Patriarch Rebuffs US Church
Orders "Blindly Loyal" Archbishop Back
ISTANBUL-Sharply rebuffing the Holy Synod of the U.S. Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew ordered his "blindly loyal" Archbishop back to America.
The Patriarch acted on Tuesday January 12 during a meeting in Istanbul with his own synod, the five Metropolitans of the U.S. Synod, and the Archbishop. The American Metropolitans unanimously insisted that Bartholomew demand the resignation of the Archbishop, Spyridon.
Bartholomew's response was swift and emphatic. "He will be your Archbishop until the day he dies," the Patriarch reportedly told the U.S. Metropolitans.
U.S. Church members were devastated. "It's a black day for our Church," said Dr. Thomas Lelon, former President of the Church's theological seminary in Boston, and an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Lelon is one of two Executive Directors of Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL), a group that supports the U.S. Synod and has led the movement for Spyridon's removal.
"To have the Patriarch turn on us by sending back an Archbishop who is a mismatch for America has left us grieving for our Church here and for the Ecumenical Patriarchate," Lelon explained. "But Christ built this magnificent Church through our parents and grandparents, and we will not let anyone destroy it," Lelon emphasized. "While we will always love our Mother Church, we cannot support the actions of this Patriarch," Lelon added.
Bartholomew's selection as Patriarch was approved by the Turkish government in 1991, after his predecessor Patriarch Demetrios died under questionable circumstances shortly after his return to Istanbul from a visit to the U.S. (Please see "Inside the Ecumenical Patriarchate" by Fr. C. N. Dombalis.) Bartholomew abruptly announced the resignation of revered former U.S. Archbishop Iakovos in 1995, a few months after Iakovos convened a pan-Orthodox meeting of 29 U.S. bishops in Ligonier, PA, that called for steps toward Orthodox unity in the U.S.
Bartholomew promptly rejected that call. Ironically, Iakovos had convened the Ligonier meeting after Bartholomew had sent Spyridon, who was then Metropolitan of Italy, as his official representative to deliver an inspiring message to the Church's national Clergy-Laity Congress in Chicago in 1994 calling for steps toward Orthodox unity in the U.S.
Bartholomew named Spyridon as Iakovos' successor in July, 1996, despite serious questions about Spyridon's qualifications for the job. At that time, Bartholomew delivered a speech in which he announced that Spyridon's "crowning qualification" as Archbishop of America was his "blind loyalty" to the Patriarchate. That statement shocked many theologians, because Orthodox theology calls for loyalty to Christ, not to any worldly institution or individual.
During his brief tenure in the U.S., Spyridon has caused an unprecedented public rift in the ranks of the previously staid U.S. Church. The five Metropolitans of the U.S. Synod, former Archbishop Iakovos, over 150 parish priests, the Chairman of the Archdiocese's $40 million endowment fund, GOAL, and the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) have all publicly broken ranks with the Archbishop.
Last summer in Orlando, the Church's Clergy-Laity Congress voted to ask the Archbishop to reinstate four priests whom he had removed from their positions as professors at the Boston seminary after they refused his orders to cover up an incident of alleged homosexual abuse there. The morning after the vote, Spyridon got a standing ovation by paying lip service to the vote, but that afternoon he announced to the press that he would not reinstate the priests.
More recently, Spyridon unilaterally sued GOAL in federal court to try to prevent it from using the Church's membership list to mail its newsletter. After losing in the district court, he filed an appeal on Christmas Eve.
The OCL last year called for a united self-governing Orthodox Church in America, independent of any of the old-world patriarchates. That view is increasingly shared by many rank and file U.S. Church members. A few parishes have recently withheld or threatened to withhold financial support from the Archdiocese in protest over the actions of the current regime.