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Crisis In The Cathedral

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By November, the situation had grown so contentious that more than 100 priests signed a letter criticizing Spyridon's leadership. The five American metropolitans wrote their own report calling for his removal. Even the retired Archbishop Iakovos issued an extraordinary statement agonizing over how "a faithful people came to be torn apart or to be in the process of being torn apart."

One major congregation, in Oakland, California, decided to place in escrow most of its 1999 contributions to the archdiocese, saying in a letter to Spyridon that the congregation "lacks confidence with the Archdiocese, more directly with you. There is a general perception that actions you have taken over your period of service have been detrimental to the church." Several New England congregations pulled back their funds as well. Some frustrated church members in New York and elsewhere are also starting to withhold their individual contributions.

"The Crisis" -- as it's inevitably called among those involved -- came to a head in January. Patriarch Bartholomew called Spyridon to meet with the five American metropolitans, in Constantinople.

The metropolitans arrived at the Istanbul Hilton hoping they would return to America with a resolution. Bartholomew met privately with Metropolitan Maximos to sound him out, then with Spyridon.

The next day's conference was over almost before it began. The patriarch acknowledged that a few of the archbishop's moves had been ham-fisted, and reprimanded both sides for failing to embrace "love, understanding, and communication." But one stern pronouncement counted more than any other: "He is the archbishop forever. He is until he dies."

Soon afterward, the archbishop and four of the metropolitans spent a day meeting in Manhattan, then -- all together, save one who had to leave early -- held a press conference. Spyridon's prepared statement suggested that maybe they'd worked out their problems. "Although it may be true that in the past we have had different interpretations and perceptions of events," he read, "and although we may yet differ on individual issues, the most important message that we can convey to you this afternoon is this. We have a unified and mutually held commitment to the Sacred Center of our Faith. . . . There seems to be a tendency in our society to always look for the -- I believe in politics it is called -- the 'wedge' issue. . . . We believe that the unity of the Church and the unity of this Archdiocese . . . is superior in every way to whatever differences that may or may not exist."

Very well, the reporters asked the metropolitans, but: What about the report calling for Spyridon's resignation? That was a private document, not meant for public consumption, one replied.

Is the call for resignation being rescinded? "We are committed to resolving the disagreements," said Metropolitan Maximos, while Spyridon busied himself inspecting the middle distance.

Since he's not going anywhere soon, the metropolitans seemed to be saying, we might as well make the best of things. Within days, Stephanopoulos was reassigned.

To Spyridon and his supporters, GOAL is a small group of malcontents with fierce loyalty to Iakovos and a knack for propaganda. "It's a little group with a big checkbook, and they've been using their wealth to inflict pain," says John Catsimatidis, the vice chairman of the archdiocesan council and possibly Spyridon's most visible defender. "No matter who it is, these guys would be doing the same thing."


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