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The reflections that follow were prompted by APC President, Father Steven Tsichlis (2006-2010), who asked me to share with you some thoughts on the beginnings of the Presbyters Council.
As noted in the annual Yearbooks of our Archdiocese, the Council of Presbyters was established by an act of the celebrated 20th Clergy-Laity Congress, which was held in New York City in 1970. The Council was conceived as a vehicle by which the clergy of the Archdiocese would receive counsel from and offer counsel to the Archbishop concerning various priestly issues.
Prior to the creation of the Council of Presbyters the concerns of the clergy of the Archdiocese were voiced only at local clergy brotherhood meetings - the several 'Archdiocesan District Syndesmoi.' However, there was little intercourse between the Syndesmoi. They were as isolated from one another then as they are now. As a result, many matters of common concern, interest, and import to the clergy went unnoticed and unheeded. The views of the presbyterate (the body of presbyters) regarding the life and mission of the Church were seldom solicited and their collective voice was hardly ever heard.
It is true that a number of priests served on various Archdiocesan councils, committees, and commissions and that several of them were responsible for valuable initiatives and notable achievements, but the role of the presbyterate as a whole was limited and, in many respects, ineffectual. Even the Clergy-Laity Congresses offered few opportunities for the clergy to address their special needs or to allow for their collective wisdom, formed by long pastoral experience, to bear on and influence the vital ecclesial issues of the day. At times it appeared, perhaps wrongly, that the essential affairs of the Church were managed by only two bodies, the hierarchy and the laity. It seemed as if the presbyterate did not really matter, even though the new Uniform Parish Regulations adopted in 1964 at the 17th Clergy-Laity Congress in Denver restored to the priests their rightful canonical role as head or leader of the local parish - the essential eucharistic cell, where the saving work of the Church is actively pursued and enacted.
As I recall now, more than forty years after its founding, four things especially helped to shape the idea and the need for a Council of Presbyters. The first was the aforementioned 1964 Uniform Parish Regulations that registered clearly the change in the primary identity of the Parish as an ecclesial entity, with all that this implied about the roles and the relationships of the four constitutive orders of the Church, bishop, presbyter, deacon, and laity. The second and perhaps the most important contributing factor was the revived interest in Orthodox ecclesiology as a result of the Church's involvement in ecumenical activities. In fact, the deepening awareness of our ecclesiology led to the revision of the Uniform Parish Regulations.
The Church, as it was now emphasized, is an organic unity of communion and relational in her identity, mission, and structure. Therefore, in every level and aspect of her life she is both hierarchical and conciliar or synodal. The Church is composed of many members. They are knitted together in love to form one body, in order to carry out their common activity, which is the edification of the Body, through their different but interrelated functions, varied duties, and distinct responsibilities. A synodal and hierarchical Church honors and preserves unity and diversity, recognizes and esteems the ministry of leadership, and values and cultivates mutual love, respect, and accountability. As the sacred mysteries are celebrated by all the orders, so also the administrative functions and the mission of the Church are fulfilled by all the orders together, but each according to its proper role and place. All gifts and ministries are ordered to one another in a network of relationships and communion (Acts 6: 1-6; 15: 1-33).
Also contributing to the creation of the Presbyters Council were the developments in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1960s. Through its directives, the Second Vatican Council had encouraged bishops to establish consultative and advisory bodies with the clergy, laity, and religious orders. Thus, Priests' Senates began to emerge in many of the dioceses in America and elsewhere. If such changes were occurring within the rigid structures of the Roman Church, how much more so our own ecclesiology not only allowed but called for the establishment of a Presbyters Council based on the fact that in the ancient church the bishop and the presbyters of the local Church together constituted the presbyterium ( ), a fact that has long been overlooked and even forgotten. The presbyterium constituted the essential organic conciliar unity out of which all other synodical expressions emerged. Of course, while the bishop and the presbyters share much in common, they are neither equals nor interchangeable. The role of the bishop is unique inasmuch as he constitutes the center of unity of the local church and is its chief shepherd. But the bishop does not exist of himself apart from the presbyterium and the local church. He is always related to and conditioned by the local Church and the presbyterium and vice-versa.
Finally, Archbishop Iakovos through his embrace of the clergy from the time of his enthronement in 1959 and by his bold actions and challenging initiatives created an environment in which the idea for the Council could take root. Archbishop Iakovos knew personally many of the priests of the Archdiocese from his long association with the Church of America. He sought their opinions and cooperation in his efforts to bring about change and he encouraged and enlisted their talents and expertise to formulate and enact new initiatives and programs for the Archdiocese. Proof of his desire to empower the presbyterate was his unequivocal support in the months leading to the 20th Clergy-Congress of the proposal to create a representative advisory body of presbyters to receive and to offer counsel.
The idea for the establishment of a Council of Presbyters was first advanced in the late 1960s among a small group of priests of the greater New York area who were inspired by the writings and the teachings of Fathers Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendoff, and John Romanides, all of blessed memory, and of the young scholar John Zizioulas, now the eminent Metropolitan of Pergamon. Their insightful and challenging perspectives on Orthodox ecclesiology and especially their understanding of the role and the relationship of bishop and presbyter provided the theological foundations for the creation of the Council.
The proposal for the Council was brought to the attention of the Clergy Syndesmos of the then "First Archdiocesan District," which encompassed the parishes of New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and parts of Pennsylvania and Connecticut. After due deliberations, the idea received the support of the Syndesmos. I was asked to draft a position paper in support of the Council together with a set of regulations that would eventually form the basis of the initial constitution or bylaws of the Council.
The plan was submitted to Archbishop Iakovos for his review and approval. Happily, within a short period of time the Archbishop gave his approval and accordingly informed the venerable hierarchs of the Church. The plan was to bring the recommendation for the creation of the Council to the forthcoming 20th Clergy-Laity Congress for approval. Indeed, on July 1, 1970 the proposal for the establishment of the Council of Presbyters of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas was put forward and was adopted unanimously by the delegates of the Congress. Two days later, on July 3, the representatives to the Council of the several Archdiocesan Districts convened in special session and elected the officers and set in motion the work of the Council. The following priests, listed in the numerical order of the "Archdiocesan Districts," comprised the first Council of Presbyters (1970-1972).
The officers were: Alkiviadis Calivas, President; John Tavlarides, Vice President; John Geranios, Treasurer; and Constantine Eliades, Secretary. Evagoras Constantinides, Peter Kyriakos, and Robert Stephanopoulos were the three Board Members. The Council and its officers were installed publicly at the Congress by the Archbishop.
Many of these same priests were elected to serve a second two year term. On a personal note, I was especially honored and privileged to serve the Council as its president for two consecutive terms. Significantly, the members of the Council honored its role as an advisory and consultative body and avoided the temptation to turn it an advocacy group of limited pursuits and narrow agendas.
At the very first meeting of the Council in New York, the members established several working committees and voted to meet in Cleveland, Ohio in November of the same year. That meeting would focus especially on the reports of the several working committees it established, namely, (a) The Biennial Congresses, (b) Classification of parishes, ministries, and clergy (out of which would come the guidelines for clergy remuneration), (c) The Priest and the Youth of the Church, (d) Methodologies for the resolution of conflicts, (e) Communications, and (f) Pension and health insurance plans. Before the end of its two-year term, the first Council also discussed and formulated recommendations for other items through the following additional working committees. (a) Holy Cross Seminary, (b) St. Bail's Academy, (c) Religious education, (d) Church finances, (e) Pastoral problems of marriage and divorce, (f) The on-going-education of the clergy, and (g) Clergy remuneration.
Happily, several years ago the officers of the Council deposited for safe-keeping with the Archbishop Iakovos Library and Learning Center at Holy Cross a small collection of the Council's documents - including the first constitution and bylaws, various papers and proposals, and the minutes of the proceedings of the Council meetings. The collection is available for examination by appointment with the Librarian.
Much has been accomplished by the Council but much more needs to be done! It remains for each succeeding generation of presbyters to choose freely to honor the work and to build on the achievements of their predecessors, however small, through their own courageous activities and thoughtful contributions.
Fr. Alkiviadis C. Calivas,
Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at Holy Cross School of Theology
The National Presbyters Council Presidents
|Father Alkiviadis Calivas||1970 – 1974|
|Father Nicholas Triantafilou||1974 – 1976|
|Father Alexander Veronis||1976 – 1978|
|Father Soterios Gouvelis||1978 – 1982|
|Father Constantine Monios||1982 – 1984|
|Father Leonidas Contos||1984 – 1988|
The Archdiocesan Presbyters Council Presidents
|Father Eugene Pappas||1988 – 1990|
|Father Alexander Leondis||1990 – 1992|
|Father Panagiotis Giannakopoulos||1992 – 1994|
|Father Christopher Metropulos||1994 – 1998|
|Father Chris Kerhulas||1998 – 2000|
|Father Nicholas Bacalis||2000 – 2002|
|Father James Moulketis||2002 – 2006|
|Father Steven Tsichlis||2006 – 2010|
|Father Nicholas Anctil||2010 – 2014|
|Father John Touloumes||2014 - 2018|
|Father Mark Leondis||2018 - 2022|