This year’s two big Greek-American anniversaries, the one hundred years since the official establishment of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and AHEPA in 1922, were somewhat overshadowed by the bicentennial of the Greek revolution and the somber centenary of the Asia Minor Disaster.
Yet one event earlier in October stands out. Hellenic College/Holy Cross organized a very successful two-day conference on the one-hundred-year history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at the Maliotis Cultural Center on its campus in Brookline, MA. Unfortunately, the conference was overshadowed by the visit of the Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros II and the annual meeting of the Archons, the members of the Order of Saint Andrew, in New York.
The conference was put together by Archimandrite Anton Vrame (whom everyone addressed as Fr. Tony) and Dr. James Skedros, both of whom teach at HCHC. There were twenty-five speakers, about half were academics and researchers, the other half clerics, including Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden.
I had the distinct honor of delivering the keynote address on the interrelationship of the Church and the Greek-American community in the twentieth century.
A while ago, when I was working on a book about the history of Greek Orthodoxy in America and its place in Greek American life, I became keenly aware of the lack of in-depth studies of the Church’s history. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to be listening to fact-based and critically-minded presentations which addressed both the good periods as well as the not so good periods of that history. By this I do not mean there was full-scale revisionism of the accepted narrative of the Church’s historical trajectory. There were celebratory exclamation marks in several presentations. But by no means was the conference an exercise in panegyrics – instead it was a collective, serious reflection on the Archdiocese’s evolution.
The topics addressed were varied and the presentations generated lively questions and answers. The first panel was on governance issues that was made up of James Skedros, the Archimandrite Bartholomew Mercado, Professor Alexandros Kyrou, Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas, and the Rev. Dr. Patrick Viscuso addressed the Archdiocese’s early history and the role of leaders such as Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios, Metropolitan Damaskinos who paved the way for Archbishop Athenagoras, and canonical issues of Church governance. The second panel, which included Fr. Luke Veronis, Dr. Fevronia Soumakis, and Professor Aristotle Michopoulos reminded the audience of the missionary work the Archdiocese conducts, the role of women in what appears to outsiders as an organization that relies exclusively on the service of men, and the huge and very difficult task of promoting the Greek language which the Greek Orthodox Church shoulders in America.
One cannot understand the history of the Archdiocese without evaluating the role of its leaders, and the third panel did just that. James Skedros spoke about Archbishop Alexander, who had to deal with the deep political polarization (based on politics in Greece) that had divided Greek-Americans in the 1920s. Matthew Namee spoke about an unknown aspect of Archbishop Athenagoras’ tenure in the 1930s and 1940s, revealing the prelate’s intense identification with America, its values, and policies. Archbishop Michael’s tenure in the 1950s is often forgotten, and Fr. Makarios Niakoros’ paper sought to highlight his many achievements. Dr. Andrew Walsh followed with a balanced, sober assessment of Archbishop Spyridon and Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos made a strong case for remembering Archbishop Demetrios’ achievements.
In the next panel Professor Aristotle Papanikolaou examined a report on the future generated by the Archdiocese in 1990, Professor Vassiliki Limberis made an eloquent case for the enhanced use of music by the Church to attract young people, and Menios Papadimitriou reflected on Greek Orthodox subjectivity.
The second day began with a panel on the most important figure of Greek Orthodoxy in America, Archbishop Iakovos. The speakers included Metropolitan Cleopas, Fr. Tony Vrame, and Andrew Walsh.
The next panel addressed Orthodox unity and the Rev. Nickolas Apostola spoke about the failed attempt at unity at Ligonier, PA in 1994 and its aftermath while Nick Anton the Director of Operations for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA spoke about the current situation.
The penultimate panel examined varied aspects of the Church’s liturgical life with presentations from Rev. Dr. Stelyios Muskuris on engaging America, Professor George Demakopoulos on an instance of misplaced anti-Jewish rhetoric, Richard Barret on the revival of Byzantine chant, and Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco on translations of the liturgy and services. The last panel addressed the Church’s entanglement in political issues with presentations from Rev. Bohdan Hladio on Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Rev. Oliver Herbel on the Cold War era, and Mathew Namee on the interpretation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s geopolitical jurisdiction.
It was a small-scale conference, more like a workshop, and well worth attending. The proceedings are available on the YouTube channel of the Maliotis Cultural Center.