The National Herald - February 13-14, 1999

Archbishop visits Athens


Archbishop Spyridon meets with Greek prime minister Costas Simitis Wednesday in Athens

ATHENS, Greece. - Archbishop Spyridon, on an official visit to Greece, met with the country's leadership this week promising "to affirm that we shall never be divided in love, never be divided in faith, never be divided in the values and principles that bind us together as Hellenes and Philhellenes" as the American prelate put it upon his arrival at Athens International Airport Tuesday.

The Archbishop was greeted by politicians anxious to learn about the crisis he faces within his church, who urged him to do his utmost to put an end to the upheaval so that, in a less contentious atmosphere, the Greek American community will be left undistracted to exercise its influence on Washington in order to assist Greece. They also expressed intense interest about the bonds of Greek Americans to their ancestral homeland and their desire to keep the Greek language and culture alive in the New World.

With the exception of Greek parliament speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis, who expressed openly his support for the Archbishop, the American prelate's hosts avoided studiously to take positions on the current crisis, choosing instead to urge him to live up to the "burden of his duty."

In an exhaustive series of meetings all day Wednesday, the Archbishop met with the Speaker of the Parliament, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, President Constantine Stephanopoulos, deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Education Minister Gerassimos Arsenis, Defense Minister Akis Tsohadzopoulos, and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. On Thursday, he met Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos and the mayor of the city of Athens, Dimitrios Avramopoulos.


President Stephanopoulos receives Archbishop Spyridon at the Presidential residence

His first host, however, upon his arrival in Greece, was Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, the prelate of the country's autocephalous church. The two hierarchs met for about half an hour. Immediately after the meeting Christodoulos said that they discussed relations between the two churches and the exchange of students under a common scholarship program.

Asked by reporters about the problems he faces in America, the Archbishop said that "our church fulfills its task to the fullest. Its foundations operate normally. Its hierarchy operates smoothly, just as the entire clergy and parishes do. It is natural that we have problems and difficulties... Nevertheless we face them with love, enthusiasm and optimism. If one looks at the history of the Church of America, there were always problems during the first years of every archbishop. I expected more difficulties. I assure you, the Archdiocese is in good hands, united in its hierarchy, its clergy, its parishes."

On Tuesday afternoon Archbishop Spyridon appeared before the Committees for Hellenism Abroad and Orthodoxy of the Greek Parliament. Following welcoming speeches by the committees' Chairmen the Archbishop Spyridon addressed the joint session on the theme, "Greek Orthodoxy in America Today."

According to an Archdiocesan press release, in his remarks, Archbishop Spyridon addressed a variety of perspectives concerning the Greek Orthodox Faith and People of America. He noted the foresight and wisdom of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios in the formation of new ecclesial entities in the Western Hemisphere and noted the "receptivity of the American culture to Orthodoxy and his own joy at the number of converts who have come to the Orthodox Faith through the ministry of the Archdiocese."

Following his formal address, he took a barrage of questions from committee members regarding Greek language and cultural education in America, the state of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the use of the Greek language in church services, the relationship of the Archbishop with his predecessor, Archbishop lakovos, and his support regarding Greece's burning national issues. Regarding Greek education in the archdiocesan system of parochial schools, Spyridon said that he is in favor of cooperation with Greece on that subject as long as it is built on "honest foundations" so that it can produce the desired results. "This cooperation must succeed," he said, "otherwise it will add more wounds than produce benefit."


Spyridon with Archbishop Christodoulos, the prelate of the Church of Greece

As members kept pressing him on the issue, the prelate finally said that it doesn't "hurt" if Greek American children learn to "scribble a few letters" but that if they do not get around to learning Greek, they should at least have Greek mores and a love for the country of their forefathers.

Regarding Greek national issues, the Archbishop told his audience that we should not approach the US leadership only when we need some favor. Such approaches require careful preparation, he said. He also noted that the Archdiocese is attempting to approach large Jewish organizations in the US.

Earlier, in an interview with the Athenian newspaper Adesmeftos, the Archbishop raised eyebrows by claiming that he enjoys a "personal friendship" with President Clinton.

Commenting on the use of Greek in the Divine Liturgy, the Archbishop said that the Divine Service should be conducted in a language intelligible to the People of God. This position has always been consistent with the Archbishop's support, for the Greek Language and Culture Commission that he appointed last year, to assess and design programs that will increase the appreciation and achievement of Greek communities in these fields.

As for his relationship with his predecessor, Archbishop Iakovos, Spyridon said that it is a "warm one."

In a meeting with Athens mayor Avramopoulos, the Archbishop invited him to be his "high guest" at the upcoming Greek Independence Day parade in New York. The move was bound to displease, the parade's organizers, the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, who are considering an invitation to Avramopoulos as the parade's grand marshal. The Archbishop is himself a candidate for grand marshal.


Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Greek parliament

As part of his trip, the Archbishop visited the Acropolis, where he vowed to begin a crusade for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece from Britain, and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A private dinner with US Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns was scheduled for Sunday evening following the Ambassador's reception in Spyridon's honor at his residence.

During his trip, the Archbishop was accompanied by Bishop Philotheos of Meloa, Bishop Alexios of Troas, John Catsimatidis, the vice chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, Peter Papanicolaou, the president of the Cyprus Federation of America, Archimandrite John Heropoulos and Archdeacon Elias Villas.

The Archiepiscopal party stayed at the Hotel Grande Bretagne across from the Greek Parliament on Constitution Square.

[ The National Herald  -  February 13-14, 1999 - pp. 1 and 5 ]