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Odyssey - May/June 1996

THE RACE FOR ARCHBISHOP

Who Will Succeed Iakovos?

By Gregory A. Maniatis

As Archbishop Iakovos's July 29 resignation date approaches, the handicapping on who will succeed him as Orthodox leader in the Americas is heating up. But at the Phanar headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there is official silence on the subject.

That's because the Holy Synod, the body of clerics that will select Iakovos's successor, is not scheduled to convene until just after the Archbishop leaves office. Of course, this hasn't stopped church activists in the Americas from speculating on their future leader, nor from arguing the case for those bishops they believe should win the synod's approval. The Archdiocesan Council, the lay leadership body of the North and South American Archdiocese, met with Patriarch Bartholomew at the end of April to "urge wisdom" on the ecumenical leader in the selection process.

How wisdom translates into a new archbishop is not precisely clear. But barring a dark-horse selection (which, according to church sources, is not out of the question) the short list is thinning. Several candidates that had been under consideration last fall —including Archbishop Stylianos of Australia and Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland, both of whom had the favor of the Phanar— seem to have fallen out of contention. Others who have been mentioned —such as Bishops Sotirios of Canada, Maximos of Pittsburgh, Anthony of San Francisco, and Iakovos loyalist Methodios of Boston— do not have enough support at the Patriarchate. That leaves three likely candidates.

And the Candidates for Archbishop Are...
Metropolitan Demetrios of Vreisthenes is the closest to being a consensus choice —that is, there is very substantial support for him in New York and at the Phanar. A long-time scholar both at Harvard's Divinity School and Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, Demetrios knows the Americas well; church leaders in the US insist they will object vehemently if the new archbishop is not "one of their own." Demetrios is also a trusted advisor of Bartholomew's.

In the top tier along with Demetrios is Metropolitan Ioakeim of Halkidon, perhaps the Patriarch's closest confidante in the Phanar. Though his knowledge of the Americas is slim, he is said of late to have been intensely studying both English and the Archdiocese of the Americas. If Bartholomew and the Holy Synod opt for someone with unquestioned loyalty to the Phanar, it will probably be Ioakeim. But he is unlikely to win wholehearted support in the Americas.

Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy, once a frontrunner for the position, could end up as a compromise candidate. Young and American-born, he fulfills some of the criteria for archbishop. But he has not overwhelmed other clerics with his theological prowess, nor is he considered charismatic enough to hold the huge Archdiocese of North and South America together.

But then again, compared to Iakovos, who is? And who, unlike Iakovos, can secure smooth relations between the Phanar and its most important constituency? Those questions will make the deliberations of the Holy Synod nettlesome indeed.   G.A.M.

[ Odyssey - May/June 1996 - p. 13 ]