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United States

Archbishop Spyridon, Former of America, Addresses Church and Community Issues

BOSTON – His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, former of America, in an interview with The National Herald, spoke about the Archdiocese, the Charter, the dethronement of Metropolitan Evangelos from his Metropolis of New Jersey, the Theological School, Greek Education in America, and much more.

The interview follows:

TNH: Your Eminence, after so many years away you made an appearance at a few church events in New York. How would you assess the state of the Church and our Community in America in the year 2023?

SPYRIDON: Although I attended these events briefly, I was able to witness a lively and a self-confident Church.

I experienced once again our people’s deep concern for the well-being of our Church and I was impressed by their unabated enthusiasm to take part in their Archdiocese’s endeavors.

In short, I admired our faithful for their devotion to the Church and their eagerness to contribute to her mission. I was indeed inspired by their optimism regarding the future of our Church in this blessed country.

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America at the official opening of the 46th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress on July 4 with his predecessors Archbishop Spyridon and Archbishop Demerios formerly of America. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

TNH:  What do you think about the initiatives taken by the Archdiocese with regard to its Charter?

SPYRIDON: The initiative to amend the Charter is being dealt with by special committees appointed by both sides, the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese. It has also been reported that the U.S. metropolitans will be invited to contribute to the discussions. It is difficult to predict the outcome. However, the boundaries of the deliberations have already been delineated by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. In a recent statement he announced that discussions will not include issues pertaining to the present structure of the Archdiocese of America (i.e. metropolises, metropolitans, etc).

TNH: Would you care to comment on the accusations Archbishop Elpidophoros hurled at you in public (i.e. before lay persons at the meeting of Leadership 100, as well as during the last session of the Eparchial Synod) regarding the origins of the metropolitans-metropolises issue?

SPYRIDON: The version recently advanced by my friend, Archbishop Elpidophoros, with regard to the U.S. metropolitans, was unknown to me. I hear it for the first time.

One thing is absolutely certain. The issue regarding the elevation of U.S. bishops to metropolitans had been an object of frequent consideration and debate, both at the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese, long before my election as Archbishop of America.

TNH: What led you to accept his invitation to attend the Clergy-Laity Congress last July and to be honored with an award, an icon of Christ?

SPYRIDON: The Clergy-Laity Congress was mainly dedicated to the unity in our Church. Therefore, I gladly accepted the invitation to attend and do my humble part in asserting such unity that brings our Church together in America.

Archbishop Spyridon, former of America, at the clergy breakfast at the Clergy-Laity Congress in New York in July of 2022. (Photo GOA/DIMITRIOS PANAGOS)

TNH: What can the future hold for Hellenic College and the Theological School considering that the number of enrolled students is merely 120?

SPYRIDON: For years our community has been witnessing a decline of both these institutions. Whether the present number of enrolled students is 120 or, as rumor has it, even less than 120, this can be rectified once faculties in both institutions are reorganized with high academic standards and a functional and transparent administration. Only then will our Greek-American community begin to trust.

TNH: What can be done to help the Theological School carry out its mission?

SPYRIDON: First and foremost, the School must reacquire its’ original orientation which seems to be lost today. Everything else (such as engaging faculty amongst Greek Orthodox theologians known for their academic contributions, developing a curriculum based on Orthodox criteria, drafting appropriate by-laws and regulations, etc.) will follow. The model for such should be the standards and practices implemented by acclaimed Greek-Orthodox theological institutions. Such cannot be provided by non-Greek-Orthodox institutions whose goals and priorities are totally different.

TNH: What is your take on Greek Education and how is it addressed within  our community?

SPYRIDON: The dire situation of Greek Education in the United States is known to everyone. Decades ago (1999) the highly recognized Rassias Commission had made some preliminary promising steps towards a realistic revival of Greek Education. Unfortunately, that effort was curtailed. It will, now, require an  extraordinary effort to achieve our objective, i.e. revival of Greek education in America. Greek culture and language are indispensable if Hellenism is to survive in the United States.  They are also absolutely necessary to fully comprehend Orthodoxy and its original Hellenic foundations.

TNH: What is your reaction to the dethronement of Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey and the three-month suspension of Methodios of Boston?

SPYRIDON: The decisions taken by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in this matter came as a surprise. To this day the reasons for taking such action have not been disclosed. Imposing extreme measures, without explanation, whether they are justified or not, can lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary challenges in balancing the life of the Church.

TNH: If you were to take over the leadership of the Archdiocese right now, what would you do about its finances, the School, Greek Education, the Clergy, Greekness, the internal mission in the communities?

SPYRIDON: The Archdiocese has an Archbishop. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to make any suggestions. My thoughts on these subjects have remained unchanged over the years and should be well known. My views can be found in my reports to the Patriarchate, in the Orthodox Observer (1996-99), and in the multitude of interviews given to the press. They are all accessible today on the internet.

TNH: Are you troubled by the fact that Archbishop Elpidophoros of America fraternizes with the Turks in such a visible manner? There are many who claim such behavior undermines the efforts of Senator Menendez and organizations in support of the causes of Cyprus, Thrace, and the Aegean…

SPYRIDON: An Archbishop must always promote good will and show civility towards all.

TNH: Finally, in retrospect do you regret having accepted to become Archbishop of America?

SPYRIDON: It was a blessing and a privilege to serve the Mother Church as Archbishop of America. We were given the opportunity to fight the good fight. We were able to preserve the heritage of Hellenism and instill Orthodoxy in our youth. I am grateful to God for allowing us to fulfill our sacred duty with exemplary devotion to the Mother Church and great honesty toward our Greek Orthodox people.

TNH: What has your life been like during the 24 years since the time you left the Archdiocese? How would you describe your life today?

SPYRIDON: Today, as it has been in the past twenty four years, my life is dedicated to prayer and contemplation. And, of course, much time is spent in reading and following the developments in our Church.

TNH: Why didn’t you go back – or do you now go to the Phanar to see the Patriarch?

SPYRIDON: The right opportunity did not present itself. Apparently, the ground was not yet fertile for such a pilgrimage. Obviously, I don’t know what the future holds.

TNH: What will happen, and who will take over after Bartholomew?

SPYRIDON:  I am sure that those immediately responsible have given much thought to this matter. It is their sacred duty to see that the person best suited be elected as the future Ecumenical Patriarch. This new ‘man of Cyrene’ will henceforth carry the heavy cross of the Great Church of Christ. And the Phanar, faithful to its calling, will continue its mission anchored in the holy ground where God and history have determined.

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