For the Identity of Our Church

The National Hellenic Society (NHS), a progressive, leading community organization, organized a teleconference titled Church and Community, a Historical Review last Thursday afternoon, in which I also participated.

His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco and professor and historian Alexander Kitroeff also took part.

It was a constructive, substantive discussion, in which many issues were raised that could form the basis for further study and finding solutions to the issues of our Community.

As the discussion took place in English, I considered it appropriate to convey some of the key points I made for the Greek edition, and also spotlight them for our English website.

The video is available on the Internet for those who are interested.

I first noted that the National Herald (“NH”) was founded in 1915 – 11 years before the Archdiocese was established in 1921 – and in fact played an important role in the latter’s establishment.

During what is known in modern Greek history as ‘the Great Division,’ (between the NH which supported Eleftherios Venizelos and the Atlantis newspaper which supported King Constantine), the two newspapers had substantial reasons for preferring different candidates for the first Archbishop of America.

In fact, the founder of the NH, Petros Tatanis, left the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and founded the Church of St. Eleftherios on the West Side, named for Venizelos, the Ethnarch.

There is no doubt, I continued, that our Church is the backbone of the Greek-American community. That is why the NH devotes more space to covering Church-related news than any other expatriate issue.

The Church and the NH have a parallel mission and a parallel course.

In my 40 years as Publisher-Editor, we have often disagreed – sometimes strongly – with several Archbishops.

Our disagreements were over matters of administration, the Church’s priorities, and especially, the identity of the Archdiocese.

We expected more, I said, from the late Archbishop Iakovos, because … he was the gifted Iakovos. He could have accomplished more.

After Iakovos, the Archdiocese suffered a dangerous decline. This lasted until a year ago when Archbishop Elpidophoros took over and changed its course.

We do not pretend to be infallible, but the truth is that we warned (many times and for a long time) that the Archdiocese was headed towards a dead end. We could see it coming.

It finally escaped bankruptcy at the last minute.

Look, it is obvious that there is a subterranean struggle for the identity of the Church.

For decades it was undoubtedly a Greek church of immigrants. Over the years, those born here, our children, have become the majority of the members and leadership of the Church.

No problem there.

The struggle that is taking place, however – often without purpose or even discernment – is over the identity of the Church.

What are we? What language do we speak? What is our mission?

The main mission of our Church is, of course, religious.

At the same time, however, it is the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

Therefore, in parallel with religion, shouldn't it also teach culture, history, and the Greek language?

But I would say that this struggle or dilemma is wrongly put, representing a false choice.

Why can’t it be simply what it is: the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, in which both languages are used?

And why not create the right climate for it?

Why not openly promote this role?

But this presupposes that our priests also know Greek. And why not?

Why would anyone want to serve in the Greek Church without knowing Greek? Especially today when technology and globalization make such an approach flexible, easy and necessary? Especially now that the Theological School has the support of Greece?

Until the mission of the Church is fully clarified, it will not be able to go as far as it can.

We are putting our hope in Archbishop Elpidophoros.


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