The Dallas Morning News - September 18, 1999

New leader of Greek Orthodox in U.S. says crisis will pass

[ Associated Press ]

The new leader of the nation's Greek Orthodox Christians said Friday that he is confident he can restore peace and cooperation to a church riven by unhappiness over its previous leader, a man criticized as unable to relate to his parishioners. Archbishop Demetrios, 71, who will be enthroned Saturday, told The Associated Press that Christian love and unity would overcome these "events of crisis."

His archdiocese is America's largest Orthodox group, with a reported membership of 1.9 million. It has undergone two years of unprecedented turmoil over the leadership of Archbishop Spyridon, who resigned under pressure last month.

Priests and lay activists complained that Archbishop Spyridon - the first American-born leader of the U.S. church - was abrasive, high-handed and out of touch with his flock.

A lay group, the Greek Orthodox American Leaders of Cambridge, Mass., or GOAL, began working for his ouster in 1997, a year after he was appointed to lead the U.S. church. In January, all five U.S. regional bishops, called metropolitans, sought Archbishop Spyridon's removal. They said the church was "suffocating in an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, insecurity, lack of trust and vindictiveness."

Normally, Orthodox hierarchs serve for life.

Choosing his words carefully, Archbishop Demetrios admitted Friday that, after such tumult, "the picture of the hierarchy might have appeared in a way that diminishes authority and prestige." But he added: "With positive steps, this could be restored."

The archdiocese's charter calls for the archbishop and bishops to govern together. The U.S. metropolitans complained bitterly that Archbishop Spyridon didn't consult them.

He also must deal with accusations of financial mismanagement within Archbishop Spyridon's administration. "Rumors go from very serious to serious to not so serious," he said. "Our faithful would like to know exactly where we stand."

Archbishop Demetrios has spent most of his career in his Greek homeland, but he earned a doctorate at Harvard and spent a decade teaching the New Testament at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., before moving back to Greece in 1993.

Demetrios Constantelos, a historian at New Jersey's Richard Stockton College who has known Demetrios since 1946, calls the new archbishop the type of leader who "does not get excited. He speaks with confidence, and he can disarm belligerent people."

[ The Dallas Morning News | September 18, 1999 ]