The Church Messenger - October 6, 1996
Reflections Of Bishop Nicholas on Enthronement Of Archbishop
ORTHODOX PRELATES of the Archdiocese and SCOBA join His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated on Sunday, Sept. 22 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. Joining them is His Grace, Bishop Nicholas (second from left) of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese.
A new era for the Orthodox Church in the United States was ushered in last week with the enthronement of His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon of America at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York. It was the culmination of several spirit-filled days, where the new Exarch was able to become acquainted with many of the bishops, priests and faithful that would now be part of the vast Eparchy that has been entrusted to his archpastoral care. I was honored and privileged to be part of this historic occasion in the life of the Church. Permit me to share some of my impressions with you concerning this memorable event, which will undoubtedly have a profound impact on our Holy Orthodox Church for years to come.
Since his election as Archbishop of America on July 30th by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we have all eagerly awaited the arrival of Archbishop Spyridon. As we looked forward to his enthronement as the spiritual leader of 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America with great anticipation, we could not overlook the irony of his appointment. Although born and raised in the United States, His Eminence had spent his entire priestly life abroad, and was, therefore, relatively unknown to the American Church! I accompanied the bishops of the Greek Archdiocese to JFK Airport in New York to greet the new Archbishop on Thursday, Sept. 19. The instant that Archbishop Spyridon arrived from his long and tiring overseas flight, we could sense that he immediately felt as if he had "come home." After being warmly greeted by the new Exarch, the bishops joined him in the airport press room, where he addressed the reporters gathered there, making himself available for all of their questions. All of us were impressed with the open, yet dignified manner with which the Archbishop dealt with the press, which is never an easy task! The Archbishop was then taken to Archdiocesan headquarters in New York, where he had the opportunity to meet all of the members of the Chancery Staff. A brief service of thanksgiving for his safe journey was offered by His Eminence in the Chapel of St. Paul at the Chancery, where he placed flowers before the icon of the Theotokos.
"Jet lag" did not seem to be a concern for Archbishop Spyridon, for the next day — his first full day in New York — was filled with activity! We saw why His All-Holiness, Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, described the new Exarch as "...a tireless worker in our Lord's vineyard." Early Friday morning, we bishops joined Archbishop Spyridon at an informal breakfast, where he took the time to speak with each of us individually. I was surprised and humbled that he remembered the days we were classmates at the Patriarchal Institute on the island of Halki for a brief period of time. I took the opportunity during this private audience to invite the Archbishop to visit our Diocese at his convenience, which he promised to seriously take into consideration. Later that day, we traveled to Holy Trinity Church in New Rochelle, NY, where Archbishop Spyridon presided at Vespers. Following services a special dinner was prepared for all of the area clergy and their families at the parish community center. Prior to dinner, the Archbishop took the time to greet the many priests who were in attendance. He endeared himself to those present at this wonderful affair by speaking of the significant role that a priest's wife plays in her husband's ministry. He assured the presbyteres that he will always find the time to hear and address their concerns. During the banquet program, the Archbishop was presented with an episcopal staff on behalf of the clergy.
Saturday, Sept. 21 — the day of Enthronement — dawned as a day filled with brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies. It was as if our Heavenly Father was marking this occasion with His personal blessing! The New York City Police closed the streets in the immediate vicinity of the imposing Holy Trinity Cathedral to vehicular traffic at an early hour. This upper East Side neighborhood took on an atmosphere reminiscent of some ecclesiastical gathering in ancient Constantinople! A red carpet extended nearly a block down East 74th Street. The street was lined with Greek children of all ages, ready to shower their new Archbishop with flower pedals. Young men and women in ethnic garb also gathered along the route of the procession. The media was well-represented, for the Enthronement Service would be broadcast live on the Faith and Values Network.
At last, the long-awaited moment had arrived! Hundreds of clergy led the procession into the Cathedral. Each Orthodox jurisdiction had their designated clergy representatives, with the Very Rev. Michael Rosco, dean of the New York-New Jersey Deanery being ours. Next in procession were the non-Orthodox clergy dignitaries, followed by the SCOBA Bishops, other Bishops of the Greek Archdiocese and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joachim of Chalcedon, personal representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Enthronement. Finally, Archbishop Spyridon, amidst the joyful pealing of the church bells, entered his new Cathedral. It was indeed, an emotional moment, as those who filled the Cathedral to capacity broke out into spontaneous applause as they cried out "Axios" from what seemed to be the very depths of their souls. The melodic Byzantine tones rendered by the Cathedral Choir, directed by Dr. Dino Anagnost, greatly enhanced the solemnity of the ceremony. A message from His All-Holiness, Bartholomew was read by Metropolitan Joachim. Documents were read, officially confirming Archbishop Spyridon's election to his new position. It was then time for the new Archbishop to address the immense throng that had come to witness this significant day in the history of the Church. His message (printed in its entirety elsewhere in The Church Messenger) was a positive one filled with hope that Holy Orthodoxy will play a prominent role in spreading the Gospel of Christ throughout America. He emphasized the necessity of Orthodox of all ethnic backgrounds to work together in harmony and unity, as well as the importance of reaching out and embracing all Christians of different persuasions, so that we can live "as one" in this great land of ours. He took time in his remarks to acknowledge the works and accomplishments of those who labored before him: Archbishop Alexander, Archbishop (later Patriarch) Athenagoras and Archbishop Michael. Finally, His Eminence fondly remembered Archbishop Iakovos and his 37 years of service as Archbishop of North and South America.
The magnificent Grand Ballroom of the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in mid-town Manhattan was the scene of the Enthronement Luncheon honoring His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon. Over 2,000 people were in attendance. The guest list of dignitaries was a virtual 'Who's Who of religious, civic and political leaders, most of whom had respectfully attended the church service earlier in the day. Among those present were: The Hon. George E. Pataki, Governor of New York; The Hon. Paul S. Sarbanes, U.S. Senator from Maryland; His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; the Most Rev. Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee; and the Hon. Michael Bilirakis, U.S. Representative from Florida. The dais guests were introduced by John Defterios, CNN Business Anchor. The fact that there was a four-tiered dais should be a good indication of just how many dignitaries took time from their busy schedules to pay their respects to the new Archbishop. General Chairman for the Enthronement was His Grace, Bishop Sotirios, with Alex G. Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers football team, serving as luncheon chairman.
The day's festivities were not yet over! Following the Enthronement Luncheon, we again joined the Archbishop for Vespers, this time at St. Nicholas Church in Flushing, NY. This is one of the largest Greek Orthodox parishes on the entire East Coast, and it was filled to capacity as hundreds of faithful parishioners gathered to greet the new Archbishop. Children of the church parochial school greeted His Eminence with flowers and with the sign of "Ton Despotin: Many years to you, 0 Master." Responses to Vespers were sung by the Holy Cross seminarians from Brookline, MS. Following Vespers, a reception was held in the parish center, where Archbishop Spyridon tirelessly mingled with his new flock, gave his undivided attention to the young and old alike. It was clear that he had touched the hearts and won the affections of many on this long but fruitful day.
What a spiritual joy it was for me the next day to concelebrate with all of the Bishops of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese at the first Hierarchical Divine Liturgy served by His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Once again, "standing room only" was the order of the day, as the prayers of the Holy Liturgy were offered by the clergy and faithful in Greek, English and Slavonic. Many came forward to receive the Holy Eucharist, following the Liturgy a memorial service was celebrated. After this, the Archbishop personally distributed the "antidoron" to everyone present, showing his desire to be a pastor to all.
These are but a few of the memories I will always treasure from those "four special September days." The Enthronement is over...but a new chapter in the glorious history of the Church is just beginning! "I stand ready to walk with you into the third millennium of Christianity." These words were part of Archbishop Spyridon's initial message to us. May we joyfully accompany him on this exciting journey, united in our common purpose of making Christ known in a society that desperately needs to know Him!
[ The Church Messenger - October 6, 1996 - pp. 1 and 8 ]