In recent weeks we have devoted a significant amount of space on our news pages to keeping you abreast of the unfortunate situation of our church in Jerusalem, Athens and Constantinople. Church leaders, along with others, have been implicated in widespread scandalous activities that have moved the church in all three locales into crisis and even here at home, serious questions continue to be raised with increasing fervor regarding the integrity of the Archdiocese of America. While we have watched intently the unfolding in recent months of what can best be described as an aura of arrogance at East 79th Street, we have proceeded cautiously and determinedly with our policy of bringing you objective reporting while keeping our editorial pages free of any expression of a Hellenic Voice position regarding the state of the church. We did so in the hope that, at least in New York, issues involving administration and finance at the archdiocese could be addressed by those who have the responsibility and obligation to do so without elevating the disappointing and capricious conduct there into the forum of the faithful. This we can no longer do, as we now believe that rather than improving, the condition has instead deteriorated in recent weeks to where it must be addressed openly lest irreparable damage be done to the church.
In the holy city of Jerusalem, where the sacred shrines of Christendom and some $150 million of commercial and government property are under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, schemes of land sales and leases from within the offices of the patriarchate have resulted in the removal of a patriarch and the threat of schism by the 100,000 Palestinian Orthodox remaining in the Holy Land. Others alleged to be involved in the illicit transactions are now fugitives, who are believed to have fled Jerusalem with some $800,000. And as recently as last week, Israeli authorities secured the patriarchal offices where attempts had been made by assistant clerics to the patriarch to remove considerable amounts of cash and documents.
In the capital city of Athens and other surrounding areas in Greece, a metropolitan, who is a close ally of the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, has been indicted to stand trial for money laundering, illegal offshore enterprises, embezzlement of nearly $400,000 from a monastery and ethical misconduct. Sexual scandals, both heterosexual and homosexual, as well as pedophilia, have rocked the foundations of the church in Greece, while church officials elsewhere are in custody on antiquity theft charges. Corruption within the church is now described as being widespread.
In the center of the ancient capital of Byzantium, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been accused in the Greek media of having illegally misappropriated properties belonging to the Holy Monastery of St. John the Apostle on the island of Patmos as well as of involvement with at least one metropolitan of ill-repute dealing in the purchase of lavish villas and other questionable contracts. The metropolitan is also under investigation for roles in embezzlement and sexual misconduct. Also, the metropolitan serving at the right hand of the patriarch, and allegedly involved in the fraudulent property sales on the island of Patmos which are said to have benefited his family, has been reinstated at the patriarchate after leaving for what was termed reasons of health earlier this year. The patriarchate is also under suspicion of judicial tampering and obstruction of justice.
And in an Italian prison, a Greek drug trafficker recently captured by authorities, who is also wanted in Greece, has opted to serve his time in Italy rather than be compelled to testify in Greece regarding his connections with the hierarchy of the church in all three cities.
The Greek press has been placed under a media blackout, during which time no further coverage of the reported scandals in Athens and Constantinople will take place. And earlier this month, the Greek foreign minister visited with the Patriarch of Constantinople for the apparent purpose of encouraging him to address quickly the worsening situation.
In response, the patriarch has called for a synod that was held in Constantinople on the 24th of this month, which was the press date for this issue. At this time, we have knowledge that the heads of all the Orthodox churches worldwide have been invited to attend. And complicating the expected undertaking for establishing a means of addressing the scandals, we have learned the Russian Orthodox Church is likely to use the opportunity of the synod to distance, if not separate, itself and its 150 million members further from Constantinople because of what it considers the abuse of the patriarchate’s power in lands outside its jurisdiction.
It is with disgust that we view the actions of those who have perpetrated the offenses described. And it is with outrage that we condemn the indignities which are being piled high upon the church. The desecration of that which the faithful have held as most holy, the Christian Orthodox Church, by those who are entrusted with its guardianship and nourishment, can no longer be suffered. Nor can we any longer live in the false complacency that our own shores go unaffected by matters perpetrated in foreign lands. For it is in those ancient places that the history of our church began, and it is now in those places that the destiny of our church is affected. Constantinople, the sacred city, defender of the Christian world for a thousand years, has become a harlot, a place of shadows and contempt. A place where hierarchs rule over lands with no followers, and where authority is derived not from the Holy Spirit or the flock, but by the consent of the Turkish Muslim state. And it is from that place which our own Archdiocese of America derives its power over its unwitting constituency.
By December, the archdiocese will be encumbered with an estimated debt of $12 million. In a statement issued by the archdiocese last week regarding the recent meeting of the Archdiocesan Council held in New York, it is reported that this number would be significantly lower if communities would meet their full financial obligations to the archdiocese, despite the record revenues received in 2004. It is the expectation of many that future financial obligations of the parishes to the archdiocese will increase, and the enforcement of those obligations more severely applied, as a result of the new uniform parish regulations sanctioned at last summer’s clergy laity congress. Those regulations, in conjunction with the new charter recently imposed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, virtually eliminate any significant role that the laity once played in the administration of our church and ensures the patriarchate in Constantinople as the final steward of the properties on which our parishes stand.
The statement goes on to describe legal expenses and settlements incurred primarily as a result of sexual misconduct charges in the last five years as another significant justification for the debt burden. Such expenses and settlements totaled more than $2 million in 2004 alone.
The statement also indicates that inclusive in the $12 million debt burden is a $6 million liability inherited from the previous archbishop in 1999. It has been our understanding that the actual figure at that time was closer to $2.5 million, still a substantial amount. Furthermore, we have learned through our ongoing inquiry that the existing debt burden in 1999, the time of the enthronement of Archbishop Demetrios, was reduced to $1.5 million through the generosity of private donors.
The statement does not provide an accounting of the serious cost overruns in archdiocesan budgets resulting from departmental overspending, employee hiring, compensation packages, travel, living and personal expenses, which have further inflated the debt burden.
The Hellenic Voice has attempted to gain clarification regarding these, and other matters, from the archdiocese for the better part of the last two years, to no avail. Increasingly, responsible lay persons within the organizational structure of the archdiocese have raised their voices and questioned the causes for the administrative and financial infirmity that now prevails in New York.
The most recent example took place last week, when several members of the Executive Board of the Archdiocesan Council patiently took the archbishop and others to task by raising questions and concerns incumbent upon them to ask as persons of integrity and honor, and who have accepted in full faith the fiduciary responsibility placed upon them by their position. Instead of receiving answers and a sense of participation in addressing those matters which threaten the survival of our Holy Orthodox Church, they were victimized by arrogance and suffered insult.
It would appear that the archdiocese is content with relying upon the wealth of our parishes, the assets of dead archbishops and the bequests of the faithful to fund its own obligations and those of its distressed institutions, while the philanthropic organizations established within the church for the perpetuation of existing and future ministries will become the fodder upon which the archdiocese and patriarchate will feed.
Fellow Orthodox Christians, our faith is pure and sacred. Our institutions and organizations well intended. And our past is one that is rich. Are they not all worthy of defending?
We no longer enjoy the luxury of enduring the sins of the fathers. For while those who offend are few, their power is considerable. It has been taken over time by intimidation and deceit, and it has grown over time, accommodated by a deafening silence from those within the hierarchy, the clergy and the laity who have been disappointed and betrayed by a trust misplaced in others. Our faith finds in its roots the guidance of the light of truth, the wisdom to choose between good over evil, and the power to confront it no matter its place or form. Will those roots continue to grow strong in the fertile garden prepared by previous generations, or will we prove unworthy to bring forth the fruits of their labor?
It was they who brought with them their faith to this country. And it was for the glory of God that they constructed their edifices. Today, we must ask if it is for the glory of God that we build, or for our own glory. For how can a structure stand when the integrity of the foundation upon which it rests suffers from neglect?
Tend first to the purity of thy house. Then, all things will be possible.