Proini - March 17-19-20, 2001

Spyridon The Uncompromising, The End of a Ministry

By Tasos G. Nikolaidis,, educator and writer

Part One

Journalist and writer Justine Frangouli's book The Lonely Path of Integrity, recently published, is a highly significant work of research. It deals with the personality of Spyridon, former Archbishop of America. Proini has published extracts from the new book so as to give readers a fuller idea of who Spyridon was, how he came to be elected Archbishop of America, and how, after three years in office, he was removed, and in what circumstances.

Spyridon, therefore, was no ordinary person, and the impartial reader can learn much from this book without having to assume a position for or against this or that figure who contributed to his remaining in office or his removal. It is in this spirit that the review which follows has been undertaken. Its intention is to give a brief account, without insulting or offending anyone. It should be noted that I do not know the subject of this book, apart from having seen him at two public events.

So this able journalist deserves all praises for her courage in taking on the study of Archbishop Spyridon's personality and particularly his three-year tenure on the Archiepiscopal throne of America. With a fine sensitivity, typical of herself, the author sketches Spyridon's childhood, adolescence, maturity and student years as well as his priestly and episcopal ministry. She brings to us dynamic highlights of his life, richly illustrated. She puts forth the life of a man of his own mind, who focused on the unbreakable duet of Greek Orthodoxy and Hellenism and who was betrayed by the very people expected to support him.

It is only when we identify with him, when we imagine ourselves in his position (for we cannot become archbishops ourselves) within a hostile environment, without competent assistants to work with, surrounded by hostile metropolitans, that we shall understand what a struggle it was for him to remain in office, as he attempted to remedy the organizational and functional structure of the Archdiocese, to consolidate monasticism as a genuine part of Church life, to amalgamate the Old with the New Calendar, and to fully implement Orthodox traditional institutions (that we shall speak of below).

From his time as Metropolitan in Italy, his orientation became apparent from his efforts to preserve Orthodoxy in a country where Roman Catholicism is extremely influential. As the author describes in her book, these efforts depict what his background had been from a very early stage.

Part Two

In the second part of Justine Frangouli's book, we are given an account of those Orthodox traditional institutions that Archbishop Spyridon set about to implement, thus emerging as a real spiritual leader. We are also presented with a detailed account of the tragic circumstances of his resignation.

As to how objective the account of events is, this becomes apparent from the unadorned way in which these events are orderly narrated and linked with the individuals involved, who, I believe, determined the brevity of the Archbishop's tenure. All the action turns upon the Patriarch's ambiguous personality and those who were, to all appearances, associated with him in America and at the Phanar, as well as in Greece.

Who could object to those traditional Orthodox institutions which Spyridon attempted to implement: the enhancement of Byzantine music, the use of the frock (rason) for priests if they so wished, fasting, the freedom of language in the Liturgy, the consolidation of monasticism, the veneration of icons, conscious participation in eucharistic worship - in spite of all opposition by the church establishment?

Even in this account one clearly sees the objective and realistic presentation attempted by the author, a presentation intelligible to any reader of good faith. If only Orthodox faith and worship were truly like this!

If we look at Spyridon's ministry from a negative point of view (that is by assuming that his actions brought dissension to the Greek American community, that he did not enjoy the support of the faithful and that he was an autocratic spiritual leader), we shall notice that the author does not take up a position on this, but leaves it to the readers to judge by offering them a rich documentation verbatim. At this point the reader will have to work out for himself whether the truth is being distorted or not.

Spyridon was accused of disturbing the political balance between Greece and Turkey by promoting Hellenic national issues, appealing for a solution to the Cyprus problem, supporting the re-opening of the Halki Theological School, enhancing Greek education, and advocating the return of the Parthenon Marbles –activities again described by the author in a very objective manner. If his motives had been self-seeking, then the outcry against him by certain individuals would have been justified, otherwise, even after the events, he should be accorded public commendation because he showed himself to be a spiritual, charismatic leader with specific visions. The bright moments of his time in America were very few, linked with the hope of achieving stabilization, while at the same time his calvary was being deliberately devised for him.

Part Three

I cannot imagine that anyone will derive satisfaction from reading those pages regarding the preparations for his final fall. The reader is horrified by the description of the intense behind-the-scenes activity aiming to bring about the "deathblow" to Spyridon and his removal. These schemes that divided the Greek-American community continue to this very day and remind us of Christ's Passion: the would-be successors and the Phanariots with their "Hosannahs" and then their cry of "Crucify him!", while he, the Archbishop, remained upright on the ramparts to the bitter end.

It must have been a terrible task for the author to have to record the end of a figure from tragedy, a pastor at that, whom some people wished to humiliate and put out of action. This could be seen as a dramatic story of a great man, which the author had the daring, the courage to set down without prejudice, as she described the machinations that led to Spyridon's inglorious removal --the ousting of no less than the Head of the Church of America.

Before concluding this review, I would like to draw attention to two further features of the whole way in which this story is presented: 1) the citation of the last encyclical sent by Spyridon to the Greek American community and his spiritual children and 2) the critical assessment of Spyridon's ministry provided by the author, together with an account of the consequences of the Archbishop's resignation.

The author's account is marked by bitterness, disappointment and regret, but also by outspokenness over what has transpired and what is likely to happen in the near future. Finally, with the same courage and outspokenness, the author stresses the great harm done to Orthodoxy that, with Spyridon's departure, has in essence suffered a defeat at the hands of her own brethren.

Unfortunately, even after the resignation of Spyridon, the man of his own mind, and the appointment of Dimitrios as archbishop, a man who inspires respect and love, the same dark forces continue to undermine the prestige of Orthodoxy, leading her in highly dangerous directions.

[ Translated from Greek ]

[ η Πρωϊνή - March 17-19-20, 2001 ]