Spyridon Has No Regrets
BOSTON – Former Archbishop Spyridon of America, in an interview with The National Herald for the first time since his departure from the Archbishopric Throne of America in 1999, attempted an approach with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He also spoke openly about the Archdiocese, the Theological School in Brookline, and the Greek-American Community. Archbishop Spyridon visited Boston recently and officiated at the one year Memorial Service of his friend Leo Condakes at Boston’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral. To the question of if the Patriarchate were to invite him to visit for a new encounter and an attempt to set up a new course in your relationship, would he respond positively, he said, “Encounters and dialogue are undoubtedly edifying occurrences. In this sense, every encounter is welcome and every type of dialogue is beneficial.” He spoke candidly on a range of other issues in the interview that follows:
TNH: How does it feel to be back in Boston for your friend, Leo Condakes’ Memorial Service?
SPYRIDON: I am grateful to God for making it possible for me to once again come to the beautiful city of Boston. This time, I came to conduct the memorial service for my loyal friend and benefactor, the late Leo Condakes. I consider it a blessing that during these difficult moments of grief I was able to be with Leo’s family and, in particular, with his wife Eve, former president of the National Philoptochos Society.
TNH: Do you miss being amidst the Greek American community?
SPYRIDON: I happen to be a genuine offspring of our Greek American community. I was brought up in the bosom of this community.
Moreover, I entertain numerous contacts with Greek Americans, many of whom are very close and loyal friends. Therefore, to answer your question directly, I have much love for our Greek American family and of course I miss it a great deal.
TNH: How closely do you follow the affairs of our Church and our Greek American community?
SPYRIDON: I continue to follow closely and with undiminished interest all developments within the Church of America and our Greek American Community. I rejoice for every step of progress they make and I regret every setback they experience.
TNH: Do you now view certain things differently, 11 years after you left the Archepiscopal ministry? What things would you now do differently and what different decisions would you have made?
SPYRIDON: Every period is judged on the basis of its own needs and concerns. At that time the priorities were different. The on-going rapid de-Hellenization of our Greek American community was a serious problem back then. Another great issue was how to keep our Church from coming under the influence of other religious and worldly realities. The decisions taken at that time were consistent with our concerns and I don’t think they could have been different.
TNH: Are there any things you regret you did or didn’t do?
SPYRIDON: There is no place for regret when, as a responsible church leader, one is called to take grave and difficult decisions, however recondite they may be and to whatever degree they might appear tough to outsiders. One must make one’s decisions and bear responsibility for them to the end.
TNH: What is your take on what is happening at the Saint Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery in Astoria? The monastery was brought under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during your Archepiscopal ministry in America.
SPYRIDON: I am saddened by all that is being rumored about the Monastery. It pains me even more to know that so many of our believers are being scandalized by such rumors. I would like to believe that the truth is different from the unverified rumors spread around. As a key player in bringing the Monastery under the Patriarchate’s jurisdiction I am especially sorrowed. My prayer is that passions now running high will be put aside, logic will prevail and peace and order will return to the Monastery.
TNH: Did you know at that time that there were issues of irregularity such as those now brought to surface?
SPYRIDON: No one had ever heard the slightest thing, neither at the Archdiocese nor at the Patriarchate, about what is being persistently rumored at present.
TNH: At this point, what do you think should be done at the Chrysovalantou Monastery?
SPYRIDON: I am confident that the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate, that is responsible for looking into the issue and has knowledge of all the details, will come up with the proper solution.
TNH: What do you believe about homosexuality at all levels of the clergy?
SPYRIDON: I believe what all Orthodox believers across the world believe. I believe in what is written on such matter in the Holy Scripture, especially in the Letters of Paul to the Corinthians (I) and Timothy (I). I believe in what is decreed in the Sacred Canons of the Church.
TNH: Would you ordain a notoriously known homosexual?
SPYRIDON: According to the Canonical Praxis of our Church, a documented case of homosexuality constitutes an insurmountable impediment for ordination.
TNH: How would you comment on the fact that, since 2000, the Archdiocese has defrayed over $18 million in indemnities to the victims of pedophile and homosexual clerics?
SPYRIDON: I can only be profoundly grieved by such a fact. It damages irreparably the prestige and credibility of our Church.
I also experience intense sorrow for our believers, the ones who in reality bear the enormous financial burden of these indemnities.
In the final analysis, such a fact is yet another indication of the worrisome level that our ecclesiastical life has reached.
TNH: What course is our Theological School following today?
SPYRIDON: The course we all knew and know. We are all on the lookout for a few signs of some type of academic and spiritual rebirth. We are all kept waiting.
TNH: What do you think about the option that Hierarchs who serve in dioceses outside Turkey, have to acquire Turkish citizenship?
SPYRIDON: I think a lot of unnecessary fuss is being made about a matter that is really insignificant. I am unable to grasp how this issue has acquired such importance when in fact it is crystal clear that hierarchs who acquire the Turkish citizenship do not give up their previous nationalities. They simply acquire an additional citizenship.
TNH: If you were the Archbishop of America today would you become a Turkish citizen just because that suits the Patriarchate and will make things easier for the election of a new Patriarch when that moment comes?
SPYRIDON: I would do whatever works to the advantage of the Patriarchate.
TNH: Do you feel the Patriarchate is slowly dying out?
SPYRIDON: There are many who think the end is near, very near. I don’t belong to that group. The Patriarchate is a centuries-old institution and such institutions cannot be easily dismantled just because of contextual difficulties and adversities of political character. I continue to remain optimistic about the Patriarchate’s future. I remain confident that it will continue to carry out uninterruptedly its’ sacred mission where History and the piety of the people have placed it.
TNH: Do you have any suggestions regarding the future of the Patriarchate?
SPYRIDON: My suggestion cannot differ from all Orthodox believers’ prayer: that the Patriarchate, anchored where the centuries have held it, might continue to send forth its bright light like a lighthouse on a high rock beaten constantly by the waves of the ocean.
TNH: Do you think the Patriarchate should create a second headquarters, outside Turkey, for instance in New York or Washington?
SPYRIDON: Of course that could be done as well. Perhaps a second headquarters would make certain things easier on a practical level. It could even serve the nontransparent schemes of other major players.
But this would surely be not the prologue to the end but the very epilogue of the end.
TNH: Do you think that finally Autocephaly in America can be avoided?
SPYRIDON: No such issue has been brought to the table as of yet. But even if it were to be brought I don’t know what the outcome of such an attempt would be. For the Archdiocese to become independent and obtain the status of an Autocephalous Church is easier said than done. The new administrative structure of the Archdiocese (Archdiocese-Metropolises) as well as the new reality created by the resolutions of the last Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambesy, Switzerland) feature autocephaly as a quasi-unattainable undertaking. Of course, we all know that for decades the goods of autocephaly have been persistently propagandized in certain Church circles. But I personally see no benefit from autocephaly. I can only see a greater separation from our Church roots and our origins.
TNH: You are a young man, no doubt with much knowledge and many experiences. Don’t you think you don’t have the right to remain away from active church service especially during these times where the lack of churchmen at the Phanar and in the Church overall have become almost a nightmare?
SPYRIDON: I have said it repeatedly: whatever I had to offer I have already offered to my Church. The call now is for younger people, those who have a fresh enthusiasm and a new sacred zeal for the ministry. The future belongs to them.
TNH: What are your thoughts about the so-called “para-ecclesial” organizations in Greece and in this country?
SPYRIDON: As the Greek term “para-ecclesial” indicates, these organizations, despite the fact that they are composed of members of the Church, exist and operate parallel to the Church. As independent, they are not incorporated in our Church structures and their activities are not organically interwoven into the overall mission of the Church. Such organizations could perhaps be merged into the Church one day, especially those known for their unique services, as this has occurred in similar cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
TNH: What does Hellenism mean to you?
SPYRIDON: Hellenism is a way of life and thinking. It is a particular reason of pride and a particular calling to incarnate the noblest ideals that the history of mankind has brought about. To be Greek today is a challenge as well as a responsibility.
TNH: You once had dreams for Greek Education. What were those dreams?
SPYRIDON: We all wanted and still want our Greek American offspring to be bearers of the centuries-old message of Hellenism. For such a purpose, a new educational system would have been necessary, i.e. a system that, together with a modern method of teaching Greek, would make our children knowledgeable in the fields of Greek history and Greek culture. Of course, such an educational system would have to derive directly from our local community school experience.
TNH: Do you think the current administrative structure of the Archdiocese, based on its partition into Metropolises, has hurt the unity of the Church and our Greek American Community?
SPYRIDON: I believed in the past and I still maintain today that the current administrative structure, an Archdiocese divided into Metropolises, is not the most ideal means to enhance the unity direly needed by the Greek American Community in order for it to survive in such a multicultural melting pot that is America.
TNH: What would you suggest?
SPYRIDON: I think the issue should have been studied at length and carefully in all its’ details. This could have helped to develop a comprehensive administrative structure: one that would promote the unity of the Greek American Community and at the same time serve the legitimate ecclesiastico-political goals the Phanar is striving to achieve with the current system.
TNH: Archbishop Dimitrios is already 83 years old. Who do you think will be his successor? Could you name one or two candidates?
SPYRIDON: I believe all speculations as to who will be the Archbishop’s successor are at this moment indecorous and indicate a serious lack of respect for the archiepiscopal institution and the person of the current Archbishop. However, I am certain there are many candidates for the Archepiscopal throne, from America and Europe as well. And perhaps one should be ready for any unexpected development.
TNH: How do you view the situation in Greece today?
SPYRIDON: All Greeks, in Greece and abroad, are concerned about the financial situation in which Greece finds herself today. I’m afraid though the consequences of such financial impoverishment and bankruptcy will prove to be even more worrisome. They will certainly have a painful impact on the promotion of our so-called national issues. I would like to believe that some useful lessons will be drawn from such a financial decline so that the country can get back on its feet as soon as possible and trace a new course of progress and prosperity for itself.