FW: New York Daily News: For Orthodox, not all Greek
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New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
For Orthodox, not all Greek
Saturday, July 31st, 2004
At a $50-a-plate breakfast that kicked off the city's biggest
religious convention of the year, Mayor Bloomberg got off a one-liner
that seemed uncannily appropriate to some diners.
"Kalimera," he said, using the Greek term for "good morning" at the
beginning of his welcoming remarks to 1,720 delegates to the national
conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Then,
switching to English, he joked, "Now, since some of you don't speak
Greek, I will continue in English."
There were appreciative chuckles from his audience at the Marriott
Marquis Hotel in Times Square, but at one table, there also were a
few tight smiles and nods of a different kind of agreement.
"He [the mayor] didn't know it," a priest from a Chicago suburb
said, "but he just hit the nail on the head."
The language issue is, in fact, only part of a double-edged challenge
that confronts not only Greek Orthodox leaders but the heads of all
ethnic churches - from Albanian to Ukrainian.
The challenge is to maintain cultural and communal identities, which
the Orthodox churches represent as much as they do religious
traditions, without denying their flocks the rights and advantages of
full integration into American life. For the Greek Orthodox church,
whose 1.5 million members make it the country's largest Orthodox
body, it is an especially sensitive issue.
It was something Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese of America, included in a state-of-the-church address
that opened the five-day 37th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, which
"The Hellenism we are talking about is not a nationalist, chauvinist
entity," he said. "It is a designation of a superb synthesis of
language, history and culture, an indispensable component in building
for a lasting future."
To educate Greek-Americans about such timeless Hellenic principles as
democracy and freedom, the advancement of knowledge and science, and
cultivation of the beauty in art is to make them both better Greeks
and better Americans, he said.
Before the conference, Demetrios was asked what he considered the
main problem of the archdiocese, which contains 550 parishes reaching
from New York, its administrative headquarters, to San Francisco.
He said it was the struggle by immigrants to keep their identity
while, at the same time, adapting to their new environment. A related
issue, he said, was combining the deep, elaborate spirituality of
Orthodoxy and the materialism and technology of the secular society.
Thus, a dozen workshops and seminars were devoted to dealing with
various issues inspired by those dilemmas, including one that
promoted the idea of teaching Greek in public schools and another
that explored the impact of pop culture on Orthodoxy.
But there were some ironies - Demetrios spoke in English, and a 42-
page proposed overhaul of rules governing the organization and
administration of the archdiocese was printed in English, with a
footnote calling it the official language of the text.
Another major concern came up in sessions devoted to luring religious
and cultural dropouts back into church life.
"There are thousands of people, nominally Greek Orthodox," Demetrios
said, "who have been disconnected, who have been lost in the turmoil
of modern life. ... It is totally unthinkable and unacceptable to
have parishes with only 1,000 members when they are surrounded by
thousands of unchurched Orthodox people."
The Clergy-Laity Congress is the church's highest legislative body,
with authority to debate and decide everything from budgets to
educational and charitable priorities. The presiding officer is the
archbishop, and the only thing delegates cannot change is dogma.
Demetrios, the sixth spiritual leader of the American flock since the
establishment of the archdiocese in 1922, seemed at ease in his
various roles at the convention. He is 76, and has spent nearly four
decades coping with the secular society and his own role in it. He
was born in Greece, but has worked mostly in the United States since
1965, a year after his ordination. He was installed as primate five
At the clergy-laity conference, he turned up at all kinds of
liturgical and social events and conducted several religious
services, two in the hotel's Broadway Ballroom. One of them, before
the opening-day breakfast, kept Bloomberg waiting for nearly 30
"The mayor's lucky," a New Jersey delegate said. "The service
yesterday lasted three hours."