- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America says its disputes over the creation of a single American Orthodox Church have calmed after his second year in office.

Archbishop Demetrios said in an interview that the various Orthodox branches in the United States are improving their cooperation in lieu of forming one Orthodox Church.

"There is a strong and continuous cooperation between the Orthodox jurisdictions," he said. "We are advancing in areas of pastoral care, teaching and charitable work."

A push in 1995 to create one American Orthodox Church out of the Greek, Romanian, Syrian, Antiochian, Russian and other ethnic branches was sidelined by controversy and condemned by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, the spiritual head of all Orthodoxy.

"It is now something we don't want to have interfering with our vision [of cooperation]," the archbishop said of the proposal. "I don't think this is something we look forward to doing right away."

Archbishop Demetrios, who came to office after the tenure of his predecessor, Archbishop Spyridon, ended in resignation, said dissent by church members has lessened.

The ad hoc Greek Orthodox American Leaders, which formed in 1997 to oust Archbishop Spyridon, is gone. And the long-standing Orthodox Christian Laity, formed in 1988, says its concerns over church policy, finances and ethnic politics have received a better hearing.

"It's a very open situation [with the lay groups]," said Archbishop Demetrios, a Harvard graduate who for years taught at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston.

"I try to listen to everyone. Agreeing, disagreeing, asking whatever it is. It's a family of Orthodoxy," he said. Still, "We have people who would like to have a daily discussion."

Because of the size of the Greek Church, Archbishop Demetrios is the senior Orthodox leader and chairman of the council that has joined all the ethnic Orthodox bodies.

In May, the council's meeting in Washington drew a record 35 bishops.

The council issued a joint statement that, instead of seeking a single Orthodox Church, promised to "strengthen and expand" cooperative projects in charity, membership growth, education, and youth programs.

The failed 1995 push for a single American Orthodox Church was partly led by Archbishop Iakovos, who had been primate of Greek Orthodoxy in the United States for 37 years.

He retired the next year.

Istanbul then appointed Archbishop Spyridon to be head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, but narrowed his jurisdiction to avoid the kind of "empire" that Archbishop Iakovos had built.

Church leaders in Athens and Istanbul worry that such U.S. "empires" might weaken cultural and financial support for the homeland, church members have said.

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