Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Concerned Clergy & Laity of Chicago to Met. Nathanael

OPEN LETTER: Asking Difficult Questions Assessing Metropolitan Nathanael’s Leadership

By: Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Metropolis of Chicago

Today marks the six-month anniversary since Metropolitan Nathanael was enthroned as the presiding hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. On the surface, the past six months have felt like a breathe of fresh air to our Metropolis. We have a young leader brining new ideas while still discovering how his predecessor, Metropolitan Iakovos, maintained a dynamic Metropolis with many different faithful and dedicated people.

There is no doubt Metropolitan Nathanael is making many changes. And we should not always view change through the lens of a negative connotation. However, the faithful should pay close attention to these changes. There are many wonderful things being said about our new spiritual leader, but let’s pause and exercise caution. The laity should not make the mistake of being blinded by false piety. We should ensure that our new leader is worthy for us to follow, as the fisherman followed Christ.

To begin, lets examine the general concerns by the clergy of the Metropolis. Allegedly, the clergy are currently uncertain about their interactions with Metropolitan Nathanael. The only clergyman who seems to have a good report is Father Chrysanthos Kerkeres of Saint George in Chicago who has been allegedly watching the Metropolitan’s dog for the past few weeks. It would behoove the laity to take notice these interactions and ask difficult questions at all times to ensure proper spiritual developments.

There are many different clergymen who have expressed their opinion to the laity that they believe the Patriarchal Synod elected the wrong person. The laity has an important role, but the clergy collectively guide our spiritual development. If the clergy have doubts about our new spiritual leader, then it is our responsibility to pay attention. Let’s take a closer look.
In June 2018, the Metropolitan published a news release about his first 100 days as the Metropolitan. The publication begins by stating that the Metropolis enacted “a series of policies and decisions designed to provide for greater transparency, accountability and communication in its operations, ministries and finances.” The publication only offered a very broad and vague explanation of these new decisions and policies.

Six months later, we need to ask where is the greater transparency, accountability, or communication?

For example, where is the Metropolitan working? This is important because he is accountable as the main administrator of the Metropolis. There are many accounts that Metropolitan Nathanael is rarely working at the Metropolis office, and that since the enthronement, His Eminence has barely been into the office.

Multiple visitors have stated that they drive by or visit the Metropolis only to never see any car parked at the office. There are many people who call or send emails to schedule appointments or get feedback with His Eminence only to have weeks gone by without a response. The clergy are quick to comment how they no longer have direct access to their Metropolitan like they did under Metropolitan Iakovos. Everyone, including the clergy, are told to go through his new Chief of Staff, Helen Alexander.

This change is very important because it represents how there is no greater communication between the clergy and the Metropolitan. This actually demonstrates a reversal in greater communication. In an effort of great transparency, the laity should know where the Metropolitan is working from if he is never in the Metropolis office. If the clergy do not have direct access to the Metropolitan, then we should expect those who serve in different Metropolis ministries, will likely not as well.

For many who have been involved in the Metropolis over the years, must question some of the personnel transitions. First, why was someone who never served in any parish of the Metropolis selected as the Chief of Staff to the Metropolitan? Helen Alexander was personally selected and hired by Metropolitan Nathanael to handle all messages TO and FROM the Office of the Metropolitan, and it is apparent that there is a huge delay in relaying messages. Many clergymen have indicated that Mrs. Alexander consistently needs to be reminded about which parish they are assigned to, and often state how disorganized and chaotic the Metropolis office is operating under Metropolitan Nathanael’s leadership.

Next, a new Chancellor has been hired but the laity of Chicago has not been properly informed. The clergy in the Direct Archdiocesan District were notified last month that the Very Rev. Archimandrite Chrysostom Panos, who currently serves as the Assistant to the Archdiocesan Chancellor, will become the new Chancellor for the Metropolis of Chicago. Panos graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in May 2015. Why has Chicago not been notified that their new Chancellor, who was ordained a priest only THREE years ago, will be coordinating clergy affairs?

Father Chrysostom is a priest who, according to Archdiocesan records, has never been formally assigned to serve in a parish. Furthermore, Father Chrysostom is not familiar with the clergy of the Chicago Metropolis, nor does he understand the unique history of our parishes or the past issues that have occurred. Our Metropolis has a young bishop with a Chancellor that is equally young and inexperienced. We need to question how this benefits our Metropolis? Certainly we do not need to bring another clergyman from New York when we have many competent and qualified clergymen in our own Metropolis.

Furthermore, there is a strong indication that the Metropolitan insulted many of the Proistamenoi of the Metropolis. In the early part of the summer, the Metropolitan instructed the associate priests of the Metropolis to serve one day a week at the Metropolis Office assisting Helen Alexander with different assignments. It was expected that the newly hired interns would be handling these responsibilities. However, the parishes are paying for a day of work for their assigned priest to work at the Metropolis office, which operates under a different budget.

In essence, the parish is forced to lose a day of work from their assigned clergyman. It has been described that the associate clergy are writing thank you letters for the Metropolitan and inventorying old books instead of fulfilling their pastoral responsibilities of ministering to the sick, poor, and homeless. The Metropolitan allegedly told the junior clergymen that he wanted them in the Metropolis office so the Metropolitan could be a better mentor to them. However, the clergy have noted that they have barely seen him in the office and have not received any mentorship from him.

Many of the Proistamenoi were upset at the new Metropolitan because his comment implied that they were not good spiritual mentors to the assistant priests. One Proistamenos implied by the Metropolitan’s remarks to be a bad spiritual mentor was the Very Rev. Archimandrite Timothy Bakakos, who received more votes by the Eparchial Synod than Metropolitan Nathanael in the election for Chicago. Another Proistamenos is Rev. Fr. Dean Botsis, the current secretary of the spiritual court. Another is Father John Kalomas of Saint Andrew’s Church in Chicago.

It is also imperative to ask why Father Nicholas Greanias was hired to be the Special Assistant to the Metropolitan. If there is a Chancellor and a Chief of Staff, what is the importance of having a special assistant? What will the special assistant be doing? Father Nicholas is currently assigned to the Annunciation Church in Kankakee, Illinois. He was ordained under the Metropolis of New Zealand, and has been on loan to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He does not have a theological degree, but instead served as a diplomatic officer in the U.S. State Department.

Two weeks ago, on September 9, 2018, Metropolitan Nathanael served Divine Liturgy at Saint George Church in Chicago. The Metropolis was introduced to a seminarian graduate new to the Metropolis named Christian Siskos, who is also from New York. Mr. Siskos, who happens to be the Metropolitan’s Godson, has been reportedly working at the Metropolis office and is allegedly going to take over the responsibilities related to the Youth Office. This is only further collaborated by the fact the Metropolis released a publication on Friday, September 21, indicating they are looking for a new Director of Youth and Young Adults. It appears the current holder of that office, Deacon Chris Avramopoulos, will be transferred into a parish.

But the issue of transferring clergy has caused growing tension in one of our parishes. One of the first clergy transfers that have been public reported is Father Peter Balkas from Saint Nectarios Church in Palatine, Illinois. Multiple people from the parish keep calling the Metropolis to receive clarity from the Metropolis about whether their priest is being removed or not, only to get nowhere after months of trying to get an answer.

The Metropolitan made a public comment at his listening tour that there is a need for change at Saint Nectarios. However, with months of waiting, there is no indication of when this change will actually occur. It was indicated Metropolitan Nathanael expressed his intent to have Father Peter Balkas removed from the Chicago Metropolis. Based on reports from other Metropolises, the other hierarchs are forcing the junior Metropolitan into a corner because they are not accepting any clergy transfers out of Chicago. The other senior hierarchs are trying to teach the newly-elected Metropolitan that he cannot just make clergy transfers haphazardly and expect the other Metropolitans to accommodate Chicago.

There is growing pattern that the laity of Chicago should note. The key positions of the Metropolis are not being filled with the qualified and competent faithful leaders of Chicago, but rather outsiders who are not familiar with Chicago’s ministries, programs, and accomplishments. On the surface, Metropolitan Nathanael is converting Chicago into a pseudo-New York, and attempting to erase what Metropolitan Iakovos accomplished. By forcing the resignation of the old members of the Metropolis Council, as His Eminence described at his last listening tour in Merrillville, Indiana, and ignoring the servants of our Lord who did their best to serve the Church under Metropolitan Iakovos’ leadership, Metropolitan Nathanael is demonstrating that he is paranoid with the people who dedicated their lives to serve the Church.

Paranoia makes sense when it has allegedly been reported that all the money that was raised for the Enthronement, over $100,000 is nearly depleted. Some members of the Metropolis Council have made open remarks that the Metropolis needs to be cautious about their spending habits because funds are low.

The publication from the Metropolis concerning the first 100 days states that the new Metropolis Council approved “the delegation of authority policy, which includes a requirement of Metropolis Council approval for expenditures greater than $5,000...” which includes approving an audit on the past three financial years. The Metropolis has not been specific about why the audit was necessary, or how much the audit would cost.

It is a wonderful thing for our new Metropolitan to state that he wants the Metropolis of Chicago to be a Metropolis of mercy and humility. If the audit reveals any wrong-doing, will Metropolitan Nathanael forgive the people who did any wrong-doing or will he forgo mercy and prosecute them? It seems His Eminence is looking for something, but backing himself into a corner of taking any action because of promoting his message of mercy and forgiveness.

Changes always happen under new leadership, but there has been very minimal ministry outreach and programs over the past six-months, especially at the Metropolis level. The Metropolitan designated every Wednesday to be pastoral day, but how much pastoral work is actually being done each week? The Metropolitan wants to be inclusive and bring people in, but it seems like his priority is forcing people out. Let’s pray the next six-months will develop into something more positive.

4 comments:

  1. If even half of this is true, it's crazy, especially the shuffling around of clergy in favor of people brought in from outside. It has a certain RC feel to it, let the reader understand.

    Bishops shouldn't be holed up in offices, but they should not be un-findable either.

    One wonders whether a response will be forthcoming.

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  2. And $100,000 set aside for enthronement? You're kidding, right?

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    1. It's the Greek Archdiocese, so no, I doubt that is a joke.

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    2. It was a rhetorical question, of course.

      What can be said about a people (we Orthodox) who would spend $100,000 in order to tell a bishop "Here, take your seat and being your shepherding of this diocese"? The bishop has already been ordained. He has likely already been serving in some capacity somewhere.

      This should all be a great deal more perfunctory than it is.

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