His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Exarch of Atlantic and Pacific Oceans - Chairman of the Holy Synod of Bishops
Consecrated as Bishop November 5, 1985
Enthroned as Archbishop of America September 21, 1996
Nameday: December 12
On September 21, 1996, a new chapter commenced in the life of the Greek Orthodox Church in America with the enthronement of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City. He is the fifth Archbishop to be enthroned since the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1922, and the first American-born Archbishop of America.
His Eminence was elected as Archbishop of America on July 30th, 1996 by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, presided over by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon is the spiritual leader of some 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America.
The Enthronement Ceremonies of His Eminence were attended by His Eminence Metropolitan Ioakeim, senior member of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, bishops and priests from throughout the Archdiocese, Orthodox hierarchs representing several jurisdictions, Catholic and Protestant clergy, relatives and friends.
Dignitaries included Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Senior Advisor to the President George Stephanopoulos, Cardinal O'Connor, Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop Weakland, Bishop Richard Grein, Dr. Joan Campbell, Senators Paul Sarbanes and Al D'Amato, Ambassador Raymond Flynn, Representatives Michael Bilirakis, Carolyn Maloney and Charles Rangel, Mrs. Boutros Ghali and members of the diplomatic corps.
Unable to attend, President Clinton sent a warm letter of congratulations and on September 24th, he made a surprise call to His Eminence on the occasion of his 52nd birthday. The election and enthronement of Archbishop Spyridon were cited in the Congressional Record.
Soon after assuming office His Eminence was appointed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher as one of 20 members of a Special Advisory Committee to the Secretary of State on Religious Freedom Abroad. On January 20, 1997, His Eminence was invited to participate at the Inaugural Prayer Service in Washington, DC and on March 26th, President Clinton welcomed Archbishop Spyridon to the White House to receive the proclamation commemorating Greek Independence Day: A National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy. Invited to participate in The President's Summit for America's Future as one of 10 co-chairs, His Eminence offered the Invocation at the Closing Ceremonies at Independence Hall Plaza in Philadelphia. On May 4th, Archbishop Spyridon was an honored recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Archbishop Spyridon, the son of Clara and the late Dr. Constantine P. George, was born George C. P. George in Warren, Ohio on September 24, 1944. His father, a native of the Island of Rhodes (Greece) practiced medicine in Houston, TX, Tarpon Springs, FL and later, Warren, Steubenville and Mingo Junction, OH before moving back to Rhodes when George was nine years old. The Archbishop returned to the United States when he was 15 years old and lived for two years in Tarpon Springs, FL, the birthplace of his mother and the home of many of his relatives. He completed high school there, graduating in 1962.
He returned to Greece after high school to prepare for the priesthood and soon thereafter enrolled at the famed Theological School of Halki (Turkey) from 1962-66, where he graduated with honors. He subsequently pursued graduate studies in Switzerland (1967-68) specializing in the history of Protestant Churches. Awarded a scholarship from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he then studied Ecumenical Theology and Byzantine Literature at Bochum University in Germany (1969-73). Fluent in Greek, English, French, Italian and German, he is also extremely computer literate.
His Eminence served as secretary at the Permanent Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches (Geneva 1966-67), and later as Secretary of the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Chambésy (Geneva), as well as editor of its newsletter, EPISKEPSIS (1973-76).
Ordained a deacon on November 30, 1968, and taking the ecclesiastical name Spyridon, he was ordained to the priesthood on February 1, 1976, and assigned to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Andrew in Rome, where he served until 1985.
Through his long and direct contacts with the Roman Catholic Church, he acquired down-to-earth realism in viewing inter-church relations, a fact which contributed to his appointment in 1984 as executive secretary of the Inter-Orthodox Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
In recognition of his manifold services, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected him as Titular Bishop of Apameia on November 5, 1985. He was ordained as bishop at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George on November 24 of the same year and assigned as an auxiliary bishop to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Austria and Exarchate of Italy, as it was then known. In November 1991, upon creating the Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe, the Holy Synod elected Spyridon as the first Metropolitan for the newly created Archdiocesan See. During the course of four years as Metropolitan of Italy, he created various auxiliary departments, increased the number of parishes and provided them with a more sound structure.
His Eminence made a significant contribution to the edification of Orthodox unity by incorporating various Italian Orthodox communities, giving particular attention to the youth by creating the Union of Greek Orthodox Students of Italy. Following a lapse of many centuries, he reintroduced Orthodox monasticism in Italy.
In 1992 he was appointed chairman of the Inter-Orthodox Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation, immediately giving renewed impetus to the dialogue with this preeminent Protestant body.
He has also represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate in various inter-Church missions and international meetings. His address to the Special Synod of the Roman Catholic Bishops in Europe (Rome 1991) was of particular importance as he clearly identified the developments that were to follow in the relations between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.
The first official pastoral visit of His Eminence was an emotional return to the city of his birth, Warren, OH and Steubenville where he lived until the age of nine. On Epiphany Weekend he traveled to Tarpon Springs, FL, where he had graduated from high school. He celebrated the traditional Epiphany Service on the Bayou as some 50,000 people watched. He also visited the communities of Tampa and St. Petersburg and he dedicated a statue of a sponger at his high school where he had played halfback on the Tarpon Springs Spongers football team.
Archbishop Spyridon, commenting on his visits to communities throughout the Archdiocese, has said that: "One of the greatest joys of being Archbishop is to visit the parishes ... it gives me an opportunity to know the faithful and be a part of their community. A community in which clergy and laity, young and old, men and women, work together for the glory of God's name."
In the nearly two years of his archpastoral ministry, he has undertaken numerous initiatives in areas of adult religious education, inter-faith marriage and an expanded Internet presence for the Greek Orthodox and its Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the Fall of 1997, His Eminence hosted the Ecumenical Patriarch on his first official visit, which was a coast-to-coast visit spanning one month.