“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them,

and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you:

but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto,

but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, KJV)

The word the Athenians used for their Assembly was Ekklesia, the same word used in the New Testament for Church
(and it is the greatest philological irony in all of Western history that this word,
which connoted equal participation in all deliberation by all members,
came to designate a kind of self-perpetuating, self-protective Spartan gerousia -
which would have seemed patent nonsense to Greek-speaking Christians of New Testament times,
who believed themselves to be equal members of their Assembly.)

- Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Where the Mind Is Without Fear...

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Rabindranath Tagore– 1913

To that last line, and with all due respect to a Nobel Prize-winning poet, I would add “let my country and my church awake.”

When did it happen, and where is it written, that we Greek Orthodox MUST now suspend logic and reason at the entrance of the narthex when we enter our churches? When did discourse become sin? When did our priests suddenly become all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful, entitled to treat their flocks as callow children in need of a “father’s” discipline and stricture, without any question of his actions? When did it become dogma that our elected representatives work FOR the priest, and not WITH him, for the good of the community? No one is questioning the priests on ecclesiastical issues, but they, like the rest of us, are certainly not infallible, and most especially in the non-ecclesiastical realm.

“Because I said so, that’s why…” is a phrase that is demonstrably ineffective in good child-rearing; it certainly does not belong in the sphere of mature adult relationships. When did we all start getting browbeaten into the notion that to question the priest or the bishop jeopardizes our standing in our Church? When and why did we jump BACKWARD more than three centuries? Does the example of Galileo, condemned as a heretic because he asserted that the earth revolved around the sun (contrary to Biblical teaching, but something the ancient Greeks knew), not come to mind? Why are our clerics resorting to such tactics at a critical time in our history where a strong, open and transparent Church has so vital a role to play in our moral, physical, emotional and spiritual health in this century?

I recently sent our elected representatives a query – one that has been clearly treated as a “rhetorical question.” I assuredly did not intend that the question be merely rhetorical. It is a question that deserves serious thought by every Greek Orthodox adherent and an honest and reflective answer by the clergy and hierarchy. The current thinking among the hierarchy of this church condones a glaring double standard. This mindset is quick to condemn and excommunicate a layperson for relatively trifling offenses (that might have been resolved with open communication and an admonition). At the same time it allows a cleric, whom the hierarchy itself ACKNOWLEDGES as having committed sexual offenses with CHILDREN, to remain a priest, albeit inactive, and to be buried in the church upon his demise with the full honors due a clergyman. That this discrepancy is not addressed is nothing short of outrageous. It is but a further manifestation of an ongoing, ever-growing clerical and hierarchical arrogance, with the complicity of a cowed laity, fearful of a hierarchy that wields the withholding of the Church’s sacraments – including the right to be buried in the Church – as a highly effective weapon, a weapon wielded, apparently, only against the laity, but not against the clergy, no matter the offense.

I’m further perplexed by the recent communications that were sent out. Apparently, our Parish Council president, a peer and contemporary whom I know, like and respect, objects to e-mails being used as a format for discussion of these issues. He contends he doesn’t like e-mails for “reasons of efficiency and confidentiality”. Along with this mindset, reports have circulated that Parish Council members have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements. I certainly hope that this has not occurred, or if it has, then my question is WHAT among all the things going on in this community, particularly with regard to these recent issues, NEEDS to be kept CONFIDENTIAL? Why the secrecy, gentlemen?

I can understand that in some business activities confidentiality is at times necessary and vital. What does it have to do with what we are trying to accomplish for our church and community? What, in this entire process, has needed to be CONFIDENTIAL? I submit that “confidentiality” is quickly becoming a big part of our problem. The community spoke loudly and clearly; it was the clergy and certain members who did not care for the outcome of that vote who acted in secrecy and who subverted the process in concert with the clergy, who saw that outcome as a threat to their complete domination and control over all aspects of the community.

I can understand part of the assertion, and would agree, that face-to-face communication is almost always preferable, but it isn’t always practical. I disagree with the assertion that e-mail isn’t efficient. To the contrary, the problem may be that it is perhaps too efficient in that it easily distributes a variety of opinions and thought to a wider audience in the face of numerous inconsistencies and injustices. That might get people to start thinking and REASONING independently. Seemingly that has now become a virtue that good Christians are no longer encouraged to practice.

- Barbara Billinis Colessides

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