Eleftherotypia (Sunday Edition) - December 10, 2000
Behind the Scenes of Spyridon's Dethronement
By Justine Frangouli
The individuals who took a leading role in the ousting of
Spyridon were the very same people who victimized his predecessor, Iakovos.
The current vice-chair of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council,
Mike Jaharis, and Fr Alex Karloutsos, with his wide network of contacts in
the Greek-American community, were the pivots of the game. These were joined
by the US Metropolitans and the establishment of Holy Cross School of Theology
(Brookline, MA). The latter were instrumental in setting up GOAL, an extra-ecclesiastical
pressure group (Greek Orthodox American Leaders).
The real power in the Executive Committee resided with vice-chair Alex Spanos,
appointed by Spyridon because of his influential role on the American scene
and his close friendship with Fr. Karloutsos.
The first Executive Committee meetings proceeded without conflict, although
Michael Jaharis's inflexibility on the issues was clear from the onset.
He tried to impose his own entrenched views, dragging along the remaining
members, none of whom had any desire to lock horns with him. In private conversations,
Jaharis, a Karloutsos friend, tried to prevail on Spyridon to restrict his
role to that of celebrant and preacher merely conveying the "new vision"
to Greek Orthodox communities throughout the country. Administration, Jaharis
insisted, should not take up the Archbishop's time! Spyridon was told
Jaharis himself would hold down the fort.
Removed from the Archdiocese of America in 1992, Fr. Karloutsos began systematically
undermining Iakovos. He would now receive his salary directly from the Phanar,
to which he would regularly deliver hefty checks from Greek-American millionaires.
Fr. Karloutsos who had visited Venice on a few other occasions to cement his
relationship with Iakovos's successor, organized the Greek American contributions
for the Patriarch's trip there. The priest once asked Spyridon whether
his ties with the Patriarch would be a hindrance should he become Archbishop
of America one day. This gave the Metropolitan pause for thought.
After Spyridon's election, Fr. Karloutsos, appointed Vicar for Public
Affairs, returned to the Archdiocese even more acrimonious than before, managing
to intimidate the Archdiocese personnel and the clergy. Fr. Alex often implied
that revenge were to be taken on laymen and clergy who figured on his list
as "antipatriarchal". Meanwhile, he prepared the enthronement gala
and immediately began spreading rumors that the Archbishop was "transitory
and on trial."
For the love of money
The relationship between the two men deteriorated when the Patriarch visited
the United States (October 1997). The omniscient Fr. Karloutsos had been given
carte blanche to organize the Patriarchal visit. Though the initial budget
for the visit was approximately two million dollars, Fr. Alex's invoices
totaled a much larger amount.
The Bishops, who had not delivered their agreed diocesan contributions to
help defray the visit's considerable expenses, pointed the finger at
Fr. Karloutsos. Alleging irregularities in the Patriarchal visit management,
they set up an investigative committee to look into the matter.
Following the Patriarchal visit, the Archbishop gradually began to distance
himself from Fr. Karloutsos and ceased calling him to senior staff meetings
where key decisions on Archdiocesan matters were taken. The "Patriarch's
friend," acting in a deliberate and systematic manner, transformed his
office into a Trojan horse. Day after day, he slipped confidential documents
to Spyridon's opponents and the media.
The spring of 1999 saw the Archbishop closing down various fronts and tying
up loose ends. Even though the situation in the Greek-American community was
relatively calm during Lent and the Easter period, the Patriarch, during his
official visit to Athens in late May, decided to raise the question of Spyridon's
status. Meeting with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Bartholomew brought
up the issue and expressed concern about discord in the Greek-American community.
The Prime Minister was reported to have said that since the case was ecclesiastical
in nature, he would prefer to see the Patriarch handle it himself. The conversation
was leaked to the press the following day.
In a routine briefing the next day, however, government spokesperson Dimitris
Reppas flatly denied that the Prime Minister was involved in the affairs of
the Church of America or those of the Patriarchate.
That day, Spyridon got a private phone call from a person close to Gerasimos
Arsenis, Minister for Education and Religious Affairs. According to the caller,
the Patriarch expressed concern about Spyridon to Arsenis. The minister replied,
however, that it was only normal that a change of leadership in the Church,
especially after 38 years, would cause some problems: nonetheless, he saw
no need for alarm.
During the same period, Metropolitan Ioacheim of Chalcedon had visited the
United States. The second-ranked hierarch in the Patriarchate hobnobbed with
Fr. Alex Karloutsos and his millionaire friends. He was informed that Spyridon
had alienated himself from big interests and big money in the Greek-American
A $1,000,000 check donated by magnate Alex Spanos for the purchase of a Patriarchal
residence in Constantinople, delivered to Bartholomew in late April by the
Patriarch's "fundraiser," Fr. Alex Karloutsos, seemed to have
played a decisive role in Bartholomew's decision to end the Spyridon
issue then and there.
Bartholomew was in constant contact with Fr. Alex Karloutsos. He even visited
the artful cleric privately in his New Rochelle home, passing through New
York on his way to Canada. A few days later, Fr. Karloutsos appeared on the
scene in Toronto where he had another private meeting with the Patriarch.
There could be no doubt: these meetings signaled a fateful shift in the relationship
between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of America.
Hostility on the horizon
On June 2, Spyridon and Bartholomew met in the VIP lounge of Turkish Airlines
Turk Hava Yollari when the latter was returning to Constantinople by way of
New York's JFK Airport. Once the Phanar's favorite son, the Archbishop
now detected coolness, even hostility in the Patriarch's manner. "Your
friends say that I do not dare. Tell them that Bartholomew dares... And
do not think this has to do with money," the Patriarch admonished Spyridon.
Startled, the Archbishop demanded an explanation but none was forthcoming.
A few weeks later, in September, Spyridon felt completely isolated at the
Synaxis of Ruling Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne in Constantinople. At
a meeting of the Committee for the Throne's Eparchies, he looked on stoically
while Bartholomew recited a litany of grievances against him; then he offered
A flurry of attacks followed in that adverse fall of 1998. Though it looked now as if the Patriarch supported Spyridon in his struggle
with the Metropolitans, in a private discussion in the Patriarchal Office
with Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon present, he asked for his Exarch's
signed resignation: "I want to have it available here in my drawer should
the opportunity arise so you do not wake up as former Archbishop of America
one morning," the Patriarch warned.
To ease the atmosphere after Bartholomew's ultimatum, former Halki classmate,
Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon, himself a spiritual child of Meliton of
Chalcedon, advised Spyridon that instead of tendering his resignation immediately,
he should wait to see what would happen.
Two months later, Ioakeim phoned Spyridon and told him it was time to send
the Patriarch his resignation without further ado...
For the Archbishop, however, it was like "a voice of one crying in the
wilderness." He had decided that in the future the only dignified position
to take with the Phanar would be "if you want it, come and get it."
When Spyridon thought about the plotting and scheming that had gone on over
the past year, he was convinced that the people huddling behind closed doors
and managing the war from the East would have to bear full responsibility
for his removal from the Throne.
He would perform his duty until the end even if it meant waking up one morning
as the "former Archbishop of America," as he had been threatened.
[Translated from Greek]