GR US

Archdiocesan and Community Leaders Must Overcome the Inertia of the Past

The National Herald Archive

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

The Greek-American Community may have entered ia new era, however, the inertia of the past continues to haunt it as it begins its new journey. Last month, Chicago’s historic Holy Trinity Church was sold at an auction, while yet another Greek-American day school in New York closed its doors. You can’t blame Archbishop Elpidophoros, who took over just two short months ago, for these developments, however, from here on in, his handling of these issues and actions to help recover what was lost will be inextricably connected to his ministry and legacy.

The closure of the Holy Cross Day School in Whitestone was not unexpected. The school was barely making it by, and local administrators seemed to lack the knowhow or ability to save it. As reported by TNH, last spring, the parish communities of Whitestone and Astoria had struck a deal to save the school, however, following protests from a neighboring community with a day school of its own, the former Archbishop allowed his Chancellor to quash the inter-community collaboration and the Holy Cross School was left to its fate – just like all the other day schools that closed down over the past fifteen years.

Considering that the fact that the same Chancellor who presided over almost all of these closures without batting an eyelash remains in his post and that the new priest set to be transferred to the parish in question played a leading role in the closure of a neighboring parish’s day school without having remedied the problems or overseen the reopening of that institution during his near decade of service, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason to be optimistic. If the Archdiocese doesn’t take a personal interest in reopening the Whitestone day school by issuing a clear mandate and leading an effort to institute a viable operational model, the danger of this institution remaining permanently closed (this time, not in a neighborhood with changing demographics, but instead at a center of Hellenism!) is very real.

Arguments suggesting that there are too many competing Greek day schools concentrated in the wider area neutralizing each other aren’t supported by the numbers. The Greek-American Community of New York City has already lost over 50 percent of its schools, which were overflowing with students not too long ago. How is it possible that the remaining handful of Greek schools – whose students range from a few dozen to, at best, a few hundred – can possibly meet the needs of the myriads of Greek-Americans living in the local area?

Either the numbers are off (which is hard to believe, based on the generally dynamic presence of Hellenism in NYC) or there is a serious problem with the organization/business model of our schools, the quality of the education being provided, or the price of tuition. In all likelihood, the latter set of factors are the cause for low registrations – something which the Archdiocese, Greek government agencies, and local stakeholders have been turning a blind eye to for decades now.

The falling dominoes of school closures has a wider impact, and is now starting to affect churches, because, at least traditionally, each institution supported the other. Last month, the Holy Trinity parish in Chicago, which was founded in 1897, was auctioned off for $2.5 million. The poor Greek migrants who founded this community 123 years ago have given way to well-to-do Greek-Americans, many of whom hold a prominent place in Chicago’s financial and social circles and bear the title of Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Many are now left wondering why these successful entrepreneurs, together with the local Church and other community institutions, allowed the first ever Greek Orthodox church in the Midwest to go broke and be sold off.

This unfortunate development represents a lowlight in the ministry of Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago, who assumed duties just 18 months ago and has been confronted with empty coffers and the administrative mistakes of his predecessor. Nevertheless, in his recent interview with TNH, the 41-year-old metropolitan failed to persuade that he exhausted all available resources in what many call the Archdiocese’s largest and wealthiest Metropolis to secure the necessary funds to keep the community’s property from heading to the auction block.

For example, instead of wasting time on encyclicals thrusting himself into the affairs of other Churches (Cyprus) and criticizing statements by Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou – while indirectly pointing out the ‘errors’ of great saints of the Church (sic) – he could have spearheaded a Metropolis-wide fundraising campaign to save the Holy Trinity Community. Unless Hellenism at-large has major misconceptions about the strength and financial wherewithal of the Hellenic Diaspora of the U.S., securing $2.5 million doesn’t seem like such an impossible task for the local Church and Community.

Both in matters of education, as well as general administrative issues, the consequences of years of indifference and unwillingness to face the problems plaguing the organized community have now come to a head. All eyes are now on the actions and intervention of the new leadership, which promise to be of decisive importance for the future of Hellenism in America.

 

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