BOSTON – The unanimously elected Archbishop Elpidophoros of America gave his first interview to The National Herald, in which he spoke about the Omogenia (the Greek American Community), the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, the good-ordering of financial matters, the Greek language and heritage, and his vision for the Archdiocese and the Greek-American Community.
The Archbishop emphasized regarding the Community, among other things, “For me, you are my pride, my praise, my spiritual children, my precious coworkers, my fellow travelers for the sake of the glory of God, and my supports in strengthening the crown of Orthodoxy, our Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
The complete text of the interview is as follows:
TNH: Your Eminence, how do you feel about your election to the Archiepiscopal Throne of America?
AE: The truth is that the main feeling I was expecting after my election was one of relief, because all of us had grown weary of the long period of impatient waiting that preceded the solution. I was confident that I would feel relief whether the Holy and Sacred Synod elected me or another brother among the other hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne. However, to my surprise, in the end my main emotion was one of a feeling of responsibility. More specifically, the burden of responsibility. This feeling expressed itself in two ways: with praise to God and with gratitude to the Patriarch and the Synod for their unanimously expressed trust.
TNH: When you entered the Patriarchal Court in 1994 as a young deacon, did you ever imagine that you might become Archbishop of America?
AE: Of course not. Not even in my wildest dreams, my dear Mr. Kalmoukos. The only thing that connected my ordination to the diaconate with America were the words the Patriarch used when he named me Elpidophoros. He said the following at that time: when our Patriarch was enthroned on November 2, 1991, Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory wished him to be a Patriarch “free from danger (Akyndinos), a “well-spring” (Pegasios), “unhindered” (anembodistos), “bountiful” (afthonios), and a “bringer of hope” (Elpidophoros), punning on the names of the Saints whose feasts were celebrated on the date of his Enthronement, November 2. The Patriarch said to me, “Since that time, I had wanted to give this name to a clergyman.”
Thus, since the first day of my ministry in the Patriarchal Court, I felt gratitude for the Patriarch who gave me this name and that my name was connected to Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory. I admired America from a young age, dreaming of traveling there, and was excited from the first day when I did visit, as a post-graduate student in 1992, to baptize Elias Papas, the son of my childhood friend Fr. Christos, who serves the community of Holy Ascension in Fairview, NJ. Since that time, I fell in love with America and have visited many times.
TNH: What do you believe about the Community in America? What are we to you? What are your thoughts?
AE: The Greek-American community certainly sits at the top of the successful Hellenes of the Diaspora. For me however, as a Christian, a theologian, and a cleric, the value of this Community is measured by the love that it has for the Church, its dedication to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the sacrifices it makes to preserve its tradition, language, culture, and faith. Now that our Patriarch has entrusted me with your pastoral care, you are my pride, my praise, my spiritual children, my precious co-workers, my fellow travelers toward the glory of God, and my support in strengthening the crown of Orthodoxy, our Ecumenical Patriarchate.
TNH: Do you know the issues of Church life in America? And what are some of the priorities you will try to take on in the near future?
AE: I’m not going to hide behind my finger. Our Church in America has serious problems. All these problems stem from one common cause: the loss of trust of the people for the Archdiocese’s administrative ability. No one believes that there was any foul play. But also no one denies that bad choices have been made. This is not a happy circumstance, but at least it preserves the honor of the Archdiocese because the people serving preserved their fear of God. We are all sensitive with regard to the Church’s finances and rightly so, because these funds are sacred.
They the hard-earned money that the people of God offer, money made with labor and sweat. We must therefore respect these offerings and manage them in the fear of God, grateful to our people who have entrusted their offerings to us for the benefit of the Church. Therefore, the first thing we need to do is to restore our credibility to the outside world. To this end, it will help very much if we recommence soon the rebuilding of the Church of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero. It is a matter of prestige for us.
After that we need to put our own house in order. To elevate again our beloved Theological School in Boston, and Hellenic College, which are in the heart of the most significant educational center of the Nation. We live in a country where these issues can be resolved and there are mechanisms and systems that can mitigate our organizational and administrative and managerial weaknesses. We need professionals. They exist. And many of them, even the most successful ones, belong to the flock of our Archdiocese. And they love the Church. We will invite them in and ask for their help. I am sure that they will not deprive us of their talents.
TNH: What will you bring to America when you come for your enthronement?
AE: There is a definitive element to the answer I am going to give to your question. I am coming from Constantinople, from our Ecumenical Patriarchate, from our Mother Church. This, therefore, is what I am bringing chiefly and foremost: the blessing of our Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew, the greatest Ecumenical Patriarch of the last 200 years, the Patriarch that has held steady the helm of Orthodoxy for the last 28 years.
I am also bringing the blessings and prayers of the Hierarchy of the Ecumenical Throne, the members of the Holy and Sacred Synod. I am also bringing the hopes of the Greek Orthodox People of Constantinople, of the islands of Imvros and of Tenedos: so that their brothers in America will think of them, care about them, and support them. That they will feel the hurt when they see the door of the Theological School of Halki is closed, and that they will not tolerate the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Crown of Orthodoxy, does not have the open access that it deserves and befits it.
TNH: Where are going to live, since the home of Iakovos of blessed memory was sold?
AE: Whoever has visited me either at the Phanar, when I was a clergyman of the Patriarchal Court, or at Halki, where I lived in the monastery with the fathers, has seen that I usually live and work out of one room, which contains my bed, my desk, and my computer. I don’t know what the world thinks of us, but we live very frugally and simply in Constantinople.
I am telling you all this to explain to you that the last thing that occupies my mind right now is where I am going to live. I am sure that in the two buildings the Archdiocese has in Manhattan, there will be a room where I can sleep. Besides, there is so much work to do in these first years that I won’t have time to spare commuting. Personally, I would be ashamed to burden the budget of the Archdiocese with an Archiepiscopal residence, during a time where there are such economic difficulties. When, with God’s help, we overcome the problems and pay off our debts, then we will see.
To tell you the truth, through all the years of my life as a clergyman, I am used to living in communal settings, either at the Phanar, or Halki, or the Holy Trinity Monastery, and I will consider doing something similar in New York.
TNH: What is your relationship with the Hierarchs and priests here going to be like?
AE: Our Hierarchs here in the United States are all very valued and venerable clergymen, who love the Church and possess the fear of God. I will ask them to work together with me in a brotherly spirit and to join forces for our great common purpose: The elevation of Orthodoxy and the restoration of our Archdiocese. Especially, I will ask their help in finding ways to approach the young generations of Orthodox, who may not be as close to our Church as we would desire. And this could cause serious problems in the future, and will require a “changing of the guard” and a continuation of service for our Communities and Institutions.
TNH: What will be the relationship of the Archdiocese to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
AE: The Archdiocese of America is the pride of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is the praise of the Mother Church. It is her hope for the future. I will remind you as well of what I said in the so-called Lesser Message, following my election as Archbishop of America: “If the vine brings forth fruit, it is because it is connected to the vineyard.”
Is it possible for a branch to be proud of producing plentiful fruit and not remember that this is only because it is an inalienable part of a tree, which draws food and water from its deep roots? This is exactly our relationship to our Patriarchate. Thus, it is an unbreakable, organic, existential, and vital relationship. We are nourished by the spirituality and tradition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and share our fruits with gratitude.
TNH: What stance do you plan to take on national issues?
AE: National issues are also among the fruits we must share with Hellenism around the world. I mean that we owe it to our nation that we put the capabilities we have, such as the Greek-American organizations that work hard in the service of the promotion and strengthening of our positions on national issues and causes, but to do this in a responsible and effective way. We have nothing to gain from sensationalism that yields no result. Therefore, I’m giving you a straight answer in saying that I will follow the tradition of all my predecessors, enlisting all my strength, with the cooperation of all key people of the Greek-American community in the USA, so that we may allow no one to undermine Hellenism, wherever Greeks may live.
TNH: What do you believe about the issue of Greek Paideia (education) and Greek identity, in general?
AE: The issue of Greek identity, both as language and cultural conscience, has been discussed much in America, and has suffered and been slandered so much, that we need a peaceful, calm, and realistic approach. No matter what we do, we cannot have the type of Greek identity here that there is in Greece and Cyprus. It is also not right to distort our approach to Greek identity, or to disdain the Greek language.
There is a middle way: not to risk our integration in American society, but also not to deny our tradition and heritage. We can stand in the pluralistic and free American society with pride and dignity, bearers of an international, ecumenical, and magnificent culture, the Hellenic culture, which has been subject of admiration and continues to be so by all peoples and all other cultures, friends and enemies.
Besides, even from a Church point of view, our Greek language is the one in which the fundamental monuments of Christianity were written: The New Testament, the Divine Liturgy, the Psalms, the works of the great Fathers of the Church. We are not going to impose a “golden ratio” on this issue. Instead, we will discover it together by means of a constructive dialogue in which the views of all sides will be freely expressed.