To the anonymous priest-critic of the Manhattan Declaration

George Michalopulos answers the “Orthodox Priest” (name withheld) whose critical comments about the Manhattan Declaration were posted on The Observer (here) by Harry Katopodis:

A Response to an Orthodox Priest Regarding the Manhattan Declaration

Dec 21, 2009

Reverend Father, bless! Christ is in our midst!

As you can tell by my name, I am a layman, not a clergyman. Neither am I a theologian, therefore what follows must be viewed with that in mind. Be that as it may, I am at a loss to understand how the Manhattan Declaration is a document whose “…theology is not Orthodox” (as you state). This is a bold assertion. Therefore I am forced to ask which heretical and/or heterodox teachings were promulgated within the Declaration. As two Orthodox bishops and several Orthodox priests were involved in its creation, I need to know if they were wrong in any way.

You then go on to state that the Declarations “approach to pastoral ministry…is not Orthodox.” Unless I am mistaken, this document makes no mention at all of pastoral responsibilities as its intent is simply a declaration of first principles as commonly understood within the light of 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Usually pastoral issues are the province of a pastor and his parishioner.

More troubling however is what comes next. You write that it is full of “fear, arrogance, and a lack of compassion.” May I ask, are you not fearful of losing religious liberties? I know many clergymen who have expressed concerns regarding the loss of liberty that has attended our society these last few decades. Perhaps you have not thought the implications of loss of religious liberty through: what will you do as an Orthodox priest when a homosexual couple arrives at your parish’s door and demands that you sanctify their union? Are you aware that if you do not, you may lose your church’s tax exemption? It is even possible that you can be condemned for committing a so-called hate crime (a logical redundancy if there ever was one –all crimes are the action of hate). These are not scare tactics. In Canada, pastors are forbidden from preaching on those biblical texts that condemn sexual immorality.

As for its supposed “arrogance,” since when is it arrogant to proclaim the common teaching of the Christian Church? And I simply don’t know what to do about your concern that the Declaration evinces a “lack of compassion.” Not to belabor the point, but the signers merely reiterated three fundamental principles of Christianity that the Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox signatories agree are fundamental and certainly not divisive. I’m sure that the one hundred and fifty-one signatories that gathered together for this historic document are any different in principle from the myriad of other ecumenical gatherings that you and other Orthodox clergymen have partaken of in the past. By this, I mean groups like the National Council of Churches and others of their ilk. Or am I to assume that you condemn Orthodox participation in these bodies and that you abstain from them based on your own principles? If so, then I beg your forgiveness as then you would be philosophically consistent in your abstention from signing the Declaration and advocating its repudiation.

As to your assertion that it contains “hatred disguised as fidelity,” I simply don’t know what to make of this. Have you been granted the gift of knowing what lurks in the hearts of the three authors and the 148 other signatories? That is a bold statement. Chuck Colson has spent the better part of the last forty years atoning for his sins by ministering to the wretched who are languishing in our worst prisons. By which benchmark would you consider this type of witness “hatred”? May I ask sir, how many prisoners have you ministered to?

And what am it to make of your statement that “you are tired of politics being shoved down our throats”? Fair enough, I know many people who likewise are tired of having “progressive” policies shoved down their throats as well. Right off the bat, I can think of things like mandatory sex education for their children, minors being taken across state lines for abortions, confiscation of primary domiciles for commercial purposes in clear violation of the Fifth Amendment, the excision of prayer from local schools, and so on. I suppose it depends on whose ox is being gored, as the old cliché would have it.

As to the parade of horribles that you aver has “co-opted” Orthodoxy, you assume too much. That the conservative side of the political continuum has been reduced to being the sole secular defender of traditional morality is no cause for pride. After all, according to popular mythology, it was the left side of this spectrum that traditionally championed the cause of the ordinary working man. If you permit me an aside here, as the son of a proud Democrat and lifelong union member, I cannot find a time in history in which the great heroes of that political tradition were as beholden to the family-destroying programs as they are at present. In fact, quite the opposite.

As for oikonomeia, what exactly are you talking about? You owe us an explanation as you are obviously perturbed that many Orthodox seem to not know what it means. Am I to assume that Christ died for us and accepts us as we are? Or are we to strive for theosis? How exactly does one accomplish this if his sins are given ecclesiastical sanction?

Finally, I categorically deny your baseless criticism that “this Declaration represents the cowardly way of hypocrites and scoundrels.” How so? Did they not sign their names to this document? Yes, they did, as did I. Your own epistle however is unsigned.

In Christ,

George C Michalopulos


  1. Well Done George. What the anonmymous priest and those who share his views do not understand is that they are actually causing harm to people. Real Actual harm. I have some detailed thoughts on this issue I would like to gather and present but lets just say that if everything is economia and emotion then 2000 years of Orthodoxy mean nothing. Its a Church that never says NO. Its a Church with no boundaries. You can do whatever you want and still be Orthodox because (and I have heard this directly said) there is no such think as Orthodox morality. Economia trumps morality. This is not real love at all.

    Take the example of a couple that wants to move-in together and has many reasons to do so. Despite social data and the Tradition of the Church, the economia model of Orthodoxy will not say no to this because feelings come before reality. Its about “luv” and concern after all. Hurting the feelings of someone is a much greater transgression than leading them to truth.

    It is not economia for pastors or Church leaders to rationalize bad choices that lead to harm for both families and Children and ultimately sabotage relationships. Church leaders who practice such phony economia ultimately inflict long-term and serious damage on the people in their care.

    I am not a model Christian but no matter how far I fall I will never imagine that the Church should conform to me in my sinfulness. I must work harder to conform to the Church. Real love can and must say NO because in the eyes of the Church there is a far greater and more beautiful YES.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    What really drives the argument that “An Orthodox Priest” put forward is the fear that Orthodoxy might be perceived as belonging to the “Religious Right.” (Whenever you hear language like “fear, arrogance, and a lack of compassion” replacing reasoned discourse you can bet that emotion, not clear thinking, is driving the argument.)

    Secondly, “economia” is in fact principled compassion. It operates alongside the teachings of the moral tradition, not in distinction to it.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Amen, Isa. I for the life of me don’t understand why Orthodox priests should go out of their way to make a reckless and unthinking accomodation to the world. At the risk of being judgmental, I rather think that it may be because the priests in question are either faithfless or living less than exemplary lives themselves.

    Andrew, I love your definition about economia.

  4. Antiochian friend :

    I know of an Orthodox priest who writes about his fear of the religious right. His review of Frank Schaeffer’s latest book was full of his disgust for them. He praised Frank for latest book as an example of writings by a thoughtful Orthodox Christian. page 32-33

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Antiochian friend, I took out the name you supplied because we have no way of knowing if your assertion is correct or not. The pdf of course remains because that is part of the public record.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    well, I don’t care who he is. I just wish he had the courage of his convictions and signed his letter. I’ve long given up hope that woolly-headed liberals in the priesthood/ministry can think cogently or mutter anything other than pleasant bromides. Hence, my specific requests and/or pointed objections to each and every one of his assertions.

  6. Michael Bauman :

    It is so incredibly easy to replace the Gospel of Christ with our own ideology. It is one of the great tempations of this age, IMO. Ideological, dichotomous thinking always obscures the love and mercy of Christ and truncates the ability of the Church to respond in a prophetic and pastoral manner.

    It is easy to see the the ideological bias of someone with which we disagree, much more difficult to see our own. The remedy, it seems, is learning how to really love our enemies.

    That does not remove our responsibility to stand for the truth, but it will allow for healing and reconcilliation as well as righteous judgement. Only then is Christ glorified.

    Of course, as with most of what I post here, I convict myself with my own words.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

    • I agree completely, with one caveat. The temptation to recreate God in our own image goes back to the garden and is unique to no particular age. It reminds me of an old Irish saying (at least, the fellow who told me was old . . . and Irish . . . and said so): “In the beginning, God created man. . . . and man returned the compliment.” Even in the Church the temptation to reduce it to “what works for me” is too powerful for many of us.
      The miracle is to find folks who do hold faithfully to the message of Christ – in any age. This, I am convinced, is not possible without a deep and relentless sacramental ascetism that is rooted in the Tradition and faith of the Church.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Just a sharpening of the terms Michael…

      One can’t really replace the Gospel with ideology. That would be called idolatry. To posit that the Gospel can be replaced with ideology implies that the Gospel too is ideological. It can’t be since it is the word of truth, and only the word of truth can penetrate the dark places. (The Paraklesis of the Theotokos — Akathist Hymn — expresses this clearly from the point of view of the Theotokos, that is from humanity upwards, in poetic terms (and thus the most powerful mode of the spoken word; poetry touches the unseen verities); and the final distinction it draws (because the conflicts were laid more bare than they are today) is the one between truth and idolatry.)

      I understand you don’t mean the Gospel is ideological of course and it is true that people “replace the Gospel with ideology” in that what they believe functions as truth, even if what they believe is a lie. But again, the terms are important here. The Gospel is not an counter-ideology, it is the word that penetrates all ideologies and ultimately judges them as false — as a lie to be absolutely accurate. And the reason is that the Gospel is the word of truth is true is because when that word is spoken (preached) and heard, it reveals Him who is Truth.

      The Gospel then, is not true because it is more compelling, comprehensive, capable of rational answers to the deepest questions (although it is all these things) than the counter-ideologies. It is true because only words can penetrate the dark places — reveal ideology* as a lie, by revealing Truth.

      *Ideology here means a self-enclosed and self-referencing super-structure of ideas (Marxism, feminism, etc.).

      Ideologues understand this. That’s why Lenin tried to eradicate Orthodoxy from Russia, or Hitler the Jews (the branches were withered, so he went after the root), or the radical atheists in trying to remove Christianity from the cultural memory of Christendom by prohibiting its symbols, etc.

      • This huge effort “to remove Christianity from the cultural memory” will eventually help(some) people get cured of their spiritual blindness. People will notice the effort and start asking why … The Truth is so obvious, but somehow we are blind. Certainly not born blind, we become blind because we are pointed the wrong way.

        In our time very few believe in demonic and sin. Now that the atrocities of the atheist communist regimes were exposed one cannot deny that only “demonic intelligence” could come up with things like that. It is up to each one of us if we choose to ignore the evidence. God does not force us to believe in Him, we have to make a choice. Can’t have two masters. It is how Michael put it: “We are at war, continual war.”

      • Father, I agree, excuse me for being a little sloppy. I was refering to the temptation to allow ideological thinking to drive the truth from our hearts. Ideologies are comforting and self-confirming because they do not require us to change. Thus, as one example, it becomes quite easy to condemn politicans personally from a ‘Christian’ perspective simply becasue we disagree with their actions. The whole understanding of the need to recognize and heal sin is abandoned for the self-righteousness of ideological ‘truth’ and purity.

        I was thinking primarily of St. Paul in the fisrt chapter of Romans and his ringing statement on worshiping the created thing more than the creator. Ideology is created by our diseased and fallen mind, fueled by our sinful heart and always leads to separation and destruction.

        Unfortunately, even religion can take on an ideological character when we ignore the transformative encounter with the incarnate savior and concentrate on the rules and practices alone; when we ignore the life of the community and concentrate on only our own existence; when we reject the Cross for the false comfort and acceptance of the world.

  7. The miracle is to find folks who do hold faithfully to the message of Christ – in any age. This, I am convinced, is not possible without a deep and relentless sacramental ascetism that is rooted in the Tradition and faith of the Church.

    It looks to me that you just discovered that we need some sort of guidance to find our ways to the Kingdom. It is absolutely true that it is impossible to find the way relying on ourselves.
    The good Lord took care of us and left us the Saints and the examples of their lives. Unfortunately not very much of this wealth is translated into English.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Plus we need priests and monastics who are formed in the spiritual tradition of the Church. There should be no essential argument over such fundamental resposnes to abortion, homosexuality, ordaining women, buiness ethics, etc. The eschatological dimension of the faith must never be forgotten. The importance of regular confession and particpation in the Eucharist and other sacraments with an open and humble heart must be continually re-emphasized.

      We must answer the question that Jesus asked: “whom do you say that I am”. He is either the Christ, the son of the living God who was crucified-died and rose from the dead or we are deluded.

      None of the world’s categories are worthy of our devotion. It is the world’s categories which inevitably create divisive ideological camps that frustrate our ability to receive and transmit the living reality of God Incarnate.

      We are at war, continual war. The Cross is our greatest weapon but the one that I run from most of the time because it means eschewing my favorite idols, thinking myself wise. Jesus Christ implored God to forgive us from the Cross.

      It is only from the Cross that we can speak truth with power.

    • Though I would not have phrased it this way, it was a key reason I became Orthodox some 17 years ago. What continues to surprise me is that the deeper I “dig,” the more I see how pernicious and pervasive are my ego’s efforts to bend everything to its will. As the Fathers have often noted, even our best efforts to live humbly and die to self can be subtly twisted so that these, too, become self-serving. Michael is right: our combat is unending. While it is difficult to live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to faith and which actively promotes myriad distortions and temptations, the real fight is in our hearts where – as Solzhenitsyn noted – the line between good and evil is drawn. It isn’t the dragons without but those within that wreak havoc in our lives. (Or, as St. James put it: we are undone by our own disordered desires [1:13-15].) One needs the wisdom and insight of true spiritual fathers to navigate the treacherous waters of the fallen soul. It is invaluable to have these available to us in English; it is imperative to meet them in person.

      • The monastic rule was that those unable to cut out his own will and become perfect in obedience be sent back into the world. The time frame given to achieve this was three years.

        Obedience is the grave of your own will. This is a very difficult thing to do. It can be so frustrating that all is left to do for you is to continually rise up your mind and heart toward God.

        In our time it is difficult to find true spiritual fathers. Our hope is that if we are honest and humble in our search, God will pour His Grace and compensate for our shortcomings.

  8. How about our youth? Has anyone considered how this Orthodoxy-Lite, Orthodoxy as Social Justice, Economia before morality affects our youth. A while back I noticed that OCF (Orthodox Campus Fellowship) was running an event called Pilgrimage for Justice. It was supposed to be big but turned out small. Nonetheless, The whole social justice movement seems to be a point of emphasis for how OCF reaches Orthodox youth. Honestly, I am not sure what the leadership of OCF is up to. They seem to be taking a very political and left-leaning stance in their work.

    This concerns me greatly because there seems to be little pro-life or other essential Orthodox moral issues involved in this new emphasis. It looks like a save the world type of mentality with very little emphasis on what a culture of life actually means.

    I would like to invite AOI readers to check out the twitter feed from the OCF executive director during the Pilgrimage for Justice. There are plenty of photos and comments.

    You can view the twitter feed here (you have to page down for the photos):

    I am all for Campus fellowship its essential but the creeping left leaning stuff that is often sold gives me a moment of pause.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, is Campus fellowship under any type of pastoral authority? To my mind, a good, spiritually-attuned priest who can think rigorously and demand participation in regular confession could right that ship. (That is if it’s gone on the left-end of things at the expense of Truth.) These kids’ passion for justice is a good thing and needs to be cultivated, but they need to be made aware of the danger signs. After all, all good progressive movements (and some not-so-good) started out with Christian principles.

    • I would check the SCOBA website to see if OCF has any oversight. Last I heard Met. Isaiah was the hierarchal overseer but who really knows how all this works and who answers to who.

      What concerns me is when I read anonymous talk against such a common sense document like the Manhattan Declaration and see Campus Fellowship preaching a very fashionable social justice vision is that we are neglecting the basic moral literacy that young people crave and need to make good life choices.

      The anger of the anon. priest critic and the social justice retreat at OCF are connected. They are efforts to make Orthodoxy fashionable and hip at the expense of true and beautiful. Lets be honest most of the time its the Hip priests and speakers who speak at retreats.

      I also believe such retreats and events are not very tolerant of pro-life folks or folks with different views on solving poverty etc. Imagine some pro-life student showing up at the Pilgrimage for Justice who promotes the viewpoint of Milton Friedman that the only way people have been lifted out of poverty is through freedom and capitalism. Imagine turning the metaphorical OCF shanty town into a thriving capitalist system? How would that go over with the retreat leaders? I suspect not so good.

      Orthodox Morality is non-negotiable. An Orthodox solution to poverty is an issue that can be completely debated by people of good will.

      What really concerns me is that people in leadership positions from 79th Street to OCF are really disconnected from everyday Orthodoxy in America. I also believe that people both young and old who hold common sense moral positions are being marginalized by professional Orthodox people in leadership positions who have a political axe to grind. My own experience tells me that there are more than a few people who have been called all sorts of things like “fundamentalist”, “bigot”, “ignorant”, “greedy’ etc for simply holding a common sense view that is supported by Orthodox Tradition.

      Lets be honest our kids do not need Orthodox leaders preaching community organizing and boasting of their work on their twitter feed or iphone. They need the truth about human life. They need the Gospel in all its truth and beauty.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Careful guys. I know Fr. Kevin Scherer who directs OCF. He’s a solid guy. They might be using the term “social justice” as short-hand, a forgivable offense considering our discussion of the term is a bit, well, rarefied.

        OCF stresses service to others as a counterpoint to the sex-drugs-rock and roll-MTV culture that surrounds college students. They do a ton of good, for both Orthodox students and the needy.

  10. Michael Bauman :

    Salvation and justice have nothing in common. Justice is always about fairness and human equality, i.e., egalitarianism. We can be quite thankful that God is not just.

    The biggest problem is that the concept of sin is ultimately discarded as being ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’. Utopianism replaces repentance and reconcilliation with God.

  11. Slippery Slope Anyone? The following article was featured on the cover of the Sunday Boston Globe Magazine.

    Love’s new frontier
    It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston, is liberal Massachusetts ready to accept it?

    I wonder what the economia before morality folks are going to do if a polyamorous household shows up at an Orthodox parish?

    On another note, you just know there is some enterprising “change the world- I know better than you” student who claims to be an Orthodox student of Theology who will not put forth some paper or dissertation along the lines of “The Trinitarian Basis of Polyamory as seen in the idea of Being As Communion”

  12. George Michalopulos :

    Amen. Truth be told, this is why I’ve always been so up in arms about “gay marriage.” Not because I hate homosexuals, but because once the state (and certain churches) give sanction to homoerotic couplings, then there is no logical basis for denying them to polyamorous ones. Now I realize that polyamorous relationships are intrinsically unstable and will not amount to much in the long run (as will “gay marriages”). The real danger is polygyny, that is that once homosexuals are allowed to “marry” and then the polyamorous, then polygyny must be sanctioned by the state as well.

    So what’s bad about polygyny? After all, this is normative in most societies throughout the world. I’ll tell you: polygynous societies are inherently more violent than monogamous ones. (I have to put on my sociologist [which I’m not[ hat here so please forgive the shocking language to follow.) In most societies their is a rough parity between men and women (let’s say 1:1). We are all descended from societies in which the “alpha males” who were 20% of the males, had access to at least 3 women. This meant that the vast majority of “beta males” (60%) had limited access at best. These men were invariably poor, young and solitary. They formed a rogue population, always on the lookout for taking the surplus wives of the alpha males. This was and is a recipe for a hyper-violent society. It is presently what obtains in most Islamic societies. In order to deflect the violence outward instead of inward to the alpha males of Muslim society, a doctrine of jihad which promises sexual delights has brainwashed the beta male population to direct their violence outward.

    Christianity, which put the kibosh on Jewish polygamy, and made divorce well-nigh impossible, unleashed the productivity of the beta male cohort in every generation. In essence, each man was granted a wife and he was considered a peer in marriage to even the wealthiest baron. This is also one reason why republicanism and democratic institutions were able to arise only in the West. In addition, the Church instituted derivative rules which only emboldened the liberal prospect for the West (liberal in the classic sense, not the modern debased American sense). Things like the sanction against consanguinity, divorce, concubinage, etc. All of which of course had positive effects on the emancipation of women.

    The normalization of homosexuality reverses all of the above and cheapens the role of women.

    Now of course, as an Orthodox Christian, all of the above is beside the point. Marriage as we understand it is the voluntary union of two complementary sexes who are joined in a sacrament which will enable each to help the other attain eternal salvation.

  13. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :
  14. cynthia curran :

    I agree with you George. Pagan people that were the ancestors of most of us today didn’t support pluralistic marriage. Granted, some of the Celts and some of the Germanic tribes supported it among their chieftians. The franks still did this even in Charlemagne’s day, On the other hand Tactius, wrote the Germans are better on adultery than the Romans. Except for some Americans and English commonwealth countries, marriage law is of course based upon the Justinian Code which while dealing with the heirs of concubines or mistress when legal children were absent, doesn’t encouraged pluristic marriages. Also, sodomy was punished by the law code but like you I feel in the modern world that would not discourage homosexuality. Why Orthodox who gave the world laws on marriage and against homosexuality or polgamy, would now change their minds, I don’t know.

  15. George Michalopulos :

    Cynthia, that’s one of the ironies of civilization, the Jews who gave us monotheism and morality were themselves polygamous (officially so until 1,000 years ago), while the Northern Europeans tended to be strictly monogamous. The Greeks and the Romans were officially hetero-monogamous as well, although men of means were allowed to have concubines and/or the affections of hetarae and lower-class prostitutes without any legal opprobrium. Of course, freeborn men were also allowed to have a young male (usually a teenager) as their catamite. The idea of homosexuality as practiced in the West today (i.e. between two men of equal station and age) was unheard of and would not have been tolerated.

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