Associated Press - August 20, 1999

Embattled head of the US Greek Orthodox Church calls it quits

New York - The embattled leader of the United States' 1.9 million Greek Orthodox Christians resigned.

Archbishop Spyridon, the first American-born leader of the U.S. church, indicated that he was forced out, saying he resigned "for reasons totally independent of and unrelated to my personal intentions."

Spyridon, unable to fend off critics who argued that he stifled dissent and was behind the times, had appeared to have the support of the world leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, Turkey.

Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, had come under strong pressure from Orthodox leaders in the United States to replace Spyridon. Some had threatened to break away from the patriarchate and declare an independent church.

Bartholomew announced that Spyridon will be replaced by Metropolitan Demetrios of Greece, who has studied and taught in the United States and is considered to have a base of popularity to build on.

Spyridon, 54, was born in Warren, Ohio, but has spent most of his life in Europe. Critics claimed he could not relate to parishioners who are third- and fourth-generation Americans and feel less and less tied to Byzantine and Greek traditions.

Spyridon claimed he was only trying to protect the church's values and traditions.

A lay group, Greek Orthodox American Leaders of Cambridge, Massachusetts, began working for Spyridon's ouster in 1997, a year after Bartholomew appointed him to lead the U.S. church. Last January all five U.S. regional bishops, called metropolitans, told Bartholomew that Spyridon must go.

The spokesman for GOAL, businessman Dean Popps of McLean, Virginia, said "the long ordeal and period of disorderliness in the affairs of our archdiocese appears to be over." However, Popps said Demetrios, 71, "will have a monumental task ahead of him."

Spyridon said he will serve until Aug. 30, then take a post with the tiny Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey and await reassignment.

In his statement, Spyridon referred obliquely to the church tensions. "My heart is clean of any malice, ill will, or judgment of others," he said.

He added that he enjoyed the loyalty of "the vast majority of the faithful."

[ Associated Press | August 20, 1999 ]