The Greco Report - 2001
"The 'Omogenia' Has Fallen into Lethargy"
"The 'Omogenia' Has Fallen into Lethargy" is the title of an interview given by former Archbishop of America, Spyridon, to an Athenian newspaper. In this interview, the former head of the Orthodox Church in America paints a rather dismal future for the continuance of Helleno-Christian culture in the U.S. What else should one expect in a country where "Oprah," Disneyland," & "Survivor," blended with a dash of "Married With Children," "The Simpsons," & Schooling Without God is the "cultural" dish served up to the cosseted children of generation-X "Greek"-Americans, whose parents seem too busy quarrelling and jockeying for position to worry about their millenniums-old heritage.
"The 'Omogenia' Has Fallen into Lethargy"
An interview with the former Archbishop of America, Spyridon.
Q: A biography of your life has recently been published titled, The Lonely Path of Integrity, what is your position today regarding this book?
A: This book, by the journalist Justine Frangouli-Argiri, that circulated recently in Greece and in America, is based upon heretofore unknown documents, many of which came from my personal archives, but also from the press. Reading it, I discovered that the author, using the above-mentioned documentation, uncovered many previously unknown facets concerning the history of our Church in America, especially having to do with the three years spanning 1996-99.
She managed to faithfully recreate the environment within which the events covering that three-year period occurred. She described the situation in sharp relief, and in such a comprehensive way that the reader is able to easily grasp the great problems which confront our Omogenia in America. I would characterize this book as not only an important source for the study of our Church history and the history of Hellenism in the U.S., but also, at the same time, as a vital indicator of what the future holds for our Holy Archdiocese there as she struggles to preserve Hellenism and Orthodoxy in some purity of form. This new book gives, without a doubt, a realistic picture of what life is like for our Omogenia in America.
Q: The book reveals that the Phanari [the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople], in spite of the wishes of the Greek government, selected you, only to instigate the very problems that led to your removal three years later. How do you explain this?
A: The answer to your question can be found in the book. From my side, I can only say that the transfer of high-ranking prelates is a recent phenomenon which we see repeatedly emanating from the jurisdiction of our Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is something rarely seen in other Orthodox Churches. The reasons, easily explained, I'm sure, are most likely to be found in the political initiatives of our Mother Church and not in the Holy Canons.
Q: The book ends with your being selected as Metropolitan of Chaldias and your refusal to accept that decision. The former Archbishop of America, Iakovos, has criticized you for refusing.
A: It is not an unusual phenomenon in the life of the Church for someone to refuse a position offered him. It happens often and examples are numberless. There is no Holy Canon that requires a candidate for a position to accept. In such cases, the concept of enforced discipline is unknown and all such matters must proceed in the spirit of complete freedom, understanding, and cooperation. On the other hand, the former Archbishop of North and South America, Iakovos, refused a very important position offered him by the Church in the early 50s himself. More precisely, that of Rector of the Halkis Theological School [in Turkey]. I don't see why there should be two separate scales used when weighing what is essentially the same question.
Q: Where and how do you live today? What is your everyday life like?
A: The days pass with the usual activities of an Orthodox cleric; with reading and reflection. This was missing from my wide-ranging and tempestuous life. Now, in a suburb of the Portuguese capital, far from bitter memories, and far from the focal points of Orthodoxy, I live another more spiritual dimension of my existence, a life more ascetic and tranquil.
Q: As an observer, how do you view the situation as it exists in the American [Orthodox] Church today?
A: One need not be an overly astute observer to see that, in spite of an outward appearance of serenity and calm, the vital issues effecting our Omogenia, that is, Education and questions having to do with Greece's national interests, are in a state of stagnation. I fear that the constant postponement of the initiatives needed to solve these issues -- so vital to our Race -- until a more "suitable" time, will only lead, if it hasn't already led, to instilling a sense of total apathy in the Greek-American community.
It is truly sad to see the most vibrant and worthy segment of our Greek diaspora -- which should quite literally be struggling to realize the ideals of Hellenism -- in a state of complete inaction. It seems that, nowadays, the only question concerning the Omogenia is the schismatic position the Church in America has taken vis-a-vis the Mother Church. Already, we see, in the by-laws now under consideration by the Greek-American Church, the lay leadership and the Church seeking to ensure the establishment of a semi-autonomous status; the first step, in other words, toward complete autonomy. And there seems to be no doubt that the weight of the organized Omogenia is swinging in that direction. All of this while the questions having to do with the life or death of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America remain in limbo.
Q: At what stage is the Greek-American community regarding the teaching of the Greek language? How do you regard the work of the Greek-American Lobby in light of the fact that the Greek government is planning to entrust the promotion of Greek interests to a new office it will be opening in Washington?
A: Education and the Lobby are the two areas where the lifelessness and absence of purpose is best exemplified in America. In the field of Education, we affirm, in spite of the many worthwhile and honorable efforts that were made in the past, and are being made today, that there does not exist a consistent system of Greek language teaching in use by the day and afternoon schools. While at the same time, the utter lack of trained teachers and proper teaching materials is painfully obvious. The efforts of the Holy Archdiocese, which is the responsible agency for organizing [Hellenic] Education, have usually been severely limited due to the above-mentioned horrific deficiencies. It still seems that the need for a Hellenic Education has not generally penetrated the consciousness [of the Omogenia]. It is not by mere happenstance, for instance, that comprehensive studies by committees of experts have been systematically ignored, or that the amount earmarked for Education in the Archdiocesan budget, instead of increasing is decreased yearly. As to the initiatives emanating from other homogeneous organizations, those are -- being opportunistic in character -- short-lived, if not stillborn. The alarm regarding the dangers inherent in the continuance of a policy of non-action, concerning the issue of teaching Greek in America, has been sounded countless times. In a few years, and given the sharp reduction of Greek immigration to America, there will no longer be any reason to speak of a Hellenic Education for the Omogenia. We will be speaking only of endowed chairs of Greek Studies in some universities.
As for the so-called Lobby, it is difficult to consider it as an expression of an organized Omogenia. The lobbying efforts, that is, the initiatives on behalf of furthering our national interests in the epicenter of the most powerful country on earth, have been assumed nowadays by isolated individuals or, in the best of circumstances, by small, isolated business or interest groups. I can't see how a new office, to which the promotion of our national interests will henceforth be entrusted, can be viewed as some sort of a panacea. It is a well-known fact that American politicians are sensitized toward any given issue by the hope of garnering votes, and such votes can only be delivered by a well-organized Omogenia, and not by isolated individuals, groups, or offices. As a result, only those who can deliver the vote have any real influence. Anything else is unrealistic.
Q: What is your opinion of the new American president? Do you share the fears of many who think there will now be a more pro-Turkish policy in Washington?
A: Many are the warning cries of imminent danger regarding the new American administration. In any event, it is clear that American policy is continuous & consistent, which is suitable and proper for a nation which happens to be the most powerful in the world. Her goals are established and stable; they don't change just because there is a change of leadership. Personally, I don't see a single reason which may dictate a change of policy by this administration regarding Cyprus. Quite the contrary, I'd say that the appearance on the scene of General Powell as the Secretary of State will give a dynamic expression to the important American policy objectives which, let it be said, were never kept secret by the current ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke; a man who, in the past, has concerned himself in depth with the Cyprus question. All of this means that the U.S. is not about to pursue a Philhellenic nor a Philturkish policy, but only an exclusive Philamerican one. As a result, a heightened vigilance on the part of those who represent our interests in Greece and in the diaspora is required.
Q: What are your thoughts concerning the question of the removal of a religious designation from the Hellenic identity cards? Do you agree with the Church of Greece's initiative to gather signatures for a petition of opposition?
A: As has been emphasized before, Greece and the Greek Church have more serious problems to confront today than that of the "identity cards." I believe that overreacting on our part does not harmonize with the image of Greece as a modern nation that we wish to portray. Extreme measures never lead to positive results. In the course of history, and especially recent history, Hellenism has paid dearly for each extreme position she has adopted. This is why I believe it imperative that there be a mutual understanding between the Church and the government, so that a consensus solution that will satisfactorily express the true wishes of the people can be found. Greece has a whole range of more serious problems to face, from the question of her territorial integrity, to the major issue of how to maintain the Hellenic identity of our Race in the maelstrom of the globalization process taking place all around us.
Q: Many believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate meddles in the affairs of the Church of Greece, in matters such as that of the identity cards. What is your opinion on this?
A: Every Orthodox Church has clearly defined areas of responsibilities and permitted ranges of actions. Direct or indirect interference or involvement by one Church into the affairs of another is not allowed. Such actions are both anti-canonical and unbecoming. Relations between Churches, just as between our Christian brothers and sisters in the laity, must be governed by a sense of mutual understanding, mutual respect, and mutual support. The infraction of that general rule, from wherever it may come, is to be neutralized and condemned as the harbinger of great danger to the precious peace that exists between the Churches. At a time when our Churches are being summoned to challenge the phenomenon of the irresistible worldliness and indecency of today's society, it is unthinkable that any Church not only not support but actually undermine the hierarchy of another.
Q: How do you interpret the recent opposition of the Patriarchate, rendered through Archbishop [of America] Demetrios, to the intention of Archbishop [of Athens] Christodoulos to visit the U.S. for the celebration of the 25th of March [Independence Day] holiday?
A: It is a very sad thing to see the Church descend, as it has descended so many times these past years, to the level of street politics, damaging the authority of the institution in order to serve some short-sighted, political goal. Turning this non-issue into a dispute having major repercussions and serious consequences in the relations between the two churches, simply indicates that love has been replaced by contentiousness; a contentiousness that is not only discernable in this particular case, but, unfortunately, in others as well. If the visit by the Blessed Archbishop Christodoulos to America poses a problem for our Mother Church, then I foresee that the crisis between the Patriarchate and the Church of Greece could lead to unexpected results. If, on the other hand, as many believe, the Greek government intercedes, it will then be obvious that ecclesiastical institutions are being used as agents to corrode the leadership of the Church. In both situations, I feel, as a cleric, a deep sadness when confronted by these machinations and plots.
Q: Much is being said about a visit of the Pope to Greece. Should governmental or ecclesiastical protocol be followed for such a visit? Is there any basis for the bias against such a visit by the Church of Greece?
A: First of all, the Vatican is the center of the Roman Catholic Church. It is an ecclesiastical center that is secondarily also a nation. It would be myopic to overlook this reality: the reality, that is, of the two-fold character of the Vatican when considering the question of inviting the head of the Roman Catholic Church to Greece. It is not enough to say that the Pope is the head of a state, and therefore his visit is a state matter only, when he is insisting that his visit results from an invitation by the Church of Greece. It does not profit us to deceive ourselves in light of the many pronouncements regularly made by the Pope pertaining to his claim that his visit is first and foremost an ecclesiastical one, and must be given a religious characterization. On the other hand, the Church of Greece should be aware of the sensitivities of the Greek government which is struggling to show a progressive Greece to the world; a Greece bereft of fanaticism and heterodoxical hatreds. In this particular situation, the Greek government and the Church of Greece must cooperate closely in order to find a solution to this problem.
Q: Do you believe that the Patriarchate is a prisoner of Turkey? How would you view its removal to neutral, international territory?
A: I've always been one of those who believe that the removal of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would have negative effects upon the future course of our Mother Church, but also, generally, for all of Orthodoxy. My reasons for this belief are many without, however, this meaning that I am not aware of the many advantages of a practical nature that such a removal could effect. However, in spite of the existence in Constantinople of Orthodox Christians numbering now only in the hundreds, and in spite of the variously known restrictions imposed by the Turks, I think that the continuance of the Throne of the Patriarchate in its natural environment can, under certain pre-conditions, preserve the essential ecumenical characteristics of the First Throne of the Church.
In such an event, it is necessary that certain drastic steps be taken, directly and without delay, of a decisive nature: as an example, the revitalization of the institution of the Holy Synod. It has also been emphasized that since the restrictive measures imposed by the Turks no longer exist (and even if they still exist, they cannot be implemented today given Turkey's desire to enter the European family of nations), it is time for the Patriarchal Synod to revert to its natural form, with the participation of all of the provincial hierarchs of the Throne. This would instantly re-establish the meaning of the Holy Synod as it exists in all of the other Orthodox Churches, and would bestow, at the same time, the cachet of added legitimacy to the decisions of the Mother Church.
Given that the prevailing conditions continue to be so consistently and exceptionally inauspicious, I don't see how the venerable institution of our Ecumenical Patriarchate will survive in the future unless such decisive steps are taken.
This interview was given to the journalist G. Yioukaki, and was published in the Sunday edition of the Athenian newspaper Ethnos on 18 February 2001.
Translation by staff. Emphasis was added.
For more on why "The 'Omogenia' has fallen into Lethargy," see Kitsos Speaks to Greek-Americans and Kitsos on Greek-American "Leaders."