Orthodoxy Today: The Archbishop & the Archon

It was an auspicious beginning of a new era. In a luncheon address in New York on September 21, following his enthronement as primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Spyridon promised to combat “the problems of crime, alcohol, tobacco, violence, and abortion.” Pro-life Orthodox Christian Americans were gratified to hear abortion included in this litany of America’s ills.

The appointment of Archbishop Spyridon by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (“Istanbul” to the secular world) has already won wide acclaim from those familiar with the Orthodox scene. Successor to Archbishop Iakovos, whose thirty-seven-year reign put a public face on the otherwise mysterious Eastern Orthodox in this country, Archbishop Spyridon was born George Papageorgiou in Warren, Ohio, in 1945, and lived in Tarpon Springs, Florida, until his graduation from high school. He then turned eastward, to the spiritual font of Greek Orthodoxy. From the Patriarchate’s Theological School at Halki (near Istanbul), to the Patriarchate’s delegations to the World Council of Churches and the international Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue, to the metropolitanate of Venice, Italy, Spyridon rose steadily in the hierarchy of the ancient see of St. Andrew the Apostle.

A man with rich international ecumenical experience and strong American roots, Archbishop Spyridon is poised to lead his archdiocese, and perhaps all four million Orthodox Christians in the United States, to a more prominent place in the American public square. If, that is, he has the courage and the will to confront the principalities and powers who would thwart that public moral witness.

Enter the archon.

Among the civic leaders who gathered at the enthronement luncheon on September 21 was Paul Sarbanes, Democratic U.S. senator from Maryland. A few days earlier, Senator Sarbanes had inserted into the U.S. Congressional Record a brief message commemorating the event. The message concluded with these best wishes: “I join with Orthodox throughout our country and all Americans of good faith who wish His Eminence a long life, a productive ministry, and the strength and wisdom to meet the many challenges which await him.” Sarbanes is a lifelong Greek Orthodox layman and an archon (literally, “leader”) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate honored for his “outstanding service to the Church.”

The problem is that Sarbanes also is unabashedly pro-abortion, as evidenced by his abysmal voting record as a U.S. senator. On September 26, a scant five days after Spyridon’s enthronement, Sarbanes joined thirty-nine other pro-abortion, mostly Democrat senators (including Olympia Snowe, a Greek Orthodox Republican from Maine) in sustaining President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban. This perverse witness of Sarbanes and Snowe, which betrayed their presumably Orthodox-informed consciences and disgraced their new archbishop and their fellow Orthodox everywhere, cries out for a decisive Ambrosian response.

St. Ambrose of Milan, the great Latin Church father and mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo, did not flinch from taking on the Byzantine Emperor Theodosios I. In A.D. 390 the emperor ordered a massacre of the citizens of Thessalonika, women and children included, following a popular revolt against the violent Germanic imperial soldiers quartered in that proud Greek city. St. Ambrose, in distant Italy, excommunicated Theodosios, compelled him to acknowledge publicly his personal guilt for the atrocity, and imposed a stiff period of penance during which time the emperor was forbidden to wear the imperial regalia. Theodosios, august emperor of the Romans in the eastern half of the empire, had to bow before the moral and spiritual authority of the great bishop.

Neither Paul Sarbanes nor Olympia Snowe is an emperor, but in the American polity a seat in the U.S. Senate comes pretty close. Moreover, their 100 percent pro-abortion voting records in that august legislative body have facilitated the massacre of millions of preborn children, including thousands through the partial-birth “procedure.” The hands of Sarbanes and Snowe, like those of Theodosios I, are stained with innocent blood.

The real question, however, is whether Archbishop Spyridon is willing to don the prophetic mantle of St. Ambrose. Spyridon would send a clear signal that he is indeed worthy of his apostolic office if he were to excommunicate—publicly and without further delay—both Sarbanes the archon and Snowe. Since their moral apostasy has been trumpeted so openly before the most powerful political body in the world’s most powerful nation, their separation from the Church whose wisdom they have scorned so flagrantly must also be publicly announced.

As our thoughts during the present season turn to the birth of the newborn babe in Bethlehem, I can think of no better Christmas gift from Archbishop Spyridon to the faithful members of his new flock.


  • Rev. Alexander Webster

    Father Alexander F.C. Webster, an archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America, retired in June 2010 as an Army Reserve chaplain at the rank of colonel after more than 24 years of military service. He is the author or co-author of four books on topics of social ethics.

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