“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


Monday, July 16, 2007

Scrambling to "Set the Record Straight": a Revisionist History

If any man can convince me and bring home to me that I do not think or act aright, gladly will I change; for I search after truth, by which man never yet was harmed. But he is harmed who abideth on still in his deception and ignorance. – Marcus Aurelius

In their recent letter to the community, the Parish Council indirectly accuses TOCB of distributing information “based on hearsay, assumptions, and erroneous assertions.” The writers further contend that “it is vital to let the community know exactly the facts concerning how and when these topics of discussion occurred.” Regarding the “split”, the Council states the obvious: “this issue, and how it is addressed will have a significant impact on our community. It will take a considerable amount of time to evaluate and make an appropriate decision. As with any decision, it would be a mistake to act without first gathering all of the facts and listening to all parties.” These sentiments fail to consider the actual timeline of events, the actual events themselves, the obvious and not-so-obvious actions of the parties involved, a flawed and revisionist understanding of “Orthodox Christian” behavior, and the true nature of the council's presumed role within the community.

Let us first revisit the assertion made by Fr. Michael at the July 9 Parish Council meeting. He claims that he decided, on his own, according to the Parish Council’s recent (July 12) letter to the community, to discuss the possibility of a split, and to hold a question-and-answer session at Prophet Elias on June 17, because “someone” called and told him that “they” had posted “it” on the blog. The problem is that write-ups specifically discussing the split were not posted on the blog until July 4. The only mention prior to this time were the “history lessons” (two separate blog articles) in response to those who had been not-so-surreptitiously promoting a split. These were merely uploaded images of documents during the time Prophet Elias was built and shortly thereafter. The only other letter alluded to on any blog article prior to the June 17 Q&A session was the one presumably that we were to receive from the Metropolitan, after reneging on his promised support of the heritage corporation, as to what type of “corporation” compromise he would accept. (To this day, no one has seen such a letter, or have they? Who knows?) Unfair, you say? Hearsay? Mistaken assumptions? Erroneous assertions? We don’t think so. Not after the behavior we keep witnessing from this clergy and this Parish Council that constantly scrambles to explain away behaviors that are inexplicable.

At the risk of promoting “hearsay, assumptions and erroneous assertions,” can we examine the events surrounding the belated release of the Metropolitan’s letter? It is instructive as to the mindset that appears, if our eyes and ears are to be believed, to be developing.

  • In February, over 70 percent of those gathered at a special General Assembly at Holy Trinity voted for the formation of a Hellenic Heritage Corporation, an entity designed to promote Hellenism and Orthodoxy and to facilitate fundraising for badly needed repairs for our churches. We were informed of His Eminence’s support, so much so he intended it to be the model for other communities in the Metropolis. Opinions run hot on both sides; each is heard, and the motion carries by a wide margin. (Coincidentally, this initiative is almost IMMEDIATELY scuttled by those who, "rumor has it", are ACTIVELY and not-that-secretly, working toward a split of the community into two separate parishes. Lest the powers-that-be gleefully assert that we print rumor and hearsay, let them remember that the "rumors and hearsay" regarding this issue have, in fact, been proved true!)
  • Almost immediately thereafter the Metropolitan, aided and abetted by the motion’s opponents, overturns the initiative and suggests both sides work toward an "acceptable compromise". We’ve yet to hear what that is, and we have no "hearsay" or "rumor" or "erroneous assumptions or assertions" to print about it. When it's released, IF it is ever released, we will discuss it, as we have all other community issues.
  • Nick Colessides, a parishioner and Parish Council member, with over 40 years service to this community, having the courage of his convictions, objects too strenuously to the subterfuge and is reported by “someone” to the Metropolitan for “unchristian” behavior and is, without opportunity for hearing or explanation, summarily excommunicated and removed from the Parish Council in late February.
  • After a series of e-mails objecting to the events taking place within the community, along with a growing region- and nation-wide scandal regarding sexual abuse cases, the blog is established in mid-April as an online forum wherein these issues might be openly discussed. This action resulted due to the growing secrecy and stonewalling on the part of the clergy AND the Parish Council, who, we learned were operating under an unprecedented “confidentiality agreement” demanded of them by the clergy.
  • With resentment growing in the community, the Metropolitan sends his letter dated May 31 to the community – a letter that is addressed to the clergy, the Parish Council AND the entire community. This letter does not SUGGEST a split; it mandates HOW the split will take place. (The Metropolitan may have currently backed away from this line in the sand he drew at that time, but his letter’s intent is clear.) Correctly assessing the mood of many in the city, and in view of the tone of the Metropolitan’s letter, we think we can fairly surmise that the Proistameno and members of the Parish Council decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and that the release of that letter under the existing circumstances would ignite a firestorm. As such it was decided to defer its release.
  • Those parishioners promoting the split send out their “manifesto” in mid-June, which was duly posted by the blog. (Father Michael may have been responding to this event on June 17, but certainly not to any inference by the blog as to a Metropolitan’s letter regarding the split, because the existence of that letter was not as yet known to anyone save the Proistameno and the Parish Council.)
  • Near the end of June Nick Colessides’ sacramental privileges are restored, save his right to be on the Parish Council (a face-saving “privilege” the Metropolitan reserved as his own prerogative, after having obviously acted in haste, based on “hearsay” and no first-hand information, or interview of the parishioner in question.)
  • At the end of June, the Parish Council sends a community-wide letter explaining their recent actions along with an “explanation” of the Metropolitan’s letter to come.
  • The Metropolitan’s letter, along with Fr. Michael’s interpretation of that letter, in addition to the previous "translation" by the Parish Council (at this point one would think that English is not the Metropolitan's native language!) are distributed to the community in early July. Commentary regarding these events is posted on the blog AFTER the letter’s mail delivery reaches parishioners' homes.
  • In mid-July the Parish Council feels compelled to "set the record straight" and sends its latest missive.

The sequence of events outlined above is, unfortunately, indicative of a clergy that seeks to micro-manage far too much, impose its will from above, and demand absolute and blind obedience regarding every facet of the community’s life. When the events head south, the clergy then relies on a compliant Parish Council to "interpret" (one would think English is not the native language for most of us either!) and failing that, to assume blame and fall on its sword.

Truth is, there's plenty of blame to go around. The tone of the Metropolitan's letter to this community was and remains unmistakable; the contempt contained therein is obvious. It cannot be soft-pedaled and cannot be "explained away". It is WHY that letter was not sent out immediately after it arrived. Our Parish Council apologizes to those of us who were outraged at not being sent a letter that was addressed to us. They should also be "apologizing" that the letter, due to its tone, could not be sent immediately upon its arrival, and they themselves should be outraged at its tone. Rather than resist these defamatory and imperious impulses, the Parish Council, some individually, all collectively, continually acquiesce in the face of blatant high-handedness and utter disrespect toward this community as a whole. And, as they themselves do not insist upon respect for us, either from the clergy or the hierarchy, they wonder that their standing in the community is dropping. For this they blame the blog, instead of their own willingness to roll over.

Rather than insisting on the autonomy that our parents and grandparents enjoyed in the non-ecclesiastical aspects of our parish life - the autonomy and concilliar relationship that allowed this community to thrive and grow for over 100 years - this Parish Council forgets WHO it represents and blindly follows the whims and fancies of a clergy that no longer relies on love, reason and mutual respect to achieve worthwhile ends. When this is pointed out, they cry foul.

When those of us who would ask more of OUR representatives object, we we're told we exhibit “non-Christian, unOrthodox behavior.” (And this isn't name-calling? Like labelling someone "unpatriotic", it self-righteously reeks of false piety and passive-aggressive behavior.) When did acquiescence in the face of deceptions by omission and commission become “Christian”? Did not the Lord, the example of the “meek” servant, trash the temple in his outrage at the presence of the moneylenders? Did not the Lord castigate the hypocrisy of the Pharisees? Did the Lord not ask us to pray humbly and privately? Were the Apostles quiet? Were they meek? Were the saints mild and meek? In the “FOOD FOR THOUGHT” section of this blog there is a quote by St. Basil the Great. Pretty stern stuff, is it not?

The Patristic tradition of this church is not meek! It relies on obedience and faith, but it also relies on reason and love, and it relies on the “Royal Priesthood” – the laity – to use its God-given reason in service to the Lord and to the City of God. The exercise of reason, of resistance in the face of injustice or mendacity, is not unchristian; in fact the opposite is true.

Again this all smacks of an eleventh-hour posturing. And the really absurd twist in all of this is that the solution is there, has been there all along, and it is simple. Forget the unofficial, non-decision-making committee whose composition, particularly insofar as the PE contingent is concerned, is dubious. Forget even the expense for a polling firm to devise a survey, although it might prove enlightening. TAKE A VOTE! Call a special General Assembly and TAKE A VOTE! Take it, this time, with the understanding that it MUST BE HONORED. If this initiative is so virtuous, necessary and vital, it will pass. If not, it won't. Vox populi, vox dei. Φωνη λαου, οργη θεου.

As it now stands, though, the timeline clearly reveals MAJOR miscalculation on the part of the Metropolitan, our clergy, AND, sadly, our Parish Council. Sorry, gentlemen, but there you have it. We're sorry your collective feelings are hurt, but it is not unchristian to call it as one sees it. Jesus Christ Himself set the example. Is it "nice"? - perhaps not, but we don't think we've been unfair, and we no longer have time for you to "get it," to "learn as you go". Very simply, we object to the ongoing lack of transparency. We object to your undemocratic inclinations. We object to confidentiality agreements. We object to your use of the "we-know-best syndrome" that tends to infect so many of today's leaders. We don't have time for you to figure this out - it is NOT THAT DIFFICULT. If our Metropolitan wanted to send out his edict on May 31, and it was addressed to us, along with you and the Proistameno, it was your DUTY to send it along on his behalf. The apology is "nice", but superfluous. That's what Metropolitan Isaiah wanted. It's not your duty to protect him from his lack of ability or willingness to persuade with respect and love. It's not your job to protect him from his own worst inclinations. We're a hierarchical church, right? You guys love to throw that bromide at us when it covers up for your lack of initiative and fortitude, do you not? Why not send it, and let the chips fall where they may?

Ah, but then, in what kind of position would that have put you collectively? Might it have forced you, as a board, to FINALLY take a stand? We can't have that now, can we? Like the timid colleague among you whom one of our parishioners described in an earlier blog who would do ANYTHING to avoid a situation wherein our Metropolitan would exercise his "privilege" and throw the lot of you out, you have sought to avoid your true responsibility - the tough one, so you cover for the Metropolitan and cover for the Proistameno.

We did not elect you to cling to your position at any and all costs; we elected you to do what is right for all of us, not just to hang on tooth and nail. You cover up for the clergy, so their excesses and caveats can be hidden, hiding behind terms such as "hierarchical" or "uncanonical". When called on it, no one can provide any salient answers. Then you all turn and blame the messengers who point out the cover-ups. But think about it, we also did NOT elect you to "protect" us from seeing a letter that might "upset" us. We are adults.

Ultimately, who are ANY of you to decide what we can see, and what we must not see? Who are you to decide the timing? The Metropolitan should be FURIOUS with all of you. Who are you collectively, along with the Proistameno, to usurp his presumed privileges? Who are you to decide what he should and should not write and send out and WHEN? We submit that this was not your mission, not your mandate, when we elected you. You've mistaken your constituents as "ignorant".

We are NOT the "great unwashed", fellas. You were not elected as an oligarchy, "hoi oligoi", and we are not "hoi polloi". We know transparency when we see it, and we understand the nuances between "sins" of omission and commission. We know if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it's a duck - not a swan. Your constituents, the ones who elected you, are far more sophisticated than you think. The blog is your reminder of that fact - the one you have collectively chosen to IGNORE or FORGET - to your detriment, and unfortunately to our community's.


Andy Giannis said...

I would like to add my 2-cents worth, if I may. The Parish Council ought to set aside their excuses and cover-ups and inform us specifically on two issues that are troublesome - first the “Confidentiality Agreement”, and secondly the farce of the “Handpicked Committees”.

Some 20-25 years ago when I was on the Parish Council, we tried to keep the community abreast on a monthly basis of issues discussed and voted upon in our meetings. Everything was on the up-and-up, we had nothing to hide. Just the thought of signing a confidentiality agreement makes me nauseous. No wonder we have the problems we are having today!

Obviously today, the Clergy has high-jacked the Parish Council while the community pays the price. Definitely we need to understand the wisdom of the Council for signing such an insane thing and the reason for its existence.

As for the farce of handpicking committees on such a delicate and controversial issue, I have no other explanation other than to say that when you sign your conscience away, it’s much easier for the Proistameno to have his way. If he thinks that General Assemblies are a thing of the past, and should be replaced by “Family Committees”, so be it. How else can our intelligence be insulted? Perhaps they think we’ve all fallen off a turnip cart.

I wonder if and when our Parish Council members will show us in a collective manner that indeed they have a backbone!

Andy Giannis

Barbara Colessides said...

As an extra comment, something in the letter from the Parish Council rankled, and it finally occurred to me WHAT it was.

According to our Parish Council, PE was established in 1968. However, construction was actually finalized in 1969, and first services were held in late 1969. (Obviously, these gentlemen come from the school of history that believe that ACTUAL dates, times, facts-on-the-ground, etc. are NOT important) However, this literature and history major DOES. In point of fact, my brother, Alexander, had the honor of being the first child baptized at Prophet Elias at year-end 1969. (Coincidentally, his grandfather's name, Aleko Billinis, is on one of the church's cornerstones of Prophet Elias - the south west one.)

Further, to my knowledge, no mention was EVER mentioned of a "possible split" until the 1980s, just before my family left this valley, when the "charismatic" branch of our community gained some momentum.

The notion that the "split" was ALWAYS an issue is utterly disingenuous. Given this PC's woeful lack of historical knowledge, the oversight is not surprising.

- Barbara Billinis Colessides