An Assessment of the Recent Meeting of the Executive Committee of the OCL, Houston, Texas, Feb 18-20, 2010

I wrote these words one month after the OCL meeting in Houston, in which Fr Mark was the featured speaker. He’s an impressive man of many talents. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a GOA triumphalist at heart and therefore, the new Episcopal Assembly would be nothing but a stalking horse to derail American unity and autocephaly. Since then, events have largely proved my suspicions right. I hate to say this but a some of what he told us was said in bad faith. You can judge for yourselves.

Same old tricks?

Recently, the executive committee of the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) met in Houston, Texas for its semi-annual meeting. As in most meetings of the OCL, outreach was made to members of the established Orthodox jurisdictions in order to address issues affecting the governance of the Orthodox Church in North America. As is known, the OCL has grown from a largely Greek-American organization concerned with internal reform of the former Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America to a broadly pan-Orthodox group whose main concern is administrative unity among the various Orthodox jurisdictions. In addition, the OCL has demanded ecclesiastical independence (also known as “autocephaly”) for the American church, as well as transparency and active lay participation. Previous lecturers have included hierarchs from most of the major canonical jurisdictions. In an effort to spread the word of American Orthodox unity and to make its message accessible to as many people as possible, it has met in venues as varied as Chicago, Wichita, and Ligonier, Pennsylvania. (Its next meeting in October 2010 is scheduled for Salt Lake City.)


At this particular meeting of the executive committee of the OCL, the keynote address was given by the Rev Fr Mark Arey. Arey, a clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) is the liaison between its primate, Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, and the primates of the other canonical jurisdictions. In addition, he is also the general secretary of the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA). This dual role (which it must be noted he handles quite capably) is a difficult one in that he has to be cognizant of the concerns of the several different jurisdictions. As might be expected, it is difficult to imagine all of the primates that make up this body as necessarily being of one mind on the idea of Orthodox unity in North America. Moreover, as the representative of the GOA in particular, he labors under additional burdens in that ever since the removal of Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis as primate of the Greek archdiocese in 1996, it has been viewed by many that this particular jurisdiction is not predisposed to unity except under its own terms.

In subsequent actions and speeches in the interim, the GOA has reinforced this supremacist position. Despite the best efforts of Arey, this bias against the GOA was difficult to overcome. Although his lecture was lively and broadly sympathetic to the other jurisdictions, in the final analysis it was difficult to believe that that eparchy’s fundamental view of itself had changed in any significant way. Moreover, as for Arey himself, the appearance of a conflict of interest between his role as general secretary of SCOBA on the one hand and as GOA functionary on the other could not be avoided. Indeed this dual identity makes his position as an honest broker next-to-impossible. That being said, what follows is an assessment of the keynote lecture by Fr Arey. It is meant in the spirit of honest and constructive criticism.

(In the interest of fairness it must be pointed out that the OCL has had a checkered relationship with the Orthodoxy hierarchy, particularly with the GOA. It was in the fore-front in the battle to remove Archbishop Spyridon Papageorge, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s hand picked successor to replace Iakovos Coucouzis, whom it removed in the aftermath of the Ligonier Conference in 1994.1 As such, it was considered a remarkable gesture of goodwill on the part of the GOA hierarchy to send Arey [one of its highest-ranking clergymen] to address the OCL. More importantly, upon his arrival in Houston, he told the executives of the OCL at a private lunch that he would welcome vigorous and honest questioning by its members. To prove his bona-fides, he used his good offices within the Greek archdiocese to overcome the last-minute glitches that threatened the opening session on Thursday night. The OCL for its part thanked him and assured it that it would do everything within its power to help in any way with the incipient Episcopal Assembly [which is to be convened in mid-May of 2010]. To prove its own goodwill, the OCL pledged $10,000 to SCOBA for purposes of defraying the cost of the first assembly of bishops. As of the close of the meeting Saturday night, the OCL had raised at least $7,000 from the assembled members to this end.)

Chambesy and its directive for administrative unity

In his capacity with SCOBA, it has fallen to Arey to organize the first Episcopal Assembly of bishops as decreed by the representatives of the foreign patriarchates which met at Chambesy, Switzerland, in June of 2009. The purpose of the signatories of Chambesy was to normalize the non-canonical order that obtains in those regions of the world that are not traditionally Orthodox –i.e. the so-called Diaspora. Twelve regions were identified as falling within this category, including North America, South America, Iberia, Scandinavia, Germany, France, and Oceania, among others. Notwithstanding, Chambesy was not without its critics. For one thing, none of the bishops of the “Diaspora” were present (though to their credit it must be pointed out that the signatories recognized that this term is viewed by many Orthodox in a less-than-flattering light). Neither for that matter was an invitation extended to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), ostensibly at the insistence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (which has never accepted that church’s autocephaly).2

As to the opening lecture certain last-minute problems appeared. The venue was to be at the local Greek Orthodox cathedral. Due to misunderstandings with the local clergy, the lecture which Arey was to give on Thursday night was in danger of being cancelled outright. Although open to the public it was not advertised for reasons that remain opaque. In addition, an internal memo to members of the OCL sent by e-mail a few days before the scheduled meeting stated that the local Antiochian bishop had instructed his local clergy not to attend. According to this e-mail, this was purportedly because the Patriarch of Antioch had some reservations about the process behind the protocols worked out at Chambesy. In the event, the lecture did take place and considering the absence of ecclesiastical sponsorship, was fairly well attended.3
As for the lecture itself, Arey acquitted himself well. It was in many ways a bravura performance. The level of his enthusiasm was obvious and infectious. Clearly he is well versed in the minutiae of North American Orthodoxy, particularly on the administrative level. His attentiveness to the pastoral issues that are normally involved in any gathering of bishops shows him to be a man of great sensitivity and politesse. If nothing else, he deserves recognition for the countless hours of hard work that he has expended in organizing this assembly. At the risk of belaboring the point, it is his responsibility (and his alone) as general secretary of SCOBA to set up this first meeting convened under the auspices of the Chambesy protocols. This includes sending out invitations, making travel arrangements, and securing hotel accommodations for approximately sixty bishops scattered throughout North America, a continent that stretches from the North Pole to the jungles of Panama. In a lighthearted fashion, he admitted that he hoped that by organizing this gathering he would be putting himself out of a job. Recognizing the obvious, Arey agreed with the general assessment that SCOBA has proved to be a less than credible witness to Orthodoxy in America. He received no criticism on this point.

Lecture: Its substance and resultant concerns

As for the lecture itself, Arey relayed a brief history of past attempts to unify the various immigrant jurisdictions in North America even before the inception of SCOBA in 1960. Although his talk was riveting, there were clear indications that the road to unity is paved with contradictory intentions. For this, he cannot be blamed. The political minefields that he has had to navigate were very much in evidence. Simply put, the longstanding bias against the GOA and the Ecumenical Patriarchate could not be cast aside so lightly. Despite his best efforts, there was little that Arey could say to disabuse this sentiment, at least among a certain segment of his listeners.

That being said, it would have been better had Arey refrained from making a few gratuitous statements aimed in the direction of the OCA. Specifically, certain comments about its size in proportion to the GOA, its recent financial scandals, and the small number of North American saints. To the present author, these were unnecessary, especially in light of the fact that the Greek jurisdiction is not without its own problems. On these points at least, it was obvious that Arey was beholden to the GOA’s point of view. For one thing, the actual size of that jurisdiction is an open question; the oft-repeated statement that it has over one million adherents is patently false. Secondly, the reference to the financial difficulties of the OCA due to embezzlement that occurred during the previous administrations rather conveniently overlooks the recent scandals that have depleted the treasury of the GOA. As to the small number of American saints, Arey contradicted himself when he stated in another context “that numbers don’t matter.” (That context being the miniscule size of the patriarchate of Constantinople in relation to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has upwards of one hundred million adherents.) Likewise, his rhetorical attempt to elevate the failed New Smyrna Colony in Florida to the same level as the successful Sitka Mission appeared to be special pleading. (To this date, it is unknown whether the Greek indentured servants who made up the Florida plantation at New Smyrna in 1774 were even Orthodox. The prevailing view is that they were Uniates.4) On the other hand, the claims for Constantinopolitan primacy were stipulated by Arey to rest on canons other than the controversial and mischievous canon 28 of Chalcedon (AD 451). Unfortunately, he left unsaid which canons in particular these included. Regardless, as far as the OCL was concerned, the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople within the Orthodox world is not an issue. Nor is it within Orthodoxy in general for that matter. (Supremacy on the other hand is a real and valid concern.)

More germane to the topic of American autocephaly was the question of how it is granted. Arey stipulated that two methods were available, either by act of an ecumenical council or by a grant from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Unfortunately this was an incomplete answer and as such mandates an additional historical digression: it is well known for instance that autocephaly can be granted by a mother church and by imperial edict (admittedly, this latter method is not possible today). The grant of ecclesial independence by a mother church has long been the stated belief of Moscow.
The first known instance of such a phenomenon was the unilateral granting of independence to the church of Georgia by the ancient see of Antioch in the fifth century. The historical record proves that this earlier grant of Georgian autocephaly was accepted by the Church at large, even by Constantinople. (For that matter, the loss of autocephaly as happened to the churches of Bulgaria and Serbia in 1767 has never been viewed as cause for celebration in Orthodoxy.) The other instance of a daughter church gaining independence of course was when the Russian Orthodox Church granted a tomos of autocephaly to the Metropolia, its former eparchy in North America (the present OCA). It is this latter act which has proved controversial, at least in the eyes of Istanbul. A case could certainly be made that it was this act that drove the Chambesy protocols in the first place, albeit in a typically dilatory fashion. A more compelling case could be made that the resurgence of the Russian patriarchate is driving the entire debate. At the risk of belaboring the point, such Constantinopolitan unilateralism puts that patriarchate on the horns of a dilemma: how can it be the only the only patriarchate which can be a grantor of autocephaly when its own church’s independence was itself created by an ecumenical council? Also, if an independent church cannot grant autocephaly, then how are its other sacraments and acts valid? (Are we to believe that some churches “more equal” than others?)

Equally troubling (at least to the present author) was a response by Arey that there was no canon which mandated that a nation should have an autocephalous church. This proved to be a bone of contention. To the present author this meant that in essence “Albania [for example] could have a national church but not America.” No adequate response was forthcoming except for a few bromides along the lines of how there are “no foreigners in Orthodoxy.” (Which of course begs the question, why then were there no American bishops at the meeting in Chambesy?)

Another, rather startling assertion was that the reason for Orthodox unity “was not to evangelize America.” Arey specifically mentioned the fact that since many Protestants are allowed to enter into sacramental unions with Orthodox Christians in our churches, there was no way we could not view these people as “not being Christian.” This triumphalist view of Orthodoxy of course has never been in evidence, at least within the precincts of the OCL; its stated purpose for the greater part of its existence has instead been Orthodox unity for its own sake. In the event, this bold declaration was rather unsettling as Arey himself is a self-described convert. To not put too fine a point on it, the phenomenon of Orthodox evangelism is fraught with anxiety for many jurisdictions. Indeed it can be said that it has been thrust upon Orthodoxy by historical events, with often inelegant results. It was certainly a stated subtext of the original Ligonier Conference (as well as the recent pre-conciliar commission that was held at Chambesy). Quite simply, how are the disunited American Orthodox jurisdictions going to handle this phenomenon when under the present circumstances they are clearly unable to do so? As far as the OCL is concerned, evangelism cannot in fact be divorced from administrative unity; as such, the OCL is vitally interested in facilitating it.

Arey’s statement to the contrary therefore is troubling on many levels, not the least of which it calls into question whether the GOA is even interested in evangelism in the first place. Certainly Arey’s cavalier attitude left this an open question. Evangelism after all is the Great Commission mandated by no less a personage than Jesus Christ Himself (cf Matt 26). If nothing else, such a sentiment calls into question the long-term strategic thinking of the advisors to the hierarchy of the GOA and whether they are even aware of the logical lacunae inherent in such an ethnocentric worldview. A recent video interview by the present Greek-American archbishop for example leaves the decided and unfortunate impression that his role as primate is primarily political, to convey the concerns of the Greek state to the seats of American power. No mention was made at all of evangelism or pastoral work of any type.

At the very least, Arey’s nonchalance begs even bigger questions. Among them: why then if it is not our mission to evangelize America is there a necessity for the various Orthodox jurisdictions to unify in the first place? After all, this is the implicit reason for streamlining the parallel dioceses with their redundant ministries, chanceries, and departments, which by of course results in the waste of precious resources. Moreover if theological pluralism is acceptable, then why must the American Orthodox labor under the yoke of a forced unity imposed upon us by us by a process to which we were not invited? Indeed, why then can we not incorporate heterodox teachings and practices into the various Orthodox jurisdictions? Taking this to its logical conclusion, why should we be concerned when our children leave Orthodoxy for other faiths? Who are we to deem mainline Protestants as “good enough” but not Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses (for example)? Why should the Ecumenical Patriarchate care to normalize the status of the indigenous Orthodox Church of Guatemala, a body of over half-million adherents who were recently received en masse into its Slavic jurisdiction? Are we to believe that this was merely a case of oneupmanship between the OCL and the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

As for the barometer of success for the Episcopal Assemblies, the question of their final outcome was left in doubt. The ultimate metric for success was the convening of the convocation of the much-anticipated, but ever-delayed (and possibly chimerical?) Great and Holy Synod. As noted, the Chambesy protocols mandate the ordering of the world into “regions” so that the various ethnically based churches contained within them could coalesce into canonical local churches. The most that Arey could assure us was that each of the Espiscopal Assemblies would have to come up with a formula for their ecclesiastical governance or have one imposed on them at some future date by the Great and Holy Synod. These bishops were warned that “they might not like” the outcome. Arey stressed this point more than once. However, when he was asked whether this meant autocephaly, he replied that this “could mean semi-autonomy, autonomy, or perhaps autocephaly.” To some of the assembled, this was certainly troubling. All this sturm und drang for mere “semi-autonomy”? More troubling to this author was whether foreign patriarchates even have the right to “order” local churches into structures they deem “canonical” when they were never involved in the inception of these churches in the first place.

This raised the hackles of many, confirming their worst fears that is to say that the various Old World patriarchates had absolutely no intention of divesting themselves of their American eparchies. More to the point, it left a bitter taste in the mouths of those who are in the OCA, since –for all its faults—it is already an autocephalous church, one that is recognized as such by over 95 percent of the world’s Orthodox population (if not the majority of its independent churches). Also, he could give no firm date for when the Great and Holy Synod was to meet. Nevertheless, he assured us that Patriarch Bartholomew considered its convocation to be the culmination of his life’s work. This raised the eyebrows of many of the attendees, some of whom had traveled to Istanbul in 1995 where they had been promised by Bartholomew himself that this council would take place by the year 2000. Given this history, the imputation of bad faith could not logically be avoided.


This is not to say that the lecture was not a success or that there was no honest dialogue. Thoughts were certainly provoked on both sides and the resultant dialectic must be viewed as necessary to sharpen the debate and bring a resolution (if indeed one can be had.) Nor is it fair to impute bad motives to Arey; as noted, his dual roles as both SCOBA general secretary and GOA functionary are inherently contradictory. In addition, he cannot be saddled with the faults of the Greek archdiocese, which since the unfortunate departure of Coucouzis from the scene has often acted in a high-handed fashion vis-à-vis the other jurisdictions. The only solution would be for him to quit one or the other position. Unfortunately, his manifest talents make him very much an indispensable man to both entities.

The question ultimately is not whether the GOA will allow him to act as an honest broker, but whether it has given up its supremacist claims.5 This can only be answered by the hierarchy of the GOA itself. Unless there are some good faith efforts conveyed to the bishops of the other jurisdictions in anticipation of the assembly, then the ultimate success of the regional assembly for North America remains very much in doubt.

—Respectfully submitted to the OCL by George C Michalopulos


  1. Paul Benos says

    Your insights are right on and eloquently presented. The cartoon summed the situation perfectly. Until OCL or a new group musters the laity to fervently pressure the Patriarchate to accede to a unified autocephalous entity in this country, nothing will change. The intensity of this pressure would need to rival the Voithia and GOAL efforts.

    • Harry Coin says

      Did someone say ‘Voithia’???

      Our clergy speak often from the pulpit of many deeds and events that happened long ago. They explain in their word pictures how the essential aspects of those efforts remain instructive today. Plainly every age had it ‘all figured out’ and was similarly looked upon as doing some pretty barbaric things by the people reading history books centuries later. Let’s adopt a mature perspective and safely suppose that in the future many will struggle to also adopt a mature perspective and cut us a little slack if while reading the future history they see us forgive the transgressions we see in our forebears as well. So we can call it an attempt at ‘generational communion’, though there is a loftier church phrase that has to do with military characterizations that makes it harder to understand in English.

      So when we look back as we hope the future folk will do on us, and we hear the clergy explain the particularly worthwhile doings of the age — let’s notice that in our age we have had an explosion in knowledge to the point that there is nobody that knows a fair fraction of everything worth knowing anymore. In response we have to make efforts to stuff into our heads detail about subjects that everyone who could write in the days of the old saints would have been taught because in those days there really wasn’t that much to know altogether.

      In particular one thing they all knew that we aren’t really aware of is generally how old and what sex in general people in one’s family and the surrounding town were in those days compared to now. Detailed archological studies of cemeteries in continuous operation for tens of centuries reveal to us that women died in childbirth very very often, and had larger families. So often in fact most women who lived to be 21 years old were more likely to be raising her dead sister’s children than not. Men generally made it to the late 20’s, women to about 22. Maybe 1 in 4 made it into their 30’s. Men older than 24 outnumbered women almost three to 1. Nobody ‘retired’ from their jobs then lived on for years. Nobody in their right mind would approve of a second marriage where children were a possibility once a man reached his middle twenties because there was a very poor chance he’d live long enough to see his children reach their teenage years. Preganacy carried a higher risk of death than a heart attack does today.

      Now stop and think about that for a minute. Suddenly arranged marriages make a lot more sense. What does a 13 year old know about love? Suddenly educating women even if everyone wanted to was at best a dream, having enough food to eat was iffy at best year in and year out and the women, if they lived, had their hands totally full. Only the older men who made it into their 30’s had the time for education– and almost everyone born rarely travelled more than 30 miles from where they were born and died.

      So in the Latin / Vatican / Roman Catholic western world who was the villiage priest? He was a widower, statistically speaking. A married man whose wife had died. Certainly there were some few who by accident or choice never married. In the Orthodox East clergy were both married and widowers — and who became the villiage bishop? The oldest literate priest who almost certainly was a widower. A married man who knew something about actually being a father, who knew something about grief, suffering, life.

      And where did these men go when they aged? To a monastery. Why were monasteries revered? Because people who lived a whole great lot of life and maybe were going blind or lame all lived there and if you wanted serious answers to important questions– that’s where the people with wisdom beyond books and prayer with understanding were to be found. A man’s wife dies when she’s 22, his children, maybe one makes it to 30. If he makes it to 40 it’s even money whether anyone living would ever remember he was a married man to begin with.

      The bishops, the priests, if demographics guides us were mostly men who indeed were not married– they had been married and their wives had died. Yes there were some who never married — but look at the ages set forth by the church ‘canon’ rulebook as the earliest time a person could be ordained a priest, or ordained a bishop! It is a choice we make when we look at it in terms of thus and so many years. We could just as properly look at it in terms of the percentage of the average life span expected in that day– and there we see that only a person who had lived over half his life already could be a priest, and more like two thirds of his life could be a bishop.

      Let’s think about that for a minute. Clergy who could only have that title if they lived a great deal of life and were highly, highly known quantities in the community and not just in church circles. Indeed they most likely spent a great deal of their lives as laymen.

      What happened? Bacteria as causes of disease were discovered and antiseptics developed in the late 1800’s. People started to survive surgeries thanks to Joseph Lister. Gone was the daily phrase ‘the surgery was a success but the patient died’ seen in medical records of those days. Next we have anesthesia discovered, the effect of which was that surguries could now take time, they didn’t have to be completed quickly while the patient suffered horrific pain. Last we had antibiotics that dramatically increased the survival rates from things like infected teeth and broken bones and infected cuts. What did all that lead to: The Cesarian Operation. Once widely adopted by the middle of the 1900’s women stopped dying in childbirth.

      So what? A category of human being statistically went totally exctinct from this world: The working age widower. Gone and nobody was sorry about it since rejoice— she lives!

      But what about our church? This change happened very, very slowly– over decades. You know one thing about we Orthodox — we like our rules very well and the older the better. We pretend we don’t change anything. But when the world changes around us and we don’t notice how that changes us we are very very guilty of radical change. We didn’t change the rules but we failed to avoid to change the church. Specifically: the voices of the widower bishops were lost from all decision making authority.

      Obviously this harmed the Latin / Vatican / Roman Catholic world the most, since their parish clergy as well as bishops changed the very most. We Orthodox suffer harm in our bishops only, losing the voices of those who actually know something about being a father, and not from a book or personal experience that ended at 18 years when they went to college.

      I trust that anyone who visits, or searches the web will learn of utterly horrific scandals with staggering financial and human cost that arise from the sexual mis adventures and very sorry cover ups of those who for this article we will call ‘ordained young and never married’. People who very much crave personal security owing to shabby treatment by many who style ourselves ‘Christian’. Recently a fellow who was suspended owing to paying blackmail to avoid exposure for getting busy with a gay massage therapist photographed along with another priest drawn sexually toward men was reinstated and served the liturgy at my home parish. That’s how it goes, and it goes that way in very high places dating from the bumptious college misadventures noted by those who have long memories and with shall we call them foreign control agendas. I could write for literally hours about bishops who sexually assaulted priests, who followed pretty men into underground garages, who got busy with college students at our seminary, and so on and so forth. Bisexual priests rewarded with approval for protecting upstream and actually doing very well in parish assignments. A Metropolitan who live for years beside their otherwise minimally employed unmarried male photographers. ‘ Monasteries’ that not so strangely seldom grow beyond two people. Or ‘Monasteries’ that have one or two older ‘elders’ and lots of pretty or hardworking young ‘novices’. I’m going to stop there but I could go on and on. I will note that many married clergy cannot bring themselves to go to confession to many of ‘their spiritual father bishops’ because in fact these bishops couldn’t so much as pick out who in a crowd are in ‘their priests’ family. They are out of touch. And, really, it’s our fault for letting it happen.

      The point is what is necessary to secure our future? What is well within our the Orthodox Tradition? We can’t go making up major rules when the whim strikes, we must translate the inheritance we’ve been given. Maintaining the body must be the goal, if the world changes the rules adapt to cause the body to retain its health and be recognizable across the centuries.

      What then to do? We see in the Gospel that bishops were married men. It’s written ‘husband of but one wife’ and so forth. Couldn’t be plainer. But the church saw all these married men lose their wives and then remarry and then die creating orphans and leaving widows not least to be cared for by the church itself. It was a great scandal– so they made the rule we now suffer with in our age, but it made great sense in those days: No Clergy On The Make. If you started married fine and if you started unmarried fine, but if your wife died since you weren’t likely to live more than another 10 years tops no remarriage for you. So they really changed a pretty major rule but the rule change didn’t actually change anything anybody alive in those days actually saw: Married and Widower men were still the priests, still the bishops and the problem of orphans and widows of dead priests and the scandal of a priest who ought to have known better being responsible was fixed.

      So they made what they thought was a small change that had an improvement in their day– never in a million years did it ever cross their minds that the church of our day would find itself with people living so long and with women outliving men. Never. Not Once.

      So in our hearts we all know, if we’ve lived long enough, priests who we think of as bishops right here, right now. The only ‘problem’ with them, the thing ‘stopping’ or ‘impedeing’ them to be bishops is: his wife has not died young as so many once did.

      The answer is clear, the way forward to restore our church to the Orthodox shape it had in all those centuries is clear, and the way to healing the Roman Catholic church is clear as well: Parish clergy should be allowed to marry prior to ordination. Senior respected ’empty nester’ clergy who all would think of as bishops if only the wife were dead should be allowed to stand for and be elected as bishops and to serve on the synods.

      Only that will put an end to this foreign control boondoggle where we Orthodox are being groomed to be managed from afar by a group of popes with a local ‘episocpal assembly’ much like the Vatican’s bishop get togethers in the USA.

      Only that will restore meaning and gain the respect of married men to go to their bishops and their married priests as sources who actually know something about what it is to be woken in the night by a kid with a fever needing juice, to worry and care all the time and to promote and support.

      Plenty of those who crave security will erect false extreme arguments like ‘married men stray sexually often as well’ and so on. Sure they do but in this situation with the correction there will be no culture of cover up, no culture of enabling misdoing to protect one’s own position as well.

      To those who are presnetly serving as ordained young never married clergy: Please know from the depths of my heart I am totally against ‘witch hunts’ and other sorry activities so many with cell phone cameras and the like will be undertaking. We collectively must recognize that the world has changed around the church and the church must adapt to retain its shape or we are doomed, that’s all. Those who are ordained young and never married must see past the accidents of their birth and do the very hard thing of coming together and being supportive of this restoration of past church practice.

      We have had all the warning we deserve. Can we take the high road and do this internally while we yet have enough people who are Orthodox in the USA to make a go of it? While there yet remains integrity at the parish level and those who we have attracted will not see us as ‘the rocky soil’ and fall away once they learn the reality of how things are in fact in high places over against how things are projected and seem in high places?

      Voithia. Right Soon. While we still have enough people to make a go of it. Retaining the youth is not a joke and the older bishops must look past surviving until their own retirement with enough loyalists coming to their cathedral to keep money enough for personal needs coming in.

      I’ve written this off the cuff and without editing. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes. As the years pass I feel at once less bitter about learning what I thought was a betrayal and what I see now as history changing the world and threatening to overtake us and doom us. Will we react as those Orthodox who changed the rules at need in their day did? Or will God prune us ‘out of the vinyard’ because for reasons of personal security the leadership ceased to be fathers and instead became distant administrators who make the church serve their rules instead of the rules serving Christ’s Orthodox church.

      Harry Coin
      Bettendorf, Iowa

      • George Michalopulos says

        Harry, beautifully said. You have a wonderful understanding of perspective and context. I hate to say this (because I’m active in the OCL), but Voithia needs to rise again. We in the OCL have either become co-opted or suffer from tired blood.

        • I’ll share a few lines in an email exchange:

          The pretense of good order and the concealment/tolerance of known sexual misconduct, as well as the erroneous application of mercy/leniency in high places in the Church can be absoluting suffocating for those who care but seemingly have no recourse.

          Unless bishops, clergy, and leading lay people such as in the OCL wake up, put on the garments of repentance, cry out to the Lord for His help, and become more fervent and evangelical in the proper Orthodox expression, and get away from the focus on money, we may not be able to reverse our serious attrition, despite triumphalisitc pronouncemens and grand public gestures.

          The idea often occurs to me that unless the waking up happens and soon, such a reversal may not happen until we reach a stage when attrition has continued to such a point we have largely unpaid bishops, priests and other leaders in the Church– just as in the early Christian centuries. Nearly all the people and young and parishes will be gone. But among those few who remain will be people who come to lead out of a call from Christ, and out of the commitment of faith and like in Him, and not out of the choice of a career.

          It would be better to do the waking up and correcting before we lose what our parents and their parents built here. Tired and looking for someone else to do it– that’s the same as losing. Make it happen and in your own parish, among your own family, and among your own friends. Don’t wait for someone else to form a group to do it for you. Do what you can, where you are, this week.

        • Harry Coin says

          P.S. From when I was close to the OCL many years ago– the one thing the leadership would never, ever touch, would strain to avoid, was calling senior leadership immune to pressure from clergy to account for conduct that would result in being defrocked. It was the third rail. They would formulate perfectly true, well written, documented and entirely appropriate and justified complaints, lay out courses of action the bishops and other senior leadership might take, publish them — and then lay them at the feet of the aforementioned leadership calling for action.

          Then meet several months later and do it again. Adding perhaps some lament at having little activity. Even now we see these assemblies of bishops starting to look alot like the Vatican’s way of managing from overseas. So, we have lotsa foreign popes instead of one. We will not have fathers, we will have administrators serving other distant administrators along ethnic lines. Expensive administrators.

          If the people in the parishes get upset enough at the decay, they’ll start to come together. Basically everything that comes from all the work of their entire festival goes to pay distant figures in exhange for, well, exactly what? How many new faces have they been responsible for all these years for all that money?

          • Harry Coin says

            In fact, here in picture form is a link that says it all, plain and simple:



            We had widowers, they were the priests and bishops along with the married. Life
            extended, women who died on average before men now live longer than men. We didn’t change the rules, and who we are changed radically right under our noses. Those who once knew what it was to be a father are now replaced with those who have administrative skills without the wisdom of lived fatherhood. Now we suffer not from without, but from within.

            We have been given all the warning we deserve. Were the rules about preserving something else when they were made, or are we about preserving the rules no matter their intention and consequences?

            — as an aside, someone else pointed out a very old episode of ‘Star Trek’ where our heroes found a group of people who lived in a semi barbaric way who repeatedly pronounced the words to ‘a sacred document’ without understanding what they were saying. Our heroes did the math and discovered and taught them they were reciting the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In the books in the choir at my church, the liturgy opens and the only text is ‘Doxa si to dhipsan dhik to fos’. Now, why didn’t St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom write their liturgies in Aramaic, the language of Jesus?

  2. All willing canonical bishops in America should simply convoke a great synod and rule on the American Orthodox Church. Invite envoys from all the worlds churches, particularly Constantinople and Moscow, and allow them to represent their own synods. But the American church should rule itself and act as if it assumes the authority to do so. Of course, Pope +Philip of The Blessed Fiat may be left out by choice. So much the worse for him.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Luke, I agree. But the foreign exarchs are pusillanimous and won’t do it. Is it because they are compromised? Perhaps. But the laity deserves its share of the blame. We put up with it. And we can change it. If you belong to a foreign exarchate, leave. Join the nearest ROCOR or OCA parish. Or start one. Only those two jurisdictions are local (the OCA definately so, by definition). Yeah, yeah, yeah, things were bad under Herman and Theodosius. Well, they’re better now. Plus the OCA was able to clean house because it wasn’t dependent upon Bulbania or Ruritania.

      As for ROCOR, I like their stance on homosexuality within the ranks. They root it out. That’s why even though they aren’t truly and completely “local,” they don’t have the problems of the GOA, which let’s be honest, are because of you-know-what.

  3. Ashley Nevins says

    Orthodox, I have a two part question…

    Will Pan Orthodox Unity lead to greater centralization of failed top down hierarchy power and control and is greater centralized power and control the solution to the failure of your church here in America by top down power and control?

    The questions assumes the reader is in support of the POU. If you are in classic religious codependent denial of the corruption then you will either not be able to answer this question for it somehow being the wrong question to ask or you will be offended that it was asked. Asking thinking for yourself questions does not seem to be an Orthodox strength and answering them seems to be harder still. Gee, I wonder why???

    The laity seems to be in carnal extremes. There are ultra fundamentalists like the ephraimites and Hoomies and then there is the rest of the church laity that is apathetic and indifferent and those who are directly involved in the corruption of the church by the bishops and by the priests and laity who enable the corrupt bishops. Certainly, there are many right with God Orthodox, but they are very few in numbers and even they will buy into the unity by corruption, for the most part.

    Since the state of the EOC in America is corrupt, failed, irrelevant and dying it would seem to me that unifying around those things will only lead to them becoming a greater problem. The Bible is clear. It tells us to not be in fellowship with corruption or it will corrupt you. It’s a little leaven leavens the whole lump concept that conceptual thinking that can think for itself can take to a logical conclusion. God tells us clearly that we can break unity with corruption if that corruption does not repent and since the corrupt and failed church is the church of repentance then POU will work, right?

    If you believe you are Gods only alone right truth then you will make a unity decision of this kind around that self belief and that will lead to the same failure your church is involved in now. Yes, I know, most all of you will disagree.

    The leadership development processes of the Orthodox are more than proved failed here in America and so a failure of leadership is going to bring you relevancy in your minds somehow by unifying a leadership failure. Leadership development starts with the theology it is built upon and it results in a practical outcome seen in the reality of the real world by how that leadership operates the structure and system of the church that the theology creates for the leadership to operate in. I can clearly see how that structure and system is being led by the bishops of your jurisdictions and they will be who leads this unity when it comes.

    How long will that unity take to create in America an EP like corrupt leader like you all are seeing now? I promise it will be the first one you put into that slot. All of my promises to the EO come true. All of them. When it happens you will believe it is your church solution and the reverse of your dying state. I promise and all of my promises to the EO come true. All of them. It will not work. I promise and all of my promises to the EO come true. All of them. I hope you can keep my promises around to refer back too in the years ahead and maybe even after I have gone to be with the Lord.

    Unity of that kind is only going to cause your demise faster than is already taking place. It will not stop or reverse the decline. It will push it forward into deeper failure and not into success. The theology will develop the same leadership failure as is seen today here and from where it came from. The only vision for you that I can see that such a unity would produce is a top down power and control unity that is self centered, self protective and self sufficient by believing it is Gods only one true and alone right church. In other words, what you see as the state of the EOC in America today without this unity will be seen as its state with this kind of unity. Nothing is going to change other than more centralized top down power and control and that is not change. It is worse more of the same.

    Then, again, being in unity with foreign rule corruption is also not helping you here one bit and so maybe you by POU can free yourselves from their undermining of you here by basing yourselves upon the same theology that is the basis of the same leadership development processes that has resulted in your American bishops who lead you into relevancy here. Yes, I know, my logic is wrong and the Orthodox logic is alone right from God to them. You can see how God is leading the Orthodox here and from where they came by their relevancy as the missionary machine to the world come to America to get our failed salvation Orthodox right and so all of us can be as right relevancy as are the Orthodox are here in America.

    Unless you can find solution to the circular without solution state of your church right now your church will take that circular without solution state into any kind of POU and you will remain in a failed state of church. You will take your baggage right into that unity unless you leave it behind and since the Orthodox do not really change that baggage is coming with you by not dealing with it before unity of this kind. It will be the typical, the Orthodox do not listen and too little too late after being told what the outcome will be that they ALL refused to believe would be the outcome.

    The Orthodox all seem to be living in a idealistic nirvana of Orthodoxy being in a beautiful state and that delusional state is going to somehow become the church you all want it to become by unity and when it is corrupt to its core in the reality of the real world by the systemic theological unity that exists among you and that is the foundation of the corrupt state of church that cannot find solution. The entire of the EOC is found systemically failed all together by the same theology that is your current systemic unity. But, somehow what the OCL is advocating is going to stop that and that is what I am hearing from the research.

    If you believe unity of this kind will work then you should all go for it by taking the risk for Christ and the Gospels in your church and then measure the outcome after the fact. Don’t think outside of the single dimension box that only sees success of this kind of unity and for sure don’t think through the logical outcomes to this kind of unity and what it will be truly based in. Let tradition be your guide and not the word of God that warns us about corruption and being in unity with it. Since Orthodox unity is above being corrupted by corruption prior to this new unity being applied that means once it is applied the chances of it corrupting you are slime to none. That seems to be what is I am picking up in this and it in my mind tells me all of you need to re-think for yourselves this decision before it is too little too late by not thinking for yourselves to logical outcomes.

    The rationality and logic of the Orthodox makes perfect sense to them in this kind of unity and I admit that it makes no sense at all to me considering the state of the church that has no solution. Somehow unifying something that has no solution is going to lead it to solution? Sounds more like to me that it is unity around no solution as unity that will lead to no solution. For the life of me, I really do not understand how that will lead to relevancy.

    Of course, I am thinking with a rational Christian mind that is thinking for itself to logical outcomes and so this is probably wrong in the Orthodox Mind. I just believe that unity made when in a corrupt state of church only leads to corruption being the unity and that only leads to the continued state of corrupt church. I see the outcome of who leads your jurisdictions today and you all believe they are going to be a different outcome by POU. Me not think so by thinking for myself so.

    If you are in denial of the depth and width of the corrupt state of church then unifying will be made that much easier for your church to accomplish in time and what I am saying here will be easily brushed aside. If corruption is the accepted norm, and it is, then it will be the unseen norm directly involved in what unifies you. At least that is what I have seen in all other churches I have directly dealt with in such matters. Then again, they did not have Orthodox truth that is always able to lead it out of corruption and into holy unity without corruption being directly involved in that unity.

    The Orthodox by their Gods only one true truth are immune to what I speak too and above it too.

    If you deny the failure state your church is in today you will then will take that failure and the cause of that failure right into this POU. It will be more circular without solution church by the solution applied and that solution is circular without solution.

    Yes, let Orthodox tradition be your one true truth guide to unity and not the wisdom and discernment of Gods Bible that gives clear warning of unity with corruption. Let tradition think for you and do not Biblically think it through for yourselves by heeding the clear warnings from God. And, for sure, do not think for yourselves to logical conclusions or you may not find the kind of corrupt unity desired. That is failed thinking that is reflected in the failure of your church today and it is somehow going to turn your church away from its failed state by corruption through POU.

    Pan Orthodox Corruption will be Pan Orthodox Unity if there is corruption in the hierarchies unifying you all and there is serious corruption problems in the hierarchies of every jurisdiction. Just because you can’t see them all does not mean they are not there. Pull the covers of any jurisdiction and it will be found similar in corruption as is the GOA and the GOA is the big complaint found to that unity you all desire. I know this by the theology that is your systemic unity and by how it has created the state of your church systemic failure seen today. I am only pointing out what is obvious to anyone who is not Orthodox and who can In Christ think for themselves.

    In Galatians Paul would have split the church over Peters corruption of grace in salvation and he would have saved the unity of the church by doing that if Peter had not repented. Paul refused to be in unity with corruption that leads to systemic failure. Paul was not a systemic failure by his theology, structure and system and that theology, structure and system had not been polluted by being merged with the corrupt power and control of the state as the divine right of both state and church kings in unity as one and then turned into a tradition of men as the authority of God in the church.

    Orthodox, you cannot see the cause of your corruptions from its source??? I can and you can’t and since I can in your minds I can’t because I am not of your church??? Clearly, my ignorance of your church is showing through, right? I am the blind telling those with sight that they are blind to their failure, right?

    Your logical outcome is simple to see. Compromise corruption in the church and you will find your unity being your corruption and then you will all stand around and wonder why you are corrupt and made irrelevant by that corruption. I see it today in how so many of you wonder if you will ever learn your lessons and by how you all wonder why your church is corrupt and is not learning its lessons. This kind of unity will not stop that kind of wondering. It will only make you wonder more and more and more with each passing corruption that never seems to find a solution.

    Orthodox, your only HOPE in that kind of unity is a spiritually bankrupt church gone corrupt, failed, irrelevant and dying and that is not going to find solution to that state of church by unifying around what CAUSES that state of church. Your state of church will be your Pan Orthodox Unity state of church.

    I promise.

    Ashley Nevins

    • George Michalopulos says

      Ashley, the only way I can answer your first question is that unity should follow the models of most autocephalous churches. In such churches, the presiding bishop (i.e; “patriarch” or “metropolitan”) is simply the ruling bishop of his own diocese –usually the diocese surrounding the capital city. This is canonical.

      Secondly, all bishops are likewise ruling bishops (“ordinaries” in the Roman terminology) of their own respective dioceses. This is also canonical.

      Together, all bishops constitute the Holy Synod; the presiding bishop is merely the chairman of that assembly. He has the power to set the agenda but can be overruled. He also speaks for the Local Church in international arenas but cannot mandate anything for the Local Church without the approval of the Holy Synod.

      On the other hand, local bishops should not do anything within their dioceseses of a significant nature without informing the Holy Synod. This includes things like ordaining deacons and priests, establishing monasteries, founding seminaries, etc. A local bishop can ordain subdeacons, readers, etc., authorize marriages, sanction baptisms, receptions into the faith, etc. In other words 98% of parish life is local and governed/sanctioned by the local bishop.

      What this means is that the presiding bishop cannot interfere in the normal workings of any diocese unless he is instructed to by the entire Holy Synod. So, to answer your question, in a canonical church (like the OCA), power is highly decentralized.

      • Ashley Nevins says


        A decenralized church structure is not top down hierarchy centered. It is bottom up laity centered and where the leadership comes under the laity and serves it by raising it up. Top down power and control does not decentrailize. It centralizes. The more top down centralized is the church leadership structure the more that structure is about its power and control over the laity and that makes the laity spiritually immature by the power and control centralized structure thinking for them and that leads to church irrelevancy. A church that cannot think for itself is a church that will die by something else thinking for it to its demise.

        I read between the lines of the 2010 Orthodox census and with my knowledge of how structures and systems work it was easy to see why the EOC is found in a corrupt, failed, irrelevant and dying state without solution to that dying state. Authoritarian theology is totalism that thinks for the laity and the laity is made religious codependent upon totalism for that and that leads to church death over time. That makes the laity pawns to the manipulative power and control of totalism theology, structure and system authority and that flat kills a church dead.

        The Holy Synods of Orthodoxy are not solving the failed state of the EOC by the structure and system of authority you discribe in your reply. I can see that with my two eyes that God gave me to see such with. I am not in denial of the cause of the EOC failure by its authority structure and system that is based upon the theology of totalism. The systemic failure of the authority structure of the EOC is obvious if you are not in denial of the cause of that systemic failure.

        If you really want to see and understand what a decentralized and relevant church structure and system that works with relevancy I would encourage you to read George Barna. He thinks for himself out of the closed, isolated and subjective box of Orthodoxy.


        Ashley Nevins

        • Michael Bauman says


          Several things you fail to recognize:
          1. Hierarchy is part of the warp and woof of creation, you can no more abolish it than you can abolish gender
          2. The question is the nature of the hierarchy, not its existence (your bottom up approach is still hierarchical)
          3. The current state of affairs in the Orthodox Church with respect to how we govern ourselves world wide is abysmally dysfunctional and non-cannonical.
          4. We are being challenged at every level to become functionally obedient to our own standards.
          5. If we are of God, we will continue, if not we will wither. The Orthodox Church has been under almost continually persecution since 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.
          The Turks, the secular rulers of Russian followed by the Communists are the primary actors.
          6. We are beginning to awaken and great changes will occur that will gradually bring us into a better approximation of what we are supposed to be.

          In proper order the nature of hierarchy is not linear as you depict and as it is unfortunately practiced. It is modeled after the divine economy revealed in the Holy Trinity and is, in fact, an expression of the Holy Trinity, that is why the gates of hell will not prevail.

          Of course, the local expression may come and go depending upon the reponse of the worshipping communities

  4. great article