MICHAEL G. CANTONIS: My Ancestors & My Life
Chapter: Archbishop Spyridon - October 2008
In August of 1996, Archbishop Spyridon was unanimously elected as the new Archbishop of America by the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and took office in New York the following month under the worst conditions ever experienced in the history of the Archdiocese and its institutions. I do not blame Archbishop Iakovos for this sad state of our Church because during the last years of his life he could not fully exercise his leadership due to poor health and old age.
Iakovos, having served as archbishop for thirty-eight years, had created a great number of loyal friends. Many of them active in the Archdiocesan institutions served without being overseen by their church leader in the years of his poor health. Millions were lost from trust funds belonging to the Archdiocese and many more vanished during the Demetriades real estate deal as it was clearly demonstrated in the Greek American Press of New York City in the early 1990's. Such trust funds had been donated to the Archdiocese long before the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Endowment Fund Leadership 100 was created, and were completely separate from the latter.
Archbishop Spyridon's arrival in New York came under a tremendous amount of opposition by certain groups for more than one reason. The new archbishop was young, dynamic, intelligent, healthy, extremely well educated, experienced, and aggressive and spoke five European languages fluently. Endowed with a dynamic personality, he had an outstanding record as Metropolitan of Italy. He was a man of action and energy. Once be took over he tried to clean up the mess inherited. Things were so bad he didn't know where to begin. He had to take some very strong action without delay to bring order to the chaotic state in which lay the Archdiocese, the Archdiocesan headquarters and its major institutions such as the Hellenic College/Holy Cross and St. Basil Academy. In addition, the Archdiocese finances were in extremely poor shape at that time. By 1996, the year Spyridon took over, there was no money left. What happened to all that money, only God knows.
Spyridon inherited debts, no surpluses or trust funds. When one inherits a house in such a mess and tries to clean it up, one can't help but remove some of the old directors and officers. Besides, in any new administration, be it in institutions or in the world of business, the new top executive has the right to remove old officers and appoint new men he believes are capable of helping him carry out his task. Such action taken by the new Archbishop did not please certain old power holders. In addition, His Eminence Iakovos, realizing that this young Archbishop meant business, probably did not look at him with a good eye either. It is my belief that Iakovos was concerned about his legacy. He took great pride in such legacy; it was a matter of great importance to him. In my opinion he felt threatened that some day the new archbishop would overshadow him. I also believe that, because he deeply disliked Bartholomew, he did not want the new archbishop to succeed in order to prove to the Patriarch that his new choice represented an unsound replacement. Even though Spyridon kept most old members in the new Archdiocesan Council he changed several members on the Archdiocese Executive Committee by appointing eight well-known, successful, progressive and honorable businessmen. Inevitably, certain among the old Executive Committee members and other power holders replaced grudged and lined up against Archbishop Spyridon.
In addition, during Iakovos unusually long tenure as Archbishop, most Bishops serving within the Archdiocese were selected and ordained by him. Therefore, they had a strong allegiance to their benefactor. As such they were kept powerless and restrained from fully exercising their rights. He was the "boss" and they had to sit and listen which in my opinion was contrary to the canons of the Church. When Spyridon took over, all bishops suddenly got together and claimed their independence and equal rights within the Church. They basically revolted. This was completely a new departure from the way business used to be conducted.
All these things being put together: laymen who had lost their positions and power, bishops awaken all of a sudden demanding power and rights, others hurt by Spyridon's new cleanup changes and the total lack of support by the former Archbishop Iakovos, one can easily realize the unpleasant situation and animosity Archbishop Spyridon was confronted with.
Certain former Executive Committee members and several among Iakovos' loyal friends didn't take long to declare war against Spyridon through propaganda attacks in the newspapers. They spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in newspaper ads attacking their new Church leader. It was a disgraceful propaganda against a man who was trying to clean up the lamentable conditions of the Church he inherited. The opposition was soon joined by a few professors from Hellenic College/Holy Cross, some personnel at St. Basil's Academy and, of course, the eight bishops desirous to be elevated to the rank of Metropolitan.
Thousands of letters were mailed to parishes all over America full of accusations and unjust attacks on Spyridon in which the parishioners were urged to stop sending their dues to the Archdiocese. In spite of this, the finances during Spyridon's three years tenure showed great improvements. Deficits were reduced and within three years the Archdiocese had finally a balance budget.
To me, as much as I still love and respect the memory of Archbishop Iakovos, I cannot explain the fact that he remained silent throughout this sad period. I do not want to believe he was directly involved in the war against Spyridon, but how can one explain the fact that he never uttered a word of encouragement for the new archbishop. Most people fighting Spyridon were Archbishop Iakovos' friends. He had the power and could have used his influence to stop them. He did not do so.
As the years go by I believe even more that they all did a great injustice to a great hierarch and a disservice to the American Church. Today, after Spyridon's three years ministry, the Greek Orthodox Church of America is in worse conditions than before. The new Archbishop, Demetrios whom I love and deeply respect as a religious, saintly man and a friend of mine, but by general belief, is a poor administrator. However, my opinion is that the greatest part of his weakness can be attributed to lack of cooperation and support from superior authorities. Please don't put the blame on His Eminence Demetrios as most of his administrative powers have been taken away from him when the Patriarchate established eight new Metropolises (mini Archdioceses) under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In Spyridon, Orthodoxy lost one of its most distinguished and experienced hierarchs according to Archbishop Demetrios who confided in me on his Epiphany visit to Tarpon Springs in 2000. Demetrios stressed that Archbishop Spyridon was one of the three most important, dynamic and knowledgeable hierarchs in the Orthodox Church. Many priests today regret the present state of affairs and many of Spyridon's old opponents admit they had been misguided and now repent of having fought their church leader.
His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos knew I was a great supporter of Archbishop Spyridon. In fact, being aware of the sad condition of the Church when Spyridon took over, I felt he was the person who could restore the damaged honor and dignity, the spirituality and vigor, and the finances of the Church. I guess His Eminence Iakovos thought that since I did not share his feelings toward Archbishop Spyridon because of my great support for him. I, his beloved friend Michael, had let him down. For me, my Church always came first, before and above everything else and a, hierarch, archbishop or even a patriarch comes second.
In addition, I believe that certain of Iakovos' friends out of jealousy for the archbishop's close relationship with me and my family over decades instigated him against me. An indication of this is that when my wife and I attended the first dinner of the Leadership 100 in early 2000 at a Washington DC hotel, after Spyridon's departure and the arrival of the new Archbishop Demetrios, my wife and I as well as my brother Carl and his wife, all fully paid members of Leadership 100, were seated at the worst table in the hotel's banquet room, near the back door with some undesirable "friends". 'When my wife and I went to greet His Eminence Iakovos, he acted like we were complete strangers to him. Both my wife and I were shocked at his attitude and asked ourselves how could he so quickly forget all those years of intimate family friendship? I wondered how His Eminence could so easily disown a family whom for over several decades he considered not only his friends so close to him, and as he was saying himself, his own? What sort of wrong had we done to him?
But I think I know what our crime was. It was the support shown for our new patriarch, Bartholomew, who needed worldwide Orthodox cooperation. It was our support for Spyridon, the new archbishop who badly needed our assistance for the benefit of the Orthodox Church of America, the same Church to which His Eminence Iakovos had offered nearly his entire life. In the over fifty five years of my service to our Church in various very challenging positions I never played politics nor did I ask for power or recognition. Perhaps this was my wrongdoing. In spite of all this, during his last years I never failed to call him on Christmas, his name day and Easter and convey my family's love and best wishes for his health and well-being. To my family and me, his attitude in his late years was a great disappointment, but I never ceased to love and respect him. May his memory be everlasting!
My personal relationship with Iakovos which spanned over more than three decades was so strong that after Dr. Anthony G. Borden, MD, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew passed away, he immediately thought of me and strongly urged me to accept the deceased commander's position he was offering me because, as he said, he believed my dedication, vigorousness and hard work would help promote the organization. He put a lot of pressure on me to accept but I steadily refused on the grounds that I was still very active in my business and I lived in Florida, 1300 miles away from the Archdiocese headquarters. I felt the new commander should be in his office at least once a week in order to be able to carry out the kind of work his new responsibilities required. I recommended to His Eminence at that time Dr. Chris Phillips, DDS, a cultured, very well mannered and refined gentleman. This gentleman was dedicated to the Church and lived in New Jersey from where he could easily come to his office at the Archdiocese within an hour or less. His Eminence's statement to me was, “Dr. Phillips is my second choice."
Unfortunately, in March of the year 2005, I underwent a cataract operation on both my eyes. Archbishop Iakovos death occurred in the period between the two operations. There was no way the doctor would allow me to travel to New York City to attend his funeral and then to Brookline, Massachusetts for his burial, although I wanted so badly to be there to express my love and respect for him. It is in my character to remember and appreciate the good sides of persons and things and to forget and forgive any ill feelings, especially in the case of a friend so close to my family and me for over thirty years. Once again, may his memory be everlasting!
MORE ON ARCHBISHOP SPYRIDON
His Eminence Spyridon was born in Warren, Ohio. At a young age he, with his family, moved to the island of Rodos in Greece where his father, a well-known physician, came from originally. His father, the doctor, was the son of a priest, who deep in his heart always wanted to enter the priesthood. Instead, he studied medicine in France and followed a medical career.
Young George (Spyridon's baptismal name), since childhood, loved to attend church services. In Rodos he was active as an acolyte of Spyridon, the Metropolitan of Rodos, and later, when he returned to America to complete his high school education, he served as an altar boy and choir member at St. Nicholas Church in Tarpon Springs. After he graduated from high school in Tarpon Springs, he returned to Greece. He decided that some day he would love to be a theologian and a priest. As his father encouraged him, young George traveled to Constantinople and enrolled at the Halki Theological School, the best-known Orthodox theological school in the world. While studying at Halki he spent his summer vacations in West Europe to improve his French and German.
Upon graduating from Halki with honors, he was offered a position at the World Council of Churches where he worked for a year or two. Thereafter, lie began postgraduate studies in the field of Protestant History at the University of Geneva and later in the discipline of Byzantine Literature at As University of Bochum in Germany. Being brilliant, it did not take him very many years in the priesthood to be elected by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as Metropolitan of Italy with headquarters in Venice. While in Italy, he reorganized the few Greek Orthodox parishes existent in the country, created several new ones and reintroduced Orthodox monasticism. He cherished his ministry in Italy as he successfully contributed to the growth of Orthodoxy in the Vatican's back yard. At the same time, he represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate at many international conferences with distinction. He demonstrated intelligence, straightforwardness and courage on the one hand and on the other he gained respect and appreciation from leaders of other Christian denominations in Europe, including the Roman Catholics.
When Archbishop Iakovos resigned from office in New York, Spyridon was considered as the most capable hierarch to be elevated to the throne of Archbishop of America. He did not seek the position himself for two reasons. Even though he lived in Italy, he was very much aware of the sad situation existing in the Church of America. Secondly, he was very happy building up Orthodoxy in Italy and organizing her infrastructure for the future. He was extremely hesitant to accept his elevation to Archbishop of America. There was great pressure put on him by Patriarch Bartholomew and His Synod, and especially by Father Alexander Karloutsos in New York who was pushing very hard to convince all and Spyridon himself that his election to Archbishop represented an ideal solution to all problems in the Church of America.
In the winter of 1996, Father and Mrs. Karloutsos vacationing in Florida, were guests in my own home in Tarpon Springs for several days. One day Father asked me if he could use the telephone to make a call to someone in Italy. Father Karloutsos spent considerable time on the telephone conversing with Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy and trying to talk him into accepting to be elevated to Archbishop of America. As soon as he finished speaking, he asked me to talk to Spyridon and make a serious attempt to persuade him. I never had met His Eminence Spyridon before, but I happened to know his mother's family in Tarpon Springs, some of them good friends of mine. His Eminence, on the telephone, was very evasive and showed more interest in knowing more about my family and where I lived and for how many years. I committed myself during the conversation that if he accepted the position of Archbishop of America, my family and I would give him our full support. Whey did I do that? I did it because Father Karloutsos was glorifying the man as being most capable for the job. I had never seen, met or spoken to His Eminence Spyridon before this telephone conversation from my house. The office of the Archbishop of America was vacant at the time and realizing the poor condition that our national church was in, I felt we needed a new young dynamic person like Spyridon to take over.
Unfortunately, a year or so late, after Spyridon's election, Father Karloutsos, instead of being Spyridon's biggest supporter turned out to be his deadliest enemy. Karloutsos wanted to exert his influence on Spyridon, gain power and dictate policies. Spyridon, being a man who could stand on his own feet without having somebody controlling and telling him what to do, resented Karloutsos' actions. It did not take very long before the two men parted. Father Karloutsos and his family became bitter enemies of Spyridon. Being very close fiends with Bartholomew, Father began undermining Spyridon in his frequent phone conversations with the Patriarch and during his frequent visits at the Patriarchate.
In spite of all the problems the new Archbishop was trying hard to reorganize the Archdiocese and its institutions. Despite all the negative publicity his enemies managed to bring about against him, the situation appeared to calm down in late 1998.
Patriarch Bartholomew appeared to be on Spyridon's side but because of instigations coming from America and because he thought the new archbishop was more dynamic and aggressive than he expected him to be, he began worrying that the young hierarch might turn out to be more of a threat to him than had been Iakovos who during his reign, considered himself to be above any other Greek orthodox hierarch, including the Ecumenical Patriarch himself and his Synod.
It is a well-know fact that in January or February of 1999, Patriarch Bartholomew convened the American Bishops, Archbishop Spyridon included, at the Phanar to discuss the situation in the Church of America. At that meeting, he told the bishops that Spyridon would be their archbishop for life. What happened between early 1999 and the summer of the same year, only Father Karloutsos knows and only he can tell us how he was able to bring about such a radical change. I believe it was Father Karloutsos who convinced Bartholomew it was time for the new archbishop to come to the Phanar and turn in his resignation “for the good of the American Church". There's no doubt that he was successful with Bartholomew by supplying special favors and using money and power. Surely, Archbishop Spyridon traveled to the Phanar and was asked by Bartholomew to resign as Archbishop of America. For the sake of church unity and peace Spyridon accepted in spite of the fact that he had done no wrong. However, he put the following two conditions before accepting to hand in his resignation.
That he would retain the title of "former Archbishop of America" as long as he should live. That he would be given a pension for life as he had served the Patriarchate for a total of thirty-eight years. The requests met the approval of Patriarch Bartholomew under the condition that Spyridon would leave the place of his birth, the United States, and live away in exile forever. Spyridon accepted without elaborating on such unjust demand.
I very much regret to say that after Spyridon's resignation, His All Holiness Bartholomew did not keep his word and promises. The following is a sad story with regard to the commitments he made to Archbishop Spyridon.
His All Holiness hastily took away the title of former Archbishop of America promised to Archbishop Spyridon by demoting him to "Metropolitan of Chaldia", a city that you can't even find on the map. Spyridon considering such patriarchal action as a breach of faith never accepted his election as metropolitan of the aforementioned ancient city.
In spite of the fact that the Archdiocesan Executive Committee had unanimously voted to give Spyridon a pension, and although the new Archbishop Demetrios, promised to take care of the pension issue immediately. Mr. Harry Papas from California and I had to argue with the Archdiocese for five years to implement the Executive Committee's resolution. The pension promised by Bartholomew was to be funded primarily by Michael G. Cantonis and a number of Archbishop Spyridon's friends. It would not have cost the Archdiocese or the Patriarchate, for that matter, a single penny.
I exhausted almost five entire years working for this pension with the Archdiocese. I used all my influence and got no results whatsoever. To this day I still cannot understand why the Archdiocese refused to honor its own Executive Committee's unanimous resolution as well as Bartholomew's word given that neither were to finance said pension. Why did it take five years of objections and denials by the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate? Why were we forced to go to court in the end to get it? Were their actions based on Christian love and fellowship or were they based on envy of a man whose only crime was to be born dynamic and to feel compelled to straighten up the chaos he had inherited? I would like to know why the man is still in exile and treated with contempt. The Ecumenical Patriarchate denies him, a US born citizen, the right to visit the country of his birth without previously acquiring permission from a Metropolitan or the Archdiocese. Isn't there any respect for Spyridon's American constitutional birth rights, his human rights? I also ask why, when Archbishop Iakovos resigned, even though he was an American citizen but not American born like Spyridon, the Patriarchate had no problem letting him use his title of "former Archbishop of North & South America?" The Phanar allowed him to live wherever he pleased in the United States, attend and perform church services whenever and wherever he wished. Unlike his predecessor, Archbishop Spyridon was deprived of all such rights although he served his Church for long decades with complete dedication and distinction. Why such a gross discrimination? Why all this vindictive action taken against him?
It took Harry Pappas' lawsuit against the Archdiocese, which finally cost our Church and Harry Pappas himself hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, to reach an agreement in court about Spyridon's pension. Archbishop Spyridon was the only one that honored the Phanar agreement by leaving the American soil, living afar and wasting his talents in exile where he leads the life of a monk making sure to attend an Orthodox church service every Sunday and on holidays.
In one of my private meetings with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios during the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, I was asked to use my influence to persuade Archbishop Spyridon to return to the Patriarchate and again serve the Church in the capacity of a Metropolitan. Because of my long friendship with Spyridon and my great support for him His Eminence Demetrios had no doubt I would convey the message, which however I did not do at the time as it did not in any way honor the agreement made between Bartholomew and Spyridon at their meeting at the Phanar in the summer of 1999.
When I asked Demetrios why do they want Spyridon to go back to the Patriarchate so badly, his answer was "Mr. Cantonis, you have to realize that Spyridon is one of the three most prominent Hierarchs of Orthodoxy and the Patriarchate needs him badly." I was surprised to hear him say that. I further asked, "Why then, Your Eminence, is the man treated in such an inhuman and contemptuous manner?" He became silent.
In a recent telephone conversation with Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Symi, the name of Archbishop Spyridon came up. I was very much surprised to hear that Chrysostomos knew Spyridon very well, both being students at the Theological School in Halkis during the same time, adding, "Spyridon was the brightest student in our school." What an unsolicited compliment to hear from such an important religious leader.
I could not help becoming emotional, realizing the great loss to our Orthodox church. How can a person of great education, intellect, dedication, energy and the brightest be condemned to exile by his church, wasting all his above talents? I confessed to His Eminence with tears in my eyes that that was an "amartia" (a great sin) as a reward he did not deserve and I asked His Eminence to forgive me for being emotional which he understood as he readily realized my pain.
I am unable to understand the attitude of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew for whom otherwise I have love and respect. After all that transpired, how does His All Holiness expect a man like Spyridon to go back to the Phanar and for exactly what reason? How can Spyridon have faith in His All Holiness Bartholomew when the latter's promises proved meaningless and patriarchal actions have been in stark contrast to everything previously committed to? I am not asking these questions on behalf of Spyridon. I am asking them for myself as if I were in his place. I am sorry to say that Patriarch Bartholomew did a great disservice to the Orthodox Church by canceling Spyridon's noble ambitions and ministry, by degrading and condemning him to exile. Thus, Orthodoxy has lost a worthy clergyman of worldwide recognition and stature, so badly needed today. I probably risk excommunication from my Church when making these statements, however, I cannot help confessing my thoughts and expressing the voice of my conscience.
How can the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all Orthodox Christians expect the European community and the United States to convince the Turkish authorities to grant the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey religious freedom, when our own Ecumenical Patriarchate denies its hierarch his basic rights, be they constitutional, civil, religious or humane? How can we demand of others what we deny to one of our most prominent clergyman, our own brother? Are we not using double standards?
I appeal to and kindly request His All Holiness Bartholomew to correct an injustice perpetrated against not only to the former Archbishop of America and the Orthodox Church in this country, but also against Orthodoxy worldwide. I can assure His All Holiness Bartholomew that there is no fear Spyridon will in any way act against the interests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Archdiocese of America. All know Spyridon happens to be a true believer in the Ecumenical Patriarchate and would never turn against his Mother Church or any of his fellow hierarchs for that matter.
I firmly believe Spyridon has no ambition to become Archbishop of America once again as he realizes the vastitude of serious problems that our Church in America is facing today as well as a real lack of willingness to confront such challenges. Even if he were offered such position again, I am sure he would not accept it under any conditions or circumstances whatsoever. Even the fact that most of his former opponents have come today to realize the grave mistake made to wage war on their church leader and now regret their actions, would not help to convince him.
I also maintain that by correcting the injustice done to a fellow hierarch; His All Holiness Bartholomew will restore his own prestige in America and will increase believers' love, respect and support for the Patriarchate. Showing a magnanimous spirit and Christian generosity and love can only be beneficial to him and to our Church.
[ MICHAEL G. CANTONIS: My Ancestors & My Life
Chapter: Archbishop Spyridon - 285-298pp - October 2008 ]