ETHNOS - June 4, 1998

  PAGE 14


The Phanar should never allow to be subjugated spiritually...

I know that we're approaching zero hour. To resist one needs strength, faith and optimism. And these things, even if only in a small quantity, still exist.

Conducted by  J. Frangouli

His dream of a united Orthodox Church in the western hemisphere has been fragmented into four pieces and his sense of disappointment is too bitter to put into words. Iakovos, former Archbishop of North and South America, was in Montreal this week to pray with Patriarch Bartholomew at the grave of his sister Virginia. He has lost none of the magnificent eloquence with which he captivated the Greek Canadian congregations he had ministered to for a full 40 years.

In his calm and allegorical, prophetic and topical manner, he spoke exclusively to «ETHNOS» of the need for the Archdiocese of America to remain united if it is to fulfill its national and religious role. He also spoke of Greek-Turkish relations that are leading nowhere. Furthermore he expressed his views on the Cyprus issue that is not likely to be settled as long as solutions proposed are in conflict with international interests. As to the Phanar, the ever-vigorous leader of the Greek-American community would like to see it remain in Constantinople to illuminate history with its flame, however thin that flame may be. The Phanar, the Lantern of Orthodoxy, should stay there as long as it never subjugates itself to the Turks "spiritually", hinted meaningfully the former Primate who now occupies his time in wide reading and pursuing his thoughts through their boundless labyrinths...

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The interwiew granted to «Ethnos» by the former archbishop of North and South America, Iakovos, is as follows:

Ethnos: Is the role of the Greek Orthodox Church in America weaker now that the Archdiocese of North and South America has been broken up into four entities?

Iakovos: I'd like to believe that it is not. But it's hardly possible for an Archdiocese that extended from the northernmost point of Canada to the southernmost point of South America not to have been somewhat shaken, because this division into independent dioceses doesn't reinforce the central idea of unity and coordinated action on major church and national issues or social questions. I think that some weakening, fortunately small at present --I hope that it doesn't grow bigger--, has taken place.

In spite of this, the Patriarch's visit to America last year and to Canada this year has contributed to an understanding of various things the ordinary public cannot grasp.

I hope the gatherings that took place on the Patriarch's arrival were not simply passing affairs, but a promise made by Greeks in Canada and America to achieve a stronger presence and play a weightier role in the communities in which they live.

The Archdiocese of North and South America, after being divided felt a shock. When I left I said I was leaving a united Church that no one should be allowed to divide.

Ethnos: How would you assess the current situation in the Archdiocese of America under you successor?

Iakovos: When I said farewell to the people who had come from all parts of the hemisphere, I said that I regarded them all as one family. I told them that I was placing in their hands a united Church that no one should be allowed to divide. And so I withdrew from church ministry with a clear conscience, because I had done my duty with as much zeal and with as great a sense of responsibility as I could. I had tried to activate the Greek-American community over solving major problems connected to our Greek American identity, our involvement in the country's political life, our need to overcome pettiness and to stand as one man, with our eyes filled with stars and our hands ready to build and not to tear down, with our feet firmly planted in the earth, always ready to take great strides.

Every succession entails a change; this is unavoidable and to be expected. I think the Archdiocese of North and South America, after being divided into three major parts, felt a shock. In any event, these changes, instead of serving as a motive for judgment and disapproval, should be an occasion to recover certain things (if they have been shaken out of place) and for all to concentrate on their duty: to send out the message that we are a Christian group with roots deep in the soil of history, those same roots that brought it into blossom and leaf.
I express no opinion, either negative or positive. I express only one hope: that what appears today to be a difficult state of affairs will not last for long. Problems emerge in order to be solved, not to be perpetuated.

Ethnos: The Phanar is regarded as Ankara's hostage, unable to carry out its "ecumenical" role within the Orthodox world. Many believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate's headquarters should be transferred to Greece or another country. What are your views on this issue?

Iakovos: This school of thought belongs to the second decade of the twentieth century. The Phanar is a Church and retains the name of "Phanari"(lantern), even if once it was a lighthouse. Today it remains a lantern with a small flame at which the winds have blown but have never been able to put it out. The Phanar would not be able to be more active or play a greater ecumenical role anywhere else. It will stay there not only because Ecumenical Orthodoxy started out from there, but also because geographical shifts in no way guarantee freedom of action or the scope for initiatives of broader form.

From 1453 to the present is no short period of time. There have been worse periods of history than the present one, and yet the Phanar has survived, thanks to those few who know how to guard their treasures. There is no other possibility, such as, for instance, "Again, after years and ages, it will be ours again".

As long as that small flame exists to illuminate the night, the Phanar will not leave from there. As of yet we haven't sold out anything; let's not sell out what we've got left. There's nothing we could take in exchange for the Phanar, no geographical or political or historical advantage, none whatsoever.

What often gives rise to concern is whether, in the end, the Turks will subjugate the Phanar spiritually. Personally, I'm not afraid of that. But to avoid subjugation and to resist one needs strength, faith and optimism. And these things, even if only in a small quantity, still exist at the Phanar. The duty of all Greeks, those in Greece and in the Diaspora, is to turn their eyes towards the Phanar, draw light from it and pour a little oil in its lantern so that its small flame doesn't go out. Leave the Phanar where it is to illuminate, even if dimly, our hopes for a better tomorrow.

Ethnos: There's still the issue of the Phanar's biological viability...

Iakovos: That's a hard question. I don't know. I know that we're approaching zero hour. But who am I to foretell when we shall reach zero? Therefore, as I accept my own littleness in the face of this great historical question, I would reply that he who gave Byzas of Megara the idea of passing through the Hellespont's straits and of uniting the Black Sea with the Aegean, he who inspired Byzas to build Byzantium from scratch, he perhaps should shine forth once again so that there may be a new beginning from zero. I don't know ...

[ Translated from Greek ]

[ ΕΘΝΟΣ - June 4, 1998 - pp. 1 and 14 ]