Archbishop Demetrios Resigns: End of an Era for the Greek Orthodox Church in America

The resignation on Saturday of Archbishop Demetrios brought to a close his twenty-year-long leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

He led a church of more than one and a half million Greek Orthodox Christians in the United States, while promoting the values and interests of Hellenism among ordinary Americans as well as powerful players in the White House and the State Department.

Archbishop Demetrios, born Demetrios Trakatellis in Thessaloniki, Greece on February 1, 1928, is a highly intelligent, dedicated and well-educated man.

He graduated in 1950 with distinction from the University of Athens School of Theology. He was ordained a deacon in 1960, and in 1964 was ordained into the priesthood.

He subsequently obtained two Ph.D’s before serving from 1983 to 1993 as the Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Serving as a faculty member for more than a decade, Archbishop Demetrios educated many of America’s current Greek Orthodox clergy. He also taught at Harvard Divinity School as a Visiting Professor of the New Testament during 1984 and 1985 and from 1988 to 1989.

After several years in the United States, he returned to Greece in 1993 to pursue full-time scholarly writing and research. At the same time, he resumed his responsibilities within the Archdiocese of Athens.

Elected Archbishop of America on August 19, 1999 by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop Demetrios was enthroned on September 18, 1999 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City.

Throughout the last twenty years, he sought to strengthen the work of the Church in America in the course of making hundreds of pastoral visits to parishes, schools, and events nationwide. Over his tenure, Demetrios has met with hundreds of thousands of Greek Orthodox faithful.

Archbishop Demetrios has been actively promoting three main national issues, which include the integrity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate based in Constantinople, the Cyprus situation, and the re-naming of FYROM.

Archbishop Demetrios meeting President Obama

These were the priorities he raised during meetings with US Presidents William Jefferson Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, as well as with many secretaries of state, senators, congressmen and state and city leaders.

In a 2010 interview with the Greek Reporter, Archbishop Demetrios spoke about his role and relationship with the White House. He noted that successive presidents have not looked at the Archbishop as a foreigner.

“In their mind Orthodoxy and Hellenism are trans-ethnic entities. They are universal entities,” he said.

Demetrios has participated in the annual White House commemoration of Greek Independence Day, where he has made remarks affirming both the uniqueness and similarities between Greek and American independence. He has also repeatedly emphasized the vital importance of freedom for all people throughout the world.

As a national religious leader, Archbishop Demetrios has been invited to offer prayers at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2016, and he attended the presidential inaugural ceremonies which followed each election.

His critics point out that his major project, the building of the Saint Nicholas Shrine at the World Trade Center, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, has so far failed to materialize. Some accuse the Archdiocese of mismanagement, which has led to skyrocketing costs for the Shrine project.