As anniversaries go in the Mediterranean world, five years is modest indeed. On the Great Island of Crete, from June 19-26, 2016, the Orthodox Church held its Holy and Great Council, the first Pan Orthodox Council in more than 1000 years, and Michael Karloutsos, the Executive Director for its preparations, says “if you look at the history of the church, this is going to mean something.”
It was momentous for first steps in many areas that were a millennium coming in Orthodoxy, and for the history of Christian Crete that literally began with the steps taken there 2000 years ago by the Apostle Paul. The Council will also prove its importance in the efforts to build a new Greece, for the media coverage that spotlighted Crete as a global conference center and beautiful and fascinating place to visit, and for the planners’ contributions to the island’s infrastructure.
“When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made the decision to hold the Council at the Orthodox Academy of Crete near Chania, we immediately we knew we would have to implement upgrades.”
“We laid over 18 kilometers of fiber optic cable enabling international press to come and plug in without overwhelming the island, and worked with COSMOTE to lay a new undersea fiber optic cable connection with the mainland,” vital for the journalists to tell the world what was going on there, and plugging Crete into the 21st century.
History long ago placed Crete at the crossroads of the world, the centers of civilizations, and the milestones of religions. Words are at the core of its story, whether inscribed on its famous Linear A and B tablets, or in the Bible, but one word that stands out in descriptions of that noble and beautiful island: ‘Philoxenia’, and Karloutsos can testify to the power of Cretan hospitality to host people from the four corners of the Earth for business – and make them want to return to enjoy the sheer delight of the place.
“Before we arrived we kept hearing about Cretan hospitality, and from our first meal to our last it was extraordinary how much pride the Cretan people had in hosting the Council. They rolled out every red carpet and gave us every accommodation that we asked for.”
Karloutsos could not be more appreciative of Regional Governor Stavros Arniotakis: “Absolutely one of the most honorable men and effective public servants I ever met.” And the Archbishop Irinaios of Crete, “who is such a good and holy man … They both exemplified the Cretan hospitality.”
Another key word for Karloutsos was ‘team’.
“The person directly responsible for the execution of the Council was Metropolitan Emmanuel, now of Chalcedon. He was born on Crete, so it was a homecoming for him, and he brought me in to recruit young Orthodox Christian volunteers and a technical team from the entire Orthodox Diaspora. Something of that magnitude,” Karloutsos noted, “could only be pulled off by a real leader, one who has confidence in himself and the ability to empower his team,” qualities they share.
Karloutsos contributed on a volunteer basis. The Metropolitan knew him for helping coordinate major international events for Patriarch Bartholomew, including his first trip to the United States, his meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, and the opening of the St. Nicholas Church in Havana. The core team included people from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“The organizational meetings were all out of the second floor of GOA headquarters, all under the blessing and the encouragement of Archbishop Demetrios, who knew in his wisdom how important this moment was. He went out of his way to make sure the Archdiocese was as supportive as it could be,” Karloutsos noted, the Council’s success becoming part of the legacy of Demetrios and the GOA.
The only downside was that there was zero down time. “The team and I lived on Crete for six months, but I never touched the water – I saw it every day, but I was in a suit. Every hotel and restaurant owner told me ‘you have to come back with your family. You haven’t been able to enjoy Crete.’ The following year we stayed in Crete as a family and had a wonderful time.”