American Enthroned As Greek Leader

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - With Greek chants filling the cathedral, an American clergyman clasped a large golden staff and was enthroned Saturday as the Greek Orthodox Church's new spiritual leader of most of South America.

Monsignor Tarasios, a 45-year-old of Greek descent, was named the church's Metropolitan of Buenos Aires and South America - or leader of the vast archdiocese - in a lush ceremony replete with sweet-smelling incense and richly embroidered vestments at the Dormition Cathedral.

``With great emotion and love for all, and with fervent prayers, I dedicate this solemn and sacred day to my brothers and the blessed people of the Holy Diocese of Buenos Aires,'' said Tarasios, who as archbishop he uses just one name. He wore a black miter and sat in a throne for the ceremony.

Tarasios was born in Gary, Ind. as Panaguiotis Antonopulos, but was known as Peter Anton before he entered the church. He grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where he was raised in a family close to its Greek Orthodox roots.

Beginning as an altar boy in San Antonio, Tarasios always wanted to be a priest and later rose rapidly through the church hierarchy, with stops in Boston, Rome and Istanbul. He said God charted his ways.

He mused on his American roots days before his enthronement. ``I always said I'm going to write a book one day: 'A Texan goes to the Fanar,' `` he said in reference to the Greek Orthodox community based in Istanbul, Turkey - home to the church's top hierarchy.

``It's a great idea, because how does a young boy from San Antonio, Texas, find himself in the center of the Orthodox church?'' he said.

Tarasios' appointment to the Buenos Aires position, which covers all of Latin American except Colombia and Venezuela, was seen as a step by church leaders to maintain ties between Greek Orthodox communities in North and South America.

Argentina has the bulk of South America's Greek Orthodox faithful - about 30,000 - with other countries having tens of thousands more.

Tarasios, who speaks French, Greek, Italian and English, pursued religious studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, followed by further theological study at the University of Notre Dame, and later at the Pontifical Institute for Oriental Studies in Rome.

In 1980, he began as a lay assistant in the Greek Orthodox community in St. Louis before moving on in 1988 to the Atlanta diocese.

From there he went on to the Greek church's headquarters in Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, where he served as deacon and later archdeacon to the supreme spiritual leader, the Ecumenical Patriach Bartholomew.

He said he was honored by the patriarch's decision to send a top church leader, Archbishop Demetrios of the New York-based Archdiocese of America, for the enthronement. Other Americans of Greek descent also were on hand.

Tarasios succeeds retiring Metropolitan Gennadios and will reside in Buenos Aires.

``We have a double mission: to perpetuate the Greek Orthodox faith, to keep these communities alive and to keep the people imbued with the theology and spirituality of the church.''

He said the Greek Orthodox church will continue to promote its culture and traditions ``not only or solely from an ethnic point of view'' but also from a Christian perspective.

``We don't want to appear as nationalists in a negative sense, it's good to be proud of your country, your language and heritage - whether it's Greek, Argentine or American,'' he said. ``But there are times when one has to make the affirmation that their faith is more important.''

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.