The GreekAmerican - September 26, 1998

Archbishop Spyridon Marks His Second Anniversary


By Evan C. Lambrou


I was born a competitor. That's my nature, and it's not likely to change.

Upon the completion of the second year since his enthronement as Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon took some time to visit some issues of concern in the following interview. When asked to preface the interview with his thoughts on his first two years as Archbishop, His Eminence stressed that struggles within the Church are signs of unity in the future:

I was born a competitor. That's my nature, and it's not likely to change. In spite of some of the difficulties we have encountered, so far, I think we're on the right path from the standpoint of our rich ecclesiastical history. It's a path that will lead to greater unity among Greek Americans and all Orthodox faithful in this great and blessed land.

Consistent with statements he made in his enthronement speech in 1996, the Archbishop reasserted his intention to promote and advance Hellenic and Orthodox Christian studies:

Greek studies and Orthodox Christian studies, our cultural and religious education, need to be cultivated further. Without these two rich and vital elements, all we'll do is build a house on sand; in other words, a house that will not stand because it has no solid foundation.

The Archbishop also assured that there is no merit to the question of a rift between himself and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the rumor that he is going to be relieved of his archiepiscopal duties here:

I've heard the rumors that there is supposedly a chasm between myself and the Patriarch, between the Church in America and the Mother Church. But the truth is, I'm here. And I am continuing to work for the good health and welfare of the Church in America. It is what I was sent to do. It is what I am expected to do.

As far as the rumors go, well, the problem is that we live in a society that, because it's a democratic society, everybody thinks he can be President or Archbishop.

The fact of the matter is that the new guard is coming in, and the old guard is going out. This bothers some people, of course, but that's normal. I mean in human terms, it's certainly nothing out of the ordinary. Some people don't like change, but every new beginning requires new development so that the existing structure doesn't stagnate. It's part of the growth process....

There is no distinction between the Church here and the Church there. We are one and the same. Our relationship with the Mother Church should be, and is, harmonious in order for the people of God to progress toward salvation.

The Archbishop went on to share his thoughts on paraecclesial movements within the Church:

I would rather not speak in terms of this group here or that group there. We have to deal with people in general and individuals in particular.

Behind certain movements, you will always find a small group of people pushing an agenda. It's usually people who have some sort of interest that they want to emphasize, and because of their allegiance to a politically driven ideology, they often take it too far. Such movements do not represent the majority of our faithful, however. They do not assert the objective truth, only their partial version of it. It's a pity, but such movements do not reflect the actual life of the Church.

What's important for us to do is to examine how such movements can fit within the framework of the Church and her tradition. The effort, of course, is to find a way for people behind such movements to work not only with their Archbishop, but with themselves.

After his opening remarks, the Archbishop fielded the following questions:

Q:  Your Eminence, what was the great success of this year's Clergy-Laity Congress, in your view? Do you think any changes ought to be made in the way the Congress functions in the future? If so, what sort of changes do you think can be introduced to make the Congress a more effective part of the Church's body?

One should be able to receive the message of the Church at the Clergy-Laity. I don't think the message of the Church came out as well as it could have. The Congress, as it is currently structured, has a parliamentary character. In other words, because of its political structure, the full message of the Church is impeded. Its political character makes it less of a Church event because everything is conducted in a secular, parliamentary way.

A:  I believe that we need to see the Congress in the context of the whole life of the Church. The Clergy-Laity was designed to be an opportunity for the parishes throughout the Archdiocese to come together and exchange ideas and programs for the general betterment of the Church. The business aspects of the Congress should be considered as part of the shared stewardship of the people of God.

It being my first Clergy-Laity, my experience of the most recent Congress, our thirty-fourth, was one of an increased awareness of the diversity within our own community, and of the need to re-emphasize the spiritual nature of our work at such events. I believe that the greatest strength of this year's Congress was its interdisciplinary educational programs. Not only were they well-attended, they presented an integrated approach to parish ministry. Ministry is what the Clergy-Laity should be all about.

Over and above that, we need to make sure that the Congress is an expression of the Church. One should be able to receive the message of the Church at the Clergy-Laity. I don't think the message of the Church came out as well as it could have. The Congress, as it is currently structured, has a parliamentary character. In other words, because of its political structure, the full message of the Church is impeded. Its political character makes it less of a Church event because everything is conducted in a secular, parliamentary way.

Of course there is business to conduct, but it should be conducted in a less political way. For example, there was a motion made during one of the plenary sessions to reinstate the priests I reassigned as professors of the [theological] school, and a vote was taken (there were approximately one-thousand delegates in the auditorium, but only a little over five-hundred of them voted. The vote was 260-255 in favor of reinstating them, a mere difference of five). One of the main arguments I heard afterwards, and I think it is a valid argument, is that not all the people present voted; there were a lot of abstentions, but noone counted the abstentions. (The fact that the vote was so close, and the fact that so many people abstained, indicates that.) A movement could easily have been introduced to counter the motion. Anyway, the motion was passed only as a recommendation, so people who feel otherwise didn't need to fight it.

But the point is that such lobbying efforts do not properly and accurately reflect the life of the Church, so it's important for us not to waste our time lobbying. We should spend more of our time discussing, say, the issue of mixed (interfaith) marriages. This is an issue that is quite peculiar to the Church in America, and it introduces a whole other dimension to the life of the Church here. We need to study this issue more extensively. We need to determine how to take advantage of the inherent strength of this phenomenon to enhance the work of the Church. A careful study and analysis of this phenomenon will help us overcome whatever challenges it presents to the life of the Church here.

Q:  The Church in America is anticipating changes in her charter. What needs to be done with the charter specifically, in your opinion, and what is the charter's place within the framework of the Ecumenical See, of which the Church in America is an extension? Does the elevation of our bishops to metropolitans affect the charter in any way?

The point is that such lobbying efforts do not properly and accurately reflect the life of the Church, so it's important for us not to waste our time lobbying.

A:  We need to understand the Archdiocese Charter, which is granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as a living and dynamic document. At the same time, however, we should be careful not to ascribe a semi-divine character to it. Changes to the charter must be allowed to undergo the normal process (i.e., committee work and approval of the Clergy-Laity Congress).

We have commented extensively on the liturgical honors bestowed upon the ruling hierarchs of each diocese. Their canonical elevation does not impact the charter, except for liturgical usage (their commemoration), which, canonically speaking, is clearly of a temporary nature.

As to future changes in the charter, these will follow the natural and organic course prescribed by the charter itself. Let us not forget, the charter itself is an articulation. It is an articulation of the relationship between the Mother Church of Constantinople and the Archdiocese. This relationship is much deeper than any seventy-five-year history we have enjoyed in America. Its roots stretch back to the Apostles themselves, as well as to the very nature of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

Moreover, the relationship between this Eparchy and the Patriarchate is defined by the holy canons. So we have to ask ourselves, what does the charter provide for us? It provides us with specific administrative norms which are not universal in character. The canons are of universal significance. The charter is local in its significance.

Something that applies to the Church in America (i.e., the social conditions and legal realities of the society in which any local Church finds itself) does not apply to the Church in France, so the charter of the Church in France would be different than our charter here. It is important for us to remember, too, that it is not because the canons don't apply, but because the local reality is different from place to place, that we have a charter. The charter is supposed to be an articulation of the holy canons. It must therefore be consistent with the canons of the Church, which have been set by our holy Fathers.

The True Life of the Church Leads to Unity

Q:  What, if anything, will be done with the bishoprics (e.g., the diocese of Detroit), which are currently functioning without a presiding hierarch? Does Your Eminence plan on serving as their locum tenens indefinitely? What challenges do you face in the effort to appoint bishops to those bishoprics?

A:  The election of bishops to serve the Diocese of Atlanta, Detroit and' New Jersey is an important issue for the future. Although I have tried to minister to each of these Dioceses, either through my own efforts or those of my representatives, they clearly need to have their own bishops. But because such decisions would have a long-lasting effect on our Archdiocese, they require careful consideration.

I have just completed the second year of my stewardship, and I believe it is still too early for impatience to rear its ugly head. We have time yet, and with prayer and serious study, we will move forward. I'm planning either to elect bishops or to assign archiepiscopal vicars to the Dioceses in question. They are vast Dioceses geographically, and they need episcopal supervision. To contend with and remedy the problem, I believe we need to create more bishoprics. This would engender more effective administration.

Perhaps it's something the new Charter Committee ought to consider. Whether the committee swings one way or the other on it is irrelevant. In order to do a complete job, it's simply a reality they need to consider.

Q:  Many faithful of the Church in America are Greek immigrants, and many are pillars of their respective communities. Some would say they are still the backbone of the Church here. As such, it is natural for them to be concerned about the relationship between the Church of Greece (the Church of their homeland) and the Church of Constantinople. Would you shed some light on the significance of the relationship between those two churches for us and explain the implications of that relationship for the Church in America?

A:  Indeed, although the Greek Orthodox Church in America is comprised mostly of the descendants of our immigrant forebears, we must never forget the ever-expanding number of converts who are embracing our faith, precisely because our faith maintains the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ unchanged.

All of us, as a family of believers, should have concern for our Mother Church of Constantinople and for the Church and people of Greece, who are our spiritual and, in so many cases, physical family.... The Church of Greece is, as are we, the historical offspring of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, so by inference, their relations are obviously close. What we must remember is that more than blood ties -- more than cultural and linguistic bonds -- it is the unity of faith and practice as Greek Orthodox Christians that connects us to one another, whether or not we are of Greek descent. This is manifested for us by God in the Divine Liturgy, and we pray that it may always be manifested by us through our love for one another.

Now that we have established that, I would like to say that this is the first time newspapers in the United States have expressed such a high level of interest in the Archbishop of Greece (Christodoulos, who succeeded his predecessor of twenty-four years, Serapheim, after the latter's death earlier this year). I can't explain this curiosity. But we must understand that in their hearts, the people of Greece still consider the Church of Constantinople to be their Mother Church (notwithstanding the Church of Greece' jurisdictional autonomy).

The Church of Greece evolved as an answer to a political development during a particular time in history, but such political solutions are not part of the Greek ecclesiastical consciousness. That solution was an administrative one, a practical one.

As far as we are concerned, the Church in America should be proud that it belongs to the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople, the Mother Church of all Orthodoxy. And we can define our relationship with the Church of Greece as a privileged friendship, a friendship that can be further edified by programs of exchange in various fields. We still have a lot to learn from the Church and theological schools of Greece, and I think such programs would benefit them, as well.

Q:  What is the responsibility of God's flock in America to the Great Church of Christ?

A:  As an eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, the throne of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has always been committed to the mission of the Mother Church. As Exarch of the Throne in this hemisphere, I have the interest of the Patriarchate in my heart and mind constantly as I conduct my duties.

As anyone who experienced the visit of His All Holiness (Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew) last year would know, America is a land that is thirsty for the pure spiritual waters that flow from this most ancient fountain of the Christian faith. Our responsibility to the Mother Church is more than a responsibility to our heritage. It is a responsibility to the very message of the Gospel of our Savior Himself.

Q:  What are the responsibilities of the new Bishop, His Grace Dimitrios (Couchell) of Xanthos?

A:  As has been announced, His Grace will oversee our Office of Ecumenical Affairs and SCOBA (Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America), as well as the Archdiocese' relationships with IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities) and OCMC (Orthodox Christian Missions Center, St. Augustine, Florida).

We are very pleased that Bishop Dimitrios has arrived at the Archdiocese to commence his duties. He is a man of longstanding Church experience, especially in the field of missions, and he has been brought to New York to furnish us with his missionary and ecumenical expertise. His Grace is a humble man of integrity, and he has much to offer. He is highly esteemed among the circles of the Church in America, and I never heard anyone complain about him. We are looking forward to working with him.

Q:  And finally, Your Eminence, now that a new president (Father Damaskinos Ganas) has been appointed to oversee Holy Cross, what sort of changes do you expect him to make? Will any changes be made to the curriculum of the theological school? If so, what changes and how soon?

A:  We are very confident that Archimandrite Damaskinos will lead Hellenic College and Holy Cross in a direction that fulfills the sacred mission of our beloved school. As the new president, I think we owe him the opportunity to settle in and become familiar with the life of the students and faculty. Inasmuch as he is the chief administrator of the school, he must also integrate the administrative component of his ministry there.

As far as the curriculum of the school is concerned, this is a matter for the Dean and faculty to consider as they exercise their teaching ministry. But restructuring the school's field education program is necessary, and we will evaluate this as we move along. The most important academic matter right now, however, is the need to expand the school's theological (dogmatic and canonical) curriculum. We have to do that first, and then in time, we can find a solution for the practical side of a theological education.

Thank You, Your Eminence. Happy Birthday kai Chronia Polla.

Editor's note: Archbishop Spyridon celebrated his 54th birthday on Thursday, September 24.

* Evan C. Lambrou is a graduate of Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology
in Brookline, Massachussetts.

[ The Greek American - September 26, 1998 - pp. 10-11 ]