Greek America - March 11, 1998

Greek America’s Exclusive Interview with Archbishop Spyridon

On February 24, 1998, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America welcomed our editor, Gregory C. Pappas to his Office in New York City. His Eminence was posed important questions about the situation facing Hellenism and Greek Orthodoxy in America today. The complete interview follows...

Q)  What can a community expect from their parish, their diocese, or their archdiocese with regards to Hellenism in America? In your opinion, is their a place in 3rd and 4th generation Greek America for Hellenism in our highly-assimilated Greek Orthodox parishes?

A)  There is a place for Hellenism in every American's thought and heart, since so many ideals and cardinal principles of our American culture derive directly or indirectly from the world of Greece. This is even truer for all generations of Greek Americans who by origin are even closer to that world to which so many peoples claim to be spiritually affiliated today.
In America, Greek culture has been diligently cultivated during the past decades by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese through its dioceses and parishes. Today the Greek American community is constantly rediscovering its cultural roots by deepening its knowledge of Greek culture. I believe that we can feel proud to be the direct inheritors of this great culture which all Americans are a part of.

Q)  Critics in Greece and the United States have criticized the Church in America for fostering the decline of the Greek language in the Greek American community. They draw comparisons to the fact that the Greek language and culture survived 400 years of Tourkokratia, yet in "the land of the free," it has died (or is dying quickly) after only a few generations. What is your comment on this?

A)  The Greek American community has undertaken serious efforts to maintain the Greek language during the past decades. Of course, we should never forget that language is only a part of our entire culture. What is important, considering the specific circumstances in which we live, is to maintain our culture and remain faithful to its spirit.

Q)  Hellenism has, over the years, taken a beating in the mainstream American media. Most recently, the December bombing of the Ecumenical Patriarchate received no immediate coverage by The New York Times and most major news organization. There has been talk of "an ultimatum" that your office gave the newspaper. Was there a dialogue between your office and The New York Times following their non-coverage of this significant event?

A)  I would not necessarily agree that Hellenism has always taken a “beating,” to use your expression. Nevertheless, when it comes to issues of human rights and religious freedom, we have not always employed every avenue available to us. Although we may not have received the level of coverage from the mass media that we deserve, the Archdiocese is working to improve communications with the secular press. We should be mindful that we are a minority faith in the U.S., and it is up to us collectively to make our voice heard.

Q)  We all know the old adage that “church and politics don’t mix.” However, as Greek Orthodox Christians, we carry a double responsibility on our shoulders once, as Orthodox Christians and twice, as Americans of Greek ancestry. Should the local parishes on the grass roots level respond and be more active to issues deemed "political," such as Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus and threats against the Greek nation? Should priests of the local parishes inform their members of such efforts coming out of Washington, and encourage them to be more active in pursuing them?

A)  As Greek Orthodox, as Christians, we should tend to consider such problems within the context of respect for human rights and religious freedom. All true members of our Church, whether clergymen or lay people, should feel concerned when basic human rights and the religious freedom of others, Orthodox or not, are being attacked or even abolished. There can be no doubt that our Christian calling imposes upon us to take a strong stand against the violation of human rights and religious freedom.

Q)  One reader wrote us a letter and was dismayed at what she had just experienced in her local parish. According to her letter, one Sunday after Divine Liturgy, the priest spoke to the community about Orthodoxy without ethnic borders. He told his parishioners that the words ”Greek,” "Serbian”, and other “ethnic epithets” acted as hindrances to true Orthodoxy. Furthermore, according to this reader, he walked to the flag pole on the altar and took down the Greek flag, telling the congregation that “this belongs in the museum of our community because it is a sign of our past, not our future” Is the Church abandoning Hellenism in this country, in favor of a “Pan-orthodox goal” Furthermore, are the individual parish priests of our Holy Archdiocese free to practice whatever policy they wish when it comes to issues pertaining to Hellenism, the Greek language and culture?

A)  In the Church of God “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female”. This of course does not mean that specific cultural elements or references should be abolished. It simply signifies that cultural factors should not have precedence over purely religious realities, over our Orthodox faith. One should also stress that not only Orthodoxy, but the whole Christian world, bears indelibly the seal of Hellenism, as the great Russian theologian George Florovsky once clearly stated.

Q)  What is autocephaly? What does it mean? Why, in your opinion have there been calls for it from certain members of our community? Why is it premature, according to high-ranking Orthodox Theologians for a nation of 60 million Orthodox believers like Ukraine (which has been Orthodox for hundreds of years) to receive autocephaly, yet those here in America think we are ready.

A)  Usually those who speak of autocephaly in this country are not fully aware of what they are advocating for. They seem to lack basic ecclesiological notions and a necessary theological background that would permit them to talk of such serious ecclesiastical problems with due authority and credibility. As a general rule, they tend to consider the Church as a secular institution and to reduce "autocephaly" to some sort of administrative "independence" of a purely external character. I seriously doubt whether such views can be considered as consistent with our Orthodox canonical or theological tradition. But even if we were to reduce this specific question to a merely practical issue, one should first be able to define the advantages and disadvantages that such "autocephaly" would have for the growth of our Church in America. I am afraid that by making superficial considerations of the sort, we are creating only confusion rather than edifying Orthodox unity.

Q)  How does the church hierarchy justify the administrative chaos of Orthodoxy in America? For example, in Pittsburgh, there is a Greek metropolitan, a Serbian bishop, as well as several other hierarchs from other ethnic and national jurisdictions.

A)  In compliance with Orthodox ecclesiological teachings, there can be only one bishop in each city. The matter is now being seriously studied by delegates of all Churches of the Orthodox family within the context of the Pan-Orthodox Preparatory Conferences for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. A definitive solution to this thorny problem will be reached by the forthcoming Council itself.

Q)  Explain the definition of "Diaspora." Is the Greek American community a true "diaspora" community? Should it be treated the same as the Greek community of Germany, or the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, or others similar?

A)  The religious term "diaspora" is usually used to define a group of faithful that exist outside the geographical boundaries of the Church which it derives from. It exists and is active as a religious minority within a broader and different religious reality which, as a general rule, tends to assimilate the members of the former. The term "diaspora" can be translated "dispersion," having a spiritual significance of wider meaning. In other words, "diaspora" can mean the seeding of the word of God through the scattering of His people throughout the world.

Q)  What is the Ecumenical Patriarchate Endowment Fund that Fr. Alexander Karloutsos has been appointed to serve as chairman? Critics, especially in Turkey, have stated that the Patriarchate has plans for a Vatican-like institution within its borders. What is the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the world? What is the significance of the Archdiocese of America's ties to Constantinople historic and ecclesiastic?

A)  Basic Orthodox ecclesiology calls for an episcopo-synodical system of governance. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the custodian of this ecclesiology. I cannot see how this system could evolve into a Vatican type of governance, if we are to remain Orthodox. Usually these sort of irresponsible accusations comes from a well-defined circle of people.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, like other Greek Orthodox dioceses (archdioceses and Metropolitinates) across the world, was established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Church of Constantinople is our Mother Church and as such guarantees our remaining faithful to our ecclesial roots which also include our canonical communion to the rest of the Orthodox world.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate carries out an "ecumenical", that is to say a worldwide mission within the framework of the Churches of the Orthodox family, by "presiding in love" over them and coordinating their presence and activities in the broader fellowship of Christian Churches. It is the first among all other Orthodox Patriarchates and local Churches. As such, as our Mother Church and as the first ranking Orthodox Church with special responsibilities within the whole Orthodox world, she should not be confronted with financial difficulties, but facilitated in carrying out her sacred ecumenical mission to the benefit of the entire Orthodox family worldwide. It is in this spirit that the Ecumenical Patriarchate Endowment Fund has been established and Fr. Karloutsos appointed as its executive director.

Q)  With the pressures imposed upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the people and government of Turkey, including the closed Halki School and the recent violent actions taken against buildings and humans there, can the Ecumenical Patriarchate continue to serve as the spiritual center of World Orthodoxy? Why, in your opinion, has the Church and the Greek American community in general, been more effective in pressuring our government to use its influence on Turkey to stay away from the Phanari?

A)  The Ecumenical Patriarchate has always met its duties as the spiritual center of world Orthodoxy, despite all circumstantial difficulties and historical adversities. As it has done in the past, so it will continue to carry out its mission in the future. Of course we must be concerned for its welfare, as, for example, Roman Catholic faithful are concerned for the center of Roman Catholicism, i.e. the Vatican. And we, living in the most powerful country of the world, are undertaking all possible steps in order to inform and keep our government alert on the afflictions and trials of our Patriarchate.

Q)  It is a fact that many of our Greek Orthodox parishes throughout the nation have become completely assimilated, or "Americanized." Liturgies are completely in the English language, Greek schools are minimal (even nonexistent) and the only thing "Greek" left about the parish is its tendencies to exploit the term for a festival here and there. What differentiates these parishes, from those of the Orthodox Church of America? Does a completely "de-Hellenized" parish belong in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America?

A)  This question has been more or less answered by what was mentioned above. What I would say again is, what really is important for us Greek Americans is to tenaciously maintain our specific Greek Orthodox church tradition. Language can play a role in this, although not the most important one.

Q)  What is the Church doing to address the alarming rate of assimilation and mixed marriages in our community? What is your approach to this serious problem?

A)  The Archdiocese has been seriously concerned with this important matter. It has established a special office dedicated to the study of all aspects connected to the issue of Inter-Church and Inter-Faith marriages. We all hope that the efforts undertaken by this office will soon result in concrete positive fruits. Soon, it should be putting together precise guidelines for priests and for people involved in these special circumstances.

Q)  What is your vision for Hellenic College/Holy Cross? Do you envision a Seminary and a College coexisting? If so, how can we turn the College into a true beacon of Hellenism and the Seminary as a true beacon of Orthodoxy?

A)  I envision Holy Cross Theological Faculty as an active center of theological thought, exempt from all tendencies of isolationism. An institution open to worldwide Orthodox theological reality. This certainly will prove to be beneficial for our future priests.
I see no reason, as some tend to see, why the two institutions, Holy Cross Theological School and Hellenic College, should not coexist. They have much to profit from each other, only if both were to become, as you say, real "beacons", the first of Orthodoxy and the second of Hellenism. This could be done if both institutions concentrated their efforts in specific academic areas not promoted by other similar institutions, thus avoiding duplication and offering, each in their own field, a unique contribution to our Church and our society.

Q)  The recent elevation of the American bishops to the position of Metropolitans has created a great deal of confusion throughout the Archdiocese because the parishes are no longer commemorating your Eminence. What does the elevation of these bishops to Metropolitans mean? What is the difference between a Metropolitan and a Bishop? And why were they elevated to the position of Metropolitans without being given true, existing Metropolitanates?

A)  Our diocesan bishops have been elevated to the rank of Metropolitans upon their own insistent request and with the consent of the Archbishop. The Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thought fit to accept their request considering their long years of faithful ministry.
However, in order that the structure of our Church not be changed (by elevating our diocesan sees to metropolitinates), the Ecumenical Patriarchate, following the canonical tradition of our Church, had to elevate our diocesan bishops to Metropolitans of other diocesan sees and thereupon, entrust them with the governance of our dioceses.
The issue of the Archbishop's commemoration is of a temporary character. It is to be seen in connection with the reality of having active Metropolitans at the head of our bishoprics. The commemoration will return to its old status when in the future new bishops will be elected for these dioceses and if in the meantime our dioceses are not elevated to Metropolitinates, as some of our diocesan clergy-laity congresses seem to be striving for.

Q)  As you know, a new organization has formed in America, calling itself the Greek Orthodox American Leaders. Contrary to original statements in the Greek press that these people were "ants" and "insignificant," many people involved are, in fact, true leaders of our Church and Community. The members of the organization are "concerned" about the current situation in our Church, with you as its leader. Should they be concerned? Is the Greek Orthodox Church in America facing a crisis at the present time?

A)  The association or organization mentioned, as well as other similar bodies, have been established without the blessings of the Church. They have been established outside, as if to be above the Orthodox Church. This is something uncustomary in our centuries-old Church tradition. As such they are to be considered as secular bodies of non-Orthodox inspiration that might have their opinions on this or the other ecclesiastical matter, but still are to be considered as non-ecclesiastical forms of expression.
As to the "crisis" you mentioned, I must in all candidness state that I see no crisis in our Church. I only see a few dissatisfied, but very active, persons. This was clearly seen during the Ecumenical Patriarch's visit to our country. These same associations or organizations were then trying very seriously to cancel or, to use their own term, "postpone" the Patriarch's trip, because according to them there was a "crisis" and the trip would have failed. The Patriarchal trip took place and it turned out to be a huge success, a real triumph which proved that there was absolutely no "crisis" and that there were only attempts to create a "crisis". I could further state that the same type of perceptions are continuously being made during my visitations to parishes across the country. I notice that our people as a whole are faithful to their Church and have no personal agendas; they are peaceful and sincerely care for the growth and unity of their Church.
As to the real or artificial character of the "crisis" mentioned, much has been written in the Athenian ("Adesmeftos Typos", "Bradyni", "Politika Themata" etc) and Greek-American Press ("Proini", "Paroikiakos Logos", "Chronografos", "Eseis" etc). It would be interesting for one to read the recent articles published by these newspapers. They offer an entirely different picture of our church situation. They also reveal quite a lot about what may be behind these attempts to break our Church unity.

Q)  You have repeatedly stated that the reassignment of any professor, past or future, from the faculty of Hellenic College/Holy Cross is being made in order to improve the academic quality of the School. However, there are serious allegations that a member of the current faculty, who is also a priest, has plagiarized an entire textbook. This individual is still allowed to teach at the school. If, in fact, he is guilty of plagiarism, should he be permitted to continue teaching?

A)  If it is proven that a professor who is also a priest has indeed plagiarized, then I would certainly not hesitate to state that this does not in any way honor the professor in question. However, I don¿t think that those who have made themselves very vocal in this matter are competent to make reliable pronouncements on such delicate issues, nor do I believe that they acted out of genuine interest for the reputation and welfare of our academic institutions. Furthermore, material that shows another, a different side of the story must not be overseen. In other words, plagiarism is a serious accusation and it must be proven first. If it is really proven, then it is to be condemned in the strongest terms.

Q)  You have been repeatedly attacked in the Greek language press in New York, and by certain individuals in the Archdiocese as an Archbishop who never smiles, who is defensive and sometimes arrogant. Particularly, your responses to questions at various public events in Weston, Pittsburgh, New Rochelle, NY, and elsewhere, have come under fire. If you had an opportunity to speak with these critics, what would you tell them? What would you ask of them?

A)  It is not accurate that the Archbishop has been repeatedly attacked by the Greek Press in New York. It would be more precise to state that since last April the Archbishop has been repeatedly attacked exclusively by only one Greek newspaper in New York, coincidentally the same newspaper that for years, if not decades, viciously attacked my revered predecessor, Archbishop Iakovos.
As to the various opinions regarding the Archbishop, I would ask you to speak to the vast silent majority which forms our communities across the country. I don't think they share the views of the small group that insists on forming the "public" opinion in our Church.
Τo the critics I would repeat the words of the Gospel "woe to the man by whom the scandal comes". The most precious thing in our Church is her unity. No one who claims to be Orthodox has the right to attempt to break this unity.

Q)  On questions specifically relating to the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese: Article I of the Charter provides that the Archdiocese is governed by the Holy canons, the Charter, and the Regulations promulgated by the Archdiocese, and that decisions of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are applicable only "as to canonical and ecclesiastical matters not provided" in the Holy canons, the Charter, and the Regulations promulgated by the Archdiocese. The Charter (Article XXIV) provides that it may be revised only upon the request of the Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress and the subsequent approval and ratification of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Was the Charter violated when the Ecumenical Patriarchate changed the name of the Archdiocese to "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America" and excluded Canada, Central America, and South America from the Archdiocese, without any request of the Clergy-Laity Congress, even though Article I of the Charter provides that the name of the Archdiocese is "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America" and that it serves all of the Greek Orthodox living in the western hemisphere?
Furthermore, Article IV of the Charter provides that "the Archdiocese is comprised of dioceses, the number, diocesan sees and boundaries of which are designated by the Archdiocesan Council subject to approval and ratification by the Ecumenical Patriarchate." Additionally, Articles IV, VII, VIII, and XIV of the Charter provide for diocesan bishops. Has the Ecumenical Patriarchate reduced the number of dioceses without any action by the Archdiocesan Council and has the Ecumenical Patriarchate designated the diocesan bishops as Metropolitans of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thus eliminating the institution of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Archdiocese?
The Charter (Article IX) also provides that priests and deacons commemorate the Archbishop and their bishop, and the bishops commemorate the Archbishop during liturgies and services. Has the Ecumenical Patriarchate changed the prescribed commemoration, thus violating the Archdiocesan Charter? Please explain the above actions.

A)  It is a regular Orthodox canonical practice, i.e. it is consistent with the Sacred Canons of the Church, that when a diocesan (or archdiocesan or metropolitan) see is vacant, the superior ecclesiastical authority (in this case the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) has the capacity to reduce the size or rank of that particular ecclesiastical unity, if judged necessary. On the other hand, the size and/or rank may be elevated while the see is occupied.
All agree that the "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America" was too large in size. Consider also the enormous cultural, linguistic and social differences between the countries in which these dioceses (South America, Canada, Central America) exist and our American reality. It had been proven extremely difficult for one bishop to administrate all these dioceses from a distance. One should not forget that in the past 37 years, my revered predecessor was able to visit South America and Panama only a few times and only rarely went to Canada. It was simply impossible to administrate all these parts of the Archdiocese out of New York.
There is no doubt that the canonical change that took place was absolutely necessary. We can already see the positive fruits of this canonical act. The dioceses separated from the Archdiocese are now far better administrated and cared for spiritually.
Regarding the commemoration of the Archbishop, I believe I answered your question above. As to the number of dioceses of the Archdiocese and to the institution of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Archdiocese, the canonical re-definition of the boundaries of the Archdiocese to be co-terminus with the United States of America has not involved a decrease of diocesan Sees in America, which should be the salient point for the average Greek Orthodox Christians. I see no reason to begrudge our Canadian, Central and South American brothers and sisters an identity of their own. If we are to be truly Orthodox, we must learn to embrace the diversity of our own community. Let us be proud of being Greek-Americans, not chauvinistic. There is room in the Church for everyone.

Greek America would like to thank His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet with our Editor, Gregory C. Pappas in New York City.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  March 11, 1998 ]