Icon of the Last Judgement. Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Dear readers,

Next week is Meatfare Week and Sunday 23rd of February is Meatfare Sunday – the last day before Great Lent that meat is permitted. On this day we commemorate the Final Judgement – which is why this day is more properly known as the Sunday of Judgement. It is a timely reminder for us all that now is the time to repent and turn to God and His Church.

In honour of this event, we feel that the time has also come for us to offer our own final thoughts (a “final judgement” of sorts –  but infinitely less awesome than our Lord’s!) on the schism, as we wind up our posting on this blog.

When we started this blog, we were vehemently criticised for criticising GOCSA (the irony of which was not lost on us, though it was on our critics!) and for exposing the scandals that were going on under the watch of the current GOCSA executive and the “clergy” that they appointed (in particular the one that has since become their “bishop”). However, as scandal after scandal has continued to come out (and we have only reported the tip of the iceberg), we have been joined by a growing voice of dissent & criticism coming from within GOCSA itself. In the last few months this has culminated in their two most senior & respected clergy (Fr Nicholas Despinoudis and Fr John Pokkias) leaving the organisation in disgust to be canonically ordained in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (leaving GOCSA in the extremely strange position of being an 80-year-old organisation with clergy that have only served a few years each). As such, we feel that our critical attitude is vindicated.

These scandals have highlighted the fruits of schism better than any theoretical or theological discussion of the issue could have. When a branch is cut off from the vine, it does not bear fruit but instead it withers and dies (John 15:6). Sadly, this is what we have been witnessing, and are still witnessing. But we feel it is by now so obvious (to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear) that there is nothing to be gained by reporting on any further scandals (as there surely will be). Hence our decision to wind up this blog.

Traffic on our blog over the last six months has been steadily increasing. Recently we have been getting thousands of visits per month, and three of our best four months ever have been the last three (Nov/Dec/Jan). So we feel we are going out on a “high note”, so to speak. We still plan to respond to emails & comments occasionally, as well as leave our site up for posterity (perhaps rearranging our pages to make them easier for a newcomer to navigate), but after this post there will be no more new posts. The one possible exception will be to announce if/when GOCSA decide to rejoin the Archdiocese – which will be a day truly worth celebrating, when we can put all of these scandals behind us. We pray that this day comes soon.

But before we sign off for the last time, we thought it would be appropriate to end with our own “last judgement”, where (without judging anyone in particular) we identify what we believe to be the fundamental problem that separates us, and what needs to be done about it.

What is the fundamental problem?

We have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about what the problem is not. Regular readers will know that we have exposed the weakness often-heard excuses that the schism is “all about money“, “all about politics” or “all about property” and shown that these don’t hold water. The Archdiocese has shown over and over again (both in its relationship with its existing parish-communities, and with those entering the fold such as GOCNSW) that for them it is not about any of these things. So what is it about? From the Archdiocese’ perspective, it is very simply about proper Orthodox Church order, due process and accountability.

There are two fundamental problems in the structure of GOCSA (among other possible problems) that have led to the current situation.

The board of GOCSA has no theological qualifications

Imagine a hospital that was run by a committee consisting entirely of people with no qualifications in health or medicine. Or imagine a bank run by a committee consisting entirely of people with no qualifications in economics or accounting. Such committees, in spite of their best efforts, would not be able to run the organisation properly simply because they don’t have the necessary qualifications or experience for these highly specialised professions.

This is exactly the case with the GOCSA executive committee, which consists entirely of people with no qualifications in Orthodox theology. If training & experience is important for those running secular organisations like banks and hospitals, how much more important is it for the sacred organisation that is the Orthodox Church. Even if the GOCSA executive consisted entirely of people acting in good faith, they simply cannot run an Orthodox Church properly without the necessary qualifications or experience.

At various times in history there have been attempts by laypeople to try and control & dictate the operations of the Church – from various Emperors to the Communists in countries such as Russia, Romania and Serbia. In every case it has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, even when done with the best of intentions (which it wasn’t always). It is a hard enough task to shepherd the Church for people who do have the necessary qualifications!

It is because of this flaw that the executive is unable to see the other fundamental flaw…

Complete independence = complete separation = complete lack of accountability

GOCSA’s Constitution emphatically asserts its complete independence. In the very clause that they hold most dear:

Rule 2A Independence:
“(1) The Community shall always remain self‐governing independent and autonomous and shall be governed according to this paramount clause, and the other clauses of the Constitution. At no time and under no circumstances shall the Community relinquish any of its rights or be bound by terms or clauses foreign to this Constitution. Neither in its government nor in its administration shall the Community be subject to any ecclesiastical, political, or other, body or authority.”

See here for the newsletter that cites this clause.

Unfortunately this clause is quite fanciful. For one thing, it claims that “the Community shall not be subject to any political body”. This would be news to Consumer and Business Services – the State government (ie, political) authority that regulates all associations that are incorporated in this State (including GOCSA)! It would also be news to the Supreme Court and to other State & Federal courts, governments & authorities in this country – whether GOCSA like it or not, they are subject to these political authorities in spite of this clause’s claim to the contrary.

Icon of Christ the Judge, as found on the iconostasis of every Orthodox church. Source: Blessed is the Kingdom blog.

But more importantly, the above also states that GOCSA will not be bound by clauses foreign to this Constitution. Because the Canons of the Orthodox Church are foreign to the Constitution, this implies that they cannot even be bound by the Canons of the Orthodox Church! How can they claim to be Orthodox and part of the Church when their Constitution forbids them from being bound by its rules – rules that we Orthodox hold as divinely-inspired?

And herein lies the fundamental problem: No person or organisation can simultaneously be a part of the Orthodox Church and yet completely independent from it. It comes down to accountability: the very nature of the Orthodox Church means that all its members and institutions (from the lowly layperson right up to the Ecumenical Patriarchate) are accountable to the rest of the Church, and must submit to Her will – because She is the body of Christ, and Her will is the will of Christ. Complete independence from all ecclesiastical authority can only be achieved by complete separation (ie, schism), which in turn leads to complete lack of accountability. This is completely contrary to the spirit of Orthodoxy.

That is why GOCSA is separated from the Orthodox Church – it’s not because of money, or politics, or property, or unreasonable demands by the Archdiocese (as we have shown on this blog) – it’s because GOCSA’s own Constitution demands that it be so. Just as Lucifer demanded independence from God and found himself separated from Him, so too does GOCSA’s constitutionally-mandated independence lead to its complete separation from the Church and results in complete lack of  any accountability to the Church. The consequences of this lack of accountability are plain for all to see (and clearly testified by posts in this blog). In the meantime, it is the people who suffer.

Independence is illusory

It is also interesting to note that, while GOCSA as a whole may be independent, within GOCSA it is a different story. Their parishes & clergy lack autonomy and are kept on a very tight leash by the central GOCSA administration and don’t have much independence. In the Archdiocese, in contrast, although the parishes are ultimately answerable to the Archdiocese’s central administration, in practice they have a great deal of autonomy and independence in their day-to-day runnings – with their own bank accounts, their own ABNs, their own Greek Schools, etc. The irony of this is that GOCSA’s independence actually translates into less freedom for their individual parishes!

A complicating factor

Further compounding this is clause 28 (1), which reads:

Clauses 2, 2A [that is, the independence clause], 2B,  4A, 27 and this clause 28 shall not be capable of amendment, alteration, addition or substitution unless all the financial members of the Community decide otherwise.

This extraordinary clause means that the independence clause (along with others) cannot be changed unless all the financial members of GOCSA vote for the change. This means that even if almost the entire organisation wanted rejoin the Orthodox Church, they can be held to ransom by a single recalcitrant person.

That one person’s will can override everyone else’s in what is supposed to be a “democratic” organisation is truly amazing. As there is always bound to be at least one person with a grudge or vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this clause (if enforced) would essentially prevent any hope of reunification with the Archdiocese. Clearly, this clause was put in place by people who did their utmost to ensure that this would never happen.

The good news

The good news is that there is hope. The law governing associations in South Australia foresaw situations exactly like this one – where an association (for historical reasons) may end up encumbered by a Constitution that is unworkable. So in spite of clause 28 (which of itself makes reunification near impossible), there is provision in the State law for the Supreme Court to change the rules on GOCSA’s behalf, if GOCSA requests it. All that is required is for a simple majority of the members at their AGM to agree to ask the Court to remove the overly-restrictive clause 28 (1) from their Constitution, and then they will be in a position to fix the rest of their Consitution to pave the way for reunification with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. And if they need help to do so, the Archdiocese has lawyers with experience in these matters (having handled similar reunifications with GOCNSW and the communities in Melbourne and Tasmania) who would be only too willing to help. All they need to do is ask!

Icon of St Basil the Great – author of the beautiful prayer that asks for unity in the Church and healing of schism. Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Thanks & conclusion

We would like to thank all of those who have contributed posts to this blog. Their efforts are much appreciated.

We would also like to thank our readers for their support and their prayers. Please remember to say this prayer by St Basil, which has been something of a “theme prayer” for this blog:

And first of all, remember Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which You have purchased with Your precious blood. Confirm and strengthen it, enlarge and multiply it, keep it in peace and preserve it unconquerable by the gates of hell forever. Heal the schisms of the Churches, quench the ragings of the heathen, speedily undo and root out the growths of heresies and bring them to naught by Your Holy Spirit.

We wish to leave our readers with this thought: In the Orthodox Church, there are two sides to every schism – inside and outside. Which side are you on?