Orthodox Christian

Some Thoughts On The School Of Halki And The Charter

by Father John E. Artemas

As published in the Greek Star, August 7, 2003 and www.ocl.org/Some%20Thoughts.htm , August 8, 2003.



We have been bringing to the attention of our surfers the current row in the Creek Orthodox Church of America about the granting or imposition (it depends from which point of view one describes it) of a new CHARTER by the Partriachate of Constantinople for the administration of the Archdiocese. The following article brings to us some points for consideration relevant also to us in Great Britain and to the Orthodox Christian administrations in the European Union. 


What I am about to write may not be "politically correct." And maybe there are things that I do not know and cannot know, but I will write and say what I feel in my heart.

Recently I read that Patriarch Bartholomew was going to meet with the Turkish Prime Minister, with the hope that finally the Halki Academy might be reopened. As we all know, Halki was closed by the Turkish Government in 1971.

For centuries Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople have bowed down to Turkish sultans. They had no choice. They bowed down, again and again. They paid homage...and often large amounts of money. It seems that it has become second nature to our patriarchs to humble themselves, again and again, before the Turkish authorities, pleading for "crumbs of mercy," which they are mostly denied anyway. Have we no pride! In the year 2003, are we still slaves to the Turks!

I am embarrassed and infuriated that our Patriarch, whoever he is at the time, continues to be subservient to the Turkish authorities, sacrificing his dignity and humiliating himself before them. In his person, our entire Orthodox Church and Christian Faith are being insulted and humiliated!

Even if the Turks allow us and "pay us" to re-open Halki, we should refuse to do so! If Halki were reopened, its activities and curriculum would always be under the strict scrutiny and control of the Turkish authorities. Would we want our students to start their day by reciting the Turkish national anthem? And would our Christian professors be free
to teach that Islam is a militant political movement, in religious garb, of world domination, that undermines the Christian Church and all of our Judeo-Christian Western Culture?

And who would go to study in Istanbul? (Yes, I said "Istanbul." It is high time we realized that Constantinople is no more). Students in Greece and in other countries have their own seminaries and schools of theology. Would we send students from the United States? And what would that say about our Holy Cross School of Theology? And what would it do to it?

Now a few words about the charter. As a Presbyter of the Church, my conscience is not at peace with the "granting" of the new charter by the Synod of Istanbul. Archbishop Demetrios wisely allowed open dialogue about the charter at the last clergy-laity congress. (I believe there would have been quite a revolt, had he not allowed the charter to be discussed). But, regretfully, the Synod of Istanbul totally ignored the concerns of our delegates. Archbishop Demetrios has said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is "the First Ecclesiastical Authority that actually grants the Charter." Is he right? He is right...IF the Synod of Istanbul has already become a new totalitarian Eastern Papacy. But, then, we have to look elsewhere to find the Apostolic Faith and the Orthodox Church.

The charter is not a divinely-revealed non-negotiable Christian doctrine. It is a practical tool of administration. The people who will be "administered" should agree, in advance, to the terms and provisions of the charter.

The Church will survive with or without a charter. But, by making the charter a "point of contention," the Patriarchate has taken another giant step in alienating itself from the conscience of our faithful people.

The 1977 charter is a legal document, approved by the Patriarchate and a Clergy-laity Congress. It provides that changes and amendments be approved by subsequent clergy-laity congresses. The new charter has not been approved by a clergy-laity congress. In legal terms, it is not valid and not in force. Some lay people have suggested that the new charter be challenged in the civil courts of the United States. Is that what the Patriarchate wants?

I sympathize with the difficult position of our bishops. They are expected to remain loyal to the Patriarchate. But the needs of our Church in the United States should come first. In every organization there is a temptation for the leaders at the top to allow themselves to become what has been termed a "TYRANNY OF THE OLIGARCHY."  The strength of our Church in the United States has always been the active involvement of our lay people. If this is taken away from them through various ploys and "Byzantine machinations," the "Oligarchy" will be left with a docile, unenthused and unmotivated flock, or with many mostly empty church buildings.

At this time the observation should also be made that the O.C.L. (Orthodox Christian Laity) is not a "para-church organization." They are not a "parasynaghoghi," "an illicit assembly, a conventicle." The great majority of these lay people are faithful and devout members of our parishes. More than that, they are knowledgeable and informed, and they love their Church and care enough to devote much time, energy and, yes, money for the stability and growth of the Church. Instead of pushing them away and "labeling" them, bishops and presbyters should thank them for their devotion and listen carefully to their concerns. And what about the presbyters? What voice do we have? Are we more afraid of our bishops than of the Lord Himself?

We appeal to Archbishop Demetrios and all our Metropolitans: Do the right thing for our Church. The charter should be presented for approval at the next clergy-laity congress. Various provisions can be debated back and forth, but the voice and the vote of the people must be respected and honored. Let us dialogue, inform and educate our people in advance, so they can be properly prepared for the clergy-laity congress. Let us lovingly reason with them. But let us not pontificate!

As Orthodox Christians, we have been blessed to have preserved the true Faith and Christian Doctrines. But we must be careful not to fail in other ways. Morally and spiritually we must display Christian maturity and charity. We must respect and honor our bishops. But they, too, must honor and respect their rational flock. For several reasons, we would like to maintain spiritual ties with the Patriarchate in Istanbul. But we cannot and will not accept an Eastern Papacy! Nor will we accept any "tyranny of the oligarchy," now or in the future. We have a sacred duty to defend the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, and He remains the One and only Head. There is no place in the Orthodox Church for despotism. What we need is sincere, tender and loving mutual communication and cooperation. In every age the voice of the people has been heard, either peacefully or forcefully, either through reasoning or revolution.  May the Lord guide all of us to choose reason and peace. May we strive to have "the mind of Christ" (l Co. 2:16). May we be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).


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