PCUSA News - August 15, 1999

Spyridon to Attend Meeting about U.S. Church Leadership

Some Greek Orthodox Congregations Threaten to Withdraw Unless He's Replaced

by Chris Herlinger
Ecumenical News International | 9-Aug-1999

NEW YORK - Archbishop Spyridon, leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, will return to Orthodox headquarters in Istanbul later this month for meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos to discuss his future as head of the archdiocese, according to media reports.

At a meeting last month between Archbishop Spyridon and church leaders at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the archbishop was, according to the reports, given a month to work out differences with a number of U.S. parishes and dioceses critical of his leadership of the 1.5 million-member church, the biggest Orthodox church in the United States. The church falls within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Mark Arey, Archbishop Spyridon's spokesman, told ENI that no date had yet been set for the meeting in Istanbul, but that it was likely to take place after the middle of the month.

Arey described the media articles about the ultimatum, reported by the international agency Associated Press, among others, as "a very broad statement." But Arey also said he was not trying to "minimize" the situation, since it was clear that "there are serious concerns" before the church.

The spokesman added that neither he nor the archbishop would respond to what he called "hyperbolic" press coverage by the media in Greece - where the Orthodox Church world-wide is a matter of general interest - over Archbishop Spyridon's leadership.

But Arey confirmed that Greek media had reported that the Ecumenical Patriarch may be considering naming Archbishop Spyridon as his representative to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva. The post has recently fallen vacant following the retirement of Georges Tsetsis who devoted more than 30 years of his ministry to ecumenism.

Arey said he knew nothing more about the possibility, and he expected the archbishop to remain as head of the church in the U.S.

"I have absolutely no reason to believe otherwise," Arey told ENI.

For more than a year, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been caught up in controversy over Archbishop Spyridon's leadership.

In June, the Clergy Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston, Mass., endorsed, by a 58-51 vote, a call made earlier this year by five U.S. metropolitans (bishops) for Archbishop Spyridon to be replaced. The critics accused him of governing the church in an authoritarian manner.

The archdiocese was "suffocating in an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, insecurity, lack of trust and vindictiveness," the metropolitans said in a statement in January. Patriarch Bartholomeos, who appointed Archbishop Spyridon to succeed the popular Archbishop Iakovos in 1996, rejected the metropolitans' request.

The controversy has raised the spectre of a damaging split within the church. A leading lay dissident group, Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL), has been leading criticism of the archbishop. GOAL has run a campaign to persuade parishes to withhold funds from the national archdiocese.

GOAL issued a statement in July, during Archbishop Spyridon's visit to Istanbul, saying that if the Ecumenical Patriarch made what it called "another mistaken appointment," activist movements for an independent U.S. church would "grow and thrive" and "full financial withholding [would] become a daily centerpiece of Greek Orthodox life in America."

"We are determined not to be hoodwinked again," said GOAL spokesman Dean Popps, pledging "persistent, vocal and organized hard-core resistance."

However, apparently only a handful - less than a dozen - of the 500 U.S. parishes are withholding funds.

Arey has accused GOAL of being unfair to Archbishop Spyridon, who he said wanted the U.S. church to reconnect with its Greek roots. At the same time, Arey has stressed that some GOAL members have, in effect, been seeking an American "congregational" model of church governance, which was not possible in the Orthodox Church.

[ PCUSA News - - August 15, 1999 ]