ANALYSIS: The Process of Electing…Rather…Selecting an Archbishop

The bridge between Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory and Archbishop Demetrios was problematic at best. How is the bridge to the future being built?

Allow me to begin this analysis by stating that I wish Archbishop Demetrios, who is 85, many more years of good physical and mental health. This piece is less about Demetrios personally than about the flawed process by which the Greek Orthodox Church, namely, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, selects archbishops.

This topic has generated a great deal of interest lately, judging by the numerous phonecalls and emails I have received, requesting me to provide such an analysis.

One might think, and hope, that an archbishop actually is selected just as Phanar indicates – via the unanimous decision of the Holy Synod, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. In fact, that is not the case at all. Instead, the decision comes from one person – the primate, the patriarch – who imposes an edict that is then rubber-stamped by the Synod. The election of an archbishop being a reflection of the Synod’s free will is merely an illusion that obfuscates the actual selection – not election – based on “the authority of one man.”

A case in point is the 1996 selection of Archbishop Spyridon, to succeed Iakovos. We here in the United States woke up to the news that a new archbishop had been chosen, and bishops were elevated to Metropolitan status, and that the Acrhdiocese of America had been quadrifurcated into the subdivisions of America (U.S.), Canada, Central America, and South America. And that was that. Edict decreed.

A similar surprise might be in store the next time around, considering that some “unclear” provisions have been included in the regulations regarding qualifications to become archbishop. Those include a five-year service in Archdiocese, or the equivalent of having sufficient knowledge of America. It does not appear that Patriarch Bartholomew will ask the Synod, the clergy, or the laity, for their input, let alone their vote, regarding these changes.

In all likelihood, Bartholomew will handpick the next archbishop and will convene the Synod, a three-person “triprosopon” typically comprised of a protégé and two “fillers,” which will confirm his bidding. Then, the bells of the Patriarchal Church of St. George will ring to celebrate the event, the Service of the “Minima” (the acceptance of the election) will follow, and the official announcement will be issued.

The patriarch, then, will turn to us, the faithful, and say: “this is your new Archbishop, love him, respect him, embrace him, cooperate with him.”

All of this will happen while we are sleeping both literally, because the Phanar is seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time, and figuratively, because of our apathy and indifference. The Synod might not even know the candidate they pick beyond, say, a photograph of him, yet they will proclaim that they were compelled to choose as they did “by the Holy Spirit.”

As to Demetrios’ eventual successor, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France has the inside track as Bartholomew’s purported favorite, while Demetrios is pushing for Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, and has made the process difficult for other candidates.

We, in turn, are the ones who will pay the price. But let us not forget, God has the final word.