The Lonely Path of Integrity
Stone Studio

I Gnomi - January 22, 2001

The Lonely Path of Integrity

By Rena Venianaki

It has not been my good fortune to be acquainted with the former Archbishop of America, Spyridon, at first hand. I began to hear various things about him just before he took up the reins of Orthodoxy in America. In the meantime, while I was in Rhodes, I had the opportunity to get to know the then Archbishop, Iakovos, and, up to a point, to understand what was happening on that distant continent, in particular within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Iakovos was experienced and had a good grasp of Greece's national issues, but he was somewhat distant from everyday reality and the needs of the Church and Hellenism. His age and his past led me to the view that America's Hellenes needed to be inspired by a new leadership, a new beginning, if you like. His resignation came after pressures from above and with it came a little later the appointment of Spyridon, a Rhodian, to the Archiepiscopal throne of America.

This was a church leader completely strange to me, whose selection by the Phanar raised questions in my mind, since we all know, to a great or lesser extent, the criteria that apply in such matters. This was one of the times when I have been completely mistaken in my estimations. But above all, to judge from the result, those who had chosen him were also completely mistaken, of course for reasons completely different from mine. From articles in the press and from information that would reach me, I started to add brush-strokes to the painting of a church leader who, as it gradually became evident, was no ordinary figure. In my search for more information, I asked people in Rhodes who knew him well. Highly educated, with views of his own, and somewhat authoritarian, was the description I was given. But, I thought, what able person in high office hasn't been accused of being authoritarian? Anyone who stands out and asserts himself even a little is easily and uncritically described as harsh and unbending --and whatever else you like to imagine. So, he went to America and tried to change the direction in which things were going. In what direction were things going? Towards total de-Hellenization, gradual relinquishment of Orthodox traditions, complete assimilation of Greeks into the US melting-pot and, of course, first and foremost, furtherance of personal interests among prominent figures of the Greek-American community, who had bought the Phanar's favor with fat dollar checks.

Spyridon, being the self-reliant figure he is, put his foot down against various irregularities and iniquitous activities. Soon, from being Constantinople's favorite son, he became a target of hate and a scapegoat. Within three years the situation had been completely reversed. The machinery for his removal, which had first been put to use in the case of Iakovos, was again put into operation.

It is worth reading journalist Justine Frangouli-Argyris' book The Lonely Path of Integrity. Through its documentation, three dramatic years unfold before us, years that culminated in the appointment of the insipid and inocuous Dimitrios as Archbishop. In its pages the reader can follow the desperate efforts of Spyridon to put Orthodoxy on its feet again and to halt the assimilation of the Greek-American community. At the same time, we are shown the rabid reaction from the "Patriarchal friends" to anything modern and correct that the Rhodian hierarch tried to set in motion.

A dramatic three years in which a savage campaign was set up to eliminate Spyridon because he had dared to seek radical changes in the establishment. Byzantine intrigue and scheming in all its glory! It becomes obvious yet again that the earthly representatives of the Almighty had turned the Church into a personal business and all that mattered was that they and their protégés should have a life of ease. They stopped at nothing to get what they wanted. We, too, experienced something similar here with the scandal of Patmos, where, as in the case of Spyridon's ousting, the familiar figure of Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia seems to have played an important role.

The conviction that I had before reading this book has, unfortunately, been even more firmly established. The Center of Orthodoxy wants a Greek-American community cut off from its national roots and from Greece, a community that in a little while will be ignorant of even the most elementary facts about its origins and its ancestors. Who will be the beneficiaries of this situation should not be difficult to guess. On this major issue, the Greek State has a say. It should act before it is too late. The kissing of hands and pious wishes are all very well, but by themselves they do nothing to serve our national interests.

This book also gave me the feeling that Rhodes should be proud that it gave birth to a church leader worthy of the Great Church of Christ, a cleric with knowledge and views of his own, but above all, with courage and daring. In the difficult times in which we live, these are qualities rarely encountered either in the clergy or in the laity.

[Translated from Greek]