Bishop Savas to head GOA Office of Church and Society

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios announced yesterday that Bishop Savas of Troas, most recently the chancellor of the archdiocese, has been named director of the Office of Church and Society. The bishop will be charged with developing “programs and ministries that promote a creative Orthodox Christian engagement with contemporary societal and cultural realities.”

Readers of this blog will recall the effusive praise with which Bishop Savas greeted the election of Barack Obama, rejoicing that “this is the day that the Lord has made!” Yesterday, the Obama administration moved to rescind a Bush administration regulation, put in place in December, that cuts off federal funding for medical facilities that would force doctors, nurses and other health care workers to participate in practices, such as abortion, that “they feel violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.” The move to lift the so-called “conscience rule,” which is subject to a 30 day public comment period, was applauded by pro-abortion activists and condemned by religious conservatives.

Perhaps the bishop, in his first official act, could issue a sharply worded statement and go on radio and TV to criticize the Obama administration for its attempt to overturn the health care “conscience rule” and pointing out how removing legal protections for religious belief in the workplace advances the culture of death. There’s a “contemporary societal and cultural” reality for you.

Perhaps Bishop Savas will work in unison with other Orthodox jurisdictions to present a united front on moral issues. For example, he could rally Greek metropolitans, bishops, priests, theologians, seminarians — and the laity — for a massive turnout at next year’s March for Life in Washington. And what about calling Orthodox Christian politicians to account for their votes on life issues?

Maybe that’s too much to expect. As outlined by the archbishop, the Office of Church and Society, which seems to have been dormant for some time, “will address matters of current relevance, such as the effects of online social networking, the popularity of so-called ‘reality’ television and video games, and the resurgence of atheism. It will also oversee the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (AACST) and will work closely with the Archdiocesan Youth Department.”

How does the “resurgence of atheism” fit into this mixed bag of priorities? It is unclear. A good place to start on the atheism project might be to focus on the advance of secularism and the threat it poses to faith communities, something Russian Orthodox hierarchs have spoken to very forcefully. Secularism is a threat that exists not only in the wider culture but within our own churches, and is greatly aggravated by the ethno-phyletism which breaks out in our communities like a genetic disorder. In the Greek church, that of course can be traced to phony “Hellenism” projects which have little to do with the theological or philosophical heritage of Hellenistic culture as it informed and strengthened Orthodox Christian doctrine. This sort of “Hellenism,” which is corrosive to the Christian call to evangelize and make disciples of all nations [Matt. 28:19], is really a secularized ethnic pride that seeks the “greekification” of the Church and uses it instrumentally to advance the objectives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This phony “Hellenism” condemns the American Church to a perpetual diaspora mindset, generation upon generation.

But I digress. Let us pray for Bishop Savas and wish him success in bringing the moral witness of Orthodoxy to the Church and the wider culture. And let us hope that he takes on something much more ambitious than video games.


  1. Wesley J. Smith :

    John: A slight factual correction that does not diminish the thrust of your post: The Obama Adm., through the Dept. of Health and Human Services, announced a rule making process which could revise or rescind the Bush Rule. That will take time and people and groups will have the opportunity for input. So technically, the conscience clause remains in effect.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    A great threat to the survival of Greece is their astronomical abortion rates. Greece has the highest abortion rate and the highest negative growth rate of European countries. Yet the Church remains silent (both on the morality and practical consequences) of abortion except in the most superficial ways.

    Why is it that every Orthodox leader is clear (and compassionate) on this issue except Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Demetrios, and the Metropolitans of the GOA? Is it fear of offending the pro-abortion politico’s? What happens when Sen. Snowe and cohorts start writing policy for, say, euthanasia (not a far-fetched idea if Obama’s desire to nationalize health care takes hold)? Do they remain silent there as well? Most likely, yes. They said nothing about Sens. Snowe’s and Sarbannes support of partial birth abortion, so there no reason to believe they will muster the moral courage their office requires when the challenges get even harder.

    I wish Bp. Savas well, but I fear that like so many efforts to engage culture in the GOA, topics will be elevated that skirt around, and ultimately sublimate, the important issues, and no question that challenges the policy of the Greekification of the GOA will be tolerated.

    I have come to the same conclusion John made above: All the current talk about “Hellenism” doesn’t really concern the theological and philosophical contribution of the ancients to Orthodoxy Christianity. Rather, in the present context, “Hellenism” is a euphemism that justifies the political and economic interest of the Greek State and their partners (that’s why the concept of “diaspora” is important). Tying it into the legacy of Hellenism — a gambit made apparent by the most recent incantation that posits Hellenism alongside Orthodoxy (“Hellenism and Orthodoxy,” – contra the Cappadocians)* — is historical revisionism** of the first order. Call it the Megali Idea of the Second Millennium.

    Maybe this is why we are seeing such poor leadership, at least in areas that matter.

    *The Cappadocians of course synthesized Hellenistic and Orthodox thought. All Orthodox Christians are “Hellenized” regardless of jurisdiction or country of origin. Hellenism was “resolved” in Orthodoxy in other words, thus the current claim that a Hellenism exists alongside Orthodoxy (“Hellenism and Orthodoxy”) doesn’t speak of historical Hellenism, but something else.

    **This historical revisionism posits two tracks; trace them backwards and one ends up in Jerusalem, and the other at Mt. Olympus. Thus, we need to ask: does distinction between “Hellenism” and “Orthodoxy” (historically artificial), in fact aid and abet the forces of secularism?

  3. Wesley: Thanks very much for the correction. Post amended. John

  4. Roger Wm. Bennett :

    This Office sounds like a sinecure. It doesn’t even rise to the level of trying to be “relevant to people’s felt needs” except the need of journalists for sound bites from some Church.

    Such faux relevance will indeed tend toward irrelevance on the enduring issues. I say that not from deep knowledge of GOA history, but from 40 years of observing the entropy of Church hierarchies generally.

  5. Chris Banescu :

    The issues which the new “Office of Church and Society” will focus on first will be a good indicator of what current moral, societal, and cultural problems and concerns Bishop Savas and Archbishop Demetrios consider important. Their priorities and level of commitment in publicly addressing these issues in a meaningful and morally clear manner will provide the Orthodox world with a barometer of the direction this new office will take and the fruits it will bear.

  6. George Michalopulos :

    John, Amen. Fr Hans, Amen. As someone who cherishes his Greek heritage, it never fails to astound me how the Greek churches (EP/Greece/Alexandria) don’t seem to care about the holocaust of abortion. It is a travesty with which their hierarchs will have to account to the Lord for on the Day of Judgment.

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