Monday - December 11, 2000

The unknown war between Bartholomew and Spyridon

PAGES 27-28,37-38

( page 1 )


Why the Phanar «devoured» its own child

A revealing book brings to light the Byzantine intrigues

that led to the dismissal of the Archbishop of America

All the the behind-the-scenes of Spyridon's fall as well as the Phanar's participation in his "deposition" are disclosed in this biography. Avenging his removal Iakovos, the former archbishop, derived some satisfaction by plotting against the man his nemesis Bartholomew had chosen as the new Archbishop.

The financial and power intrigues in the Archdiocese of America, the recurring crises fomented by the Phanar, the protagonists in the ousting of two Archbishops (Iakovos and Spyridon) within the span of three years are brought to light in a revealing biography of Spyridon, former Archbishop of America. Entitled The Lonely Path of Integrity, the new book will be put out within the next few days by Exandas Publishers.

The book's author is Justine Frangouli-Argyris, journalist and correspondent of Ethnos in Montreal. Through a wealth of documentation the author reveals that the institutions were subjugated to the interests of a small, but influential group of church members. In reality, this group's activities served to mask the Phanar's thirst for absolute control over the Throne's largest and wealthiest eparchy.

Introducing some extracts from the book, published today by Ethnos, the author notes that the methods used to topple Iakovos were also employed against Spyridon, with Iakovos this time serving as an additional weapon.

A group with interdependent interests offered a thirsty Phanar the alibi needed to gradually acquire complete control over the largest and wealthiest eparchy of the Patriarchal Throne

Avenging his removal from the Throne, Iakovos derived some satisfaction by plotting against the man his nemesis Bartholomew had chosen as the new Archbishop of America.

The protagonists in the repeat performance were the "Patriarchal friends" (a handful of important Greek American businessmen and influential priests). When they saw that Spyridon would not do their bidding, they once again resorted to systematic and remorseless attacks. Every tactic was employed to undermine the Archbishop; every ethical code was violated. Today, comfortably ensconced in their administrative posts after their restoration to power, they hold the reins of the Archdiocese, offering their good services to the Phanar.

The methods used to destabilize Iakovos were also employed against Spyridon, yet with some minor differences.

The pawns in this cruel game were the Metropolitans. In their blind desire to augment their own powers, they were driven to fabricate rebellion and discord. Following Spyridon's downfall, they ended up stagnant in their dioceses, unable to usurp the authority of the Archiepiscopal Throne.

The fomenters of the simulated crisis and the organizers of extra-ecclesiastical structures were the "offended" faction at Holy Cross School of Theology, who feared that their control over theological education was threatened by a spiritual leader whose vision consisted in restoring traditional Orthodoxy.

Also mobilized in the war against the Archbishop were the advocates of autocephaly (OCL-Orthodox Christian Laity) and America's "anti-Patriarchal" circles sheltered by GOAL (Greek Orthodox American Leaders), hoping for complete independence from the Phanar.

It seems to have been Spyridon's direct involvement in Greece's national issues that annoyed the Center of Orthodoxy. It saw with displeasure Iakovos's successor following the same dynamic path of political intervention in Washington.

Ethnos today prints several pre-publication excerpts from the book. These reveal the games played by the Phanar in Greece's foreign policy issues, the express prohibitions that were issued, and the true dimensions of the conflict over Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA.

The family of three children including 3-year old Georgie before its trip to Rhodes (1947)

Serving as a deacon at his sister Mary's wedding ceremony (Rhodes - December 26, 1973)

A sharp three-year-old foreigner during his first trip to Greece (Athens - 1947)

«We are mindful of the conflict and strife
that surrounds the current situation in Kosovo».


A third-year seminarian at Halki's Theological School (November 24, 1964)

Seeing George off before he left for the great unknown were his father, sister Anthoula and young brother Manolis (Rhodes - October 11, 1966)

Brother Manolis following Spyridon's enthronement, the realization of a dream (Venice - November 24, 1991)

The Greek American Lobby : A Road Paved with Adversity

With the Patriarch's consent to handle Hellenic national issues in the vague realm of the «inalienable rights of the Greek people,» Spyridon left for New York, where his predecessor, Iakovos, had already walked the road of laurels and palms by making political moves at America's power centers.

The new Archbishop, with the label of Phanar loyalist firmly attached to him, arrived in the United States at a time when relations between the Patriarchate and Greece were going through a critical phase. The prevailing public perception was that Bartholomew intended to impose his own policy in Greek-Turkish relations on the new leader of the Church of America. All things considered, the indeterminate framework for handling national issues passed on to Spyridon seemed to suggest such an interpretation...

The recent partition of the Archdiocese of North and South America into four ecclesiastical entities (the Archdiocese of America and the Metropolitanates of Canada, Central America and South America) was widely seen in Greek-American circles as the Patriarchate's attempt to diminish the Archbishop's influence in Washington and downgrade his presence in the Greek-American lobby.

The new Primate, in his year of adjustment, tried to take stock of the situation. He concluded that public appearances and a high profile status in Washington had not been sufficient for his predecessor to overcome the chronic impasse in which Hellenic national issues lay.

The newcomer's second plan of action was to unite all elements of the Greek-American lobby under the aegis of the Archdiocese, a feat that would ensure one Greek-American voice and a unified presence in Washington.

From early on, the Archbishop moved in this direction, despite the fact that some lobby elements had difficulty dealing with the idea of uniting under a strong and influential institution, such as the Archdiocese. On March 10, 1998, Spyridon succeeded in bringing together, in Washington, representatives from all major Greek-American organizations under the new umbrella organization Hellenic American Leaders and Organizations (HALO).

Support for Bill Clinton in times of difficulty...

The Archbishop gained Bill Clinton's high regard when in the fall of 1998 he sent the President a letter offering moral support during the public uproar about the Monica Lewinsky revelations. The American President, even after Spyridon's resignation, continued to hold in esteem the dynamic leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, who hadn't hesitated to be supportive at a time when Clinton was undergoing ruthless attacks.

In the fall of 1998, after two years in office, the Archbishop was in a better position to strengthen relations with Greek Foreign Minister, Theodore Pangalos. Following his visit to New York in September of that year for the annual General Assembly of the United Nations, the minister came to look on Spyridon as an aggressive advocate of Hellenic national issues.

At the same time, the Greek Foreign Minister could see that Spyridon did not feel bound by Phanar's political perspective; he was ready to chart his own course. The old rivals now became allies.

During that same period, the Archbishop welcomed the President of Cyprus Glafkos Clerides to the Archdiocese and was in turn officially invited by him to Cyprus. Spyridon publicly accepted the invitation, only to be later instructed by the Phanar to give up all thought of making the visit. Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon left no room for argument when he called Spyridon and told him that the issue must silently fall by the wayside.

Spyridon, by now in possession of a clear and comprehensive policy on Hellenic matters, seemed determined to make an impact in mid 1998, though evidently aware of the price he would have to pay. "History would not have forgiven us for forfeiting opportunities," he said a year after his resignation in an interview with Athens-based Kyriakatiki Eleftherotypia.

Appealing to the Oval Office for a solution to the Cyprus problem

An excellent opportunity to make his voice heard both as a Greek and as an Orthodox churchman came with the bombing of Kosovo in the spring of 1999. On the second day of the bombing raids (March 25, 1999), Spyridon, accompanied by a delegation of Greek-American leaders and Greek Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Grigoris Niotis, was invited to the Oval Office by President Clinton to receive the American President's Annual Proclamation celebrating Greek Independence Day. Spyridon's meeting was only one of two that had not been deferred under the strain of events.

As the Greek-American community's leader, the Archbishop, seized the opportunity to raise the Cyprus issue, and asked Clinton's personal mediation to bring about a just and viable solution. With regard to the NATO bombings in Kosovo, he said:

«We are mindful of the conflict and strife that surrounds the current situation in Kosovo. Many lives are now at risk, and we pray that God, in His providential loving care for all humankind, will illumine the path of peace and righteousness, so that the force of arms may give way to the terms of a just and lasting peace. We offer our prayers for those who are in harm's way: our own American service men and women, the civilian population, and all those whose lives have been so afflicted by the continuing conflict.»

Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Grigoris Niotis disapproved of Spyridon's stand on Kosovo. He was put in a difficult position because Greece, as a NATO member, was taking part in the Kosovo war activities. At the same time, the Greek politician saw leadership potential in the Archbishop, who had made his intentions clear about bringing the whole Greek-American lobby, including the Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), under his aegis. According to the Greek government's plan, it was later revealed, SAE would take over the political leadership in Washington, and Spyridon's unexpected initiative was not particularly welcome.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop traveled to the Phanar that turbulent July of 1999. While he was working on a joint action by HALO organizations on the Cyprus problem, and preparing a memorial service at the Cathedral of Holy Trinity in New York for the victims of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, rumors of his imminent replacement were rampant. The Greek press reported at that point: "Cyprus dooms Spyridon."

The backrooms of power anticipate Spyridon's fall

«The ministry of Archbishop Spyridon of America seems to have an expiration date before the anniversary of Turkey's invasion of Cyprus. He was summoned to Constantinople today, Sunday July 12, to be briefed on the Patriarchate's resolutions concerning the future of the Church in America as well as his own ministry henceforward.

»Greek-American circles estimate that the Patriarch's haste in calling on Spyridon to travel to the Phanar immediately is due to Bartholomew's profound concern about the Archbishop's intense efforts to advance the Cyprus issue. Such action will result in rigid demands made to President Clinton in a letter to be signed by the entire Greek-American lobby.»

In taking a new aggressive stance on Hellenic national questions, Spyridon found enthusiastic allies in Cypriot-Americans, Greek-American organizations, and members of the general public who were eager to join their voices to his. The Phanar, however, disapproved of the Archbishop's vigorous policy, because it threatened the Patriarchate's long-established status in Turkey and upset its equilibrium in the realm of local relations.

Meanwhile, Grigoris Niotis, the Greek Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, responsible for Greeks abroad, openly backed Spyridon's initiatives. But he was greatly troubled by the Archbishop's systematic efforts to coordinate a lobby that went as far as placing SAE under the aegis of the Church.

While Spyridon was ending his time in office in the United States with dignity and relentless industry, some circles in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Greece and in Greek-American backrooms of power were spreading the word that his end was near because his remarks about Kosovo had personally upset President Clinton!

The truth, however, is that right to the end, the Archbishop enjoyed the esteem of the President who, as he told his Greek friends, believed that this American-born Orthodox Christian leader offered a new outlook for Hellenism in the United States. Bill Clinton's farewell letter to the former Archbishop of America leader speaks for itself: "Throughout your inspired tenure, you have enriched the lives of countless others and stood as an example of faith to our nation and the world. You have worked tirelessly to serve the Ecumenical Patriarchate, fostering an atmosphere of compassion and fellowship and tending to the spiritual needs of those who look to you for guidance" (October 13, 1999).

Head-on Collision At Holy Cross School Of Theology

Spyridon'd first encounter with the Metropolitans of North and South America.

A carefully devised sex scandal at Holy Cross School of Theology was to provide the first focus for organized opposition to Spyridon (1997). This was the key to the outbreak of a war impending between the Hellenocentric and the Americanocentric forces at the theological institution...

The Archbishop found the Holy Cross landscape dismal even before he arrived at his new post.

The newly arrived church leader was intensely troubled by the Protestantization of theological teaching and the overall liberal orientation taken by the Archdiocese's most significant educational institution. In a report to the Phanar dated August 28, 1998, his assessment left little room for misinterpretation:

«Typical problems faced by the School in the past have been:

  • the marginalization of the Greek language;
  • the School's isolation from the Orthodox theological reality worldwide;
  • the autonomous operation of the School without ecclesiastical supervision;
  • the liturgical innovations introduced in the School's chapel;
  • the promotion of the Church of America's independence from the Old World, that is, separation from the Patriarchate and the Americanization of the Church in this country;
  • nepotism among the teaching and administrative staff;
  • theological liberalism due to a Protestant influence; and
  • the systematic exclusion of would-be students from Greece.»

From the very beginning, Spyridon found himself in the middle of a great dispute, primarily concerning institutional issues, between Liturgics professor Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas, the recently appointed Hellenic College-Holy Cross President and Holy Cross Dean Fr. George Dragas, a patristics professor. Every day, faxes poured into Venice detailing the faults of one rival or the other.

A year earlier, it should be recalled, an agreement had been reached between a Patriarchal delegation (Exarchia) sent to America, and Archbishop Iakovos to keep the latter from filling key positions and altering institutional structures in light of a new Archbishop's election. Still, Iakovos had hastily appointed Fr. Calivas as the institution's President in January 1996, in violation of due process.

The «Pan-Orthodox» and the «Autonomist»

These academic authorities embodied the two diametrically opposed tendencies. Fr. Calivas, representing the Greek-American generation, looked down on Greek-born theologians. He championed the movement to liberalize Orthodox theology and argued that the Church of America should become autocephalous, that is, independent from the Patriarchate.

By contrast, Fr. George Dragas was a formidable advocate for Greek-centered ideals and traditional Orthodoxy. A prolific scholar known worldwide, Fr. George was an imposing figure at WCC conferences and in bilateral theological dialogues with the Anglican Church and the World Reformed Alliance.

Spyridon would have preferred to stay above the battle. Yet Fr. Calivas met with the Archbishop in New York two or three times urging him to fire the seminary dean, Fr. Dragas.

As his tenure began, the Archbishop conducted an overall assessment of the School. He discovered to his dismay that the seminarians lacked basic theological knowledge. He informed Fr. Calivas in the clearest of terms that the teaching of Church History, Dogmatics, Canon Law, and even Greek was inadequate. Spyridon explicitly recommended that Fr. Calivas add the History of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the curriculum as a compulsory subject to bring seminarians closer to their ecclesiastical roots.

Fr. Calivas believed that the umbilical cord linking the Phanar and the Church of America was an impediment to its growth. There could be no doubt, therefore, that he prepared to do battle with the new Archbishop, who wished to usher in a return to Orthodox tradition and mend relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On November 18, 1996, three of the School's archimandrites (registrar Dr. Cleopas Strongylis, and seminarians Fr. Antonios Papathanasiou and Fr. Iakovos Vassiliou) fired off a letter to the Archbishop and the Eparchial Synod. They alleged that anti-Hellenic sentiment reigned at the School, Greek-born students were persecuted, and the Liturgy was celebrated primarily in English. They called for the Archbishop to act to set matters straight.

The three archimandrites complained of "academic stagnation, administrative inefficiency and abuse, as well as political infighting" and made mention of an "anti-Greek, anti-clerical, anti-celibate and anti-Patriarchal stance adopted by the Administration." They also stressed the "deficiencies and insufficient knowledge of our clergymen in matters of liturgy, music, Greek language, tradition, as well as in other areas essential for their service in the Great Church of Christ."

The letter concluded with a desperate appeal to the Archbishop to restructure the institution and make it more fit to fulfill its ecclesiastical mission.

The episode which gave a weapon to his enemies

The Archdiocese was accused of having violated the seminary bylaws not only as pertains to the professors' reassignment but also to other matters. The issue took on unexpected dimensions in the Greek American, Greek and US press, and Spyridon was the target.

On February 27, 1997, an incident occurred at the Seminary which was to be the cornerstone of the Church establishment's war against Spyridon. The incident took place in a dormitory room shared by a co-author of the aforementioned letter. It involved an argument between the latter, an archimandrite, and another seminarian, ultimately resulting in the use of force. Although the two seminarians eventually settled their dispute, Fr. Calivas made sure a Disciplinary Committee chaired by Fr. Emmanuel Klapsis investigated the episode (March 6, 1997).

About a month later, the committee recommended the expulsion of Archimandrite Kallistratos Ikonomou, a Th. M. student, implicated in the incident. It also issued a letter of rebuke to the other party. The students had the right to appeal to the institution's President within 48 hours. The appeal would be subject to review by the Seminary dean according to regulations.

The Archbishop urged the institution's authorities to dispose of the matter as quickly as possible and protect the credibility of the institution and the Church. But the disciplinary committee's decision was leaked to the press even before the review, and vicious rumors about the archimandrites, and Greek-born seminarians in general, swirled through the seminary.

War in the "trenches" of the media and the Internet

And so a media storm ensued and Spyridon was said to have engaged in a cover-up to protect "homosexual students." The issue took on unexpected dimensions in the Greek press. A sexual scandal, totally fabricated, had become Spyridon's first nightmare.

The "aggrieved" parties rushed to cobble together a Website, Voithia (Help). Not long after, they managed to get their views published in The Boston Globe and other leading American newspapers.

Their primary message to Greek-Americans and the public in general was that their reassignment was an infringement of academic procedures and the direct result of their refusal to cover up the so-called "homosexual scandal."

While all this was going on, Fr. Calivas's assistant, Valerie Karras, drafted report after report, and sent them off to the accreditation agencies, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), as well as to Orthodox theological faculties all over the world. She castigated the Archdiocese of America for allegedly violating seminary bylaws and abolishing academic freedom.

Meanwhile, the affair was spinning out of control in the Greek, the American and the Greek-American press, and Spyridon was the target. Simultaneously, an extra-ecclesiastical organization, Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL) began to take shape. It adopted the Voithia Web page, which kept up a steady attack on both the Archbishop and the Patriarchate. In fact, in an open letter dated March 25, 1998, GOAL called for the Primate's removal by May 1, 1998.

After two years of countless misadventures and endless carping about the Archbishop's decisions, Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology received official letters from NEASC (May 11, 1999) and AST (June 25, 1999), reaccrediting the Archdiocese's academic institution. The two agencies simply requested the clarification of certain points in the Seminary's bylaws in order to avoid ambiguity "where the ecclesiastical and the institutional rules come into conflict."

Confirmation by both accreditation agencies was a personal victory for the Archbishop. But it had come too late. It left him no time to dispel the misconceptions that had led to the ruthless war against him. Moral satisfaction was the only consolation.

The priests-professors were reinstated even before the enthronement of Spyridon's successor, following a decision by the Archdiocese's new administration: clearly a reward for their efforts to oust an Archbishop who dared seek innovation in an established system...

[ Translated from Greek ]

[ ΕΘΝΟΣ - December 11, 2000 - pp. 1, 27-28, 37-38 ]