In 1998, when visiting Constantinople for the first time, my spouse, Stamati and I met a young deacon so filled with energy, faith and love for the church that he was memorable from the first introduction. He had a ready smile and was an exemplar of the amazing hospitality that the Poli is known for. Years passed and, at almost every one of our over 20 visits to Constantinople, with pride and thanksgiving, we watched the progress of Deacon Elpidophoros to Presbyter to Metropolitan of the Throne, and now to Archbishop Elpidophoros of America.
Every step of the way, we observed a man who seeks out opportunities and rises to meet them; who has the ability to look at any challenge from a unique perspective and who seems to possess an endless energy to tackle and solve problems. The depth of his faith is immediately apparent as is his ready smile, easy demeanor and overwhelming kindness and practicality. He has demonstrated that he has the charisma of drawing people to him to complete a task—without ever making himself the center of the mission--always preparing the way for others, building, as a good steward for his διάδοχο, and never forgetting the obligation to give an accounting of what he has done. His ability to get results and progress in adverse circumstances can easily be seen in two striking examples: Halki and Bursa. Reawakening HALKI.
The transformational change that Archbishop Elpidophoros accomplished at Halki is nothing short of amazing. I remember Halki that first summer of 1998 and for many years thereafter. It was in a state of suspended animation: asleep; waiting for someone to rouse it up from its lethargy. The Seminary was forcibly closed by the Turkish government, the monastery was not active and all waited and prayed for the day that the place would be bustling and fulfilling its mission again.
In 2011, then-Metropolitan Elpidophoros became the Dean of Halki Seminary Philoptochos as well as the Abbot of the Monastery located there. When he surveyed the scene, he recognized the constraints but also discerned the opportunities. As he told us early on, the government may have stopped the operation of the seminary per se, but use of the property itself was not prohibited. With that in mind, he began an academic collaboration not only with European Erasmus programs but also began to digitize the vast collections of the library, so that Halki and the extensive collections would be accessible to all now.
With the University of Thessaloniki, where he was a professor, he instituted a highly successful collaboration to transform the land around the buildings into spectacular ecologically appropriate and biblical gardens with the goal of hosting cultural events in a magnificent setting as well as protecting the environment. The result, featured in numerous articles and the subject of peer-reviewed academic presentations, is extraordinary. The celebration and hosting of numerous cultural events on the grounds proves that where there is vision, faith, energy and a collaborative spirit, the results can be amazing.
When I chaired the National Philoptochos Pilgrimage to Constantinople in 2013, our group traveled to Halki and traveling along with us was Metropolitan Elpidophoros. All were so impressed-- he was so interactive, enthusiastic, inspiring. They loved him because he connected with them from the first moment. Our entire group of over 35 Philoptochos members was amazed at what they saw in Halki. The biblically-themed gardens, the sparkling, renovated building, a working monastery, plans for a visitor and conference center and an array of cultural events with music filling the air were all a joyous sight. Halki again was a vibrant place, still awaiting and praying for the reopening of the theological school, but surely no longer asleep.
Setting the goals and putting Halki on a road to progress and development took vision and enthusiasm as well as an ability to encourage volunteer service. That’s what we need in America and thankfully, His Eminence brings those skills with him.
Meanwhile in BURSA…
In 2011, His All Holiness and the Holy Synod elevated then-Father Elpidophoros to Metropolitan of Bursa (Προύσα). Bursa, an area located in northwestern Anatolia, within the Marmara Region of Turkey, was once a great See of the church. At the time of his elevation, it was a titular See only. At the time, I recall Metropolitan Elpidophoros saying, “I don’t want to simply be a metropolitan with a title. I must find a way to produce results in Bursa.” He traveled to Bursa twice. The first time, he found nothing in terms of either churches or a flock.
Undeterred and after much prayer, he traveled there again and found that there were many workers in factories who were Russian Orthodox. I recall him saying, “I found a flock. There is a ministry there.” And so, began the reawakening of the Church in Bursa. He found not only a flock but the remains of two churches there which were in private ownership and which could be purchased and renovated.
Thereafter, Metropolitan Elpidophoros came to the US, to California, to raise money to purchase the dilapidated church property in Bursa. He raised the money, purchased the properties and renovated the now-operational churches. Then something unheard of occurred: he returned to California, not to raise more money, but to report to the donors what he had done with their donations so that they might know see the fruits of their giving and spiritual labor. Today the churches are operational, staffed with clergy and serving the flock in Bursa. The accountability and transparency were well received and truly welcomed. It was new, refreshing. That’s what we need in America.
America is now experiencing a “reset”. America needs some fresh air, an openness to new ideas, a leader who has shown progress in adverse circumstances, someone who has shown transparency and accountability, who is academic while being practical, someone who respects and loves us as Americans but who has an unquestionable bond with our Ecumenical Patriarchate. All these qualities abound in our new Archbishop.
I am confident that under Archbishop Elpidophoros’ guidance and leadership, our beautiful Church in America will truly find its path and προσανατολισμό, figuratively and literally as we begin this new chapter in the life of our Greek Orthodox Church in America.
Εις Πολλά ¨Ετη Δέσποτα!