The Dallas Morning News - August 20, 1999

Greek Orthodox Church's embattled U.S. chief resigns

He had been criticized for authoritarian style

[ Washington Post ]

Archbishop Spyridon, the embattled head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, resigned Thursday after two years of disputes with clergy and laity of the country's largest branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. According to church leaders, Archbishop Spyridon, 54, was ousted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who rules over the Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere. Archbishop Spyridon, who is being reassigned to Turkey, will be succeeded by 71-year-old Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthena, in Northern Greece; his appointment as head of the 1.5 million-member American archdiocese will be announced Saturday in Istanbul.

Word of Archbishop Spyridon's resignation Thursday brought shouts of joy from Greek Orthodox Christians who had called for his removal, denouncing his "authoritarian" leadership style.

"I'm so happy for my church when I reflect on the last two years. It's been a nightmare," said John Collis, a Cleveland neurosurgeon and executive director of Greek Orthodox American Leaders, a 2-year-old opposition group.

Others were disheartened.

"I was shocked and disappointed," said John A. Catsimatidis, chairman of a business conglomerate and president of the Archdiocesan Council, a group of priests and lay leaders who advise the New York-based archbishop. "I felt that Archbishop Spyridon has come a long way in putting things together in America."

Archbishop Spyridon was elected in 1996 to succeed 85-year-old Archbishop Iakovos, a beloved and influential leader who led the Greek church for 37 years.

Raised in Warren, Ohio, Archbishop Spyridon was the first American-born Greek archbishop, and many believed he would be sympathetic to the ways of American Orthodox Christians: their need for having a voice in administrative decisions, such as how the archdiocese's finances would be handled; the practicality of using English instead of Greek in the Divine Liturgy; of placing pews in churches instead of making worshipers stand, as is the Orthodox tradition; of allowing women to sing in the choir and giving them increased responsibilities in parishes.

Instead, Archbishop Spyridon introduced an authoritarian leadership style more common to Europe, where he had received his theological education and spent his professional career, Mr. Collis said.

In January, the heads of the American church's five dioceses asked for Archbishop Spyridon's resignation.

[ The Dallas Morning News | August 20, 1999 ]