Associated Press - September 22, 1996

Orthodox In America Get New Head
Archbishop Spyridon Is New Spiritual Leader Of 1.5 Million

By Verena Dobnik

Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned Saturday as the first U.S.-born head of the Greek Orthodox church in America, promising to build a Christian ministry relevant to life in a multi-ethnic country.

“We must love those who are different,” he told a congregation of more than 1,000 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

“What we see all too often is a destructive politics of identity,” he said.

Spyridon, 51, succeeds Archbishop Iakovos, 85, who retired in July after serving 37 years as spiritual leader of 2 million Greek Orthodox faithful in North and South America. That archdiocese now has been divided into four, and Spyridon heads only the United States metropolitanate, which has 1.5 million of those faithful.

Applause and shouts of “Axios!” - meaning “worthy” - rang out in the cathedral on Manhattan’s Upper East Side cathedral as the new archbishop accepted the symbolic shepherd’s staff and embraced Iakovos amid chanting and bell-ringing.

Spyridon, born George Papageorgiou in Warren, Ohio, said he would use his post “to learn about your concerns, dreams and expectations, not as a podium from which to dictate.”

He said he would expand the teaching of Greek language and culture in a church built by hardworking immigrants, but added that the modern church also should embrace the “American mosaic” of many creeds and races.

“It is no betrayal to join ourselves to a new nation,” Spyridon said.

Among those attending the two-hour ceremony was George Stephanopoulos, senior adviser to President Clinton. His father, the Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos, is the dean at Holy Trinity and his mother, Nikki Stephanopoulos, is communications director of the archdiocese.

In addition to hundreds of Orthodox priests and bishops, the ceremony was attended by Roman Catholic and protestant church officials from around the United States. Spyridon previously served as the Greek Orthodox metropolitan in Italy, where he was active in maintaining ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, was represented by Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon.

Spyridon was elected July 30 in Istanbul, Turkey, by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which dates to the Byzantine Empire.

[ Associated Press - September 22, 1996 ]