The National Herald - February 21, 2009

Scholar and Theologian Offers his Perspective

Rev. Dr. Demetrios J. Constantelos Talks About the Church

By Theodore Kalmoukos
Special to The National Herald

BOSTON – The name Demetrios Constantelos has been synonymous for more than half a century with academia, knowledge, wisdom, virtue, seriousness, authorship, but above all Hellenism and Orthodoxy.

Fr. Constantelos is the par excellence scholar of both Hellenism and Orthodoxy. He is known worldwide and his works have become points of reference by scholars of theology, history, and Hellenism throughout the world. He was for more than 40 years, a distinguished professor of the history of Theology and Byzantine Empire at the Stockton State College of New Jersey and today he is a distinguished researcher.

Fr. Constantelos is the expert of the history of the life of the Greek Orthodox Church of America and in recent years, has been authoring and editing the late Archbishop Iakovos memoirs and his archives.

Asked as to where the new year finds the Greek Orthodox Church of America he said, “I do not see the Church taking steps ahead. I am not satisfied with the photographs and the appearances that I see often. I ask myself many times if Orthodoxy has anything substantial to offer to the contemporary world and I say this because we have some converts but to what degree we have an internal mission? When they have in a parish 2,000 people and on Sundays you only see 50 or 60 attending church, what can you say? Christ was chased away from the Church many years ago. The people have been influenced by the materialistic life.”

He believes that “the establishment on the Metropolitanates has weakened the Church and also the Office of the Archbishop. Not only that, but there is no brotherly feeling or cooperation between the hierarchs. When a Metropolitan goes to a parish to Liturgize people do not go to church.”

Fr. Constantelos is also outspoken about the path of Hellenic Paideia and education.

“I was expecting more things,” he said. “Hellenic Paideia has a lot to offer, but we did not pay attention to it although we have the abilities. There is hope, but initiatives are needed. Many activities that are organized in the Greek American community are wasted money. We could have established programs for Greek Letters in the biggest universities of America.”


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Fr. Demetrios Contantelos in his office at home surrounded by his many books. Fr. Constantelos delivers a lecture during one of his classes at Stockton College. Fr. Constantelos with then-newly elected Patriarch Athenagoras and professor and students at Holy Cross. Fr. Constantelos with his Presbytera Stella. Fr. Constantelos at a younger age checking the then-newly published book on the Apocrypha. Fr. Constantelos, his wife Stella and their children Christina, John, Eleni and Maria. Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey honors Fr. Constantelos for his contribution to the Hellenic Paideia and Language.

Asked to explain the indifferent position of Archbishop Demetrios on the Hellenic Paideia issue, he said, “He should have given it priority from the beginning.”

He does not think that other hierarchs have shown enough interest in Hellenic Paideia either, he said, “I do not see any movement from them. When I hear some of them talking only in English with a heavy accent what can I say?”

He is also disappointed about the fact that Boston only has one Greek American Day School.

“It surprises me, but it pains me deeply when there are big cities with large Greek populations without a day school,” he said. “We should reprioritize our principles.”

As far as the status of Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, Fr. Constantelos said, “We have a lot of converts, but how many of them are really converts in their research for authentic Christianity, and how many of them become Orthodox because they have personal problems? I have experience on this issue. There was someone here who had approached me many times. We spoke, I told him that he should learn Greek. He got up and he went to St. Vladimir’s Russian School of Theology and he became Orthodox. He was ordained and after a little while he called me and he asked me to help him be admitted into our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. I asked him why, and he said, ‘You pay well.’

“A professor called me from Florida and told me that a certain priest does not allow the school’s students to recite their March 25 (Greek Independence Day) poems because, he said they are pagan. A priest who graduated from Holy Cross Theological School told my brother ‘I hate those Greeks, I hate them.’”

Asked how he feels as a priest, as a man and as a human being that has been misled so may times concerning his appointment to the presidency of the Holy Cross School of Theology, Fr. Constantelos said, “My stance in life is if they need me, I would offer myself. If they do not, I wouldn’t be sorry. One time, the former president of the school Mr. Lelon, had visited Philadelphia and asked me to meet with him. He offered me the job of vice president of academic affairs because as he had said, the two Deans Fr. Harakas and Fr. Vaporis weren’t working well together. Lelon asked me to accept the offer to help the School. He requested my biographical data which I sent to him and promised me he would announce my appointment shortly after Christmas. I waited until February and I called him. He began praising me by saying that I am the most prominent graduate of the school. I interrupted him immediately and I told him that I understand. I did that because I knew that everything else he said were lies.”

Fr. Constantelos also said, “Iakovos had called me three times about the School. I remember once he invited me to speak to the Board of Trustees and the Archdiocesan Council at the World of Astoria and I said things in a very straightforward manner. Iakovos had called me a third time and everything was ready for the announcement of my appointment to the presidency of the school. Presbytera and I were even looking for a home in Boston. At the end of the meeting, Iakovos said they want to declare the position available, but he is determined to announce my appointment, but he did not. Instead, he appointed Metropolitan Silas and I doubted he knew anything about academic programs. When Silas saw me he said to me, ‘It is not my fault. I did not say anything.’ Iakovos had told me there are some at the School of Theology who did not want me because I emphasize Hellenism. I was told the same thing by Professor Demetris Zaharopoulos.”

Asked about the more recent time he was fooled in regards to the school under current Archbishop Demetrios, Fr. Constantelos said, “It was my mistake. I should not have gone in at all for an interview. When we finished, Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos said to me, ‘this wash best interview we ever had.’ I believed him because they called for a second interview, and they told me the second one was not so successful because they immediately appointed Fr. Triantafilou.”

Asked if he knew that Fr. Triantafilou is Fr. Stylianopoulos’ koumparo, Fr. Constantelos said, “I knew that and you understand I was disappointed.”
Asked who is going to be the next Archbishop after Demetrios, Fr. Constantelos said, “From what I see up to now I do not think there is anyone from here, but also I do not see someone from abroad. Let us pray to God that they do not send somebody like Spyridon.”

Asked if the Ecumenical Patriarchate should be getting Archbishop Demetrios’ succession ready from now, he said, “I think they do have those things in mind at the Patriarchate.”

Reading and searching through Archbishop Iakovos’ archives Fr. Constantelos has insight about who the real Iakovos was in terms of leadership, ethos and education.

“His writings have made me reconsider my views about Iakovos, because I thought that he was only for himself. If I judge him from my connection with him the last 10 years of his life, I saw him at his final years as very humble, thoughtful, and prayerful. Before that I had a different opinion. I remember the dismissal of Fr. George Florofsky from the Theological School because of a minor disagreement on the issue of kneeling during the consecration of the Holy Gifts. Iakovos stood up and he was saying ‘I am the Archbishop that is my responsibility.’ At that point I stood up and I said to him that ‘we are also responsible for the Church not only you. You are not the Church, we are too,’ and Iakovos did not say a word.”

Fr. Constantelos believes that “the Ecumenical Patriarchate should remain in Constantinople.”

Asked for his opinion about the clergy scandals such as Katinas, Fr. Constantelos said, “I read The National Herald’s articles and I want to tell you that it is not Katinas only, but there are some others who are in the ins an outs. Archimandrite Karambis, who you have been reporting about lately is another one. Let me tell you that when I was teaching at the Seminary, I personally had requested to dismiss him because of his academic inability and his character.”

Fr. Constantelos also discussed his position on homosexuality. “I personal do not approve, not only because the Holy Bible says so, but also because it is inconceivable for me,” he said. “No family can be established between two male homosexuals or lesbians.”

Would you have difficulty supporting the return of the tradition of married Bishops, he said, “I have written on the issue in my book ‘Marriage, Sexuality and Celibacy,’ because in the tradition and history of our Church we even had Patriarchs who were married and I do not stop at the fourth century. We have so many Bishops that are married, especially in Greece.”

Fr. Constantelos also said, “Another thing that bothers me is when I see all that lavishness in the high priesthood knowing that there is so much poverty in the world, all those big golden crosses and the helmets, etc. That is not a tradition for me. Those things appeared much later. We should return back to the simplicity of the early Church and the Byzantine era.”

When asked what his worst fear is, he said, “I am not fearful of anything because I believe that someone else is the governor. The presence of God in me, around me, in the world takes away the fear.”

Fr. Demetrios Constantelos is a world-renowned scholar on Eastern Orthodoxy, Byzantium, modern Greek history, and Hellenistic philosophy. Currently he is a Distinguished Research Scholar in Residence and the Charles Cooper Townsend Sr. Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Emeritus, at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, New Jersey.

He was born in Spilia, Messenia, Greece. He became a citizen in 1958, and resides in Linwood, NJ with his wife and presbytera, Stella.

Following his graduation from the Gymnasium of Kyparissia, Greece, he was offered a scholarship to study at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts. Upon his graduation from the Theological School in 1951 he attended the University of Michigan. In 1954 he married Stella Croussouloudis of New York and Chios, and returned to Greece where he enrolled and attended courses at the School of Theology, University of Athens (1954-1955).

Upon his return to the United States in May 1955, he was ordained in July, 1955 and assigned to St. Demetrios Church in Perth Amboy, NJ. During his diakonia at St. Demetrios (1955-1964) he pursued post-graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, (1957-1959), receiving a Th. M. in New Testament studies and Rutgers University (1959-1964), receiving an M.A. in 1963 and Ph.D. in 1965 in the history of Byzantine Civilization. He has received several scholarships, fellowships and honors including the Lane Cooper Fellowship and University Fellowship at Rutgers University, a Junior Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks of Harvard University, several grants, an honorary doctorate in theology by Hellenic College/Holy Cross and several distinctions from academic, professional and social organizations.

Since 1962, he has taught at Rutgers University, Hellenic College, Boston College, New York University and has lectured at several universities and colleges in the United States and before many professional, religious, academic and civic organizations.

He has read papers at International Congresses of Byzantine Studies, Conference on Medieval Studies, the Catholic Historical Association, American Historical Association, Society for Church History, the American Academy of Religion, the Modern Greek Studies Association, the Orthodox Theological Society of America, the Anglican-Orthodox, Eastern OrthodoxRoman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Lutheran Theological Consultations, and other organizations in the United States, and other countries in Spain, England, France, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Australia and of course, Greece.

Between 1955 and 1996, Rev. Constantelos served either as regular or visiting priest at several communities in New England, New Jersey, and Maryland.

He has been a visiting lecturer in many communities of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, California, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana.

Fr. Constantelos is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies at Temple University, and a member of the New Revised Standard Version Bible Committee of the National Council of Churches in the United States. He has also received several academic, community and book awards from 1959 to 2002.

He is married to Stella Croussouloudis of New York City and is the father of four children: Christine, a graduate in Plant Science of Rutgers University; John, a graduate in Political Science and International Relations of Tufts University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University; Eleni, a literature graduate of Colgate University; and Maria, an educator, graduate of Bergen College, who also attended Ramapo College and Marymount College. He also has six grandchildren.

Fr. Constantelos is a prolific writer, with published books and articles on Hellenism, philosophy, history and theology. His many titles include:
Christian Faith And Cultural Heritage: Essays from a Greek Orthodox Perspective
Renewing the Church: The Significance of the Council in Trullo
Paideia: Addresses to Young People
The Complete Works of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, e of North and South America 1959- 1996.
The Torchbearer: Encyclicals Spiritual and Ecclesiastical Subjects, Administration, Education, Culture
Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church: Its Faith, History and Life
Christian Hellenism, Volume Three: Essays and Studies in Continuity and Change
The Greeks, Their Heritage, and Its Value Today
Poverty, Society and Philanthropy in the Late Mediaeval Greek World
Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare
Religious-Philosophical Issues and Interreligious Dialogues in the Orthodox Church Since World War II
Orthodox Theology and Diakonia: Trends and Prospects Essays in Honor of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos.

[ The National Herald - Vol. 12, Issue 593 - February 21, 2009, pp. 1 and 3 ]