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General News

When Fr. Alex Asks Support for a Project, ‘Just Say Yes’

ATHENS – Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, arrived in Athens in advance of the 4th International Conference on Religious Freedom of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

This article presents excerpts from a larger interview.

Father Alex and Presbytera Xanthi were waiting at a table on the rooftop of the Grande Bretagne hotel on a glorious spring day. He was generous with his time. His guidance and observations flow freely even when time is short, however, helping people any way he can – it’s one of the secrets of his success. Another is that no one wants to say “no” to Father Alex.

He is the son of Father Michael Karloutsos. Six of the seven children born to his Presbytera OIga lived – two of them became priests – but his mother died when he was nine years old. “My grandmother had to come from Greece – actually, she had adopted my father because she could not have children, but she ended up raising six – we were very blessed to have had Yiayia Stavroula.”

Father Alexander Karloutsos, far left, with Archbishop Elpidophoros, former President Donald Trump, and former President Mike Pence in the Oval Office. (Photo: Courtesy of Fr. Alex Karloutsos)

Asked how he would have been described as a child, he said “I was a reflective kid… I was in pain because of the loss of my mother.” That led him to the priesthood, “because ultimately I had a great love not only for the Lord, but for what He said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” – I take that seriously.”

It is difficult for Father Alex to imagine life without Presbytera Xanthi. “When I was a seminarian, I was invited to a wedding in Washington, DC. We were both in the bridal party. We saw each other and thought we should walk down the aisle together and that’s how we got committed to each other. My wife is a good-looking woman, but her faith is so powerful – that was even more beautiful for me.” Asked if he could have succeeded without her at his side, Father Alex gave his quickest response of the interview: “No.”

He illustrated Presbytera Xanthi’s importance with a story that spotlights a fact of life in close-knit communities: success breeds rumors, and ‘zilia’’ – classic Greek jealousy.

President Joe Biden awards the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Father Alexander Karloutsos during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The years 1992 to 1996 was the time “many considered my exile” from the circle of the great Churchman Archbishop Iakovos. “I was standing up for the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch – without my wife I could not have done it.”

He has been present at many historical moments in the history of Hellenism in America and global Orthodoxy, and the discussion began on a humble note: “I was present” largely “because the tasks were assigned to me, and the roads given to me.”

Some big assignments were on the American stage: raising funds for the presidential Chapel at Camp David. It was when he began to hone his fundraising skills at Leadership 100, which he developed into an endowment for Community and Church – he also created two others. “They told us that there would be plaques with the names of benefactors,” and he said he would meet the GOA’s assessment of $300,000 “but I want one thing – I want the chapel bell to be named ‘Archbishop Iakovos Bell Tower.’ I wanted the Orthodox bell tower to be calling the President to prayer.”

He does not pursue acclaim – at their events Father and Presbytera usually in the back, making sure everything goes well – but he received one priceless honor: receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 7, 2022. “It was humbling… because I didn’t deserve it – the only way I got it was because I tried to serve my church, my community, and my country.”

When he was asked if he was thinking about his mother and father during the ceremony, Father Alex after a thoughtful pause sighed and said, “sure.”

Michael Karloutsos, a proud son, poses for historic photo with Father Alexander Karloutsos after the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony on July 7, 2022. (Photo: Courtesy of Fr. Alex Karloutsos)

At the celebration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986, he made sure Archbishop Iakovos gave the prayer. “My responsibility was to make sure our Church spoke for America at that ceremony.”

Of course, when Michael Dukakis ran for president, the campaign turned to Father Alex. “Peter Basset, Dukakis’ fundraiser among the Greeks, came to me… I had the only list of affluent Greeks, and I said to Peter, ‘I will give you the list.’”

He played a major role in former President Jimmy Carter’s historic visit to the Patriarchate in 1985, the year of Father Alex’s first trip to Constantinople. “I was very moved… I realized how tragic the Mother Church’s reality was… it was all destroyed. I went through the gate and asked ‘what is this place’ and I was told ‘this is the Patriarchate… the Turkish government doesn’t give permission for repairs since the fire in 1941.’ I said ‘you have to be kidding me’ and declared: ‘we need help.’”

And he did. He managed to extend a visit to Greece by Carter to Constantinople “where Patriarch Bartholomew and Jimmy Carter worked out the strategy for the rebuilding.”

The ups and downs of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero have been much reported, but he emphasized “we owe the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine to Andrew Cuomo – we were three weeks away from being pushed out.” He always praises the whole team, but noted “we could not have done the fundraising without Michael Psaros.”

Even an impressive collage of photos can’t do justice to a life, but this collection of snapshots from Fr. Alexander Karloutsos’ life and work, including with numerous presidents, but especially with his family, does a bit of poetic justice. (Photo: Courtesy of Fr. Alex Karloutsos)

The word ‘builder’ jumps out – but he prefers ‘creator’. “I like to create… Man is created in the image and likeness of God… God is love… the reason why God creates is out of love… I’m a creator in the image and likeness of God.” He emphasizes creating relationships between people. And he doesn’t’ so much build teams as create families. “You need a ‘Megali Idea’ – a Big Idea – to subject the ‘Megalo Ego’. We created missions, and the mission creates the family.”

Then there is the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in Southampton, NY, where he is Pastor. The nave is a beautiful blend of light and warmth, but the mosaic reproduction of Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ depicting Plato and Aristotle strolling and debating, is stunning. It crowns the facade of ‘The Muses’ Cultural Center. “I named it The Muses because their mother is Mnemosyne – memory… it represents our cultural, spiritual memory.”

Noting Greek Orthodox Americans have three identities, he said: “To me, they mean everything…” evoking the word ‘harmony’. And there is ‘balance’.

He deftly manages his natural competitiveness and togetherness and by helping families, he also balances pastor-priest and power priest.

Father Alexander Karloutsos is carrying the Gospel of Christ. Of course, when he was ordained to the priesthood, he took up the Cross of Christ, as did his father, his brother, his brother-in-law and son-in-law, as well as a nephew.
(Photo: Courtesy of Fr. Alex Karloutsos)

Father Alex explains: “Some believe in the love of power and others believe in the power of love. So I try to always err on the side of the power of love…” which entails forgiveness. “There are many people that I know talk about me negatively… But you accept that as part of it all… no cross to bear, no crown. So I accept that as part of my responsibility to keep our community together.”

His Philosophy has served him well, enabling him to foster cooperation… even in the Middle East. He was instrumental to the restoration work at the Holy Sepulchre that brought together Orthodox, Catholics, and Armenians, and to the Holy and Great Council on Crete in 2016.

A Conference of Immersion in Hellenism’s Homeland

As the Spiritual Advisor to the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he is deeply devoted to the cause. The international Archon conferences shine light on the difficult reality of the Patriarchate. This year it is in Greece May 26-29. “We wanted to bring them to the heart of democracy” and every venue, the Cathedral of Athens, the Stoa of Attalos, the Zappeion Megaron, is meant to evoke memory and inspiration – and U.S.-Greece ties. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the gathering.

The main purpose is to inspire the Archons to continue their service to Orthodoxy and Hellenism. “This is a conference of immersion… we’re re-baptizing them in Greek waters and Greek thought… and we’re not going just to the mind, but also the heart and all the senses” – like the Divine Liturgy.

He also explained why Patriarch Bartholomew will not attend. “He wanted everybody to speak freely at all the conferences, Berlin, Brussels, and the United States.” He will be absent so everybody can speak freely. “He is very happy that it’s in Greece and he continued the same policy he did in Berlin, Brussels, and the United States.”

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