The National Herald - February 29, 2000

Demetrios Seeks ‘Peace, Love,’ and Sees Substantial Progress

By Theodore Kalmoukos

Archbishop Demetrios this week told The National Herald that he sees his service in America as a call from God. In his office at the Archdiocese in New York, the Archbishop, center, talks to Antonis Diamataris, right, the Herald’s publisher, and Herald reporter Theodore Kalmoukos.

BOSTON. - In a wide-ranging interview with The National Herald, the first since his election to his post, Archbishop Demetrios of America offered a sweeping perspective of the state of our Church, his vision for the future, and his plans on how to implement this vision.

“I found a Church which had passed through significant difficulties,” Demetrios says, but adds that he is avoiding the temptation of so-called quick fixes and said he prefers to move with prudence and care, mindful of the fragility of the Church’s new-found unity. “Any moves must be extremely careful and filled with love because of the vulnerable ground,” he explains. “Our moves and actions must be sensitive to and respectful of the human factor.”

His main goal at this time, says the Archbishop, is to pacify the Church and to create an atmosphere of love and reconciliation. “At this stage where we find ourselves now, our main care is the establishment of a secure basis of peace, a climate of love, a disposition of solidarity and cooperation by all our people. The essential thing now is to focus on the future,” he says.

He also says that significant progress has been achieved, plans for the revitalization of various Church institutions are under way, and that parishes have regained their trust in Church leadership. As a result, there is significant increase in the income to the Archdiocese.

Following is the full text of the interview with Archbishop Demetrios:

NATIONAL HERALD: Your Eminence, what did you feel when your election as Archbishop of America was officially announced last August?

DEMETRIOS: First let me express my thanks for the opportunity of this interview and also my thanks for the very positive and favorable comments throughout these months in the National Herald, comments regarding the work of the Archdiocese and supportive of it.

The answer to your question is simple: my main feelings were awe, a sense of big responsibility, and a sense of a call from God to assume a very holy and very significant task.

What exactly transpired between your Eminence and Patriarch Bartholomaios, that is, what did he say to you and what did you reply, when he announced to you the good news of your election?

Our exchange was brief, very substantial, and quite solemn. The Patriarch himself spoke to me on the telephone and said to me “I inform you that the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Patriarchate has elected you Archbishop of America and we would like you to accept this election as an expression of God’s will.”

And what did you say?

I said that it was something unexpected and very heavy for me but evidently it is God’s will and so I had no right whatever to even discuss it.

There was however some preparation, since you had previously been called to the Patriarchate and had been offered to assume the position of locum tenens, which means you had some idea about possible developments. Why did you not accept the position of locum tenens?

Of course, I had a general, vague idea inasmuch as my name had been mentioned at certain times, but I had precluded the possibility of my election.


It was my impression that the factors being considered and discussed in various places did not favor a direction toward my election. For this reason I was greatly surprised when I received the telephone call announcing my election.

As far as the position of locum tenens is concerned, the reason why I did not accept it is simple: My knowledge and awareness of the circumstances and the ecclesiastical data here in America convinced me that a locum tenens, whoever he might have been, could not work successfully.

When the Patriarch announced to you the election and when you went to the Patriarchate to receive the official message, were any conditions placed on you, or any constraints with respect to the Patriarchate, and if so, what are they?

No conditions whatever were set either from the Patriarchate’s side or much less from my perspective, precisely because there was the pre-existing and fundamental condition required by the Gospel and the life of the Church, namely, the condition demanding total service in the fear of God in all strength. His All Holiness was very clear in saying that it was an election of trust based on my willingness and decision to contribute all and everything that I am and that I have to our very Church in America. He added that he would continuously support me at every step and at every moment.

Did you ever think or desire that some day you would be the Archbishop of America during your long stay here while studying and later teaching?

I think not. I must tell you clearly that never did I think or entertain such a notion for two reasons. First, because I thought the work of the Archbishop embraces in large measure administrative activities and concerns. Secondly because I felt that I had the duty to offer whatever was possible in the sphere of theology and the advancement of the Gospel and, on the other hand, to contribute to the spiritual formation of seminarians and the clergy. To my thinking, that work was so significant that I would not have exchanged it for something else.

Our omogeneia has placed many hopes, one might say, all its hopes in your Eminence. It was for that reason that it “demanded” that you become its spiritual leader, its father and teacher. How intensely are you aware of this reality since you have been with us, and what would you reply to those who think that you should have moved more quickly and more decisively with regard to certain matters, for example, the cleansing of the personnel of the Archdiocese and of the institutional bodies, that is, the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council or the Board of Trustees of the Theological School, in order that you may initiate a fresh start?

I feel that a great burden has been placed on my shoulders given the expectations and I must tell you openly that the expectations in great measure are excessive. They may be justifiable to a certain degree because of the special conditions here, but they do not cease to be excessive. In any case, regardless what the expectations are, my position is the following: I am a person with certain capacities in front of a huge work within the Church. I am glad to contribute one thousand percent of my capacities to the task. But I cannot move forward with the thought that this must be done to satisfy side A or side B.

I am trying to do the utmost from my side in accordance always with the will of God, believing that in doing so we will have the right results. With regard to specific actions, any moves must be extremely careful and filled with love because of the vulnerable ground and of the difficulties which the Church has experienced. Our moves and actions must be sensitive to and respectful of the human factor.

When you encounter someone who has been wounded in some accident, you cannot recruit him and make him run the marathon the next day, even if he were the best athlete. You must wait for him to recuperate, to regain his strength, and then put him in a position to do that which he can truly accomplish. This is an aspect that we have to take into account and for this reason we are proceeding very carefully.

There is of course a program of restructuring —I do not think of it nor call it cleansing— with respect to certain matters toward right action and enhancement of the work of the Church; there is a superb perspective for our Archdiocese but it must be carried out with care and sensitivity. Certainly we do not forget the factor of time, and time does not perhaps allow a huge margin. On the other hand however we cannot initiate actions in a condition of utter urgency, as some of our people might want, because I believe to do that would not be the best method or wisest strategy within the realm of the Church under the present circumstances.

In other words, you are applying the proverbial “full ahead slowly.”

You may interpret it as you think it better.

But is there a danger that the slow pace may lead us to bog down?

Not at all. That is why I mentioned that we must always consider the element of time and the parameters which time allows.

In what condition did you find the Church when you came in September, specifically the administrative affairs, the finances—the deficit of five million dollars is already known—and matters in the parishes? In addition, why have you not given some report to the wider Church concerning what exactly you found in order that no one can say anything contrary or hold you responsible in retrospect?

I found a Church which had passed through significant difficulties. Of course Church history tells us that this is not a new phenomenon but a fairly constant factor in the life of the Church. The Church already from New Testament times began with significant difficulties and consequently the element of difficulty always accompanies the life of the Church, although this fluctuates in intensity and breadth, being more serious or less at different times. It seems that in this case the difficulties and trials were rather extensive. This is a matter about which I need not say much more because it is common knowledge. Everyone here has sufficient knowledge, they know that this is the case, and as such it would mean nothing for me to come out and say please notice that this is the situation. Why didn’t I come out and say what I found? Because what I did find was well known. The issue of finances is one specific case. To begin with, I do not fear that I might be accused that I created some anomaly in the finances because these are matters open to scrutiny at any time. We can examine the finances of 1992, of 1982, or of 1995, at any time. My position regarding the finances is the following: I requested to have a full picture, which requires ample time to produce. I must tell you that data for 1999 is still coming in. Your paper has already mentioned this matter which is an open secret, that we are in the process of arranging a loan we need. This is not a secret since. Well, when we speak about efforts to procure a loan, it evidently signifies a need, because no person with full accounts enters into a loan which is costly. I hope this suffices on the finances.

My decision not to come out and speak about details is based on the fact that I wanted by no means to create a negative climate and to begin looking for responsibilities and thus to open up never ending issues which would be only harmful. As far as I am concerned, the essential thing now is to focus on the future. The issue of past accountabilities and matters of bitterness, and all these sad things, if we would want to go back to the past, would create an unhealthy condition which could end up in all kinds of wrongful actions that would ultimately be harmful to the Church. When all the data are gathered, there will be a report which will involve a serious and dignified announcement that the subject is closed, that we have negotiated this loan in order to cover the needs which already existed from the first moment I arrived here and these continue to exist until with the help of all our faithful we will be able to obliterate loans and debts.

Is there an improvement in income? Do the parishes respond by making their contributions to the Archdiocese since that time you came?

Yes, there is significant improvement. Also, there is a constant reassurance on the part of many persons and other sources about their readiness to help the Church. Ask us, what do you want, they say. But I cannot begin by replying give me one million dollars so that we may cover debt A. I don’t want to begin that way. We know however that there is a readiness to help for which we are grateful and which we will utilize in due time.

 |Your Eminence, among the issues you inherited is also that of the demand of your predecessor, former Archbishop Spyridon, to be paid by the Archdiocese for the rest of his life. What is going on with this matter and is this month of February the last in which he will receive his salary, just as it was decided by our Synod here? In addition, how do you explain the position of the Patriarchate of Constantinople regarding the ecclesiastical and canonical irregularity pertaining to former Archbishop Spyridon?

 |The whole matter of resolving the financial issue with regard to my predecessor, is a matter which has concerned both the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese. The matter has not been resolved up to now because it involves difficult aspects which required a clear solution. However, we are by now very near to a final solution. I should not say more at this point because the issue is very sensitive requiring delicate handling. When the final solution comes you will be fully informed.

If you knew in detail and great depth what you know today concerning our ecclesiastical affairs in America, would you accept to become Archbishop?

I cannot at all diminish the picture of difficulties which the Archdiocese faces. Nevertheless, and since for me the issue was put on the level of God’s will and the Church’s call to do whatever I am able to, I cannot deal with the magnitude of the difficulties. I am not concerned with their magnitude.

God will help...

Absolutely. If God the Almighty willed that this election take place, He will also provide the solutions to whatever difficulties and in whatever form they may appear. That is my position.

Are you satisfied with the functioning of the Synod and what is your position on the revised charter or rather the revised plan for the charter?

The Synod has convened for three two-day meetings thus far. The frequency and duration of the meetings are indicative of the disposition for serious and responsible work. At the same time I must note with particular satisfaction that the spirit of cooperation in the Synod was extremely positive, dignified, open and full, and therefore I envision very auspicious developments in the future.

The charter is in process and under study. I think that it is premature at this point to make announcements given that the process of the final ratification of the charter is ongoing.

Has it reached a nearly complete stage? What elements remain?

First, when we speak about the text of the charter, it is always self understood that this text is receptive of improvement in terms of both language and substance.

Secondly, a charter is accompanied by relevant regulations which interpret the charter and these regulations at this time have not yet been drafted, and thus much work remains to be done.

Six months have passed since you assumed your duties. What thoughts go through your mind these days concerning concrete and successful measures that you may take for the future of our Church and our Omogeneia here, for example, pertaining to Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, Greek education, mixed marriages, the national issues of Greece, the strengthening of the Archdiocese with competent and efficient personnel, the renewal of the worship life of the parishes, Christian education, financial solvency—to mention a few by way of example?

The catalog of issues you mention already seems to prohibit any quick planning because such an amount of serious matters cannot be engaged easily. What we are doing in the Synod is working on a more general plan which will move beyond the Synod and involve a wider number of competent persons who can help. It is a plan that obviously requires time.

At the stage where we find ourselves now, our main care is the establishment of a secure basis of peace, a climate of love, a disposition of solidarity and cooperation by all our people, a reality which I see is occurring in my visitations to the parishes. From these parishes I receive the abiding impression of dispositions for self-giving, progress and contributions in every possible way. The next step is to move on in turn to actualization, as you say. For example, one outstanding issue is the College and Theological School where we have no president. A search committee is at work and will complete its task in the Spring. Then a significant step forward will be taken with the selection of a president. The next step is to select permanent deans, because at this time we have only acting deans, in order that the College and the Theological School may achieve a balanced position. Simultaneously, thinking is going on how to enhance student recruitment and financial development.

What are your plans regarding Greek language and education?

Education is a matter of great concern and is integral to Orthodoxy and the Greek people. Both our Greek origins and our Orthodox background are connected in large measure to that reality which we call paideia. Paideia is a fundamental aspect of the life of the Church and our Omogeneia. My position is that we will do our utmost, that is, whatever we are able to do we will do. We cannot remain content with something small and limited.

Of the 3.4 million which Leadership 100 has announced it would grant toward our national ministries, how much will go toward Greek education, and the daily and afternoon schools?

I regard it as self-evident that a portion of it will go toward Greek education.

As the par excellence leader of Hellenism in America are you ready to defend the national issues faced by Greece?

I have already declared it from the beginning. Since we have a flock with a given ancestry and made up of second, third and fourth generations, as well as of new immigrants, it is imperative that we defend the just causes of this flock. It is unthinkable for the Church not to contribute its say. The word of the Church however is an ecclesial word which could very often be more effective than other words because it is selfless, objective, and filled with the power of God.

What are the expectations and concerns regarding the summer’s Clergy Laity Congress in Philadelphia?

The messages I receive from various places about the Clergy Laity Congress are very positive. I had the opportunity to meet with a large number of priests here in New York, and also in New Jersey, Boston, Chicago and Florida, who expressed their readiness to participate in the Clergy Laity Congress which will truly be the gathering of a vibrant Church with a sense of spiritual ease, freedom, as well as of mutual respect and love. I have experienced the same thing among many lay people with whom I have met. Our vision is a Clergy Laity Congress filled with a spirit of optimism and hope for the future, a spirit looking to transcend any past difficulties, a spirit of projecting programs and elements that will exploit the enormous potential of our Church.

Of course, it is possible that certain anxieties may be expressed in connection with unforeseen problems or concerns, even possibly conference frictions, because we are human and we cannot discount expressions of strong feelings at one time or another. As far as I can foresee, I do not anticipate any major problems.

Your Eminence, are you in frequent contact with the Patriarch?

Yes, in fact we are in a substantive contact.

My question has to do with the notion that, as some say, the Patriarch interferes and involves himself excessively in the affairs of our Church here.

No, I emphatically say no. The Patriarch’s sensitivity and courtesy in that regard is remarkable.

Are there no pressures or suggestions or interventions in issues of secondary and tertiary significance?

Of course not! Unless you call intervention the following case: He sends me a letter and asks us to help provide a scholarship for a good student, for whom written recommendations are supplied. Is this an intervention? In fact in this case I wrote to him that, under the care of the School, we did much more than the Patriarch asked about this particular student before his letter came.

What is your message to the faithful of our Church?

I would like to emphasize the fact that our Church here is a Church with great potentialities and with really a dynamic prospect. It is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese which is comprised by Greek-Americans who have already distinguished themselves in the social, academic, financial and political sector, and they have been recognized wholeheartedly by the American society. These people of ours is an exceptional and dynamic Community which promises so much in light of the 21 century and the third millennium.

That is why our Church here has the holiest mission to present integral, unadulterated and shining the witness of our Orthodox faith and the universality of our cultural heritage. To this superb mission I would like to call all of our faithful. It is time to overcome every difficulty and to go forward with the breath and leading hand of God to the realization of our great and holy destination: Let us give the joy, the happiness, the life, the truth, and the strength of Orthodoxy to a world which is thirsty for it.

[ The National Herald
   February 29, 2000 ]