The other night I attended the fourth annual March for Life (MFL) in my fair, albeit very cold, city. Hearing the stirring speech by an actual abortion survivor, I feel ever more confident than ever that the fight to preserve the sanctity of life was gaining national traction. As such, it pains me to point out that the OCA, which has long been the champion of the March for Life on the national scene, was shoved aside at the DC March for Life by the GOA. Unfortunately, this did not happen in a vacuum; as I shall presently explain, the loss of moral authority by the OCA made such a move inevitable.
Don’t get me wrong: I was heartily gratified to see Bishop Demetrios Kantsavellos of Chicago give the opening prayer. More, Bishop John Abdallah of the Antiochian jurisdiction was on the dais as well (as were three OCA bishops). After years of banging my head against the wall trying to get more intra-Orthodox participation at the local level, I felt that we had won a significant victory. We could at least point to the GOA’s first open participation at the DC event. Although it would have been easier for our cause had the GOA carried the banner of life from the start there is nothing wrong with being a Johnny-come-lately as we know from Chrysostom’s Paschal sermon.
To his credit, Katsavellos, who is an auxiliary in the GOA Metropolis of Chicago, has been the most vocal of all GOA bishops in the pro-life movement. Indeed, his singular participation and preaching in these regards has been stellar. More, he has attended the annual March for Life rallies in DC many times in the past. (Bishop Maximos Aghiorghoussis of Pittsburgh was the only other GOA bishop to do so back in 1989.) I mean nothing to take away from his participation. This is no small accolade: I imagine he has some serious explaining to do to the Archons (read: money-men) who control the GOA and the other bishops who continue to remain mute on this issue. As most everyone knows, the goal in life of the Archons is not to enable the Greek-American hierarchy to preach the Gospel but to kiss the hem of Caesar’s garment while playing Byzantine dress-up and handing out awards to half-naked Hollywood actresses.
It is for reasons such as these that I don’t think Kantsavellos’ participation was a cynical ploy –at least on his part. So what is my complaint?
Mainly in the way in which it was done. As most everybody in the OCA knows, Archbishop Tikhon Mollard, the primate-apparent of the OCA, was slated to give the opening invocation, as per long-standing tradition. This custom arose because of the good relationship between Fr John Kowalchyk, the Chancellor of Philadelphia, and Nellie Gray, the legendary leader that made the national March for Life happen. Nellie however recently passed away so this vital link between the OCA and DC-MFL was severed and because of her passing, the organization for the rally fell formally to the Roman Archdiocese of Washington. It is not clear whether the Roman episcopate reached out to the GOA or whether the Greeks decided to step to the fore but by the end of the day, it became obvious that Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis (or his designee) would do the honors. This made sense to the Catholics when they were told that as chairman of the Episcopal Assembly, he was the ranking Orthodox hierarch in North America. (That the Episcopal Assembly might not be long for this world is too soon to tell.) It’s also possible that the Catholics have taken the measure of the OCA in its present decrepit state and didn’t want to take the chance of embarrassing the DC-MFL. At any rate, the honors were given to the GOA. Needless to say, this put the MFL organizers in a pickle: how to uninvite Tikhon? A consolation prize was hastily cobbled together in that he would give the opening prayer at the ecumenical dinner later that day.
Am I as a member of the OCA bothered by the oneupsmanship displayed here? I’d be lying if I said no. For all its problems, the OCA alone has been the standard-bearer in the fight against abortion from the national to the diocesan and to the parochial scene. The GOA on the other hand has been conspicuously absent from this fight on almost every level. Moreover, it has bent over backwards to applaud national office-holders who upheld the culture of death that Roe v Wade unleashed on our fair land. This has not been easy for those of us who take the Gospel seriously. Many pro-life Greek-Americans have had to put up with a lot from family, friends, and co-parishioners who were ardently “pro-choice.” All spiritual aid and comfort went the other way. Worse, a few GOA priests spoke openly and from the ambo no less against the pro-life position! And it goes much deeper than that: from my own contacts in the various Catholic dioceses, I know that scores of GOA priests throughout the country have been asked –begged even–by their local Catholic hierarchies to participate in pro-life events. It’s not unreasonable to believe that based on the number of GOA parishes in the US, hundreds of GOA priests may have been asked at one time or another to participate. If the phone call was ever returned, the answer was always “no.” The moral cowardice on display here is both real and regrettable.
Hence my joy that the GOA decided that the time had come to lead the charge. That they may have done so in a ham-fisted fashion, one possibly designed to humiliate the OCA, is regrettable. Regardless, it was unavoidable. In fact it may have been providential given the OCA’s self-inflicted wounds. In subsequent essays, we will discuss among other things, the OCA’s continuing loss of moral authority in other arenas, the various inter-Orthodox disputes (such as the apparent implosion of the Episcopal Assembly process), and the resurgent Moscow-Constantinople rivalry which has recently come to the fore.
But make no mistake: the shunting aside of the OCA did not happen in a vacuum. And it was most definitely a nail in the coffin of the OCA’s autocephaly –but this time, it was driven in by a hammer handed to others by Syosset itself.
Next: Part II–What Does this Portend?