BOSTON – Michael Psaros, the prominent global businessman and philanthropist who spent countless hours purging and rebuilding the finances of the Archdiocese, and who paid for audits out of his own pocket, opened his heart and spoke about Archbishop Elpidophoros on the occasion of the first year after his enthronement.
It was Michael Psaros who discovered the financial irregularities in the administration of the Archdiocese under the former Archbishop Demetrios and demanded actions and investigations.
He spoke about the personality, the dynamism, the decisiveness, and the vision of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros. Psaros also spoke in detail about the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, the Holy Cross School of Theology, the initiative regarding the use of multiple spoons for Holy Communion and much more.
The entire interview has follows:
The National Herald: What are your thoughts about the passing of one year since the enthronement of Archbishop Elpidophoros?
Michael Psaros: His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros has exceeded all expectations in his first year.He came to America from Constantinople in a time of crisis. His leadership and decisive action in response to the crisis are truly remarkable. He undertook these actions after analysis, thoughtful consideration, and consultation. The critical revelation is that he actually made decisions. This may be difficult for our Faithful to understand, but so many difficult and necessary decisions were not made for over a decade, and the result was near catastrophic. His Eminence exhibited faith, wisdom, judgement, courage, sensitivity, and decisiveness in his first year.
TNH: Do you remember when you first met His Eminence – and what was your first impression?
MP: During our first meeting, His Eminence said, “I do not have meetings to have meetings. I only have meetings if action results from meetings.” I had tears in my eyes. Finally, we had a leader who would actually lead. Everything had changed for the better.
I was impressed at how he understood the challenge before him and the enormity of his task – the resurrection of St. Nicholas, the resurrection of Hellenic College Holy Cross, the need to engage our youth, and the necessity to continue building the financial foundation of the Archdiocese. He was informed, clear eyed, pragmatic and firmly grounded in reality. He also understands that these crises needed to be confronted today, that time is of the essence and there is no tomorrow. This meeting left my speechless. No more committee that consults with other committees which consult and debate with each other while our house burns. I remember calling my wife and parents on the way home after that first meeting and I spoke with such emotion.
TNH: How did you feel a year ago seeing him entering the Holy Trinity Cathedral to be enthroned?
MP: The day can only be described as electric. The love, enthusiasm, and excitement of the Faithful created an unforgettable day. Everyone was humbled and awed by the genuine humility exhibited by His Eminence. But the unforgettable moments were those between His Eminence and his Mother. First, the love, affection, and respect that His Eminence showed his Mother, and the love, affection, respect, and pride his Mother showed her son. It was spectacular.
TNH: Where is Archdiocese going under his Archpastoral care and direction?
MP: First, the Archbishop has restored the primacy of the Mother Church of Constantinople in the life of the Archdiocese. His Eminence is the spiritual extension of His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch. The Archdiocese has kept the Mother Church too distant for too long due to ego, hubris and politics. Everything changed with the Enthronement of His Eminence. Change begins at the top, and I pray our Hierarchs and Clergy follow his example in every one of our metropolises and parishes.
Second, in his address in Holy Trinity Cathedral after his Enthronement, His Eminence proclaimed that he is here to serve the people, not to be served by the people. This is a stunning statement from an Orthodox Hierarch in America. It is a testament to his humility and humanity. Therefore, he is committed to having the Archdiocese itself serve the people, not to be served. He is committed to having the metropolises serve the people, not be served. This central theme informs every action taken by His Eminence, and under his leadership, I pray the Archdiocese and the metropolises will follow his example.
Third, he loves his brother clergy. He understands how hard it is to be a parish priest. He is clearly committed to right the injustices of the past. One of the very first meetings that he hosted was with his assembled clergy. He proclaims that the foundation of the Church is the clergy, and their mental, emotional, psychological, and financial health is paramount and neglected for too long. I have personally watched with joy as he called two young men to the Holy Diaconate this year – In Rye, New York at the Church of Our Savior.This matters to him. It is personal.
Fourth, His Eminence understands that the future of the Church is dependent on the engagement with our youth. This is a work in process. The Church must be made relevant to our youth on their terms, and this requires a vision for a 21st Century Church in America.
Finally, he is committed to accountability, transparency, and good governance of the Archdiocese. In furtherance of this objective, I commend him for appointing Archon John Catsimatidis as Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, Archon Honorable Theodore Bozonelis as Secretary, and Elaine Allen as Treasurer. This is world class leadership. In addition, for the first time he created the new position of General Counsel and appointed Archon.
TNH: What is the status of the St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine today as we speak?
MP: The Church will be built. The 'thyranixia’ will be September 11, 2021. Everything is in place, including the right people, the right organization, the required funds, and the construction plan.
The leadership of His Eminence, Archbishop Elipidophoros, the creation of Friends of St. Nicholas (‘Friends’) and the prayers of the Faithful were the catalysts.
Friends and Father Alex raised $44 million starting on January 2, 2020 (to date – $25 million in cash and $19 million in pledges). This is a ‘thavma’. The extraordinary ‘pisteos’, ‘philanthropia’, and ‘philotimo’ of our donors made this possible. Friends, having raised the funds required to construct the National Shrine, will continue its fundraising in order to raise an endowment to support its continued operation.
We are very grateful that Richard volunteered to act as Friends’ COO of Construction and are confident that the construction and completing of the National Shrine is in professional, experienced, and accomplished hands. Mr. Browne, in consultation with the contractors, estimates the cost to complete the National Shrine is $45 million, including a $3 million contingency reserve (that they will attempt not to spend). Therefore, the net cost to complete the Church, interior and exterior, is $42 million.
TNH: How instrumental was the Archbishop?
MP: The Enthronement and leadership of His Eminence, Elpidophoros, was the condition precedent and catalyst to complete the National Shrine. The failures of the first effort to construct the National Shrine were too great, the outrage of the Faithful too intense, and the embarrassment to the Omogenia too public. The election and leadership of His Eminence were the key to completing the National Shrine. He reestablished the credibility of Church. The donors believe in him and his vision for our future, and quite literally voted with their checkbooks.
TNH: Did the coronavirus delay the resumption of construction work?
MP: Construction begin in January 2020 when the critical subcontractor in charge of the National Shrine’s exterior began working. The work is occurring at a fabrication facility in the Midwest and in Austria. We had planned for an April 2 recommencement of construction at Ground Zero, but this was interrupted by the COVID crisis. Father Alex had arranged for the national news media to be present for this historic event.
However, working with the Port Authority, we do expect that work will begin at Ground Zero on site in June. All entitlement and permitting issues have been resolved so that Skanska, the actual construction company with whom the contract will be signed in June, will begin as soon as the COVID crisis is over. In the meantime, the Port Authority has installed the construction barricades around the Church and removed all remaining materials form the interior of the Church.
TNH: How do you respond to some people, including some hierarchs, who say that St. Nicholas shouldn’t be built because it is going to cost a lot of money?
MP: First, no other Orthodox Church in the United States will enjoy the stature and visibility of the National Shrine. The National Shrine will be the most visited Church in New York and probably the Unites States. It will be an icon of Orthodoxy to our country and the world. Ground Zero is visited by tens of thousands of people from around the world every day who will have first exposure to Holy Orthodoxy because of this National Shrine. This is priceless.
Second, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros has stated with conviction that completing the St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine is the single most important civil act of the Orthodox Church in America since Archbishop Iakovos marched across the Bridge at Selma with Dr. King. His Eminence also believes that the completion of the National Shrine will be a symbol of the resurgence of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, resulting in the re-engagement of our Faithful, the Nation, and the world with renewed vitality.
Third, the National Shrine is going to cost approximately $82 million to construct (excluding a $3 million contingency reserve). However, the Archdiocese did not receive $82 million of unrestricted donations, which it then applied to the National Shrine at the expense of other Ministries. This is absurd. The Faithful made restricted donations specifically for the construction of the National Shrine. Approximately 23 families and family foundations donated approximately 50% of the total cost, and 8 institutions donated approximately 30% of the total cost. Their respective donations were to the National Shrine, not the Archdiocese.
Please note that the National Shrine will recognize each and every single donor. It is important that the ‘from the should be recorded and recognized forever.
TNH: Do you think that the faithful and the local leaders in the parishes have regained their trust in the Archdiocese after the dire situation in which it had found itself?
MP: I believe and pray the concrete actions taken by His Eminence in his first year has restored the confidence in the Archdiocese. He has made very substantial changes in its leadership, and is driving a very clear vision for the Orthodox Church in America in the 21st Century. He is a man of action, not talk. He is a true inspirational leader who encourages you to pick up your Cross and follow the Lord because of his actions and not words. This is self-evident for all to see.
TNH: What are your thoughts about Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology under Archbishop Elipidophoros?
MP: His Eminence appointed Archon George Cantonis as the new President of Hellenic College Holy Cross (HCHC). Archon Cantonis has the toughest job in America. He has undertaken a highly complex and ambitious turnaround, not only in the context of the academy, but the academy and the Church. He volunteered for this position at great personal sacrifice. I pray for him and his family.
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros quickly understood the multiple challenges facing HCHC. One of his first trips outside of New York was to HCHC where he stayed in the dormitories, not in a hotel in Boston.
HCHC has made tremendous progress in the first year of our Archbishop's tenure, thanks to his support, his energy, and his vision. He has empowered new deans, a new president, the administration, and the faculty to restructure management and institute more stringent financial controls. A new Hellenic College core curriculum has been developed that focuses more deeply on our Orthodox and Hellenic heritage. Holy Cross is launching a certificate program in youth ministry and leadership. A learning management system is being implemented for the fall that will provide a stronger platform for faculty-student interaction and future online course offerings. And this fiscal year should end with revenues exceeding expenses.
Although great progress is being made, the future remains challenging. The pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of higher education, especially fundraising and enrollment. To make further progress, Hellenic College Holy Cross, the backbone of our Church in the United States, and the Archbishop need the support of all of our faithful. We need to respond to these challenges with financial and moral support. And we must do more to encourage our youth to consider the exceptional higher education, rooted in Orthodoxy and Hellenism, that our School can provide. With the support of all, Hellenic College Holy Cross can realize its full potential in securing the future of our faith in this country and abroad.
TNH: Would you comment on the way Archbishop Elpidophoros responded and continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic?
MP: His actions were decisive and appropriate in response the crisis and the practical health concerns of the Faithful. He was correct to instruct the Metropolises to act in accordance with the respective state laws in their jurisdictions.
TNH: You cosigned a statement with Mr. Castimatidis about the decision of His Eminence to temporarily give the option for the use of multiple spoons for Holy Communion. What led you to do that?
MP: Archon Catsimatidis, Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, and I strong support the position of His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros, for encouraging the distribution of Holy Communion through the use of multiple spoons in this time of the global pandemic. COVID-19 is responsible for over 100,000 deaths in the United States. For the first thousand years of our Church, the spoon was not used, the faithful drank from the Cup and received the Body of Christ in their hands. We commend the Archbishop and encourage an open mind by the Faithful at this time and for the years beyond. We believe the use of multiple spoons will also broaden the base of the Faithful receiving Holy Communion, especially our youth.
TNH: What would you like to wish him on this day of the anniversary of his enthronement as Archbishop of America?
MP: AXIOS! Eis Polla Eti Despota!