Greek Orthodox Leaders Sue Main Church

Times Staff Writer

A group of Greek Orthodox lay leaders in the United States sued the church Tuesday, charging that it had violated its own charter by allowing the Istanbul, Turkey-based ecumenical patriarch to exercise too much power over the American church.

The civil suit, filed in New York, is the latest development in a controversy stemming from attempts by some lay leaders of the 1.6-million Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to assert more independence from the mother church, led by His All Holiness Bartholomew I, who presides over the historic see of Constantinople, now Istanbul.

Though not mentioned in the suit, the underlying issue is how bishops are chosen for the U.S. church. Currently, they are all appointed by Bartholomew.


Leaders of Orthodox Christian Laity, in comments to reporters Tuesday, repeated their call for all U.S. metropolitan bishops to be elected by the American church, without involvement by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. They also want to require the patriarchate to choose the American archbishop, when the time comes, from a list of three people approved by the U.S. church.

The suit, filed by 34 Greek Orthodox laypeople, asked the court to look at the church’s 1977 charter and determine whether the church was violating its provisions by imposing a new charter in 2003 not approved by the American church’s clergy-laity congress. The earlier charter, which vested more power in the American church, was approved by the congress and required similar review for any changes.

Nikki Stephanopoulos, an archdiocese spokesman, said he believed the lawsuit was “totally without merit.”

George Matsoukas, executive director of Orthodox Christian Laity, said the suit was filed after the church rejected repeated attempts to resolve the issue. He noted that the unwillingness to grant the Greek Orthodox Church in America more independence contrasted sharply with the full independence recently given the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America by its mother church in Syria.

Besides Bartholomew, the suit also names His Eminence Demetrios, archbishop of America, as a respondent.