Call it My Big Fat Greek Charter Dispute.

An ongoing tug-of-war between Greek Orthodox Church leaders and restive parishioners is poised to heat up this week as clergy and lay delegates converge on New York City for a biennial legislative assembly.

On the surface, the scuffle may seem little more than a family feud in a relatively small ethnic church. But, in many ways, the dispute holds important ramifications for what it means to be Orthodox in America as New World parishioners seek to loosen ties to Old World authority.

It also could delay long-cherished dreams for a single, autonomous, multiethnic Orthodox church in North America that would unite Orthodox faithful who are currently spread across nine separate churches.

Relations soured in February when 34 members of the U.S. archdiocese filed suit to block a new church charter, or constitution, that they insist is not the one they approved at the church's last assembly in 2002.

Now, lay activists say, church leaders are playing hardball.

Members of the grass-roots Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) say two of their officers have been turned away from the Clergy-Laity Congress, runs from yesterday to Friday, and the group has been denied exhibit space.

In addition, they accused church leaders of trying to ram through last-minute bylaws that would implement the disputed charter, and failing to give delegates enough time to digest 52 pages of regulations.

"It seems like it's a whole Congress functioning without any rules. They're just making things up," said George Matsoukas, OCL's executive director. "They're really circling the wagons on this one."

Church hierarchs, meanwhile, have little sympathy for the group they cast as a bunch of disgruntled agitators who can never be satisfied. ...

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