The New York Times - July 31, 1996

Ohio-Born Bishop Appointed To Head Greek Church in U.S.


Metropolitan Spyridon, the new head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States.

An American-born Greek Orthodox Bishop, Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy, was named yesterday to head the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States.

The 51-year-old Metropolitan, who was born in Warren, Ohio, and graduated from high school in Tarpon Springs, Fla., was formally elected yesterday by the 12-member Synod of Bishops in Istanbul under the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The Ecumenical Patriarch has direct authority over the Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere.

The appointment ends a period of unusual suspense and apprehension for the United States' Greek Orthodox Christians, whose archdiocese has been led by Archbishop Iakovos, a major figure on the American religious scene, for the past 37 years.

The hemisphere's Greek Orthodox archdiocese will be divided into four.

Because of Archbishop Iakovos's extraordinarily long tenure and because his retirement, announced a year ago, was surrounded by reports of conflicts with Patriarch Bartholomew, many church leaders have been torn between hopes for a new era in their church's life and fears that it could begin under a cloud. Archbishop Iakovos's retirement became effective on Monday, when he turned 85.

One sign of the new era came immediately The same governing synod in Istanbul also announced that it was dividing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America into four jurisdictions -- one for Canada, centered in Toronto; one for Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, centered in Mexico City; one for South America, centered in Buenos Aires, and one in the United States, centered in New York.

Metropolitan Spyridon will head the Archdiocese in the United States, where the church has an estimated 800,000 to two million members.

Permanent leaders of the other new jurisdictions in this hemisphere will be chosen later by Patriarch Bartholomew and the Synod in Turkey later.

The new American church leader was born George Papageorgiou in Warren on Sept. 24, 1944. He attended schools in Steubenville, Ohio, where his father was a doctor, as well as on his family's native island of Rhodes.

After his family moved to Tarpon Springs, he played on the high school football team before graduating. The Rev. Alex Karloutsos, an assistant to the Ecumenical Patriarch, said the new Archbishop had spent alternate high school years in Tarpon Springs and on Rhodes.

After high school, he entered the Ecumenical Patriarchate's seminary on the island of Halki off Istanbul. He took the name Spyridon -- Spyridon is the patron saint of the island of Corfu -- when he was ordained a deacon in 1968.

After pursuing graduate studies in Germany and Switzerland, where he also worked at the Orthodox Center in Chambesy, he was ordained a priest and appointed pastor of the Greek Orthodox community in Rome. He is fluent in five languages.

Made a Bishop in 1985, he was named the first Metropolitan of Italy in 1991. In that year, Father Karloutsos said, Metropolitan Spyridon served as the Ecumenical Patriarch's envoy to Pope John Paul II, expressing the concerns of Orthodox leaders about Vatican initiatives in former Soviet territories. Despite the strong message from Constantinople, the Pope signaled his respect for Spyridon with a kiss.

Two years ago Spyridon came to the United States as Patriarch Bartholomew's representative to the American Archdiocese's biannual Clergy-Laity Congress.

In a speech to the congress, he urged the different ethnic-based branches of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the Western Hemisphere -- Greek, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian and others -- to unite in a single body with a single set of bishops.

A year later, however, an initiative in that direction became a source of tension between Archbishop Iakovos and Patriarch Bartholomew, leaving many church members unsure of how close Spyridon was in fact to Bartholomew.

That was one reason that Metropolitan Spyridon was seldom suggested as a leading candidate to head the church here, even though his American birth and schooling fit the desires of many of the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity for a leader who was fluent in English and familiar with American culture.

During the year of speculation since Archbishop Iakovos's retirement was announced, Patriarch Bartholomew gave no public sign that he was leaning toward appointing Metropolitan Spyridon.

"The Patriarch did not want his name bandied about," Father Karloutsos said.

Demitrios M. Moschos, president of the Archdiocesan Council, welcomed the appointment.

"He meets the aspirations of the people and America," Mr. Moschos said.

[ The New York Times - July 31, 1996 - p. A10 ]
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