New York Daily News - September 28, 1996

All Eyes Are On New Archbishop

By Charles W. Bell

THE PRIEST was walking along E. 74th St., toward the East River, part of the flood of people headed to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and talking about the man who would succeed Archbishop Iakovos within the hour.

"I met him at dinner last night," the priest said. Nice dinner?
"Great, but he was late," the priest said.
"Too bad."
"No, no," the priest said. "It was good."

The new man, it turned out, had a pretty good reason for his late arrival at a church in New Rochelle for vespers and a getting-to-know-you dinner with priests and for those who are married their wives. He had gone to Iakovos' home to pay his respects.

"It was very classy," said the priest, who is 35 years old, which means that he was not even born in 1959, the last time the Greek Orthodox church in the United States changed leadership.

Which is why the enthronement ceremony last Saturday was New York's hottest ecclesiastical ticket, with even late-arriving ticket holders locked out of the sanctuary, and political, civic and religious leaders packed inside like rush-hour commuters.

Iakovos, who retired last July at 85 after 37 years as leader of the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the U.S., had no trouble finding a seat.

As he entered the cathedral, the crowd burst into a long, warm round of applause. Iakavos nodded in acknowledgment, took a seat near the altar, and opened the program, which began with an acclamation for His Eminence, the Most Rev. Spyridon, Archbishop of the Most Holy Archdiocese of America, Most Honorable Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Father and Shepherd.

There may have been some regret at Iakovos' retiring, but Spyridon was greeted warmly when he arrived a few minutes later. At the end, he was cheered with the traditional cries of "Axios" (Greek for "He is worthy").

Spyridon is the fifth archbishop the diocese was founded in 1922 and, more to the point for many of his flock, the first American-born primate. He was born George Papageorgiou in Warren, Ohio, but left the United States for Turkey to study for the priesthood after finishing high school in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

(He adopted the name Spyridon, for a fourth century Cypriot shepherd who became a saint, in 1968 when he was ordained a deacon.)

As they waited for the enthronement ceremony to begin, people exchanged anecdotes about the new man, including stories that he was a computer whiz. ("Extremely computer literate," in the words of his official biography.)

They also talked about his youth the installation came three days before his 52d birthday, making him the youngest primate in America.

Spyridon governs a flock estimated at anywhere between 800,000 and 1.5 million, depending on the definition of "active" membership, divided into about 450 parishes across the United States. The church's headquarters are on the upper Ea st Side.

His appointment, by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, whose ancient throne is in what is now Istanbul and whose title gives him authority over the church in America, was made during a time of upheaval in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe and transition in the U.S. He was archbishop of Italy at the time of his appointment.

Spyridon promised to work for harmony within his flock, unity among the various other Orthodox communities and warm relations with other Christians.

"I stand ready to walk with you into the third millennium," he said.

He was so ready to get started, he celebrated his birthday one day early, last Monday, with a birthday cake decorated with four candles "no symbolism," an aide said, "just all the candles we could find."

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