Letter to the Editor: Who Cares? I Care and Many Others

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center. (Photo by TNH/Kostas Bej)

To the Editor:

I have been struck by some recent letters to the  National Herald calling for the Greek American community to “Move on” regarding responsibility for the calamitous state of the finances at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and even a statement regarding this issue approximating, “Who Cares?” as to who is to blame for this debacle.

Well, I CARE and not just because my family sacrificed to contribute to the “St. Nicholas Rebuilding Fund” after 9/11. The “mismanagement” of the Archdiocese’s finances (to give this sordid matter the most sympathetic spin) should be of concern to EVERY Greek and Orthodox American.

The mismanagement of the Archdiocesan finances has only been surpassed by the mismanagement of the public perception of what has transpired over the past two years. There has been significant obfuscation of the facts regarding what transpired including many rounds of finger pointing by those in charge; there has been NO acceptance of responsibility and have even alleged attempts  by the Archdiocese to retaliate  against the National Herald and others who have sought to bring this issues into the light of public scrutiny. We have heard that the Archdiocese is “virtually bankrupt”, that the Archbishop himself is “poor and homeless” and there has apparently been no further investigation regarding an individual who is alleged to have been paid  hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Archdiocese for “travel expenses.”

Many of your readers will recall that before this scandal broke onto the public stage, the Archdiocese put the squeeze on local parishes by demanding that that they increase their contributions to the Archdiocese, in some cases approaching 40%; that numerous Greek Orthodox day schools have been forced to close in the past few years and that lack of funding continues to plague Holy Cross School and Seminary. There were obviously those who KNEW that a financial calamity was approaching and sought to cover it by asking local parishes literally to do the impossible.

All of this has greatly eroded trust in the Archdiocese, the Archbishop and the officials who have served under him. Far worse, it has greatly damaged the perception of the Greek Orthodox Church in America as a place that one would want to join, support and contribute to. Greek and other Orthodox Christians as well as other faith communities in the US face tremendous challenges from assimilation aided by inevitable intermarriage( it is reported that intermarriage in the Greek American community is OVER 80%, i.e., 4 out of 5 Greek Americans marry someone from outside their faith) as well as plain apathy and disconnectedness from traditional religious identification.

In a jarring but timely article published in the National Herald of January 1, 2018, (“The Crisis Facing Greek Orthodoxy in America”) Dan Georgakas, a retired Director of the Greek American Studies Project at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College-CUNY and Editor of the Journal of Hellenic Diaspora states that;

“Church records, federal statistics, and research projects regarding Greek millennials reveal a multi-decade decline of 40% in the number of Orthodox marriages and baptisms and a similar multi-decade rise in the number of burials. In 1976, near the peak of the Second Wave of immigration (1965-1980), there were more than 250,000 Orthodox households. Today, the number is about 190,000, a decline of approximately 27%.

A handful of parishes have grown, but more churches had been closed than new parishes opened. The number of students in parochial schools has declined drastically. Aggravating the situation is a chronic shortage of priests…

Most converts to Greek Orthodoxy are non-Greek spouses of Greek-Americans. The Church welcomes such converts, but it has no vigorous policy regarding converting non-Greeks. In that sense, the Church remains primarily an ethnic institution.

The current out marriages of Greeks to non-Greeks is at least 80%.” (Italics mine).

The Greek and other Orthodox denominations (Save the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America) have been hemorrhaging members and attendance for years and the trend continues unabated. The Orthodox Churches, particularly the Greek Orthodox Church MUST have strong and visionary leadership backed by the faith and trust of an engaged laity to even begin to insure our survival.

Other faith communities have designed and implemented imaginative and creative ways to shore up group identity and participation with their adherents. They have utilized outreach initiatives for their members to connect with and serve the wider community in ways that bring a greater sense of pride, inclusion and connectedness to their home faiths. These tools and programs must be employed by the Greek Orthodox Church to stop our decades long decline in membership.

But before anything else can be attempted, this erosion of trust has to stop. There MUST be an accounting, accepting of responsibility for those who have been a party to this devastating scandal and appropriate penalties for those who are responsible, along with safeguards and reforms to insure that such damage to the financial well-being of our church and that the perception of incompetence, impropriety and overall lack of integrity is never again associated with our Church.

Sure, we all want to move on from this shared train wreck. The challenges facing our beloved Orthodox faith in this country are myriad and complex.

However, to begin ANY regrowth and reformation, the Church must again be seen to be a place of competent stewardship, activism and above all integrity, to be able to compete and survive in the religious landscape of the United States.

Paul J. Kutscera, Esq.

Bayside, NY

3 Comments

  1. @Paul
    Your love and zeal for our Orthodox Faith is inspiring. I ( and I can only speak for myself) but there are so many others writing in to The National Herald that share your concerns regarding our faith and our community’s. The common bond being Christ.

    I have been serving our churches (in some capacity) for forty years. A diakonia (service mentality) that was instilled in me from the age of twelve from a grandmother who served for fifty plus years. A diakonia that blessed me to participate and successfully complete the diakonate program at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. A program that taught me a great deal about our faith. It’s amazing how much we do not know. A program that gave me the tools to be a resource in my community and beyond.

    As for my Grandmother, she served our churches in Astoria, New York on many fronts but she was especially proud to be the president of the Philoptochos (two terms). The good works of the faithful women of St. Demetrios and St. Catherine and George helped build day schools, raise the necessary funds to install the first commercial kitchens in our parishes, as well as numerous beautification projects (icons). But the most important work they did was helping the less fortunate in our communities. I believe we must rebuild in the spirit of our Yia-Yia’s. We must love God with all our heart, soul, and mind as they did – as well as love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

    “Other faith communities have designed and implemented imaginative and creative ways to shore up group identity and participation with their adherents”.
    The other churches you are referring to are Evangelical. They are Christ centered. Their congregants read and understand the bible. They live the Great Commission of Christ…they are alive in Christ!!! I believe we can be Orthodox and Evangelical at the same time. Why is Evangelism so foreign to us Orthodox? Why are we embarrassed to share our love for Christ with others? “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33 English Standard Version).
    Are we not paying attention to our Epistle readings that are read on Sundays in the Divine Liturgy?
    St. Paul, the greatest Christian of all time was Evangelical. The saint professed his love for Christ to everyone he encountered.

    In order for us to move forward as a church – we must have, A COME TO THE CROSS MOMENT…And that begins with each one of us. Being members of the Orthodox church or boasting about what great christians we are, and professing Christ with our lips and not our hearts – can not bring us to foot of the cross – will not bring us closer to salvation. We must get there on our own volition. We must arrive at the cross with a clean heart like the psalmist David sang. (psalm 50/51).
    We must born anew in the spirit. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 King James Version)

    We are all familiar with the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, well I can think of a few words I look at the picture at the top of this letter – they are Abandoned, Separated from Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven.

    With all humility and love,
    Michael Albano

    1. Michael Albano…..I am so happy….that despite the commitment and dedication of your grandmother to our Greek Orthodox church and its practices and manifested in her good works …as a Greek Orthodox Christian to preserve and build its church to continue to teach , what only the original church of Christ can legitimately do…… and that is certify….and fully do with the sacraments and worship of those…. who truly….interpreted and clarified not only the words of Christ …..the reasons for those words, and our obligations to truly fulfill …. what was demanded in the worship of Christ…you have found Christ in the evangelical church, where apparently, they only do good works, and we Othodox Christians…and you might as well include Coptic , Syrian, Russian, etc etc are frauds, and will never reach salvation!
      However, I too, was an altar boy, board member of the church, and my grandmother and Mother …did everything your grandmother did and more….including being President of the Philoptohos. However, unlike apparently your inspiration being your Grandmother….it was my mother and family…and I guess …their appears to be a gap in your experience!
      In any case, today, my children embrace the Greek Orthodox Church….and actually have had a lot of contact with Evangelical baptist and Protestant churches…and I can assure you ….they have a completely different perception…from the trash you speak!

      Here is what I recommend….that you and your BORN AGAIN Evangelicals…. stop trying to save our GREEK ORTHODOX FAITH….because, somehow, you actually believe the stuff you say about yourself…and are the only worthy christian in the Greek Orthodox church, and start an ANGLO AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH… which can appeal to all the evangelicals…who desperately want to practice the Orthodox faith, must don’t understand it. Just Think Mike….the service can be completely in ENGLISH…. and can be televised coast to coast….and you can bring in Great fund raising legends …like Joel Osteen, Tammy and James Baker (if they can get prison passes}…and even have ICON
      of Jim Jones and the great evangelist from the People’s Temple ..who literally brought 900 men, women , and children closer to God…by ordering their suicides in Gyana!

      To top it off…you can bring on one of the Great self declared Born Again Christians….George W. Bush Jr…former President of the United States, who told the Prime MInister of France…that he had to bomb Iraq…because in his bible readings…he had to protect Israel from its enemies, and then we have Tony Blair. the Prime Minister of England…another member of the evangelical empire, who joined Bush in the murder of 600,000 Iraqi’s , and shortly after that….and the banning of him and George by the Greek Orthodox Clergy of the Church of the Navity …the guardians of Christs heritage…. from every entering the church of the Nativity for their crimes against non evangelical humans of the world…converted to catholic faith! Talk about good works! But don;t worry…the evangelical church spent a pretty penny …building a library in Texas in his name!

      You need Michael …enter a rehab center…to stop reading the TNH, and watching all those paid for propaganda time on TV. by the fund raisers of Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggert, and cast of other late night religious prophets.

      In conclusion, on Sunday Morning and the high holy days…I and my family will go to my Greek Orthodox Church, which has been built by the Greek Orthodox faithful over the last 3 years, and its membership growing , and the Iconography beginning to be applied and expect to be able to worship in the manner and under the guidance of my church, as it has been for my family , ever since my Great Great Grandfather came from Sparta, Greece, and went about the business of building one of the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in New Orleans!
      As far as appealing to evangelist to join us…and embrace us…well you obviously didn’t notice who comes to our Greek Festivals with out any …gospel readings! So if they can come to our festival…nothing is stopping them to comming into our church…other than the fact….that they will find…like our Festivals…we do not serve ….a Fast Food experience…where no work or knowledge is necessary….and you get a fraudulent ticket to heaven!

      Michael Gianakos

  2. Very true words. I am greek living in Bulgaria whose church is poor humble and moves me every time I worship and it worships in bulgarian. Not church slavonic and in my local Parish the kiss of peace is exchanged between the congregation, and the people assist the ACAPELLA….. HALLO! ORTHODOX WORSHIP, small beautiful choir in the singing, not sitting either like stuffed Theatre goers. On Great Friday, we all including me, sang the Lamentations with great power. As melodies the same byzantine one and I speak bulgarian was easy.
    The basic trouble with yr church in USA is it’s too borgeoise in Culture, and its Orthopraxis or worship, with it’s 19c pseudo western kitsch style and organ.and pseudo byzantine style My greek american highlight was the Russian style Heruviko (by Russian composer) with organ blarring.( yr Manhatten Cathedral) I had to leave, could not pray or follow and happily got taxi to Russian Cathedral where caught a late liturgy that filled me with peace..
    I know there is a wind of change and entire output of byzantine tradition in english by EIKONA. And capella Romana etc and I know at least three parishes in New York, and Buffalo and Palos Heights Chicago that have returned to tradition with acapella choir and good chapters but this is only a start.
    I am greek. But live in Bulgaria and worship in bulgarian. In USA the language of worship ( and attention to it’s quality too) is ENGLISH. not as an add on, but as basic. Any other language can be used too but as extra.
    In addition there needs engagement with the life of the people not in some pseudo pretend byzantine world that is now dead and in a empty dying patrarchate.
    Yes enjoy our greek tradition. WHY NOT and those of other Orthodox traditions and authentic american ones. But u must understand that in the land of the Kardashians, fasting, tears. Prostrations ( u remember those?) and liturgical worship is not wanted, So do not even bother to please that crowd.
    Only by understanding how the Church survived communist attack can u understand what is to be done and tp realise the attack on the Church by american religious secularised as the late Fr Alexander SCHMEMANN saw, is far more insidious. But above all yr pseudo monk bureaucratic bishops living a wealthy lay life style is a scandal and amoral. Struggle g greek american families want a church close to them in english for all, with a worship that speaks to the heart and a return to connect with the rest of Orthodoxy’s renaissance. And above all no truck with right wing clergy from Greece preaching that Christ was GREEK. This is sick rubbish.

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