Eleftherotypia (Sunday Edition) - July 23, 2000
"Faced with compromise or retirement, I chose retirement"
By Justine Frangouli
After a barrage of publicity in the media and three years
of a merciless war waged against him from varying orbits of power, the former
Archbishop of America, His Eminence Spyridon, submitted his dramatic resignation
from the office on August 18, 1999, concluding a thirty-year record of active
The former Archbishop of America, made sweeping changes in both personnel
and the status quo during the three years of his archpastorate, and called
down on himself the fury of the "establishment." His ideas about
restoring an authentic, genuine Orthodoxy, the preservation of a conscious
Hellenic identity and dynamic intervention in favor of Greek national affairs
seemed to make that "establishment"; very uncomfortable.
Refusing his election as Metropolitan of Chaldea, the fifty-five year old
Spyridon lives in a secluded retirement in Portugal, far removed from any
ongoing formal ecclesiastical activity.
He keeps his distance from the lawsuit brought against the Archdiocese by
a member of its own Executive Committee, inasmuch as the Archdiocese has failed
to provide Spyridon his pension. Besides, Spyridon states, "Man does
not live by bread alone."
* * * * *
Eleftherotypia: Your Eminence, what has prompted
you to keep such a distance from the press?
Arch. Spyridon: I consider that silence and distance
from the current ecclesiastical reality were my best counselors for a period
in which to gather my thoughts and re-concentrate my energies. I think I owed
that to myself and moreover to my successor, a period of silence and good
Eleftherotypia: What were the reasons that led you
to your decision to resign three years after your unanimous election?
Arch. Spyridon: The attempts to return the Church of
America to a more authentic form of Orthodoxy, the initiatives to turn back
the tide of the de-Hellenization of the younger generations, and the interventions
in favor of vital Greek national issues undoubtedly piqued certain major and
minor decision-making centers. Quite simply, when faced with compromise or
retirement, I chose retirement ....
Eleftherotypia: How do you explain the fact that
on January 12, 1999, the Patriarch laid out in no uncertain terms that you
were Archbishop for life, and then not many months later, instigated your
Arch. Spyridon: That is a question you should address
to the Mother Church. It remains an unanswered question for a large portion
of the Greek-American Community of America to this day. Personally, I have
become used to the disparity between words and actions.
Eleftherotypia: Is this information true, that it
was at the instigation of Prime Minister Costas Simitis that the Patriarch
directed you to resign?
Arch. Spyridon: That the Prime Minister evidenced this
kind of intention relative to Church affairs in America such information
does not exist. Quite the opposite. During the period that there were relentless
attempts to entangle the Prime Minister in Greek-American Church affairs,
he demonstrated that it was his intention for the ecclesiastical issue to
clarify itself and consequently, he steered clear from becoming mixed up with
a matter that did not pertain to him. Moreover, the Prime Minister had no
particular problem with the ecclesiastical governance of America, especially
during a time when the first bridges for substantive cooperation between Greece
and the Greek Orthodox Community of America were being fashioned. I would
note especially the Greek education component and the advocacy of issues of
Greek national interest.
Eleftherotypia: The Phanar is liable for the ousting
of two Archbishops from their positions in the Church of America in a three-year
period. Is it a commonplace phenomenon in the Orthodox Church for Hierarchs
to be subverted like this?
Arch. Spyridon: The events of the last three years,
which you refer to, ought to be judged as isolated episodes, and only with
great difficulty can they be considered as indicators of the smooth functioning
of ecclesiastical institutions. As we all know, Hierarchs in the Orthodox
Church are elected and serve for life. Therefore, I do not think that similar
phenomena are observed frequently in other countries' Orthodox Churches,
where the composition and functioning of the Synod are a little different
Eleftherotypia: The problem of the composition
of the Synod of the Patriarchate has been put forth by the Archbishop of Australia,
His Eminence Stylianos. Would the events in the Eparchy of America be different
if that composition were different?
Arch. Spyridon: It is difficult to make up predictions
and theories after the fact. But I am happy that the issue of the composition
of the Synod has finally been elucidated, as was reported in the Athenian
press. I read that the relevant Turkish stipulations restricting the Ecumenical
Patriarchate do not relate to the composition of the Synod, but only to the
election of Turkish citizens to the office of the Ecumenical Patriarch and
to the positions of the four Eparchial Metropolitans in Turkey. Indeed, this
clarification reveals new horizons for the renewal of the Synodical institution
at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with participation now of all its Eparchial
Metropolitans, whether they serve in Turkey or in other countries. Moreover,
it would not be in the interest of Turkey to continue to restrict the religious
liberties of its minorities, especially at this moment when it is calling
to be constituted as a full member of the European Union.
Eleftherotypia: Why have you decided not to accept
your election as Metropolitan of Chaldea? Has this decision caused a rupture
in your relations with the Phanar?
Arch. Spyridon: I do not think that accepting, or not,
my election to the Metropolitan of Chaldea would be able to evoke a rupture
in my relations with the Phanar. First, because in similar circumstances,
the free consent and acceptance on the part of the interested party plays
a primary role. Second, because the decision not to accept is based on specific
assurances concerning the title and the self-determination of the person who
Eleftherotypia: Whence do you attribute the polemics
of a group of Greek-Americans against you? Did you disturb the "establishment,"
or were there personal interests involved?
Arch. Spyridon: I would say both. But I consider the
polemics to be of no particular importance if one keeps in mind that this
group had been substantially disarmed after a certain period of time. The
polemics, if one would delve deeper, are unrelated to the subsequent developments,
which as it later became evident, had been systematically directed by other
Eleftherotypia: Would you be able to link the instigation
of the polemics against you with your predecessor?
Arch. Spyridon: My revered predecessor never made a
secret of his opinions about his successor. And his actions were always consistent
with his opinions.
Eleftherotypia: Does a "Patriarchal Directorate"
that governs developments exist in America?
Arch. Spyridon: Obviously there
is a group of laymen and some clerics who have their own, private relations
with the Mother Church and who try to direct outcomes, circumventing their
own canonical ecclesiastical authority. At this moment, I do not know exactly
what role the group in question is playing. At any rate, the onus is on the
Mother Church to restore the prestige and the authority of the canonically
elected Church authority.
Eleftherotypia: What is your relationship with your
successor. What do you believe about His Eminence Demetrios?
Arch. Spyridon: My voluntary sequestration from ecclesiastical
affairs for the past year has not allowed me to get to know the new Archbishop
of America personally. I would not be able to express an objective judgment
based solely on whatever has been reported in the press of late, whether it
be negative or positive. Nevertheless, the voice of the Greek Orthodox Community
calls him to take a leadership role in the advancement of Greek national issues,
as well as issues of Greek culture and education, and to be sure in the question
of the "de-Protestantizing," if you will, American Orthodoxy, however
high the price that he could be called to pay.
Eleftherotypia: The issue of your pension has become
embroiled, inasmuch as the Patriarchate tried to nullify the decisions of
the Executive Committee. And now, a member of that Committee, Harry Pappas,
has brought a legal action against the Archdiocese. How does this situation
Arch. Spyridon: I have not been following this situation
for some time, and especially now that, as I was informed, a legal suit was
brought against the Archdiocese for violation of basic procedural norms and
that the issue has taken a legal turn for solution. But be that as it may,
I learned a long time ago that "Man does not live by bread alone."
Eleftherotypia: Your opponents labeled you as "autocratic"
and "despotic" during your three-year archpastorate. How would you
Arch. Spyridon: It is natural enough that any initiative
of creativity generates reactions and controversies. For my part, I consider
the three years of my ministry in America as a period of bold vision and numerous
initiatives in every sector of ecclesiastical life. Obviously, three years
is insufficient for the materialization of great and ambitious plans, but
I would like to believe that this was a reason for many priests and faithful
to think long and hard about the course that they must follow, if some form
of authentic Orthodoxy is to survive in America.
Eleftherotypia: On of the problems that they attribute
to you is that you did not push forward the elevation of the Dioceses of America
to Metropolitnate status. Do you believe that the Archdiocese ought to be
divided and that the role of the Archbishop ought to be diminished?
Arch. Spyridon: I belong to those who believe that,
by reason of the specific character of American society, that the unity of
the Archdiocese must be ensured by every means available. Only this unity
provides the guarantee that will eventually allow the Archdiocese to acquire
an enduring dynamic presence and a lively role in vast arena of American public
life. Without such unity, the efforts of the Archdiocese to preserve the flames
of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America will suffer and diminish as well. One
should not forget that the now already completed dismemberment of the Archdiocese
of North and South America has never been understood nor forgiven by the Greek
Eleftherotypia: Do you think that the Church in
America has matured to the point where it can be detached from the Mother
Church? Has the time come for autonomy or semi-autonomy?
Arch. Spyridon: I believe the detachment'
of the Church of America from the Mother Church would have the most grievous
consequences for the chances of an authentic form of Orthodoxy to survive
in the American land. Of course, I know that for decades there have been various
movements which in the name of Pan-Orthodoxy push sometimes gently,
sometimes harshly, for a solution that ends in autocephaly. However, this
danger could become tangible only as a result of eventual failures and mistakes
of the responsible Church leadership.
Eleftherotypia: During your archpastorate, you conducted
a serious study, coordinated by Professor Rassias, of the whole range of issues
on Greek Education. To this day one year later, it does not appear
to have been utilized ....
Arch. Spyridon: One year after the presentation of the
Committee's study to the Press, I understand that the findings concerning
the problems of Greek-language education are being again echoed, but no specific
initiatives have been undertaken that go in the direction of upgrading this
education. It is the Archdiocese's duty to undertake immediate major
changes in this field. The time for pious wishing and postponements is way
Eleftherotypia: Do you believe that there should
be a cooperative effort with the Greek government in the field of Greek Education?
Arch. Spyridon: Such cooperation would certainly be
to the advantage of the Greek American Community, particularly at this moment
in time when the Archdiocese is in need of helpful alliances as it responds
to the high calling of the preservation of the Greek language. Inasmuch as
the Archdiocese is unable to train a sufficient number of Greek teachers,
I think it would be expedient to accept the offer of the Greek Government.
Eleftherotypia: You were the originator of an initiative
to coordinate all the groups of the Greek Lobby under the aegis of the Archdiocese.
Where does that effort stand today?
Arch. Spyridon: It was one of the most successful ventures
of the Archdiocese. It was, in fact, with the coordination of the Archdiocese
that all Greek American groups involved in promoting Greek national issues
in the centers of American decision-making began, for the first time in their
history, to move in unison, as one unit and to speak with one voice. If they
would have continued in this effort, which encountered opposition from certain
forums, the results could have doubtless been positive, if not superlative,
for the vital issues of Hellenism.
Eleftherotypia: How do you assess today's lack
of mediation when it comes to Greek national issues? Is it true that you disturbed
the Phanar with your stands on Cyprus and Kosovo?
Arch. Spyridon: What I did, I did from conscience as
a Christian and a Hellene. I think that by then the Greek American Community
had matured beyond the immigrant ghetto and could raise its voice in favor
of the inalienable rights of not only the Greek People, but any people treated
unjustly. History would have never forgiven us for the loss of these golden
Eleftherotypia: Your position for a return to authentic
Orthodoxy seemed to disturb the ecclesiastical "establishment" in
America. What was your experience of Orthodoxy in America?
Arch. Spyridon: The struggle of Orthodoxy in America
will be both long and hard, if it is to reacquire and preserve its authentic
form, by avoiding the ever-increasing influence of the American Protestant
spirit, which is becoming constantly more evident in the worship and spiritual
life of the faithful. This is going to require the firm resolve of the Holy
Cross Theological School in Boston, to train the future clergy of America
with carefully chosen professors and a well organized curriculum of studies.
More than this, the School of Theology must get beyond the immigrant complex,
in order to re-emphasize the role of Hellenism, of "ecumenical Hellenism,"
if you will, in Orthodox theology. I do not think that matters will be able
to proceed for the best without a strong intervention of leadership by the
Eleftherotypia: How do you view the situation in
the Church and wider Greek Orthodox Community in America today? Are there
reasons to hope?
Arch. Spyridon: There most certainly are! However, they
require constant, steady vigilance, which keeps pace with the willingness
of the Church for dynamic intervention in the most sensitive fields of Church
life regardless of the "political" price which sometimes must be
paid by its leaders. One thing is certain. For these living hopes to be preserved,
we must start from now, without further procrastination, to build the future
of Orthodoxy and Hellenism.
Eleftherotypia: The hot button issue of the day,
as you well know, is that of the recording of religion on the identity cards.
What do you believe about this?
Arch. Spyridon: I confess that this is a delicate matter
that touches on historical and religious sensitivities. For this alone I would
have expected a more flexible policy by the government. I believe that the
extreme positions do not correspond with the contemporary face of Greece.
It is necessary that both sides retreat a little before it is too late and
they are irreversibly entrenched. The two institutions, Church and State,
should work together in harmony to head off the charge of globalization, which
is the real threat to Greek "identity" in the new millennium!
Eleftherotypia: What is your impression of the Archbishop
of Greece, Christodoulos?
Arch. Spyridon: His Beatitude Chistodoulos, Archbishop
of Athens and All Greece, is most certainly an amply endowed Church leader
with a Pan-Orthodox and universal shine. His ceaseless activity is quite amazing.
Astonishing is also his modern, realistic manner with which he reaches out
to young people, as well as his approach to contemporary social problems .
I have no doubt that thanks to his inspired leadership the Church of Greece
will see better and brighter days.
Eleftherotypia: Where are you living these days,
Your Eminence? How do you pass your time?
Arch. Spyridon: I have returned and settled in a land
that first enchanted me some thirty-eight years ago, when I traveled from
America to Halki (Constantinople). It is a land where all of the elements
I knew as a boy in Rhodes come together. The sea, the beautiful landscapes,
the nobility of a simple people, the historical greatness of an ancient sea
power and so many other things. I am finally reading books that I have never
had the time to read! Then I browse the Internet for the news of the day.
I have decided to stay here until new, brighter signs appear on the horizon...
[Translated from Greek]