Silent Voices (04 January 2011)

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The pain on Pope Shenouda III’s face.

One of the sad consequences of our Orthodox disunity on this continent became so evident this week.   Unless you have been totally disconnected from current events, you could not help but noticing the tragic events in traditional Orthodox lands.  In Egypt, we witnessed the bloody martyrdom of Coptic Christians.  In Alexandria, the city of Sts. Athanasius, Cyril and many more luminaries of Orthodoxy, our sister Coptic Orthodox Christians were massacred by fanatics. In “Northern” Cyprus, Orthodox were murdered and Churches desecrated.  In Lebanon, a leader of the Christian community has correctly labeled the systematic elimination of Christians in the Middle East as genocide. In Palestine, we continue to here terrible reports from Fr. and Pres. Khoury about the misery the Palestinian Christians endure each day.  Even in New York, we continue to await the resolution of  issue of St. Nicholas Church at ground zero.  What do all these issues have in common?  The small voices of divided Orthodox leaders are barley heard above background noise!  Archbishop Demetrios issues a statement, Metropolitan Jonas prays for Egypt and unfortunately Constantinople must remain silent!  Since our voices are not united they can barely be heard.  Who cares what we say since, we have succeeded in marginalizing ourselves!

Our own disunity and divisions assure that no one pays attention to us.  We are small ethnic enclaves who are quoted in our own jurisdictional press and by a few niche publications.  We don’t make an impact; consequently we don’t make a difference. Critical events and essential issues present themselves and we provide little cogent Orthodox witness.  We live not only in a time when national and international events occur at break neck speed, but when moral and ethical judgments need an Orthodox compass.

If we insist on staying apart, how can we begin to have a louder voice?  What about a joint press office that would issue simultaneous press releases in New York and Washington, perhaps under the auspices of the Assembly of Bishops of the Orthodox Church.  What about a joint commission of Orthodox Theologians who could speak to moral and ethical concerns. Little voices are whispers and are not heard.  We must begin to act united and who knows it might get to be a habit!!

Traveling to Bethlehem (17 December 2010)

gennhch_xrictoy-close-up1

Let Christ be born in our hearts!

Question: Are we the Church of Christ or the church or Baklava and Kibbeh? This is a serious question. The reality is what started as a way to share our culture and to expose our ethnic heritage to the American public has now become something else.  It was a really good purpose, but somewhere along the way we got hooked.  What do I mean?  The festivals that our Churches sponsor each year have become an income stream for many parishes.  They have become a necessity and not icing on the cake.  How many parishes dedicate 100% of the receipts to charity, civic endeavours or philanthropy?  Just like a narcotic our parishes have learned to depend upon these yearly events, while allowing us, the parishioners, to avoid our personal responsibility to our parish. Stewardship should be the support for our Churches, yet as we rely on outsiders to fund our Churches: we deny our own duty and let the guests support of our parishes.

If we provide according to our means and responsibility then our festivals should be bonuses. There is a deeper question. Are we mature in our faith? Are able to look at our Parish as ours and as given to us by Christ to care for and support.  If are faith is centred on Christ, then the parish is Christ and never a burden. The problem is our attitude towards Christ.  Are we committed to His Church and to Incarnate Him in the world? During this Nativity season are we prepared to care for Christ out of love or are we content to let others meet our obligations?

Traveling to Bethlehem (16 Dec 2010)

Holy Theotokos Protect Our Church

Holy Theotokos Protect Our Church

Question: Is ours a Church or a Social Club?  This should be one of the first questions we ask. What is our parish and why does it exist?  To comprehensively seek the answers these questions, I think we need to look into our background. I will centre the discussion on the Greek communities; only because I know them best.  But, I truly believe that my remarks hold true for Arab, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian(or fill in your own ethnic group) Orthodox Churches.  When we look into the past, all our Churches were social clubs in the past.  Why?  Our churches were made up of immigrants who transplanted their faith from the Mother countries. God bless them for their sacrifices and may their memories be eternal!  These were the pioneers, clergy and laity who formed and planted our parishes.  They needed each other and for the most part stuck together. That is excluding the political schisms, which often reflected old country politics. Truly, they needed the Church to be their social glue.  They banded together with the communities as the focal point of their social life.  Early in our American experience very few could join country clubs or other civic endeavors, most worked long hours and spoke little English and always with accents. Because of these factors and many more, the Churches were the social outlets. The families spent the majority of their time at Church sponsored activities or events.  That was then.

Today, we are in our fourth or fifth generation in this country; our social, educational and financial integration in the fabric of American life is complete. The Church is no longer our only social outlet.  Our relationship to the Church has changed, but have our attitudes changed. What is the role of the Church in our lives?  There is no doubt that as a Christian community we need fellowship!  The question is: “Do we seek to have the Church fulfill deep spiritual needs or do we still consider it a social club where we go to get our ethnic fix?  This is the first and most basic question, we must ask ourselves. Church or social club? Which is it?  At this time of year as we prepare for the Nativity of Our Lord and as our families gather to  celebrate this joyous festival perhaps we can begin to ask each other serious questions about where we want to take our Church. After all, we are the Church!

Traveling to Bethlehem (15 December 2010)

We will be asked hard questions!

We will be asked hard questions!

Where are they?  As some of you know I am a cradle Orthodox.  The truth is that I am also a generational, cradle Orthodox. I grew up in the Church with many contemporaries that are no longer in the Church.  Where did they go and why did they leave?  These are questions we are either ashamed or frightened to ask.  I believe we delude ourselves by not seeking the answers to these questions.  What is it about the Orthodox Churches in America, all jurisdictions, that greet and speak with pride of the “new” Orthodox; people who embrace the faith, while generations walk out the back door? There are many others who are primarily unchurched or who are holiday Orthodox.  What do I mean? They come with parents or family for holidays or for family events either marriages, baptisms or funerals, but are absent the rest of the time.  Years ago, we used to say it was “the language issue” or the “ethnic issue” Hogwash! Even in the most ethnic or single language areas, there are still churches which are predominately English speaking. This is not the reason, this is an excuse.  We must look deeper, the vast majority of us need to ask serious question. Do I really understand what is going on in my Church?  Is it meeting my inner needs? Obviously, by the exodus of faithful, we as the Church are missing the boat. Are we prepared to ask hard questions and listen to the answers.  Over the next few blog posts I would like to ask some of these questions, but I would like this to be a dialogue.  Comment and let’s try to engage the issue.

Personal note: Today is St. Eleftherios’ Feastday – to my beautiful wife Ria, Thea Ria, Granddaughter Ella, and Son Vastan (Eleftherios) I Love you all. Hronia Pola!

St. Eleftherios

St. Eleftherios

Traveling to Bethlehem (29 November 2010)

Checking it Twice

Checking it Twice

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the focus naturally turns toward Christmas.  In the language of the Church, turns to the Nativity of Our Lord in the Flesh. Even though, we are beginning to concentrate on Christmas; what does it take to be really ready. This question doesn’t have anything to do with trees, decorations, gifts or menus. Are we really ready? It seems to me we are overwhelmed with things and we neglect to get our interior self ready.  The Christmas carol says Santa has a list and he is checking it twice.  What about a spiritual list:

CHARITY – are we concerned so much with ourselves that we forget our brothers and sisters?

LOVE – do we express Christian Love to our neighbours or strangers? Christ told us it is easy to love those who love us.

PATIENCE – with others and with ourselves.

HUMILITY – do we try to consciously check our ego, to be less prideful and understand our own sinfulness.

A PEACEFUL SPIRIT – do we seek to control our anger or rage?

FORGIVENESS – are we willing to forgive and FORGET?

SILENCE – are we able to shut out the hustle and bustle and seek tranquility of spirit?

FAITH – do we trust in GOD as we encounter our daily challenges?

Perhaps, we should make our list and check it twice!

Ecumenical Patriarch Talks Candidly

The Great Church in Captivity

The Great Church in Captivity

It seems to me that this is even more fitting now!  Please click on the  link below and watch His All Holiness Bartholomew I interviewed by CBS News.

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/main3415.shtml

ISTANBUL – There are two front gates into the walled compound that protects the home of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Visitors enter through a door secured by a guardhouse, locks and a metal-screening device. They cannot enter the Phanar’s main gate because it was welded shut in 1821 after the Ottoman Turks hanged Patriarch Gregory V from its lintel. The black doors have remained sealed ever since.

A decade ago, bombers who tried to open this gate left a note: “We will fight until the Chief Devil and all the occupiers are chased off; until this place, which for years has contrived Byzantine intrigues against the Muslim people of the East is exterminated. … Patriarch you will perish!”

The capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet 400,000 Orthodox Christians remained in greater Istanbul early in the 20th century. That number fell to 150,000 in 1960. Today fewer than 2,000 remain, the most symbolic minority in a land that is 99 percent Turkish. They worship in 86 churches served by 32 priests and deacons, most 60 or older. What the Orthodox urgently need is an active seminary and patriarchate officials are convinced the European Union will help them get one, as Turkey races to begin the formal application process

The Door of Tears

The Door of Tears

Pray for the Patriarchate !!!

Christ is Born!

Glorify Him!

The Hidden Angel

The Great Church in Captivity

The Great Church in Captivity

“A Turkish official says restoration workers have uncovered the never-before-seen mosaic face of an angel at Istanbul’s Haghia Sophia – a former Byzantine cathedral.”

This was a headline on the Fox News website. This really disturbed me, as it should all Orthodox Christians. “Never before seen,” what about those countless Christians who worshipped in the Church of the Holy Wisdom from the time of Justinian, until the fall of Constantinople. Don’t they count? This is revisionist history at it finest! The angel was not seen since the Ottomans plastered them over to hide the Truth. So, those Orthodox Christians who prayed in the Cathedral, who placed the mosaic are not to be heard. How sad! Where are the voices telling the world how false these assertions are? Who speaks for the Church in captivity, forced to keep it mouth shut to endure? Where is St. Maximos, St. Mark of Ephesus, the voice of the Church? We are a Church in captivity, a Church muzzled for the sake of political expediency. But, where are the voices in the West? Cannot we speak with a loud voice? The sad thing is the only time we scream with our voices is to criticise the Church and her leaders. The Patriarch did this, the Archbishop didn’t do this, our Metropolitan said the wrong thing. How very sad. Why can’t we speak with a loud voice to decry injustice and to say, this is not a dead Church. It was, is and always will be, at its heart a Church built to the Glory of God. That angel’s image should reminds us of the Seraphim that surrounds the throne God. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of Your Glory!”

Can We Rejoice?

The Holy Theological School of Halki

The Holy Theological School of Halki

In the last few weeks, we have heard from various sources that the secular government in Turkey is planning to allow the historic Holy Theological School of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, located on the island of Halki, to open, again.   The Monastery of the Holy Trinity on Halki was founded during Byzantine period. The establishment of the monastery can be traced back to St. Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, (858–861 and 878–886). The Halki seminary was founded by Patriarch Germanos IV in 1844 at the monastery. It was intended to supply priests for the Ottoman Empire’s Greek minority, it expanded and grew in size and facilities. Set amid cool pines and palm trees, the seminary has the high ceilings, wide halls and well-worn wooden desks of schools built before computers and air conditioning; but this celebrated school has trained generations of scholars, priests and its graduates became bishops and future patriarchs. As a reaction to the Cypriot/Turkish/Greek crisis, the School was closed by the Turkish officials in 1971. For over thirty-five years, this violation of international law has caused great distress and generated calls for the reopening of the School by government, religious, academic and civic   leaders across the world.  In a past Reuters’ article, this comment was made on the closure: “We have not lost hope, despite the broken promises, because a person only lives as long as he has hope. Even on his deathbed, he resists the end,” His Eminence Metropolitan Apostolos (Daniilidis) of Moschonissia, Halki’s abbot, said from his office atop the “Hill of Hope” on Heybeliada (Halki). Perhaps, the moment we have hoped for has arrived!  Hope for the historic step was generated by statements from Turkish officials. “The Halki seminary on the island of Heybeliada is to be reopened,” Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said, and adding that they are searching for a formula to integrate the Orthodox theological school into Turkey’s university system. “Although we have not finalized a decision in the Cabinet, my personal impression is that we are going to open the seminary,” said Günay, speaking on Kanal 24 television over [last] the weekend.  This was not the first time a statement with the same tenor has been made by Turkish officials in the last few weeks.

The Holy Trinity Chapel and the School

The Holy Trinity Chapel and the School

The need for Halki is beyond question. Yes, there are good Orthodox Theological schools elsewhere in the world.  Students will attend these schools and get a good education to serve their local churches.  In my opinion, the need for Halki centres on two loci. One, the Patriarchate needs trained clergy and scholars.  These men and women, (yes, I believe Halki should train women theologians) should be prepared and educated, at the very highest level, with an international vision, which focuses on the needs of an international Orthodoxy for the future. In this world of mass media, global communications, and instantaneous change; the Phanar needs to train its own “specialists” in an academic environment that it designs and controls. This prerequisite makes the design of the curriculum critical.  Yes, students should receive the treasury (parakatatheki) of Tradition, but this must be transmitted with the tools of the twenty-first century. Additionally, the perspective of the “needs” of the Patriarchate are not the focus of any institution; Halki would provide this frame of reference. The School would also be a fount of post graduate and exchange student training. These students would come to Turkey from all over the world. Furthermore, the requirements of Turkish law make the training of clergy in Turkey imperative.  Without this source of clergy and future hierarchy, the Patriarchate is slowly strangled, it withers and dies.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Redone needs to be encouraged and thanked for his courageous stance.  We pray that this step occurs quickly.  The world community would, no doubt, look favourably on a government which corrects the errors of the past and looks to the future.

IV Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference

Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches were called to meet by his All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. They met the 6th – 12th June 2009 at the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland to discuss one topic, the Orthodox Churches of the Diaspora. We are the Diaspora.  The definition of what the “Diaspora” can be found below (see the underlined text) in the portions of the communiqué that was issued at the conference. The reason that this whole process has started is because our Church structure is, quite frankly, uncanonical.  Why you ask?  Well, the canons of the Church state: that there is One Orthodox Bishop in a city for all Orthodox in that geographical area.  Here in the States, for example, you can have a Greek Orthodox bishop, an Antiochian Orthodox bishop, an OCA bishop, a Serbian bishop and more in the same city. THIS IS NOT THE WAY THE SYSTEM WAS DESIGNED.  Our history is quite complex and the reality is that the Orthodox in America, Western Europe and Australia are organised ethnically.  This is not an acceptable situation.  His All Holiness and the other Church leaders realise this and are starting to begin a process that will remedy this situation. The representatives met under the president-ship of Metropolitan John of Pergamon,

Metropolitan John

Metropolitan John of Pergamon

who was appointed by the Patriarch. This is part of their statement.

“The Conference expressed the willingness of Orthodox Churches to solve the problem of the canonical organisation of the Orthodox Diaspora, conforming to ecclesiology, tradition and canonical practice of the Orthodox Church. The Conference decided to create new episcopal assemblies in some regions of the world to order the question of the Diaspora, i.e. the Orthodox faithful installed in areas beyond The traditional boundaries of the local Orthodox Churches. The presidents of the Assemblies are bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the given region, and in their absence, the bishops in accordance with the order of the Diptichs of the Churches. All the bishops of the Orthodox Churches who exercise their pastoral ministry in the communities existing in each of these regions are members of these Assemblies. The Episcopal Assemblies are for the mission to manifest and promote the unity of the Orthodox Church, to exercise pastoral diakonia to the faithful of the region and to render to the world their common witness. The decisions of the Episcopal Assemblies are taken in accordance with the principle of unanimity of the Churches represented within these Assemblies by bishops.

…The remaining topics of the holy and great Council, i.e. the method of proclaiming of autocephaly and autonomy, and the order of Diptichs, will be discussed in future meetings of the preparatory inter-orthodox commission and will be submitted for approval to the following Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences.”

These representative will meet again, in the mean time we PRAY!

Great and Holy Council

Last Sunday, we commemorated the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who met in Niceae in the early fourth century (325 AD).  When I got home I started to think about why we haven’t had an ecumenical council since the eighth century.  Historically, we should review some facts about all the councils.  All these gatherings had some common denominators.

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
  • The were never called as “ecumenical” councils.
  • They were later recognised as such.
  • They were called to decide specific questions, which had arisen and troubled the Church.
  • These included : “Who was Jesus?”  and “What is the nature of the Holy Trinity”?
  • They also settled issues that were derived from the above questions such as: “Who was Mary?”
  • They were convened by Imperial Decree.

OK, what is the hold up, it’s been since 787AD. Haven’t we had burning issues in the Church since the eighth century? What about the Great Schism?  Didn’t this issue warrant a great conclave to settle the dispute? It seems to me (just personal speculation) that two related reasons may have disturbed the accustomed polity of the Church.  One was the person and influence of the imperial house. Namely, the emperor who, following the example of St. Constantine, always convened the councils.  What happened after the eighth century was Islam.  The Byzantine Empire was confronted by the peril of Islam and the Church’s regular relationships between all the five ancient patriarchates was disturbed.  Later, the emperor was literally fighting for the life of the empire. We all know about the estrangement of the western church through political issues and ego. Then came the crusades and the relationships between the East and West deteriorated.  There were several attempted councils of “reunion”; but they were, quite frankly, coerced in the face of the eminent fall of Constantinople and the Islamic threats. The works of St. Mark Eugenics detail the difficulties for the Orthodox at Council of Ferrara-Florence in the mid 15th century. Then came the times of captivity, both the Ottoman and the Communist eras.

Now times have changed, but one thing that has not changed is the great need for the Church to come together and discuss things that need attention.  I, for one applaud, His All Holiness for moving in the direction of calling a great council of the Church.  Let’s not be so cynical by immediately thinking of “evil agendas” and “egos”.  This week as we prepare for Pentecost, don’t we, as Orthodox Christians, still believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church? The council will convene and the Spirit will assure the outcome, not the machinations of politics and human desires. What should you and I do to guarantee the outcome?  PRAY, start from now and fervently pray for the council.   Then and only then can we as the faithful influence the conclave.