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Crisis In The Cathedral


Catsimatidis, who is chairman of the Red Apple and Sloan's supermarket chains and a big Democratic fund-raiser, has tried to cast himself in the role of peacemaker ("Our job is to forgive -- we're a church"), but he has harsh words for GOAL: "I would say we've got a 97 percent approval rating on the archbishop around the country. The laypeople who go to church every Sunday have a lot of respect for his eminence the archbishop. The 3 percent are loudmouths -- they'd never be happy."

Unsurprisingly, Catsimatidis uses a business metaphor to describe the archbishop's style. "It's like a corporation," he says. "A new guy comes in, he wants to choose his people. Spyridon came from a new continent, so he knew fewer people. The people he knew, that he felt comfortable with, he appointed. It doesn't mean the people he didn't appoint are bad."

Spyridon himself remains a distant figure to his flock. "People don't know what a warm person he is," complains Mark Arey, the archdiocese's spokesman. "Nobody writes about the tremendous love for the archbishop among the younger generation in the church."

He may well be a nice guy, but it's difficult to know: Through Arey, Spyridon has turned down nearly all interview requests outside the Greek press, including New York's. "It's the same old questions," says Arey by way of explanation. "Everything's about GOAL, GOAL, GOAL."

People who have met Spyridon socially describe him as chilly. "He's just not qualified for this position. You wonder how he could have risen to this point," says cathedral board member Helen Bender. "I don't feel hateful toward the person -- I just think it was a very, very unfortunate appointment."

"His people skills seem to be nonexistent, and this situation brings out the worst in him," says another parishioner, who admits to feeling sympathy for the beleaguered archbishop. "As a computer geek, he'd be great."

Opponents are still hopeful that Spyridon might be quietly removed once the fracas has cooled. But others say no. "I don't think so," Catsimatidis says. "I think the situation is getting better -- things around the country are stabilized."

Metropolitan Maximos is less sure: "Everything's up to the mother church, which is never going to act under pressure, whether from the media or our laypeople, or not even the bishops. We cannot demand. We put them on guard -- after that, it's their business." On the other hand, Simos Dimas, who has also spoken with the patriarch several times, says, "He will definitely be removed -- the patriarch doesn't remove him because he doesn't know with whom to replace him."

There is yet another possibility: That the archbishop will be rendered irrelevant. Placing the American bishops under old-world control has effectively shifted much of Spyridon's power back to Turkey. In the long run, he may become simply the metropolitan of New York, with no more authority than the other diocesan leaders. "He's become the bishop of Patriarch Bartholomew Way," says Odyssey magazine publisher Gregory Maniatis, referring to the commemorative street sign on the archdiocese's block of 79th Street.

The irony is that the figure who was installed to bring together the major branches of the institution has rendered them far more divided than ever. GOAL has been hinting darkly that as American congregations grow fed up with the archdiocese, the prospect of an autocephalous American church grows stronger.

The real schism, though, may go deeper. "Archbishop Spyridon thinks that for you to express your views, especially even talk back to your spiritual leader, you are his enemy," says Maximos. "This is America, that's how we do things in America -- that's how I handle my guys around here, with great freedom to speak up. My church is a council. And we cannot do anything without accountability, even to the last member of our church. No one lords it over anyone else. Is this the holy Orthodox church of the past 2,000 years? That's my question of conscience."


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