This year marks the centennial of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s establishment. This milestone coincides with the tragic hundredth anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe – a parallel frequently drawn when presenting the Archdiocese’s history. As the Mother Church of Constantinople was experiencing the violent and inhumane eradication of its ancient eparchies through Turkish acts of genocide, a lush new vineyard was being planted in America, which would become the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s largest and most fruitful eparchy.
In its century of ministry, the Archdiocese of America produced charismatic leaders and public figures, while leaving a tangible footprint in national ceremonies of the highest level, such as the swearing-in of U.S. presidents, or being institutionally recognized by U.S. presidents, governors, senators, etc.
Perhaps most importantly, although often understated, it housed the ministry of the ever-memorable and highly revered Elder Ephraim and the 20 monasteries he founded all across North America, grafting the monastic polity of the Holy Mountain of Athos – a uniquely Hellenic cultural element of universal proportions and living example of Romanity – to the ‘New Word’.
In the past, through its vast resources and charismatic leadership, the Greek-American Community, spearheaded by the Archdiocese, succeeded in making key interventions that benefitted Greece and Hellenism worldwide. The monumental humanitarian aid it provided through the Greek War Relief Association or later interventions through the so-called ‘Greek lobby’, which contributed to the – albeit temporary – U.S. arms embargo on Turkey are indicative examples.
In spite of its many, accomplishments, there are nonetheless dysfunctionalities that impede the further upgrading and development of the Greek-American community. For instance, secularization and nouveau riche-ness represent an ongoing challenge for the Archdiocese, negatively impacting the mindset of some of its officials. Meanwhile, a protracted crisis is ravaging the seminal sector of Greek Education and the preservation of the Greek language and culture.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is preparing to grant a new charter to the Archdiocese of America, to replace the one it suspended some 18 months ago, must now address these problems. More than anything else, the new charter should facilitate the resolution of problems and the enactment of reforms in areas where Hellenism in America presents a deficit.
To the extent possible, the new charter should facilitate and promote enhanced cooperation between neighboring parishes and administrative reform at the local level, expanding the framework for collaboration between traditional parish communities and broader community institutions. This aspect is even more important than the future administrative division of the Archdiocese and whether local hierarchs shall be known henceforth as metropolitans or auxiliary bishops.
The fact is that the administrative framework of the Greek-American Community is outdated in many aspects. Much of the basis of its current organizational architecture was set up at the turn of the 20th century, and reflects needs and priorities that are different from the present ones.
The first wave of Greek migrants did not envision permanent relocation to America, and consequently they may have placed greater emphasis on the isolated and independent organization and operation of local societies and parishes, as opposed to institutional networks that could operate as force multipliers and coordinating instruments.
Today – but frankly, for the past few decades now – it is inconceivable for Greek-American parochial day schools to rely exclusively on financing from the local parishes under whose auspices they were founded. If robust and lasting partnership with additional community organizations are not sought, as well as true collaboration with neighboring parishes, and in general, if invaluable talent is not attracted from among those currently left out of community affairs, then the future of Greek Education in America is extremely bleak.
The number of Greek schools is gradually shrinking, and if radical administrative interventions and reforms are not adopted to make these institutions more competitive in the new environment being shaped, they will be threatened with closure, with tragic consequences for the Hellenic Diaspora.
The new charter can remedy these problems by making institutional provisions that would render regular and close collaboration between local parishes with the aim of addressing common challenges, like the education of the youth, a necessary element of the new administrative framework. Moreover, the Church could play a leading role in transforming parish communities from isolated autonomous islands into intertwined pieces of broader geographically delineated Greek Communities, where they would co-exist with societies, associations, and other organizations to better coordinate their efforts and provide mutual solidarity.
The fact that strong and lasting partnerships between parishes (until today, the entities virtually solely responsible for establishing, operating, and maintaining schools) and secular societies/organizations is non-existent should raise serious concerns about the Greek-American community’s ability to evolve in order to address the challenges of the times.
The criteria to evaluate the Archdiocese of America should not be limited to the annual balance sheet of a parish or the financial wherewithal of the Archdiocese and its wealthy subsidiaries, but rather, the per capita cultivation of its human component and the nobleness of their actions.
The reader is reminded that this is not a quantitative criterion (per capita income, education level), but a qualitative one. For Nobel Laureate Odysseas Elytis, this is measured by the degree of genteelness and grace a people produce, where “the simplest knit shirt, the most modest rowboat, the humblest chapel, a jar, a blanket…all these things gave off a nobility that was a notch higher than the House of Bourbon!”
Considering the emergence of the Archdiocese of America is chronologically linked with the withering of the eparchies of Asia Minor, the former must strive to perpetuate the latter’s legacy of dynamism and grace. Like the Greeks of Asia Minor from the 14th century onward, we operate and function in a heterogeneous society. Therefore, the role of our leaders is not only religious, but national. The preservation of language, culture, the institutional continuation of the Greek worldview through collective/communal organization and the prioritization of communal needs are issues of primary importance, which must preoccupy local leadership, as well as the Patriarchate and the Greek state.
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