With the enthronement of the new, charismatic Archbishop Elpidophoros on Saturday, June 22, 2019, we hoped that the period of continuous crises, division, and virtual financial bankruptcy would end and that we would enter a new and hopeful era.
And yet, only two years later, there is no doubt that Archbishop Elpidoforos engendered bitterness among us. He provoked reasonable questions – out of nowhere – about his ambitions by attending the grand opening of ‘Turkey House,’ a building owned by the government of Turkey, in New York.
But there is no doubt that by acknowledging his mistake and apologizing – an unprecedented act for a hierarch – to "especially my favorite flock," puts an end to the crisis that has arisen.
It is not entirely clear whether the Archbishop made this serious mistake because he believed that his presence served the interest of the Patriarchate or his personal interest. Whatever was his aim, his action reveals a lack of judgment that should concern him.
It should be absolutely clear to an Archbishop of the Greeks of America that he cannot attend Turkish panegyrics, sharing the same stage as Turkey’s President Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar.
After that, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who happened to be in New York for the opening of the new session of the UN General Assembly – had no choice but to distance himself from the Archbishop. The same was done by the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiadis.
Last week strongly marked the archbishopric term of Mr. Elpidophoros. But now the question we are called upon to answer is this: What happens from here on out?
Criticism cannot and should not become an end in itself, but an activity aimed at preventing more such incidents, at influencing future developments in the right direction. Based on this, two schools of thought have emerged:
The Archbishop should resign and return to a position in the Ecumenical Patriarchate; or he must learn from the crisis he lived through, draw the right conclusions, and use them as a springboard to develop into a brilliant, long-serving Archbishop of America.
Regarding the first point:
The frequent change of archbishops in recent decades has become a serious problem for the Greek-American community. A rash decision would be a great mistake with serious consequences also for Hellenic national interests.
The abrupt changes of Archbishops – Iakovos to Spyridon to Demetrios – led to the accumulation of many mistakes and have proven damaging to the interests of the Hellenic Diaspora and the Church. Those successors to Iakovos made serious mistakes despite the fact that each of them were given multiple opportunities to change course, but they did not heed warnings. They did not respond to the challenges that arose.
In this context, therefore, we consider necessary the following conditions for there to be a complete return to a normal situation and the resumption of the dynamic and successful course of the term of Archbishop Elpidophoros – something that we should all desire:
Acknowledgement of the error he committed and the drawing of correct conclusions.
The Archbishop has already taken the unprecedented and bold step for a hierarch of issuing a fascinating apology for his act. This is a text that will go down in history as a point of reference for other hierarchs in the future: "I am truly sorry," he said, "for the unintentional pain I inadvertently caused to my Cypriot and Greek-American brothers, especially my beloved flock."
The Archbishop must also reconsider his priorities, as he seems to have done with his apology. In other words, he must turn his interest from public opinion in Greece and Turkey, to his flock here in America. While it is human – and healthy – to have ambitions, he demeans himself and his flock when he has or seems to have his gaze elsewhere.
The Archbishop has to ‘clean house’ in his immediate environment in New York and especially in Athens. The path to the fulfillment of his personal ambitions goes through a successful tenure in the United States and not through the ins and outs of lobbying, propaganda and public relations efforts and the ups and downs of the news cycle.
We are living through one of the most difficult and challenging moments in the history of Greece and Cyprus. Ensuring the greatest possible unity of Hellenism in the United States must therefore be the utmost priority for the Archbishop of America in his role as Community leader.
For all of us, it is not the time for one to seek to triumph over the other, to satisfy our personal anger, or to act only in response to the pain of the moment. We must think about the consequences of our ‘civil wars’ for our future.
We must not allow a possible existential national crisis in our relations with Turkey to find us paralyzed. We must not allow long term power vacuums to emerge in the Archdiocese except in extreme cases.
It is for these reasons that we recommend composure. Realism. We must draw correct conclusions. And above all, let us not fall victim to our anger.
Most importantly, the crisis that has arisen must not be wasted. The Archbishop – and the rest of us – cannot let this crisis pass unexploited.
Let’s make a new beginning regarding the role and mission of the Archbishop of America Mr. Elpidophoros, embracing the Greek Diaspora. The entirety of the Greek-American community.
He must draw those conclusions that will help him, not only in avoiding similar mistakes in the future, but also in establishing a new beginning in the relations between the Greek Diaspora and the Church and in dealing with the myriad problems – community and ethnic – that we face.
But mainly, he must be seen to be fighting for, as he said in his eloquent statement, "especially my beloved flock". To become a Greek-American.
Yes, the Patriarch sent him here to serve, but God did as well.