Ethnos (Sunday Edition) - February 18, 2001
Greek Americans idle while major issues stagnate
An interview with Spyridon, former Archbishop of America
By Giorgos Yukakis
Ethnos: Your biography, "The Lonely Path of
Integrity" was recently published. How would you assess this new book?
Archbishop Spyridon: The book, written by the journalist,
Justine Frangouli-Argyri, has been circulated in Greece and the United States.
It is based to a great extent on hitherto unpublished documents, many of which
originate from my personal archives, as well the published press accounts.
From my reading of the book, I feel that the author made good use of this
archival material. She brought to light many unknown facets of the recent
history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the years 1996-1999.
She was also able to faithfully portray the atmosphere that pervaded during
these three years. Her descriptions are lively, yet concise, and lead the
reader to a ready understanding of some of the major problems with which the
Greek-American community grappled then and continues to struggle. I consider
the new book a serious primary source for the history of the Church and of
Hellenism in America. I also consider it as a gauge for the future course
of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and its efforts to preserve an authentic
form of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in the United States. Without question, the
new book gives a distinct impression of the Greek American community today.
Ethnos: The book demonstrates how the Phanar elected
you as Archbishop of America despite the opposition of the Greek government,
and how three years later the Phanar itself instigated the crisis in America
in order to finally oust you. How would you explain this fact?
Archbishop Spyridon: The author certainly provides her
own assessment of this question. For my part, I would say only that this practice
the forceful removal of eparchial hierarchs has been repeated
quite often in recent years by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But I would add
that this is a phenomenon practically unknown in the life of other Orthodox
Churches. The reasons for this must be sought in the Mother Church's
political ambitions and will, and certainly not in the Sacred Canons.
Ethnos: The book concludes with your election to
Metropolitan of Chaldia and your refusal to accept this election. Former Archbishop
Iakovos criticized you for this ...
Archbishop Spyridon: It is not an unusual circumstance
in the life of the Church to decline a position offered. It happens very often
and the examples are numerous. There is no Sacred Canon that obliges a proposed
candidate to accept the position offered him. The notion of compulsory acceptance
is unknown. Rather everything must evolve in a spirit of total liberty, consensus
and synergy. One should not forget that H.E. Iakovos, former Archbishop of
North and South America, himself declined an important position offered to
him by the Church at the beginning of the 50s, that of the president
of the Theological School of Halki. I cannot see how we can have two standards
applied in this case ...
Ethnos: Where and how to you live today? What is
your everyday life like?
Archbishop Spyridon: The days go by with the usual activities
of an Orthodox churchman, with reading and meditation. It is something that
I missed in the course of my very mobile and, I would say, at times tumultuous
life. Now, in a suburb of Portugal's capital, away from memories of bitter
days and far away from Orthodoxy's centers, I experience another, more
spiritual, dimension of my being, living ascetically and quietly.
Ethnos: As an observer today, how do you view the
situation in the Church of America?
Archbishop Spyridon: One needs no special insight to
comprehend that within a superficial tranquility, major and crucial issues
of the Greek-American community Greek education and the promotion of
Greek National issues are stagnating. I fear that inactivity and continuous
postponement in resolving these issues, waiting for a "suitable"
time, will lead, if they have not already led, to apathy. It is sad to see
the most dynamic and capable body of Hellenism abroad --which should be literally
vibrating for the realization of the hopes and noble goals of Hellenism--
totally immobilized. At this moment, the only issue that seems to concern
the Greek-American community is the initiative of the Church of America to
separate herself from the Mother Church. Already, in the draft of the new
charter of the Church of America, the Greek American ecclesiastical and lay
leadership is trying to ensure a status of semi-autonomy, in other words,
a first step towards autocephaly. And there is no doubt that the weight of
the organized part of the Greek-American community is pushing toward this
goal, whereas the question of the survival of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in the
United States remains as of yet unaddressed and unresolved.
Ethnos: Where does the Greek American community
stand with regard to Greek Education? How would you assess the efforts of
the Greek American lobby at a time when the Greek government plans to assign
the responsibility for promoting Greek national issues to a new office in
Archbishop Spyridon: It is clear that the energies and
foresight of American Hellenism are diminishing with respect to Greek Education
In the area of Greek Education one may note that, in spite of all worthy efforts
made in the past and even today, until this very moment there is no uniform
Greek Education system implemented throughout the Day and Afternoon schools.
At the same time, there is an enormous lack of trained teachers and appropriate
The efforts of the Archdiocese, which is the responsible institution for Greek
Education as a whole, have had very limited impact due to these disturbing
deficiencies. It seems to me that the case for Greek Education has yet to
be made to the vast majority of Greek Americans. The fact that the most recent
in-depth study (Rassias Commission) has been disregarded is not a good sign
at all! Also, the Archdiocese's budget for Greek Education is constantly
diminishing instead of increasing. As to the rest of initiatives that originate
from other Greek American organizations, these are usually short-term, if
not dead at birth ...
The alarm bell has repeatedly rung for this ongoing indifference to matters
of Greek Education in the United States. In a few years, given the suspension
of Greek immigration to the US, there will be little if any reason to speak
of Greek Education within the Greek American community. We will be speaking
only of Greek chairs at certain universities ....
As far as the so-called Greek American lobby is concerned, it is difficult
to continue to consider it as an organized expression of the Greek American
community. The lobbyist activities, i.e. the initiatives for promoting Greek
national issues at the center of the most powerful country of the world, are
assumed today by single individuals or, in the best case, by single small
groups of interested individuals or professionals. I don't see how a
new office, charged with the task to promote Greek national interests, can
be considered a panacea. It is well known that American politicians are sensitive
to those who can ensure them blocks of votes and these can be secured for
them only by a coordinated Greek-American effort, certainly not by isolated
acts of individuals, groups or firms. In other words, influence is exercised
by those who can secure votes. The rest is a little unrealistic!
Ethnos: Have you formed an opinion about the new
American president? Do you share the fears that Washington will follow an
even more pro-Turkish policy in the future?
Archbishop Spyridon: All sort of danger is noised about
concerning the new American administration. Yet it is evident that American
policy has the continuity and coherence that is appropriate to a serious State,
the most powerful one in the world. Its goals are firmly set. They do not
change due to the change of officials in power. Personally, I do not see any
particular reason that would dictate a change in America's stance on
the Cyprus issue. On the contrary I would say that the presence of General
Powell at the State Department will give an even stronger expression to pertinent
American positions. And these positions have never been secret; witness the
statements by the current US ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke,
who in the past dealt specifically with this particular issue. All this signifies
that the United States does not follow either a pro-Hellenic policy, or a
pro-Turkish policy, but only and exclusively a pro-American one. Therefore,
high vigilance in Greece and in the Diaspora is more than imperative.
Ethnos: What do you believe about the registration
of one's religion in the Greek IDs? Do you agree with the initiative
of the Church of Greece to collect signatures to reverse the State's
Archbishop Spyridon: As I stated a while ago, the Greek
Government and the Church of Greece have more serious issues to deal with
than that of IDs. I believe that these exaggerations are incompatible with
the modern image that all would like to attribute to Greece. Such extremes
never lead to positive results. In the course of history, especially recent
history, Hellenism has paid an exorbitant price each time it has chosen to
embrace such extremes.
I consider it imperative that the Government and the Church consult with one
other in order to reach a consensus that would express in a satisfactory manner
the real will of the people. Greece has a whole spectrum of more serious problems
to resolve, starting from the issue of its territorial integrity to the burning
question of the alienation of Hellenic identity in the realm of the new impetuous
Ethnos: Many are of the opinion that the Ecumenical
Patriarchate interferes in the internal affairs of the Church of Greece, as
for instance in the issue of Greek IDs. What is your view on the issue?
Archbishop Spyridon: The responsibilities and range
of action of each Orthodox Church are a well defined given. There should be
no room for direct or indirect interference of one Church in another's
internal affairs. Such attempts are uncanonical and improper. Relations between
churches, just as relations between simple Christians, should always be governed
by mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual support. The violation
of this general rule, wherever it may come from, should be condemned and eliminated,
because it carries great danger for the peace among Churches. At a time at
which Churches are called to fight the ever-growing secularization of today's
society, it should be unthinkable that a Church not only does not support,
but also undermines the leadership of the other.
Ethnos: How do you explain the recent objection
of the Patriarchate, expressed through Archbishop Demetrios, to Archbishop
Christodoulos' intention to visit the United States for Greek Independence
Archbishop Spyridon: It is sad to see the Church lower
herself, and she has repeatedly lowered herself during the past years, to
a micropolitical level, reaching the point of harming her own institution's
prestige, in order to serve shortsighted agendas. Creating an issue out of
nothing, an issue with major extensions and serious consequences on the relations
between the two Churches, confirms only the fact that in this case as in others
love has been replaced by controversy.
If a brief visit of Archbishop Christodoulos to the United States constitutes
a problem for the Mother Church, then I can assume that the ongoing crisis
between the Patriarchate and the Church of Greece may have unpredictable consequences.
If however, as many argue, the Greek Government has intervened for Christodoulos
not to visit the US, then it is evident that Church institutions are being
used as a means to corrode Church leadership. Which ever the case, as a Churchman
I feel an unlimited sorrow at such machinations.
Ethnos: There is much talk about the Pope's
visit to Greece. What is finally necessary, to follow a political or the ecclesiastical
protocol in this case? Is one to believe that the Church of Greece is biased
with regard to such visit?
Archbishop Spyridon: The Vatican is primarily and basically
the center of the Roman Catholic Church, an ecclesiastical center which only
secondarily happens to be a State. It would be a witness to short-sightedness
to disregard this reality, i.e. the double character of the Vatican, in considering
the invitation extended to the Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is not sufficient to say that the Pope is a Chief of State and therefore
his visit is exclusively a matter of State, especially when the Pope insists
that his visit take place upon invitation of the Church of Greece as well.
It is of no help to shut one's ears before what the Pope constantly proclaims,
i.e. that his role is primarily ecclesiastical and that his visit to Greece
will necessarily have a religious character as well.
On the other hand, I think, the Church of Greece should show more understanding
for the sensitivities of the Greek Government which is struggling to protect
the country's modern image from fruitless fanaticism and intolerance.
I would say that in this case as well both the Greek Government and the Church
of Greece must cooperate closely to find a common solution to the problem.
Ethnos: Do you believe the Patriarchate is held
fast in Turkey? How would you view its eventual transfer to a neutral international
Archbishop Spyridon: I have always considered any transfer
of the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as negative for the future of the
Mother Church and of Orthodoxy in general. The reasons for this my position
are many, even though I am aware of the various advantages of practical character
that could derive from such transfer. But, in spite of the fact that only
a few hundred Greek Orthodox Christians still live in Constantinople and in
spite of the more or less well-known restrictions put to the Patriarchate
by the Turkish authorities, I consider that the Patriarchate, by maintaining
its See in its natural environment, can, under certain conditions, still preserve
the essential characteristics of ecumenicity it always enjoyed as the primatial
Church of Orthodoxy.
In this case, it would be indispensable to immediately take courageous steps,
primarily to restructure its synodical institution. It is well known, that
the restrictions put by the Turkish authorities on its composition are minimal.
Even if there were heavy restrictions, they could not be implemented today
with Turkey pursuing its European course.
It is high time that the Patriarchal Synod return to its canonical form, with
the participation of all eparchial hierarchs of the Throne. This would immediately
restore the traditional notion of Synodal governance (Conciliarity) as it
exists in all other Orthodox Churches, and at the same time ascribe the proper
weight to the decisions made by the Mother Church.
But, without making such daring steps, I don't see how the centuries-old
institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will finally survive, since, as
it is well known, circumstances continue to be always exceptionally inauspicious.
[Translated from Greek]