North America - United States
Christianity - Orthodox
Greek Orthodox look for ways to fill priest shortage
by Michael Clancy ("Arizona Republic," March 10, 2005)
Maybe a married priesthood is not the answer.
The Greek Orthodox Church allows its priests to get married, as long as they do so before they are ordained. But still, like many other religious bodies, it endures a clergy shortage. The church's experience lends doubt to those in the Catholic Church who argue that allowing priests to be married would go a long way toward meeting church needs.
American leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church have been meeting in Phoenix this week to talk about possible solutions, including plans for a permanent deaconate, a body of deacons.
In town are Archbishop Demetrios, patriarch of the church, along with eight other bishops who oversee regions of the United States - including Metropolitan Gerasimos, newly chosen head of the San Francisco metropolis, or diocese, which covers Arizona and six other Western states.
Also meeting in town is a group of major church donors.
The archbishop will lead services at 10 a.m. Sunday at Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1973 E. Maryland Ave. in Phoenix.
The Greek Orthodox Church in the United States has fewer than half the bishops who serve the Roman Catholic church in California alone. It counts fewer than 5,000 adherents in Arizona, scattered among five churches, four in the Phoenix area. Dozens of churches in Phoenix count at least that many members.
The Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church split in 1054, in part over the authority of the pope. The Orthodox church is more conservative liturgically, but more independent in other ways, including a married priesthood.
The key issue of this week's meeting is establishment of a permanent deaconate possibly patterned on Catholic Church practice. The archbishop said the church has greater needs but fewer priests. He said the deacons would not be eligible for the priesthood, but they could take on many priestly duties, such as visiting the sick and helping serve communion.
He said potential for growth in the church hinges on priests, who easily can be overworked.
He said the church has 580 active priests plus 120 who are retired but continue to work. The 580 priests must cover 530 parishes in the country.
"The priesthood is very demanding," the archbishop said, citing low pay, being always on call and family responsibilities.
"Yet people join because they believe the priesthood will give them fulfillment in life." Metropolitan Gerasimos, chosen Feb. 22 to replace Metropolitan Anthony, who died on Christmas Day, has served at the church's lone seminary, Holy Cross, in Boston. He said lay participation is being encouraged in the church to fill ministry gaps.
"The message of Christ does not change, the theological truths do not change, but the forms around those can be a problem," he said, referring to the education of priests.
"The core is the word of God and how to make it into deed," he said.