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Time for Leaders to Lead!
Happy New Year to all! Yes, it is a cliché, but wishes always contain a positive disposition and when repeated constantly might work at the end, just like prayers do sometimes. It is also a cliché each time a new year begins to set some goals, resolutions we call them, and that is done either individually or collectively. Because I tend to be realistic to the point of cynicism, I stopped making any, instead I promise to myself to keep doing what I’m doing, only try doing it better. Perhaps not the best recipe morally, but I frankly find conventional morality too boring to deal with!
Being the time of resolutions, I think it’s a great idea if we, Americans of Greek descent, examine the possibility of setting the following goal: let, and if necessary, force leaders in our community to lead! What I mean by that is try to bring people in our church, organizations, schools, foundations, committees, even non-chartered groups who care about a cause, and pass them the reins in order for those entities to have a chance at revival before death is officially pronounced.
Greeks of all generations flourished in the US because they were given the chance to apply their skills into something and play in a relatively level field. Coming from a country with many problems and an equal number of restrictions that still hamper entrepreneurship, Greeks here felt relieved and went to work full force. At the same time they created various institutions, starting from churches and schools, AHEPA etc. They knew they processed something worth transmitting to the future generations: their Hellenism and their Faith. And it was worth transmitting it to future generations not only because they loved it as something that was theirs, but because they knew in their gut that it would make their children and grandchildren better people, better Americans.
Most of the institutions our forefathers built, literally with their own hands in many cases, became our Greek American traditions and have lasted until today. That is not a small feat. However, the pace of their adaptability to changing realities wasn’t proportionate and as a result we witness today a host of anachronisms and pathetic behaviors that have brought them to a state of irrelevance, which is the worst that can happen to any institution. As a result, even new entities that have sprung up in recent years are affected because the old become ex officio guides instead of examples to be avoided. This state of coma, mediocrity and fear to try anything new or old that strays from the beaten path is where our community finds itself nowadays and presents a very interesting contrast: while our people flourish in every field of endeavor and quite many are pioneers and lead progress to new heights, our community life is regressing! Of course, there are many shades to this story and one finds exceptions every now and then that boost our hopes. However, that is pretty much the situation and we all admit it, in private at least.
At this point one thing is certain: our community life won’t last much longer the way it goes. Even our church will totally become a folkloric remnant, with mainly a ceremonial role to play (plus give unacceptably fat salaries to conveniently incompetent and in some cases malevolent people of and off the cloth), but without any significant impact on people’s lives. It is high time that leaders, those who by example and accomplishments are leading in American society, come back to our institutions and get involved! For so long they have turned their back on them and that’s understandable: they are busy, they need to focus on what they are doing and since mediocrity has been established in our midst, they are not even welcome in our organizations! Those who are left to hold the reins by default, know that they mean …trouble once they are in. They’ll bring new ideas, they will try different things, they will set other goals, they will demand action not just pathetic reaction, and in many cases they might be tempted to put some order in the financial state of things and that’s a …sin for which they will never be absolved, in this life at least! (It is heartening that the head of a powerful organization demanded accountability from the Archdiocese in order to continue financing its ministries. Kudos! It’s a small step that might serve as a catalyst for many more)!
To be fair, these leaders have been supporting our organizations, but their help has been financial mostly, it doesn’t entail, with few exceptions, personal involvement. Besides, as I said before, the few who dared to come closer were generally forced out in disgust and they recommended to their friends not to waste their time. They prefer to give some money, sometimes big chunks of it, and they don’t want to know anything about the causes they support, they just let things happen. As a result the few capable and caring people that are already struggling in those organizations are left alone and powerless. At the same time, crooks of all sorts rush to fill in the power vacuum. And you can’t blame them: crooks are doing what they are expected to do. And it doesn’t take long before crooks establish their order of things, keeping everything to their low level and making sure that recycling instead of progress is taking place. In some cases, crooks, like eunuchs in the Ottoman Empire, have climbed to disproportionate to their real status heights and they have created their own “courts”. They manage to present themselves as well-connected with important people or centers of power and they play the “brokers” whenever the opportunity arises in order to reassure themselves and others of their importance. I would have gone ahead and mentioned names but there are so many that I’m afraid I might forget some and that would be unfair to those …not mentioned! People who know things realize how ludicrous they are, but they let them – and this is the real tragedy – play that game, either because it is convenient or because they don’t give a shit. Some even laugh at them or use them against others.
This situation is plainly visible in our church affairs, although by extension it encompasses a wider range of institutions. But since our church here was de facto allocated the role of leader in our community life, Archbishop Demetrios has the ability to make some key moves and pave the way for a renaissance. True, that with the exception of promoting some good people to become bishops and appointing some intelligent members in the Archdiocesan Council, he hasn’t done much else in the leadership front. Let us not forget that he was appointed by the Turkish-controlled institution which oversees our church in order not to do anything at all after the Spyridon turbulent years, so that “peace” or the old order of things would reign again. But being the intelligent person that he is, Demetrios has managed in a well-meant sneaky way to let some rays of hope seep in. And that despite the pressure exerted on him the last two years to resign because of advanced age and the grooming of Metropolitan Bishop Emmanuel of France as his successor. (To be fair, Emmanuel doesn’t like the idea and prefers France to the US. He’s smart enough to stay away from trouble. Besides he’s too absorbed enriching his china collection …)
Two things this Archbishop could do to change the dynamic would be the following: reorganize The Orthodox Observer from the unpresentable, silly and in vain waste of paper (and to think that the Patriarch is environmentally conscious!) and money that it is today to a mainstream, Greek Orthodox-leaning newspaper, in which people of every nationality and faith can read where the church stands in major issues and at the same time open the dialogue for our community’s revival. We have giants in journalism and academia who would be more than willing to contribute and participate. Following the Archbishop with pictures and reprinting dry encyclicals which in many cases are completely Unorthodox even with my own unorthodox standards, does more harm than good to those who think they are served by such coverage.
The other thing would be for the Archbishop to establish a ministry for volunteers, lay deacons-like, which young or retired people who want to devote some time in helping the community could join. Imagine if there would be a pool of talent, both fresh and experienced people willing to offer their service for free or for very low pay in order to support the newspaper, the various ministries, even create new ones. Miracles would have come out of this without much prayer! Those volunteers would have to agree to commit a period of time in an area or expertise in which they are comfortable. Then, various organizations would apply to the Archdiocese and ask for the volunteers they need. In return lay deacons would receive the satisfaction of committing themselves to a worthy cause, the experience of dealing with real people and a certificate which would help them to be admitted in universities, or when applying for jobs in the fields where they offered their service.
Those two moves are just indicative examples of what a leader, the Archbishop in this case, could do in order to change the dynamics in our stale community affairs. Imagine how many great things would happen and in a very short period of time, if more leaders, our Greek American giants that are in the forefront of the American mainstream, were convinced to get more actively involved in our community’s institutions! A real rebirth, without the pain of the original birth!
So, let this be our collective resolution this year: bring the capable and willing in, make room for talent to blossom and at the end even crooks will be happy because they will realize that doing things the right way is a real possibility after all!