When Health and Human Services (HHS) imposed their mandate that Christian institutions subsidize contraception and abortifacent drugs, the Catholic Church responded forcefully. The Orthodox Church supports our Catholic brothers even though we were late to step to the plate. At least we are in the game.
Many however (myself included) indicated that what drove the Assembly to action was the criticism of John Couretas, Fr. Peter Preble and others. Both wrote blistering critiques of Assembly inaction and apparent apathy. Embarrassment may have driven them to action. Despite this, the Assembly still did the right thing, and the right thing always counts (read the statement).
But where is the follow-up?
Some people say there will be no follow-up, that the original statement is all that we can reasonably expect. They say that the GOA — the largest of the Orthodox jurisdictions — has no stomach for this fight and will gag any Orthodox voice that wants to speak out. It goes back to their confusion between the gospel and culture.
As I noted in an earlier post, the GOA is vested in a group of wealthy laymen who are more interested in Byzantine nostalgia than serious engagement with America (you know, the country in which we actually live). Even when they deal with the Greece collapse the response is predictable. Send more money. It’s a half-hearted, truncated effort all too characteristic of the post-Iakovian Church.
Others point a finger to the Committee for Church and Society of the Orthodox Assembly of Bishops chaired by His Eminence Metropolitan Savvas Zembillas of Pittsburgh. There’s some substance to this charge as well.
Previously, Monomakhos took His Eminence to task for ridiculing Christian conservatives on his Facebook page (see: Tea Party Jesus: Sermon on the Mall that he posted). He took it down almost immediately. Whether he came to his senses or was embarrassed by the opprobrium that was heaped on him is anyone’s guess. Either way, he has moved on. Now he’s undermining the Catholic critique of Obamacare.
His Eminence can be slippery. He avoids direct comment on issues but all his postings are decidedly left-leaning, most often Progressive. His most recent argument is that since most Catholics don’t follow their Church’s teach on contraception, we don’t have to take the repudiation of the HHS mandates by the Catholic hierarchy all that seriously.
Zembillas doesn’t say what he hopes to accomplish by posting these critiques, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out. When you affirm the critiques, you also affirm the reasoning and the purpose for which they were written. Zembillas says, in so many non-words, that the people who criticize the Catholic Bishops are the ones we should listen to.
It’s no secret that Zembillas is an Obama devotee (actually, uncritical apologist is closer to the truth). No problem there as long as Zembillas doesn’t confuse his liberal ideology with the Gospel mandates. But the constant bashing of all things non-Progressive gets tiresome, even offensive.
Should a sitting Bishop use leftist cliches to suborn the traditionalist Christian moral teaching? And why is he doing it? Is he afraid to take the stand the moral tradition requires? How would you explain his reflexive liberalism otherwise?
Most important, do the other Bishops in the Assembly know he is undermining their public statement?
Here is a recent critical posting on his Facebook page: Analysis: Bishops’ contraception objections fail their church’s own moral reasoning. Overall it’s an informative article but the title tells you what side they’re on. How come almost all of Zembillas’ postings fall on that side?
I realize that nobody in the Church is perfect, but imperfection cannot be used as a cudgel against those who dare to speak truth to power. So not all Catholics obey the teachings? Really? What about the Orthodox? Look at the preening of some some our bishops and priests or the thuggish and brutish behavior of some laity towards them. Look at our endless fundraisers and all the other loopy things we Orthodox do. Look at our paltry (but improving) social witness. If Zembillas requires absolute fidelity to the tradition by Catholic laity before their Bishops can speak, then we should never hear a peep out of any of ours.
A failure in one area cannot be used as as inducement to not do anything at all. In like manner, neither can we Orthodox use our customary quietude and reluctance to judge others as an excuse for not wanting to enter the fray and get our hands dirty when others need us.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Bp Demetrios Kantzavellos of Chicago has shown that it is possible to engage the culture and still run an active diocese — that we Orthodox can walk and chew gum at the same time. He has joined with Bp Matthias Moriak of Chicago to help OCLife open an Orthodox home for unwed mothers (as noted in another post). It’s the right thing to do and it will redound to the benefit of all Orthodox Christians in Chicago of every jurisdiction. We don’t see any cheap sermonizing there, no preaching of moral equivalency to excuse us from doing nothing.
The default position of liberals everywhere is to complain about suffering but not do anything about it. Instead, a liberal forces others to dip into their pockets so that he can spend the money himself. The Metropolitan of Pittsburgh is no different. One of his first acts as hierarch was to order all churches in his diocese to increase their assessments by 10 percent (yes, 10% in this time of economic privation). It would be easier to swallow if, say, His Eminence took a 10% pay cut or maybe funded a new charity or two in his diocese (a soup kitchen? a free-clinic?) but no go. Instead, give more money, but for what?
The Orthodox presence in America is paltry and our resources are meager, but does that mean that we should not do the right thing? Of course we should. Sure, Orthodox hospitals won’t be built overnight. Nevertheless, the Gospel demands that we join others who are stepping up to the plate. Besides, we have something no other Christian confession has: the full weight of Patristic thought which enables us to make the right arguments and address moral problems with coherence and clarity.
Remember this: the HHS mandates are no less egregious in our day than Julian the Apostate’s diktat that Christians have to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
No, the Catholics aren’t perfect, nobody is. But the HHS mandates cannot be allowed to stand and Met. Savas Zembillas should stop undermining Orthodox resolve and our public witness against our Catholic brothers.
Will Met. Savas get the message? Is it too much to ask the other Orthodox bishops for a follow-up? We could start by looking at the health plan that we offer our priests.