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Archbishop Makarios of Australia Speaks to TNH Anniversary of his Election

BOSTON – On May 9, 2020, one year passed since the election of Bishop Makarios of Christoupolis, Assistant to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to the Archbishopric Throne of Australia.

Archbishop Makarios is one of the most learned and able hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Orthodox Church in general.

His Eminence granted the following exclusive interview to The National Herald about the course of the Archdiocese today and his vision for the future: 

The National Herald: Your Eminence, what are your thoughts on reaching the first anniversary since your election to the throne of the Archdiocese of Australia?

Arch. Makarios: First I would like to thank you because once again you are giving me the opportunity to communicate with your good readers, and many other acquaintances after having being granted the canonical permission by my beloved brother and friend Archbishop Elpidophoros. It is true that a year has passed since my election. I feel contrition and am deeply moved, but at the same time I am grateful to God for this great gift which His Providence has granted in my life.  It was something that I never would have expected and that is why it is so beautiful. I also feel indebted and grateful to our Patriarch for his proposal to the Holy Synod as well as to the Hierarchs of the Holy Synod  who honored me with their vote and entrusted me with such a responsible and elevated position. 

TNH: Where and how can you summarize your impressions and your experiences about the time that has passed? 

Arch. Makarios: Mainly in the love and the acceptance of the people, which many times surpass human logic. The people welcomed me and accept me everywhere with so much enthusiasm and with feelings of dedication and honor. When I arrived in Sydney on June 18th , 2019, there were around two thousand people waiting for their spiritual leader at the airport.  On the day of my enthronement thousands of faithful people surrounded the Cathedral and the surrounding district. And since then, there has been a spontaneous and gushing enthusiasm, which I truly see as a gift of the most Holy Spirit.

TNH: In what condition did you find the Archdiocese administratively, economically, and spiritually given the lengthy illness of your predecessor? 

Arch. Makarios:  It is true that the last decade or so, my predecessor Archbishop Stylianos of blessed memory was faced with chronic health issues. It is reasonable for consequences under such circumstances. The issue, however, is not to remain in the past, but to move forward. The life of the Christian and especially of the Bishop is to be looking forward. We look to Christ and move only forward. So, our onward journey is for the good of our Archdiocese and for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, here in the Fifth Continent.  In relation to the superficial and self-interested scenarios perpetuated by some, even after my election, in relation to the administrative cutting up of Australia, I requested two things from the Patriarch and the Mother Church: Time and trust because I did not want decisions to be made on the run and without researching the situation. This is also what the Holy Synod stated. I received both of my requests wholeheartedly. Here I am now, after one year. I have gone all over the continent literally. Shortly, I will be submitting my thoughts to the Patriarchate on the way I believe our Archdiocese needs to go forward administratively.  I will put before the Patriarch and the Mother Church my observations. 

Economically, our Theological School is progressing very well. There is also a reserve which will secure its future moving forward. I must emphasize that we owe a lot to Archbishop Stylianos of blessed memory, who founded this Theological College, and who also secured its financially so that it would never be in a difficult position. 

In relation to the Archdiocese, I found significant savings in the running costs but on the other hand there was a deficit at the school of St John’s in Melbourne. I encountered the dilemma whether to close the school, and use the money to cover the debts owed to the public and the private sector such as unpaid wages. I did not want, however, to begin my ministry here by closing the school. The Archdiocese, therefore, paid the debt of the school so that it could cover its needs and function according to the preconditions set by the Victorian Government. This placed enormous pressure upon us. However, with the grace of God and the help of many God-loving and devout people we managed to overcome this.

Spiritually what occupies me is the issue of schisms in Australia. We are in dialogue with the schismatic communities and I am optimistic. Already there has been a re-instatement of a whole parish and two clergymen, who with much humility and repentance asked to be accepted into the Archdiocese.  The Patriarchate is in support and it helps me so much. The unification of the Greek Orthodox faithful of Australia is not only my dream but it is also the dream of our Patriarch, who is following this dialogue with paternal care and he is supporting me. 

TNH: What is your opinion on the Greeks of Australia? Are they as you had imagined before you came here? Are they better or worse?  

 Arch. Makarios:  They are a blessed people. I had not had the luxury of thinking what I would find in Australia in the time between my election and arriving here, nor specifically, did I  imagine what the Greeks would be like. Everything happened so fast. I am, however, completely satisfied. They are good people, faithful and they take part in the life of the Church. They have philotimo, are hard- working and traditional.  

TNH: What are your plans for the next five years? 

 Arch. Makarios:  With God’s help and with the blessings of the Patriarch, we are preparing for the 100 year anniversary celebrations of the founding of our Archdiocese. We are planning  important events for 2024, when, God willing, the Patriarch will be with us. We live with this hope. Up until then, we will have to complete the renovations of the central offices of the Holy Archdiocese of Australia. This is an ambitious undertaking as it will give us an extra 2.500 square meters to accommodate our increased needs. Currently we represent 7% of the Australian population, as I am accustomed to mentioning to the politicians. We are a vital part of the Australian society. We have word and presence. And fortunately, the government officials take us seriously.

The building of the Archdiocese in its transformed state will have its own identity and it will be our witness to all of Australia. Architecturally we are wedding Byzantium with the Middle Ages of our gothic Cathedral. This expresses our traditions and origins as Archdiocese of Australia. This needs to be completed by 2024, and that is why we are working so hard to achieve this. We are also progressing towards buying or renovating our Theological School, which up until now was housed within the buildings of the Archdiocese.  The needs of the School, however, are not being met in the existing buildings.

So, we are also progressing in this and we have managed to acquire the money for the expenses, without drawing from the funds allocated for the Theological School. Other building works have to do with St Basil’s Homes, our aged care facilities in other words. During my time, a new center has been built in Perth for the daily support and recreation of the senior citizens. We were to lay the foundation stone in May, but unfortunately the Corona Virus has thwarted these plans.

We are also expanding St Basils in Sydney and in Canberra. In Sydney we have already 55 extra beds. We have also obtained a building in central Sydney worth 15 million dollars which was donated to us by the Kastellorizian Brotherhood. I would like to officially thank them for this. We are also, in the same spirit, progressing in re-establishing two centers in Melbourne and in Sydney.The huge bureaucratic requirements in Aged Care are encumbering us because so many licenses are required by law, but with God’s help, we will progress in this.

Finally, my main pain but also my vision is to secure salaries for the clergy from the Archdiocese. This requires a lot of research and care so that proper outlines can be met. I am working on this, however. I believe that in five years I will be able to present a complete recommendation on this, if the right investments are made and our wealth capital is utilized correctly in order to secure the funds required to fund this project.  

TNH: How much has the pandemic affected your finances? 

Arch. Makarios:  As you know, from March our Churches have been closed. The main income in many parishes, here, as in America, is acquired during Holy Lent and Holy Week.   From then until now there has been no income in our Churches and of course this has impacted the finances not only of the parishes but also of the Archdiocese and the salaries of the clergymen as well as the ecclesiastic staff. We have lost this. But at the same time all programs of the Archdiocese are running, as well as all the programs that we have created during this period. In Sydney as in Melbourne we offer food daily to our vulnerable brothers, something which began after the Corona Virus. The Welfare organization of the Archdiocese had increased its services from March until today in all the major cities of Australia. 

Beyond this, many Greeks who had found themselves in Australia had to be repatriated. In consultation with the Greek embassies, we helped them financially and administratively so that they could get their papers to leave. Also, knowing the stress that the priests and the parishes were having to meet their financial obligations to the Archdiocese we decided to forego all monetary contributions for all of 2020. This makes the work of the parishes easier because they are freed to a certain degree from one financial burden, but on the other hand the Archdiocese will be placed under financial strain. We continue moving forward, and we hope that next year will be much better.        

TNH:  What were some of the joys that have highlighted your year in the Archdiocese?

Arch. Makarios:   You will allow me to respond by description, because I cannot point out one, two or three joys. Here we live a situation and an experience. How can I describe this situation? The work of the Church progresses dynamically. We continue it with zeal, love, and enthusiasm. All together, clergy and laity. Glory to God who is the lifeblood of the Church. 

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