΑΚΟΜΑ ΜΙΑ ΦΟΡΑ ΜΕ ΑΦΑΝΙΣΜΟ ΟΠΩΣ ΣΤΗΝ ΠΕΡΙΠΤΩΣΗ ΤΗΣ ΜΙΚΡΑΣΙΑΣ ΤΟ 1922,ΚΑΙ ΓΕΝΙΚΑ ΟΛΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΕΣΗΣ ΑΝΑΤΟΛΗΣ,ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ ΣΤΗΝ ΑΜΕΡΙΚΗ ΜΗ ΠΑΘΕΤΕ ΤΗΝ ΛΕΥΚΗ ΓΕΝΟΚΤΟΝΙΑ ΟΠΩΣ ΣΕ ΜΑΣ ΣΤΗΝ ΕΥΡΩΠΗ,ΕΙΜΑΣΤΕ ΤΩΡΑ ΟΙ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΣΧΕΔΟΝ 14 ΜΕ 15 ΕΚΤΜ ΣΕ ΟΛΗ ΤΗΝ ΥΦΗΛΙΟ,ΚΑΙ ΤΟ 1071 ΟΤΑΝ ΗΛΘΑΝ ΟΙ ΤΟΥΡΚΟΙ ΣΤΗΝ ΜΙΚΡΑΝΑΣΙΑ Ο ΠΛΗΘΗΣΜΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΤΟ 20 ΕΚΤΜ,ΤΟ ΕΝΑ ΤΡΙΤΟ ΤΩΝ ΤΟΥΡΚΩΝ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΡΩΤΟΣ Ο ΕΞΙΣΛΑΜΙΣΜΕΝΟΣ ΠΟΝΤΙΟΣ ΕΡΝΤΟΓΑΝ ΑΠΟ ΤΗΝ ΡΙΖΟΥΝΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΟΝΤΟΥ,

  5. God bless former Anglican priest
    Lawrence Wheeler for his resoluteness in leaving our compromised Greek Church.
    Everyone has different reasons for staying or leaving. I for one will stay and enlighten my brothers and sisters who are in the dark,
    besides, I find solace knowing there’s many in high positions in GOA who feel same frustration but we stay to defend the faith …
    and we collectively will not allow AB Elpidoforos’ sinister agenda to drive us out!

    • I appreciate the support, Zoey. The cat is now out of the bag. The immediate powers that be have demanded that our weblog, Handwritings on the Wall, be taken down or that all of our articles be removed. We’ll see where this takes us. My initial reaction is that I will be happy to add to my blog an article of joyous approbation and support once the patriarch and the archbishop repent of their gross errors.

  6. Hello, Hal,
    I never would have entrusted my blog to GOARCH, no. Our blog is still there for all to see. However, Dr. Arakaki and yours truly have been excommunicated until we take it down. I suppose we hit a nerve someplace.

    • Lawrence,
      It sounds like you are saying that your server host, whoever you paid or signed up with to host your blog, have disabled (excommunicated) you from.making new threads on your blog. Did I get that right?

        • (´・ω・)っ🍷
          (´・ω・)っ日

          Here’s to you, Lawrence.

          Robert has a good Protestant-Orthodox “Bridge” web blog on the Antiochian AFR server. What a good thing that the Antiochian Church did not go down the CP’s supremacy doctrine path. Of course, really any EO Church puts itself at a loss in authority when it does so. It would be more troubling for me if the shoe were on the other foot and everyone but the CP and Greeks recognized First Without Equals and the OCU.

          Ironically, it might have been “safer” for you to criticize the CP were you a member of the MP or ROCOR, since those churches already have members openly writing articles like yours and they suspended communion with the CP, without the CP reciprocating. Further, some Greek metropolitans and theologians have already spoken out against the CP’s new ecclesiology and recognition of the OCU.

          The CP’s major ecclesiastical decisionmaking over the last 3 1/2 years has been extremely opaque, heavy handed, and arbitrary, as with the decision to disband its Western European Russian Archdiocese (AROCWE).

          Further, it seems that the CP should know better. In correspondence with the Albanian primate, CP Bartholomew asserted that his installation of the OCU clergy into canonicity by his Tomos with no ceremonies nor reconciliation between the OCU and the MP matched historical precedent. The CP’s letter noted about the Melitian schism:
          “When reconciliation was achieved, according to the account of Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, the saint’s predecessor, Alexander of Alexandria, submitted a register or list of those ordained during the period of this schism – which included bishops, priests, and deacons – all of whom were restored to their proper rank without re-ordination. This schism troubled the Church up until the seventh century, while those reconciled were admitted into communion with the Church without re-baptism or even through Holy Chrism, as Theodore the Studite informs us all in his Great Epistle to Nafkratios.”

          The Albanian primate responded:
          ((The correlation and analogy of the Ukrainian question to the Melitian Schism of the 4th century, which is extensively referred to in Your Letter, has not answered our queries. On the contrary, its careful study leads to different conclusions: According to the Treaty of Metropolitan of Anchialos and later of Smyrni Vassilios of blessed memory, which was sent to us, in the Annex “On the Schism of the Melitians, more extensively” the following are recorded: “The case was corrected through the acceptance of Melitios, on one hand, back only to the bishop’s honor, without the right to celebrate the sacraments and, on the other hand of those ordained by him, while defrocked, as bishops, priests, and deacons, under the same condition and in the same way as it was ordered by the eighth canon on the acceptance of the Katharoi or the Novatians, **** that is through a simple laying on of hands, with a prayer confirming each**** to their respective hierarchical ranks”. The last explanatory phrase was omitted in Your Letter.))
          Source:
          https://orthodoxsynaxis.org/2019/03/29/albanias-second-reply-to-constantinople-on-ukraine/

          It sounds as if the CP sent the Albanian primate a letter arguing that the Melitian schism was a precedent for the CP’s unceremonious reinstatement of the OCU, but the CP’s letter contains an appendix saying that the Melitian clergy were received with a laying on of hands.

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