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Columnists

Our Communities: ‘Guard Them as If They Are Your Eyes’

May 16, 2023
Analysis by Theodore Kalmoukos

I have written in the past on the subject of the communities – the parishes – that are the subject of today’s Analysis.

Today, I wish to remind everyone that communities are the basic building block of our ecclesiastical life and, to a large extent, our life in the Omogenia, especially today, with the well-known state of decay in which our once-strong federations of societies and associations have fallen.

It is equally disturbing and disheartening that many parishes across America seem to have embarked upon the same path.

This is the reason why I chose this title:

‘Guard Them as If They Are Your Eyes’.

The recent interventions of Archbishop Elpidophoros, in the community of the Cathedral of Saint Demetrios in Astoria, the home of the only high school in the whole of America, but also in the community of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Hempstead, New York (see the related story in this issue), once again show the lack of sensitivity and knowledge of the culture that has been formed in our Greek-American Community and ecclesiastical space. Our Community has a unique character, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the mentality that Elpidophoros brought from Bursa and Halki. We are talking about a clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington had intelligently written in his famous article decades ago.

It was also aptly pointed out to me a few days ago by a faithful and wise hierarch that, “he [Elpidophoros] had never sailed a small boat in his life and suddenly found himself captain in a super tanker.”

I don’t think there is a more apt description than this one, which explains all the events of these four years, which have ended the Archbishop’s honeymoon with a local Church that was ready to reorganize and was waiting for its new Archbishop – even with ‘Messianic hope’ – to embrace it, to love it, to respect it, and to elevate it to new heights.

And instead of all this, the Community has gone from the anticipation of hope … to disappointment.

And since Elpidophoros is not “flesh from the flesh and bone from the bones” of our Church and Omogenia here, but a careerist aiming from the beginning for the other Throne … we must remind him that the communities and churches have been founded and built with the blood and honest sweat of the Greek pioneer immigrants, as well as of those who followed them.

One of their first tasks, more than a century ago, was the establishment of ecclesiastical communities – parishes, around which all their life and activity was then organized. Many communities started either as Greek societies and associations or as Greek schools and gradually developed into church communities. Their lay organizers took care to secure priests, mainly from Greece, to whom they paid a nominal fee, because there was no money. They celebrated the Divine Liturgy, the Services of Holy Week, and the Sacraments out of love for the Church and Community.

What is still done to this day when a parish is established is that a group of faithful and dedicated lay people form a committee, while also collecting a sum of money as a basic foundation for establishing the community.

Then, they address the Metropolis of the area or the Archdiocese, and the formal process of establishing the new community begins.

The laity take the initiative – they secure the financial resources and the Archdiocese or the Metropolis simply gives their blessing and then sends a priest for the services, who of course, is paid by the laity. The Archdiocese also then begins to collect the monthly financial contribution from the community, the now-infamous ‘assessment’.

In other words, the system is set up according to the standards of chainstores or franchises. No one from the Archdiocese or the Metropolis seems to care or even to ask if the newly formed community can respond to their financial requests at the time, whether they have to pay a mortgage for the church building, or to pay rent.

So, instead of the Archdiocese or the Metropolis coming and making a sacred gesture by giving some financial help to the newly established community, on the contrary, they start taking from the very first moment. Everything, yes,  everything is taken care of and paid for by the lay people, the simple and dedicated people of our Omogenia, towards whom not a few times some priests and hierarchs have behaved with behavior ranging from low character to sheer inhumanity, as in the two aforementioned leading communities.

Please note: No one is saying that the Archdiocese should not be given financial contributions, but what we are talking about is the opulence and the unjustified waste that is happening everywhere, starting with the Archdiocese, and all this mess we now see at headquarters with the many and highly salaried communicators, public relations strategists and other experts, as well as other internal and external consultants.

And when the communities get to the point of being under financial pressure, and yet are pressed to give more, and they say “we can’t … we don’t have it,” then the threats begin. The Archdiocese says that its Parish Council election will not be approved, that “we will not give you marriage and baptism certificates,” or worst of all, “we will take away your priest.”

Has anyone really thought about what would happen if at some point there are thirty communities in each Metropolis that say, “Ok, recall the priest – we are suspending his salary as of today. The church will remain closed on Sunday, but we will explain your behavior to the congregation and to the media of the Omogenia and the American media, and at the same time, stop our financial contribution to the Archdiocese.”

Beware – the churches are empty. We are losing our people. The young have turned their backs and are leaving. Famine is coming … The pioneer founders of our communities will be spinning in their graves.

Elpidophoros will eventually leave. The communities and people will remain, however, but the point is the wounds and bruises he will leave behind.

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