Ecclesiastical division is consolidated

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

Last week we analyzed the main causes that led to the Ecclesiastical Division in Australia. We argued that after 1957, the second phase of division began, which culminated in 1960 with the excommunication of the rulers of the historical communities of Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle by the fourth Metropolitan/Archbishop Ezekiel Tsoukalas, a strictly theocentric and royalist Hierarch with high ecclesiastical morale and conscience.

The cause of the long-standing division this time was the systematic attempt to reconstruct the formation and constitution of Hellenism of Australia. Until 1957, the social and political organization of Hellenism was based on the operation of the Historical Communities, one in each state capital of the Australian Commonwealth. Until then these Historical (non-geographic) Communities, one each in every State, were responsible for Greek-language education and the ethno-religious preservation of Hellenism. Under the pretext of the mass arrival of Greek settlers in Australia after 1952, following the Bilateral Greece-Australia Migration Agreement, the ecclesiastic-centered system of Greek Community organization was introduced. The new policy aimed, in essence, at removing power and political power from the secular and democratically elected historical communities and replacing them with Ecclesiastical Communities in every regional or urban region with some solid number of Greek settlers. These new Ecclesiastical Communities, the foundation of which was blessed by the Archdiocese, were also administered by “democratically” elected community rulers, whose candidacy and election, however, had to have the approval and the final endorsement of Archbishop. According to historical documents, the candidates who would run the new Communities, which the old Communitarians called “offshoots”, were not to be Communists, or anti-Ecclesiastic and anti-Orthodox in their sentiments. They also ought to be likeable to the Church and its principles, nationalists in their aspirations, loyal patriots and godly. With the new system of social and political organization the old historical communities were weakened. They lost their catholic role and jurisdiction, limited their ambitions and responsibilities, and shared socio-cultural and political power with the Ecclesiastic Communities as “first among equals.”

The fourth Archbishop, Cretan Stylianos Charkianakis, a capable and erudite leader, but a furious, highly irritable person, impetuous and extroverted, maintained and developed the Ecclesiastical Division. His aim had been to completely eradicate the Ecclesiastic Communities, levelling them to the status of parishes and restrict the power of the Historical Communities. Archbishop Stylianos, planned and implemented the third and final phase of the organization of Hellenism, essentially refuting the role of Ecclesiastical Communities and establishing the genesis of an unnecessary plethora of local parishes. This move abolished any notion of democratic claim to power. He established the “appointment of community administrations” as an act of regulation. He leveled economically the Ecclesiastical Communities by establishing within their administrative boundaries, new Orthodox Parish Churches at a short distance in which His Assistant Bishops often officiated, so that the congregations could indirectly secede from the ecclesiastical communities. Over the years, the latter, seriously weakened and eroded, and by decisions of their “General Assemblies”, finally decided to surround their “authority” converting their Communities into Parishes.

Under Archbishop Charkianakis’ deleterious rule parishioner transubstantiation has been universal, with all that this entails. Those who dared to disagree, as is the case in the hierarchical institutions (such as the Roman Catholic Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church) were karatomized, repulsed and isolated; secular leaders, intellectuals, university teachers, people of art were labeled persona non grata and marginalized; those of his associates Episcopes and High Priests who challenged his authority (Panteleimon Sklavos, Aristarchos Mavrakis, Pavlos Laios, Seraphim Mentzelopoulos) were exiled or were forced to seek protective asylum in other Churches or under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Those priests who put forward moral foundations and disagreed were arbitrarily labeled as rebels, schismatics, and heretics. His henchmen, who raised their heads, were exiled to Europe and the USA, and married priests and their families were persecuted and deported because they resisted him. Psychological violence and coercion were the main weapons of this hierarch, who even though spiritually led the Hellenism of Australia for more than forty years, failed to visit a university institution where the Greek language, History and Culture was taught to offer his love and the blessing of the Church.

However, he himself stood particularly scathing towards his chief Authority. He publicly accused the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of a “traitor”, “weak” and “cowardly”, leading with his behavior the Greek Orthodox Church to a regime of harsh communion with the Center of Orthodoxy for years. Letters addressed to him by the Ecumenical Throne were returned as never delivered. Systematically avoided any commutation with his spiritual Leader, the Patriarch, provoking and harassing Him and the Holy Synod, that if  they would dare to remove him from the See of Australia, he will publish the Documents of Pain (Κείμενα της Οδύνης), against the Patriarch. His guerrilla tactics were ruthlessly maintained until his biological exodus, in 2019.

During his long and pernicious pastorship, the Ecclesiastical Division took on the dimensions of a national tragedy. Archbishop Stylianos claimed the role and authority of an Ethnarch. He engaged against the national representatives, publicly insulting Ambassadors and Consuls General, claiming that he and only he represents the Hellenism of Australia. He proclaimed his belief that he had been the Ethnarch of Hellenism. In a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia, he asked for the protection of the Australian Government against the “intrusion” of the “foreign” Greek Government into the events of Australia (in the case of SAE). It was apparent that ecclesiastic and national division had now overcome the ecclesiastical problem. It turned into a national aberration and tragedy.

With the arrival of the fifth Archbishop, Makarios Griniezakis, the first conscious attempt is being undertaken to overcome the sufferings of the past dissensions. His view that unity and prudence should prevail over personal antagonisms has been put forward with sincere intent. The Greek Archdiocese under Makarios extended a hand of friendship and reconciliation to those rivals of his predecessor. There have also been some timid reforms. Some sensible changes towards improving inter-communal relations were attempted. From the pulpit, voices of brotherhood, of peaceful coexistence, were heard. “I am solely interested in the preservation of our language, our faith and the exaltation of our Greece,” he argued. Archbishop Makarios is young, enthusiastic, has a vision and an eagerness for action. History awaits him at the end of the road to judge him.

READ MORE: The historical causes of the division in the diaspora – Greek Herald

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).

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