Athens News - February 11, 1999

Spyridon pledges to work for closer Greek-American ties

THE DOORS of power swung open yesterday for visiting Archbishop Spyridon, who has been received by the Greek government with the type of honours normally accorded a head of state.

President Costis Stephanopoulos, Premier Costas Simitis, parliament speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis and Education and Religion Minister Gerasimos Arsenis all met with Spyridon yesterday, underlining in a variety of ways the heavy burden placed on the Greek Orthodox Church in America as the single most important unifying factor for the country's almost two million Greek Orthodox Christians.

Though there were no substantive statements made immediately after the meetings with Stephanopoulos and Simitis, Spyridon later underlined at a press briefing that he was prepared to intensify his efforts to promote Greek national issues. "I assured the president and prime minister that the Greek community is not only well disposed towards but also intent upon contributing to the promotion of these issues," he said, adding that this task was already underway, with his efforts to build "closer ties with the American political leadership".

"The archdiocese and the Greek community will make all possible efforts to exhaust all existing means to effect progress on these issues," Spyridon emphasised.

Spyridon has been strongly criticised for not being as vocal a proponent as his predecessor, Iakovos, who during his 37-year tenure developed close ties with a series of presidents and top political leaders in the US and developed a high political profile on such key national issues as the Cyprus problem.

But Spyridon is apparently intent upon proving his critics wrong. "We could speak of a new type of relationship between the Greek community [in the US] and the Greek state. A whole new spectrum of relations is developing, beginning with issues of collaboration and ending with efforts to contribute to the solution of our national problems," said Spyridon in the clearest statement yet that he intends to fulfil Greece's expectation that he be a vigorous both religious and ethnic leader.

That message seems to have been well taken by parliament speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis, who praised Spyridon for having "proven his ability to bring together his flock with love and tenderness", adding that he was "absolutely satisfied" with Spyridon's efforts to preserve "the unity of the Greek community" and to "promote our national issues in the US".

No doubt Spyridon will be getting a crash course in these issues during his one-week stay in Athens, as Deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou suggested after hosting a luncheon for the archbishop yesterday. "We want to brief His Eminence on Greece's priorities on national issues: the European Union, the Mediterranean and the Balkans," said Papandreou.

[ Athens News - February 11, 1999 ]