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Book Review. Reflections on a Church in Captivity: The Greek Orthodox Church of America

Peter J Petkas

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A Church in Captivity: The Greek Orthodox Church of America
George Edmund Matsoukas
iUniverse, Inc. (July 10, 2008)
120 pages, $12.95

Exodus 5:1: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord , let my people go, that they may serve me."

George Matsoukas' new book, a selection of his essays on Orthodoxy since 1990, is an invaluable source of information on the twists and turns - mostly twists, unfortunately - that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and its overlord, the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, have taken over the last several decades -and before. After reading this engaging 90-page volume in one sitting, one comes away with the sense - the sad and depressing sense - that the story told by Steven Runciman in his seminal work, The Great Church in Captivity, the story of the Patriarchate just before, during, and shortly after the end of Ottoman rule is repeating itself today on many levels.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople (sometimes called "the Phanar" for the neighborhood to which it has retreated since the loss of its Great Church, St. Sophia) remains "in captivity," not only by the Turkish Republic that replaced the Sultan as its overlord, but also by the Greek government and by its own institutional disorders, a complex blend of myopia, fear, feelings of inferiority, ecclesiastical narcissism, and hierarchical megalomania. How else to explain, to cite a few of the examples that Matsoukas documents, the Phanar's:

  • Unseemly, un-Orthodox, and even un-Christian rejection of the pleas, 20 years ago of the Evangelical Orthodox to meet with it;

  • Removal of Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, for seeking to unify the Orthodox in America;

  • Pandering to the Greek government's desire to maintain in America an ethnically and culturally pure "Hellenic Omogenia" through the Church;

  • "Seizure of power" through the improper and un-Orthodox imposition of a new Charter for the Greek Archdiocese over the objections of several Clergy-Laity Congresses;

  • Division of the Archdiocese among Metropolitans throughout the Western Hemisphere who now report directly to Istanbul; and

  • Brawls, largely of its instigation, with the hierarchs of Greece, Russia, Ukraine, and, most recently, with the Antiochian Archdiocese in America over control of various churches and dioceses.

The Greek Orthodox Church of America, as Matsoukas repeatedly illustrates in his essays, has become a captive of the captive Patriarchate.

In many of his essays, Matsoukas, lays out, in broad outline, the path out of captivity, one that tracks the 20-year efforts of Orthodox Christian Laity and many, many other Orthodox hierarchs, clergy, and lay person:

First, he recognizes that reversing this 20 plus-year journey into the abyss of disunity, autocracy, and ethnic purity, requires the combined efforts of hierarchs, priests, and laity.

Second, Orthodox Christian unity in America at every level is both an essential and a necessary ingredient if the Church is to carry out its prime directive from the Resurrected Christ, its Great Commission of Pentecost, to bring His teachings and His offer of Salvation to "all nations."

Third, the ultimate transformation of Orthodoxy in American into a self-governing body, lead by an American Synod of all of our canonical bishops, will release our people from servitude on the one hand, and, on the other, enable the kind of political and economic support our ancient Patriarchates can only dream of today. A unified American Orthodox Christian voice will provide all of the ancient Patriarchs with a much larger and more powerful American constituency than they now have. They will no longer have to rely on divided and diminishing ethnic clubs that, lead by a handful of well-healed (and well-meaning) benefactors, support them today.

Finally, no other combination of events and actions will do more to ensure that our children and the children of our children, who will be increasingly American in every way, will remain in the Church. Indeed, the retrograde movement of the last 20 years to "Hellenic" supremacy in Christ's Church has done far more to drive our young people away from the Faith than intermarriage with non-Greeks, non-Arabs, non-Serbs or marriages to spouses who are not Orthodox. The fact that the largest Orthodox group in America continues to pursue this divisive path, is disheartening to Orthodox Faithful and potential converts everywhere and sets up a stumbling block on the path to unity.

As a footnote, I would add that Hellenic Cultural Centers that are not tied to the Orthodox Church are flourishing in a number of cities in America, including, to name a few, Chicago, St. Louis, and Houston. They honor the Faith of their immigrant progenitors without attempting to absorb it. They promote the Hellenic ideal without confusing it with the message of Jesus Christ which was given to all nations and all people, Jews, gentiles, Greeks, Romans, masters and servants, men and women.

Posted: 29-Aug-2008



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