The Hellenic Times - November 2000
A New Book :
Archbishop Spyridon's Biography
by Evan C. Lambrou
More than four years since he was enthroned, and more than
one year since he resigned, as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America,
His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, formerly of America, has opted to reveal
a hitherto unknown side of the story concerning the three years of ecclesiastical
turmoil in which he was embroiled: his own.
In mid December, Exantas Publishers, one of the largest publishers in Greece,
will be releasing "H Monaxia Enos Asymbibastou" (The Solitude of
an Uncompromising Man, English translation pending) by Justine Frangouli,
a correspondent for the Sunday edition of the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia
and the Athens News Agency in Montreal, Quebec.
Ms. Frangouli kept a close eye on Archbishop Spyridon's 3-year tenure in America.
She herself has written dozens of articles and reports during that period
(September 1996 - August 1999) and was privy to a considerable amount of information
from the halls of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople to the walls
inside the American Archdiocese in New York.
Archbishop Spyridon was forced to fight a losing battle on four
fronts, Ms. Frangouli explained, and her book describes the events from this
frame of reference.
Ms. Frangouli not only furnishes the reader with Archbishop Spyridon's
personal account of what transpired when he was at the helm of the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese of America (as told to her by the Archbishop himself), she also
provides a biography of the man's life: who he was, who he is, and what other
people who know him actually think of him.
From family members to childhood friends to fellow students at the schools
where he studied to associates throughout his entire ecclesiastical ministry,
Ms. Frangouli reports that the general consensus among the people who know
him best is crystal clear:
Archbishop Spyridon is intelligent, independent and uncompromising when it
comes to matters of integrity and human decency, she said.
In an interview with the Hellenic Times, the contents of which
are published below, Ms. Frangouli shares her insight.
* * * * * * *
Hellenic Times (HT): Hello Ms. Frangouli. Congratulations
on the imminent release of your new book.
Justine Frangouli (JF): Thank you.
HT: Could you please tell our readers why you felt
the need to write this book and tackle this particular subject?
JF: Yes, of course. I felt the need to write this story
because, clearly, many things happened during Archbishop Spyridon's three
years which were left unreported. Many people have absolutely no idea what
really happened. There are many opinions, yes, but nobody really knows.
HT: With the volume of literature generated by the
Greek Press and independent websites during that time, do you think this is
a fair statement?
JF: First, I acknowledge that many opinions were expressed
during that period, but most of them were either uninformed or misinformed.
I have no doubt there will be some severe critics, but it's clear that the
vast majority of the opinions expressed were one-sided, so as a journalist,
I have to look for balance. If too much information leans too much to one
side, that alone is enough to indicate there is a problem. So we have to ask
ourselves, how can anyone say he or she knows the whole story if they only
hear one side of it? The person who was at the center of all the controversy,
who was the focus of so much attention, did not tell us what he knew. But
isn't his side of the story one of the most, if not the most, important part
of the whole story?
HT: And your book contains the missing link?
JF: You could say so, yes. I had access to many files,
and I had close contact with many people close to the source; on both sides
of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Phanar to the Acropolis to the Archdiocese.
I did a lot of research, and I spent a lot of time discussing the events with
the Archbishop himself. He gave me his interpretation of the facts. Anyone
who is interested enough to read the book will encounter a perspective which
was previously unpublicized. To that extent, the book presents the "missing
link," as you said.
HT: What, in your opinion, actually took place that
people fail to realize about His Eminence's 3-year ministry in America.
JF: It is a complex story with many facets to it. The
Archbishop had to fight a war in four different theaters. First, he had to
contend with the theological school (Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he demoted a former president and transferred
two priest/professors away from the school and assigned them to full-time
parish duty). Second, he had to face opposition from members of the Holy Eparchial
Synod, five of whom were elevated from Bishops of Dioceses to Metropolitans
of the Ecumenical Throne. Third, he had to contend with a group of people
known as "Patriarchal friends," some of whom are very influential.
And fourth, he had to contend with the Patriarchate itself. Everywhere he
turned, he faced serious difficulty.
HT: Your book implicates the Patriarchate, too?
What about the fact that Archbishop Spyridon succeeded Archbishop Iakovos,
who was in charge for more than 37 years? Under the circumstances then, and
in light of what happened, isn't it reasonable to conclude that anyone would
have encountered a great deal of difficulty walking into a system which had
established itself over a span of four decades? Many people contend that Archbishop
Spyridon should have given himself more time to get used to the American environment,
and had he done so, he might have more effectively consoliodated his authority.
What do you think about those arguments?
JF: Of course it's true any successor to Archbishop
Iakovos was going to experience a large measure of difficulty. In Spyridon's
case, Archbishop Iakovos retired grudgingly, and he was very embittered with
the way the Patriarchate handled his retirement. Many of Archbishop Iakovos'
most loyal supporters were also very angry. Archbishop Spyridon walked into
a furnace. The Patriarchate sent him to a turbulent eparchy. Because Archbishop
Iakovos had become such a powerful figure, powerful enough to rival the authority
Mother Church, the Patriarchate did not want Spyridon to follow Iakovos' footsteps.
They didn't want Spyridon to become independent. They wanted him to be more
subordinate. At the same time, they asked him to work with the same people
who were loyal to Iakovos, but Iakovos was able to control those people. After
Iakovos stepped down, who was going to keep them pacified? Shortly after he
arrived, Spyridon was told by some of them to be a theologian and preach the
word of God. "Leave the administration to us." On the one hand,
you had the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchal friends trying to
put the new Archbishop under their thumb. On the other hand, you had a very
independent churchman who did not want to be a puppet Archbishop. As far as
he was concerned, he was the Archbishop, and as such, he was rightfully the
chief administrator of the Archdiocese. Some say he could have compromised
his position, but in reality, he couldn't have. It's not in his nature. He's
HT: Hence the title of the book?
JF: Yes. Everyone I interviewed who knew him agrees
with this. Archbishop Spyridon refuses to compromise his integrity. He would
never sacrifice his convictions. And he always stands on his beliefs. In the
end, such people usually stand alone. They often walk on a lonely path. "Foxes
have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere
to lay his head (Matthew 8.20)."
HT: Good luck with your book.
JF: Thank you.