hellenic times - June 7-20, 2002

Exclusive Interview:

Archbishop Spyridon Reflects: Continues to Support Patriarch

Archbishop Spyridon

Just a few days before the Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles, where the draft charter proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate is likely to raise much discussion and controversy, Archbishop Spyridon, former Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, has given a significant interview to The Hellenic Times.

In the interview, His Eminence stresses that Greek Orthodoxy in America cannot grow and thrive without being rooted in the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Although acknowledging the fact that perhaps as many as hundreds of thousands of faithful have left the embrace of the Archdiocese over the past decades, he maintains that any disruption of relations between the Archdiocese and its Mother Church will seriously impair the prospects of Greek Orthodoxy in America.

Archbishop Spyridon, far from the scene today, deplores the fact that the entire dispute over the new charter has been reduced to a matter of power distribution between not only clergy and laity but also between ecclesiastical authorities themselves.

The former Primate attributes the loss of control over the situation in America to the policies implemented by the Phanar over the past ten years. He further underscores the need for the Patriarchate to undertake a serious and in-depth reflection on its course of action vis-a-vis the Archdiocese, if its deeply scarred image is ever to be restored in America.

Referring to Metropolitan Methodios' revealing letter, Spyridon points out that such a document demonstrates how "politics" have always played a predominant role within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. He also says he was not surprised to see the Boston hierarch resume his initial stance with regard to Holy Cross and the events of 1997. He also stresses the need to end the ongoing HC/HC "internal conflicts and tensions" that are demoralizing seminarians and future clergy.

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The Hellenic Times: There has been much talk lately in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese about autocephaly or autonomy. Do you think the Archdiocese is ready for independence from the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople?

Archbishop Spyridon: I belong to those who believe that any disruption of the Archdiocese's relationship with the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, will be to the disadvantage of Greek Orthodoxy in America. A plant cannot survive without its roots. Furthermore, I do not believe that Greek Orthodoxy in America has had or has ever been given the opportunity to grow its own roots.

Taken together, the Archdiocese and its current institutions do not give an ideal picture of maturity and growth. For various reasons, connected mostly to self-interests and certainly not to lofty ideals, the Archdiocese has not been able to take the first steps beyond organizational infancy. I should not like to go into details. It suffices to mention the hundreds of thousands of faithful who have left the embrace of the Archdiocese over the past decades.

I understand, of course, that the image of our Mother Church has been seriously damaged in America over recent years. Unfortunately, what is perceived as Patriarchal micromanagement of Archdiocesan matters has seriously troubled our people and has called the Patriarchate's role into question. I think the moment has come for our Mother Church to undertake a serious and in-depth reflection on its entire policy vis-à-vis the Archdiocese of America before it is too late.

HT: The proposed new Charter of the Archdiocese is another topic much discussed today. There are many diverse viewpoints on this issue. What is your take on it?

ABS: The issue of a new charter for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese dates to the last years of Archbishop Iakovos' tenure, when a draft charter was submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1995.

First, I believe the timing for introducing a new charter at this point is unfortunate. Charters should not be promoted in times of prolonged transition and uncertainty. Wisdom dictates that they be introduced in periods of stable and strong leadership, of peace and the steady function of all church institutions.

Second, it seems that every consideration is being focused on the distribution of executive power, and this not only between clergy and laity, but chiefly between the hierarchical authorities themselves. I think a charter of such importance should reflect the whole reality of church life, and not only certain ecclesiastical aspects. Perhaps if the whole issue were put on a more spiritual basis the existing divergences and current disagreements would not be so acute.

Of course, I understand the anxiety of the laity to safeguard their participation in Church governance and administration, especially since the Archdiocese encompasses not only the faithfuls' sacramental life, but also the whole of Greek Orthodox reality in the United States. However, this participation should always be in compliance with the centuries-old Canonical tradition of our Church.

HT: How would you assess the fact that 50 or even more parishes tend to reject the new charter proposed by the Patriarchate?

ABS: It is only natural that in such a vast Archdiocese there will always be groups of faithful who will be in disagreement with how the Church is being run. But in the current circumstances, I believe that the instability of church leadership and the stagnation that seems to pervade the Archdiocese, shake the confidence of our faithful.

But more than this, one would have to be very narrow-minded not to perceive that the action taken by these fifty parishes is the beginning of something greater. I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new independence movement that will not be easy to halt or reverse if the Mother Church continues to avoid the real problems that the Church of America is currently confronting. It seems that we may well be at the threshold of a new era of Greek Orthodoxy in the United States.

HT: You have probably heard that Leadership 100, the strongest financial institution of the Archdiocese, recently disapproved the Charter proposed by the Patriarchate. What do you think of this?

ABS: The fact that the Executive Board of Leadership 100 disapproved the new charter proposed by the Patriarchate certainly reflects the grave concerns this important ancillary institution has with regard to the proposed charter modifications. Also, considering that Leadership 100 is composed of faithful from across the United States, the stance taken by the Executive Board demonstrates that preoccupations in the broader community are greater than what one might think. All this does not bode well for serenity in the Archdiocese and for the Mother Church's future role in America.

HT: Recently a letter by Metropolitan Methodios came to light. In essence it exonerates you of how you handled the alleged "sexual scandal" at HC/HC. How do you see this new development?

ABS: I am not at all surprised by this continuous change of views and positions. It's rather typical of the "politics" that unceasingly take place within the Archdiocese.

However, it is somewhat refreshing to see that Metropolitan Methodios once again views the alleged "sexual scandal" at Holy Cross the way he himself and the Eparchial Synod viewed it initially.

At the same time, I am disheartened to learn that serious and abundant problems continue to exist at Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. It is sad that to this very day one speaks of "an atmosphere of polarization, mistrust and intimidation among administrators, faculty, staff and students". It is also extremely discouraging to hear that the faculty is still torn by "internal tensions and conflicts" to the detriment of seminarians and future clergy.

Given the importance of this educational institution for the future of Orthodoxy in America, I believe it is high time for the Archdiocese to look into the School's matters putting aside all self-interests that have plagued this sacred institution for decades. The Archdiocese should finally ensure that the School has both a high-principled administration and a high-level faculty capable of enjoying pan-orthodox and international recognition.

HT: Ionian Village, the Archdiocese summer camp for teenagers and young adults in Greece, has been canceled for this year. How would you comment this fact?

ABS: This is really sad news. We all know how much Ionian Village offers our youth by bringing them closer to the roots of our faith and culture. It is also of note that Greek Letters Day was not observed by the Archdiocese this year. I hope that the cancellation of Ionian Village for this year is not an indication of how the Archdiocese plans to proceed in the future with regard to Hellenism and Greek education in particular. I trust that this is not the case and that this is only a matter of lack of competence by those directly responsible.

HT: In the English version of your biography, The Lonely Path of Integrity, two historic documents are published for the first time: your reports to the Patriarchate. How important are these documents to the readers?

ABS: The two reports published as appendices to the biography provide readers with a realistic picture of current Church life. Especially the second one, the report on the Church's state in the USA, was long due to the Greek American people who never had the necessary means and information to objectively assess the situation. Now, they are offered the opportunity to be informed in an accurate and responsible manner on what really transpired in their Church. Moreover, with these documents, I believe readers can acquire a broader vision of the whole spectrum of concerns and problems that challenge their Church.

HT: Recently, you were honored by the Mayor of Montreal, who presented your biography at Montreal City Hall. At the same time, you were acclaimed by the local Hellenic Community and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec. What do all these events mean to you?

ABS: I do not consider these honors as attributed to me personally. In paying tribute to my person, the Mayor of Montreal, the local Hellenic Community and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec, in reality honored the entire Greek Orthodox clergy and its struggle to preserve a genuine form of Orthodoxy and keep Hellenism alive in North America in spite of all the difficulties. I believe the success of the event lies mainly in this consideration.

The Mayor's initiative to provide a dignified platform for the presentation of the biography demonstrates not only his appreciation for the Montrealer author of the book, Justine Frangouli-Argyris, but also his profound esteem for Orthodoxy and Hellenism. Moreover, it is a token of how highly the City of Montreal thinks of the local Hellenic Community's presence in that city.

HT: We recently heard that a new foundation for Hellenism will be created and that this new entity will bear your name. What is your vision for this new institution?

ABS: It's true, a new foundation is on its way to promote issues related to Hellenic education and culture. The idea was born when some Greek American friends, headed by John Catsimatidis, former Archdiocesan Council President (and publisher of the Hellenic Times), met in Canada on the aforementioned occasion. We all experienced firsthand the efforts made by the local Hellenic Community to preserve its Hellenic roots, especially in the field of education. My friends were immediately sensitized to the need to contribute to such efforts. Thus, they decided to create a foundation dedicated to this purpose.

I myself found the idea excellent. I concurred that the new foundation bear my name for I believe that it can contribute significantly to the cause of Hellenism and its preservation in the USA and in other countries. Considering the alarming observation by the Rassias Commission in 1999: "unless significant remedial action be taken immediately, Hellenism's survival in the American diaspora will be at risk," the new foundation will have much to do in order to bear fruit. But we are confident that our efforts will be richly blessed, for the cause is noble and sacred.

HT: How do you view the recent scandals in the Catholic Church? Is it true that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has plenty of similar scandals?

Archbishop Spyridon: It is indeed very heartbreaking to witness this dreadful situation within the Roman Catholic Church. Such phenomena, of course, are of concern not only to the Roman Catholics. In fact, they affect all religious people and in particular all Christians, Orthodox included, in the USA and in other countries around the world.

In spite of the fact that the Orthodox clergy is composed predominantly of married priests, nonetheless there were several incidents of the kind within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. These incidents were of particular concern to the Archdiocese in the years 1996-1999. Fortunately, despite an infuriated opposition motivated by the usual political agendas, the Archdiocese at the time adopted and implemented a sexual misconduct policy which permitted that such problems be dealt with appropriate care so as to avoid bringing scandal to the clergy and the Church as a whole.

I would like to believe that this policy not only continues to stand today, but has also been further elaborated so that all possible measures are taken to ensure that there be no more victims of such crimes and that the moral integrity of the Church be preserved.

HT: What mistakes can you attribute to the Patriarchate that have contributed to its increasing isolation, both among its own eparchies and on the international scene?

ABS: Many are concerned today by the fact that, against all odds, our Mother Church experiences an increasing isolation from within and without, i.e. on the international scene and within its own ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

As to the Patriarchate's own jurisdiction, some tend to attribute its growing isolation to its inclination to limit the traditional role of its metropolitans and archbishops by intervening even in the minute details of their eparchies' day-to day administration. Unfortunately, dioceses are not governed from afar, especially in today's rapidly evolving world. This is precisely why local bishops are required by the centuries-old Canons of our Church.

With regard to the Patriarchate's presence on the international scene, all are aware that relationships with other Churches are often determined by very fragile and delicate factors. What is required in all instances is peacemaking and a dialogic disposition in order to secure a smooth and harmonious interaction. Apparently, this has not been present of late, especially in the Patriarchate's relations with the Churches of Russia and Greece.

Το come out of this impasse the Patriarchate must, first and foremost, restructure its synodical institution. Today, for reasons of political order that perhaps are no longer valid, only metropolitans residing in Turkey participate in the Patriarchate's Synod. Normally, the Holy Synod should be composed of all ruling hierarchs (metropolitans and archbishops) of the Patriarchate across the world. Should this become again a reality one day, then the Patriarchal Synod would indeed be representative of Greek Orthodoxy worldwide. And this certainly would be to the advantage of all Orthodox in America.

[ hellenic times - Vol. XXVIX, No. 8 - June 7-20, 2002 - pp. 1,2,16 ]