BOSTON – Archbishop Elpidophoros discussed the importance of the Apostolic visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to his Ecclesiastical Eparchy, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, to the Greek-American Community, and the United States.
He emphasized that “the Ecumenical Patriarch’s presence here will be one of great importance and relevance, particularly for the Omogenia, for which it will also be an extraordinary blessing.”
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: Your Eminence, how do you feel about the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew two years after your election, and what does it mean to the clergy, laity of all ages, and the ecclesiastical organizations of the Archdiocese?
Archbishop Elpidophoros: I am overjoyed that the Ecumenical Patriarch will be visiting the Greek Orthodox community in the United States. Much has changed since the last visit of His All-Holiness twelve years ago. Just in the past year, we have experienced a pandemic, suffered the loss and reconversion of Aghia Sophia [into a mosque], and witnessed an increasing number of climate disasters around the world. Thus His All-Holiness’s message of peace and reconciliation, of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, as well as of ecological responsibility has become increasingly vital. For all Americans, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s presence here will be one of great importance and relevance, particularly for the Omogenia, for which it will also be an extraordinary blessing.For our longtime community leaders and parishioners, as well as for our young people and students, the leadership and stewardship of His All-Holiness represents not only the traditional vigor of our faith, but also the transformative vision of our worldview.
In addition to all these reasons, it is also especially significant that the Ecumenical Patriarch will be visiting us on the thirtieth anniversary of his enthronement, just as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America approaches its 100th anniversary next Spring.
TNH: In what condition, do you think, the Patriarch will find the Archdiocese?
Archbishop Elpidophoros: As you already know, just two years ago, when I was elected to the historic Archiepiscopal Throne of America, a number of issues had already shaken the trust of the people in the Archdiocese. Chief among these was its purported fiscal and organizational disarray.With the restorative grace of God and renewed commitment of our faithful, we have achieved unprecedented levels of cooperation in the Archdiocese, Eparchial Synod, Archdiocesan Council, and other areas in order to resolve some of our greatest challenges. Last spring, for example, we reached a solution to the longstanding and looming question of the Clergy Pension Plan. We also resumed construction and are nearing the completion of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, which was illumined for the first time on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 this year. We have successfully worked with the administrators and faculty of Hellenic College/Holy Cross to stabilize its finances and maintain its accreditation after several uncertain years of probation. Finally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have managed to protect both our clergy and faithful by envisioning new ways of bringing the liturgical life into people’s homes and clearly communicating our moral responsibilities as Orthodox Christians during such a global crisis.
That all this has all been possible under difficult economic and dire health challenges is a testament to the loving devotion and solidarity of our faithful and the community in general to the Church.
TNH: Which are some of the most important events of the Patriarchal visit?
Archbishop Elpidophoros: The meetings with President Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as other leaders in political, business, and academic circles on the East Coast and Mid-West.
He will also preside over the ‘Opening of Doors – Thyranixia’ ceremony of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City. As I have previously emphasized, the completion of the St. Nicholas Shrine will be the greatest affirmation of our faith in this country since the late Archbishop Iakovos marched with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. For the Ecumenical Patriarch to grace us with his presence and prayers on this occasion is a truly special blessing.
However, most importantly, as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians throughout the world and especially in the United States, His All Holiness will also have the opportunity to meet with and address clergy and laity, as well as faithful and youth of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the ‘Omogenia’.
TNH: What does the Patriarch’s visit mean for the rest of the Orthodox in the United States – Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Antiochians, etc.
Archbishop Elpidophoros: As you know, only a few days ago, on October 6, we completed and celebrated the 10th anniversary meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States. There I had the opportunity to share with my brother hierarchs the joy of the upcoming visit of His All-Holiness. Almost immediately upon the Ecumenical Patriarch’s arrival there will be a special Pan-Orthodox event, where His All-Holiness will have the opportunity to pray with the heads and representatives of Orthodox jurisdictions in the country, who have been invited to Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, October 24. We hope that all of them will come, including the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate, despite the fact that they abruptly withdrew their participation from the Assembly of Bishops in 2019. We regret their absence but continue to pray for them as we look forward to resuming collaboration for the growth and witness of Orthodoxy in America.
The visit of His All-Holiness is, therefore, an opportunity for stronger collaboration of all the Orthodox in this country. The truth is that the Orthodox diaspora, especially in the United States, is a real icon of global Orthodoxy. Nowhere else can you find such diverse and rich Orthodox expressions. Despite our differences, there is always a genuine desire to explore a sense of unity in communion that remains alive in the Orthodox Church today. This sense of unity will be even stronger and manifest as we welcome His All-Holiness. I am particularly grateful to His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Patriarchate, for example, who will host a private dinner for the Ecumenical Patriarch. In light of the fraternal atmosphere during the last Assembly meeting, I am very confident that this apostolic visit will be a real celebration of Orthodox unity in diversity.
TNH: What message do you think the Patriarch brings to the American People and its leadership?
Archbishop Elpidophoros: By the very nature of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the very ministry of His All-Holiness, the message borne by His All-Holiness – not at this particular time, but always – will be one of hope and peace, of reconciliation and unity. This has been the vision implemented by His All-Holiness over the last 30 years of his ministry. His work for ecumenical dialogue and interfaith tolerance, his sensitivity to matters related to immigrants and refugees, his openness toward science and medicine, and above all his championing of the need to respond to climate change – all these have placed him at the forefront of religious leaders as an advocate for human rights and religious freedom.
His mere presence, let alone his moral voice, ensure that wherever he goes and whomever he addresses, people are moved by the sincerity and integrity of his witness and words. At this critical moment in history, when the world is facing unparalleled problems – political and financial, religious and civil, as well as national and international – the representative of an ancient institution like the Orthodox Church can convey a message of stability and optimism. I am convinced that his presence among us, even for a few days, will leave a lasting impression and influence.