Ethnos (Sunday Edition) - February 18, 2001

An  Interview  with SPYRIDON, former Archbishop of America

The Greek American community has fallen into a lethargy

«All major issues are in a state of stagnation», the prelate stresses.


T he Greek American community is in a state of total inaction as it pertains to promoting Hellenism. The only thing that seems to concern Greek Americans is "the struggle to separate their local Church from our Mother Church."

An ominous assertation made to "Ethnos" (Sunday Edition) by Spyridon, the former Archbishop of America, who now follows the developments in the Church of America in the capacity of a "distant observer."

On the occasion of his biography's launch ("The Lonely Path of Integrity") in the US, Spyridon replied to our questions from a Lisbon suburb, where he lives today. He reiterated that his removal as leader of the Church of America was due to political reasons.

Spyridon speaks of everything: the issue of removing the designation of one's religious faith from Greek identity cards, the crisis in the Christodoulos-Bartholomew relations, the new occupant of the White House, the issue of the Pope's visit to Greece.

Greek National Issues

Ethnos: As an observer today, how do you view the situation in the Church of America?

«The most dynamic and capable body of Hellenism abroad is in a state of total inaction», the former Archbishop of America stresses.

Archbishop Spyridon: One needs no special insight to comprehend that within a superficial tranquility, major and crucial issues of the Greek-American community -Greek education and the promotion of Greek National issues- are stagnating. I fear that inactivity and continuous postponement in resolving these issues, waiting for a "suitable" time, will lead, if they have not already led, to apathy.

It is sad to see the most dynamic and capable body of Hellenism abroad -which should be literally vibrating for the realization of the hopes and noble goals of Hellenism- totally immobilized. At this moment, the only issue that seems to concern the Greek-American community is the initiative of the Church of America to separate herself from the Mother Church.

Already, in the draft of the new charter of the Church of America, the Greek American ecclesiastical and lay leadership is trying to ensure a status of semi-autonomy, in other words, a first step towards autocephaly. And there is no doubt that the weight of the organized part of the Greek-American community is pushing toward this goal, while the question of the survival of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in the United States remains as of yet unaddressed and unresolved.

The most important issue the Greek American community should be concerned about, according to Spyridon, is securing Greek education for young children.

Ethnos: Where does the Greek American community stand with regard to Greek Education? How would you assess the efforts of the Greek American lobby at a time when the Greek government plans to assign the responsibility for promoting Greek national issues to a new office in Washington?

Archbishop Spyridon: It is clear that the energies and foresight of American Hellenism are diminishing with respect to Greek Education and Lobbying.

In the area of Greek Education one may note that -in spite of all worthy efforts made in the past and even today- until this very moment there is no uniform Greek Education system implemented throughout the Day and Afternoon schools. At the same time, there is an enormous lack of trained teachers and appropriate teaching material.

The efforts of the Archdiocese, which is the responsible institution for Greek Education as a whole, have had very limited impact due to these disturbing deficiencies. It seems to me that the case for Greek Education has yet to be made to the vast majority of Greek Americans. The fact that the most recent in-depth study (Rassias Commission) has been disregarded is not a good sign at all! Also, the Archdiocese's budget for Greek Education is constantly diminishing instead of increasing. As to the rest of initiatives that originate from other Greek American organizations, these are usually short-term, if not dead at birth ...

The alarm bell has repeatedly rung for this ongoing indifference to matters of Greek Education in the United States. In a few years, given the suspension of Greek immigration to the US, there will be little if any reason to speak of Greek Education within the Greek American community. We will be speaking only of Greek chairs at certain universities ....

As far as the so-called Greek American lobby is concerned, it is difficult to continue to consider it as an organized expression of the Greek American community. The lobbyist activities, i.e. the initiatives for promoting Greek national issues at the center of the most powerful country of the world, are assumed today by single individuals or, in the best case, by single small groups of interested individuals or professionals. I don't see how a new office, charged with the task to promote Greek national interests, can be considered a panacea. It is well known that American politicians are sensitive to those who can ensure them blocks of votes and these can be secured for them only by a coordinated Greek-American effort, certainly not by isolated acts of individuals, groups or firms. In other words, influence is exercised by those who can secure votes. The rest is a little unrealistic!

The people's voice

Ethnos: What is your take on the removal of a religious designation from Greek identity cards? Do you agree with the initiative taken by the Church of Greece to gather signatures for a petition of opposition?

Archbishop Spyridon: As I stated a while ago, the Greek Government and the Church of Greece have more serious issues to deal with than that of IDs. I believe that these exaggerations are incompatible with the modern image that all would like to attribute to Greece. Such extremes never lead to positive results. In the course of history, especially recent history, Hellenism has paid an exorbitant price each time it has chosen to embrace such extremes.

I consider it imperative that the Government and the Church consult with one other in order to reach a consensus that would express in a satisfactory manner the people's true wishes. Greece has a whole spectrum of more serious problems to resolve, starting from the issue of its territorial integrity to the burning question of the alienation of Hellenic identity in the realm of the new reality of impetuous globalization.

Ethnos: Do you believe the Patriarchate is held fast in Turkey? How would you view its eventual transfer to a neutral international site?

Archbishop Spyridon: I have always considered any transfer of the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as negative for the future of the Mother Church and of Orthodoxy in general. The reasons for this my position are many, even though I am aware of the various advantages of practical character that could derive from such transfer. But, in spite of the fact that only a few hundred Greek Orthodox Christians still live in Constantinople and in spite of the more or less well-known restrictions put to the Patriarchate by the Turkish authorities, I consider that the Patriarchate, by maintaining its See in its natural environment, can, under certain conditions, still preserve the essential characteristics of ecumenicity it always enjoyed as the primatial Church of Orthodoxy.

In this case, it would be indispensable to immediately take courageous steps, primarily to restructure its synodical institution. It is well known, that the restrictions put by the Turkish authorities on its composition are minimal. Even if there were heavy restrictions, they could not be implemented today with Turkey pursuing its European course.

It is high time that the Patriarchal Synod return to its canonical form, with the participation of all eparchial hierarchs of the Throne. This would immediately restore the traditional notion of Synodal governance (Conciliarity) as it exists in all other Orthodox Churches, and at the same time ascribe the proper weight to the decisions made by the Mother Church.

But, without making such daring steps, I don't see how the centuries-old institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will finally survive, since, as it is well known, circumstances continue to be always exceptionally inauspicious.

Ethnos: How do you explain the recent objection of the Patriarchate, expressed through Archbishop Demetrios, to Archbishop Christodoulos' intention to visit the United States for Greek Independence Day celebrations?

The consequences of the Patriachate's controversy with Christodoulos are unpredictable

Archbishop Spyridon: It is sad to see the Church lower herself, and she has repeatedly lowered herself during the past years, to a micropolitical level, reaching the point of harming her own institution's prestige, in order to serve shortsighted agendas. Creating an issue out of nothing, an issue with major extensions and serious consequences on the relations between the two Churches, confirms only the fact that in this case as in others love has been replaced by controversy.

If a brief visit of Archbishop Christodoulos to the United States constitutes a problem for the Mother Church, then I can assume that the ongoing crisis between the Patriarchate and the Church of Greece may have unpredictable consequences. If however, as many argue, the Greek Government has intervened for Christodoulos not to visit the US, then it is evident that Church institutions are being used as a means to corrode Church leadership. Which ever the case, as a Churchman I feel an unlimited sorrow at such machinations.

Spyridon saddened by the turn taken in the relations between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Christodoulos.

Ethnos: Many are of the opinion that the Ecumenical Patriarchate interferes in the internal affairs of the Church of Greece, as for instance in the issue of Greek IDs. What is your view on the issue?

Archbishop Spyridon: The responsibilities and range of action of each Orthodox Church are a well defined given.

There should be no room for direct or indirect interference of one Church in another's internal affairs.

Such attempts are uncanonical and improper.

Relations between churches, just as relations between simple Christians, should always be governed by mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual support. The violation of this general rule, wherever it may come from, should be condemned and eliminated, because it carries great danger for the peace among Churches. At a time at which Churches are called to fight the ever-growing secularization of today's society, it should be unthinkable that a Church not only does not support, but also undermines the leadership of the other.

«A mutual understanding between Government and Church regarding the Pope's visit»

«The Pope's role is primarily ecclesiastical», the hierach notes.

Ethnos: There is much talk about the Pope's visit to Greece. What is finally necessary, to follow a political or the ecclesiastical protocol in this case? Is one to believe that the Church of Greece is biased with regard to such visit?

Archbishop Spyridon: The Vatican is primarily and basically the center of the Roman Catholic Church, an ecclesiastical center which only secondarily happens to be a State. It would be a witness to short-sightedness to disregard this reality, i.e. the double character of the Vatican, in considering the invitation extended to the Head of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is not sufficient to say that the Pope is a Chief of State and therefore his visit is exclusively a matter of State, especially when the Pope insists that his visit take place upon invitation of the Church of Greece as well. It is of no help to shut one's ears before what the Pope constantly proclaims, i.e. that his role is primarily ecclesiastical and that his visit to Greece will necessarily have a religious character as well.

On the other hand, I think, the Church of Greece should show more understanding for the sensitivities of the Greek Government which is struggling to protect the country's modern image from fruitless fanaticism and intolerance. I would say that in this case as well both the Greek Government and the Church of Greece must cooperate closely to find a common solution to the problem.

«US foreign policy is exclusively and only pro-American»

Ethnos: Have you formed an opinion about the new American president? Do you share the fears that Washington will follow an even more pro-Turkish policy in the future?

Archbishop Spyridon: All sort of danger is noised about concerning the new American administration.

Yet it is evident that American policy has the continuity and coherence that is appropriate to a serious State, the most powerful one in the world.

Its goals are firmly set. They do not change due to the change of officials in power.

Personally, I do not see any particular reason that would dictate a change in America's stance on the Cyprus issue. On the contrary I would say that the presence of General Powell at the State Department will give an even stronger expression to pertinent American positions. And these positions have never been secret; witness the statements by the current US ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, who in the past dealt specifically with this particular issue.

All this signifies that the United States does not follow either a pro-Hellenic policy, or a pro-Turkish policy, but only and exclusively a pro-American one. Therefore, high vigilance in Greece and in the Diaspora is more than imperative.

«The reason for my removal was political»

Ethnos: Your biography, "The Lonely Path of Integrity" was recently published. How would you assess this new book?

Archbishop Spyridon: The book, written by the journalist, Justine Frangouli-Argyri, has been circulated in Greece and the United States. It is based to a great extent on hitherto unpublished documents, many of which originate from my personal archives, as well the published press accounts.

The author brought to light many unknown facets of the recent history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the years 1996-1999.

She was also able to faithfully portray the atmosphere that pervaded during these three years.

Her descriptions are lively, yet concise, and lead the reader to a ready understanding of some of the major problems with which the Greek-American community grappled then and continues to struggle.

Ethnos: The book demonstrates how the Phanar elected you as Archbishop of America despite the opposition of the Greek government, and how three years later the Phanar itself instigated the crisis in America in order to finally oust you. How would you explain this fact?

Archbishop Spyridon: The author certainly provides her own assessment of this question. For my part, I would say only that this practice – the forceful removal of eparchial hierarchs – has been repeated quite often in recent years by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But I would add that this is a phenomenon practically unknown in the life of other Orthodox Churches.

The reasons for this must be sought in the Mother Church's political ambitions and will, and certainly not in the Sacred Canons.

Living today in a suburb of Lisbon

Ethnos: The book concludes with your election to Metropolitan of Chaldia and your refusal to accept this election. Former Archbishop Iakovos criticized you for this ...

Archbishop Spyridon: It is not an unusual circumstance in the life of the Church to decline a position offered.

The former Archbishop of America has established himself in the Portuguese capital where, as he says, "he leads an ascetic and quiet life."

It happens very often and the examples are numerous. There is no Sacred Canon that obliges a proposed candidate to accept the position offered him. The notion of compulsory acceptance is unknown. Rather everything must evolve in a spirit of total liberty, consensus and synergy. One should not forget that H.E. Iakovos, former Archbishop of North and South America, himself declined an important position offered to him by the Church at the beginning of the ‘50s, that of the president of the Theological School of Halki. I cannot see how we can have two standards applied in this case ...

Ethnos: Where and how to you live today? What is your everyday life like?

Archbishop Spyridon: The days go by with the usual activities of an Orthodox churchman, with reading and meditation. It is something that I missed in the course of my very mobile and, I would say, at times tumultuous life. Now, in a suburb of Portugal's capital, away from memories of bitter days and far away from Orthodoxy's centers, I experience another, more spiritual, dimension of my being, living ascetically and quietly.

[ ΕΘΝΟΣ (της Κυριακής) - February 18, 2001 - pp. 52-53 ]