hellenic times - November 10, 2000
Archbishop Spyridon's Side Of The Story
by Evan C. Lambrou
The Solitude of
Uncompromising Integrity, the new book by Justine Frangouli.
More than four years since he was enthroned, and more than
one year since he resigned, as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America,
His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon has opted to leave his personal records, letters and diary to a Greek journalist who elaborates on his 3-year tenure in America.
In mid December, Exantas Publishers, one of the largest publishers in Greece,
will be release Η Μοναξιά Ενός Ασυμβίβαστου (translation: The Solitude of
Uncompromising Integrity, English translation of the book pending) by Justine Frangouli,
a correspondent for the Athens News Agency in Canada and for the major Greek newspapers, Eleftherotypia and Ethnos.
Ms. Frangouli kept a close eye on Archbishop Spyridon's 3-year tenure in America.
She herself was privy to a considerable amount of information
from the halls of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople to the walls
inside the American Archdiocese in New York.
Archbishop Spyridon was forced to fight a losing battle on four fronts, Ms. Frangouli explained: Holy Cross theological school, the opposition of members of the Holy Eparchial Synod, the circle of "Patriarchal friends" and the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself. The book identifies many of the key players and describes the events from this frame of reference.
Replete with previously unpublished pictures, Ms. Frangouli's book not only furnishes the reader with the story behind the scenes during the 3-year turmoil when Archbishop Spyridon was at the helm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, she also provides a biography of the Archbishop: a description of his childhood, his studies and his ministry to the Church. She attempts to answer questions about who Spyridon really is as a person and a churchman, why he was elected to the archiepiscopal throne of America, and why he was forced to resign.
From family members to childhood friends to fellow students at the schools
where he studied to associates throughout his entire ecclesiastical ministry,
Ms. Frangouli reports that the general consensus among the people who know
him best is crystal clear: Archbishop Spyridon is intelligent, independent and uncompromising when it comes to matters of integrity and human decency, she said.
In an interview with the Hellenic Times, the contents of which are published below, Ms. Frangouli shares her insight.
Hellenic Times (HT): Hello Ms. Frangouli. Congratulations on the imminent release of your new book.
Justine Frangouli (JF): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your Greek American readers regarding a book that is focused on a critical period of the Church in America's history.
HT: Could you please tell our readers why you felt
the need to write this book and tackle this particular subject?
JF: Yes, of course. I thought the time had come to see the other side of the story.
Because, clearly, many things happened during Archbishop Spyridon's tenure which were left unreported. Most Greek Americans don't know the actual facts that led to Archbishop Spyridon's resignation. They are still confused about who the real players were, the manipulators behind the scenes. I felt that it was high time to reveal some unknown facts that will lead the Orthodox faithful to form a-more informed opinion about what really occurred during those three years.
HT: With the volume of literature generated by the Greek Press and independent websites during that time, do you think this is a fair statement?
JF: First, I acknowledge that many opinions were expressed
during that period, but there was a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation of the actual facts. The book tries to reveal the forces and interests intertwined with the destiny of the archiepiscopal throne of America on the basis of official documentary material.
HT: And your book contains the missing link?
JF: You could say so. I was privileged to have access to many files, hitherto unknown, and to the Archbishop's personal notes and diary. I was also in direct contact with many people close to the source, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean: from the Phanar to the Acropolis to the Archdiocese. My effort, after a lot of research, was to put the facts together and interpret them in a way that leads the reader to an insightful look at this period.
HT: What, in your opinion, actually took place that people fail to realize about His Eminence's 3-year ministry in America.
JF: It is a complex story with many facets to it. The plan behind his removal after three tumultuous years reveals a web of scheming that enveloped the Greek American Church. From Constantinople to the Aegean and Athens; from the council chambers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Greek Parliament; from the bishops in America to parish priests to prominent figures in the Greek American community, the story covers the totality of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America during the years 1996 to 1999.
HT: Your book implicates the Patriarchate, too?
What about the fact that Archbishop Spyridon succeeded Archbishop Iakovos,
who was in charge for more than 37 years? Under the circumstances then, and
in light of what happened, isn't it reasonable to conclude that anyone would
have encountered a great deal of difficulty walking into a system which had
established itself over a span of four decades? Many people contend that Archbishop
Spyridon should have given himself more time to get used to the American environment,
and had he done so, he might have more effectively consolidated his authority.
What do you think about those arguments?
JF: Of course it's true that any successor to Archbishop
Iakovos would experience a large measure of difficulty. In Spyridon's case, Archbishop Iakovos retired grudgingly, and he was very embittered with the way the Patriarchate handled his retirement. Many of Archbishop Iakovos' most loyal supporters were also very upset. Archbishop Spyridon walked into a furnace. Because Archbishop Iakovos had become such a powerful figure, powerful enough to rival the authority of the Mother Church, the Patriarchate did not want Spyridon to follow in Iakovos' footsteps. They were afraid of the possibility that Spyridon would become too powerful. Simply put, they didn't want him to govern on his own, but rather, they themselves wanted to govern the Church in America through him. An influential "Patriarchal friend" had tried to tell Spyridon, shortly after he arrived, that his duty consisted of visiting parishes across the country and in bringing them the "new vision of the Church," whereas the Patriarchal friend himself would take care of Archdiocese administration. So on the one hand,
you had Iakovos supporters who were extremely upset with the idea of a successor to their beloved spiritual father, and on the other hand, you had the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchal friends trying to put the new Archbishop under their thumb. At the same you had a very independent churchman who refused to be a puppet Archbishop. As far as Spyridon was concerned, he was the Archbishop, and as such, he was rightfully the chief administrator of the Archdiocese. Some say he could have compromised his position, but in reality, he couldn't have. It just wasn't in his nature to do this. He is unable to compromise his integrity.
HT: Hence the title of the book?
JF: Yes. Everyone I interviewed and happens to know him agrees with this. Archbishop Spyridon simply refuses to compromise his integrity. He would never sacrifice his convictions, and he always stands on his beliefs. In the end, such people usually stand alone. They often walk on a lonely path. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8.20)."
HT: Good luck with your book.
JF: Thank you.
[ hellenic times - Vol. XXVII, No. 13 - November 10-24, 2000 - pp. 3 and 16 ]