I had to choose between the Phanar and Loretto, thousands of miles apart geographically, centuries apart in history.
It was November 2014 and Pope Francis was making his obligatory first visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople on the name day of St. Andrew, and I wanted to be there.
I was there in 1979 when Pope John Paul visited Patriarch Demetrios, and I was there in 2006 when Pope Benedict visited Patriarch Bartholomew.
In 1979, St. George, the Patriarchal Church, was cold and empty except for a couple dozen Greek-American pilgrims on the annual AHEPA journey to the Phanar, when the pope and the patriarch walked in together, the pope in white, the Patriarch in black.
The prayers and services were not long, there may have been three chanters, greetings were exchanged, there was a kiss of peace as I recall, and then they walked out. AHEPA’s President, Nick Smyrnis, and the other members of the delegation followed them out.
In 2006, the next occasion of a papal visit, the church was overflowing, a dozen Catholic hierarchs in white and red entered together with a dozen Orthodox hierarchs in black, dignitaries were squeezed into every bit of space, two groups of chanters competed with each other with their Byzantine melodies, Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew entered to the sounds of gasps and exaltations, the prayers and services were long, there were letters of understanding read, a kiss of peace, and then they walked out, almost crushed by the faithful, clutching their ornately printed programs, taking photos, touching the robes of these holy men.
A lot had changed in 27 years. And yet a lot had not. Church properties were still being confiscated, the seminary on Halki was still closed, the Turkish government still exercised a veto on the election of a patriarch.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, was considered by the Turkish government only as a bishop of the Phanar in Istanbul, of perhaps 2,500 Orthodox still remaining in Istanbul. In fact, the patriarch had no legal standing, no legal personality. The Patriarch was essentially a virtual prisoner of the state.
It was November, 2014 and some things had changed but only superficially, and I wanted to be there for the visit of Pope Francis to the Phanar, to show my respect for Bartholomew, for all that he has endured, for all that he has done in moving the Church from a long-desolate state to its present state of recognition throughout the world.
The Archons, led by Dr. Anthony Limberakis, and AHEPA, led by National President Phillip Frangos, would be present to signify the support of American Orthodoxy. Who today does not recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch and his efforts to liberate a captive church?
The road to Loretto, PA, runs east from Pittsburgh. It is not quite a two-hour drive, overcast and cold, with icy rain a threat.
I am with Philip Yamalis and Tom Geanopulos, both residents of Pittsburgh. They show me where the steel mills were, and point out the Westinghouse IT research campus; there is a pit stop at Sheetz; we drive past picturesque Mount Alyosius College, follow a narrow, winding road, and then the facility appears: Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto.
There is a chain link fence, topped with concertina wire. We fill out some paperwork in the admissions office, and then are led by a prison officer through an outdoor open space into a second building and a room approximately 60 feet by 100 feet, white walls, fluorescent lights, stark and spare.
There are three rows of chairs, those in each row facing each other. Prisoners sit across from their visitors – wives, friends, children – there is a murmur of conversation. Most prisoners wear tan shirts and pants, a few are in bright orange.
John Kiriakou comes in from a side room and walks to where we are standing, we all sit, he across from the three of us. We talked for two and a half hours.
There is little conversation on the way back to Pittsburgh.
Kiriakou is a Greek-American and former CIA agent who is serving a 30-month sentence in the federal prison in Loretto.
He entered jail in February 2013 and is scheduled to be released next month and remain in house arrest for three more months. His is a complicated story.
There are two reasons given for his arrest and imprisonment; both have asterisks with qualifications. One is that he disclosed the name of a covert CIA officer to a reporter.
The other is that he disclosed to the American public for the first time that waterboarding was utilized during interrogation of suspected terrorists as a matter of government policy.
He has received support across the political spectrum, from Oliver Stone and other leftist critics of the government, to professors at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
Scott Shane reported in the New York Times that Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA officer who turned down an offer to be considered for CIA Director in 2009, said that Kiriakou was “‘an exceptionally good intelligence officer’ who did not deserve to go to prison.
To me, the irony of this whole thing is, very simply, that he’s going to be the only CIA officer to go to jail over torture, even though he publicly denounced torture.”
Kiriakou has written some thirteen Letters from Loretto during his imprisonment, which have been published by Firedoglake.com, a progressive-leaning political group blog.
In these he details his experiences in prison. He has also written a book that will be published soon after his release. He has been supported during this time by his family and friends, colleagues, and advocates on both the right and left.
He has been visited by Father Michael Kallaur of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh and Father John Buschek of Christ the Savior Cathedral of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of the USA in Johnstown, PA.
Anthony Kouzounis, National President of the AHEPA at the time, wrote a letter dated May 1, 2014, to Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director Federal Bureau of Prisons, in Washington, DC, in which instances of mistreatment of Kiriakou by prison officials are enumerated.
Gus Moshos, a member of Kiriakou’s parish of St. Katherine’s in Fall Church, VA has been a strong supporter of Kiriakou and his family, and has rallied others to help his family.
On the whole, however, the Greek-American community has been silent about Kiriakou. His own priest, Father Costas Pavlakos of St. Katherine’s, has not visited him. The Greek-American press has given him little coverage.
The myriad ethnic, political, lobbying, philanthropic and academic organizations of the Greek American community have had little if anything to say about him. No leaders of the Greek-American community, religious or secular, have said anything about him.
On November 17, Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives and decried the “selective prosecution” of Kiriakou. He called on President Barack Obama to pardon Kiriakou and he called Kiriakou “an American hero.”
On December 9, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 525-page portion of its 6,000-page report about the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and its uses of various forms of torture.
The debate on torture as a policy of the U.S. government has now moved from the blogosphere to the mainstream media.
The Greek-American community took years to understand the historical and spiritual significance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to its own unique religious life.
The captivity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a burden we all share, it is a badge we all wear, it is a threnody we all chant.
Likewise, the intellectual significance of the captivity of John Kiriakou must not be lost on the Greek-American community.
The debate on torture will be important in redefining what kind of country the United States is, what kind of country it should be. Senator John McCain and former Vice President Dick Cheney have recently presented opposing views on this issue.
The Greek-American community cannot remain silent in this debate. The sacrifice one of its own sons has made in shaping this discourse must be embraced and the community must speak its mind. If nothing else, the community must speak out for John Kiriakou.
Dr. Spiro Macris is a past Supreme President of AHEPA