The GreekAmerican - July 9, 1999

Lay Leaders Demand Patriarch's Support Of Archbishop Spyridon

The highest ranking lay officers in the Greek Orthodox Church of America sent a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the Holy Synod, dated June 30, in which they urge the hierarchs to put an end to the uncertainty over the Archbishop Spyridon's tenure in the United States by issuing a strong statement in his support.

"Stability can only be accomplished if the Patriarchate takes an unqualified, clear and definitive stand regarding the leadership of their Exarch in the United States," says the letter which was signed by the executive committee of the Archdiocesan Council. The nine members of the Executive committee, who are handpicked by the Archbishop, oversee the administration of the Archdiocese.

The five page letter in the form of a report tells of overwhelming odds that the Archbishop has had to overcome while at the helm of the Church in America. "Letters were circulated, even before Spyridon had arrived [in the United States], thrusting serious accusations against him, the Rhodes Metropolitan and even the Patriarch," says the letter.

Archbishop Spyridon has been dogged by allegations of ineffectiveness and misconduct throughout his reign. In recent weeks, newspapers here and in Greece have reported that the Patriarch was considering removing the Archbishop after pressure from dissident groups in the United States. Several news reports, apparently based on leaks from the Patriarchate, have said potential successors have been called to Istanbul for interviews. The Patriarch has said nothing publicly on the matter.

Archbishop Spyridon's visit to the Phanar later this month may help clarify the Patriarch's intentions. The Archbishop has received a communique summoning him to Turkey and is expected to travel there sometime after July 18.

Earlier this year, the Archbishop and the five Metropolitans appeared before the Holy Synod because communication between the hierarchs had broken down. The Metropolitans came armed with a report that criticized the Archbishop's administration and recommended his removal. The Patriarch mediated the dispute and ordered the hierarchs to work together. Still, the Patriarch's order has not appeased dissenters.

The executive committee's letter takes aim at the two main groups that have organized campaigns trying to dethrone the Archbishop. The executive committee identifies the group Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) and Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL) and tries to discredit them by describing its members as self-serving. The letter accuses the two groups of fostering enmity in the Church.

"Opposition and efforts to undermine the missions of Archbishop Spyridon were expected before he even set foot in this country. The reasons are well known. Therefore, the existence of opposition, as such should not be surprising. Indeed, Iakovos, throughout this 37 years here, often faced heavy criticism regarding many of his actions and decisions," says the letter referring to Archbishop Spyridon's predecessor. OCL advocates the creation of an autonomous Orthodox Church that would serve Orthodox Christians of all ethnicities in the country. GOAL has organized with the mission of removing the Archbishop.

The executive committee also points the finger at the Metropolitans who the committee says "want more powers from the Patriarchate." Committee members list disgruntled former employees of the Archdiocese, the dismissed professors from the Holy Cross seminary, former Archbishop Iakovos loyalists, and disappointed laity who were left out of the Archdiocesan Council as conspirators in the campaign against the Archbishop. "Some people appear to have made it the purpose of their lives to remove the Archbishop," says the letter.

Then the letter makes a case as to why the Archbishop should stay by listing the Archbishop's strengths. The Archbishop's loyalty to the Patriarchate ranks first out of a list of five good qualities. The others are his directness, loyalty, skills as an orator, and principles, according to the letter.

The executive committee's letter also notes that the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) passed a resolution that lauded the Archbishop's leadership, during a recent gathering.

Under the heading, "The Future of the Church," the lay leaders predict damaging effects on the Greek Orthodox Church should the Patriarchate decide to remove Archbishop Spyridon. In an ominous tone, the committee members predict that by removing him, "A bad precedent will be established whereby the Patriarchate, despite its attempts to support and strengthen its chosen exarch in the United States, eventually succumbed to the pressures over the Phanar's final choice. Neither OCL or GOAL should be expected to go away."

And the letter urges the Patriarch: "Issue an unqualified and clear declaration regarding the position of the Archbishop." And it further advises that "The Patriarchate should stop being readily accessible to various individuals and pressure groups. There is no reason why the private phone and fax numbers of the Patriarch should be known to the world."

But the Patriarch may have other plans in mind. News reports here and in Greece have said that the Patriarch has offered the position of Archbishop to other hierarchs in the Church, although none has accepted.

Metropolitan of Vresthena Dimitrios, a hierarch in the Church of Greece, Metropolitan Nikitas of Hong Kong and Archbishop Stylianos of Australia have reportedly been among the potential candidates. Attempts this week to reach the Metropolitans and the Archbishop by telephone were unsuccessful.

[ The GreekAmerican - July 9, 1999 - p. _ ]