Orthodox Observer - June 1998
An Interview with Archbishop
Following is an interview of Archbishop
Spyridon by the Orthodox Observer on
major issues of the
you are nearing completion of two years
as head of the church in America. How
would you assess the changes you have
brought about since your enthronement?
When I arrived in this my native land,
the land of my birth, after so many years
abroad, I was struck by the success and the
achievements of our Greek Orthodox communities around the country. It is rare that
any such grouping of people, religious, ethnic or otherwise, should make such advancements within a new society in so few
generations. This is surely a testament to
their faith and to their perseverance.
Coming to such a dynamic land, particularly after such a long tenure by my revered predecessor, Archbishop Iakovos,
presents numerous challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, there is tremendous activity in the communities, which are
desirous for growth and expansion -- an
expansion that is based on including a wider
a wider circle of people who have been
drawn into our Church through marriage
and a commitment to seeking the true faith
in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the institution of the Archdiocese had adjusted
to a particular style and temperament,
which might not have been ready for a fresh
upsurge in activity and creativity.
My purpose, as the spiritual leader of
this Church, has been to re-invigorate the
spiritual dimension of the life of our Communities. This really does not represent
change per se, but a re-commitment and
re-dedication to an authentic Orthodox
Christian witness here in this blessed country. In the process, I have been puzzled
that this commitment to Greek Orthodox
tradition has been misinterpreted by some
people as a negative change, a "roll-back,"
or backward turning for our Church.
The reality is, despite the inaccuracies
of rumors, that our Archdiocese is a diverse
body of people united principally by our
Faith and our liturgical life. Accepting the
diversity of each other, while maintaining
the unity of our Faith and our liturgical life,
is a challenge that requires flexibility, faithfulness, and ultimately, love.
What has been the greatest success
and greatest disappointment you have experienced during your ministry thus far?
In a position like mine, as President
Truman remarked --where the buck stops--
one should not speak of successes. But I
can speak of where I see the most hopeful
signs are for the future of our Church, and
this is in the area of education and inter-Church and inter-faith marriages. Not that
we have achieved our goals yet, but we are
re-orienting the Church to address the
burning issues of adult commitment to the
Faith and the acceptance and inclusion of
non-Orthodox and even non-Christian
spouses in the life of the Church.
ARCHBISHOP SPYRIDON reaches out to children on a recent parish visit.
I suppose my greatest disappointment
lies in the fact that there is a spirit of fear
that has taken hold in some quarters of the
Church. There is a fear that as the Church
matures and develops here in America, that
we might lose some of the essential quality
and character of our American experience.
I, for one, have no such fear, because I believe that the essential nature of the Church
will always prevail, despite our human
weaknesses. I hope that as we go forward
together to the new millennium, we will all
find that there is nothing to fear, but as
another American president said, fear itself.
And I think that free and open communication, good will, and honest intention are the
keys to dispelling fear and renewing hope
You recently invited members of
the group GOAL to meet with you at the
Archdiocese, but they have declined. Do
you see any possibility for an open forum at the Clergy-Laity Congress to discuss issues of concern among the delegates?
As Archbishop for all the Greek Orthodox in America, my office door is always
open to people of good faith and good will.
I am sincerely sorry that the members of
GOAL did not take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue, so I have invited them
again and do hope they will respond. But I
think it is important to remember, that even
though someone might identify him or herself with this or that group, they are first
and foremost a child of God.
Throughout my travels throughout the
Archdiocese, and the literally tens of thousands of people who have reached out to
me, I have never asked anyone whether
they were a Republican or a Democrat. I
appreciate that individuals have concerns
and issues, and even band together, but the
Church is not composed of parties and lobbies. We are all members of the Body of
Christ. I hope that we never forget that.
As for the Clergy-Laity Congress in Orlando, this will be my first as Archbishop,
and I am sure that there will be lively dialogue and debate in the committees and
forums, as well as the training sessions. The
programs have been tailored this year to
providing the participants with a meaningful experience, which will equip them to
return to their communities and better
serve the cause of the Gospel.
A major complaint of these "extra-ecclesial groups" has been that you have
diminished the role of laypersons in decision making and leadership positions
in the Church. How do you respond to
I think what we have occurring in the
life of our Archdiocese would be more accurately described as a misunderstanding or
a mis-communication. As the Church, the
Body of Christ, each member has his or her
role, and contributes to the health and
growth of the Body through their service.
Historically, the Archdiocese of America
has a full complement of lay involvement of
lay persons at a variety of levels, all in accordance with the Charter and the Uniform
Parish Regulations of the Archdiocese.
None of the roles traditionally assigned to
lay people have changed. However, we
must remember that the first responsibility of every Christian is to be true to his
name: Christian. Participation in the life of
the Church is preeminently participation in
the liturgical life of the Church. The Sacraments, and chiefly the Divine Liturgy, are
the principle work of the Church. We all
seek to improve the day-to-day management of Church affairs, whether they be on
the Parish, Diocese, or Archdiocese level.
But the life of the Church is primarily a liturgical experience and reality. Our most
important decisions are the decisions we
make to love, to forgive, to pray, to worship, to repent, to feed the poor, to shelter
the homeless, to visit the sick and aged, to
bring the light of Christ to its full brilliance
in the world.
What do you hope the Clergy-Laity Congress will accomplish?
I am looking forward to this Clergy-Laity Congress bringing together the family of our Archdiocese in a spirit of unity
and united purpose. We have a great opportunity to bond together as brothers and
sisters in Christ, and re-dedicate ourselves and strengthen ourselves for the work of
What changes or new programs do
you plan to implement in the coming
What I expect to take place is that we
will begin building on the foundational work
that has been going on for the last two
years. This includes reorganization at the
Archdiocese, the Institutions of the Archdiocese, and the educational and inter-Faith
ministries. It is not enough just to announce
a program; it must be implemented.
Is the Archdiocese at the point
where you expected it to be at this point
His Eminence greets well-wishers on Greek
Independence Day Parade.
When you say, "Archdiocese," if you
mean the operation at the national headquarters in New York, I would say that we
still have a ways to go, before we have in
place an operation system that is functioning at the highest level. However, I am
encouraged by the faithful efforts and the
hard work that the staff is putting in.
If you mean the Archdiocese as the
national Church, I believe that we are still
finding our bearings, because our communities are facing many challenges that need
to be addressed. A great step is being taken
in the recognition that the current generation of Greek Orthodox Christians and all
subsequent ones will not be able to rely on
the sociological, ethnic and linguistic forces
which bound them to the Church. Our
people must be Orthodox by choice, not
by accident of birth or marriage. Working
to make this a reality in their daily lives is
the greatest challenge that we all face.
How do you see the Church in America in five years?
Once we cross over the bridge to the
new millennium, we will find that many of
the challenges we face are the same ones
we are facing today. Our Greek Orthodox
communities are now part of the mainstream of America sociologically and economically, but our religious impact has yet
to be felt. We have been described as the
"Fourth Major Faith" group in America, but
with this designation comes great responsibility. We have the joyful -- and because
of Christ, light and easy -- burden to share
this Faith with others. I look forward to the
day when we are not only recognized by
others for what we have intrinsically, but
we offer to the greater American culture.
What administrative changes, if
any, are you considering for Holy Cross
School of Theology?
As you may know, there is currently a
Search Committee actively seeking a permanent president for the School. This is
obviously the greatest change, and together
with the Board of Trustees, the most important thing we can all bring to Hellenic
College and Holy Cross is stability and continuity, something for which the institution
longs and is necessary for its success.
What is the situation regarding the
deficit that resulted from the Patriarchal
We continue to manage the deficit
which was created by receiving the commitments from the various Dioceses and
donors, as well as look to additional fundraising to cover the cost. Like anything in
life, there are pluses and minuses to any
enterprise, and I believe that even though
there were cost overruns, the visit of His
All Holiness was well worth it for the Orthodox Faithful of America, and the American People as a whole.
What has been your impression of
the Church in America that you have
gleaned from your visits to the parishes
throughout the country?
Earlier, I mentioned the dynamism and
diversity of the Greek Orthodox Communities across the United States, and would
reiterate here. We are a vast community,
much bigger than we may think, and much
more diverse than we may assume. We
have parishes that use very little Greek anymore, and we have parishes that use very
little English. The resurgence in the appreciation of the Byzantine tradition of our
Church is now extending beyond icons and
architecture to renewed interest in worship
and personal devotion. I am encouraged
by the openness of our Faithful to the possibilities contained within their own tradition, and I think that now is the time to help
make that tradition come alive. I am grateful to the clergy, the lay leaders, choir members and Church teachers across our Archdiocese who are responding to the challenge of sharing our traditions with their
brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe that
we have the energy, resources and dedication to secure and instill these traditions in
our children and hold fast to that which has
been handed down to us.
What has been your major frustration over the past year?
I wouldn't speak in terms of frustration, but rather in terms of challenge. The
Archdiocese of America is a huge enterprise
with many complexities. For one person,
the Archbishop, to engage the whole
Church simultaneously on every level is a
real challenge. I am grateful to the countless lay people and clergy who have offered
their time and assistance in order to help
me with the work of the ministry, and I look
forward in the future to developing better
networks of cooperation and communication to more effectively conduct the work
of the Church. But I never forget, that all
we accomplish is ultimately by the grace
of God, as we are receptive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
What would you advise young men considering the priesthood?
My advice would be to seek God
within the depths of their hearts and test
the vocation that they perceive. We all
know that our need for priests is greater at
this moment in the history of our Archdiocese, than it has ever been. But I also believe that God knows our needs even better than we ourselves. If a young man has
the calling, God will lead him to fulfill that
[ Orthodox Observer | Vol. 63 - No. 1146 | June 1998 | pp. 6-7 ]