This writer had the privilege of covering a special celebration of the Holy Liturgy of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin Mary at Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church in Southampton, Long Island on August 15, 2012.
The service was presided over by Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. But it was an even more special liturgy because Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa, the new Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, assisted His Eminence during the liturgy.
My delightful interview following the service with Metropolitan Elpidophoros was conducted in English, and it was important for several reasons. Not only did he enlighten me as to my own family history in Asia Minor, but he extensively discussed his own family roots, showing me his warmth, humility and genuine friendliness.
This is most likely the only article written about of the new Archbishop of America during his visit to a rural Greek Orthodox Church on Long Island seven years ago. The following reflections are from my article, published in the Queens Gazette and Hellenic News of America, titled “Viewpoint: The Last Feast Day at the Original Building of the Greek Orthodox Kimisis Church of the Hamptons.”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, assisted by Elpidophoros Lambrianiadis, Metropolitan of Bursa Abbey, Dean of Halki Theological School and representative of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, celebrated an Archieratical liturgy on August 15. It was in celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.
His Eminence said in his homily, “One more time, we will come close to the Panagia in our original church. The Panagia (the Virgin Mary) is the highest form of human being. Mankind has “pseudo role models.” How are people role models when they are not true persons? She is a support of mankind, the benefactor of the family and of Hellenism.”
Metropolitan Elpidophoros was then introduced to the parishioners as the “right hand of Patriarch Bartholomew.” Our new Archbishop was born in Constantinople and grew up nearby, in Bursa. Elpidophoros is a graduate of the University of Thessaloniki, where he was a full professor teaching a unique course in Dogmatics and the Symbolism of Theology.
Metropolitan Elpidophoros also served as the special Chief Secretary of the Holy See. As he told the parishioners on that August day, “I came here in 2002 or 2003 as a deacon. I come here from the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Mother of All churches.
“The Mother Church has a weakness for the church of America. Patriarch Athenagoras, who was Archbishop of America, formed a love of America with Constantinople,” he added. Patriarch Athenagoras, who was a native of Epirus, is a revered figure in the New York area from his longtime service in Astoria, Queens.
The Metropolitan, now Archbishop, continued, saying “No matter how large a church grows, the Mother church (the Patriarchate of Constantinople) loves you. This is an understatement.”
The new Archbishop comes from the historic city of Bursa, in what is now Turkey (in Greek, it is called Proussa). The fall of the Greek city of Proussa in 1326 marked the end of the Byzantine Empire’s military dominance of Asia Minor.
During my interview with Elpidophoros, I showed him my grandmother’s baptismal certificate from Asia Minor — which was written all in Greek, not in Turkish. He discussed the situation in his homeland and the histories of our respective families, explaining that we have ancestors from the same area. The metropolitan later revealed that one of his grandfathers was also from Chios.
So very much of our ancestral history in Asia Minor has been lost to us, seemingly forever. Only international scholars such as Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Elpidophoros can unlock the key to our history, which was lost in the destruction of official documents in the demise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Perhaps our new Archbishop, who comes from an area so very rich in Greek history and culture, yet still a part of Turkey, can serve our Church as a kind of bridge between the cultures of the East and the West.
It was an exceptional encounter in a rural American church with a Metropolitan, now an Archbishop, who will influence our own lives and those of succeeding generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America.