Human Rights and the Orthodox Church in a Global World

The Orthodox churches living in a global culture have in principle embraced democracy and human rights. They are struggling, however, to cope with the implications of living in a democratic and free society. Nationalism, totalitarian regimes, and Orthodox traditionalism had in some instances suppressed the inherent plurality of their societies where the Orthodox Church was the predominant faith community. Read More

Fr. Aristides Palaynes and the Golden Rule Community

Fr. Aristides H. Palaynes was among the most accomplished Greek Orthodox priests of his generation. He served parishes in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio. At a time when few priests were fluent in English and Greek, he communicated effectively with the younger generation of Orthodox faithful and with the non-Orthodox.

Many of his sermons appeared in local newspapers, and, as an editor of journals and newsletters, he left behind a wealth of written material. His death in 1938 at age 45 deprived the Church of a dedicated, multi-talented servant of God.

In addition to his service to the Church in America, much of his professional life was devoted to the Golden Rule Community (GRC), an international charity he helped organize in 1924 and headed until his death. The GRC aimed to create a social order based on the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

He believed that the “Sermon on the Mount with its golden rule can revolutionize the world and make it a better place in which to live, not only for the few but for all humanity.” He placed the needs of the Church and this charitable organization above his own health, which contributed to his early death.

In 1907, 15–year–old Aristides Palaynes arrived in America from Greece, settling in New York City, where he attended high school and then New York University.

From 1921 to 1923, he studied at the St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary in Astoria.

Fr. Philaretos Ioannou, dean of the seminary and later Bishop of Chicago, described him as “a faithful and sincere worker in whatever he has undertaken.”

In the fall of 1923, St. Athanasius did not reopen, and Palaynes completed his preliminary studies at the Episcopalian seminary in Nashotah, Wis., where his mentor, Bishop Philaretos, had also studied. Palaynes then returned to New York for a year at the General Theological Seminary, where he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1925.

Bishop Philaretos called him to Chicago, where Palaynes served as the secretary of the diocese, helped organize the first Sunday schools in the area, and edited the diocese newsletter. In 1927 he married Victoria Karastathis, a native of Samos, and was ordained to the priesthood the following year. In 1928, he was assigned to Holy Trinity in Sioux City, Iowa. He delivered sermons in Greek and in English and gave numerous lectures about Orthodoxy to educate other Christians. He supported joint services for all the Orthodox in Sioux City. He also organized missions in neighboring cities. He was transferred in 1930 to Holy Trinity in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he helped establish a Greek school, a Sunday school, and a parish newsletter. He also started a group for the non-Greek wives of his parishioners.

In 1932, Archbishop Athenagoras, impressed with reports of his accomplishments and his record of social activism in Grand Rapids, transferred him to the St. Barbara parish on the Lower East Side of New York City. This area had been hit very hard by the Depression. The parish was unable to pay its rent and was in danger of closing. It was here that the GRC was most effective.

The Archbishop, along with other Orthodox hierarchs around the world, were honorary members of the organization and acted as its advisory committee. Fr. Palaynes worked tirelessly through the Church and the GRC to provide food and comfort to the poor. He successfully revitalized the St. Barbara parish and did much to alleviate the suffering of people in the neighborhood, but the unceasing labor in difficult conditions took a toll on his health. He suffered a heart attack, and his doctors advised him not to continue. He was transferred to the ocean side community of St. George in Asbury Park, N.J. He held his first service on Jan. 1, 1934, and would remain there for the rest of his life.

The parish did not have its own building. Services were held in the lower level of the public library, which the parish rented for $120 annually.

While working to develop the parish, Fr. Palaynes continued to devote his spare time to the GRC. In October 1934, he took the extraordinary step of giving all his worldly possessions to the Golden Rule Community.

In January 1936, he was hospitalized again. In November, he resigned from the St. George parish to devote his full time to fundraising for the Golden Rule Community, which operated a small orphanage and boarding school and provided a place to stay for the needy and widows.

The Asbury Park Press reported that he would “attempt to raise $48,000 by lectures, personal interviews, services, and contributions to promote the activities of his organization.”

At the time, the GRC had 133 members, mostly people from parishes where Fr. Palaynes had served and Greek Orthodox priests who shared his vision.

Eventually these labors proved to be too much for his failing health. He died of a heart attack on March 12, 1938. The Golden Rule Community continued to function into the 1940’s with Presvytera Victoria taking a greater role, but without Fr. Palaynes’ leadership it did not last. He had devoted himself to living Christ’s teachings. He gave his time and talents, and ultimately his life, striving to create a better life for others.

The author thanks Sophia Anest, daughter of Fr. Palynes, of Asbury Park/ Ocean for her assistance. (e-mail Dr. Samonides at [email protected])

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