hellenic times - February 19, 1999

Bishops Back Archbishop Before Council


By Evan C. Lambrou


NEW YORK - Four out of the Holy Eparchial Synod's five bishops are backing off their demands that His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, resign or be removed from the helm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, they told members of the Archdiocesan Council at the council's most recent meeting February 26-27.

During the first day of the council's deliberations, Metropolitans Iakovos of Krinis (who presides over the Diocese of Chicago), Anthony of Dardanellion (Diocese of San Francisco), Maximos of Ainos (Pittsburgh) and Isaiah of Proikonissos (Denver) all said they want to forget about the recent past and move forward.


John Catsimatidis and Metropolitan Anthony look on as Metropolitan Methodios speaks.

They also said they no longer wish to be associated with the movement known as GOAL (the self-acclaimed Greek Orthodox American Leaders who are pushing for autocephaly), which the bishops all characterized as paraecclesial, a movement foreign to the life of the Church.

In light of their recent visit with the Archbishop to Constantinople, during which it became known that the metropolitans strongly recommended, even demanded, that His Eminence either voluntarily resign or be forcibly removed as chief steward of the Church in America; and given their well-publicized friendly relations with members of GOAL, this development was somewhat startling.


Archbishop Spyridon listens as National Philoptochos President Eve Condakes gives an address.

Metropolitan Methodios of Aneon (Boston) was absent from most of the Archdiocesan Council's proceedings, attending only the morning session of the first day, so he was not present when the issue concerning the conflict between His Eminence and the Eparchial Synod was raised Friday afternoon.

Nonetheless, the other four made it clear that they do not approve of GOAL's divisive activity, and that they fully intend to abide by the wishes of the Mother Church.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told the metropolitans, in no uncertain terms on January 12, that Archbishop Spyridon will remain the Archbishop of the Church in America "until the day he dies."

Sometime after the Archdiocesan Council broke for lunch on Friday, a communique from the Eparchial Synod was issued, presumably with Metropolitan Methodios' approval, as well, stating that "the Hierarchy does not identify with any lay or paraecclesial organization and consequently does not approve Their utilization by any such organization."


His Eminence Amhbishop Spyridon presiding at Holy Trinity Calhedral on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

During the lunch break, Metropolitan Maximos said that he was "tired of the metropolitans being used by GOAL or any other paraecclesial movement."

Just before the council reconvened, Metropolitan Isaiah said that the metropolitans did not intend their analysis of, and recommendations for, the Church in America to become public. He also acknowledged that the laity perceives the metropolitans are against the Archbishop, and that "some lay people have been encouraged by this perception" to be critical of His Eminence, but said that he no longer wants the Archbishop to resign. "No way," he said.

The Bishop of Denver also said that the Thursday, February 25 meeting of the Archbishop and the metropolitans, during which the filling-in of three vacant bishoprics (Atlanta, Detroit and New Jersey) was discussed, went very well. "It was the best meeting we've had," he said.

The comments by Metropolitans Maximos and Isaiah were in stark contrast with their recent criticism of the Archbishop in the March 8 issue of New York Magazine and the February 23 Rocky Mountain News of Denver, respectively.

When the council resumed its deliberations Friday afternoon, Peter Kakoyiannis of Manhattan, New York made a motion for the council to ratify the synod's statement with a resolution stating, among other things, that the metropolitans "never made an effort to undermine" the authority of His Eminence.

Such a statement would help the council, as well as the laity in general, relinquish the tension of recent months and head toward the future in good faith, Mr. Kakoyiannis said.

Clearly defensive about what took place at the Phanar in January, Metropolitans Anthony, Maximos and Iakovos rejected Mr. Kakoyiannis' proposal at first.


Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council.

"Your statement is very negative. Don't go back and place the blame on us. We went to Constantinople and expressed how we felt. We came back to America after we discussed matters thoroughly, and we have come back to work together with the Archbishop for the good of the Church. We recognize that this is a new beginning, and we realize that there are issues we still need to work on lovingly," Metropolitan Anthony said.

"For you to reaffirm our statement with one of your own reaffirms a negative discussion. What the Synod does is none of your business. You don't know the things we know. We were asked to submit our assessment of the Church here to the Mother Church. We did what we were asked to do. We don't need your help," Metropolitan Maximos said.

"It is a very negative statement because it separates us from the body of Christ, and it puts the metropolitans under judgement. Your statement will only cause more problems," Metropolitan Iakovos added.


Archbishop Spyridon with the Holy Eparchial Synod.

In spite of the Metropolitans' initial resistance, however, Mr. Kakoyiannis persisted:

"We're not the ones being listed in publications like the LEADER (an incendiary newsletter recently mailed by GOAL to some 110,000 Greek Orthodox homes). With all due respect, a statement needs to be made," he said, insisting that the statement he was proposing was not meant to be negative.

Metropolitan Anthony subsequently offered to meet with Mr. Kakoyiannis privately to work on a statement more acceptable to the Metropolitans which could be announced the next day.

On Saturday, Metropolitan Maximos read a statement which said, in part, the following: "... we oppose all negativity, destructive criticism and division, and we call upon all to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace, and we look forward to a new beginning in the life of our Archdiocese."

In an effort to clarify his reasons for resisting Mr. Kakoyiannis' proposal the previous day, Metropolitan Anthony said he did not want to "scratch and reopen old wounds."


The Bishop of San Francisco wished to emphasize, however, that even though the metropolitans made certain demands at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in January, "the Mother Church made a decision, and it is our obligation to bow before Her decree and to try again. The Ecumenical Patriarch listened to us in a very fatherly way and gave his instructions. Now that we are back, we are at base one, and I am the most firm supporter of His Eminence."

Christos Stratakis of Corona, New York then complained to the metropolitans that most of the laity think GOAL is the Eparchial Synod's "mouthpiece."


The metropolitans can not control GOAL, Metropolitan Iakovos responded, but they plan to keep their distance from GOAL.

"America is a free country, and people have the freedom to speak. But GOAL has nothing to do with us. A few priests signed a letter without our knowledge (on November 19, 99 priests circulated a letter that was meant to be critical of the Archbishop), but Church history is full of troubling times. Even the Fathers quarreled sometimes, but that does not mean there is no love. You should be pleased with our statement today, and I'm begging you, please, to close this discussion," he said.

The metropolitans can not proclaim unity or disunity, the Bishop of Chicago explained, because that would imply division, and reaching such conclusions ought to be avoided.

"Those who disagree will disagree forever. Ignore them. The Heretics never retracted their statements," Metropolitan Iakovos said.


As the meeting ended, Peter J. Pappas of New York said that he was very pleased with the way the council handled its business.

Individual parishes need to be better informed so that they do not fall into the trap of withholding money from the Archdiocese, Mr. Pappas added, and the metropolitans have a responsibility to prevent this from happening.

"The presentations at this meeting were, by far, the best I've ever seen. Raising money has been a pitfall in the past, but we're finally starting to get away from micromanaging. We have committed donors, and tomorrow, they're going to put the same dollar in the tray that they've been putting in for 25 years. But at this time, meetings are going on about how not to send money to the Archdiocese. How are the metropolitans going to deal with it? We have to provide a service to get a return. We have to go back to our communities and tell them that the Archdiocese is on the ball. It's important to get the message out loud and clear," Mr. Pappas said.


After the council concluded its deliberations early Saturday afternoon, Metropolitan Maximos said he is no longer interested in procuring the removal of Archbishop Spyridon, and that he intends to abide by the wishes of the Mother Church.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh added that in order to understand Church dynamics better, it is important for Greek Orthodox faithful in America to learn more about their rich ecclesiastical history, "and to start thinking in Church terms, not secular terms."

Mr. Kakoyiannis said he just wants the metropolitans to embrace Archbishop Spyridon. "Where do you stand? You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem. That's all I was trying to establish so we can move forward," he said.

For his part, the Archbishop stayed quiet throughout most of the council's proceedings, but he was seen sharing an occasional laugh with his fellow hierarchs.

[ hellenic times - February 19, 1999 - pp. 1 and 11 ]