TARPON SPRINGS, FL – As the blazing sun baked the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs on a late-July Wednesday afternoon, the back porch of Dimitri’s Restaurant on the water provided ample shade and comfortable breezes, as if it were in another place and another season. That dichotomy richly symbolized the numerous dualities of the Greek Orthodox Church, some of which George Patides, a Greek Orthodox priest who left the clergy years ago, shared with TNH.
That “a priest is higher than the angels,” Patides said, can be taken in more than one way. Theologically, it describes that priests come into contact with the host – the body and blood of Christ – during Liturgy, which even angels cannot do. But that phrase may be used, Patides continued, “for self-serving purposes – to fulfill not the will of God, but the ego of the man.” A church’s “bully pulpit can be seductive,” Patides conceded, and with unwavering frankness, also admitted to having an ego. “The devil seduces us to think we are the embodiment of all, but I learned just as much from my parishioners as they learned from me.”
In terms practices and procedures, Patides believes that the “Church is in a crisis of definition and measure.” A struggle, he says, about “how we define ourselves and what behaviors and activities – individually and as a group – illustrate our faith.”
“While we struggle to define who we are, we are tempted to adopt fundamentalism as a measure because of the seemingly-tangible measures that illustrate our being truly Orthodox,” he said, adding that “blind obedience is not a concept to forfeit our objective thinking.
“We are now an indigenous Greek Orthodox people. We are not residents of Greece living abroad [but rather] Greek-Americans proud of our heritage. We need to raise the bar for our youth and in our activities at the parish level,” he said, because “we are so much more than just Greek festivals and cuisine.”
“Our youth can be leaders in every industry in this great country. It is not enough to speak Greek and to Greek dance,” he added, asking rhetorically what the parishes are doing to foster such excellence.
Clergy, too, must be servants above and beyond the symbolic gesture of “carrying trays of baklava and melomakarona” at Greek festivals. Above all, Patides emphasized, they must have empathy, because “when empathy ceases, communication ends.” He pointed to Patriarch Athenagoras’ observation that clergy should look at their parishioners eye to eye, and talk – and part of talking, Patides said, is listening.
Patides left the Church after 22 years because as a divorced clergyman, the Church permits him to remain a clergyman so long as he remains celibate. “After two years of praying” and contemplating about that, Patides concluded that he did not want to live the rest of his life that way, that it was “time to move on, to meet the right person in life’s journey.”
Though Patides left the clergy, which ever since age three he wanted to join, he has not by any means abandoned his faith. “I am proud to be an Orthodox Christian,” he emphasized, “and I will die an Orthodox Christian – hopefully, not anytime soon,” he humorously quipped. “We have the fullest manifestation of God’s revelation. Unfortunately, this does not inoculate us from humanity.”
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