Greek Orthodox Archbishop Spyridon resigns

He faced criticism

replacement chosen

August 20, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Archbishop Spyridon, the embattled spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America who faced mounting opposition from his laity, priests and hierarchs, resigned yesterday and was immediately replaced with a popular Greek cleric.

Spyridon, who was born in the United States but spent most of his adult life in Europe, assumed the leadership of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese three years ago amid hope that he would be the ideal person to guide an increasingly Americanized Greek Orthodox Church. But he alienated some members of the archdiocese, including his metropolitans, with what they described as an autocratic, "hyperpapal" style in a church accustomed to operating in the collegiality of a synod.

The rift reached a crisis when more than a dozen churches began withholding funds from the archdiocese, and the five Greek Orthodox metropolitans in the United States called in January for Spyridon's removal.

Spyridon was summoned last month to the Phanar, headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, which has authority over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians including Greeks, gave him a month to resolve the conflict in the North American church before he was to return to the Phanar this week. There was wide speculation he would be replaced.

The new leader of the Greek archdiocese, selected by the Holy Synod of Constantinople, will be Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthena. A special assistant to Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, Demetrios was born in Greece but has spent much of his career in the United States.

In a letter dated yesterday to "all the devout Faithful of the Greek Archdiocese of America," Spyridon did not give a reason for his resignation, but he alluded to the pressure applied by those who opposed him.

"In the course of any ministry that God delivers into the hands of a man, there comes a time when principle and truth cannot be risked above and beyond the integrity of the human spirit," Spyridon wrote. "These moments are the ones that define us as human persons, that make us what we are. And what is more, there is grace upon grace; for my heart is clean of any malice, ill will or judgment of others."

Spyridon defended his tenure, particularly his efforts to reinforce the importance of Greek culture and language in a church increasingly made up of third- and fourth-generation Americans.

He attempted to do this "by re-focusing on the essentials of Hellenic culture and to make available to the next generation that which our parents so proudly delivered to us," he wrote.

Representatives of Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL), a lay movement that was Spyridon's most vocal opposition, rejoiced at the news.

"This is the answer to our prayers," said Evan Alevizatos Chriss, a Baltimore attorney who is a founding member and on the board of GOAL.

"The long ordeal and period of disorderliness in the affairs of our archdiocese appears to be over," said Dean Popps, a GOAL spokesman.

Nearly all the clergy in Maryland supported Spyridon until the end.

"This has been a very difficult day for me because I respect both these hierarchs [Spyridon and Demetrios] very much," said the Most Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and the senior clergyman in Maryland.

"I've known them both, and I think both of them are great churchmen. I feel the circumstances that brought about the results have saddened me. But I rejoice that the one who is coming is such a fine man as well."

Demetrios, 71, long had been rumored to be a leading candidate to replace Spyridon. Demetrios has been a parish priest, a student and a professor in the United States.

After serving for several years at a parish near Pittsburgh, he earned a doctoral degree at Harvard Divinity School and taught at Harvard and the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

Demetrios came to Maryland as recently as March 1995, when he led a Lenten retreat for the cathedral's adult Bible study group. "He's a wonderful, likable man. A great theologian," said Monios.

Until Demetrios is enthroned, as early as next month, the archdiocese will be administered by Bishop George of the Diocese of New Jersey, which includes Maryland.

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