If names signify the essence of an existence, then certainly this is the case for the newly enthroned bishop of Kerasounta, who is headquartered in the Archdiocesan District of Northcote. The name Εὐμένιος is compound in nature, comprised of the particle εὐ, meaning good, and μένος, meaning urge, literally, “good natured.”
Kind, accessible and receptive to people of all generations, he won my heart even before I met him, when he organised camel rides for his younger parishioners at his parish festival, during the time he served as priest at the Transfiguration of our Lord parish in Thomastown. What a way to delight children, making them feel a part of their local community and assisting them to place their heritage in context with the locality in which their live.
Behind his back, Bishop Evmenios is commonly referred to as “Bishop Nike,” because his response to any suggestion that concerns itself with strengthening ties with the community, reaching out to the vulnerable or the dispossessed or exploring novel ways to communicate, is invariably “Just Do It.”
This is man of well-chosen words, for each one of his utterances is well thought out and manifests itself replete with meaning, but even more so, of action, especially when it comes to the community in which he lives and over which he now presides as shepherd.
This can be evidenced in his speech at his recent enthronement at the church of St Nicholas in Marrickville Sydney. Bishop Evmenios could have peppered his address, witnessed by delighted Melburnians such as Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne president Bill Papastergiadis and Sydneysiders alike, with abstruse patristic allusions or quotes from theologians. He could have studded his oration with references to the Holy Fathers, or intricate expostulations of dogma and doctrine. He did neither of these things. Instead, he provided an extensive account of his experience growing up Greek Orthodox in Melbourne, from his early days, instructed by his parents in their faith, then at Saints Anargyroi parish in Oakleigh, inspired by the legendary Father Moutafis, to his decision to seek ordination, guided by Metropolitan Ezekiel of Dervis, Bishop Iakovos of Miletoupolis. He expressed gratitude to the Greek Orthodox Theological College of St Andrews for his education and facilitating his engagement with the limitless Orthodox theological horizons and to the late Archbishop Stylianos for elevating him to the rank of Archimandrite.
As Bishop Evmenios recalled his list of names, humbly describing how each person on it had influenced him and made him the person he is today, culminating in Archbishop Makarios, who stood before him, beaming, a thought pervaded my consciousness: Here is one hierarch who has emerged as a product of our community, completely acknowledging the community’s intrinsic role in his development and its importance in maintaining our integrity as a unique religious and cultural entity in the context of today’s multicultural society. This accounts for Bishop Evmenios’ well known community focus; his ability to collaborate with people from all walks of life, his innate talent for putting people at ease and bringing out the best in them, his capacity for identifying the key issues that affect the future of our community and his insistence of marshalling the resources of all Greek community organisations, no matter how ideologically disparate in order to perpetuate and preserve our community for all its members. It is this ethos of openness, of sharing and of partnership that informs his perception of his role as Bishop of the Archdiocesan District of Northcote.
Only if you have been reared within the Greek community of Melbourne, owe your understanding of your identity and your development as an individual to it, can you fully appreciate Bishop Evmenios’ deep love and attachment to that community in all of its multi-faceted and often contradictory forms. This is a love that has been proven time and time again, most recently in the sophisticated manner in which Bishop Evmenios collaborated with other key community stakeholders in order to save the Modern Greek programme at LaTrobe University from extinction. Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, Bishop Evmenios shouldered the task of rejuvenating one of our community’s most important institutions, St John’s Greek Orthodox College. Since his appointment as Chairman of the Board of St Basil’s in the aftermath of the tragic COVID-19 outbreak there, he has spent part of every single day in the facility, observing, investigating, training, reforming, improving and uplifting. When he speaks of the facility and those in its care, it is with a sense of tremendous urgency, of zeal and of uncontrived love and concern. Unafraid to reach out to others in order to supplement his own understanding and to acquire broader expertise, he has worked tirelessly to be present, relevant and in a position to assist all of those that he feels responsible for, a class of people so broad as to encompass our people in their entirety.
It is perhaps fitting that Bishop Evmenios was, as is the tradition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Australia, assigned the titular see of Kerasounta. Just as that city on the Black Sea constitutes a significant historical centre of Pontian Hellenism, so too does the Archdiocesan District of Northcote house the most vibrant and dynamic elements of Pontian Hellenism in Melbourne. Importantly, Kerasounta was not founded by migrants from the Hellenic homeland, but by the descendants of migrants, from the colony of Sinope, also on the Black Sea. The appointment of Melbourne born and bred Bishop Evmenios, a descendant of migrants, mirrors that foundation, by signifying an ethno-religious community that has come of age, confident in the ability of its native born to preside over it and determine its future, for it has, in his case, taken root and blossomed.
Kerasounta is also known for those of its bishops that attended the great Ecumenical Councils that moulded and shaped the Orthodox Church: Gregorius at the Council of Ephesus in 431, Gratianus at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Theophylactus at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680, Narses at the Trullan Council in 692, Ioannes at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, and Simeon at the Photian Council of Constantinople in 879. We can thus confidently expect that following in their footsteps, Bishop Evmenios will, as an Australian bishop, make lasting contributions to Orthodoxy by articulating the relevance of its discourse to Australian society at a time when freshness of perspective and coherent alternative voices to the mainstream narrative are sorely needed and seldom expressed. The Orthodox Church, with an ancient unbroken presence in the lands that first adopted Christianity from the outset of that religion’s inception, obviously has, considering its venerable and unfathomably protean tradition in such spheres of life as spirituality, welfare, philosophy and ethics, much to contribute, offer and share with the discourse of modern complex communities, especially since it has been both a minority and state religion of empires as globalist and sophisticated as those of the Romans and the Ottomans, which offer interesting parallels to our own reality today. Bishop Evmenios sensitivity to these elements will ensure that the Orthodox Church shall be able to engage in discourse with this country’s dominant culture, to the full breadth and extent that its vast tradition permits.
It is for this reason that Bishop Evmenios’ elevation, coming as it does after the elevation of other gifted, dynamic and youthful Australian-born clerics by Archbishop Makarios through the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the hierarchy is historically significant. Archbishop Makarios has presciently chosen for this most important position, clerics of integrity and spirituality, who have already formed compendious repositories of the knowledge necessary to propagate and perpetuate the Faith in Australia, navigating the linguistic and intercultural divide and also, because of their highly developed interpersonal skills, who are uniquely placed to engage with the mainstream and wrest from its political leaders, the requisite recognition of our Church as a significant stakeholder in Australian society.
This includes broadening the base of the important and largely unsung welfare and social work that the Church has undertaken. It also means placing the Church at the helm of furthering study of our unique patristic and theological tradition – truly an unlimited resource. In attempting such undertakings, Bishop Evmenios will tread a tenuous tightrope between retaining the historic Greek origins of the Church, without this precluding its development as an inclusive Australian Church, in which peoples of diverse background have a role to play. As a corollary, he will be compelled also to address and direct partisans of both whose conception of the Church is either more exclusive or inclusive.
Achieving all this and keeping the peace within our fractious community will be no mean feat indeed. Indeed, if there is one person uniquely capable of seeking to engage the disengaged, and granting the Church heightened relevance in a period of rapid social unravelling, engendering an environment of harmony, support, mutual assistance and love, it is undoubtedly Bishop Evmenios. Considering that as a community and a congregation we are at the crossroads of acculturation, how we engage with each other and plan for the future will determine the survival of the entities we have created and nurtured with so much effort. The state of that future, will most likely, be our new bishop’s legacy.