San Francisco Chronicle - September 15, 1999

Greek Orthodox to Welcome New Leader
Church replacing archbishop who resigned amid turmoil

By Don Lattin

Hoping to put a bitter power struggle behind them, leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States are gathering in New York this week for the enthronement of their new spiritual leader, Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthena, Greece.

Demetrios, 71, replaces Archbishop Spyridon, who resigned last month after a conflict-ridden, three-year reign over the 1.5-million- member Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Using the latest technology to influence ancient rites of church succession, Spyridon opponents deftly employed the Internet to rally opponents of the archbishop, who was accused of autocratic rule and not respecting democratic reforms in the American church.

“It has been three years of strife and division,” said Metropolitan Anthony, the bishop of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco, who presides over a jurisdiction that includes seven Western states. Anthony was among a group of U.S. bishops who traveled to Istanbul in January to request that international church leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, replace Spyridon.

While archbishops are usually appointed for life, Spyridon, 54, did not take long to alienate bishops, priests, seminary professors and some of the church’s wealthiest benefactors, setting the stage for a major power struggle. Spyridon was the first Greek Orthodox Archbishop to be born in the United States, but he had spent most of his church career in Europe. “Once you alienate the priests and the bishops, what do you have left?” Anthony asked. “He also didn’t understand the role of laymen in the American church.”

Spyridon clashed with two reform groups in the Greek Orthodox Church working for greater self-government in the American church, the Chicago-based Orthodox Christian Laity and Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL), a group formed to oust the archbishop. “GOAL played a role,” said Anthony. “In this age of instant communications, they used the Internet to bring problems to the fore.”

The Rev. Robert Stephanopoulus, dean of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York, and one many priests who publicly clashed with Spyridon, agreed that computers hastened Spyridon’s downfall. “GOAL included a number of prominent lay people, and they used the Internet to energize people across the length and breath of the church. That’s something new,” Stephanopoulus said. “Church coalitions can be formed very quickly.”

GOAL’s Web site, located at, was founded in the summer of 1997 by two Greek Orthodox laymen —Harry Coin, an industrial software developer, and a dentist, Dr. George Stevens. Both were upset about the ouster of four seminary professors at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

Over the past year, their site got more than 5 million hits. Last month, when the Spyridon crisis reached a peak, the site got more than 112,000 hits from more than 10,000 visitors in just two days. Last weekend, leaders of the movement welcomed Demetrios and announced that GOAL and Voithia were going out of business.

“We thank God for having made it possible for Voithia to play a role in this struggle for the heart and soul of the church,” they said in their final posting on the Internet.

Spyridon’s successor, Metropolitan Demetrios Trakatellis, was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, but taught at Holy Cross seminary in Massachusetts from 1983 to 1993. Ordained as a priest in 1964, he also served as an auxiliary bishop to the Archbishop of Athens in the 1960s. He is scheduled to arrive in New York tomorrow and be installed Saturday at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

“Hopefully, we will have a new beginning,” said Metropolitan Anthony, who plans to fly from San Francisco to New York tomorrow to welcome Demetrios.

[ San Francisco Chronicle - September 15, 1999 - p. A7 ]