Epikaira News - April 30, 2002
Biography of Unconditional Love
By Mishel Koçiu, Editor-in-Chief
They call him "AXIOS". In his presence, the crowd feels electrified and does not resist the temptation to call him "AXIOS, AXIOS, AXIOS". It is his first public appearance since his dramatic resignation from the archiepiscopal throne of the Greek Orthodox Church of America in August 1999.
He comes as a personality, as an "EX" or as a pilgrim. He comes as somebody who withdrew himself to put an end to a scission, and as someone who reappears to once again unite. Like a great figure who still draws crowds, simply the thought of seeing him up close, of being able to show their deepest sympathies to him. Two receptions in the same day: April 26, 2002
The book which traverses two receptions
"The Lonely Path of Integrity" is the authorized biography of Archbishop Spyridon.
Although this book refers to the events of the Greek Orthodox Community of America, it awakens a particular interest for Montrealers of Hellenic origin because it was a Montreal journalist, Justine Frangouli-Argyris, who was selected to evaluate the life and ministry of the former Primate.
Smooth, serene, calm, effective (and always remarkably translated into English by Jerry Stamatelos), this is a biography which will likely disturb many consciences... all the more since the Greek community lacks neither witnesses, nor testimonies. All is said effortlessly, by piercing the mystery of the Byzant corridors and uncovering the Greek Orthodox reality in America, whose modernity exceeds, frequently and many times over, the old methods. This biography of the former Primate depicts an eminent character of the Orthodoxy who played a primary role in the advancement of the dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the other Christian Churches and denominations.
This is a work accessible to all in its simplicity, and while based on a complicated life, worthy of the size of its subject.
City Hall , At 12:00 p.m.
The mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, is the host of the reception given in the honor of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, former Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America.
In the reception rooms, next to the Council room, the guests are waiting. Members of the press are on standby. Many guests of honor have passed through those rooms. Now it is His Eminence's turn. Next to the podium, a portrait of His Eminence integrated on the cover of The Lonely path of Integrity. A photograph which, upon his departure, will decorate the office of Frangouli-Argyris... as her book will our libraries, says an old gentleman who deals with the details of the ceremony.
Before arriving in the reception hall, the distinguished visitors first pass by the protocol, by the book of honor, where they have all left their "fingerprints"... As if to stress the reciprocal importance of the visitor and the host.
Accompanied by Mayor Tremblay and Helene Fotopoulos, who assumed a significant part in the organization of this reception, His Eminence left an elegant dedication filled with love in the book of the honored guests of city hall. Then, they headed towards the reception hall, where the guests were waiting.
"I thank Helene for having organized this meeting, thus giving me an exceptional opportunity to see you, Your Eminence", said the mayor Gerald Tremblay in his speech. "You know, this is the citizens' house. It is your home. When Justine was called to work with His Eminence in order to write this book, it was a difficult beginning. She worked very hard and here is the end result, a book... Even though I have yet to read it, I keep it close to my heart, and wait impatiently to read it for many reasons. First and foremost, the title "The Lonely Path of Integrity", as well as your presence as one of the oldest communities in Montreal, gives hope that in all the communities of our city, the example to be followed is simply integration while promoting their culture. Justine, very Greek but at the same time very Montrealer, along with two other Montrealers, give us this beautiful gift, to us, the other Montrealers."
All while affirming his respect for the religion of all Montrealers, Mr. Tremblay said he was excited about the exceptional values that the Montreal communities add to the life of this large city. "Everyone evokes the freedom and equality of the French revolution... But they often forget to quote fraternity, this significant quality which unites the world and is rather evident here in Montreal", mayor Tremblay continued.
It was a good occasion for everyone to underline, in their own way, the truths that surround this idea, and to praise Montreal and its multiculturalism. Is this city not our beautiful house, commune and plural, whereby each community, each culture feels at ease? When her turn came, Justine Frangouli-Argyris said "I was not born here, I lived my whole life here. Then I went elsewhere. And I returned again. Because Montreal is my life. It is my home."
The memory of this city is plural. It enriches itself by being open, and new eyes routinely discover it. As was the case of His Eminence, apparently very moved by the solemnity that surrounded him all throughout he reception: "I am impressed by this gathering, which shows the open mindedness of the City of Montreal towards its citizens and its communities, independent of their origins. Seeing this fascinates me."
Who could have determined the losses that Montreal would have undergone during the 20th century, if the cosmopolitanism had been conceived as a defect, a mistake? Here she is, beautiful and culturally enriched with a multiple and sometimes exotic glow. The Greeks have their share of beauty here. It is with this feeling of pride, that they found themselves in the Town hall, at this reception held in honor of one as of their own, at the same time raising the Mayor's respect for this community.
Greek Community Center, at 8.00 p.m.
The community's house is a symbolic place of reunion, of meetings, and of assertion of one's self, because Greece with the Greek language and the Greek people are all part of international pride, as well as an inheritance established throughout the centuries. The Greeks of Montreal, quickly affirmed themselves as a significant part of this "plural nation", as a valued part of the Montrιal community.
The central Room: A quiet elegance, favorable to this event. Here reside the Headquarters of the community. The heart of the community where the Greco-Americans... and the patrida, the old continent, intertwine themselves as in the mural, at the entrance. The family on the painting awaits for them at the gate, in the background, a sky-scrapper... a Greek goddess, in her hands a dove and an olive branch, waves goodbye to them. There is a strong sensation. The event adds to its importance.
Hundreds of people arrived here, to 5757 Wilderton. Among the participants were the community leaders, and important guests from our neighbors to the South.
There exists a rather simple phenomenon among Greeks: Any person who helps their pride grow, and helps to preserve this quality, gains popularity very quickly. There was once a time when religion was an integral part of the Greek life. For modern Greeks, religion quickly came to represent the unconditional love of those who, as in the good old days, preserved their culture, their language and the Greek identity. The orthodox faith is part of the Greek spirit, reaffirming that religion will never be considered a "passé" cultural form. What is more human than the need for roots, this powerful means of identification, of power and education? This is not a spiritual metaphor, but an every day necessity. That is why three generations of Greeks have assembled here by the hundreds to reaffirm themselves and their identity as well as to recognize the importance of His Eminence.
However, everyone was not present
The essential message of the Orthodox Church is to love one another. If one forgets this aspect in order to retain only the incarnation of Christ, one transforms the ethics into an ideology of the truth. What remains for this institutionalization? During the two receptions given in honor of His Eminence, there was no other local orthodox spiritual leader. None. And yet people who pressed themselves there have been served by these priests on a daily basis, every Sunday, at every baptism, at every wedding, or when life makes place for eternity. They accompany these people everywhere throughout their life, and yet they are not there. There where one of our peers comes to preach love, the strength and the preservation of the soul and of the Greek identity. Why this abstinence! It is a sad division. The same people, but not the same religious heads that were suppose to be there, as an unconditional outcome of love, of peace and harmony that they advocate.
The Church is there to preserve the sacred flame from generation to generation. But it is man made: thus, it is inevitable that the questions of power and personal interest lead to a division and even the loss of the message. The people, victims of the game, come out of it with dignity and humility and continue to serve the people all while humbly endeavoring to smooth out all the rough edges. No scandals. The past remains in the past.
We can no longer consider His Eminence Spyridon, as one "moment" in the evolution of the Orthodox Church in America, or as a "bridge of dialogue" between the religions. He will be an integral part of history for more than one million and a half Greeks in North America. For a long time he will remain a "lone rider" in the memory and the respect of all American and Canadians of Hellenic origin. He was their spiritual leader for only three years. He should have been forever. But... Faced with this "But..." tolerance remains to be reinvented.
The incarnation of beauty, which he preached over the years and served to create his notorious reputation, will perhaps one day reconcile him with everyone and maybe even with his adversaries...
His Eminence spoke in English, French, and Greek... he spoke to everyone. The gestures are regular ones but, be careful, achieved with the grace of high class people, who were and continue to be leaders, quietly incarnated in all details. This explains the impatience of people to approach this man in order to express their respect and great admiration. Everyone tried to benefit from his presence and immortalize themselves with him on a photograph, or to get his autograph on the book that has been recently published in English. He found time for everyone, standing... making a triumph of his visit.
The Greeks: The Great
Here are these Greek Montrealers that with every passing day are more active, more united, and who reinvent the North-American lifestyle. They give: their time, their know-how and, when they can, their money. They refuse exclusion and advocate the assertion of oneself as the only path of coexistence and integrity. For them Solidarity is not a simple word, it is a way of life. They create new associations, new movements and new forms of action. Most recent: the "Epikaira", the baby newspaper, the new-born of the Montreal media landscape. A one-hundred page weekly newspaper in three languages, which on this occasion made its presence along with its characters and its public.
THEY SAID TO "EPIKAIRA":
Gerald Tremblay, mayor of Montreal:
The presence of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon at City Hall, the citizen's house, is part of the values of a society. He is a person who devoted his life to helping others while trying to create a better dialogue between the religious communities. Thus, we come to a person that lived difficult moments, but knew how to overcome the obstacles all while keeping his dignity. He is also a Montrealer just like Justine, who took the time to write this book. Thanks to her collaboration with two others Montreal translators, Jerry Stamatelos and the editor Charles Phillips, it was made possible for this book to reach a larger audience by being offered in English. It is exceptional.
His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon:
First, I must tell to you that I am impressed by this gathering, which shows Montreal's openness towards its citizens and its communities, independently of their origin. I am really fascinated to see this.
With regard to the Hellenic community, it is absolutely an honor to be a part of this large city which accepts everyone, any community, any ethnic group. Not only that, but that helps them develop and flourish all while preserving their traditions and their culture. I do not believe that one can find this harmony elsewhere in the world. It is exceptional and deserves all my recognition.
Justine Frangouli-Argyris, the author of "The Lonely Path of Integrity"
It is a great emotion. I am member of the Greek community and to see a reception at the Town hall in honor of such a significant Hellenic character; I really feel impressed. His Eminence, isolated in Portugal for two and a half years, accepted the invitation and honored us with his presence. It is really special.
I greatly appreciate the openness of the Mayor of Montreal towards the cultural products that come from other communities, as is the case with my book today. It is what makes me feel once more that Montreal is my home.
Nick Katalifos - President of the Hellenic Congress of Quebec:
This event is really significant to us for two reasons:
Firstly we are happy about the collaboration with the town hall of Montreal, which gave us the opportunity to bring over people of this stature. It is really special. That shows the Mayor's desire to be rather open about the cultural communities. It is really significant for us.
Secondly, greeting His Eminence Spyridon, this man of extraordinary qualities is another significant occasions to affirm itself.
Fortunately, there are people like Mrs. Frangouli-Argyris that can make public a small part of the Hellenic history in North America not only to the Greek community, but also to all the Montreal communities.
In Montreal, it is the third generation of young Montrealers of Greek origin, who are being to introduce themselves in the Community life, thus, the importance of the collaboration of the executive of the City for the future of our community.
Helene Fotopoulos - Member of the City Executive Committee
For me it is the crossing of many of my political responsibilities including culture, inheritance and cultural community. Thus, the launching and translation into English of a book bearing on a collective civilization, but also being some one of Greek origin with two grandfathers in the religious domain, one of which was condemned and executed because of his faith, I had reason to be moved today. My past always pushed me to pursue, with interest, the course of the Orthodoxy with emphasis on dialogue and love. That is why, when Justine spoke to me about her project which was published only in Greek, I suggested to publish it in English so that everyone in Canada, the United States and in Australia can share it.
I also received the news that a new newspaper, "EPIKAIRA", in three languages will be added to the Montreal media landscape with much enthusiasm. This provides many more opportunities for the current Hellenic community, making it possible for the Montreal public to read in English and in French what was up until now reserved for those who understood Greek. Congratulations.
[ Epikaira News (Greek Canadian Weekly) - April 30, 2002 ]