A Priest Against Paideia? It Can’t Be!

The lack of strategic planning when it comes to the advancement of Greek Education on behalf of the organized Greek-American Community is lamentable. Considering the absence of any official fund and the miscommunication between institutions at a local level, it is almost wondrous that Greek schools were ever formed and lasted as long as they did in the first place.

Traditionally in America – for better or for worse – the burden of providing Greek education has traditionally fallen upon parish communities. The school was the second temple of the parish; a temple of learning and education that operated in complete harmony and unison with the parish, as per the Hellenic model.

That is why it is so particularly enraging when official representatives of the Church – i.e., clergymen – ignore this fact and allow their egos, complexes, or whatever other baggage they are carrying get in the way of Greek Education.

When a priest threatens to close the parish Greek school because of lack of church attendance by the children or unsatisfactory participation in church events by the parents, he turns his back on centuries of Greek Orthodox tradition and operates contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.

While you cannot blame a priest or parish council for wanting maximum participation in church services and activities or feeling overlooked when the younger generation is less than responsive, threats of schools closures are vengeful, selfish deeds that are unbecoming of someone who would preach the Word of God.

After all, what of the Lord’s command about forgiving someone “seventy times seven” or the parable of “The Good Shepherd?” Is not meekness and forbearance the far more Christian example than threatening punitive measures?

At the end of the day, what people like the person in this example (a real-life figure) don’t understand is that they are transferring blame for what is at least partially their fault onto others. Instead of first evaluating the degree to which they were able to form relationships and reach out to these members of their flock, they instead write them off as no good and look to exert pressure upon them. As if you can “force” someone into coming to church?! The very idea negates the mode in which God operates. And tragically, in ostensibly trying to serve Christ, they become very un-Christlike.

In one school, the local presiding priest didn’t even go to bless the students and teachers for Epiphany, either because he was too busy engaging in other sorts of “outreach” or because he wanted to punish them for not attending services the week before.

What a far cry from the village priests who go from home to home blessing all the members of their flock, whether they are punctual or not in their church attendance. So much for unconditional love…

How can a priest (or his choice mouthpieces on the parish council) pass judgment on families for not attending church if he has not consistently tried to build a pastoral relationship with the youth?

There are students looking to discuss their hopes and dreams for tomorrow, there are young people with questions about their faith and heritage, there are talents and interests that young people may have that he can awaken, i.e. chanting, the altar, iconography, theological discourse, etc. Every interaction is a teachable moment waiting to happen.

Part of the problem may stem from this CEO-fantasy that possesses some clergymen. While it is true that priests in America have to wear many hats in order to keep a parish community running well, the second they begin to think of themselves as CEOs rather than celebrants of God’s sacraments and teachers is the moment that they leave the door open for hubris to make its tragic appearance.

Phrases like “business is business,” as the closed-minded cleric who served as the impetus for this column likes to say, really have no place being uttered by a parish’s spiritual leader. If that saying were to hold true, an MBA would be a pre-requisite for six-figure salaried clergymen who fancy themselves as captains of industry. Management experience (and not some hokey seminar) would also be a must for parish council members – or members of the executive board, at the very least.

Rather than playing the blame game or resorting to petty blackmail, a parish priest should lead by example. Wherever there is apathy, he should respond with care and interest. Wherever there is lukewarmness, he should lend fervor. Wherever there is lack of knowledge, he should enhance with teaching. St. Paul the Apostle says it best: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

This kind of pettiness and unfaithfulness to the awesome responsibility of promoting Greek education in America is not in keeping with the tradition of a Church that can boast teachers like The Three Hierarchs, St. Cosmas the Aetolian, St. Photios the Great, etc.

One would hope that such reprehensible misuse of administrative and pastoral authority is limited to problematic personalities. Unfortunately, if those problematic personalities serve in financially robust communities which have the resources and potential to greatly contribute towards education, then the damage is even greater.

At any rate, to further safeguard against such “too cool for school” men of the cloth or their associates on parish councils, statutory changes will likely be necessary. The Western mentality that if your head hurts, you should cut it off is foreign to the Hellenic tradition. The Manichaistic “duality” of good vs. bad has permeated our thinking is adulterating the Hellenic “tropos.”

After all, the Greek word for forgiveness (syggnomi, synchoro) literally means to “make room” for someone and understand their opinions. There are too few resources available and the cause too great for divisiveness to exist.

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