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The Parthenon, the Aghia Sophia, and the Elephant in the Room

Τhe feast of the Three Hierarchs traditionally coincides with the celebration of Greek Letters. The Socratic adage exhorts us to not lead an unexamined life, so this is a prime opportunity to ponder the invaluable lifeline of Paideia that has helped Hellenism withstand the test of time. Two of Hellenism’s most discerning features are synoptically captured by its two signature landmarks – the Parthenon and the Aghia Sophia. For countless centuries, Greeks relied on their culture and faith to ensure their ethnic vitality. These two archetypes – the parish and the school – held a prominent position, from the most magnificent of cities to the humblest of villages.

The same was true in the Diaspora. As they traveled across the globe, pioneering migrants’ first order of business was to build a church and establish a school. This fundamental organizational principle enabled Greek communities to flourish and perpetuated the Hellenic identity. Whether in free lands or suffering under the yoke of foreign oppressors, these two pillars served as an unshakable edifice from where the people could ground themselves, cultivate their surroundings, and pursue continual progress.

The parish and school served as the mitochondria of organized Hellenism, driving the development and progress of the community, which drew upon the energy they gave off to sustain itself and perform its basic functions. In cellular biology, when the number or function of mitochondria are disrupted, less energy is produced and organ dysfunction results. Similarly, when the traditional organizational architecture of Greek communities is upset, dysfunction and withering results.

For some time now, there has been a protracted crisis in Greek Education in America, resulting in school closures or dwindling enrollments. If history is any indicator, it is foolish to believe that if left unchecked, this will not create a domino effect that will eventually threaten the sustainability of neighboring parishes as well. Parishes and schools have a symbiotic relationship, so when one suffers, the other is inevitably affected. Unfortunately, even though it’s the elephant in the room, this dysfunctional situation frequently gets overlooked, as if our empirical history, the teachings of our fathers among the saints (Three Hierarchs, St. Cosmas the Aetolian, etc.), and the paradigm of our ancestors have taught us nothing.

To practice Socratic inductive reasoning, let’s look at a case study and consider several of the parish communities that shuttered their parochial schools, renting out the space for sizeable revenue. Whatever became of these substantial funds? Does the greater Greek community not deserve to know? Sadly, our parishes are quite extroverted when it comes to appealing for fundraising, but rather tight-lipped when it comes to providing a financial accounting.

It is reasonable and just to expect that if circumstances preclude parishes from continuing the operation of their schools, they should earmark some of the windfall from their closure and future exploitation to supporting the greater cause of Hellenic Paideia. After all, those school buildings were only built because donors believed in good faith that they would propagate the Greek letters, so diverting the proceeds from the intended beneficiaries or objective constitutes a type of ethical misappropriation.

The Archdiocese, is bound to view these suddenly nouveau riche parishes as cash cows. Pretty soon – if it hasn’t already done so – it will start hitting them up for major gifts to its institutions (conveniently, having nothing to do with education). It may even squeeze them to sponsor new ministries; i.e. a missionary priest targeting non-Orthodox in areas with a large minority demographic.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this. Where is the dialogue? Where is the method of dialectic (established by the Greeks, but spurned by their posterity)? Every year, we celebrate the Greek Letters and offer plenty of lip service, but our words are not backed up by deeds. Why don’t the Archdiocese or other major institutions help the cause of Hellenic Paideia by advocating for the hundreds of thousands – possibly even millions – in annual revenue from the rentals of non-functioning Greek schools to be redirected to existing schools in the form of scholarships or endowments? Think about how many students could benefit from this investment or the development that could be triggered!

Instead, we hear the usual spiel – that there’s no money for our schools. That’s simply not true and it’s a rumor that must be dispelled. Those of us concerned about Hellenic Paideia must be willing to speak an uncomfortable truth. The vicious cycle afflicting our schools will soon spread to our parishes, if we don’t reestablish the balance between the Parthenon and the Aghia Sophia. If that means ruffling the feathers of Church hierarchy or the administrators of cash cow parishes, so be it. As Aristotle said, “Plato is my friend, but truth is more precious.”

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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