Greek Orthodox Archbishop Opposes Possible Russian Withdrawal
from World Council of Churches
Archbishop Spyridon, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, strongly opposed on September 16 the possible withdrawal of the Russian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Speaking at a press conference held at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Spyridon was responding to reports that the world's largest Orthodox church was considering withdrawing from the world's largest ecumenical organization. The Georgian Orthodox Church withdrew from the WCC last spring.
"I personally think that it would be disastrous to withdraw from the World Council of Churches," Archbishop Spyridon said, "not because the World Council of Churches is the best platform for ecumenical discussion, but because [such an action] would isolate the Russian Orthodox Church."
The primate of America's largest Orthodox church also fielded questions regarding his decision last July to dismiss several faculty members at a Greek Orthodox seminary, Hellenic College–Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. The archbishop said that he had met with the seminary board the previous day, and the board members were satisfied with the change. "The excitement is over," he said. "I suppose that people who are still satisfied with the changes understand that there is authority in the church. They must respect that authority if they want to be priests in the church."
He added, "I think that theological education is a very important and delicate field. . . . It's a place that should be under the direct control of the church since it's training the future priests of the church."
Archbishop Spyridon was also asked about the recent religious freedom bill in Russia, which is supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. Critics claims that the legislation would unfairly restrict the activities of most non-Orthodox religious bodies. In a brief reply, Archbishop Spyridon indicated that he supports religious freedom and that he believes the Russian legislation accomplishes that goal.
The press conference was held to announce the itinerary for the U.S. visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The ecumenical patriarch is the spiritual leader of the majority of the world's Orthodox churches. Together, these churches have nearly 300 million members, five million of whom live in the United States. Although most Orthodox churches are national churches, the United States is unusual in having 14 Orthodox groups. The largest of these is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, with 1.5 million members.
This is only the second time an ecumenical patriarch has visited the United States. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will arrive in Washington, D.C., on October 19 and spend a month visiting 14 American cities. Archbishop Spyridon emphasized the ecumenical nature of the visit, noting that the patriarch will be meeting with members of the Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic communities.
Nikki Stephanopoulos, a public relations officer with the archdiocese, said that the visit would give Americans an opportunity to become better acquainted with Orthodoxy. "We're going to Des Moines, Iowa," she said. "There aren't a lot of Orthodox in Iowa, but there's an outreach."
World Brief: Russian Parliamentary Committee Approves Revised Religion Bill (September 18, 1997)
World Brief: Future of Russian Religious Law Remains in Question (September 9, 1997)
World News: Russian and Armenian Presidents Reject Bills Restricting Religious Groups (July 31, 1997)
World Brief: Georgian Orthodox Church Leaves World Council of Churches (July 31, 1997)
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson