I investigated the current state of affairs before our interview and read extensively about the revision of the Charter, the so-called “Constitution” of the Archdiocese of America. Why is the discussion surrounding such a seemingly insignificant issue so lively, and why are so many individuals from the Greek-American community involved?
Thank you very much for this question, Mr. Papamatthaiou. Firstly, a significant number of people are involved and interested in this because it was a decision that I made, and it was something approved by the Patriarchate. That is, the new Charter of our Archdiocese was not meant to be “handed down” from above, but rather, to lead us to a broad and fruitful dialogue within the Greek-American community, because our fellow compatriots in America understand that the Church stands at the very center of our community. I remind you that in the early 20th century, when Greeks emigrated in large numbers to the United States and started forming communities, the first thing they built were their churches, and alongside them, Greek schools. Just like then, our churches remain the reference point of the community today. These are the places where we come to self-identify as Greeks and as Orthodox. Our churches are not merely the center of our religious life; they also serve as our most natural communal meeting points. They are our vibrant connection with the Mother Church and our motherland. It is the place where our traditions are celebrated, where our weddings are held, where our children are baptized, and where we bid farewell to our loved ones into eternity.
Over five hundred and fifty parishes of ours are currently functioning in the United States, Mr. Papamatthaiou. And a particularly American characteristic is the active participation of our devout laypeople in the governance and financial management of the Church through our elected parish councils.
The “Charter” of our Archdiocese is of vital importance to both our clergy and laity, and therefore, it cannot be viewed as something irrelevant.
So, what is at stake, then?
Our Ecumenical Patriarchate, of which the Archdiocese of America is an ecclesiastical eparchy, asked us to redefine our existing structure because, primarily, the current one is non-canonical. In other words, it does not correspond to the structure of an eparchy of a Patriarchate. For instance, the Metropolises, which are supposed to be subject to one Archdiocese, function as autonomous ecclesiastical entities. This is not only unprecedented, but it is dysfunctional as well.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate expects us here in America to deliberate and propose solutions that will bring us closer to canonicity. The canonical structure of the Church, its ecclesiological basis, is its foundation. It permeates the Church and allows its faithful to experience faith in a rapidly evolving world.
However, let’s move on to something more practical and understandable. At this moment, our Church in America is administratively divided into the broader region of New York, and eight Metropolises. I chose, in exaggeration, the verb “divided,” because in the practice of the last twenty years of implementing this system, we ended up acting as nine isolated entities, with no central strategy, with each Metropolis choosing different priorities. The sense that we are one Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the feeling of a National Church, has dangerously weakened. Each Metropolis implements different funding strategies and mechanisms of financial control and transparency. There is often overlap of activities, expensive multiplication of bureaucracy, and reluctance to share knowledge and best practices.
Is this a theoretical concern, or have you encountered real issues?
I wish the problems were merely theoretical. They are cumulative and relentless. Upon my arrival to America in 2019, I found Hellenic College and our Holy Cross Theological School on the brink of financial collapse, with the relevant authorities having withdrawn the status of accreditation and recognition of degrees. I discovered the halted reconstruction of Saint Nicholas at Ground Zero — an iconic church for our faith worldwide — due to financial insufficiency and ill-advised decisions. I found our clergy’s pension fund heading toward certain collapse and bankruptcy.
Imagine our clergymen who, for decades, have selflessly served our Church and community, now facing the threat of impoverishment in their old age, along with their families.
The humiliation was immense for our community when the state of New York threatened to revoke our permit to rebuild Saint Nicholas. This church was built by the first Greek immigrants to glorify the God who saw them across the Atlantic. They built it out of their poverty, with their own personal savings, turning down lucrative proposals to sell it for another skyscraper. Were we now to prove ourselves unworthy of our history and circumstances?
These problems were magnified in a fragmented and inward-focused Church, attentive only to the local needs of each Metropolis. It required a massive and coordinated national effort to convince authorities, donors, and our faithful flock that we are now committed, reliable, and capable. As a united Church, we completed the reconstruction, and our Patriarch inaugurated Saint Nicholas, which is now operational. The retirement plan has been stabilized. And our Theological School is now secure, thanks to the significant contribution of the Greek Government, with the personal intervention of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Recently, you had a cordial meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Maximos Mansion. Nevertheless, whispers are circulating about difficulties in your relationship.
I would like to remind you that my personal relationship with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis predates my enthronement as Archbishop of America. I do not operate based on whispers, Mr. Papamatthaiou. I speak loudly. I could elaborate extensively, but for the sake of brevity, I will tell you one thing: the Prime Minister respects me, and naturally in doing so, he also respects our Church and our Community in America, not merely in words but in action. As I mentioned, in the early days of my ministry in America, he supported our Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology with a donation of two million euro. Of course, this was during a time when I inherited them on the brink of institutional and financial collapse. Holy Cross and Hellenic College are where the future priests who will serve our Church in America are trained. The Prime Minister has completed distinguished studies in America, and has a firsthand, deep understanding of Greek-American issues. He fully understood the importance of our School when he decided to support it as the leader of our motherland. Today, our School has regained academic recognition and the accreditation of its degrees, and it is progressing with a new, ambitious vision. I will not forget the tangible support of the Prime Minister and, in his person, the entire Greek people during those challenging years. Every year when I speak at the School, I always remind them of this, because it is not only essential, but it carries significant symbolic value as well.
Just a week ago, amidst the tragic crisis of forest fires plaguing our beloved Greece, he found the time to receive me at the Maximos Mansion once again. Whispers may lurk in the shadows, but actions shine in the light, in full view of everyone — just like the lamp, of which Christ refers to in the Gospel.
Read the article in Greek online here: https://www.tovima.gr/print/society/den-leitourgome-psithyrous-milao-dynata/