The Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne’s (GOCM) Board of Management has commenced a comprehensive review of its Articles of Association, commonly known as the Constitution.
The GCM is actively seeking valuable input from its members after agreeing at the last AGM to review the decades old constitution, to bring it up to date with current societal changes .
It will suffice to say that this review ioverdue as the current constitution is characterised by a convoluted and discriminatory nature, as well as being founded on the 1938 Companies Act, which has been repealed and this raises questions about the validity of the constitution to an outside observer.
Adapting to Australia’s diverse and secular landscape
It is rather odd in 2023 that according to Article 4 “Membership of the Community shall be confined to Greeks and to persons born of Greek parents or having a Greek mother or father and the descendants of such persons who are adherents to the teachings of the Greek Orthodox denomination and are of the age of 18 years or over” and that the committee may refuse to admit any person falling within the said class without giving any reason for such refusal.
It was in this spirit that at the last AGM members sought a change in aspects of the constitution to reflect the secular, multi-faith and cross-cultural composition of the contemporary Greek Australian community.
Australia is one of the top 10 most secular countries in the world, more so since the last census, and thus building a model of community as represented by the current constitution GCM is unsustainable.
Article 1 is also outdated by declaring the membership to be one thousand even though the General Committee may whenever they think fit register an increase of members.
It seems to have been followed literally given its very low membership (around 1,500 members) considering that Melbourne is the “capital” of the Greek diaspora, and as such is not truly representative of the vibrant and dynamic Greek community of Melbourne.
Indeed, according to the 2021 Australian census, Melbourne has the largest Greek population in Australia with 181,200 Greeks, which translates to a GCM representation of 0.8 percent.
Given the “archaic” nature of its constitution and its low membership it is unethical for the GCM to purport to represent the Greek-Australian community, and Article 1 should set a target for a membership of at least ten thousand.
It also stands to reason that a more vibrant membership base will impact positively on the Greek language and culture programs, among other things.
Navigating Church relations: roles, responsibilities, and autonomy
Next, the labyrinthine nature of the GCM constitution is also reflected in Articles 46-55 which are devoted to the management of its five Greek Orthodox churches, the priests, and the unclear relationship with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. In essence, the churches and everything related to the financial management of the churches is exclusively a matter for the Community.
The spiritual jurisdiction belongs to the Archdiocese, as well as the supervision of the priests that are paid by the GOCMV. Yet, these constitution articles make no reference to the relationship with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and give the impression that both the financial management and the spiritual jurisdiction belong to the GCM.
The separation with the church in consultation with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia ought to be put on the table as an option.
After all, it is no coincidence that the Archbishop of Athens himself recently spoke more clearly in favour of the separation of Church and State than the political parties: “We must admit that not having boundaries between [Church and State] or the mixing of their duties creates enormous problems”, “the need for the distinct, but also cooperative course of the two bodies, Church and State, has become felt”, “today we are living in decline, that is why this whole history must become a lesson and to follow – State and Church – a parallel course without any interference of the one in the course of the other”. (Source: Written by Ecclesia.gr. 21/10 Link: romfea.gr).
The same logic applies for the relationship between the Archdiocese and the GOCM and the Greek-Australian community of Canberra is a case in point.
Against this background, in every respect this seems to be the right time to develop a visionary constitution as well as cut the Community and Church gordian knot.
This desire is also aligned with the letter sent to GOCM by Archbishop Ezekiel on November 25, 1970, declaring that the Archdiocese recognises your statutes as they have today, apart from the articles on their ecclesiastical dependence, which we request to be adapted to our extended condition.
“Προσεπιδηλούμεν οτι η Αρχιεπισκοπή αναγνωρίζει τα καταστατικά υμών ως ταύτα έχουσι σήμερον, εκτός των άρθρων περί Εκκλησιαστικής εξαρτήσεως αυτών , άτινα παρακαλούμεν όπως προσαρμοσθώσι προς τον προεκτεθέντα όρον ημών.”
(It is hereby noted that the Archdiocese recognizes your statutes as they stand today, except for the articles regarding their ecclesiastical dependency, which we kindly request to be adjusted according to our previously stated terms.)
Finally, in the context of the public consultation there ought to be absolute transparency and this means that all review input by the members should be accessible except in cases where it is not desired by members.
The consideration of such input aims to help the GCM to fully realise its potential by building on its present work and its long history.
Dr. Steve Bakalis is an expert on international business education and management, he has held adjunct appointments with the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, and appointments in universities of the Asia Pacific and the Gulf Region.