The National Herald - April 11, 1998

Church Life In America Is Being Trivialized

By Theodore Kalmoukos

BOSTON. - Archbishop Spyridon chose the Greek Independence Day Parade in New York on March 29 to demonstrate yet again the dramatic lowering of standards of behavior he has introduced as the spiritual leader of our Church in America over the past year and a half. Instead of a timely speech worthy of his position and appropriate to the nature of the day, he delivered a diatribe promising to "isolate" those that criticize his policies and official demeanor. While delivering his speech, the Archbishop literally trembled with anger, his voice rising to a screech as he repeatedly pounded his archpastoral staff onto the podium.

The crowning moment in an altogether appalling performance came right after the speech, when the Director of the Archbishop's Office, Archimandrite John Heropoulos, seized the microphone and started urging the crowd on with cries like "Zito o Arhiepiskopos" ("Long live the Archbishop!") and "Axios! Axios! Axios!"). But the crowd was already frozen in disbelief. Then, in an effort to show closeness to the people, the Archbishop, accompanied by a few trusted allies, began walking the route of the parade, pumping hands and looking like a candidate for the local Assembly. Other supporters followed him, urging the crowd to sign proclamations of support for His Eminence and expressing a desire for him to remain in his position as prelate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

An eyewitness characterized the Archbishop's speech and behavior as "a message of hatred and a move of desperation." For us, suffice it to say, it was an untimely and unwise move, in appropriate to the vocation and office of an Archbishop. It was the sight of an intemperate man driven by plainly inept advisors. It was a sign that the Archbishop keenly feels that the reservoir of popular good will that accompanies any hierarch is running extremely low, with the prospect of his replacement becoming more and more real.

That is why a national crusade aimed at keeping the Archbishop in his position has begun. Largely out of fear for their careers, many priests have become levers of pressure on behalf of Spyridon, reduced from stewards of God's mysteries to signature collectors. The feelings they express in private conversations are, of course, diametrically opposed to what they do publicly. The priest's fears are very real. Spyridon himself warned them some time ago of the consequences of disloyalty. We have reached such a level of baseness that the narthex areas of our churches have become places of signature collection, confrontation, conflict, and verbal abuse.

Not all priests are driven by fear though. Some go out of their way to support the Archbishop out of hope that they might be promoted. Priests like Fr. Pavlos Papalexiou of Astoria, Fr. Cleopas Strongylis of Corona, Fr. Paul Palesty of Flushing, all in New York, as well as the brothers Frs. Marcopoulos, show special zeal in the gathering of signatures. Of course, the path they have chosen represents a gamble, to say the least. If the Archbishop were to be replaced soon, as sources tell The National Herald, they may find their careers as well as their reputations m ruin.

Even monks from the "army" of the mysterious Fr. Ephraim, the spiritual father of Fr. George Passias, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, are participating in the pro-Spyridon campaign. In grocery stores and other Greek-owned establishments, proclamations have been posted asking for support and signatures. In addition, there has been an orgy of misinformation by media friendly to the Archbishop.

The words and deeds of Archbishop Spyridon are damaging the Ecumenical Patriarchate. After all, it was the Patriarchate that appointed Spyridon to his present position, and it is the Patriarchate that is feeling the tremendous pres sure to relieve him of his duties.

It is increasingly evident that under Spyridon the omogeneia is slowly descending to a situation akin to that of the pre-Athenagoran era, while Spyridon's stewardship is becoming the butt of jokes in ecclesiastical circles the world over. But, for us Greek Americans, the fate of our church is not a joke. The vulgarization of of our church-life, and the accompanying fanaticism, are leading the omogeneia toward a state of divisiveness unknown since the 1920's. The consolidating work of Archbishops Athenagoras, Michael and Iakovos is being systematically undermined.

The creation of the Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL), whose Chicago convention a few weeks ago resulted in a call for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios to remove Spyridon, is a response to this feeling of jeopardy, a feeling of imminent danger to the future of the the Church in America which, despite any past mistakes and omissions, has existed as a Church of superior ethos, united and prosperous.

It is ironic, but Archbishop Iakovos, the former prelate of America, should be grateful to his successor. With his disastrous conduct, Spyridon contributed decisively to the cementing of Iakovos' reputation as a great church leader. On many occasions in the past, The National Herald strongly criticized Iakovos' adminlstrative missteps. But while the former prelate did commit serious mistakes, it must also be said that he safeguarded unity and protected - indeed enlarged - the Church's prestige, lifting it to previously unknown levels of admiration. Above all, Iakovos behaved, both publicly and privately, as a hierarch who respected the position of Archbishop.

Archbishop Spyridon is, once again, in Constantinople this week. Officially, the purpose of his trip is to discuss the Patriarch's stay in the United States next month, when Bartholomaios is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from Yale University on his way to Canada. He is also there to ostensibly discuss planning for the July Clergy-Laity Congress to be held in Orlando, Florida.

But the reality is different. "O kombos eftase sto hteni" ("The knot has reached the comb"), as the Greek saying goes, and the Patriarchate is increasingly feeling the pressure to act to salvage the situation in America.

The purpose of the mtense signature-gathering and the "spontaneous" expressions of support for Archbishop Spyridon is to deceive the Patriarch and his second-in-command Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon into believing that all is well in America, save for some "hotheads" who challenge the Archbishop out of incurable nostalgia for his predecessor

We cannot but trust that both Bartholomaios and Ioakeim can discern between truth and fiction, reality and artless propaganda And we can not but trust that they will react appropriately In selecting Spyridon for America, both men blundered badly. Now they are called to "sacrifice" him -with the appropriate decency and decorum - in order to save the Church in America.

[ The National Herald - April 11, 1998 - p. 1 and {?} ]