Sunday, May 3, 2015

A blessed letter from a friend in Australia, who happens to be an archbishop & poet, too...

At the Hellenic Genealogy Conference last weekend at NYC's Holy Trinity Cathedral, I was reminded by a lovely woman sitting behind me that there would be a memorial service for Archbishop Iakovos the next day. That set a raft of personal memories down memory lane. 

I told her that about 50 years ago, I had naively sent a letter to Iakovos complaining bitterly about parishes stealing priests from one another...And some may remember that Archbishop Iakovos' retirement was not all that smooth. Some turmoil went into choosing his successor Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthenis (Athens), who had spent 11 years at Holy Cross seminary and was seen to have first-hand understanding of Greek-Americans. That did not turn out very well...

Archbishop Stylianos
Archbishop Stylianos of Australia (originally from Rethymnon, Crete), a personal friend from my Thessaloniki days, had been another possibility -- a brilliant, straight-forward cleric who was apparently seen as too tied to the Patriarchate. I was very disappointed that he didn't get the job, but I don't think he ever really wanted to leave his beloved Australia. 

Vouli & Paula (Circa 1969)
When I first met him through my dear friend Vouli (another Cretan) in 1969, he was the Abbot of Moni Vlatadon in Thessaloniki. We visited there occasionally, dining at least once on snails from Crete. He seemed to relish my greeting him with "Yia'sou," not exactly the usual way he was approached by lay people. But Stylianos was not your usual churchman, either...Preparing to visit Thessaloniki after many years, I was thinking of Vouli, who has passed away, and my friend Stylianos, with whom I had not communicated for many years. So I sent him an Easter greeting, and a few days ago I received a blessed letter back. 

I want you to know more about this extraordinary human being. Stylianos Harkianakis -- who first studied at the Theological School of Halkis and subsequently established St. Andrew's Theological College in Sydney -- has been Archbishop of Australia for 40 years and a dedicated servant of the far-flung Greek Diaspora. Many people do not realize that he is a also an important Greek poet, who has published 40+ collections and was the recipient of the 1980 Award for Poetry from the Academy of Athens.  I have 5 volumes, thanks to Vouli -- including Australian Passport, published in Greek and English:

THE WORD (Sydney, Redfern, 18 April 1989)*
Sweet is the motherland
the home
the face
sweet is love --
sweeter than all these
the word is
which illuminates
and magnifies
which perpetuates them.

The Archbishop is approaching his 80th birthday, a fact he mentioned since I told him I was about to be 70. He doubts that he will be visiting Greece again -- except, of course, in spirit. And what an amazing spirit, who closed his letter with "Your friend always." Christos Anesti indeed. 

* S.S. Charkianakis, Australian Passport, English Translation by Vrasidas Karalis (Sydney: Brandl & Schlesinger Pty Ltd, 2002), 121.

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