The Hellenic Times - June 2002
Spyridon Calls the Phanar to Reflect
Just a few days before the Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles,
where the draft charter proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate is likely
to raise much discussion and controversy, Archbishop Spyridon, former Primate
of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, has given a significant interview
to The Hellenic Times. In the interview, His Eminence stresses that Greek
Orthodoxy in America cannot grow and thrive without being rooted in the Mother
Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Although acknowledging
the fact that perhaps as many as hundreds of thousands of faithful have left
the embrace of the Archdiocese over the past decades, he maintains that any
disruption of relations between the Archdiocese and its Mother Church will
seriously impair the prospects of Greek Orthodoxy in America.
Archbishop Spyridon, far from the scene today, deplores the fact that the
entire dispute over the new charter has been reduced to a matter of power
distribution between not only clergy and laity but also between ecclesiastical
The former Primate attributes the loss of control over the situation in America
to the policies implemented by the Phanar over the past ten years. He further
underscores the need for the Patriarchate to undertake a serious and in-depth
reflection on its course of action vis-a-vis the Archdiocese, if its deeply
scarred image is ever to be restored in America.
Referring to Metropolitan Methodios' revealing letter, Spyridon points
out that such a document demonstrates how "politics" have always
played a predominant role within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. He also says
he was not surprised to see the Boston hierarch resume his initial stance
with regard to Holy Cross and the events of 1997. He also stresses the need
to end the ongoing HC/HC "internal conflicts and tensions" that
are demoralizing seminarians and future clergy.
* * * *
The Hellenic Times: There has been much talk lately in the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese about autocephaly or autonomy. Do you think the Archdiocese is
ready for independence from the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Archbishop Spyridon: I belong to those who believe that
any disruption of the Archdiocese's relationship with the Mother Church,
the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, will be to the disadvantage
of Greek Orthodoxy in America. A plant cannot survive without its roots. Furthermore,
I do not believe that Greek Orthodoxy in America has had or has ever been
given the opportunity to grow its own roots.
Taken together, the Archdiocese and its current institutions do not give an
ideal picture of maturity and growth. For various reasons, connected mostly
to self-interests and certainly not to lofty ideals, the Archdiocese has not
been able to take the first steps beyond organizational infancy. I should
not like to go into details. It suffices to mention the hundreds of thousands
of faithful who have left the embrace of the Archdiocese over the past decades.
I understand, of course, that the image of our Mother Church has been seriously
damaged in America over recent years. Unfortunately, what is perceived as
Patriarchal micromanagement of Archdiocesan matters has seriously troubled
our people and has called the Patriarchate's role into question. I think
the moment has come for our Mother Church to undertake a serious and in-depth
reflection on its entire policy vis-a-vis the Archdiocese of America before
it is too late.
The Hellenic Times: The proposed new Charter of the Archdiocese is another
topic much discussed today. There are many diverse viewpoints on this issue.
What is your take on it?
Archbishop Spyridon: The issue of a new charter for
the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese dates to the last years of Archbishop Iakovos'
tenure, when a draft charter was submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate
First, I believe the timing for introducing a new charter at this point is
unfortunate. Charters should not be promoted in times of prolonged transition
and uncertainty. Wisdom dictates that they be introduced in periods of stable
and strong leadership, of peace and the steady function of all church institutions.
Second, it seems that every consideration is being focused on the distribution
of executive power, and this not only between clergy and laity, but chiefly
between the hierarchical authorities themselves. I think a charter of such
importance should reflect the whole reality of church life, and not only certain
ecclesiastical aspects. Perhaps if the whole issue were put on a more spiritual
basis the existing divergences and current disagreements would not be so acute.
Of course, I understand the anxiety of the laity to safeguard their participation
in Church governance and administration, especially since the Archdiocese
encompasses not only the faithful's sacramental life, but also the whole
of Greek Orthodox reality in the United States. However, this participation
should always be in compliance with the centuries-old Canonical tradition
of our Church.
The Hellenic Times: How would you assess the fact that 50 or even more parishes
tend to reject the new charter proposed by the Patriarchate?
Archbishop Spyridon: It is only natural that in such
a vast Archdiocese there will always be groups of faithful who will be in
disagreement with how the Church is being run. But in the current circumstances,
I believe that the instability of church leadership and the stagnation that
seems to pervade the Archdiocese, shake the confidence of our faithful.
But more than this, one would have to be very narrow-minded not to perceive
that the action taken by these fifty parishes is the beginning of something
greater. I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new independence movement
that will not be easy to halt or reverse if the Mother Church continues to
avoid the real problems that the Church of America is currently confronting.
It seems that we may well be at the threshold of a new era of Greek Orthodoxy
in the United States.
The Hellenic Times: You have probably heard that Leadership 100, the strongest
financial institution of the Archdiocese, recently disapproved the Charter
proposed by the Patriarchate. What do you think of this?
Archbishop Spyridon: The fact that the Executive Board
of Leadership 100 disapproved the new charter proposed by the Patriarchate
certainly reflects the grave concerns this important ancillary institution
has with regard to the proposed charter modifications. Also, considering that
Leadership 100 is composed of faithful from across the United States, the
stance taken by the Executive Board demonstrates that preoccupations in the
broader community are greater than what one might think. All this does not
bode well for serenity in the Archdiocese and for the Mother Church's
future role in America.
The Hellenic Times: Recently a letter by Metropolitan Methodios came to light.
In essence it exonerates you of how you handled the alleged "sexual scandal"
at HC/HC. How do you see this new development?
Archbishop Spyridon: I am not at all surprised by this
continuous change of views and positions. It's rather typical of the
"politics" that unceasingly take place within the Archdiocese.
However, it is somewhat refreshing to see that Metropolitan Methodios once
again views the alleged "sexual scandal" at Holy Cross the way he
himself and the Eparchial Synod viewed it initially.
At the same time, I am disheartened to learn that serious and abundant problems
continue to exist at Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. It is
sad that to this very day one speaks of "an atmosphere of polarization,
mistrust and intimidation among administrators, faculty, staff and students".
It is also extremely discouraging to hear that the faculty is still torn by
"internal tensions and conflicts" to the detriment of seminarians
and future clergy.
Given the importance of this educational institution for the future of Orthodoxy
in America, I believe it is high time for the Archdiocese to look into the
School's matters putting aside all self-interests that have plagued this
sacred institution for decades. The Archdiocese should finally ensure that
the School has both a high-principled administration and a high-level faculty
capable of enjoying pan-orthodox and international recognition.
The Hellenic Times: Ionian Village, the Archdiocese summer camp for teenagers
and young adults in Greece, has been canceled for this year. How would you
comment this fact?
Archbishop Spyridon: This is really sad news. We all know how much Ionian
Village offers our youth by bringing them closer to the roots of our faith
and culture. It is also of note that Greek Letters Day was not observed by
the Archdiocese this year. I hope that the cancellation of Ionian Village
for this year is not an indication of how the Archdiocese plans to proceed
in the future with regard to Hellenism and Greek education in particular.
I trust that this is not the case and that this is only a matter of lack of
competence by those directly responsible.
The Hellenic Times: In the English version of your biography, The Lonely Path
of Integrity, two historic documents are published for the first time: your
reports to the Patriarchate. How important are these documents to the readers?
Archbishop Spyridon: The two reports published as appendices to the biography
provide readers with a realistic picture of current Church life. Especially
the second one, the report on the Church's state in the USA, was long
due to the Greek American people who never had the necessary means and information
to objectively assess the situation. Now, they are offered the opportunity
to be informed in an accurate and responsible manner on what really transpired
in their Church. Plus, I believe, with these documents, readers can acquire
a broader vision of the whole spectrum of concerns and problems that challenge
The Hellenic Times: Recently, you were honored by the Mayor of Montreal, who
presented your biography at Montreal City Hall. At the same time, you were
acclaimed by the local Hellenic Community and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec.
What do all these events mean to you?
Archbishop Spyridon: I do not consider these honors as attributed to me personally.
In paying tribute to my person, the Mayor of Montreal, the local Hellenic
Community and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec, in reality honored the entire
Greek Orthodox clergy and its struggle to preserve a genuine form of Orthodoxy
and keep Hellenism alive in North America in spite of all the difficulties.
I believe the success of the event lies mainly in this consideration.
The Mayor's initiative to provide a dignified platform for the presentation
of the biography demonstrates not only his appreciation for the Montrealer
author of the book, Justine Frangouli-Argyris, but also his profound esteem
for Orthodoxy and Hellenism. Moreover, it is a token of how highly the City
of Montreal thinks of the local Hellenic Community's presence in that
The Hellenic Times: We recently heard that a new foundation for Hellenism
will be created and that this new entity will bear your name. What is your
vision for this new institution?
Archbishop Spyridon: It's true, a new foundation is on its way to promote
issues related to Hellenic education and culture. The idea was born when some
Greek American friends, headed by John Catsimatidis, former Archdiocesan Council
President, met in Canada on the aforementioned occasion. We all experienced
at first hand the efforts made by the local Hellenic Community to preserve
its Hellenic roots, especially in the field of education. My friends were
immediately sensitized to the need to contribute to such efforts. Thus, they
decided to create a foundation dedicated to this purpose.
I myself found the idea excellent. I concurred that the new foundation bear
my name for I believe that it can contribute significantly to the cause of
Hellenism and its preservation in the USA and in other countries. Considering
the alarming observation by the Rassias Commission in 1999: "unless significant
remedial action be taken immediately, Hellenism's survival in the American
diaspora will be at risk," the new foundation will have much to do in
order to bear fruit. But we are confident that our efforts will be richly
blessed, for the cause is noble and sacred.
The Hellenic Times: How do you view the recent scandals in the Catholic Church?
Is it true that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has plenty of similar
Archbishop Spyridon: It is indeed very heartbreaking to witness this dreadful
situation within the Roman Catholic Church. Such phenomena, of course, are
of concern not only to the Roman Catholics. In fact, they affect all religious
people and in particular all Christians, Orthodox included, in the USA and
in other countries around the world.
In spite of the fact that the Orthodox clergy is composed predominantly of
married priests, nonetheless there were several incidents of the kind within
the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. These incidents were of particular concern
to the Archdiocese in the years 1996-1999. Fortunately, despite an infuriated
opposition motivated by the usual "political" agendas, the Archdiocese
at the time adopted and implemented a sexual misconduct policy which permitted
that such problems be dealt with appropriate care so as to avoid bringing
scandal to the clergy and the Church as a whole.
I would like to believe that this policy not only continues to stand today,
but has also been further elaborated so that all possible measures are taken
to ensure that there be no more victims of such crimes and that the moral
integrity of the Church be preserved.
The Hellenic Times: What mistakes can you attribute to the Patriarchate that
have contributed to its increasing isolation, both among its own eparchies
and on the international scene?
Archbishop Spyridon: Many are concerned today by the fact that, against all
odds, our Mother Church experiences an increasing isolation from within and
without, i.e. on the international scene and within its own ecclesiastical
As to the Patriarchate's own jurisdiction, some tend to attribute its
growing isolation to its inclination to limit the traditional role of its
metropolitans and archbishops by intervening even in the minute details of
their eparchies' day-to day administration. Unfortunately, dioceses are
not governed from afar, especially in today's rapidly evolving world.
This is precisely why local bishops are required by the centuries-old Canons
of our Church.
With regard to the Patriarchate's presence on the international scene,
all are aware that relationships with other Churches are often determined
by very fragile and delicate factors. What is required in all instances is
peacemaking and a dialogic disposition in order to secure a smooth and harmonious
interaction. Apparently, this has not been present of late, especially in
the Patriarchate's relations with the Churches of Russia and Greece.
To come out of this impasse the Patriarchate must first and foremost restructure
its synodical institution. Today, for reasons of political order that perhaps
are no longer valid, only metropolitans residing in Turkey participate in
the Patriarchate's Synod. Normally, the Holy Synod should be composed
of all ruling hierarchs (metropolitans and archbishops) of the Patriarchate
across the world. Should this become again a reality one day, then the Patriarchal
Synod would indeed be representative of Greek Orthodoxy worldwide. And this
certainly would be to the advantage of all Orthodox in America!