Greek America Magazine - July 4, 2002
An Interview with Archbishop Spyridon
First and foremost, your Eminence, I wanted to thank you for agreeing to conduct this interview with Greek America Magazine. First off, let's talk about the last few years-the years following your departure from America. How have you been? Was there a need to heal from the emotional bumps and bruises of the final few months as Archbishop of America? Have you healed?
It is always a blessing to interact with friends from old times and especially with a magazine known for its important contribution to the Greek American community, its seriousness and objectivity.
Shortly after my resignation as Archbishop of America on July 19, 1999 I moved to Portugal, to Almada outside Lisbon, to be more precise, where an old and loyal friend, an Italian convert to Orthodoxy, placed his humble summer residence at my disposal. I've been living here ever since, reading, meditating, praying and closely following the developments in our Church.
There was no need to heal from any "emotional bumps and bruises". What I experienced during the final months of my tenure as Archbishop of America was long expected, to be precise since February 1998, i.e. since the conclusion of the Patriarchal trip to America in late 1997. Besides, when one enters higher spheres stamped by "politics", be they church politics or of another kind, one must be prepared to bear all sorts of "bumps and bruises".
They come with the territory.
Your biography, authored by Greek Canadian journalist Justine Frangouli, has recently hit the streets in its English edition. Is "The Lonely Path of Integrity" your personal catharsis -a way to let people know what happened leading up to and during your tenure in America?
The idea of having a book written on what transpired in the Church of America during my tenure came about when Mrs. Frangouli called me from Athens in the morning of August 19, 1999 and asked for detailed information pertaining to my resignation. At the time I avoided providing her with a response by saying that if I were to answer her questions not even a whole book would suffice to describe what really transpired. I left it at that and she took me at my word. A few months later she reminded me of the "idea" to have a book written ....
The biography was initially conceived as a journalistic research. The author, Mrs. Frangouli, as you may see on the site dedicated to her book (www.spyridon.ws), is an established Greek journalist and the North America correspondent to the Athens News Agency, the most important Greek news service. She had repeatedly covered various archdiocesan and patriarchal issues and was very familiar with the situation in the Church of America. I therefore had no difficulty entrusting her with whatever archives I had at my disposal. Plus, based in Montreal, she had the great advantage of being distant enough from players and events so as to assess the documentation entrusted to her in the most objective way possible and make her own judgment without being influenced from without.
The book has nothing to do with a personal catharsis or a way to let people know about the actual facts and the behind-the-scene reality, although I owed loyal friends and co-workers some sort of explanation. Today, I must confess, it is somehow refreshing to know that many friends and Greek Americans finally have the opportunity to be informed in a well-documented and professional manner about the recent history of their Church.
One of the striking issues the book raises is that it was the Ecumenical Patriarchate which instigated the Metropolitans of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, as well as many priests, to rise up against you, the Archbishop of their Church at the time. Do you feel betrayed? Are these kinds of political games typical in the high ranks of the Church hierarchy?
I don't feel betrayed personally. But, if mention should be made of "betrayal", then it was the canonical order of the Church that was trampled upon and the pious clergy and faithful people of the Church that were betrayed. I believe the latter deserved more affection and integrity.
"Political games" in the Church, as you put it, are typical of insecure leadership. In such a case, all means and persons are recruited to achieve the set goals at any cost. Confident church leaders do not feel the need to orchestrate "political games" knowing that at the end of the day these could affect the very foundation of the Church.
Are you trying to justify yourself and your ministry in America with this book and trying to prove that you were "right" and they were "wrong"?
I think I already provided an answer to your question. Nonetheless, let me repeat that the biography has nothing to do with who was "right" or "wrong". The book presented in a lively novelistic style by the talented author Ms Frangouli, is the result of a long and in-depth journalistic research based on official archdiocesan and patriarchal documents such as correspondence, statements, minutes etc. Besides, sooner or later, history alone uncovers what was right and what may have been wrong. No book can do this. The book in question simply highlights the facts at the time and comes to conclusions which, by the way, have proven to be indeed prophetic considering the latest developments in the Archdiocese.
You were accused by the Metropolitans of the Church of being the root cause of the division of the Archdiocese and for causing the "disorderly state of affairs in the Archdiocese of America" in a report by this same name that they presented to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in January 1999. Among dozens of other issues they raised, they hit at the very nature of your soul by implying that you lacked "Christian and pastoral love" towards your flock. Your thoughts and feedback on this?
Somebody had to be accused for having opposed the elevation of our Church's dioceses to Metropolitanates. As I explained at the meeting the US Hierarchy had with the Patriarchate Holy Synod in January 1999, I could not concur to such elevation for this would have meant to flagrantly violate the Archdiocese Charter and to contribute to the breakdown of the Archdiocese's unity. Nonetheless, I did make clear that I would not object to the exaggerated demands presented by the Metropolitans if the Patriarch were ready to satisfy them. Of course, he did not. Nor did he consider including them among the nominees for my succession ....
In the same report, the Hierarchs-including His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of the Boston Diocese, blamed your ministry for allowing the Holy Cross School of Theology to "wither." In a recently surfaced letter to the President and Vice Chairman of the School's Board of Trustees, the same Metropolitan reversed his stance and stated in writing that you were not the cause of the problems that plagued the school. In fact, he noted that you had been "victimized" and also noted that throughout the 60-year history of the school, there have been "powerful interventions of archbishops" that have caused a series of problems there. And throughout the course of his letter, he refers to the way you were treated unjustly. How do these statements make you feel-three plus years after the fact that this same hierarch was a contributing factor in your demise as Archbishop of America?
This change of views and stance does not come to me as a surprise. It's rather characteristic of the "politics" that have always been the main obstacle to the Archdiocese's progress and expansion.
However, it is somewhat gratifying to learn that Metropolitan Methodios once again regards the so-called "sexual scandal" at Holy Cross as he himself and the then members of the Eparchial Synod considered it initially.
Of course, I am deeply saddened to learn that Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology has, to this very day, not been able to overcome the multitude of its chronic problems. I find it extremely discouraging that this important institution is still confronted with "an atmosphere of polarization, mistrust and intimidation among administrators, faculty, staff and students". And it disheartens one to hear that the faculty is still torn by "internal tensions and conflicts" at the expense of the School's most precious treasure: its seminarians and future clergy.
Given the extreme importance of this educational institution for the future of the Orthodox Church in America, I believe the Archdiocese can no longer ignore the ongoing crisis. It should consider putting aside all self-interests involved, which, as all know, constitute the main reason for the School's decline in recent years. The Archdiocese should finally provide the School both with a sound administration and a high-level faculty able to acquire pan-orthodox and international recognition.
What role did the media play in the demise of your tenure as Archbishop in America? Were the Greek American publications, at the time, fair to you?
I must acknowledge that there had been a large part of media that reported or at least tried to report in a fair and objective way in spite of all the pressure they were constantly put under. They were not tempted by most generous offers and did not allow themselves to be vehicles of rumors and disinformation. I have the fondest memories of these media that honored their name and high calling.
On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to speak of fair reporting in the case of a very concrete portion of the media known for their close links to certain dissidents of the time. Objectivity and journalistic ethics certainly played a minor role in carrying out their task. As I see it, their goal was not to provide their readers with true facts, but only to gain new partisans for their well-paid and profitable cause...
One would have expected that the media in question, after having fueled so much criticism and caused such turmoil in the Archdiocese, would at least feel morally or professionally obligated today to publish Metropolitan Methodios' recent letter on the deplorable state of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. They are apparently still incapable of providing such proof of professional sensitivity, probably because the aforementioned letter contradicts the prejudiced positions they had so rabidly advanced on the "fabricated sexual scandal" at HC.
In general, however, I do recognize their contribution to our Greek American community.
No doubt, you have followed the developments of the Church in America and the community as a whole over the past several years since your departure. What have you observed? What are your thoughts on the course the community has taken?
As things stand today, it is hard to perceive in which direction, if any, the Archdiocese is heading. Many speak of inactivity and stagnation as the main characteristics of today's Church life. For certain, these are times of silent unrest, uncertainty and confusion. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen next.
With such a climate, I don't think anyone can expect to see improvement and progress. I am disheartened to witness this discouraging situation instead of being blessed to see a Church thriving in all fields. And what saddens me even more is that this Church has the potential and plenty of opportunities to do so. If only self-interests and self-promotion could be put aside, then we would be heading forward once again!
The issue of the day in the Church is that of the Charter revision. In fact, letters are starting to crop up from Churches stating one position or another. Is this the next revolt that will take place in the Greek Orthodox Church of America?
I believe that the timing for introducing a new Charter was most unfortunate. Such important initiatives should not be taken in periods of prolonged transition and uncertainty in our church life. Sagacity and practicality dictate that such action is undertaken in periods of stable and strong leadership, in times of peace and the steady function of all church institutions.
What also strikes me is that all the considerations regarding the proposed Charter are focused on the distribution of executive power and this, unfortunately, not only between clergy and laity, but chiefly between the hierarchical authorities themselves. I think a charter of such importance should reflect the whole reality of church life and not only certain ecclesiastical aspects. Perhaps if the whole issue were based on a more spiritual footing, the current disagreements and clashes would not be so strong.
I don't know whether the Charter issue will lead to a revolt. But one thing appears certain to me: that the action taken by some fifty or more parishes is the beginning of something greater than what one can perceive at this time. I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new independence movement that will not be easy to halt or reverse if the Mother Church continues to avoid the real problems the Church of America is currently confronting. In brief, it seems to me that all winds have been unbottled ....
The whispers of autocephaly have gotten progressively louder over the past few years and in some circles can even be considered to be loud screams. Is the Greek Orthodox Church in America heading for autocephaly from Constantinople? Do you think our Church is spiritually ready to be independent?
I always maintained, today even more, that any disruption of the Archdiocese's relationship with the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, would be detrimental to Greek Orthodoxy in America. A plant cannot survive without its roots, and I do not believe that Greek Orthodoxy in America has had or, if you prefer, has ever been given the opportunity to grow its own roots.
The Archdiocese and its institutions, viewed as a whole, certainly do not give an ideal picture of maturity and growth. For reasons connected mostly to self-interests the Archdiocese has not been able to take the first steps beyond organizational infancy. I should not like to go into details. It suffices to mention the hundreds of thousands of faithful who over the past decades have left the embrace of the Archdiocese.
I understand, of course, that the image of the Mother Church has been seriously impaired in America over recent years. Unfortunately, what is usually perceived as Patriarchal micromanagement of Archdiocesan matters has perplexed our people and called the Patriarchate's role into question. I think the moment has come for our Mother Church to begin a serious reflection on its policy vis-a-vis the Archdiocese of America before we are belatedly called to witness new unpleasant developments ....
The recent elevation of Metropolitan Tarasios-a Greek American-to the position of head of the Church in South America was regarded by many to be Patriarch Bartholomew's nudge of Tarasios into the Western Hemisphere, with the final goal of appointing him Archbishop of America when the position is vacated. Are such appointments by the Phanar strategically-motivated? Do you think the American Metropolitans felt threatened by this move?
I believe much water will flow under the bridge until the Archdiocese is confronted again with the election of a new Archbishop. I have no reason to assume that our Mother Church may not be satisfied with the current Primate of the Archdiocese. He seems, even at the cost of compromising his position, to have an excellent relationship with those defined as the Patriarchate's friends and pillars in America. Therefore, I foresee no immediate changes. Of course, the burning charter issue could bring about all sorts of developments in the near future and small or greater surprises are not to be totally excluded.
As to the issue of future candidates to the Archdiocesan throne, I believe all potential candidates from without are considered a threat to the established hierarchy. One should not lose sight of the fact that this hierarchy, repeatedly frustrated from achieving higher positions and more power, has been struggling for years to exclude all nominees not previously active in the US clergy. Therefore, any newcomer is a threat ....
There were unfortunate incidents following your departure from America, with regards to your pension and the way the Archdiocesan Council attempted to administer it to you. Furthermore, an exchange of correspondence between you and the Patriarchate brought to light a tense relationship. Do you feel betrayed by these types of actions? How can a simple human being maintain the faith in God and devotion to his Church?
The Church is above human pettiness. Such pettiness should never be allowed to shake our devotion and love for Christ's Church or to loosen our faith in God. No, I don't feel betrayed by such actions. I always said that when one decides to swim in deep waters, one must be at all times ready to deal with all sorts of surprises and all kinds of human behavior. Besides, I have since long become used to the disparity between words and actions. Fortunately, the Church, although she may be made up of human members, is not merely a human institution. It is this reality that keeps the love in our hearts and our hope alive.