Turkish citizen ‘makes history’ as new head of Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

A Turkish citizen has flown into the United States to take up his position as the new religious leader of over a million Greek Orthodox Christians.

Istanbul-born Elpidophoros Lambriniadis will be enthroned as the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America on Saturday, June 22, at a ceremony in Manhattan, New York, according to a press release.

He flew in to the US via New York’s JFK airport on Wednesday, 19 June, following his election to the post in May by Greek Orthodox Church leaders led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of “Constantinople”.

Archbishop Elpidophoros will become the “seventh spiritual leader of the more than 1.5 million Greek Orthodox faithful of the Archdiocese”, which was founded in 1922.

Speaking to Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet before his departure, Archbishop Elpidophoros, who was born in the Istanbul district of Bakırköy in 1967, said it was the “first time in history” that a Turkish citizen had been chosen for the role.

“This has a significant importance for Turkey because the archbishop of the US is the religious leader of all the Greek foundations in the United States,” he was quoted as saying.

“It means he also has political impact. Therefore this is a great opportunity for Turkey because someone who knows Turkey, who understands Turkey and who speaks Turkish is going to lead the Greek congregation in the US. The importance of this is so obvious.”

“My best friends are still my friends from Bakırköy…I am moving to the US but…my heart remains in Istanbul”

He had a “very beautiful childhood” in Istanbul where “we used to play all together as Turkish, Greek and Armenian children”.

“My best friends are still my friends from Bakırköy,” he said.

Archbishop Elpidophoros told Hürriyet that his family moved to Greece in the 1977 “because of rising reactions toward the Greek population in Istanbul” following events in Cyprus.

“It was very hard for us to leave our motherland and move,” he recalled. “The Greeks in Greece were mocking us because of our different Greek accent and the children at school were shouting and despising us, saying, ‘You are Turks!’.

“My father … never wanted to go to Greece, he never liked it there and he always wanted to return to Istanbul.”

Archbishop Elpidophoros later returned to Turkey to complete his military service in the town of İskenderun, the newspaper reported.

“I am moving to the US but I will be visiting Istanbul often, because my heart remains in Istanbul,” he added.