Unfortunately, this is not the way things are usually done in the GOA. For example, all the work of the Clergy-Laity Congresses of decades past was thrown out the window by the Phanar a little over ten years ago when the Charter was unilaterally changed by Istanbul. It’s been hard ever sense to shake the perception that arbitrariness and irregularity is the dominant paradigm.
A Quick History of the Salt Lake Problem
One of the few things left untouched was the Uniform Parish Regulations (UPR), as it would be impossible to micromanage individual churches from overseas. One of the more iron-clad rules found in the UPR is that once new parishes are established, they have to have their own rector, parish council, and by-laws. That’s per state regulations by the way and it’s certainly not antithetical to canonical norms. As mentioned in the previous post on this matter, the majority of the two congregations in Salt Lake City (Holy Trinity and St Elijah) didn’t see things that way. They always shared one parish council between them and considered themselves to be one community.
Met. Isaiah told them it was time to split up and become independent parishes, just as the UPR’s required. You would think by the reaction that Mount St. Helen’s had erupted again. No go said that parishes and after many acrimonious months, the Ecumencial Patriarch ordered Archbishop Demetrios to settle the score. Demetrius sent out two lieutenants and we are waiting to see what happens.
Now, the fact that they have gotten along so well all these years speaks well to their Christian spirit. That’s not the issue here. We should always get along. The problem is one of Christian maturity and obedience to the proper authority. All His Eminence did was try to enforce the UPR. After all, he is not an auxiliary bishop but a metropolitan of an actual, living See. (The lieutenants govern non-existent Sees.) As such, he did what he had to do to enforce discipline, including excommunicating three of the ringleaders, two of whom happen to be members of Leadership 100. Of course this action was unfortunate but it was well within his rights as a ruling hierarch. He certainly didn’t act arbitrarily but only because negotiations had broken down.
But is he really a ruling hierarch? Are the current “metropolises” in reality just another of the internal contradictions within the GOA that are becoming more apparent with each passing day? Are the newly-minted metropolitans really nothing more than glorified auxiliary bishops?
It sure looks that way. Read this story from The National Herald and judge for yourself:
Archbishop Intervenes in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Archbishop Demetrios of America sent two emissaries – Bishops Andonios of Fasiane, chancellor of the Archdiocese, and Sebastian of Zela, chief secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod – to Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver to tell him to end the issue affecting the greater Salt Lake City Greek Orthodox community immediately. TNH has learned that the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople has become increasingly concerned about divisive situations in Archdiocese parishes caused by hierarchs – as is the case in the Metropolises of Denver and Boston – and Patriarch Bartholomew reportedly questions why Demetrios does not intervene to save the parishes. Isaiah apparently has confused the situation even more so by having appointed a new parish council for 2012 through “correspondence,” marking the third consecutive year that parish’s council has been chosen without the process of elections.
How the Chain of Command Works
Where to begin? There are so many layers to this story. Perhaps the most egregious one are the strong-arm tactics being used against the Metropolitan; the “end-this-thing-before-it-gets-anymore-out-of-hand-quickly” thuggishness being employed by 79th Street. No less than two auxiliary bishops have been sent to force Isaiah to back down. This is not the brotherly concern that diocesan bishops would exhibit for one of their peers who is struggling with a delicate matter. And it gives the lie to the idea that the bishops are all equal. That’s because when push comes to shove, the diocesan boundaries of the GOA do not demarcate real dioceses but merely administrative districts (regardless of what The Orthodox Observer says to the contrary). This is nothing more than Corporate barking orders at a mid-level district manager, telling him to straighten up the mess or else.
Even the real pecking order is not Istanbul -> New York -> Denver (which is bad enough in a church where the bishops are supposedly all equal), but Leadership 100/Archons -> Karloutsos -> Istanbul -> New York -> Denver. (Fr Alexander Karloutsos is a kind of papal legate who functions as the eyes and ears of Patriarch Bartholomew from his perch in New York.)
Make no mistake, the reason that Istanbul is worried is because the real power in the GOA is the Archon/Leadership 100 axis. They’ve proven before that they can roll bishops from Boston all the way to Istanbul. And they are mad at Isaiah because he dared to excommunicate a couple of their own. So yeah, for them, it is very personal.
Looking at the Future
What does this portend for the future? Several years ago, your humble correspondent carried on a rather heated and lengthy exchange on another blog (the American Orthodox Institute) with a fellow Greek-American, who unlike yours truly, was still in the GOA. At issue was whether the GOA was autonomous or merely an appendage of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and whether its bishops had any real authority.
My interlocutor maintained that the bishops of the “Holy Eparchial Synod” were real bishops and had complete authority within their respective dioceses. Being a member of the OCA, I begged to differ. For one thing, in the GOA, parishes gave monies directly to 79th Street, which then kicks back a set amount to the dioceses as part of a revenue-sharing scheme. It’s not a bad one but it undermines the entire idea of independent dioceses. After all, whoever controls the purse strings rules.
On the other hand, in the OCA, each of its dioceses are independent and function unmolested from any central administrative authority. (In fact, the entire concept of the central administration is being openly questioned in the OCA at this very moment.) Though the last year was anything but pleasant for the OCA, the underlying point was never disproved. For all its faults, the OCA was — and is — autocephalous. That lay elites within it tried to remove our Metropolitan was unfortunate but it came to naught. In any case, the action against His Beatitude was internal and not one orchestrated from overseas. In the GOA, such coups are distressingly all too common.
An Earlier Prediction
In the earlier posting on this issue I made a prediction: that if the Archons acted, Istanbul would react; yet another bishop would have the rug pulled out from under him. Usually in a situation such as this, the bishop in question is given a face-saving way out. This usually means that he would announce his “retirement” within a short time.
In the case of Chronopoulos, the first part of my prediction came true, I hope the second one doesn’t. He’s too good a bishop to be thrown under the bus simply because some big boys didn’t want to play by the rules. Moreover, the reversion to form would forever cement the notion that the rules don’t matter in the churches dominated by Istanbul. The stereotypical, nudge-nudge/wink-wink, make-it-up-as-we-go-along nature of things will be even more difficult to dislodge.
If nothing else, it will throw more sand in the gears of eventual jurisdictional unity in North America. Why? Because it reinforces the notion that the real power in the the GOA is not the episcopate — or even the Ecumenical Patriarch — but a secular elite of worldly businessmen who are acutely aware of their power over that same episcopate. But that’s a story for another day.
For the moment, we’ve got to do all we can to make sure that these bullying tactics don’t work, as they did against the two former primates of the GOA. Hang in there, Your Eminence!