Nostos Online - March 9, 2001
Religious Leader's Much Anticipated Biography Makes Montreal Debut
By Jerry Stamatelos
Montreal-based journalist Justine Frangouli's authorized biography
of Archbishop Spyridon's short lived and tumultuous tenure at the helm of
the Orthodox Church in America was launched in Montreal on March 11. Frangouli
speaks candidly about her relationship with Spyridon and brings to light the
many forces that conspired to bring about his resignation.
* * * * *
When did you meet Archbishop Spyridon and how did
you get him to entrust his story to you?
As you are aware, my job as Greek media correspondent
in North America brought me close to the Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical reality
in America since Archbishop Iakovos' reign. While covering the events of Spyridon's
tenure, church issues became even more intriguing when I realized that not
only were his choices and decisions repeatedly and constantly misinterpreted,
but the very facts also. As a journalist, I was in a position to see that
an open confrontation was being orchestrated by certain groups or single individuals,
members of the clergy and a portion of the Greek American and Greek press.
I clearly saw the Hierarch was being made a victim of his efforts to preserve
Hellenism and Orthodoxy in a country where traditional values are inexorably
absorbed by the system.
My contact with Archbishop Spyridon was minimal at the time. Yet, by reading
my articles regarding the circumstances taking place within the Greek Orthodox
Church of America, he realized there were no second thoughts or politics involved.
This, I believe, led him to trust me as a professional.
When His Eminence resigned in August 1999, he declined my request for an interview
citing ill timing and the fact that his story was so long that it could not
be covered in a simple interview, but rather "a whole book could be written"
about the whole affair. I boldly took him to task and indicated that if he
was willing to share his records and archives, I would attempt to write his
biography. A few months later he entrusted his archival material to me and
I began my research and writing. The book is my depiction of Archbishop Spyridon's
life and times based on official records and my reading of the actual facts.
You spent over a year doing little else but compiling
research and traveling extensively while under a shroud of secrecy. Describe
To write a book of historical character requires minute
research and preciseness; it takes time and self-concentration. Given the
fact that I didn't want the key players of Spyridon's tenure to be involved
in my story positively or negatively, it was required of me to look carefully
at every single document in my possession and to travel to several European
countries and the United States. In my travels, I located the proper sources
and cleared certain facts with people who remained objective since they were
not aware their input would be used in a book. This secrecy made the working
atmosphere pleasant, kept anxiety at low levels and gave me the freedom to
work extensively with a great deal of persons who would otherwise have become
easily very emotional if they were to know that my casual questions were serving
the purpose of writing a biography. I think this approach helped me become
aware of the real factors and players of that period and to maintain a higher
level of objectivity. Thus, I got to know His Eminence's family, the places
he grew up as a child and even the people that surrounded him in his early
priesthood and throughout his entire career. It was an exhilarating experience
which brought me in touch with the boy, the adult, the Hierarch Spyridon so
as to be able to interpret for myself his decisions, actions and orientation
on certain issues.
The crux of 'The Lonely Path of Integrity' reads
like a global conspiracy against the Church of America's spiritual leader,
with implications ranging from Orthodoxy's epicenter in Constantinople to
Greek American communities. Have you considered the repercussions of such
We ought to clear this up. In my book there are no allegations
against any individual, community or institution. I am not a judge; I am a
writer and as such I put the facts together on the basis of all key documentation.
Therefore, I offer my readers the opportunity to journey through this period:
its events, those involved, the conspiracies, the misunderstandings, the misleading
information and the actions of the Archbishop. My book is a clear and clean
biography of Spyridon, not an attempt at vindictiveness or revenge, nor does
it present allegations against anyone ... It is obvious that the tough
game played with Spyridon derived from a thirst for power, money and personal
ambitions. It is sad to realize that the Orthodox Church could be used in
such an unorthodox way in order to oust a spiritual leader and satisfy personal
interests mostly. But at the same time I think it is high time that the real
facts be pointed out and responsibilities be fully assumed by those accountable
for the deterioration of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America.
It was discouraging for me to uncover this reality, because I was introduced
to Orthodoxy by a long line of clergymen: my father, grandfather and uncle
were all priests who led a virtuous Christian life in my hometown Lefkada
back in Greece. At the same time though, this disheartening revelation was
an exhilarating experience!
You followed the unfolding of events during Archbishop
Spyridon's tenure closely. What is your take on the whole affair?
The book portrays a man with a multifaceted life and
ecclesiastical career who initiated a distinct era in the life of the Orthodox
Church in Italy and America, who struggled to preserve the historical Byzantine
Orthodox Tradition and fought untiringly for the survival of Hellenism in
The plan behind his removal after three tumultuous years reveals a web of
scheming that enveloped the Greek American Church. From the shores of the
Bosporus and Constantinople to the Aegean and the birthplace of democracy
in Athens, from the council chambers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the
halls of power in the Greek Parliament, from brother bishops in America to
parish priests to prominent figures in the Greek American community, the story
extends over the totality of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America.
The irreversible results of this three year turmoil are evident: consolidation
of the autocephalist movement among the Orthodox Churches of America; division
and partisanship in the Hellenic family of America; marginalization of the
Greek American community as to its vital issues, and the evisceration of the
position and role of the Archbishop of America by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
What was the driving force behind 'The Lonely Path
of Integrity', and what do you want readers to get from reading it?
It was no less than my obligation as a journalist who
directly experienced the unfolding of events in that period, to place Spyridon's
story into its proper historical perspective and inform people as to the man
he really was; the actual facts that took place during his tenure as Archbishop
of America; what he achieved during those three years; his failures and why
the war against him was so merciless. I believe that by reading this book,
one realizes that even the Church has no compassion for her messengers in
the face of personal ambition and interest. I think the book reveals that
politics prevail in the Church of America and that vital issues, such as the
survival of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in the United States, come second!
How does Archbishop Spyridon feel now that his biography
is available for Greek diaspora's consumption?
In a recent interview with the Greek daily newspaper
'Ethnos', Archbishop Spyridon stated: "Mrs Frangoulis' book is based
to a great extent on hitherto unpublished documents, many of which originate
from my personal archives, as well published press accounts. From my reading
of the book, I feel that the author made good use of this archival material.
She brought to light many unknown facets of the recent history of the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the years 1996-1999. She was also able to
faithfully portray the atmosphere that pervaded during these three years.
Her descriptions are lively, yet concise, and lead the reader to a ready understanding
of some of the major problems with which the Greek-American community grappled
with then and continues to struggle. I consider the new book a serious primary
source for the history of the Church and of Hellenism in America. I also consider
it a gauge for the future course of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and its
efforts to preserve an authentic form of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in the United
States. Without question, the new book gives a distinct impression of the
Greek American community today."