ΕΣΕΙΣ - October 12-25, 1996

Archbishop Spyridon
Enthroned As First American-Born Archbishop

By Penny Kastaris

Archbishop Spyridon during the enthronement ceremony.

The first American born Archbishop was enthroned in New York City on September 21, 1996, signaling a new era for Greek Orthodox faithful in the United States. The ceremonies for Archbishop Spyridon, spiritual leader to 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians, began with the enthronement service at Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral, followed by a special luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

His Eminence, who was born George Papageorgiou in Warren, Ohio, to the late Dr. Constantine and Clara Papageorgiou, is the fifth Archbishop to be enthroned since 1922 when the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese was formed. He was preceded by Archbishops Alexander, Athenagoras (who later became Patriarch), Michael and Iakovos, who retired July 29, 1996, after 37 years in office.

Archbishop Spyridon, whose See is in New York, was unanimously elected to his post by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the members of the Holy Synod on July 30, 1996. Simultaneously the remaining areas of the Western Hemisphere, formerly part of the Archdiocese, were recognized into three new Metropolitanates: Toronto (Canada), Mexico (including the Caribbean and Central America) and Buenos Aires (South America) In order to better serve the needs of the Orthodox Faithful."

It has been almost four decades since Greek Orthodox Christians in America have seen an Archbishop enthroned in their Archdiocese. Over a thousand people packed Holy Trinity Cathedral, with an additional overflow crowd, estimated at 500 observers who were accommodated in the cathedral's auditorium, all gathered from throughout the United States and beyond in order to welcome the new Archbishop.

Dignitaries participating in the enthronement events included New York Governor George Pataki, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, Congressman Michael Bilirakis, Senior Advisor to President Clinton George R. Stephanopoulos, whose father Dr. Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos is the dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas of Greece, Ambassador Andreas Jacovides of Cyprus, Consuls General Haralambos Rokanas of Greece and Haralambos Kapsos of Cyprus.

The enthronement service, which was broadcast live on the National Greek Television, began with a procession outside Holy Trinity Cathedral. The new Archbishop, 51, was accompanied by Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch. They were escorted by over 200 clergy, religious and civic leaders, Holy Cross seminarians, Orthodox cadets from West Point, parochial school children and young adults.

Upon entering the cathedral, Archbishop Spyridon embraced retired Archbishop Iakovos. It was an emotional moment punctuated by applause and declarations of "Axios!" (meaning worthy) echoed throughout the cathedral.

Archbishop Spyridon began his enthronement message by stressing the importance of each member in his extended community and vowing to work with his spiritual children as the Church embarks upon the third millennium. He emphasized that "each and every one of you carries the Greek Orthodox Church in America on your shoulders."

The Archbishop, who is credited with increasing the number of parishes and reintroducing monasticism in Italy during his four years as Metropolitan, committed to beginning his tenure by visiting parishes throughout the United States, in order to grow closer to his spiritual children. As currently restructured,the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America consists of 450 parishes.

His Eminence explained, "I approach this throne as a pulpit from which to preach the Faith: not so much as a lectern from which to instruct you, but as a seat from which to learn about your concerns, dreams and expectations; and not as a podium from which to dictate, but as a platform from which to define, with your help, a vision for our Church in America."

This vision focuses on a Church of "inclusion": a Church that serves the needs of all the generations of Orthodox Christians, women and men, regardless of their social and economic status, fellow Orthodox from different ethnic backgrounds and builds bridges to the communities of other believers.

Among the observers listening to Archbishop Spyridon were also representatives from other major faiths including William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and the Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

The Orthodox faithful in attendance included the Archbishop's mother, his sisters and brothers with their families as well as his former parish priest from Tarpon Springs, Father Constantine Raptis and his former Greek School teacher from Steubenville, Ohio, Savvas Petrides who His Eminence acknowledged during his enthronement speech.

"Together we have created a new community that is partly Greek, partly American, and yet completely Orthodox," declared Archbishop Spyridon. Surrounded by clergy ranging from first-year seminary students to the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America (SCOBA), His Eminence pledged to uphold the Orthodox Faith, which has remained in tact since the time of the Holy Apostles.

The new Archbishop praised the early immigrants, who despite their modest financial resources, built 65 per cent of the Orthodox churches in America. He also vowed to "expand the teaching of the Greek language, the language of the Gospels, and of Hellenic culture in our communities."

At the same time, his message of inclusion also touched on the issue of interfaith marriages which he described "not so much as a problem as it is a promise of things that can be. It is an opportunity. Let us take advantage of it, for a church that is open to all people is a church that grows," said Archbishop Spyridon.

Ex-archbishop Iakovos (left) with other bishops during the ceremony.

His Eminence, who grew up in America as well as his father's island of Rhodes and completed theological studies with honors at universities in Halki, Switzerland and Germany, demonstrated his empathy for the diverse needs of his extended community that includes immigrant Greeks, American born Greek Orthodox and converts.

"Yesterday, our forbears needed the hope offered by America. Today, America needs the hope offered by our Church", Archbishop Spyridon explained.

Following the church service, a sell-out crowd of 2000 well wishers attended a special enthronement luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria, which was chaired by Bishop Sotirios and businessmen and philanthropists Alex Spanos and John Catsimatidis.

The day's events concluded with Great Vespers, which His Eminence celebrated at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Flushing, New York, one of the largest churches in the Archdiocese with more than 2,500 members.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America as well as the new metropolitanates remain under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate whose spiritual flock number over 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I plans to visit the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America next year for the Archdiocese's 75th anniversary.  ■

[ ΕΣΕΙΣ - Issue 198 - October 12-25, 1996 - pp. 58-59 ]