August 29, 2014

Clergy-Laity: ‘a changing of mentality and attitude’

Just back from Washington where I attended the 39th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This was my first Clergy-Laity and I am glad I went. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, in his keynote address, went beyond the theoretical to actual application when he developed the theme of the Congress: “Gather My People to My Home.”

Any effort for a serious application of our theme must begin with a changing of mentality and attitude. We must change from an exclusive and all absorbing focusing on our parish to an awareness of the existence of people outside of our Parishes, Metropolises and Archdiocese. People who have the right to know what we know as the truth of God, to taste the joy of participating in our ecclesial community, and to experience the blessings we experience to be with God as we are by being Greek Orthodox Christians. The area of our focused action should gradually be enlarged by including those who are outside, by being concerned with those who are waiting for the brother or the sister who will bring them home. Offering the shelter of God to the homeless souls should be part of the care and action of our parishes, should be indispensable part of our mentality, attitude and vision, and also should definitely be a central item of the basic education cultivated by the Church.

The Archbishop also appealed for a greater outreach to the unchurched and Orthodox Christians who have drifted away from the Church, including “non-connected” interfaith couples. He said it was time to offer youth “a real role in the life of the community” and pointed to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship which now has 270 groups in an equal number of Colleges and Universities. And, refreshingly, the Archbishop called for “proper and adequate resources, in the forms of books, DVDs, CDs and printed material.”

He closed his address by asking Congress attendees to think about those outside the fold:

Jesus Christ speaks about other sheep that are not of this fold, but He has to bring them also. And they will hear His voice. Who are these other sheep that are not of this fold? And how are they going to hear Christ’s voice?

Comments

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Sorry, but the Archbishop’s words fail to stir me except to exasperation. The insights he has are so patently obvious as to mean nothing. They were easily recognizable to me when I first became Orthodox 20 years ago and have been trotted out in various formulations over and over again in the 20 years since. Nothing will be done until the laity do it. I can almost guarantee that anything with real innovation and substance will be fought up and down the hierachy and across the land.

    Also when, WHEN are folks going to get it that if you are not already ‘Greek’ Orthodox, no one cares about the Greek part while many that are care far to much about the Greek part and too little about the Orthodox part. It remains one of the biggest stumbling stones for accomplishing what he says should be done–reach out to others. If you want to be Greek Orthodox, go to Greece. Same with any of the other ethnic adjectives we display so prominently to keep us from having to actually engage the land and the culture we live in, to keep us from really having to become Orthodox or allowing anyone else to. We are nothing but Pharisitical hypocrites on the march. This from the man who when offered the opportunity to offer up prayer at the beginning of both the Republican and Democrat national conventions last time, gave prayers that any ecumenist would have been proud of. He didn’t even mention the Holy Trinity, God forbid that he offend anyone!

    And how wonderfully condescening of him to ‘offer a role’ to the youth. Sounds like he wants to throw a sop the some different form of life. Just the sort of idea that will forever keep our young people on the outside looking in gradually drifting away. He dosen’t get it. Its just more of the same spineless, visionless pap that our bishops continue to hand out while they cow-tow to worldly leaders and follow the money and the prejudices of those who have it.

    The only different attitude and mentality we have to have is to decide to love one another and this country IN CHRIST, in whom there is no Greek nor Jew (or Russian or Romanian or Serb, or Syrian or American), no young nor old, no male nor female (this is not a plea for a female priesthood BTW). We have to actually live Orthodox Christian lives not just pretend to as we stuff our stomachs with ethnic food, our pockets with filthy lucre, and our souls with hubris.

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    Cynthia Hoag says:

    Michael,

    I totally agree with you. I am a convert from Protestantism. My church is Greek (and believes itself to be Orthodox). I am unimpressed with its radical lack of leadership.

    My church has two mutually exclusive goals: to move into the 21st century and to maintain the status quo at all costs (the costs being evangelization and the young people). Any gain in one goal is at the expense of the other. Any “balance”of the two goals is simply stagnation.

    When some of the young girls in my congregation wore exceedingly short and revealing skirts and shirts and I was silly enough to say something about enforcing a level of modesty on par with the local public high school, I was informed that it was unwise because it might offend some of the more powerful congregants. At that point, I knew that political correctness was dominant and let go of my futile effort to be a force for basic morality.

    A couple of newsletters of my parish ago, my priest complained that “Nothing stops people from getting in the communion line: not abortion, not adultery, nothing.” I laughed when I read that because I could not fathom whom he thought had the job of monitoring the morals of the communicants. Was he afraid of offending powerful parishioners?

    What attracted me to Orthodoxy in the first place was the all-encompassing vision of the sanctification of everything, particularly well by A. Schmemann in “For the Life of the World.” Orthodoxy is meant to be transformative individually, congregationally, and even cosmically.

    But that is incompatible with the status quo and political correctness. So my parish continues blindly onward, affecting no one and nothing. The gospel has been effectively neutered, so as not to offend anyone.

    I don’t know if I consider myself Orthodox. I am just a Christian in my own mind. I try to keep my side of the street clean. I tell people I attend a Greek church, not necessarily an Orthodox one. CDH

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Cynthia, do you live in a city with more than one Orthodox church? (I don’t care which ethnic qualifier or even absent one.) If that’s the only one in town, have you thought of gathering some like-minded people and starting a mission? They’re not that hard to do. Both the AAOA and the OCA have mission-planting grants available. We started a mission here in our city w/ about 14 or so people. On a typical Sunday we have at least 45 adults and 30 children. Plus we have well-attended vespers on Wed nites (never less than 20) on Great Vespers on Sat (about 30). Plus we have Thur morning liturgy at 6:00am (yes, that’s right.) About 5-10 people show up for those.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is if you’re serious about American Orthodoxy (by this I mean reaching out to Americans), and you have an active prayer life, wonderful things can happen. There are some godly bishops out there who attract like-minded men to the priesthood. It flows downward: we tithe (literally), have no food-festivals, and active charities, catering to a local orphanage and the rural/exurban poor.

    It hasn’t been easy but we’ve all learned a lot of humility along the way.

    Geo Michalopulos

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    Scott Pennington says:

    Now, let us remember that GOARCH is the largest Orthodox body in the United States. Do those of you who seek Orthodox jurisdictional unity believe it would have any positive moral effect on the resulting unified church?

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Scott,

    GOARCH is probably not the biggest jurisdiction in North America, the OCA is. In the lower 48 however, GOARCH is larger but not by much. Their own numbers are telling in this rergard: only 200,000+ people receive “The Orthodox Observer.” Anyway, if they are larger, it’s not by much. Plus, if ROCOR and the Russian patriarchal parishes unite w/ the OCA it will then have more churches in the lower 48. If AOAA and the OCA unite then it will definately be the largest Orthodox jurisdiction. Ultimately you can judge the growth of a church by two criteria: giving and growth. ultimately, ALL jurisdictions need to repent of their hubris, not just the GOAA.

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    Scott Pennington says:

    George,

    Perhaps my figures are outdated. I recall something about Goarch being about twice as big as the OCA. Regardless, my point was a bit deeper. I’ll give you an example: One of the arguments in favor of unification is differences in discipline and the scandal of Orthodox moving from one jurisdiction to another to manipulate these differences. Tell me the odds of historically Greek churches in a newly minted American Orthodox Church enforcing the one confession/one communion policy of ROCOR. How about the once a month policy of the OCA?

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Scott,

    I was not addressing the “phronema” differences between the jurisdictions, which unfortunately is vast. (Really, we’re almost talking about different religions here.) Just the question about the numbers.

    If Krinatch is correct –and there’s no reason to doubt his numbers–then the differences in population are negligible. I’d say AOAA (100K), OCA (200K), GOA (300K). Don’t forget, the non GOA jurisdictions have a vested economic interest in playing down their numbers, it’s called the per capita assessment (i.e. the dreaded “head tax.”) Each AOAA parish is responsible for paying $85/adult parishioner to Englewood, whereas each OCA parish is on the hoof for $105/adult parishioner.

    The dirty secret is that since 95% of Orthodox in America pay “dues” to their parish, and that’s like pulling teeth, priests are reluctant to ask the parishioners for another $100 or so bucks to send to some archbishop in some far away Eastern city to do with God only knows what. Therefore the parishes cut an annual check to the national HQ. If there are #125 adult parishioners, that means $10,625 goes to Englewood and $13l125 goes to Syosset. A check that size would literally break the bank so to speak.

    You do the math: our mission parish took in about $9.000/mo for 2008, from that we have to pay the priest, the electric company, other utilities, housing allowance etc. Even the more established parishes rarely take in more that $15K per month. Therefore the disincentive to report the real nos.

    With the GOAA however, its not based on per capita, but on a 15% monthly assessment to NY. This is actually better, theoretically. (In the OCA diocese of the South, we pay 10%/month assessment to the diocese which is even better.)

    Anyway, the other dirty little secret is that the GOAA constantly inflates its numbers based on a clever subtrefuge: 1% of the American population lists itself as “Greek” on the decennial census. This means that 300million people x 1% = 3milliion GOA members. Even the GOAA is now admitting that this is preposterous. So they divide this no. by half to make it more realistic. Well, close inspection (as told to me by a GOA priest of Greek descent) reveals this to be fantastic as well. This would mean that each GOA parish in the US has over 2000 people. There is NO parish in the GOA –even on the East Coast–which has any more than 1000 actual parishioners.

    The most reliable indicator is the subscription rate of The Orthodox Observer which is 200K+. Even this can be manipulated: both my wife and myself each receive an issue. Since we have two children, that means 1 subscriber + 1 dependent = 2 members. Why then don’t I say 400K members then? Think of all the widows, widowers, and other singletons who receive a subscription and have NO dependents whom they are taking to church.

    Sorry to be so verbose but that’s the brass tacks.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    While I tend to favor Orthodox unity, I don’t for a moment think it would be easy. In addition to the differing approaches to confession/communion there is the question of how to receive converts, whether to accept prior baptisms or not. The list is long. However, it the movement is of God and not just of our own desire the differences can be worked out. The AOAA and the OCA appear to be the most compatible.

    “We all need to repent of our hubris!” AMEN. That statement encompasses both the problem and the solution.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    The actual method in the AOAA is in transition to a tithe, i.e, 10% of acutal parish income.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Michael,

    is that to the diocese or to Syosset? (the tithe I mean.) In the Diocese of the South, each parish tithes to the diocese. we still have the head tax but as Metropolitan Jonah made clear, it’s on its way out, I believe he said “no more after 3 years.” I think each diocese will tithe to Syosset after that point. My own recommendation would be that, since the metropolitan is the archbishop of a diocese (Washington DC), each parish in that diocese should tithe to support it. However, since it’s also the focal point of unity (i.e. the seat of the primate), then it would make sense for every parish in the OCA to divide up it’s tithe thusly: 9% to its respective diocese and 1% to Syosset. Anyway, my 2cents.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Antiochian policy is the parish tithes 10% to the Archdiocese. That has been phased in over the last three years to replace the ‘head tax’.

    I’m not really sure how the diocese is funded. I should find out more, but it is not that easy.

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    Scott Pennington says:

    George,

    Our tax to the archdiocese went up dramatically several years ago (2005 or 2006?)for no reason related to any growth in our parish. Also, I personally don’t subscribe to the Observer and my church is GOAA. I think it means much more to ethnic Greeks than to those who aren’t. I’m not sure it’s too good a measure. I seriously doubt that many of our Arab, Romanian, Russian, etc. parishoners subscribe to the observer.

    Membership, stewardship and attendance are, sadly, three totally separate things. I don’t know if there are actually any honest numbers out there. But do keep in mind that a large percentage of Greek Orthodox marry non-Orthodox Christians who, hopefully, later convert (or convert in the process). Also, Greek Orthodox churches have some outright converts (not related to marriage), many Arab Orthodox, and many Romanian Orthodox. What I mean is that even if the Archdiocese is overestimating its membership based on the assumption that half of all Greeks are Greek Orthodox, it is nonetheless true that that contrived number leaves out converts and other ethinic Orthodox who attend Greek parishes. So really it’s just impossible to say unless honesty is introduced into reportage.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Scott,

    I see your point. Unfortunately, the only hard metric out there is subscription to the OO. And as you pointed out, that’s not very reliable. (I tried to point out the same thing using my own family as an example.) Another, more reliable metric would be the creation of new parishes and/or missions. As near as I can tell, there have been 3 new parishes/missions within the last five years in the GOAA. Of course you can’t tell this by the reportage w/in the OO as it seems “new” parishes are being built every other issue. However, these are not new parishes but old ones that have relocated in a more affluent area of town. And of course some of the more thriving parishes are undergoing building programs: gymnasia, chapels, parish halls, etc. This is all to the good.

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    Cynthia Hoag says:

    George,

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. One of the Orthodox churches in the Lansing-area is already an OCA mission church, basically filled with converts. I know some of the people and those I know are very respectable.

    I really like your comment about leadership (starting with the bishops) “all flowing downward.” That’s real leadership in a hierarchical organization. I am ambivalent about starting up yet another Orthodox organization, but I like the concept of seeking out priests with real vision of Orthodoxy’s transformative power, as opposed to a futile defense of a dysfunctional status quo.

    I like the idea of not having any food festivals, which tend to celebrate a history and heritage I have no part in. I am interested in Orthodoxy’s future, not past.

    I’m going to do some serious praying regarding my part in American Orthodoxy. I have no intention of staying in Michigan after I am widowed, which will probably be in the next few years (or maybe even months).

    I have yet to choose which state I will live in, but it will have more job opportunities than Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate of all. I have student loans and am in a Master’s program. I am into strategic management (naturally) because of my developing passion for organizational vision and leadership.

    Thank you for your interest.

    CDH

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Cynthia, I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s terminal illness. Since you seem tied to no particular place, may I suggest someplace in the South? Mission parishes full of sincere Orthodox Christians are popping up all over the place here under the guidance of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas.

Care to comment?

*