Imerisia - February 1, 2003
Spyridon, former Archbishop of America:
Harsh language fired at Dimitrios, Iakovos and Bartholomew
By Despoina Syriopoulou
Your Eminence, how do you feel today that you are a retired hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
As a retired hierarch, I spend my days in "peace and quietude" far away from the clamorous centers of diverse dealings. I have at last time for study and meditation. I consider myself particularly privileged to have this opportunity.
How did you feel when the title of Former Archbishop of America was taken away from you, and not only that ....
That was something that did not happen suddenly. I was expecting it for quite some time. Therefore, I had all the necessary time to prepare so as to confront this reality in a composed -I want to believe- and dignified manner. I have learned to live with or without titles. Yet, what I still have to learn is how to live with the reality that there can be such inconsistency between people's actions and their words.
Looking today at the past in a cool-headed manner, how would you assess the events of that period? How would you formulate a constructive self-criticism?
A great deal has been said and written about "mistakes and errors." How else could the way have been prepared for all the "quirky" events that subsequently took place? However, time has shown that the developments of that period were by no means determined by particular mistakes or omissions. If I were to criticize myself, I would do it for having placed my trust in the Church establishment. I also consider an omission the fact that I was not able to dedicate more time to consolidating certain initiatives undertaken in that period, such as the promotion of Greek education and the advancement of the Greek-American lobby.
It is broadly believed within the Greek American community that financial interests were at the root of your ousting!
Of course various financial interests played a decisive role. Otherwise, the reins of the Archdiocese would not be today in the hands of those very few people --literally a handful-- who played a leading part in a highly expensive campaign to generate perceptions of turmoil and discord. Things speak for themselves ....
Your ousting took place in the name and for the sake of "unity." Would you care to comment on this?
Disunity means that the people have been divided in two parts or, if you like, in large factions. This was not the case. Indeed, if there were such disunity within our people, it would not have disappeared overnight, namely as soon as three or four individuals reacquired their former positions within the Archdiocese administration. All that talk about disunity was simply an expedient device or "red herring," if you like, in order to consolidate the perception of discord and turmoil, so that the developments that followed could take place. A credible excuse had to be invented in order to justify all the "quirky" events that took place.
Was there any political interference on behalf of the Greek government?
I cannot adopt and believe these fabricated scenarios. I had a great relationship with the Prime Minister, Mr. Costas Simitis, and with other ministers of his government. The warmth with which I was officially received in Greece in February 1999, only a few months before my resignation, confirms this most clearly. However, it is true that at the end of the play, some politicians of minor importance collaborated in order to garner applause. This always happens.
What is it that went wrong and the situation evolved so negatively for you?
It's simple! The Ecumenical Patriarchate preferred to follow its para-institutional friends in America. For its own reasons, just as in the case of my predecessor, the Patriarchate closed its ears to the canonical Church authority, which is the Archbishop. I believe that the leadership of our Mother Church ought to be mature enough to chart the reality as it is and not as the "enticing sirens" are inclined to present it.
Do you keep up with events and developments that take place within the Archdiocese of America?
Thanks to the Internet, I communicate frequently with many old friends. I also closely follow the developments in the Church of America. However, it is difficult to figure out in what direction the Archdiocese is heading today. Furthermore, many questions arise as to the possibility of overcoming the overall inactivity and stagnation that, according to hierarchs and prominent laymen, seems to exist in the Church.
How do you assess the outcome of the recent Clergy-Laity Congress and the new charter granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
The recent Clergy-Laity Congress of the Archdiocese in Los Angeles in essence rejected the Archdiocese charter proposed by the Patriarchate and asked that the Archdiocese of America be given a status of semi-autonomy. Meanwhile, the Patriarchal Synod did not consider the resolutions of the Clergy-Laity Congress, ratified its initial draft and granted it, as a new charter, to the Archdiocese. The difficulty now lies in the fact that, in compliance with the Archdiocesan charter hitherto valid and approved by the Patriarchate Synod in 1977, no charter modifications can be made without the approval of the Clergy-Laity Congress. And there has been no such approval to this day. I now hear that reactions to the procedures followed in this case are slowly but surely growing. In this effort, the OCL, the well-known para-cclesiastical organization which played a major role in rejecting the Patriarchal draft in Los Angeles, is again a protagonist. Today, this organization is active in sensitizing the Greek Orthodox communities on the issue at hand, while at the same time it continues to systematically promote autonomy. The situation, as you can see, is becoming precarious once more.
In her book, Mrs. Frangouli often refers to various power structures active during your tenure ...
It is always the same power structures and exactly the same persons. The Mother Church, in order to maintain her own prestige and authority, should have long isolated these persons, considered "Patriarchal friends." She should also enhance the position of the local canonical ecclesiastical authority which is the Archbishop himself, if the stagnation of which certain hierarchs of America and prominent figures of the current Archdiocese administration often speak, is to be surmounted one day.
What were the reasons that led to the creation of "The Archbishop Spyridon Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture"?
The danger for the Greek American community of losing its Greek consciousness, identity and language is a given. In 1999, the well-known Rassias report stressed that "unless significant remedial action be taken immediately, Hellenism's survival in the American diaspora will be at risk." The report's most dire prediction, based on the evidence it had accumulated, was that "Greek identity may well be lost in less than a generation." This disappointing phenomenon prompted some perceptive friends in America to establish a foundation for the promotion of Hellenic education named after myself, as I had been active in the field of Greek Education.
The specific character of the new foundation lies in its aim of promoting Hellenic culture by sensitizing all Greeks abroad as to the need to preserve their Elliniki Paideia. Beyond the issue of learning Greek, our range of vision should include a broader picture: that of the conscious reference by Greek Americans to their cultural roots. Our efforts will focus on activating all channels available so as to achieve a realistic approach to the issue of Hellenism's preservation.
The activities of such a foundation are to be considered as yet another effort to maintain the unity of the Greek American community, a unity that as of late has been receiving one blow after the other. Given that its goals are noble and sacred, I am sure that the new foundation will contribute decisively to the preservation of this unity that is indispensable for the survival of Hellenism in the diaspora. The new foundation, together with other known foundations dedicated to parallel activities in America, will struggle to achieve one and only goal: to maintain the pride of being Greek in times of absolute barbarity.
Do you feel disappointed by the human dimension of the Church?
The Church is a divine and, at the same time, a human institution. Therefore, nothing can surprise me with regard to the people who serve within her bosom.
Have there been moments during this long period of silence that you said "God, why have you abandoned me"?
I have been accustomed to living daily under a Damoclean sword, knowing that God never abandons those "who do good." Despair and exasperation have, fortunately, never knocked on my door. I have always kept away from these unreliable counselors.
In the end the Ecumenical Patriarchate let you down ....
When someone accepts to assume a higher post, he ought to include in his calculations, as much as this is possible, every eventuality and be ready for any development. The two go hand in hand.
Do You feel betrayed?
This term sounds very dramatic. I do not have the luxury to feel even "let down." Today, more than ever, I feel satisfied that during my tenure in America I did not give in to pressure or to cheap dilemmas
Meeting with the Patriarch not excluded
Today should the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, entrust you with another mandate, would you accept?
We all must know when the curtain has fallen and when we must step down from the stage. I think that this moment has come for me, definitively and irrevocably.
Is there a possibility that you might meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch in the future? Do you look forward to such a meeting?
Man was born for dialogue and encounter. Therefore, such a meeting is never to be excluded.
If the Ecumenical Patriarchate were to ask you to again serve the Church from another post, would you accept?
As I already mentioned, "I have finished the race." I have stepped down from the stage with a clear conscience vis-à-vis my Church and my people.
Communication is difficult
How was your relationship with the former Primate of America, Archbishop Iakovos, in reality? Do you think he was involved in the aforementioned events?
My revered predecessor never made a secret of his opinions about his successor. And his actions were always consistent with his opinions.
Do you have any communication with the current Archbishop, Dimitrios? If not, why haven't you attempted to do so? Would you like to entertain some contact with him to the benefit of the Church?
Communication between people is a gift from God. However, such communication is difficult to maintain when even the issue of canonical permission to liturgize is a problem for one of the interlocutors.
Changes needed in the Church of America
How do you view the future of the Greek Orthodox Church in America?
The future of the Greek Orthodox Church in America is in God's hands. However, from the human perspective, I cannot see how anyone can be optimistic if the situation continues as it does today. Hundreds of thousands of Greek Americans have left the embrace of the Archdiocese over the past decades. You can count the true friends and supporters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the fingers of your hand. In order for the situation to be reversed, many profound changes will need to be made.
There are many Orthodox of different nationalities in America today. Are there developments to be stressed in this regard?
The presence of all Orthodox of various nationalities under one supranational --namely American-- autocephalous institution, has been mainly a dream nourished by the Russian and Arab Orthodox in America. However, many Greek Orthodox clerics and laymen, especially the Greek Orthodox OCL, aspire to an autocephalous status. This solution would lead each Orthodox group to hastily rid its national characteristics and to form a fully Americanized entity without any national references at all. Personally, I do not think this solution can be regarded as very promising. Equally, I cannot consider the disruption of relations between the Archdiocese and its Mother Church as beneficial.
How do you view the role of Orthodoxy worldwide? Recently, after 9/11, the Orthodox Church has been upgraded in the eyes of many analysts.
Certainly, many important and praiseworthy initiatives are being undertaken today within the Orthodox Church. However, the subject is not exhausted by these initiatives as such. Our Church must also make sure that these initiatives will be further developed and brought to the attention, not only of the West, but of the whole world as well. Above all, she must ensure that they will have an impact on the rest of the Christian world. In other words, I am afraid these initiatives have a firework effect that vanishes at the end of the celebration itself.
[Translated from Greek]