BOSTON – His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain, on the occasion of the anniversary of his election and enthronement, in an exclusive interview with The National Herald spoke about being surprised at his election, his experiences during the past year, and his vision for the future.
Archbishop Nikitas is a prominent Greek-American hierarch born in Florida, a learned and gifted man with substantial academic and administrative ability and knowledge of many languages, including Russian.
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: What are your thoughts on the first anniversary of your election and enthronement to the Throne of Thyateira and Great Britain?
Archbishop Nikitas: Let me begin by thanking you and The National Herald for being so kind, as to offer me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you and the greater Community, as I reflect on the past year since my election.
So many thoughts go through my mind, as I look back upon the past year. In some ways, I do not think that I have been able to fully grasp what has taken place in my life. One night, I was sleeping in California, and the next day I was the newly-elected Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain. In just a few minutes, my life changed forever. I think I still ask myself the question, "why?” I try to comprehend what has happened and what took place. I mean, facing the reality that the Patriarchate elected me to assume a most prominent ministry. Certainly, there are other notable and distinguished persons who could have assumed this role.
Among the many things that go through my mind are reviewing the past year and thinking about the things I had hoped to accomplish. I ask myself "what were my dreams, hopes and aspirations"? Was I actually able to achieve anything of value? Have I touched the life of anyone in a meaningful manner? Are my efforts, values, style, and vision what are necessary for this land and these people? After all, I come to these European shores from the "across the pond" and the how, why, and style of doing things is not the same.
TNH: How would you describe your impressions and experiences of the year that passed?
Archbishop Nikitas: Each day, I reflect on the past, my experiences, the challenges, but most importantly, I think about the people, as they are the most important factor in my role here. I have had to spend a great amount of time and energy in addressing practical matters. The late Archbishop was ill and was not able to do many of the things he may have wanted. So, I find myself addressing these matters.
TNH: In what condition did you find the Archdiocese?
Archbishop Nikitas: The Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain is a single unit which is structured in a different manner than the Church in the United States. When I arrived, there were three hierarchs who served under me. Since that time, one has retired, while two remain. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is here, as is Bishop Athanasios. While both serve and assist in meeting the many needs we have, we are in need of younger, bilingual hierarchs, especially if we wish to see the Church take and have firm roots in British soil. We are blessed that we have the Monastery in Essex, which can be seen as a desert in the spiritual drought of life. It was there that the recently proclaimed and recognized Saint Sophrony lived.
TNH: What is your opinion of the Greek Community of England? Is it as you thought it would be before going there? Better, worse?
Archbishop Nikitas: I did not have any idea of the situations in the Archdiocese before coming here. I had visited London once, as I was delegated to meet with the staff of the Archbishop of Canterbury about the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery. To the best of my knowledge, we believe that our flock is made up of well over half a million people. The vast majority of our communicants have come from Cyprus over the years or they are second and third generation Greek-Cypriots. We also have many Greeks who have come to the UK, especially in the last decade, as a result of the economic crisis in Greece. Together, these two groups form over 90 percent of the community.
TNH: How many parishes comprise the Archdiocese? How it is sustained financially? What is an average salary of a priest?
Archbishop Nikitas: The Archdiocese is comprised of about 100 parishes. It is interesting to note that just last year some 20 parishes came under my omophorion.
It is very difficult to think of situations here with the patterns and systems of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in mind, especially when we speak about finances. The Archdiocese in the United States depends on the metropolises and the parishes, through an established system of stewardship. It is not the same here. The Archdiocese of Thyateira receives its financial support in different manners – we own and rent some property, we have a "fee" for verification of documents, some donations, etc. But, you must also know that our expenses are not the same as those in the United States. Our Archdiocesan Offices employ seven people, as opposed to the larger staff of the GOA and the various Metropolises. Salaries of clergy are less than half of what clergy receive in the United States.
TNH: How do you spent the days of quarantine due to coronavirus?
Archbishop Nikitas: I usually go to the office about 8:30 AM. and work until lunchtime. I eat with the staff and then come back to the apartment around 3 PM. After a brief rest, I read the documents that I brought from the office. In the evenings, I try to participate in the various programs we have set in place through Zoom – Adult Religious Education/Bible Study on Tuesday evenings (in English with Fr. Nephon), Religious Education on Thursday evening (in Greek with Fr. Christodoulos), other Bible studies in our parishes, and all the other committee meetings.
I should mention that I try to walk two miles each afternoon, just as I try to do some personal reading and study (the Scripture and readings from the Fathers).
As an Archdiocese, it is important that we pray for our people and the world. For this reason, I have scheduled regular services at the Archdiocesan Chapel. I have asked that the younger clergy come and serve the Liturgy and pray with us. This way, we ask God to have mercy on us. Through these liturgies and other means, I come to meet and know the clergy, and they come to know me. We who are in ecclesiastical and administrative positions must not forget the need for prayer and the Liturgy.
TNH: Do you think that a discussion should take place regarding the way Holy Communion is administered? Should another way be introduced besides the common spoon?
Archbishop Nikitas: All matters that touch on the lives of the faithful need to be discussed. However, I do not believe in personal or individual initiatives. This only causes confusion. Until the Patriarchate directs us to change the practices at hand (not only for Holy Communion) and other practices, we will continue with the practices and means that the Church gave us.
TNH: How is Greek Education organized?
NIKITAS: As in other areas of the Diaspora, the Church works to assist in teaching, preserving, and maintaining the Greek heritage and identity. One of the means is through a school system. In the United Kingdom, the Archdiocese has a system of schools and also has an "office" that addresses (Greek language) education. We also have a committee that brings together great resources – our representative, educators from our schools, the responsible parties from the Greek and Cypriot Embassies, as well as representatives from the privately-owned schools. We all must work together to promote and support the effort to preserve what have been entrusted to us by the past generations.
I should also mention that Greek is taught in at least two of the schools (in the government-sponsored school system). This is a great asset and it helps in our efforts.
TNH: What were some of the joys that marked your first year as Archbishop?
Archbishop Nikitas: I have had many wonderful experiences since my coming to England. I will mention some of the more notable.
The day of my enthronement was amazing. So many people were present – people came from parishes, a host of hierarchs, my family and friends from the United States and Greece. It was wonderful chatting, speaking, and sharing with all of them.
I also want to mention that when I saw the late Archbishop Gregory and asked him for his blessing for my work, he gave me his blessing with the kindest expression of fatherly love. This was not only a great joy but also very moving for me.
TNH: Did you experience any sorrows?
Archbishop Nikitas: Of course, as you can understand, my parents were not present at my enthronement – they are in the heavenly kingdom. Their absence and the absence of several other important and beloved persons were felt by me.
TNH: Where do you want the Archdiocese to be five years from now?
Archbishop Nikitas: I hope to build on the foundations that I found here, so the church is stronger, more vibrant, and ready for the future. Since I come from the United States, I bring the experiences from Church life there with the hope that these can be useful and benefit the Archdiocese here. Some of my hopes are:
1. A theological school/academy – we need our own theological school to train future clergy and theologians.
2. I believe that the Church needs to address the many complex issues of social concern. We need to establish a facility for the homeless, the poor, those trafficked, for people with HIV/AIDS. Hepatitis C, the refugees, and the oppressed. After all, we are called to serve the "least of the brethren." In order to fulfill this commandment of the Lord, we need to have facilities and resources.
3. We are providing various resources online (religious education in Greek and English, Sunday school, various discussion groups). We need to expand on these. While the older generations may not feel so comfortable with Zoom and other programs, younger people know and use these all the time.