|A CONFESSION: An Interview with Spyridon, Former Archbishop of America
The Editor: In an exclusive interview to the magazine “Eikones”, Spyridon, the former Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, speaks of “political cabals” in the Archdiocese, accuses the Ecumenical Patriarchate of “self delusion”, sees Archbishop Dimitrios as following a policy of peaceful coexistence “with the backrooms of power”, and argues that individuals representing OCL “the same OCL cadres used in the war of detrition against two archbishops (meaning himself and Iakovos) now hold leadership positions in the Archdiocese. He is more critical for his downfall of the “Partiarchal friends” than of the Iakovos supporters, but at the same time he opposes any effort to cut off ties between the patriarchate and the Archdiocese and he feels that any revision of the Charter should have been undertaken at a time when the Archdiocese is strong, implying that currently the Archdiocese is weak, going through a period of transition and uncertainty”.
Spyridon explains why he chose Lisbon to retire, and how he spends his time “far from the turbulent church centers”. Being now away from those centers, he speaks candidly and without diplomatic constraints. The REVIEW felt that our readers would find the interview very interesting.
The Greek Orthodox hierarch equipped with diplomas from the Theological School of Chalki and post-graduate studies in Switzerland and Germany as well as with rich credentials from an intense participation in the ecumenical dialogue, was elected to the Archiepiscopal Throne of America in July 1996. He came into the picture of the Archdiocese at a time when his predecessor had not yet departed, trying to balance himself on a tightrope. Thus, on the one hand, he had to confront the Iakovos establishment that was not willing to yield control of the Church to the new spiritual leadership. On the other hand, he was surrounded by the knot of “Patriarchal friends” who planned to benefit from the fruits of Iakovos’ ouster without delay and bluntly demanded to run the Archdiocese themselves. The US Metropolitans also partook in this scheme, as they were seeking to increase their powers now that the scene was finally changing. Meanwhile, the representatives of theological liberalism in power at Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology thought the moment had come to establish themselves once and for all at the expense of the Hellenic-centered ideals and traditional Orthodoxy promoted by the Archbishop. It was at HC/HC that the fabled “scandal of sexual molestation” of a seminary student by a fellow student surfaced, only to be proven, 3 years after his resignation, as a mere fabrication put forth at the time for “obvious reasons.” In this web of self-interests, Spyridon attempted to entrench the boundaries of his jurisdiction, clashing with various challengers, and, most importantly, provoking the wrath of the Phanar, which saw its “patriarchal commissars” in the United States being marginalized by the Primate of the Throne’s largest eparchy. Thus began the chain dance of “crises” that clearly took on the color of money and thirst for power, driving the Archbishop to resign.
Approximately three years after his dramatic resignation as Archbishop of America, Spyridon lives secluded in Portugal, denying to engage in the whirl of Greek or American church matters. The hierarch, who left his mark on the Archdiocese of America during his brief passage, appears to be enjoying his solitude in a borrowed residence filled with his precious and faithful companions, his books. His adored heroes are always those of Dostoyevsky, accursed and inconsistent. The decoder of his existentialist quests is Saint-Exupery’s “Little Prince.” Yet, he finds supreme relief in the Gospels and the writings of the Church Fathers.
He was witnessed purchasing books from “bouquinistes”, the picturesque secondhand booksellers along the Seine in Paris. He indulges in insatiably ordering dictionaries from his brothers and sisters in Greece. He never seems to be satisfied with the game of words, nor with their incredible potential. He shifts from English to Greek, to French, to German, to Italian, testing the translators’ skills. 𠇎ikones” located him in his simple office in Almada, Lisbon, where he spends most of his time sipping knowledge. Although far from the ecclesiastical bustle of America, he is acquainted with all Greek American developments, down to the very last detail. The inauspicious picture of the Church of America, the alarming stagnation in which lie the causes for promoting Greek Letters and Hellenic National issues, the uncertain future course of the Archdiocese, are all well noted by the former Primate, now a resident of Lisbon…
Eikones: Three years have passed since your resignation as Archbishop of America. Why have you chosen solitude in a land like Portugal? What drove you to distance yourself from both America and Greece?
Archbishop Spyridon: I looked for solitude in a land far from the ecclesiastical bustle of America and Greece. Far from “too much contact with the world,” as Cavafy put it. In my consultations with the Patriarchate in 1999, I committed myself to abandoning America upon my resignation. So, I chose Portugal as the land of my future residence. I felt the need for a place I had known in my youth, a place that in spite of time had not lost its fascination in my memories. Lisbon, an intermediate stop during a transatlantic trip in 1962, had deeply impressed me by the majestic beauty of a city that was once the ruler of the seas. The fact that an old and loyal friend, an Italian convert to Orthodoxy, made his humble summer home available to me, brought me to the realization of a distant youthful dream.
Eikones: What does your life consist of today? What does your daily routine look like?
Archbishop Spyridon: I live frugally and simply, a Spartan life. The way I have always lived. From the years of a humble shelter in Rome to the shining days of the Throne of America, my lifestyle has always been the same. My days roll by with the usual occupations of an Orthodox clergyman: with prayer and church going, as well as with constant reading, meditation and long never-ending walks. Now, far from turbulent and crowded church centers, I finally have time to read all those books I never had the opportunity even to leaf through during my multifaceted and tempestuous church ministry. My only contact with the outside world consists of a daily brief update on CNN and some surfing on the net, where I again come face to face with the tough reality that is our world. This reality does not change no matter how determined one might be to escape it…
Eikones: How did you perceive, from your distant residence, the attack launched exactly one year ago on the very heart of America, the country of your former archiepiscopal ministry?
Archbishop Spyridon: What was shown by CNN seemed unbelievable to me. I thought I was watching a science fiction movie. However, the collapse and shattering of the Twin Towers, the economic symbols of the U.S.A., was indeed a reality! The simultaneous strike on the Pentagon revealed how vulnerable even a superpower can be. I was in shock and shattered by the loss of so many human lives. However, beyond this initial reaction, I thought that an episode of such extent would lead to deeper and riper thinking as to its original causes. Unfortunately, as we can all see, the exact opposite is occurring…
Eikones: The Lonely Path Of Integrity by Justice Frangouli, that is the English translation of your biography, has recently been published. What was your reaction when you first saw the new book?
Archbishop Spyridon: It was an odd experience! It led me to realize how a third person assesses one’s personality from birth on to one’s choices in life, and finally to the end of one’s ministry. It’s like seeing one’s portrait made by an artist.
Undoubtedly, the author did a thorough research on official patriarchal and archdiocesan documents of the time and presented, without prejudice, the recent history of the Church of America. I consider it a plus that the book does not attempt to attribute responsibility for this or that ecclesiastical decision or action. It simply turns the spotlights on the more significant events of that period, inevitably reaching conclusions that, by the way, have proven to be prophetic, especially as to the latest developments in the Archdiocese of America.
The English edition is enriched with two official reports to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They deal with the situation of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in Italy and America. I believe these new elements offer valuable material to researchers, as well as to the Church and the Greek State itself in their efforts to preserve Hellenism and Orthodoxy in the diaspora.
Eikones: According to your biographer, the Patriarchate elected you as Archbishop of America in spite of the opposition from the Greek government. Yet, three years later, the Phanar itself instigated the church crisis in America and finally had you transferred. How would you interpret such ecclesiastical an act?
Archbishop Spyridon: The above practice, i.e. the removal of hierarchs from their dioceses, is to be observed only in the jurisdiction of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, during the last decades, obviously due to the fact that since 1922 the Patriarchate operates with an unorthodox synodical system. Such phenomenon is unknown in the life of the other Orthodox Churches. In our specific case, the reasons are obvious and self-explicable; they must be sought in the sphere of the Mother Church’s “political” will, rather than in the Holy Canons which do not provide for such extreme procedures.
Eikones: A letter by Metropolitan Methodios was recently brought to light clarifying many past events. In this letter, the Metropolitan vindicates you, albeit in retrospect, for the action taken by your administration as to the alleged “Homosexual Scandal” at Holy Cross School of Theology in 1997. How do you view this change of stand by your former rival?
Archbishop Spyridon: By again changing his stand Metropolitan Methodios does not justify me. He only honors his original position and that of his fellow bishops. Accordingly, the sensational “Homosexual Scandal”, about which thick essays were written in the press, was fabricated and blown out of proportion for “political” reasons. Metropolitan Methodios simply demonstrates that due to external pressure he participated in the “political cabals” which have always existed in the Archdiocese of America, and which are the main obstacle to its overall progress. In the same letter, Metropolitan Methodios refers to the chronic issues Holy Cross School of Theology is confronted with. I am saddened to learn that there still reigns in this center of Greek Orthodox theology “an atmosphere of polarization, mistrust and intimidation among administrators, faculty, staff and students”. Given the importance of this educational institution, I believe that at some point the Archdiocese must put down all self-interests involved, which constitute the main reason for the School’s decline in recent years.
Eikones: Now as an observer from Lisbon, you have the luxury of a clearer view of the Archdiocese of America. How do you assess the current situation?
Archbishop Spyridon: Many consider inertia and stagnation to be the main characteristics of today’s church life in America. Certainly we are experiencing times of silent agitation, uncertainty and confusion. In this climate, I do not think that the current Archbishop’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” with the backrooms of power (a policy responsible for the stagnation above mentioned) has succeeded, even temporarily, to ensure a surface calmness. The issue of the new Archdiocese Charter is still causing mayhem and dissension in the bosom of the Greek American community, with unpredictable consequences for the future…
Eikones: The Patriarchate accused you, among other things, of having caused discord in the Church of America. Has peace prevailed after your departure? What would you say to this?
Archbishop Spyridon: Such aphorisms can no longer stand in the light of current developments. Besides, in order for discord to take root in the Greek American community, there must be stronger forces at work than the few displeased “Patriarchal friends” who had spent time and money in cultivating a negative climate and creating false perceptions.
Today the situation in America is so explosive that the Patriarchate hesitated for weeks to send a delegate to the last Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles. In the end and in spite of the Patriarchal Delegate’s presence, the Clergy-Laity Congress in other words the supreme administrative body of the Church of America passed a resolution basically in favor of an autonomous status for the Archdiocese.
In the Church of America there is a dynamic and very active organization, OCL (Orthodox Christian Laity), founded during Archbishop Iakovos’ tenure as a reaction to the Westchester financial scandal.
Today, this organization is dividing our faithful causing a real and tangible polarization within the Church. And, perhaps more importantly, the same OCL cadres once used in the war of detrition waged against two archbishops now hold leadership positions in the Archdiocese, promoting, from within, desertion from the Mother Church. These, I believe, are forebodings of serious disunity! And I do not know what the future holds for the Greek Orthodox Church of America.
Eikones: There are many issues the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is confronting today. The most important of these seems to be the tendency to separate from the Patriarchate. How do you explain this?
Archbishop Spyridon: Today, unfortunately, the authority and the role of the Patriarchate in America are called into question not only by specific groups but also by broad masses of faithful. We should have never reached this point!
I believe that Patriarchate should engage in an effort of self-criticism. At the same time it should learn to disregard misinformation coming from self-interested “sirens” regarding the real situation in America. In adverse times self-delusion is not to anyone’s benefit. A clear re-assessment of the Greek American church reality and some sounder decision-making in the future might help to reverse the overall climate of doubt and incertitude that often clouds the Patriarchate-Archdiocese relations.
Eikones: The Archdiocese seems to groan in the storm brought by the attempt to introduce a new Charter. What is your viewpoint on this issue?
Archbishop Spyridon: 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.
I fear the new Charter issue has unbottled all winds. The controversy over this issue reveals that a powerful autonomy movement is at work. This phenomenon will not be easily restrained unless the Patriarchate quickly re-assesses the whole situation in the Archdiocese of America.
On the other hand, what 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.
Eikones: Do you believe that the time has come for the Church of America to be granted a semi-autonomous status?
Archbishop Spyridon: I always belonged, and even more so today, to those who believe that any disruption of the Archdiocese’s relationship with the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, will 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 ever had the opportunity to grow its own roots.
Taken together, the Archdiocese and its current institutions certainly do not give an ideal picture of maturity and growth. For reasons connected mostly to self-interests and certainly not to lofty ideals, the Archdiocese has not been able to take the first steps beyond organizational infancy. Therefore, I cannot imagine an infant breaking away from its Mother, totally unprepared for the future.
Eikones: At what stage does the Greek American community find itself today in relation to the issue of Greek education?
Archbishop Spyridon: The alarm bell has repeatedly rung for the ongoing indifference to matters of Greek Education in the United States. Today, there is an enormous lack of trained teachers and there is no uniform Greek Education system implemented throughout the Day and Afternoon schools. The situation is rather ominous…
The efforts made by the Archdiocese the institution responsible for Greek Education in the United States have had very limited impact so far due to the above-mentioned worrisome deficiencies. Moreover, the Greek Education budget is being constantly reduced by the Archdiocese. . It seems to me that the case for Greek Education has yet to be made to the vast majority of Greek Americans.
If this situation doesn’t change drastically in the next few years, there will soon be little if any reason to speak of Greek Education within the Greek American community. We will be speaking only of Greek chairs and Hellenists at certain universities.
Eikones: How do you view the activity of the Greek-American lobby at this time?
Archbishop Spyridon: The so-called Greek American lobby, which once was considered as an organized expression of the Greek American community and undertook various initiatives for promoting Greek national issues, has definitely declined into inertia. Today, pro-Hellenic activities at the center of the most powerful country of the world are assumed by single individuals or, at best, by single small groups of interested individuals or professionals.
The anguish as to how Greek National issues will evolve is increasing day by day as the US administration identifies more and more its interests with those of Turkey and as we witness the discouraging developments regarding such issues as the Euro-Army and Cyprus’ accession into the European Union.
The lack of a unifying force that could bring all Greek-American organizations together, as once was the Archdiocese, is now felt more than ever, for the time has come again for Greek Americans to support Greece with courage and dynamism.
Eikones: The general perception is that the Patriarchate attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Church of Greece and that in general wants to patronize Christodoulos, primate of the Church of Greece. How do you perceive this constant tension between the two church leaders?
Archbishop Spyridon: The responsibilities and range of action of each Orthodox Church are a well defined given. There should be no room for direct or indirect interference of one Church in another’s internal affairs. Such attempts are uncanonical and improper.
Relations between Churches should always be governed by mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual support. The violation of this general rule, wherever it may come from, should be condemned and eliminated, because it carries great danger for the peace among Churches.
In general, polemics and confrontation between church leaders blemish the image of the Church. The faithful tend to look up to their church leaders for inspiration and guidance. Instinctively, they reject disputes pertaining to power distribution. They consider these as contrary to the message of peace and love the Church should always be sending forth.
Eikones: How do you view the issue of the Metropolitanates in the “New Lands”? Should they be reincorporated into the Patriarchate’s jurisdiction?
Archbishop Spyridon: Being a subject for specialists, one should perhaps go back and review the entire matter.
The issue dates back to the time when the Patriarchate conceded, on a temporary basis, the administration of its Metropolitanates in Northern Greece (“New Lands”) to the Autocephalous Church of Greece. The regulation was requested by the “New Lands” Metropolitans themselves, who due to the then political conditions were deprived of their right to participate in the Patriarchal Synod. It is then that an official agreement, the “Patriarchal Act” of 1928, was introduced. The agreement entailed that the “New Lands” Metropolitans exercise their synodical responsibilities a constitutive element of their Episcopal capacity within the Synod of the Church of Greece.
Today, many top clergy of the Church of Greece believe the issue must be re-examined, since socio-political conditions have drastically changed since 1928. The consultations they engaged in with the Patriarchate reached a dead end.
The dispute has poisoned relations between the Patriarchate and the Church of Greece over the past decade. Should it continue, the consequences will be distressing. If need be, why not ask for the verdict of the faithful themselves, the Christians who make up the pleroma of these Metropolitanates?
Eikones: Do you believe the Patriarchate is held fast in Turkey? How would you view an eventual transfer of its headquarters to a neutral international site?
Archbishop Spyridon: I have always considered any transfer of the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as negative for the future of the Mother Church and of Orthodoxy in general. Such a transfer essentially amounts to selling out the historical rights of the Patriarchal Throne.
I further believe that the Patriarchate, in spite of the lack of local clerical resources and despite the greater or lesser restrictions imposed on it by the Turkish authorities, can still, under certain conditions, manage to preserve the essential characteristics of ecumenicity it always enjoyed as the primatial Church of Orthodoxy.
Eikones: The Metropolitan of Piraeus, Kallinikos, defined the title of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in specific the title “Ecumenical”, as being merely “honorary”. Do you agree with Metropolitan Kallinikos?
Archbishop Spyridon: The centuries-old history of not only our Church but of Christendom as a whole acknowledges the Patriarch of Constantinople as “Ecumenical”, by title and in reality. Besides, our Church is not known for distributing titles without concrete content, as much as we are periodically inclined to copy Roman Catholic models.
One cannot be serious-minded by insisting to cancel history with a pen stroke just because one so desires or because the “politics” of the moment might require it. Disagreements and disputes cannot justify the violation of boundaries which have been valid for centuries and which are seriously taken into account even by non-Greeks.
Eikones: Are you concerned about the tense relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Orthodox jurisdictions?
Archbishop Spyridon: In an era marked by the general desire to promote dialogue and reconciliation on all levels ecumenical, cultural and political the constant church controversies and the ongoing split in the Orthodox front indeed cause intense concerns. Skirmishes are not a good sign at all!
I believe that the Primatial Church of Orthodoxy is no longer in a position to endure contention and crises. To have open fronts is indeed a superfluous luxury! A tense climate only leads other non-Greek Churches to openly contest the efficiency of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s coordinating role within the Pan-Orthodox family and to demand that a new system be introduced to coordinate communication and concert between Orthodox Churches.
On the other hand, a united and unbroken front is a sine qua non if the theological dialogue with Roman Catholicism is ever to make some progress and if Orthodoxy is to play any significant role within a United Europe.