The following editorial appeared in the Saloniki-Greek Press (a Greek-American newspaper) on Feb. 28, 1914. At the time, there was no Greek bishop in America. Until 1908, the Greek parishes were loosely tied to either the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Church of Greece, but in 1908, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a Tomos transferring its jurisdiction in America to the Church of Greece, headquartered in Athens.
Athens was supposed to send a bishop, but that never happened. Four years after this editorial was published, the controversial Archbishop of Athens, Meletios Metaxakis, came to America to organize the Greeks into an archdiocese. While here, he was deposed by the Holy Synod of Greece, but then in 1921 (while still in America) he was elected Ecumenical Patriarch. He promptly revoked the 1908 Tomos and established the Greek Archdiocese under Constantinople.
Anyway, this editorial came out during a really chaotic period in Greek Orthodox history in America — a period when there was no practical hierarchical authority for the Greeks in America. I found the article on the website of the fantastic Newberry Library in Chicago.
We do not wish to enumerate the scandals or the other serious difficulties which have become a chronic disease with our Greek community. We do not wish to recount the disgraceful court trials and the criminal waste and extravagance of church funds for court costs and lawyers’ fees.
Without desiring to make an elaborate introduction to the subject, we herewith present an emphatic and persistant demand for a Greek Orthodox bishop in Chicago and in the major cities of America. We hope that the Greek government, the Greek Orthodox Holy Synod, and, as a last resort, Almighty God, will respond to our urgent appeals for a high ecclesiastical leader for the Greeks of America.
Saloniki makes this request in the name of the 40,000 Greeks of Chicago and the 700,000 Greeks of America.
We must have a strong, competent, and recognized leadership, especially in our church community life, if we are to preserve and maintain the three great church communities of Chicago and the sixty-two Greek parochial schools and several charitable institutions whose efficient operation depends upon a firm and capable educational leader. There are more than sixty members of our lower clergy in the United States, of whom a great many have not been properly ordained and legally appointed by the supreme Greek ecclesiastical authority, the Holy Synod at Athens, Greece.
Then there are more than sixty members in both the lower and higher ranks of the Greek clergy who have been dividing our church communities into opposing religious and political factions, who have been inciting the leaders of our communities to create needless strife and petty community wars. These priests and supposed representatives of God on earth have been causing such shocking scandals in the church communities that all respect for our Greek Orthodox faith and all the prestige of our clergy are seriously imperiled. There are many Greek clergymen who have assumed the responsibilities of a priest in our numerous parishes in Chicago and in the United States without having been legally and regularly appointed by the proper superior ecclesiastical authority. Many of them come to the United States bearing letters and documents from various unqualified bishops in Greece recommending them to the unsuspecting and trusting people of our parishes.
These destructive and irregular activities are being carried on at a time when huge sums of money have been spent for all kinds of Greek institutions. More than forty church buildings have been erected throughout the United States, six of them in Chicago, at a cost of one and a half million dollars. These churches have been built and maintained with the sweat, the labor, and the contributions of the thousands of pious, devoted, hard-working Greek Orthodox men and women. The Greek immigrant has done his share in erecting these churches; it is now up to our clergy, to our bishops, and to our educated and experienced church and civic leaders to organize, improve, and govern our churches and schools.
The first Greek church in America was built in 1865 in New Orleans; all other Greek churches in America have been built during the last fifteen years.
Ever since the erection of the magnificent Church of the Holy Trinity in Lowell, Massachusetts, and the equally splendid Church of the Annunciation in Chicago, as well as scores of smaller churches, a spirit of short-lived enthusiasm and rapidly vanishing Greek sentimentality, together with a shallow and superficial religious ardor, have characterized our efforts in our social and church life. Our worship of God is a mockery. We do not seem to have any profound religious feeling.
We have not built on a solid and sound foundation. Evidently, the first Greek immigrants built churches and organized our communities as a matter of course, with no serious thought or purpose in mind. The burying of a Greek immigrant with the help of a non-Greek priest hurt our religious pride and offended our church traditions to such an extent that the first Greeks in America decided to build a church and a community of their own.
Then we had the phenomenon of ill-prepared and uneducated so-called Greek priests who came to America in search of a better fortune, who took advantage of the ignorance and the trust of our people to become the blundering and incompetent leaders of our church institutions. In Chicago, we well remember such fakes and “pious shepherds of the Greek flock” as Papakaparellis and Papasideris.
Poor and deficient religious instruction and guidance transformed the first fruits of our religious enthusiasm and fervor into blind fanaticism. That is when our temples were transformed into places of strife and into trading centers.
Thus, the instinctive piety and God-fearing sentiment of the majority of our Greek people were transformed into cold indifference. That is why our religious affairs in Chicago, as well as in other communities in America, are in such a chaotic and deplorable condition.
The disgusting election methods which were used in Greece have been introduced into our churches. As a result, our new church communities have felt the gangrenous effect of disorganization, division, strife, and incompetence. Our most sacred ideals and noblest Greek virtues have been allowed to decay and be destroyed.
Most of our Greek church communities are so loaded down with debts that they can hardly meet their immediate obligations, among which are the salaries of the priests and teachers.
Most of the numerous and pompous verbal outbursts outlining dreams and plans to build schools, clubs, gymnasiums, libraries, and Greek-American educational and cultural centers, have been empty and meaningless phrases and impossible wishes. In vain have the governing boards and the members of our communities met hour after hour to discuss and debate ways and means of improving our ways of life and our institutions.
To this confusion and chaos the supreme Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical authority, the Holy Synod of Greece, is adding its cold indifference, in spite of the fact that the Greek immigrants of America, and particularly of Chicago, have made such urgent appeals to obtain some leadership. Why should the Holy Synod of Greece turn a deaf ear to our demands? The Greek churches of America have been built with great sacrifice of money and energy; their purpose is the religious, social, and intellectual guidance and enlightenment of our immigrants. Without them we are doomed to extinction; we are doomed to lose our national and religious consciousness and entity.
The Holy Synod has not been moved the least by the new demands of an expanded and reborn Greece. It has not been affected by the need for destroying a corrupt social and political order. It has not been moved by the bloody sacrifices of the Greek people of America during the late Balkan wars.
It seems that the danger of the dissolution of our church communities in America has not made the slightest impression on the minds of the ecclesiastical leaders of the Greek church. The protests and the frantic appeals of the press and of individual Greeks have been to no avail. No force, no event could stir the Holy Synod from its deep slumber. No one could induce that august ecclesiastical body to look at the strife, the warring factions, and the destruction which were and are taking place in the Greek churches of Chicago and of the United States in general. It is the duty of our supreme church authorities in Greece to put an end to this deplorable situation, because churches are built for entirely different purposes.
The Holy Synod of Greece shares the largest part of the responsibility for this disastrous situation. In the name of God and in the name of the true worship and adoration which man must offer to God, the Holy Synod must correct this unbearable situation.
We demand that a bishop be appointed to Chicago and that an archbishop be sent to supervise our churches and to help in the solution of all our problems. Every passing day costs much in loss of prestige to the sacred and holy name of our Greek church.