Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues

Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues by John Couretas –
At an October 1970 meeting of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Americas (SCOBA), which was called to discuss the burning question of an independent American Church, the presiding conference chair Archbishop Iakovos got fed up and quit. Official letters raising the subject of independence had been sent to the “mother Churches” in Constantinople, Bucharest, Belgrade, Athens and other Orthodox “centers” pointing for the need to do something about the chaotic “situation of Orthodoxy in America.” Only three replies came back. To the Greek Orthodox Iakovos, this was proof that no one took SCOBA seriously and, for that matter, the American Orthodox.

The archbishop resigned from SCOBA in disgust, saying that he had no desire to be the head of a “dead body.” According to a contemporary account, the official minutes of the meeting were forged to cover up what would turn out to be a temporary resignation.

It would take another 40 years for SCOBA to be officially dismantled and replaced with the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, also known as the Assembly of Bishops. Its founding articles constitute the body for “the promotion and accomplishment of Church unity in North and Central America.” It is also charged with providing a “common witness by the Church to all those outside her.” But given its sterling record of non-accomplishment on that “common witness” so far, is there good reason to expect that the Assembly won’t become the sort of “dead body” that Abp. Iakovos feared SCOBA had become?

Nothing could reveal this more clearly than the Assembly’s non-reaction to the Jan. 20 mandate by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that orders most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs (the “morning after pill”) free of charge. In sharp contrast to the somnolent Assembly, the response from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was swift and unequivocal.

“From a human point of view, we may be tempted to surrender, when our government places conception, pregnancy and birth under the ‘center for disease control,’ when chemically blocking conception or aborting the baby in the womb is considered a ‘right’ to be subsidized by others who abhor it,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of USCCB. “Not us!”

It wasn’t just a Catholic thing. Protestant and Orthodox Jewish leaders had written to the White House in late December about concerns that “the contraceptives mandate in the health insurance regulations, and about the ‘religious employer’ exemption that is so narrow that it does not protect most faith-based organizations.”

The Obama administration mandate came down just before Sanctity Sunday, on Jan. 22, and the March for Life the following day. As for these events, widely attended by Catholics, Protestants and those of other faith traditions, the “common witness” of the Assembly amounted only to silence.

That is not to say that individual hierarchs, clergy, seminarians and lay Orthodox did not turn out in numbers and show their support at the 2012 March for Life in Washington and other cities. Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America delivered an eloquent and Spirit-filled opening prayer in front of the U.S. Supreme Court – with Abp. Dolan at his side. On Sanctity Sunday, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, offered a thoughtful talk on the Orthodox Tradition, abortion and the death penalty at a Pan-Orthodox Sanctity of Life Vespers held in Chicago.

The Assembly Nods
The Assembly is chaired by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). The Committee for Church and Society, which aims to “develop a process to determine both the propriety and the priority of advocacy by the Assembly of issues concerning Church, government and society,” is chaired by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh. Both are hierarchs under Patriarch Bartholomew and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul, Turkey.

Putting the left-leaning Met. Savas at the head of the Committee on Church and Society was a masterstroke of political cynicism. His idea of social critique is to post offensive videos on his Facebook page like, “Tea Party Jesus: Sermon on the Mall.” Whoever was responsible for nominating Met. Savas to the Church and Society position probably felt especially clever for the rest of the day, like the schoolboy prankster who puts fresh paint on doorknobs. But the intent of Met. Savas’ appointment has been so grossly obvious, it’s not even worthy of the Byzantine reputation for subterfuge and manipulation in high places.

Could it be that Met. Savas hasn’t roused the Church and Society committee to speak out on the Obama administration’s ruling on contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, or the March for Life, because he doesn’t want to be reminded of how he exulted at President Obama’s election, using the most florid biblical language? If he’d like some pointers on how to speak out on public square issues, he could do worse than follow the lead of his plain talking Roman Catholic counterpart in Pittsburgh, Bishop David A. Zubik. Or read the statements that, at last count, 126 Catholic bishops have issued on the HHS mandate, many of which were read at diocesan Masses or included in parish bulletins.

But what could the Assembly have done under its current framework and administration? Read the Church and Society’s to-do list, for some reason labeled “terms of reference,” and you find a perfect prescription for bureaucratic gridlock. It was designed for paralysis.

What’s more, the Assembly is already issuing appeals for funding. Does it not have the resources necessary to carry forward its ambitious – if wholly unfulfilled – mission? Why not? The Orthodox comprise one of the wealthiest faith communities in America, behind only Hindus and Jews. To be considered for this year’s National Herald ranking of the “50 Wealthiest Greeks in America,” for example, you’ll need a net worth of at least $60 million. (In 2011, the list published by this ethnic newspaper had a cutoff point of $72.5 million.)

Obviously, the American Orthodox world is awash in money. What’s more, there’s plenty of willingness to involve the Church in politics.

Obscure Balkan Controversies?
The Assembly managed to shake off its “common witness” torpor on Dec. 27 when it issued a press release expressing its “outrage” at the arrest of a Serbian bishop in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Under Assembly protocol, which bears a striking resemblance to GOA protocol, one must never refer to this country simply as Macedonia. That’s because the question of whether or not the Macedonians can call their country Macedonia is a pressing “national issue” at the GOA and with its leadership in Istanbul. As is well known, you can go into coffee hour at just about any Orthodox parish in America on any given Sunday and the faithful will be hotly debating this “national” issue. No, actually, they don’t even know what a FYROM is.

Raise a stink on behalf of all American Orthodox bishops about obscure Balkan church-state politics that are completely incomprehensible – and meaningless — to 99.9 percent of the American laity? Sure. But evidently the GOA doesn’t want the Assembly to confront the Obama administration publicly and in a unified way. Especially not on one of the bedrock principles of this administration. In marking the anniversary of Roe V. Wade on Jan. 23, the president said in a statement that, “we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

Then again, how could Patriarch Bartholomew, who says the Church has no business in parishioners’ bedrooms, object? We shouldn’t expect to see him delivering the opening prayer at the March for Life anytime soon.

HT: AOI (read full article)


3 thoughts on “Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues”

  1. This is right on the mark. The crucial part of this new mandate is the redefinition and narrowing of “religious exemption.” For its redefinition, the Obama Administration used a provision drafted by the A.C.L.U. (I kid you not). Newt Gingrich summarized it well (www.lifenews.com/2012/02/01/gingrich-blasts-obamas-anti-religious-coverage-mandate). He noted that Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York City and current head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.”

    President Obama swore his socialized medicine plan would not include abortion. Prolife Christians knew better, but were ridiculed by our own brethren –even priests and potential bishops. Now, the Obama Administration is requiring abortion be provided by Obamacare –even forcing church-run businesses to provide abortions, violating their beliefs. Where are those clergy “leaders” voices now? I can’t count how many liberal Orthodox priests ridiculed and assured that the President said Obamacare would not include abortions. One priest at least, has reversed himself, admitting that he was “duped” into voting for Obama (www.huffingtonpost.com/fr-petermichael-preble/religious-freedom-under-attack_b_1223424.html).

    Many other Orthodox priests and hierarchs were duped as well. Obama got a lot of Evangelical votes, too. Prolifers know all it takes is a candidate’s stand on abortion to decide their vote, but not everyone is so discerning toward the signs of the times.

    This is exactly what The Manhattan Declaration was addressing. Axios to Metropolitan JONAH, Archbishop STEPHAN, Bishop BASIL Essey, Bishop MARK Maymon, Father Chad Hatfield, Father Patrick Reardon, Father Alexander Webster and Father Hans Jacobse, as well as the other Orthodox leaders who signed it! Those who criticized that signing either do not have their eye open to the sign of the times, or else are a part of the problem.


  2. The reality is that for most of the bishops, they do not consider American their homeland, thus they aren’t concerned. Take for example, the Greek Orthodox bishops.

    Now, this summer, at the Greek Orthodox Clergy-Laity in Phoenix, guess which National Anthem will be sung first – you guessed it – the GREEK NATIONAL ANTHEM, by Orthodox Christians of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese OF AMERICA. It’s appalling. God forbid any priest speaks up – he’ll be quickly destroyed and hung out to starve.

    Shame on them for abrogating their responsibility to our nation.

    Shame on them for choosing Greece over America (hey, they’re American citizens, right?)

    Shame on them for throwing religious liberty under the bus.

    And finally, shame on them for remaining silent while persecution ramps up to full speed in the country which best exemplifies their own Hellenic cultural and philosophical tradition (i.e. the Constitution).

  3. John, I agree on the National Anthem bit. But I am not completely with you on your aggrivation toward the heirarchs. I agree that moral and ethical societal issues fall directly at their feet; I also believe that the appearance of silence doesn’t mean they haven’t proclaimed from the rooftops. They don’t get much press, after all–unless a priest that wants to change the world posts something out there on Huffington Post against them. As Mainstream Christians go, it’s pretty clear that Orthodox Christians are a fringe-group when pitted against Latin Catholics in mass media and public view. The articles are out there, but not immediately available–most tmies, we have to search for them on the internet to even find the story. Look at Pewsitter.com and you find all things ‘Catholic’ even though much out there has nothing to do with Catholicism. The Catholic Church is the media giant because they gain the lions share of attention, large in part, because they are the largest Church-and, they clearly have a Modernist Schism (though informal and under the surface) within their ranks–they’ve been salivating over that morsel for decades. Once they’re down, we’re next–so we best learn from what we are seeing and apply some lessons learned from the persecution that our Western brothers and sisters are enduring. But the issue’s depth is further down in the chasm than we know and I don’t think that ‘shame’ falls completely on any one person’s head here–it’s on all of us. There are things at work which are taking morality by storm and our beloved countrymen, I fear, have been weakened in this virtue of virtues. I think that nationalism can be a good thing, and I think it’s necessary to defend a moral civilization. But when the immoral reign supreme, one must speak up, just as you are doing and as our bishops are doing. God be with you, and pray for me, a sinner. Mark.

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