Archbishop Elpidophoros is leading American Orthodoxy to prosperity. But not all at the Phanar are pleased with it.
It’s been more than a year since Elpidophoros Lambriniadis was elected the Archbishop of America. As expected, that decision of the Holy Synod turned out to be one of the most effective within decades – it took just several months for the new leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOARCH) to proceed greatly in clearing out the Augean stables after former Archbishop Demetrios and his followers. Elpidophoros came to the GOARCH clearly understanding that his tenure wouldn’t be a walk in the park – the Archdiocese suffered from constant scandals, shortage of funds and personnel crisis, the situation seemed to be desperate. However, the new Archbishop promptly dealt with the main issues: the construction of St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero was resumed and money for it collected, the Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology was saved from losing its accreditation, conflicts ceased tearing the GOARCH apart, and ways to resolve the financial crisis were found.
However, Archbishop Elpidophoros doesn’t confine himself to his own domain’s issues only. During the pandemic, he raised an extremely important problem – changing the practice of receiving the Holy Communion for the sake of protecting health and saving lives of laity and clergy. The GOARCH Primate proposed using multiple spoons instead of one during the service, which could decrease the risk of infection.
Elpidophoros is a profound theologian who knows the ropes in dogmatics and Canons. There is no doubt that his proposal was based on weighty arguments from the point of view of history, theology, pastorship and ecclesiology. Amid the WHO recommendations, it seemed quite reasonable. It’s no secret that there are many hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who support changes in the Communion practice including Archbishop Sotirios of Canada, Makarios of Australia and some of metropolitans in Western Europe who proposed such ideas.
It’s said that Patriarch Bartholomew was suggested not to make a final decision on the Communion so that dioceses of the Ecumenical See could decide themselves, according to local circumstances… Unfortunately, the Holy Synod in June ignored those voices thus putting the lives and health of millions of people around the world at stake. Not less regrettable is that the Patriarchate through its Press and Communications Office publicly rebuked the GOARCH and its Archbishop directly forbidding to use multiple spoons.
Rumor has it that many at the Phanar are concerned by Elpidophoros’ growing influence, determination and leadership. The Phanar may also worry about the decreased financial flow from America. The Holy and Great Council on Crete, which is considered by Patriarch Bartholomew to be one of his greatest achievements, was mainly sponsored by US citizens. Of this money, hundreds of dollars are spent on luxurious receptions and events in Istanbul though they could be used for purposes more relevant to the Church and advantageous for society.
Anyway, time will tell who is right – Elpidophoros or the Holy Synod. Now, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is acting as a man who leads the Church to the future and, to change it for the better, is brave enough to make bold steps. One of these steps was his June participation in the Black Lives Matter march in New York. The Archbishop didn’t sit it out in the rear waiting for the protests to quiet down but made a statement on behalf of the American Orthodox. And, although Elpidophoros is denying this, he expressed the GOARCH’s political position since the protests and fight against racial discrimination was supported by the Democratic Party. It’s no wonder as candidate Joe Biden has a long story of ties with the GOARCH – he is a good acquaintance of Public Office Director Fr. Alex Karloutsos and the Commander of Order of St. Andrew the Apostle Anthony Limberakis. Before the presidential campaign started, Democrats’ supporters in the Archdiocese expressed their endorsement for Biden, and their number is growing now: any Orthodox understands that a photo with the Bible is not a sign of deep piousness and the situation in which our country found itself during Trump’s presidency leaves the faithful no other choice.
Elpidophoros is also actively working on the attractiveness of the Orthodox Church in society. He is struggling to convince the Ecumenical Patriarchate to allow a number of venerable clergymen, discharged because of an obsolete restriction on bigamy in Canon law, to return to service. He also talks about the appearance of the clergy since in the 21st century black robes and beards are seen by many as outdated and funny. But the Archbishop stresses that he is committed not to telling people what they should or shouldn’t wear – it’s up to each person to decide. On the carpet is another thing of the past – inequality and homophobia still unfortunately inherent to the Church, and on the territory of the US too.
Perhaps, in the near future, due to the new Archbishop, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America would justifiably become the pearl of the Orthodox Church, its key and driving force. To remain strong, the Church needs changes, and now they can only come from the USA. This is where the healthiest, numerous and active part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s congregation resides.
Some at the Phanar understand that, some don’t. One thing is beyond doubt – with Constantinople’s support or without it, despite all obstacles and pressure of his opponents, the GOARCH leader will get the job done. The question is who will be standing by his side at the moment of triumph.