The New York Times - September 19, 1999

Orthodox Archbishop Enthroned in a Majestic Ceremony


With jubilation and solemnity, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America enthroned the new shepherd of its 1.5 million-member flock, Archbishop Demetrios, 71, yesterday at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on the Upper East Side.

More than 300 members of the Greek Orthodox clergy from here and abroad, along with 1,200 leaders of other Christian denominations, dignitaries and the faithful packed the cathedral at 319 East 74th Street. The audience included diplomats, ambassadors, scholars and educators, and political figures like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland.

They rose as a stately procession snaked its way up the aisle to the nave where Archbishop Demetrios, garbed in a robe of white, crimson and gold, ascended to the gold-domed throne from which he will officiate at future services.

After prayers, hymns and readings by bishops, priests and deacons, former Archbishop Iakovos, 88, who led the archdiocese from 1959 to 1996 when it encompassed all of North and South America, addressed Archbishop Demetrios directly in Greek and handed him the gold and silver staff that symbolizes his elevation.

The majestic rite marked a turning point for a church that was racked by controversy during the abbreviated tenure of the last Archbishop, Spyridon, who had served since 1996. Faulted for his autocratic style, for permitting fiscal mismanagement and what critics described as his refusal to recognize that the church must serve third- and fourth-generation Americans as well as new immigrants, he resigned last month under intense pressure, without ever commenting on the allegations.

"We give thanks to the Lord for giving us a right man for this time in the life of the archdiocese," said Metropolitan Maximos, who presides over the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, which includes Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. As one of this country's five metropolitans, he holds a position one rank below the Archbishop.

He and and the other metropolitans went to Istanbul in January to implore the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to replace Spyridon. At that time they were unsuccessful and were sent home to make peace with the Archbishop.

"We are receiving a holy man into our midst," Bishop Alexios of Atlanta said before the ceremony. "He's not a stranger to us, not a foreigner. He is a man of love and an expression of God."

Indeed, there seemed to be a sense of familiarity with the new Archbishop that had not been felt with his predecessor, even though Archbishop Spyridon was born and raised in the United States and Archbishop Demetrios is Greek.

But the new Archbishop has strong roots here. He studied New Testament and Christian origins at Harvard and received a Ph.D. there in 1972 while serving as a priest in Fall River, Mass. He also taught at Harvard for several years, and from 1983 to 1993 he was a professor of biblical studies and Christian origins at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., the seat of Greek Orthodox pastoral education in this country.

"He was a professor for my son and was a great teacher," said one of the worshipers at the ceremony, Stavroula Vachicouras, of Astoria, Queens. "My son loved him."

But perhaps the most telling sign of approval came from the Rev. Robert G. Stephanopoulos, the Dean of the cathedral who had been demoted under Archbishop Spyridon and has just regained his post. Ascending to the dais at a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria after the enthronement, he flashed a big thumbs-up sign to the overflowing ballroom.

Even some of the most ardent backers of former Archbishop Spyridon's were quick to express support for their new leader. One of the staunchest, John Catsimatidis, president and vice chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, which is analogous to a board of trustees, told the luncheon: "It is time to come together, to renounce hate. No one should point fingers or look backward."

Former Archbishop Iakovos, telling Archbishop Demetrios during the ceremony that the archdiocese had been waiting for him, advised: "Tend your flock like a good shepherd, ready to sacrifice yourself, even your very life, for your flock."

In his address, Archbishop Demetrios made it clear that he intends to be a healing force and outlined three of his most immediate priorities.

They include "the cultivation and growth of our Orthodox faith," for which he advocates "an intensification of the didactic education and cultural activities and programs of our church," including revitalizing of the Holy Cross School of Theology and its associated Hellenic College in Brookline. Two years ago, Archbishop Spyridon dismissed four administrators and professors there. One of the new Archbishop's first moves was to reinstate the four.

The second priority, he emphasized, is to work to increase compassion, love and humanitarian efforts for the needy and suffering, and third -- his most pointed reference to the recent upheaval -- is "the issue of unity, concord and unanimity of our ecclesiastical body and our Greek Orthodox community in general."

"Without fear or hesitation," he said, "we are invited, beloved brothers and sisters, to set aside any difference, misunderstanding or conflict that could create differences among us, distances that shake the unity and drive away the peace of God."

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