We’ll say it again: the years following the "resignation" of the late Archbishop Iakovos, Archbishop of North and South America, will not and should not be remembered kindly by Greek Orthodox communicants in this country. The consequences for the laity under the new arrangement have been negative and traumatic. “Gifts” were given by our hierarchy to the “naïve and spiritually immature Greek-Americans” who were not ready for autonomy (unofficially enjoyed prior to 1996) and most certainly not autocephaly. The “gift” that our Patriarch gave the faithful in this country consisted of a new charter, ratified by Clergy-Laity Congresses, where dissenting voices were ignored or stifled. With this “gift” we had the further “gift” of new Uniform Parish Regulations designed by our newly appointed Metropolitans. These have now been imposed. And, our so-called leaders of the laity – archons, parish councils and the like – have let it happen. In effect, the hierarchy seized the churches and other parish assets in all our cities. Most of us did not know what this meant for our communities, but we are certainly finding out!
Our Metropolitan now claims as his our church properties. We say this because WE, and not just he and his priests, are the church. He now claims in a protocol document on his Web site (view entire document here) that he has absolute authority and exclusive control over all properties in his Metropolis. Our former hierarchs and clergymen worked with us, and we all prospered. Now the goal is to dominate, demand monies and impose punitive sanctions if monies are not or cannot be paid. (One is tempted to make the comparison to credit card companies.) If we question, we’re told that these are God’s. If we object, we’re “protestants”.
How facile and convenient! For all these years we, the communicants of our parish and its churches, have managed to faithfully steward these properties. These are the legacy handed down to us. We managed all these years to maintain our reverence, worship in our churches, baptize, marry and bury our loved ones, and still vouchsafe our community’s churches and other properties wisely together with our clergy. We did this and still held our deacons, priests and bishops in high esteem. It wasn’t always smooth and perfect, but it generally worked well in our valley.
Now we are told that this responsibility belongs solely to our Metropolitan who will answer only to God. Rightly or wrongly, we now must accept all clerical decisions in ALL facets of our parish life without any discussion. When the clergy err, they now answer only to their own and to God. We have but to keep quiet and keep paying!
A look at the excerpt from the protocol (page 2) we cited earlier in this essay tells it all:
The Metropolitan of Denver also has absolute authority over the property of the church and its administration. Canon XLI of the 85 Canons of the Holy and Renowned Apostles specifies:These canons were written in times of absolute monarchies. Even so, the hierarchy will do well to remember that, historically, the best kings, even absolute monarchs, reigned with the understanding that their longevity depended upon the goodwill of their subjects. Good monarchies lasted, even to this day; despots fell.
"We command that the Bishop have authority over the property of the church. For if the precious souls of human beings ought to be entrusted to him, there is little need of any special injunction concerning money; so that everything may be entrusted to be governed in accordance with his authority, and he may grant to those in need through the Presbyters and Deacons with fear of God and all reverence, while he himself may partake thereof whatever he needs (if he needs anything) for his necessary wants, and for brethren who are his guests, so as not to deprive them of anything, in any manner. For God's law has enjoined that those who serve at the altar are to be maintained at the altar's expense. The more so in view of the fact that not even a soldier ever bears arms against belligerents at his own expense."
According to this and other canons the administration and disposal of all church property within his Metropolis falls under the exclusive and absolute authority of the Metropolis Hierarch. (emphasis added)
Orthodox churchmen in this country prior to the reign of this hierarchy were wise enough not to cite or enforce these canons. They are unnecessary and undesirable in today’s church. Our church in America has been vibrant and prosperous when clergy and laity worked in concert and with respect for one another. It is high time we returned to this arrangement. No one argues that in the ecclesiastical realm we are a hierarchy. It should be argued however that in all other aspects of church governance we are and should be a democracy – the legacy handed down by both our Greek and American ancestors. Our leaders, clergy and laity alike, would do well to remember it.