The passing of Archbishop Harkianakis aged 83 in March, means a new head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia is being decided at the Holy Synod in Istanbul from 9-11 May.

One man with vast knowledge about the process is Dr Vasilis Adrahtas, who between 2002-2004 taught at St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College in Sydney, where Archbishop Harikianakis was inaugural Dean from 1985 until his death.

Dr Adrahtas is also an Orthodox theologian and Religious Studies scholar who taught at the Department of Theology at the National University of Athens (2007-2009) and Postgraduate Program of Orthodox Theology at the Hellenic Open University of Patras (2007 to 2011).

He is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University, and teaches Islamic Studies at Western Sydney University. He told Neos Kosmos that politics and diplomacy will be a key aspect in who will become the new Archbishop of Australia.

“Especially at present,” he said, “Given the tension in the relationship of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with certain Orthodox Churches during and after the Holy and Great Council of 2016, and of course in the aftermath of the recent Ukrainian issue. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has every reason – amongst other concerns of course – to elect hierarchs that will promote Orthodoxy’s opening to and engagement in the modern world (as promulgated by the Holy and Great Council), on the one hand, and strengthen the international position of the Church of Constantinople, on the other.”

READ MORE: Patriarch Bartholomew decides on the future of the Archdiocese of Australia

The next Archbishop of Australia

Dr Adrahtas revealed that while the Patriarch does not vote he still has an important part to play, as he presents the voters/hierarchs with the ‘triprosopon’ – a list with the names of three candidates to be elected.

“In this way, the role played by the Patriarch is huge,” he said. “Not to mention the influence his preference exercises in advance through discussions, indirect endorsements and networking.

“Regarding the names of the candidates, the following have been circulating for some time now (always for the position of the Archbishop of Sydney): Emmanuel of France, Makarios of Christoupolis, Maximos of Selyvria, Joseph of Proikonissos. Personally, I would not rule out his Grace Seraphim of Apollonias”.

According to Dr Adrahtas, during Archbishop Stylianos’ deteriorating health over the last seven years, the Church in Australia had not been in a position to back up the inter-Orthodox, inter-Christian and international endeavours of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But he feels this is certainly going to change with the elections of the new Archbishop.

“The Church of Constantinople hasn’t been passive all these years, but on the contrary has already been prepared for the next day,” he said.

“Additionally, one should take into consideration the financial needs that the Ecumenical Patriarchate faces time and again, and thus the urgency and importance it puts in securing the economic viability of its endeavours. In other words, the next day for the Archdiocese of Australia will have to back up the international agenda of the Ecumenical Patriarchate both in theory and in practice, in words and deeds, at the level of public relations and moneywise.”

READ MORE: Remembering the legacy of previous Archbishops of Australia

Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis Legacy

Like many within the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, Dr Adrahtas holds Archbishop Harkianakis’ work as a theologian and administrator in high esteem. But he also believes that this legacy makes the task of those who follow in his footsteps very difficult.

“They have – as a true synodical body – to keep up the good work, promote the wide range of services provided by the Church and face the challenges of the second and third-generation Australian born Greek Orthodox”, he said.

“Facing these challenges will necessitate changes that will transform the more or less migrant mentality of Church circles into a genuine witnessing of a universal Orthodoxy. Stylianos had worked towards that direction but there was no need to push hard. Now, and more in the short term future, things are different. I think that Stylianos’ most cherished creation, namely, St Andrew’s Theological College will have to play a pivotal role in this respect.”

Theologian Dr Vassilis Adrahtas. Photo: Supplied

Dr Adrahtas believes that ramification of who is elected as Archbishop in Australia will also have significant impact in the motherland.

“The new situation will have to reopen communication and collaboration channels with Greece, both ecclesiastically and politically,” he said.

“This acquires perhaps a new dimension in light of the prospect of having the Greeks abroad electing MPs in the Greek Parliament. Also there is the huge problem of the future of the Hellenic language, which the new ecclesiastical establishment should consider in creative, collaborative and path-breaking ways with the rest of the stakeholders in the wider Greek Australian community.”

READ MORE: Choosing the next Archbishop of Australia and the challenges that lie ahead – in a nutshell

The future of the Greek Orthodox Church

Most sources suggest the new leaders will be voted in at the Holy and Sacred Synod on May 9-11 but Dr Adrahtas feels this Synod might only be the first stage in settling the issue.

“The Synod is the acting governing body of the Patriarchate and is comprised by the Patriarch and 12 hierarchs,” he said.

“It will be convened, most likely, at the Holy Monastery of the Trinity at Chalki and the procedure will deal, firstly, with the division or not of the Archdiocese into Metropoles and, then, with the election of the hierarchs. Early on Patriarch Bartholomew made it perfectly clear that there will be a major change in the administration of the Archdiocese. I believe this change will not involve the dismantling of the Archdiocese as an entity, but rather it will be pursued towards the reconfiguration of the Archdiocese according to certain canonical options.”

Furthermore Dr Adrahtas believes the Archdiocese will continue for three reasons.

“The first one would be that it would be unwarranted to downgrade the Archdiocese to Metropoles given the tremendous advances that have taken place in the last 40 years,” he said.

“The second is that the Archdiocese model goes along with the Consolidated Trust of the Archdiocese, and the last thing the Patriarchate wants is to create problems that might affect the huge financial value of the Trust. And the final reason is that it is a vital need to retain the emblematic – at least and for the time being – unity of Orthodoxy in Australia under a jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne.”

Thus Dr Adrahtas is confident the Patriarchate will decide to create the Metropoles it wants in Australia.

“After all, this would be pastorally appropriate and ecclesiologically in the right direction since bishops wouldn’t be just assistants any longer, but proper and ‘real’ bishops,” he said.

“And at the same time have in one of them a hierarch who shall be called and function as an Archbishop in all ways relevant to a regional archiepiscopal synod. In this manner, Australia will be administered not by one person, but by a synod, and the whole body of the Church could deal with Federal authorities through one spokesperson.”