Clergy-Laity 2014 News and Messages

Address of the Vice President of the Archdiocesan Council - Mr. Michael Jaharis - to the 42nd Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress


Your Eminence, Most Reverend Hierarchs, Reverend Fathers and Friends,

I am honored to address you on behalf of the Archdiocesan Council and to welcome the honorable representatives of our communities from all over the country to the 42nd Clergy Laity Congress which will focus on the very important theme of "Family."

In my address today, I would like to cover some of the milestones that we celebrate as successful achievements of the Church, Council and Community from the perspective of the Archdiocesan Council; and I will also present an overview of the areas that I believe we have to work on together as a "Family" in order to sustain this progress and overcome the various challenges that contemporary times may bestow upon us. It is important to keep examining how we can sustain this and support the future growth of our Church and community "family."

So for the first part of my presentation, I would like to go over some of the milestones of progress we have made as a Church and as a community. So, on to examining the progress:

When His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios took office, some fifteen years ago, the Archbishop and we, the Archdiocesan Council, were greeted by an incredibly unwelcoming state of affairs and political infighting – things that are detrimental to any institution and also, more importantly should not be associated with our essential purpose or the raison d' être of the Church. Not only was this the case but we also discovered an inherited debt of approximately $7 million or more resulting from accumulated annual operational deficits and legal costs -- and this was in spite of receiving parish commitments and individual gifts in the amount of approximately $8-9 million. So the first and most critical problems for the Archdiocesan Council were:

  • on the one hand, to assist the Archbishop in establishing peace and unity in the Church;
  • and, on the other hand, to alleviate the financial discrepancy, a continual indebtedness that could have potentially put the Church at risk for bankruptcy.

I say this not for any specific reason other than to identify the reason why first and foremost, major efforts and priorities were set up to insure operational stability and sustainability in moving forward.

When the Archbishop took office, in September 1999, we started a very strong and continuous multifaceted effort -- the difficulties were enormous and seemed relentless. In addition to all other financial difficulties, we had significant legal expenses related to inherited unresolved cases of sexual misconduct that had happened in the distant past but resurfaced. Thanks not only to the steadily increasing contribution by our communities but also to the amazing generosity of some of our people, we made considerable progress in implementing various measures.

To return back to the issue of the "main debt": Subsequently, at some point of time a few years ago, a superlative effort started initially by three people including Mr. Jerry Dimitriou, Mr. George Vourvoulias, and Mr. George Mathews, who together with a strong Finance Committee, were able to effectively create and implement a financial policy that has since ameliorated the situation. More importantly, with the help of the people on the Executive Committee and Archdiocesan Council, and with several trips to/from each Metropolis (at these individuals' own expense) developed a basis upon which each parishes' total commitment would be based on a factual non-prejudicial formula (which took into account each parish's capabilities). As a result of this, we have long since eliminated this huge inherited debt. Also, a generous bequest of $1.8 million from our esteemed and beloved Mr. Nicholas Bouras assisted greatly in paying off the main debt. The annual budget of the Archdiocese of America is currently approximately $25 million (65% in total commitments) which is significantly higher, i.e. more than double of what it was 14 years ago; also, I am happy to report that this is essentially a "balanced budget" -- but as I will address later, it is not a "complete" budget.

Concurrently, this model of a process was not only successful in meeting the "financial needs of the Church" but it also benefited each of the various ministries (Youth, Education, Religion, Family etc.) in that they were also able to reach out directly to each Metropolis and its parishes.

Most importantly, since our last Clergy Laity Congress, we accomplished a very significant administrative achievement which is the completion of a series of professional audits up until 2013 for the Archdiocese by Grant Thornton. I will return to this topic later in my address.

I am thus convinced that our efforts will continue to improve and will result in a more effective discourse and network of collaboration among the people which should lead to even more positive growth for the Church based on the following pillars/principles:

  • Comprehensive Financial Plan and Planning

  • Practical Fairness

  • Effective Committee Work

  • Effective Communication enhancing the Church's apostolic function

So, to what do we owe this success to? I credit the increased participation of our communities in their financial contributions to the Archdiocese -- and I would like to thank everyone for their significant efforts in this area. At the same time, we developed an Archdiocesan Council whose role is not only "sit and listen at meetings" but consists of a group of individuals with various professional specializations (legal, financial, communications, planning, etc) who generously and most actively volunteer themselves and their exemplary skill sets (or to use the Greek word, "arete") throughout the year to promote various aspects to enhance further positive growth and also keep lines of communication clear and open for dialogue and collaboration.

As a Church, we have also been strong enough to mobilize on the philanthropic front. I would like to commend the collaborative philanthropic efforts of the entire community of parishes for rushing to aid the people of Greece and Cyprus as they are struggling through a crisis similar to what our nation went through during the Great Depression. Under the leadership of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, the Archdiocese established two humanitarian initiatives, "The Relief Fund for the People of Greece" and also a "Relief Fund for the People of Cyprus," which provided and continues to provide essentials such as food, clothing and pharmaceutical support to many thousands of Greeks and Greek Cypriots on a daily basis. These Funds, through the generosity, love, and compassion of the clergy and the laity of the Archdiocese, have collected upwards of $2 million dollars – and have already been given as assistance to various ecclesiastical agencies in Greece, known for their well-organized and proven work in helping thousands of people in urgent need or humanitarian crisis. I believe that this is one of the largest international contributions of Humanitarian Aid to the people in Greece and Cyprus and it was an effort that was just initiated over the last 2+ years. These gifts symbolize the coherence and remarkable ability for mobilization within our community -- or "family" -- and also represent our deeply rooted love and compassion for our brothers and sisters in Greece and Cyprus.

On the topic of Philanthropy, I would be remiss not to also recognize and commend one of the oldest charitable entities of the Archdiocese: the munificent, long standing, and ever- present efforts of the Philoptochos Ladies Society. For over 80 years, the Philoptochos society has led many programs offering humanitarian and sociological assistance to populations in need. Whether addressing hunger, poverty, education, medical costs -- here in the US and in Greece -- the women of the Philoptochos society, past and present, have had a resoundingly positive effect through their charitable work and outreach within and beyond the Archdiocese and they have recently moved their headquarters into a new home in Manhattan.

And finally, one more last bit of timely good news to share with all of you as it also relates to philanthropy. As many of you already know, when the brutal 9/11 terrorist attacks at what is now known as "Ground Zero" occurred almost 13 years ago, the only church destroyed was the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church – a church that was inaugurated by our forebears in 1916 to venerate a very sacred Saint revered by those whose lives involve the Sea and also the patron saint of children. After this most difficult period in our history, it took thirteen years of skillful negotiations (legal and otherwise) to secure the location and right to rebuild the Church within the 9/11 Memorial Park. Subsequently, a competitive bidding process inviting proposals from some of the world's most renowned architects and ‘starchitects" concluded with the selection of Santiago Calatrava's outstanding design, inspired by the awe-inspiring Haghia Sophia, as the architectural plan to rebuild the new St. Nicholas, not only as a Greek Orthodox parish but also as a National Shrine.

The project cost is estimated to be $40 million with an estimated time of completion in 2- 3 years. This budget includes the creation of an endowment which will be established to support the high maintenance that the Church will require and also fund outreach programs including high profile public events of great significance such as panels addressing important issues such as world peace, religious tolerance, and diplomacy.

The significance of having the physical presence of St. Nicholas within the historical and geographic context of the 9/11 Memorial of this nation's history is tremendous. When finished, St. Nicholas will be a visible and inspiring tribute to not only the victims of the atrocity that was perpetrated on 9/11, but also a shining spotlight on the Greek Orthodox Faith and Hellenism, and our core values of love, respect, peace, healing, and forgiveness.

We are pleased to announce that to date, we have raised almost half of the amount needed in pledges and now, we would like to invite your – and by this I mean everyone's - participation to support the Rebuild St. Nicholas Campaign. As children of immigrants such as the ones who built the original St. Nicholas and now the Founders of Faith, we believe that we have been truly blessed with success in this great country and it is time that we use our considerable resources to help our Church and community offer our enduring values at a time of such upheaval and insecurity in our nation and our world. The new St. Nicholas Church will be a National Shrine from which will emanate the ideals of Hellenism and Greek Orthodox Christian values that were passed down to us for our Nation and all of the world to see. This is a unique opportunity of tremendous historical significance to show the world who we are as Greek Orthodox Christians and leave something that will make future generations of our community very proud. Therefore it is of the utmost importance for every Greek Orthodox Christian to support this endeavor in whatever way they can

This segues into the second part of my presentation:
What is necessary for the continued and appreciable growth of the Church in America and internationally?

#1 I would like to begin the second part of my address by addressing the question of what needs to be done to ensure the healthy growth and sustenance of our Church? I will begin by examining on the macro-level an issue that is directly related to Orthodoxy internationally: the Patriarchate.

Our Patriarchate, with His All Holiness being historically the ‘first among equals' of Orthodox Patriarchs, has always struggled to maintain its important status even in, for the most part, an unfriendly and most unwelcoming environment. It has had great needs for external support, which unfortunately remain and have recently become exacerbated. The refusal by the Turkish Government to recognize our Patriarchate as Ecumenical, despite the fact that Archons and others have gone as far as various legal and diplomatic actions to force such a recognition, and a more recent set of problems pose new challenges for its future viability and that is finances. While we have, as a nation, funded the Patriarchate for the past several years ($1 million – $1 1⁄2 million), the majority and their main source of funds we believe have come from a purported historic property agreement with Greece -- and we are attempting to obtain further information on this and/or possibly other agreements. However, I strongly believe that, given the extraordinary dismal financial state of affairs in Greece, it might be problematic for Greece to continue its crucial support at least at the level that existed prior to the financial crisis.

We must not overlook the severity of the repercussions that the Greek financial crisis may bear on the Patriarchate and we must be ready to mobilize once again to offer our support. Further losses will undoubtedly undermine the Patriarchate's position locally and internationally and this has, as many of you are aware, grave worldwide geo-political implications.

#2 Next: What is needed for the continued growth of the Church in America?

While each of our Metropolises in the US has its own needs and strategies for implementing the programs of the Archdiocese, the hub of the wheel i.e. the central responsibility resides in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is the official ecclesiastical Eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the USA.

During the past 15 years, it has become evident that the Archdiocese, as the central organization and/or headquarters, has worked with limited space and personnel. Consequently, the ministries are spread thin and widely, with a minimum of money and people with many important aspects done with a "Band Aid" type of approach when issues arise. In order for the Church to continue its firmly established and recognized leadership for Orthodoxy in the US, the above deficiencies, especially ones that relate to the operational infrastructure and staffing of the Church must be remedied ASAP. Accordingly, there is the obvious responsibility that specific people and infrastructure ‘needs' be determined and a new budget be presented at the next and new "Archdiocesan Council." Without a detailed account of such needs and strategy for implementing them, we will be at risk of seeing our leadership role for Orthodoxy in the USA gradually diminishing, if not lost. For example, I believe that we need to appoint directors of specific crucial fields which will help secure the existence of our Church, - we need to appoint directors for fundraising, public relations/communications, "in-house legal counsel" and also a Chief Financial Officer. These are fields that have changed and continue to evolve at such a rapid pace at every major institution I have encountered and it is of the utmost importance to have our Church well represented in each of these respects and offices.

As a community, we have been blessed with a diverse abundance of professionally successful individuals who should feel welcomed to become more involved in aspects of the Church that may relate to their professional expertise. We need to staff the Church with more top tier support from the best and brightest professionals in these crucial roles -- and these vital staffing needs should be included in the budget to make it a ‘complete budget .'

#3 Defining the Role of what would be considered an Executive Authority (or to use the "corporate business terminology that I am used to "a type of CEO") for the US Church:

Furthermore, above the obvious operational staffing requirements, I believe that there needs to be a clarification of certain items within the Church's Charter.

If you will recall (following the departure of Archbishop Spyridon and) prior to the election of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, the Patriarchate elevated our Bishops of each Diocese to Metropolitans of the Throne -- which theoretically at least could imply reporting to the Patriarchate and not to the Archbishop. To me – and I wish to underline that this is my personal view - this was creating the potential risks of undermining the unity as well as the ultimate authority and effective administrative function of the Church in the US. As a result, a new Charter was requested and given to us that redefined the role of a Metropolitan as a Metropolitan of a Metropolis that is part of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. And while this was thought to be sufficient to clarify the role of the Archbishop as the ultimate decision maker, the intervening years and the existence of a decisive Eparchial Synod in our Archdiocese have indicated the need for further clarification which I believe can be made with a more precise interpretation or a minor change in some items of the existing Charter.

I would like to emphasize so that there is no misunderstanding of my statement as there apparently have been when I stated my position at previous Archdiocesan Council Meetings in the past which led to misinterpretation of my statement that reported that I was requesting or suggesting that the US Church should be autocephalous or autonomous, separated from our Ecumenical Patriarchate. On the record, I am clarifying that my suggestion only related and relates to removing any doubt or ambiguity as to the so-called ultimate decision-making process and status internally within the Church in the USA. But to connect to my earlier statements commending the bilateral efforts on the part of the Metropolises and the centralized Archdiocese to promote coherence and "unity within the community" through frequent and open dialogue and understanding, we cannot be a strong national entity – in any aspect whether it be spiritual issues, political issues (such as national and international lobby groups), educational policy, religious tolerance etc. – without the authority granted to our central leadership. One just needs to examine the organizational prototypes of other religions in the USA to understand the practical and theoretical reasoning to support this.

On this topic, similarly to how I opined on the administrative structure and function, I believe that it is time to revisit the staffing resources of the Metropolises. I believe that, given the small cadre of single clergy, we should consider some new roles that more of the best and brightest married clergy can be appointed as "Vicars" (perhaps) to further support the Metropolitans and alleviate them from some of the pressures and responsibilities of large Metropolises.

#4 Moving on to the topic of the "future of Orthodoxy in America," I believe we have to next revisit the topic of Hellenic College Holy Cross Seminary and Youth Ministries:

The Church – and our Family -- cannot grow without a strong and stable higher educational institution to train the future clergy. A strong School is a significant contributor to a strong Church. Consequently, we have an exceptionally talented group of leaders and officers who have been hard at work to restructuring the School, and also establishing new vital programs such as "CrossRoads" that help to better prepare young people to enter the priesthood.

While the Archdiocesan financial and other groups will continue to work with the School, it should be understood that these are necessary steps and recommendations that will strengthen the School's ability to grow since without such growth, the Church cannot continue to grow. Hellenic College Holy Cross is vital to the existence and expansion of "our Greek Orthodox Family." It is the "sine qua non" in the existence and growth of the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA and it needs to be equipped with the resources and human capital to compete in the worlds of academia, seminaries and higher education.

Additionally, I applaud the recent efforts of the Youth Ministry team for developing programs that capture the interest of the younger generations of our family by communicating our values and Faith through various social media engines and technologies to engage the young people of our community. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we support and engage all of the Community's young people as their voice and participation is vital to our existence and the future of the Church.

#5 Finally, a serious issue of concern; a regrettable and most distasteful subject i.e. the current status of monasteries in their relationship with the US Church.

My address for the previous Clergy-Laity Congress coincided with a horrible fatality of a young person in the immediate area of a monastery in Arizona. At the time, we felt compelled to take extraordinary measures to determine the "bizarre" circumstances surrounding that fatality. Following a complete and objective investigation and in conjunction with the anticipated report by the local Police, we expected to take severe and appropriate action as required to remedy this existing issue – since not doing so could have long term grave consequences. The investigation continues.

The monasteries fall within the scope of the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and have certain obligations not unlike those of each Metropolis and each Parish. In fact, there was a special set of "General Regulations" for the establishment and operation of all monasteries in the Archdiocese of America issued almost a decade ago by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, over the years, it has become regrettably noticed that with respect to several monasteries, the tendency has been to "flout" their obligations under the Charter and to go beyond the traditional role of the "monastic ideal." Sometime ago, a Committee was formed to review and examine several such matters and rumors of transgressions. However, in spite of suspicions of irregularities and improprieties, the lack of cooperation made it almost impossible for the Committee to further act beyond initial observations.

In the meantime, despite this lack of cooperation, we continue our efforts to determine more specifically what irregularities and improprieties exist and what we can do to eliminate them.

Ultimately, I close my remarks with the strong belief and sincerest appeal that it is very important that we work together ‘as a Family' to address the aforementioned issues as they pose serious risks to our life and mission as a Church and subsequently as a community. We must as a "Church Family" focus on continuing to work together and maintaining "unity" within our community.

Thank you for listening. As I have gone on beyond the time I intended to speak, I will welcome revisiting these issues within the context of the meetings. On behalf of the Archdiocesan Council, I would like to once again, thank everyone here for their significant efforts.

Clergy-Laity 2014