The Hellenic Chronicle - October 26, 1995

Response to Siderides on Archbishop's Retirement

From Simos C. Dimas

I have read and re-read Dr. Sideride's open letter on the effect of the retirement of Archbishop Iakovos on the Greek American community. A response is needed.

As to Dr. Siderides' evaluation of the long tenure of Archbishop Iakovos, I wish neither to praise nor bury "Caesar." Inexorable history will have the last word. It is sufficient to say, ',that for all His Eminence's public relations accomplishments, he failed in the one task to which all of our hierarchs are pledged. He failed to be the loving, caring shepherd. He built churches devoid of spirit. In addition to a voluminous photo library in which he embraces and is embraced by the political powers of the time, he leaves behind him a dispirited priesthood, a helpless (and, I pray, not hopeless) hierarchy and a laity thirsting for direction and the healing power of love.

Although Dr. Siderides and I may disagree about the Iakovian legacy, he is quite correct when he points out that the choice of the next Archbishop is a critical issue which must be addressed by all of us.

Dr. Siderides asks the faithful to "convince" his All Holiness (who with the Synod in Constantinople will elect the next Archbishop) to look for certain qualifications in our next Archbishop. The qualifications he emphasizes cast the next Archbishop in the image of Eleftherios Venizelos, with degrees in history, theology, and business administration. Not once does he mention the virtues of love, piety, a thirst for the truth, or the willingness to engage the simple faithful in the dialogue of a father with his children.

The rest of Dr. Siderides' letter is a thinly veiled attack on the Patriarchate, which the good doctor erroneously claims that Archbishop Iakovos has effectively defended against the hostile Turks to whom the Patriarch, allegedly, has given his allegiance, and upon whom the Patriarchate is dependent.

In keeping with the injunction of St. Paul that we love one another, I will treat Dr. Siderides' letter as if it were an invitation to dialogue. I define dialogue in this instance as the exchange of ideas by and among concerned and caring men and women with our hierarchs. This type of dialogue is a new phenomenon for those of us who have lived through the Iakovian era. I pray that it will be the norm for the future.

In the spirit of constructive dialogue, then, I would like to share with you, the readers, my thoughts and observations on the Patriarchate, its recent history and its future.

No one will deny that successive Turkish governments have been less than welcoming and often hostile to the Patriarchate and that they have attempted to use the Patriarchate for their own purposes. Even more unfortunate has been the failure of the Greek government and of the Greek American community to offset this hostility by their unfailing support of the Patriarchate.

The history of post-World War II Greece vis-a-vis Turkey has been one of indecisiveness, ineptitude and even cowardice. In 1955, Greece suffered in impotent silence the destruction of Greek graves and the rape of Greek women. In 1974, with the exception of the heroic sacrifice of the Greek garrison on Cyprus, and the ill-fated attempt to send in a small group of special forces by air, Greece left unopposed the invasion of Cyprus. On other occasions too numerous to mention, Greece has permitted Turkey, through a constant and unyielding campaign of pressure and coercion, to systematically reduce the Greek population there.

As for Archbishop Iakovos, he did everything he could to conceal the plight of the Patriarchate and the significance of its hierarchial relationship to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America from our community and from the temporal powers that be. As a result, until recently, the pressures to which the Patriarchate has been subjected by various Turkish governments were not raised by our community with the political leadership of this great nation. Far from being the defender of the Patriarchate, Archbishop Iakovos left it to fend for itself for reasons that are now all too obvious to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see.

I met the Patriarch for the first time some years ago, while I was in Constantinople with a member of the Greek Parliament. I attended Sunday liturgy at Chalcedon where he was then the Metropolitan. He asked me to sing with the "psalti" and join him after liturgy on a visit to a Greek school and to vespers in a catacomb of a church adjoining a Turkish soccer field. I saw a man to whom the few young and old remaining in the once vibrant Greek community of Constantinople — a community abandoned by all of us — turned for guidance; a man who responded with simplicity and kindness. He has since become Patriarch Bartholomew.

Like most of us, I have followed the Patriarch's life and his deeds from afar, and found him to be, above all, a loving pastor and a shepherd whose faith and love have given him the strength to assert his independence from those forces, overtly or covertly hostile to the Patriarchate; from those who would use the Patriarchate for any purpose but that of preaching the word of God, love and reconciliation.

I see a man who has reached out to his fellow Orthodox brethren, to the Church of Rome, to those who never accepted the Council of Chalcedon and to all of the ecumenoi in an effort to bring them together in love.

On a temporal level I see an educated and pragmatic man who, with his Synod, will not bow to the pressures of those defeatists who could close the door forever on the longest, and in many ways the most profound, part of our history.

I see a man who understands the strengths and the spiritual needs of our community. In this respect, I have heard his emissary Bishop Spyridon speak in New York about the need for Orthodox unity in the Americas, one that comes about naturally through dialogue and intercommunion and not by administrative edict; one that brings us together in love, while respecting our various ethnic traditions.

And for those who are concerned that the unification of the Orthodox in this country would lead to the diminution of our Greek heritage, I can only say that you need not fear. Had you been with me at vespers in Constantinople, in that catacomb-like church bereft of light except for a few candles, when he spoke to those few mostly older survivors of our Byzantine legacy, you would have seen the Patriarch Bartholomew, the shepherd whose strength is Christ's love, is also the embodiment of the universality of a Hellenism which will not be constrained by the narrow borders of the 19th-century nationalism.

You will not find Patriarch Bartholomew orchestrating a crisis in our community, as Archbishop Iakovos did at Ligonier by falsely painting a picture of the Patriarch as one who does not recognize the needs of our community and of all of the other Orthodox in the Americas.

You will not find this Patriarch ignoring his flock, his priests and his Bishops — their needs, their thoughts, their concerns.

The time has come for a great public debate on the state of our Church. The, problems facing the Orthodox Church cannot be solved with dialogue. Our Archdiocese and its lay leadership have consistently failed to follow the example of the ancient holy Fathers of the Church, who spoke openly and freely. I pray that the representatives of the Patriarchate who are with us in the United States these days will set the stage for just such a debate.

New York City

[ The Hellenic Chronicle - October 26, 1995 - p. 12 ]