Open Letter to the Archbishop & the Greek Community

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Giorgos Kontarinis)

Open letter to the Archbishop of America and the Greek Orthodox community from Michael Huffington.

As I sit in my living room listening to Pavarotti and looking west at the setting sun I can’t help but wonder what is going on in the mind of our Archbishop Dimetrios. Here is a man who was born in 1928, has had a distinguished career as a professor and who has led the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese for almost 19 years. One would think that at the age of 90 he would joyously retire and turn over the reigns of the Archdiocese to a younger prelate… especially having just presided over one of the biggest financial improprieties to hit the Archdiocese in recent memory.

For those of you who don’t know me I am a former Episcopalian, businessman and Congressman who received the sacrament of chrismation along with my two daughters at the Patriarchate in 1996. Since that time I have poured my financial resources into ancient and new monasteries in Greece and America as well as into the parishes of Bethesda, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and now Miami. I love Christ and wish to help His Church prosper and grow. So I write this open letter to the Archbishop and my fellow Orthodox Christians with a somewhat heavy heart. It is never easy to tell someone you love that it is past time for them to step down. But for the good of our Church it is time for His Eminence to gracefully move on. Even the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict, (who was born in 1927 one year before Archbishop Dimetrios) did so at the age of 85. If a Pope who is a brilliant theologian can give up the Throne of Saint Peter at the Vatican certainly our Archbishop can also relinquish his throne.

Every year in church we have heard the parable of the talents (Mathew 25: 14-30). The Patriarchate bestowed Archbishop Dimetrios an opportunity in 1999 to head the Archdiocese and for a period of time he first stabilized and then helped the Church to grow. However over the past several years he has not only buried the talents that were given to him but worse yet he has lost some of them. This is evidenced by the misappropriation of funds that were separately raised and designated for the construction of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine located at the World Trade Center. Construction had to be halted last year as the funds had been diverted to cover other expenses within the Archdiocese. This malfeasance became a national and very public embarrassment for our Archdiocese. And unfortunately the responsibility for this situation lies directly at the feet of the Archbishop. In the parable when the servant didn’t increase the talent that he had been given the master had him banished from his lands. This message is relevant to our present situation and I pray that His Eminence will take it to heart.

Over the past year there have been private conversations within parishes as well as articles in the press that it was time for new leadership. Then late last month I read that the Patriarch had requested that Archbishop Dimetrios tender his resignation but that His Eminence had refused to do so. I was astonished at his response to a request from the head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, and I was in shock. How could a servant of God who is a priest not follow the request of his superior? What kind of example is this to the Bishops, the priests, the parishioners and the children of our beloved Church? Is it now ok for children to disobey their parents? Or for priests to disobey their Bishops?

I hope and pray that Archbishop Dimetrios will reconsider his response to the Patriarch, and that he will put the Church first and gracefully retire rather than stubbornly and selfishly hold on to power. Does he really believe that he is the only prelate capable of being Archbishop of America? Isn’t it conceivable that any good that he could have brought to this office has already been provided over the past 19 years? And isn’t it possible that someone new will bring different talents to the job? Today our Archdiocese is stagnating and we need a new leader with different talents to expand our community. Ideally God will provide us with a very spiritual man who is also a competent administrator.

Your Eminence tough love is sometimes necessary to help those we love to see their foibles. Please don’t act like you own this office. You were given it by the Patriarchate for a period of time but not for the rest of your life. You serve at the pleasure of the Patriarchal Synod. My heartfelt suggestion to you is to announce your retirement at the conclusion of the upcoming Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston.

We should all remember that humility emanates from communion with God. In an attempt to separate us from God Satan appeals to our ego which can lead to arrogance and pride. I pray that you will be enlightened and choose the path of humility over arrogance.

May God bless your remaining days on Earth.

Michael Huffington is an American politician, activist, and film producer. Huffington was married to Arianna Huffington, the Greek-born co-founder of The Huffington Post, from 1986 to 1997.

15 Comments

  1. Mr. Huffington thank you for your observations and bravery. What keeps me in the Church, by the thinnest of threads is a few honest, sincere people like you, who don’t give up and try to make a difference. Here is a few ways to fix this Church:
    1. Mr. Huffington people like you MUST stop giving them MONEY, until they change;
    2. Our lay leaders have now become nothing more than “RUBBER STAMPS”. Starting with the “sit and listen” Archdiocese Council and every other committee made up of sycophants and court jesters;
    3. Complete transparency, nothing else will do;
    4. Acknowledgment of all sins of the past. Blaming people like Jerry Dimitriou, the past Executive Director is really much lower than I even imagined they would go;
    5. Release the Monastery Review Committees reports on the damage being done by the Ephraimite Movement to our Church;
    6. Acknowledge the obvious, people are leaving in great numbers and we are failing to maintain the hearts and minds of the legacy stewards of our Church. They are voting with their feet;
    7. We are not operating in Byzantium! So quit treating everything like we live in a homogeneous society or country. For example, how about we hire the best available person, irrespective of religious background as President of HC/HC. Or, we bring in a full time, paid Attorney into the administration of the Church that actually has a clue as to what they are doing. Instead we have people who appear to live in fear of voicing an opinion or they might be removed from what we call in the Metropolis of Chicago, “The Prom Committee”.

    1. There are plenty of qualified Greek Orthodox men and women who have experience in the administration of institutions of higher education, whether they be presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, etc. There are several problems that need to be overcome. First, you have to find the money to hire such a person, and probably one other who comes along. Second, why would someone agree to come to HCHC? What guarantee(s) could possibly be given that he/she would be able to effect the changes necessary to put the school on the right tract? Would that person be given the right/power to ride herd over the faculty and revamp the curriculum of the college? And who knows what else…..

      1. Alitheia 1875, I agree there are plenty of qualified Greek Orthodox who could lead HC/HC. But, since 1937 or the last 81 years they have not hired them. Because they use bias, friendship, Koumbaro politics, etc. to screen Greek Orthodox candidates. So please, after 81 years can we just agree that perhaps we should be realistic and go to plan “B”? Are we condemned to making the same mistake over and over again?
        The enablers have to STOP letting the Hierarchs getting away with despotic tyranny. We have witnessed an oppressive rule of the laity. Now the “wheels are coming off the train” and the school is going off the cliff. Your position is you want another Greek Orthodox to step aside out of fear and let them continue to mismanage?

    2. Our Church is not a corporate board. It is governed by no less than the Supreme God whose servants are our priests, monks, and all those who devote their lives to Christ. I agree that Huffington should stop giving his money as it taints the Church.

  2. Mr. Huffington you have given us a lot to chew on here, and I commend you for doing so. I have also reluctantly come to the conclusion that his eminence is past the point where he can effectively govern the Archdiocese. It is time for a new leader.

    Where I disagree with you is in thinking the Phanar can solve our problems. This EP created the current system of Metropolitans that has destroyed the Archdiocese as a cohesive united entity. And for the sole reason of ensuring there would never be another Archbishop Iakovos.

    We can love the Mother Church, but every daughter comes to the point where she cuts the apron strings and moves out on her own.

    We are entitled to an autocephalous American Orthodox Church, respecting and loving our Mother Church in Constantinople, but governing ourselves based on American values and sensibilities.

    We are the Phanar’s cash cow and the EP is unwilling to see anything change that might stop the flow of dollars to Turkey. That is a lousy reason to deny us our own American Church.

    It is no wonder the GOA is moving towards a collapse. Only bold action will save it. Replacing the Archbishop with one of the current unimpressive Metropolitans or flying someone in from Turkey for the job will be a huge step backwards.

    1. Mr. Huntington’s letter raises many points but misses one major fact. As Michael’s comments accurately points out, the real problem here is the leader at the top. The EP forced Iakovos’ resignation (imagine if he had refused), and forced the inept Spyridon on us. Only after the ten largest parishes with held their assessment payment, and started moving funds into special trusts did the EP get the message. Archbishop Demetrios is a wise and humble man, but he was given an administrative structure that was built for failure.
      The only solution is a re-centralized authority structure that share power with the laity, and is run from here and not Turkey.

  3. I agree Michael…
    It’s not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ or service to His church, It’s about money and power – plain and simple.
    The EP needs ABD and the New York millionaires and billionaires to ensure his ministries will continue. I sincerely doubt there was any defiance from the AB towards the EP. It was most likely a BS story someone fed TNH.
    The status quo will remain…

  4. I would like to reemphasize the last paragraph of the previous writer: Elevating one the current bishops or. Even WORSE, bringing some from abroad, would be the greatest mistake of the patriarch!

    1. If you don’t elevate one of the bishops here (God forbid!) and you don’t get one from abroad, well, where will the next archbishop come from? Certainly not one of the archimandrites because, that’s where all the bishops came from. The real problem is that the archbishop has no control over the metropolitans. A quandary, indeed!

  5. Basil312, of course the process was flawed in the past, with a few exceptions, but those presidents (Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou, Fr. Leonidas Contos, Fr. Byron Patrinacos, and of course Dr. Lelon simply because he was a layman) because the archbishop, whichever one holds the position, is automatically chair of the trustees according to the bylaws. What would it take to change the bylaws? Believe me, there are quite a few trustees who want that change. The school is an archdiocesan institution so that’s the only way. Then bring on board a few trustees who themselves have experience in higher education. Then have the process transparent. Surely, at this point pressure from the laity, and I mean real pressure, yelling and stamping of feet, demonstrating in the parking lot in front of the library and administration building type of pressure. One of the major problems with the governance and advancement of the school has been the general indifference and lack of support from the laity. It’s about time that changes. Many people responding to various articles in this newspaper keep calling for change, for the laity to demand change and effect change. Well, aside from cleaning up the archdiocese, the school is absolutely the second item on the list.

  6. The school is absolutely not an archdiocesan priority; if it were, then the archdiocese would pay their monthly allocation on time , every time. Despite the regular lies that the archdiocese didn’t “ realize “ they are in arrears, they are and will always be. Currently they owe over $1.5 million or 10% of HCHC’s annual budget. What message is being sent to our future priests other than we don’t really care about you and hope you muddle through your time at seminary.

    1. The Archdiocese is currently in arrears $1.75 million. This has been going on for years, not just the last few because of the financial crisis. The hierarchy doesn’t really care as long as Holy Cross keeps turning out priests. And, they don’t really care about Hellenic College. Some hierarchs have even been known to say they have enough priests. That coming from “archpastors” who have parishes with upwards of 500 families with one priest, and some parishes even larger than that with one priest. Every parish with at least 300 families should have 2 priests, and more priests for even larger parishes. But parishes can’t afford a second or third priest because of the outrageous assessments the Archdiocese demands. It is time to start thinking and believing that this is a spiritual crisis as well as a business/financial crisis. It is time to start thinking local.

      1. Our Lord Jesus must weep when he sees what we do in his name. The gold mitres, thrones, gold bullion crosses, priests in French cuffs with gold cuff links who drive Mercedes, bishops with gold knobbed walking sticks. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture? In the contrast with the simple shepherd who had a single simple handmade tunic and who walked wherever he went? Lord have mercy!!

  7. The more we read about the Archdiocese/Archbishop saga, the more it sounds like a conspiracy; how in the world the National Herald knows everything going on behind the scenes in Fanari, who feeds them with contradictory stories, what the ultimate goal? Great paradox indeed!

  8. As a member of a family of 6 generations of Americans of Greek descent in the the United States , I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Huffington’s and Michael’s (6/7@ 11:13) comments. Our family includes a number of
    Archons, who have been very active in the church etc. We all agree,the Metropolitans have been given too
    much power.
    Under Patriarch Athenagoras and Archbishop Iacovos these circumstances NEVER would have occurred !!!

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