April 15, 2014

Deconstructing the ‘Internal Contradiction’ in the GOA

Andrew Estocin asks:

Father JJ, how do you see this internal contradiction playing out with regards to the riots and unrest in Greece? The GOA has never addressed the moral and social underpinnings of these problems. Is the GOA so captive to the fantasy narrative of the Greek Community in America that it is unable to engage on these issues? Athens burns but the party at the Ritz Carlton in Florida goes on. How do you celebrate Greek Independence day at the White House when your homeland is in the midst of a social and economic collapse? If 79th Street does not pay more attention it find that people will turn on the GOA leadership very quickly as being overpaid and out of touch while common people suffer. Honestly, though I wonder what the real reason is for the GOA not even acknowledging Greece’s problems. Its amazing the disconnect between the idea of being “Greek in America” vs. being “Greek in Greece”

Fr. Hans Jacobse responds:

Andrew, there is truth to the assertion that culture preserves faith, and it also true that the Hellenic ideals helped create the bedrock of Western Civilization. These facts are undeniable. Moreover, Hellenism, properly understood, does indeed foster a deep appreciation for the Greek contribution to Western culture.

What’s missing today in almost every engagement with real issues and problems however, is the Gospel — the “disconnect” as you put it. The Gospel is what shaped Greek culture, but it must also vivify every generation so that the culture can remain Christian. If the Gospel is not preached, the deep insights and knowledge conferred through the culture from one generation to the next gets reduced to folklore. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” becomes the definitive statement of what once was a very vibrant Christian civilization.

All peoples and institutions can operate on historical memory for only so long. The Communist assault on the Russian Orthodox Church showed us that it takes only one generation to cripple the Christian cultural legacy almost to the point of death. If the debilitation is the result of a slow drift as it is in Western Christendom, then it may take a generation or two longer but not much more. Look at England’s slide into moral and civic confusion since WWII. For that matter, look at our own.

The way out of our cultural morass and the path to ecclesiological clarity (and thus courage), is through a recovery of the Gospel. That recovery however, never happens outside of an immediate cultural context. In our case the defense of human life is that context since the question of the inherent value of life is at the heart of all our problems (Fr. Mark Hodges stated it beautifully). Put in theological terms it means that we have to reach deep into our tradition and bring forward the anthropological constructs into the modern cultural context (and the Orthodox have the most developed anthropology of any Christian communion). All the big cultural questions: sanctity of life, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, contraception, even economics deal with what it means to be a human being.

When Archbishop Iakovos went into retirement, something changed. Constantinople became the center of governance and the mission of the GOA was redefined. Apb. Iakovos had his flaws (gifted leaders often have deep deficits) but his focus was always America, as he showed when he joined Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. He was the first major Christian leader to endorse King, and because of him others followed suit. The King family is still grateful to the Greek Orthodox for it.

Now however, the GOA exists to defend the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and because Constantinople is weak and under siege, it must also satisfy those on whom Constantinople is dependent such as the Greek government. This fosters an excessive dependence on Greek Orthodox politicians at home who exercise influence on the State Department and other organs of American government, enough so that the violations of the moral tradition in their civic life is never mentioned. This has the effect of bolstering the secular forces that seek to undermine Christian institutions on the outside, but it also fosters a timidity, or worse, compels intimidation toward anyone who dares challenge those forces, on the inside.

That’s also why you see support of such things as global warming or other secular apocalyptic movements. Support of global warming was an attempt to counter the criticism that the social critique of Greek Orthodox Christianity was lacking. Anyone who understands how secular apocalypticism works in the larger culture however, already knew that the global warming scenario was manufactured. Secular apocalypticism always is. Its purpose is to create urgency for policies that will prevent the predicated collapse. It was just a matter of time before it was exposed as a fraud just as the Paul Erlich’s “Population Bomb” and Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring” were in past decades.

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” followed in that same secular tradition. The fact that the GOA did not see that supporting Gore would come back to bite them (we warned them it would), is the inevitable result of not engaging the culture on the terms the moral tradition requires.

Improper application of the moral tradition is still a problem. In most (not all) cases when GOA leadership engages the culture, the Constantinopolitan mandate compels them to conflate Progressive ideals with the Gospel because the ideals don’t raise the ire of the politicians who need to be cultivated. This approach needs to be challenged because it provides cover for Progressive ideology that holds the values of the Christian faith in contempt and will turn on the Christian Church when it is able. The conflation will become more evident to the Greek Orthodox (and other Orthodox Christians) as the crisis between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration draws the distinctions between the secular ideals and Christian moral values more clearly.

The GOA has some very good priests who, as much as they are able (which means escaping the notice of Bishops who enforce the mandate that Constantinople remains front and center), work hard to bring Christ to their people. They suffer though because when the conflicts come (and they do), they get no support. Some are even punished.

So to answer your question, it is very difficult to speak with moral clarity in one area without exposing moral equivocation in another. That’s the contradiction. And that contradiction exists because the mission of the GOA is muddled. When appeals to history don’t include the Gospel that vivified it (it can’t because it would offend politicians and officials whose favor the GOA needs), then the best you can hope for is folklore instead of the tradition and silence when the words of truth need to be spoken. So don’t expect to hear much substance about the riots in Greece. You will, however, see a lot of pictures of the recent conference in Florida in the next Orthodox Observer.

I want to see a strong and vibrant GOA and I want Constantinople protected. That can only occur however, if Constantinople comes under the protection of a unified American Church, and not if the American Church is subsumed into Constantinople’s defensive strategies.

Where is it headed? There are only two possibilities. Either the GOA recovers its mandate to evangelize America (Abp. Iakovos understood this, hence Ligonier), or it accedes to Constantinople. If the former happens, the GOA can grow strong and lead many to salvation. If the latter happens, then you will see deeper internal fracturing, more priests will suffer breakdowns, and more young people will leave.

Comments

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    James McCarty says:

    One might assert that the survival of Orthodoxy in the US depends on unification of the canonical Churches. One also might assert that this is impossible as long as it is more important for Greek Orthodox to be Greek than to be Orthodox. In Greek Orthodoxy, phyletism remains supreme.

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    bob says:

    The question assumes that it is the job of Christians in the US to “engage” the issues of economic mistakes in Greece. When has it ever been the job of a church (who? Bishops? Clergy, laity? Exactly how?) in one part of the world to “engage” the foolish practices of a secular government on the other side of the planet? In my GOA parish the only discussion of the problems over there has been to say how irresponsible the people have been and how sad it is that irresponsible behavior eventually catches up. Tragic, yes, but no more an issue to concern the Orthodox in this country than it was when it was discovered how unprepared Greeks were to put out forest fires. New fires, same unpreparedness.

    Has the Greek Church (the one in Greece) felt it is THEIR job to “engage” the problems of the US economy? Banking irregularities, real estate and housing issues, unemployment? Why not? Things are always phrased in Orthodox media as though we in the west are supposed to be breathlessly interested in everything going on in countries that *used to be* predominantly Orthodox. Not worth it. They generally are examples of how not to ride a bicycle or run a country. Find an exception.

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      Bob,

      It is foolishness to believe that what is happening in Greece and in America is simply about economics, banking, and real estate. What this is about is the catastrophic moral failure of individuals, especially of the political class. The abuses, hypocrisy, self-dealing, waste, abuse, personal greed, violence, and massive dependency on deficit spending are symptoms of what always happens when man rejects God’s truth and wisdom and tries to setup for himself an earthly “utopia” separate from Christ’s teaching. “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” (C.S. Lewis)

      Jesus Christ, the Word of GOD, revealed to man the fullness of God’s truth and the wisdom of HIS laws. The Gospel embodies the principles and lessons from God that – if followed in all aspects of life and human relations both in and outside the home, in our communities, and in all areas of government, scientific inquiry, education, economics, culture, politics, even religion – can repair (not fully, since only Christ’s Second Coming can do that) the rift between man and God and bring the human machine into true and real communion with our Creator. Only the Word of God can restore man’s humanity! The solution to all our problems, all our strife, to all our suffering, all the abuses, political or otherwise, are there for the taking in the message of the Gospel. But that Gospel must be applied and made relevant to the current day issues and problems in all aspects of society. That’s what Jesus Christ and all His Apostles and Disciples did!

      The Good News is not a philosophical construct, a manual for religious rituals, or a history lesson. The Good News is living water, divine revelation of everything man needs to know, follow, and do in order to have life, and “have it abundantly”, to become the real creature in full communion with God that he was meant to be from the beginning. The Good News is the ultimate medicine, physical and spiritual, that can cure mankind. But it MUST be preached and taught, continuously and fearlessly, to everyone, everywhere. It cannot be a light hidden under a bushel, or in our case hidden in our liturgical practices, conferences, or inside our churches and cathedrals.

      The Orthodox Bishops, as direct descendants and representatives of Christ in the world, are the guardians, preachers, and teachers of the Gospel and the moral teaching of God. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” Christ commanded. They have a duty to speak to all these moral failures of the people and their leaders (secular or religious) and bring light and truth to their lives, all aspects of their lives, not just their “religious” lives or their behavior while in church on Sunday or at a diocesan or council meeting. The Bishops must condemn the constant rejection of Christ in all aspects of human relations and society. They must refute the lies and immorality that is tolerated, enabled, and even celebrated across the companies, organizations, and institutions where the people work, learn, and live. They cannot be silent, politically correct, or worse busy seeking favor from the very corrupt, unethical, greedy, and abusive politicians who are leading the people astray and endangering the peace and stability of their own societies.

      What were are witnessing in Greece and more and more in America, is a failure of Orthodox Christians to read, heed, and apply the Gospel and follow the moral tradition, and the lack of courage and ability of too many Orthodox Christian bishops to speak, preach, and teach the Gospel and warn, guide, and lead the people, all the people.

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        Geo Michalopulos says:

        Chris, wise words. But I don’t think that this was Bob’s objection. If anything, he was just pointing out the irresponsibility of the Greek people. Has the Church of Greece let them down? Yes. Has the Greek gov’t let them down? Yes. The people of Greece bear collective responsibility for their actions (and this means infidelity to the Gospel, pridefullness in a pagan past, etc.)

        Also, I simply don’t understand what the attitude of those few Greek-Americans who think it’s the job of the GOA to “do something.” Anyway, they’ve proven themselves incapable of doing anything meaningful in the past.

        Now are we here in America next? you betcha.

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        bob says:

        Chris, I don’t disagree at all!

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    Andrew says:

    Father, thank you for this thoughtful response. I appreciate that you have taken the time to delve into this question in so much detail. I believe you are correct that all of these disconnects and tensions revolve around the question of how do we define the human person. It should also be noted that today’s Orthodoxy-lite is not a susbstitute for a robust expression of Orthodox Christianity. People can notice the difference and will also -when given a choice- choiose the fullness of the faith over a compromise.

    I think the GOA believes it can be neutral. It believes it can ride out the current cultural issues both here and abroad by not taking a stand, not taking a side and not making real choices. However, neutrality is not an option and by not making a choice the GOA is becoming a casualty of modern culture rather than an institution that helps renew it.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Andrew, regarding your point about neutrality, yes, absolutely. The reason is that neutrality does not exist. It’s a fiction. So I would strengthen your point even more: taking a neutral stand (Orthodoxy-lite as you put it, others call it Vichy Orthodoxy) means you will be swallowed up by the secular culture that you hope to appease.

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    bob says:

    Perhaps a way for hierarchs to comment on bad government and bad citizens is the sermons “On the Statues” by St John Chrysostom that he preached in Antioch. IN a tax revolt the people in the city destroyed images of the imperial family, a treasonous act, and the population was really threatened with military action. The terrible situation ( I think it was in Lent, too) got people into church in a big way, and he had their attention. I haven’t rad closely, but I don’t think he really mentions the particulars of the political situation, doesn’t mention the emperor. He tells the people they need to repent. Good message then and now. If Greeks (or anyone else) listened (or didn’t) then, they will or won’t now. Chrysostom isn’t Orthodox-lite.

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    FrGOA says:

    As a priest in the GOA, whose ministry is strictly post Iakovian, I cannot speak firsthand about those years from that perspective. As a child, however, growing up in the GOA in the late sixties into the 70s, I never heard my priest (one priest for my entire life, into adulthood) speak about Constantinople, or Greece for that matter. But somehow with the enthronement of Bartholomew at the opening of the 90s, things began to change, and the talk of Constantinople was on the ascent. I was dragged into the mystique myself, and made quite a few pilgrimages to the Center. Early on, in my experience, it seemed that there was something noble about the Church in captivity, strong, even courageous. However, as time went on, and Bartholomew began to assert himself in his role, I personally began to see a strange transformation occur – what was noble, strong, even courageous began to become noxious to me. The odor of socialism, and as Fr. JJ has said, the embrace of modern apocalyptic fadism became impossible to ignore. The encyclicals became more and more imbued with a litany of anti-gospel, socialist, leftist philosophies, instead of true Wisdom. We can all speculate on the purpose / source of this transformation – I cannot enter the mind of the man to know for certain. Now comes Greece and its rotting carcas, the now dying result of those selfsame philosophies. And the GOA’s response today is the clarion call to support our suffering brothers. Just like we have been supporting Constantinople, who by the way, as we all know, once upon a time was broke as well. But what are we giving towards? The Blessed Apostle Paul collected for the Saints in Jerusalem – is that what we are doing? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

    My point is we have been supporting both self-created bankrupt ecosystems, without calling to account, without witness to the Gospel. Why? Because the GOA, where we (or at least I) are is utterly lost amidst this confusing sea. It doesn’t know if it is Greek, as understood by the Holy Fathers, or Greek as understood by the Exterior Ministry of Greece (tourism, the Parthenon, et. al.). It doesn’t know if it is Constantinoplitan, in the sense as the inheritors of the True Faith, as defended and witnessed in the martyric witness of the Saints, or merely institutionally, a propped up relic. So the good priests, as Fr. JJ rightly says, strive to steer their local parishes with a right understanding of both, while the Center in New York, tosses the entire ark this way and that, sometimes rightly, more times wrongly, creating confusion, fear, uncertainty as to the right course to take.

    What is the answer? The Gospel, of course, as has been said. But, we are also witnesses, and as such, we must speak out, in humility!…without acerbic wit, biting sarcasm (as I am wont to do out of frustration), so that we can be heard without a fussy covering. Clearly speaking, openly proclaiming, the things we have received. The cultural inheritance received is precious, but has been denigrated and misused, even the language, and all it’s artifacts, to say something it does not mean to say. So if we are one race, the race of Christians, how shall we support our brothers and sisters, suffering here, acting badly there, those who are just men and women without power as well as those who occupy thrones. The answer is always the same, Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen from the dead.

    Pardon the “anonymous” posting, but unfortunately, for many of us, Constantinople is not the only place in captivity. As priests in the GOA, many of us cannot even speak openly or sign our names publicly.

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      Geo Michalopulos says:

      FrGOA, thank you for responding as you did. I wonder how many other GOA priests feel as you do? (I know quite a few myself.)

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    Andrew says:

    FrGOA, thank you for your well considered reflection. I hope you will post more reflections as conscience call you to do so but I also understand that given the precarious state of our clergy and their families it is best to let the laity do the heavy lifting and for clergy to remain silent partners in these efforts. Pray for us all Father!

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    Andrew says:

    I could not help but notice this week’s editorial in the National Herald criticizing the GOA’s effort this week to help Greece as half-hearted and too little, too late. The internal contradiction rolls on indeed.

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      bob says:

      I might suggest that if the Greeks (the ones in Greece) don’t listen to the Church there (which has been teaching the same thing for 2000 years) that the Orthodox *here* (same faith) have little to add?

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    I am so happy to have found this blog. Thank you Fr. Hans and everyone who has posted here.

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    Fantastic article and reflections.

    It fits into the notion that we have promoted at http://WeAreOrthodox.com that the GOA is in a crisis. Our perspective is to highlight that this crisis of definition and identity is being exploited.

    Hopefully all of our efforts will move the GOA and its faithful into a better understanding of who we are. Unfortunately this does not preclude the possibility that the situation may denigrate to the point of a schism before it gets any better.

    Perhaps God’s Grace will allow us remedy before something like this happens.

    YP

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      macedonianReader says:

      I really disliked the news piece on St. Anthony’s Monastery.

      There is nothing “mysterious” about St. Anthony’s. Most monks/nuns are “disconnected” this isn’t brainwashing. IF these sorts of stories are odd to you, pick up the book written by St. John Climacus on Ascending the Ladder and see what sorts of feelings and thoughts some of the images from the Syrian Monasteries conjure up.

      It is nothing new for some parents of monks/nuns who leave for monastery to feel as if their children are being brainwashed, or were kidnapped, or somehow influenced into joining outside of a calling.

      I’d like to ask the news reporter how many monasteries she’s visited or how much she knew about Orthodoxy prior to making this piece in order for her report to be considered objective.

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    Dale says:

    As tiresome as the climbing aboard, one suspects for political leverage with the secular left-wing in Western Europe, the global warming bandwaggon this pales in comparison to support given by the Greeks for abortion on demand, and to quote the present Ecumenical Patriarch: “Although the Orthodox church believes the soul enters the body at conception and, ‘generally speaking, respects human life and the continuation of pregnancy,’” [Bartholomais said, the church also] ”respects the liberty and freedom of all human persons and all Christian couples. We are not allowed to enter the bedrooms of the Christian couples,” [he said] ”We cannot generalize. There are many reasons for a couple to go toward abortion” (http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/10/a-patriarch-who-generally-speaking-respects-human-life/). Yet no Orthodox seems to bat an eye at such opinions coming from one of their foremost leaders; they seem to prefer to attack the West in general instead.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Dale, the EP’s PC opinions are one of the primary reasons few accept the leadership of the GOA here in the U.S. The eyes not only ‘bat’, but the voices say NO. Most simply don’t know how far the EP has strayed from Orthodox doctrine. He has imbibed the spirit of the age–drunk on worldly wisdom rather than on the Holy Spirit I’m afraid. That is the fruit of 1600 years of dimminutude that he inherited with his office-he simply does not have the strength to overcome his inheritance. I believe that much of the disorder and weakness of the Church here in the U.S also has its roots in that same dimminutude. As yet we don’t have the strength to overcome either. It is far easier to live in the past and complain about the ‘gators in the moat that keep us in our castles.

      The only thing that will make us strong again, I believe, is oppression, i.e., when it becomes obvious to all that worldly power hates Christ and those who follow Him. Then we will see who is really a follower of Christ and who is a follower of the great liar. Surely we will all be surprised espeically by our own decisions.

      We cannot ‘protect’ the Church or purify her. We can only do the best we can to guard our own hearts and submit to the love of Christ and allow Him to purify us. It is either that or surrender to the sweet velvet darkness of the great nothing.

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