GOCSA Falsehoods


Dear readers,

A discussion happened in the comments of our earlier post last week about the Greek Government’s recognition of the so-called “Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Australia and Oceania (HOMOAO)”. We have also discussed similar issues with respect to GOCSA. But to what extent does this really matter? If an organisation manages to obtain recognition by the Greek or Australian governments, does that make them canonical? We thought to address this point in more detail in a fresh post.

Civil vs Mystical Marriage

Wedding crowns – used in the Mystery of Marriage but not required for a civil marriage

In this day and age when the institution of marriage is under attack, it is important for us to make a distinction between two different types of marriage: civil vs ecclesiastical.

  • A civil marriage is one that is registered with the civil authorities (eg, by the Greek or Australian governments) for the purposes of the law of the land.
  • An mystical marriage (also called ecclesiastical) is a marriage that is conducted as a Mystery (aka, Sacrament) within a recognised Orthodox Church & recognised as such for the purposes of the laws (ie, the canons) of the Orthodox Church.

A civil marriage may be conducted & registered by any authorised marriage celebrant. A mystical marriage, on the other hand, is always conducted by a canonical Orthodox priest in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox church.

From the Church’s point of view, it is obviously the mystical marriage that “counts”.

What is a recognised religion/denomination?

In both Greece and Australia, there are “recognised religions” whose ministers are also authorised marriage celebrants. This simply means that their religious marriages are automatically accepted as civil marriages and that their ministers are authorised to fill out the necessary paperwork to register the civil marriage with the government (we spoke more of this in the earlier post about GOCSA) .

In both Greece and Australia, there are many such recognised religions – non-Orthodox & non-Christian. These included schismatic groups who have also been recognised.

Special recognition of the Orthodox Church of Greece by the Greek Government

Australia has no “state religion” and all religions are treated equally by the law. However, in Greece the Orthodox Church has special recognition in the Constitution as the official state religion, which sets it apart from all other religions in Greece. This special recognition makes the clergy of the Church of Greece public servants (on the public payroll), and also means that Greek government recognises (and, where necessary, enforces) the Canon Law & canonical decisions of the Orthodox Church.

It is also important to understand this distinction between the special recognition of the Church of Greece by the Greek government, and the more general recognition that the Greek government gives to many religions. This is because many schismatic Old Calendarist groups have obtained general recognition by the Greek government (alongside other non-Orthodox & non-Christian religious groups) and use this recognition to make it seem that they are equally legitimate Orthodox churches alongside the Church of Greece. However, such recognition merely puts them on an equal footing with other minority religions in Greece (such as Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, etc). It does not make them a legitimate Orthodox church nor give them special recognition. Only the Church of Greece (with Archbishop Ieronymos II as its primate) has such special recognition.

 

Sample civil marriage certificate for the Government of Australia (source: Federal Attorney-General’s web site). The certificate for the religious marriage (if any) will depend on which denomination one is married in and will be issued separately to this one.

What are the benefits of having a Church be a “recognised denomination”?

The only real benefits are ones of convenience:

  • It is more convenient for the Government, because they don’t have to find & employ as many of their own marriage celebrants to perform duplicate wedding ceremonies – the denominations do it for them.
  • It is more convenient for the faithful who are getting married, because they don’t have to attend & pay for duplicate wedding ceremonies or two celebrants (one for the Government, one for the Church). Instead, the priest/minister acts as celebrant for both his denomination & for the Government, issuing two separate wedding certificates (one for each).

While these are obviously very practical conveniences for the couple getting married (and are encouraged by the Orthodox Church), they hardly constitute the essence of a mystical marriage according to Orthodox theology and they certainly aren’t what makes the Church canonical!

In fact, in many parts of the world and at various times in history, the Orthodox faithful are forced to live without these conveniences because the canonical Church and/or its marriages aren’t recognised by the government. For example, the Orthodox Church was not recognised by the Roman Empire (and in fact was outlawed!) in the early centuries, and so Christians who were married mystically in the Church would have to register their civil marriage separately. And in fact, not every mystical marriage would  be recognised by the civil authorities – eg, marriages between slaves, which the Church permitted (because there is “neither slave nor free” – Galatians 3:28) but the Roman Empire did not.

So why is it important for a Church to be a “recognised denomination” by the Government?

Ultimately, as Orthodox Christians, it isn’t important if our Church is recognised by the Government (or at least, it is of secondary importance) – as noted above, this is merely a convenience and it doesn’t define the essence or nature of the Orthodox Church or the Orthodox Mystery of Marriage. As if the Orthodox Church (which we believe was founded by God Himself in the flesh) requires the approval of secular authorities for its legitimacy! As we noted, Orthodox Christians have been marrying & given marriage in many parts of the world and at many times in history the Church was not/is not recognised – or worse still, is/was outlawed.

Rather, for the Orthodox faithful, of primary importance is whether our marriages are recognised by the Orthodox Church

This is why all of GOCSA’s and HOMOAO’s claims about recognition by the Greek and/or Australian governments are really red herrings – a smokescreen distracting from the real issue that should concern every faithful Orthodox Christian: are these institutions’ marriages (and other mysteries/sacraments) recognised by the Orthodox Church?

So are GOCSA/HOMOAO & their mysteries recognised by the Orthodox Church? Are they canonical?

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that the answer to this question is a resounding NO!

  • They are not recognised by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
  • They are not recognised by any of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in Australia (Serbian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc).
  • They are not recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
  • They are not recognised by the Church of Greece.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate Russia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Serbia, or any of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

Regardless of whether or not they manage to secure Greek some form of government recognition (as it appears HOMOAO has at least), it will not change the answer to any of these questions. The only way for them to secure recognition of their marriages & other mysteries/sacraments by the Orthodox Church is for them to become part of the Orthodox Church. And the only way for them to do this is to unite with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

GOCNSW eventually saw the light & rejoined in 2010, and have not looked back since (they’ve even managed to keep their churches!). Let’s pray that GOCSA and HOMOAO see the light soon too so that this confusion can be eliminated once and for all.

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Dear readers,

We have come into possession of a complaint letter written by Mr Periklis (aka Petros) Haros in which he outlines the complaints against Mr Kanavas that led firstly to his suspension & then his deposition. While there is no date on the letter, the content implies that it was written after the suspension but before the deposition (because he mentions the former as a past event, but not the latter). At any rate, the letter seems to have been signed by Mr Haros (signature matches the last one we received) and includes his phone number, which means that it is almost certainly legit (if anyone is skeptical they can call the phone number and ask).

The letter was addressed to Mr Nigel Hunt of the Advertiser/Sunday Mail newspaper, who has been covering the unfolding scandal over the last few years, though to the best of our knowledge Mr Hunt has not as yet published this material.

What’s news & what’s not

Much of what is included in this letter is not news to us, nor will it be news to our regular readers, as we have reported on it before (in particular in this post). This includes the facts that:

  • Mr Kanavas lied about his tertiary qualifications, his age and his ordination status.
  • Mr Haros foolishly accepted Mr Kanavas at his word on all of the above without doing due diligence.
  • Mr Kanavas responded to Haros’ requests for proof of the above with threats of legal action.

None of this is news. However, what we learn from this letter which was previously unknown is:

  • Mr Haros seems to admit to his foolishness. In hindsight he is supportive of those members of GOCSA & the Greek community who protested against Mr Kanavas’ ordination, and actually seems to be a bit apologetic at what he has done.
  • Mr Haros claims that he was put under “immense pressure” to ordain Mr Kanavas.
  • Mr Haros is also highly critical of Mr John Lesses (current President of the GOCSA executive) for his role in the above – claiming that Mr Lesses also (along with Mr Kanavas) pressured him into ordaining Mr Kanavas before receiving official confirmation believing that Mr Kanavas had the necessary qualifications.

This last point is an important observation – it suggests that Mr Kanavas was not acting alone, but that his deceptive actions had the support of highest level of the GOCSA executive – namely, the President Mr John Lesses. We plan to return to this observation at a later date as the subject of another post.

You can read the complaint letter here.

Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Sunday week ago (13th of October) was the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In honour of this day we thought it timely to revisit a post we did around this time two years ago, entitled the 7th Ecumenical Council, the Canons and GOCSA. As we discussed in that post, the 7th Ecumenical Council was important not just because it reinstated icons in the churches, but because in it the canons (ie, the rules) of the Orthodox Church were affirmed.

This is especially timely given recent events in our city. For a long time, GOCSA have been promoting themselves as “canonical”. In their July newsletter, they mentioned the fact that they are a recognised denomination for the purposes of Australia’s Marriage Act:

Please note: We have had and enjoyed equal legal standing with the GOAA for 34 years. The Autocephalous GOC of America  ‐ Australia registration and recognition under Australian laws is a valuable ‘asset’ i.e. it testifies to the fact that we are ‘canonical’.

In other words, they claim that because they are registered as a “recognised denomination” with the Australian government, therefore they are “canonical”.

This is an extremely misleading and deceptive statement. Being a “recognised denomination” doesn’t make a church canonical!

What is a “recognised denomination”?

The Australian Government from time-to-time will declare certain religious organisations to be “recognised denominations” for the purposes of the Marriage Act. What this means is that the clergy of these denominations are authorised to fill out the necessary paperwork to make a couple’s marriage recognised by state/territory/federal law. That is all that it means!

You can find a full list of recognised denominations here.

Is the Autocephalic Church of America and Australia a “recognised denomination”?

Yes, they are -they are quite clearly listed in the proclamation. But this simply means that their priests are allowed to register weddings in Australia, and as such it’s not very special. It is worth nothing that there are 121 other religious organisations that are recognised denominations, including Islam, Jewry and Buddhism!

Does this mean that they are a canonical Orthodox Church?

No it does not! That’s why GOCSA’s statement in their newsletter is so deceptive. As we noted above, Islam, Buddhism and Jewry are also recognised denominations – but they are not even Christian, (let alone a canonical Orthodox Church)! In recognising a denomination for the purposes of marriage, the Australian government has no intention of making a judgement about whether or not they are a canonical Orthodox Church – that’s not their job it’s the Orthodox Church’s job!

As we have discussed, to be a canonical Orthodox Church means to be an Orthodox Church that was founded and continues to operate in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church – ie, those canons that were adopted by the 7th Ecumenical Council. Sadly, the Autocephalic Church of America and Australia continues to operate outside the bounds of these canons, and they are not recognised as canonical by any of the major Orthodox Churches in the world – not even by the Patriarchate of Alexandria with which they claim to be aligned (the Patriarchate of Alexandria has denied that they are canonical). They therefore remain uncanonical (and hence un-Orthodox) in spite of their claims, and their sacraments unrecognised by any Orthodox church in the world (including the Church of Greece).

How do they become canonical?

To become canonical is very straightforward, in principle: all they need to do is submit to the canons (ie, the rules) of the Church and join with a canonical Orthodox Church. In Australia, the canonical Orthodox Church for Greek-speakers is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

In the same article in the July newsletter, GOCSA claimed that the Federation of Greek Orthodox Communities tried to do this:

The Federation efforts did not succeed despite 3 delegation visits to the Ecumenical Patriarchate Istanbul – the Patriarchate failed to give a lead.

This is also extremely misleading. The Ecumenical Patriarchate did give them a lead – they directed them to the official branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Australia: the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. So it is not that they weren’t given a lead – they just didn’t like the lead that they were given.

It remains a mystery to us why GOCSA are so against reuniting with the Archdiocese. Many other formerly schismatic communities around Australia have successfully followed this lead, and have become canonical by uniting with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. As readers of our blog will know, the most recent of these was the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW in 2011. Their example shows that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has in fact given a lead on these issues.  (Moreover, to this day GOCNSW remains in full ownership of its own property – putting to rest the false rumour that this division is about property ownership.)

It is our fervent prayer for GOCSA to become canonical, and that whatever misconceptions they might have that prevent them from rejoining the Archdiocese to be cleared away. But relying on misdirection and status as a recognised denomination to pretend to be “canonical” is no substitute for the real thing.

For those who caught yesterday (Sunday) evening’s news on Channel 7 Adelaide, you may have caught an answer by Elias Gratsias (on behalf of GOCSA and the Autocephalic “Greek Orthodox” Church of America and Canada) to the question of why a division exists (and remains) between GOCSA and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. He gave the following answer (we paraphrase):

The division exists because of disputes over property ownership.

We are absolutely gobsmacked that this bold-faced lie continues to be circulated by officials closely connected to the GOCSA executive after all this time.

Here we are, more than two years after the reunion between GOCNSW and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and not a single property transfer has taken place from GOCNSW to the Archdiocese. To this day,  there are dozens of Greek Orthodox parish-communities in the Archdiocese that own their own property in their own name, and have done for decades. Further, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos and His Grace Bishop Nikandros have categorically denied that they are interested in the property. And as we have explained previously it’s not even legally possible for the Archdiocese to take property without a Community’s consent.

Of course, we have addressed this vicious rumour before, but hitherto we thought it was a misconception mostly among the GOCSA faithful and that the Executive knew otherwise. But now it is obvious that this is misconception is held (perhaps even perpetuated) at the highest levels of their organisation. Or perhaps even more sinister, this lie is deliberately and knowingly perpetuated by the executive – they know the truth but continue to spread the lie because the lie is more convenient. Either way, this has to stop. How can an organisation call itself “Christian” while propagating such blatant and defamatory lies?

To all those of our readership who love truth and hate lies (both those of GOCSA and those of the Archdiocese), we implore you to help put these vicious rumours to an end. As we wrote on the post on Unity way back in 2011: the Archdiocese does not want your property, and it does not want your money. It wants one thing and one thing only: your souls. It wants to bring them back into the safety of the Orthodox Church, to be ministered by real priests and served real Mysteries (Sacraments) and nourished with the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this is what you want too, then spread the word!

A quick update: Adelaide Now has reported on yesterday’s proceedings in today’s edition. The injunction hearing is still ongoing, which (according to our understanding) is quite a long time for a preliminary injunction hearing to be running.

Some interesting notes from the Adelaide Now report:

Apparently, GOCSA’s lawyer is arguing that the “power to appoint priests” (which they claim to have in their Constitution) is broad enough to include the power to appoint bishops too. This is certainly a rather odd argument from a Church/theological point of view, but we’ll have to wait and see how the Court will interpret it.

It also claims that this power is to be exercised “in consultation with the Autocepahlic [sic] Church”. This is the other open question – was the Autocephalic Church actually consulted, or did GOCSA act on its own? Certainly the impression of some of the other member communities of the Autocephalic Church (who were represented at Saturday’s meeting) was that they were not consulted.

Apparently, the presiding judge Justice Trish Kelly plans to hand down her decision at 3:00pm today. It will be interesting to see which way she decides. We hope to update everyone with the result on this blog, so stay tuned! And please keep Justice Kelly in your prayers so that God may enlighten her to hand down the correct decision.

As we mentioned a couple of posts ago, our purpose of this blog was never to disparage the people of GOCSA, but to help raise awareness of the lies that are being fed to them from their own management. The hope was that, armed with this information, they may be empowered to stand up to their management themselves and ask questions.

Glory to God, this is now happening. We have already mentioned the meeting that was held on Saturday and the Supreme Court injunction that is being pursued as we type. But further to this, we have also had an email from a concerned GOCSA member (who was at Saturday’s meeting) expressing her own frustrations at Mr Kanavas and the current GOCSA administration, and who decided to take matters into her own hands.

Regular readers (especially from the early days of this blog) are no doubt familiar with the fact that Mr Kanavas uses a number of Facebook pages to spout his lies & propaganda, where it is lapped up by his small but highly devoted band of followers. These pages include:

Most recently he has been using these sites as a platform to promote his upcoming “ordination”, and to try and convince his readers of the validity of the Synod to which they have signed up. There is also a post there which is a veiled legal threat towards anyone who might dare to shout “anaxios!” this Sunday (a threat which carries no legal weight, we might add, because the opportunity to shout “anaxios!” is an integral part of the Orthodox ordination service).

Fed up by lies and threats such as these, Paula Lambrou (the above-mentioned member of GOCSA) decided to take a stand and dared to challenge his statements openly on Facebook. Of course, Mr Kanavas did as we all know that he does when challenged – he simply deleted the comments. Paula, however, anticipated this eventuality and was prepared for it, so she took screenshots in order to have evidence of this censorship. Because she felt it was important for people to know she emailed the screenshots to us for us to use on this blog so that her message could still get out. You can see these below, with the time & date included to show when the were written.

None of Paula’s comments are left on St Nicholas’ Facebook page (at the time of writing). They have all been deleted as Prokopios & the GOCSA executive try to hide the truth from their own members!

Some of the propaganda comments in these screenshots (in particular those from Mr John Lesses, who is the current president of the GOCSA executive committee) are interesting to say the least, and might make the topic of a blog post in the not-too-distant future (hopefully later today).

We would also like to take this opportunity to publicly  thank Paula for this information and for her diligence in these matters, and to apologise that it has taken us this long to get her screenshots up for all to see. We pray that God gives her (and those like her) to continue this fight as we work together towards unity.

St Nicholas Facebook page, 11:59:55AM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 11:59:55AM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:03:18PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:03:18PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:03:31PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:03:31PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:12:15PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:12:15PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:54:28PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 12:54:28PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 1:04:54PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 1:04:54PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 1:05:03PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 1:05:03PM on 5th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 11:31:30AM on 7th of August 2013

St Nicholas Facebook page, 11:31:30AM on 7th of August 2013

As we mentioned in our previous post, the GOCSA executive (in defiance of the expressed wish of their membership at the last AGM) have voted to make Mr Kanavas  a bishop. In order to make this happen they have had to engage another synod of “bishops” in order to do the “ordination”. Let’s have a look at this synod and see if they are canonical.

The Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Canada (AGOCAC)

His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece – the one-and-only canonical bishop of Athens

According to the Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Australia Facebook page, the Synod they have gotten in touch with is the so-called Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Canada (AGOCAC), who also call themselves the Former Exarchate of the Alexandria Patriarchate.

This is an interesting organisation with an equally interesting history. You can read their self-reported history here , though we advise you to take it with a grain of salt, for reasons that will become obvious. A couple of anomalies that stand out at us:

  • Their “Archbishop”, Mr Petros Charos (also spelled Xaros or Haros, depending on who is writing), is going by the title “Petros Charos of Athens“. If this is supposedly the Autocephalic Church of America and Canada, then why is their primate styled bishop of Athens??? Perhaps they elected him bishop of Athens, New York? Or maybe Athens, Ontario, Canada? Or perhaps one of the 20 other towns/cities called Athens in the United States??
  • The Synod that elected him is described as the Synod of Athens/Greece. Again, why does the Synod sit in Greece if they are the Church of America and Canada?
  • The web site goes to lengths to emphasise their canonicity. This in itself is a red flag – generally speaking, canonical churches don’t have to go to lengths to emphasise their canonical status because everyone already knows that they are canonical without having to be told. The legitimate Queen of England never says “I’m the real queen… really I am!” because everyone knows that she is – only an impostor would repeatedly say such a thing.

These anomalies do not bode well for their canonicity – when an organisation does not have anything to hide, they don’t have to resort to such contortions to try and establish its canonical credentials. The claim to be from Athens/Greece and to have some connection with the Patriarchate of Alexandria are simply ploys to try and gain an air of respectability and canonicity and distract from their obscure origins. But as we saw in a post yesterday , the canonical head of the canonical Synod of Greece is His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece. Anyone else claiming to be Archbishop (or even Bishop) of Athens (Greece!) is an impostor. Like Petros Charos. Why aren’t the GOCSA executive committee asking these basic questions???

The GOCSA defence of AGOCAC’s canonicity

But we are not ones to accuse without giving people a hearing, so let us first examine GOCSA’s defence of AGOCAC’s canonical status that they have circulated (though how widely we’re not sure). Unfortunately, this defence is full of holes.

One immediate red flag is that the statement was prepared by AGOCAC’s own lawyer, Elias Gratsias. This of itself is not wrong, but it is insufficient. When interviewing job candidates, for example, a diligent organisation will always do background checks of their own (such as calling character references). How much more important is it to do such background checks when selecting a Synod of bishops? It seems in this instance as if the GOCSA executive have relied exclusively on the testimony of AGOCAC’s lawyer without doing any background checks of their own, showing a severe lack of due diligence.

The statement starts with two parameters that “determine whether an Orthodox Church is canonical”, which he lists as:

1. To have been officially bestowed ‘Autocephaly’ by one of the recognised Patriarchates of Orthodoxy.
2. To have canonically consecrated [ie, ordained] Bishops and Archbishop according to an uninterrupted apostolic succession.

The first “parameter” listed is a complete red herring. Autocephaly is not, and never has been, a requirement for canonicity. In fact, most canonical Orthodox Churches are not autocephalous, which simply means that they fall under the jurisdiction of a “Mother Church” (eg, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia comes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch).

So it is really only the second “parameter” which is a requirement for canonicity. And while this parameter is important and accurately stated, the rest of the letter overlooks an important aspect of this parameter – the apostolic succession must be uninterrupted. If a bishop is deposed, or is ordained by uncanonical bishops, then that succession is interrupted, which means that their ordination is uncanonical.

This is of course the proverbial “elephant in the room” that Mr Gratsias’ letter fails to address – Mr Charos was deposed and/or ordained by deposed/uncanonical bishops – as were the rest of his synod. Thus they are not canonical.

Doing the due diligence – are they really canonical?

As we mentioned above, like when interviewing a job candidate, we need to do background checks to find out if an obscure Church really is canonical. As we have written many times, we encourage people not to take Mr Gratsias’ word for it, or even to take our word for it, but to look at what the authoritative sources say. We wrote about these issues very early on in this blog’s history, in two important posts: “Canonical – what does it mean, why does it matter, and who decides?” and “Which churches are canonical Greek Orthodox churches?“. The process for determining canonicity that we outlined in these posts applies here too – very simply look at the web sites of the known canonical churches and see if they are listed anywhere.

Here is a list of autocephalous churches recognised by some of the more prominent autocephalous churches and canonical jurisdictions:

These pages list autocephalous churches that the respective jurisidictions recognise. Note that not a single one of them mentions the Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Canada – not even the Patriarchate of Alexandria (which is supposedly the Patriarchate that granted them autocephaly in the first place)!

Conclusion

It is clear that the so-called Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of America and Canada is a phony jurisdiction made up of phony and uncanonical “bishops” who are not recognised by the worldwide Orthodox Church. The members of GOCSA are again being taken for a ride if they are being led to believe that joining with this Synod is going to restore them to canonical status.

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