Spyridon ... The Legacy
Encyclical on the 75th anniversary of the Asia Minor Disaster *)
( September 30, 1997 )
To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils, Monks and Nuns, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth and all devout Christians of the Holy Archdiocese of America
Dearly beloved people in the Lord,
This past month of September marked one of the darkest events in the recent history of our Church and People, the Asia Minor Disaster. Seventy-five years, three fourths of a century, have elapsed since that time, but the memory of that terrible Golgotha remains indelible and continues to make our soul shudder, seizing our spirit with awe every time its anniversary returns. But beyond that Golgotha, there is a luminous Resurrection. Let us look to that Resurrection as we consider this year’s anniversary, because in its brightness and light we live and move and have our being.
Hellenism did not die in Asia Minor in 1922; it was resurrected in European Greece, in the West and in other parts of the world. The famous apostolic churches of the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate were resurrected in new lands, with their ancient or with renewed names. In Greece we behold New Smyrna, New Philadelphia, New Ionia, New Cosmos, and many more centers throughout that country which enriched and renewed the local Church.
Immediately after the Asia Minor Disaster, i.e. the ethnic cleansing of the Hellenic presence in Asia Minor, the Ecumenical Patriarchate established in America and in Europe Archdioceses which celebrate 75 years of life and unceasing growth this very same year. These two ecclesiastical centers, which were resurrected by the Great Church of Christ, became the inaugural signposts of a new period in the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. From them, the Great Church has given new life to new Archdioceses and Dioceses which adorn her and the world of today.
Thus, the Golgotha of 1922 became the starting-point of a new history, which renewed local churches and transplanted the Greek Orthodox tradition of Christianity to the ends of the inhabited world. Never before had the Ecumenical Patriarchate been so widely spread geographically as it is today. Indeed, the losses suffered during the period that followed the Asia Minor Disaster were made up by the fact of its astonishing expansion to the uttermost parts of the earth. The more one delves into the details of this 75 year old history, the more one realizes the magnitude of its importance and draws the profound conclusion that the awe that is inspired by Golgotha is succeeded by an equal, if not greater awe that is inspired by the Resurrection.
This pattern of church history, which the present anniversary manifests to us, helps us understand or, better, discern the meaning of our experience as a local Church and even as individuals. Do we not suffer even today a certain Golgotha -- sorrows and tribulations, trials and sacrifices? We certainly do, although it has different forms and intensity. Yet it is true, now even as then, that without Golgotha there is no Resurrection. New life always springs out of sacrifice and death. The small or great trials which we encounter, are, in fact, the cross, which we need to take up so that we may truly follow Christ and fulfill our calling and destiny. "In the world", said Christ to His disciples, "you will have tribulations", and we too are in the world. Yet He also added that other saying, "But, have courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Neither Hellenism nor the Church was destroyed at the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922, for, as Christ foretold, "even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it" (Matth. 16:18). This is the perspective of faith, which we employ today in order to evaluate aright that terrible event. The perspective of faith never fails, and this is why life, rooted in faith, is unconquerable and undiminished. From this viewpoint, the Asia Minor Disaster has ended up finally in victory. This victory, a truly bright one, a resurrection, is none other than the establishment and growth of our Archdiocese of America, which immediately succeeded that Disaster. We discern it more clearly today when 75 years of continuous growth and development have elapsed. In history, as the Great Patriarch Photios said, church realities are altered along with the political ones. This is what the Mother Church did and continues to do when extraordinary difficulties arise. Her strength and glory are revealed at critical moments. On such occasions, she shows that her mindset is unshakably attached to the sacred deposit of faith in the Lord. It is this kind of unwavering attachment that manifests her primacy among her other sister Orthodox Churches.
In a few days, we will welcome the First Leader of Orthodoxy, His Holiness our Ecumenical Patriarch, who will come from the sacred Center of our Church, the enduring and venerable throne of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople. He comes to rekindle us with the same, eternal, hopeful and saving message of the Lord: Have courage, I have overcome the world. His sacred presence, however, will remind us of the most sacred churches of its jurisdiction in Asia Minor, whose sacrifice became the occasion of our own birth into existence. Along with them, His Holiness will remind us of those words of the Apostle, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you and I make up for what is lacking in the tribulations of Christ in my flesh for the sake of His body which is the Church, of which I became a minister according to God’s dispensation which was given to me for you..." (Col. 1:24). He will also remind us of that other apostolic admonition: "Thus my beloved and most desired brethren, my joy and my crown, remain loving in the Lord... I beg you to have the same mind" (Phil. 4:1-2). Let us prepare ourselves with appropriate contemplation and prayer to welcome him like the Apostle who rejoices in his sufferings for us, or like the just Job who comes to visit the new children which the Lord has granted him, as he told us in his new year message to us.
I admonish paternally all of you, who constitute the fullness of our Archdiocese, priests, lay leaders and monks, to see to it that memorials prayers are offered for those brethren of ours who fell or were sacrificed on the sacred apostolic lands of Asia Minor in 1922. I encourage you to undertake fitting activities for projecting the importance of that great historical event which constitutes a birthday and a starting point for our ecclesiastical existence today.
With much paternal love in the Lord,
Archbishop of America
[ Spyridon, Archbishop of America (1996-1999), The Legacy, Athens 2005, pp. 384-386 ]
*) Protocol Number 155/97