EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): Before reading this analysis I suggest that you link here to take a quick look at our today’s update of the report on the questionnaire on the GOARCH charter. At the bottom of this post, I have added my response and some notes.
By Daniel Ken
I was shocked and horrified when I read the Helleniscope article. It reminded me of the controversies in the TEC (The Episcopal Church). It also raises some interesting questions about the legal ramification of one’s ecclesiology. In my understanding of the historic Orthodox ecclesiology of “one bishop one city,” the bishop should be the holder of the title for parishes within a particular metropolitan area. It becomes problematic in a situation when there is more than one bishop for a metropolitan area and in a situation when a bishop’s jurisdiction extends well beyond a metropolitan area suggesting something akin to mini medieval papal kingdoms. Furthermore, historic Orthodox ecclesiology assumes parity among the bishops, not the situation where the Patriarch of Constantinople can install and depose American hierarchs at will. I think the advantage of a congregational approach to church property ownership is that it confines the power of the bishop to the power to preach the Gospel and the power to grant access to the Communion Chalice. To grant the bishop the power to hire and fire, to evict at will is to transform the episcopacy into a worldly, temporal institution. While the Orthodox Church is indeed hierarchical, it is based upon the integrity of the episcopacy, i.e., that the bishop is the head of the Local Church (diocese), that the bishop stands on equal footing to other bishops, that the source of his authority is Apostolic Tradition transmitted from his predecessor, not from an external source like a patriarchate; and lastly, the authority of the bishop is expressed primarily through his preaching the Gospel and his being the chief celebrant of the Eucharist.
I thought the Helleniscope article was well written. However, the problem is that the challenge is of such complexity that one cannot just read the article and be done with it. People should read the article, THEN get together with others to discuss the article. Is it grounded in facts? Is the reasoning sound? Being the cautious person that I am, IF I were a steward of —— parish, I would want to be certain that there is indeed a real problem. Personally, I was turned off by the emotionally tinged language in the Helleniscope article, e.g., wolves, predators, predatory, the Turks. Also, after rereading the article I saw that the whole basis for the article is a survey being taken of a small group within GOARCH. The threat should be taken seriously, but at the same time it should be recognized that it is at present a remote possible threat; there have been no concrete steps taken in that direction. While the threat is remote, it does seem congruent with the past actions and statements of GOARCH’s leadership. Furthermore, it is reminiscent of the so-called “Dennis Canon” in The Episcopal Church. Thus, I am in agreement with Helleniscope that a conversation about the integrity of local parish property ownership should begin now. I think it would be beneficial if Helleniscope were to publish a list of questions for local parish leaders to consider, a kind of legal check-up on the soundness of the local parish’s property ownership. Those of us on the ground will need additional guidance with respect to the other suggestions bullet-pointed in the Helleniscope article.
I thought the advice to store important documents off-site to be an astute one in light of the lightning-strike, change-the-locks strategy often deployed in nasty church fights. If I were to talk with Nick Stamatakis face-to-face, I would suggest that he draft a resolution for local GOARCH parishes to adopt stating their position that property ownership is to remain with the parish and that any infringement on the parish control of the church property will lead to the resignation of parish council members, they are making the reason for their resignation public, and they are withholding their financial contributions on the grounds of conscience. The resolution should be brief and to the point and serve as a template for GOARCH parishes. The advantage of a template is that it would provide the scattered parishes with the means of presenting a united front from predation from above. It would serve as a red-line warning to the GOARCH hierarchy — cross this line and these will be consequences.
Changing the perspective, rather than ask: “Should or should not this be done?”, I will ask a Machiavellian question: “Can it be done?” I think present-day Orthodox ecclesiology can be leveraged to argue that church unity means organizational centralization (of course under the “spiritual” guise of “deeper unity” or “affirming the episcopacy”). Archbishop Elpidophoros and Patriarch Bartholomew certainly have the ability to lean on the metropolitan and bishops under them. And, the metropolitans can pressure the local parish priests not to rock the boat. And, if I am not mistaken, GOARCH bishops have the power to remove people from the parish council if they so choose. One question I have is: Do the members of the local GOARCH parish, especially the ethnic core, have anything to gain by going along with transferring of title from the local parish to GOARCH? On the other side of the coin, how many lawyers can Nick Stamatakis rally? And, how many parish council presidents will stand with Nick on this issue? One idea I have is that if this issue picks up steam Nick or someone should set up a website that will serve as a clearinghouse monitoring the situation and as a referral center for legal resources. Right now might be too soon but it wouldn’t hurt to marshall the resources to push back if the threat does materialize.
In closing, let us not forget that this is not a worldly battle over property ownership, but over the soul of the Orthodox Church. We need shepherds who feed the flock and protect the sheep against wolves. The Apostle Paul reminded his listeners that he coveted no man’s silver or gold, but that he provided for his own needs (Acts 20:28-35). If we study Paul’s farewell sermon to the elders of Ephesus, we gain insight into the true nature of Orthodoxy.
RESPONSE AND SOME NOTES by Nick Stamatakis:
- I am not an expert in ecclesiology but I could not agree with you more regarding the “integrity of the episcopacy”.
- The threat IS serious and there are many examples from recent property transactions – the sale a couple of years ago of a Cathedral in Chicago is the most egregious one. Helleniscope has reported on abuses and will keep reporting on those.
- Yes, the Archbishop and the Metropolitans have the power to fire any council member at will. Recently they fired the treasure of St.Demetrios in Astoria, NY, (who was elected first in votes!) because of disagreement in real estate “investment”: the priest, now the Chancellor of GOARCH, insisted on spending $8 million, the community did not have to build a 6-floor building across their church. Apparently, the priest was in coordination with GOARCH leadership who prioritizes turning the whole Church into a real estate business, either through the sale of properties or in some cases the establishment of secular/charter schools to take advantage of federal and state money.
- The real issue is transparency and accountability and a related example is this: GOARCH has never published a list of properties it owns directly, given/bequeathed by faithful. These properties are managed (mostly sold) in a veil of secrecy.
- A lot has been done by OCL.ORG on the Charter and even more on issues of governance of the Church. But OCL is talking to deaf ears at the headquarters.
- Regarding my use of “emotional” language like “predators”, “Turks”, etc I will say this: My close friends know that every time, every single time, I use an extreme term like the above, I question myself. But usually, the facts that follow prove that I was right. A prime example is my paraphrasing the Archbishop’s name from Elpidophoros to “Elpidoktonos” (“Hope-Killer”), a very colorful – in Greek – nickname. I coined the term “Elpidoktonos” on the day of his election in 2019 with a question mark: “Will he prove to be Elpidophoros (Hope-bearer) or Elpidoktonos (Hope Killer)?”. My doubts had to do with his “essay” at that time on the primacy of the Patriarch (“Primus Sine Paribus”/”First Without Equals”). It also had to do with his geopolitical essay on Ukraine, an example of supreme arrogance: we all knew that he was a rather mediocre theologian, yet a few months before arriving in America, he pretended to be an expert in geopolitics. Almost three years and countless blunders later, very few among the faithful have any doubt about the Archbishop’s character, and my nickname “Elpidoktonos” is widely used.
I will stop here and I will invite all if you to start the discussion.