Archbishop Elpidophoros’ recent pledge to offer full scholarships to all clergy from Jordan interested in attending Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology is causing a stir. One can only speculate whether this will affect the finances of HC/HC, but the cancellation of last month’s Board of Trustees meeting by the institution’s president doesn’t bode well.
Scholarships are a fine thing, as is supporting less financially well-off churches, such as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (even though the latter has not been very cooperative during the ecclesiastical crisis surrounding Ukrainian autocephaly). However, there is something to be said about putting one’s own affairs in order first.
When it comes to HC/HC, it’s hard to believe that all internal issues have been satisfactorily resolved. The institution is not many years removed from nearly losing its accreditation, in large part due to its problematic finances. Moreover, questions regarding its academic rigor – especially its ability to impart sufficient love for and knowledge of the Greek language to prospective clergymen – abound. This creates a deficit in graduating clergy, some of whom, as a result, may be ill-disposed toward safeguarding the cultural asset (and spiritual resource) of the Greek language.
There exists a greater issue, though – one of ‘ethos’. Priesthood is often referred to as a vocation, not a profession, but there is no denying that Greek Orthodox priests are usually much better paid than their other Orthodox Christian counterparts here in the United States. While this is nothing to be ashamed of, assuming it helps secure quality full-time priests who require the means to support their families, problems arise when this support turns into enablement, sparking symptoms such as exceptionalism, complacence, and aloofness from the people. After all, starting a job with the promise of a six-figure salary, management-level privileges, perks like company cars and paid vacations, and relative choice of employers is not something many other college graduates entering the workplace have the luxury of enjoying.
Concerns over ethos are not new. Archbishop Iakovos prophetically warned then-Archbishop Athenagoras of this while still an archimandrite serving at the Boston Cathedral. In a letter dated 26 November 1947, he writes “[m]y complaint is that we are either not trying or not managing to pass on such a spirit of hard work to the students of the School of Theology. I am no longer referring to: ‘he who loves his father or spouse more than Me is not worthy of Me’ but that which we call ‘priestly conscience’. The method of prior agreements and ‘take it or leave it’, the right to ‘choose a community’, and the right of ‘refusal’ is a method which breaks down discipline, kills the spirit of ‘serving others’, and gives rise completely to the transformation of the ‘priesthood’ into a ‘profession’. I do not consider one person responsible for the situation that has been created. I consider myself responsible as well. But this does not mean that we should not all work together to correct this situation, which we are allowing to come about out of care today, but which will set a ‘bad precedent’ tomorrow.”
In this same letter, the ever-memorable Archbishop Iakovos bemoaned that his daily workday lasted from 8 AM to 9 PM without exception, leaving him no time for his own professional development, or any spare time to work on lectures and sermons. He notes that his greatest fear is that due to the rigor of his schedule, he will soon not be in a position to produce the same amount of work that he had been producing up until the present time, and laments the fact that if given the choice, graduating seminarians will elect to misinterpret the paternal care displayed by the Archbishop and always opt “for the impunity of being a ‘presiding priest’ and the rights that accompany this,” rather than serve in a community where they would be “subordinates and have to answer to someone else.”
Moreover, since we’re on the subject of scholarships, the fate of our parishes’ struggling parochial day schools cannot be overlooked. Are these institutions not deserving of at least some of the funding that the Archbishop envisions tapping into to provide international scholarships for HC/HC?
Unlike many societies in the West, the clergy in Greece were not viewed as a separate class or caste. They proceeded from the people, and lived among the people. It is imperative that this defining quality remain intact. At a time when public schools are facing a slew of problems, parochial Greek schools should be increasing in enrollment, but their tuition costs are often prohibitive for working-class families – especially those with two or more children.
This reality shouldn’t escape the Archbishop, nor should his bustling social media posts fail to provide a sufficient solution.
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