A documentary dedication to the late Archbishop Stylianos, who led the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia for over four decades (1975-2019), has been criticised for seeking to “deify” the archbishop whereas others say it “lacks respect”.

Created at the initiative of Archbishop Makarios of Australia, the documentary is entitled Colorful Opal, Archbishop of Australia, Stylianos Harkianakis (1935-2019), and has been posted on YouTube as well as on the Facebook page of the Archdiocese of Australia.

Archbishop Makarios prologues the video, which is directed by Mark Petropoulos. It focuses on the late archbishop’s tenure which was marked by great activity as he established a theological school, opened many Greek schools and welfare centres for the elderly and disabled while also helping parishes flourish. This growth, however, was not without controversy as dozens of churches left the helm of the Archdiocese. Like his life, the documentary tribute has also prompted a wide range of reactions with Neos Kosmos receiving many messages both supporting and criticising the creation.

Relations of the late hierarch complain of the quality of the tribute which they believe to be sloppy, whereas academics and former colleagues state that it “showcases the greatness of Stylianos”.

Relatives are concerned

An open letter has been penned by the late archbishop’s siblings Hara Harkianaki, Vardis Harkianaki and Maria Harkianaki, as well as his nephews and nieces, Nikolaos, Maria and Stylianos Kalliouris, Stylianos, Vardis, Stavroula, Eleftheria Harkianaki and Dimitris and Alexandra Gemitzi.

“We have been following the so-called documentary on social media sites in recent days with huge disappointment, noting the lack of respect and sloppiness of the said ‘honorary tribute’ towards our hailed brother and uncle,” they write.

“Knowing each step of his arduous and anguished plight in life, from our glorious and historic village of origin (Adele Rethymno) to Sydney Australia, and having lived through his ceaseless and hard struggles (in chronological order: in Greece, Istanbul, Germany, and again Greece and Australia) where he offered his most self-sacrificing devotion to the church, as well as his deep unswerving love for Hellenism – especially Hellenism in Australia where he dedicated his most mature and productive years,” write the relations, adding that the former archbishop had also faced a “decades-long unjust and ruthless war serving certain petty interests that did not bend him.

“We can only grieve for the treatment reserved for him in the so-called honorary tribute,” they say, adding that many of the pitstops and offerings of the great archbishop have been undermined or overpassed. “The long-term and unparalleled service to the primordial Church of Constantinople and to Orthodoxy has been buried under tons of indifferent and meaningless phrases and fragmentary impressions so as not to leave time for the documentary to show his truly great achievements which he worked hard towards with humility for the Patriarchate, Orthodoxy and our People.”

Relatives say that the interview with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was censored to a “scandalous degree” whereas Archbishop Makarios took the opportunity to “self-promote” though he had no relation whatsoever to the late archbishop. They are concerned that the tribute does not do justice to Archbishop Stylianos post-humously and gives a “false impression” that he was just a “common cleric” rather than a spiritual leader for almost half a century.

The relatives state that they initially hoped that Greek Australian journalist Vasso Morali’s involvement in the documentation of the church leader’s life would be worthy because she had created a relationship of trust with the former leader, however the distancing of Ms Morali from her duties and all that followed in the production left the work “defenceless” in the hands of people who did not have the knowledge to present the work. Relations are concerned that  those who did not know the Archbishop, upon watching the documentary, would think the late leader was a “helpless ‘standard’ old Hierarch, whose interests were monopolised by poetry (which, indeed, was his permanent refuge)”. Relatives state that the work does little to depict his great vision and leadership with “vigour, godly endurance and relentlessness”.

Other views

Another nephew, Nikos Harkianakis, does not share the same opinion as his other relations. He thanked the current archbishop for the creation of the documentary and for putting it online so that future generations could learn about Archbishop Stylianos.

“We want an Archbishop who loves us and smiles. And we found this in the face of Archbishop Makarios,” he writes.

The quality of the documentary is praised by Associate Professor George Frazis of the Hellenic and Greek Studies College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society. He focused on the late archbishop’s charisma as showcased by the film.

Rev. George Athanasiadis also wrote to Neos Kosmos after having read the open letter penned by the late hierarch’s relations. “Nobody can deny his learned and academic knowledge. Nobody can deny the skill of his speech. Nor that he may have had visions and dreams. What we understood, as his flock, was that he did not care so much what many others said about him. From the first moment he was here, only one thing concerned him and mattered to him: His post-humous fame,” Rev Athanasiadis said.

“Yes! He wrote books and poems, but he strangled consciousness. He created a theological school, but he scandalised with his relationships. He had conferences, but he never went down to meet community members in their poor homes, works and agonies. He acquired the fame of the uncompromising, unyielding, ‘palikara’, but he never won the love of his people.”

Regarding funding, Rev Athanasiadis said that a large part of the money given for the creation of the documentary was offered by the new Archbishop.