An unfaltering leader, a fearless speaker, a brilliant scholar, a deep thinker, an inspirational communicator, a patriotic Cretan. For 44 years he steered the ship, captained a nation’s clergy, shouldered the responsibility of keeping our faith alive. You only had to hear him speak, or observe him just for a minute to be convinced that this was a role he was made for.
His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia since 1975 passed away yesterday, on one of the most important days of the year, 25th March, at 6pm. A day that commemorates Greece’s Independence as well as the Annunciation of the Theotokos, now also a day that generations of Greek Australians will commemorate his memory.
As news broke, a collective sadness washed over us all. Some of us also felt lost. For the migrants who had arrived in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, he represented the hope of being able to retain their faith and culture. For those born after 1975, we have known him all our lives as the leader of Australia’s Greek Orthodox community. He had been our spiritual leader for as long as we could remember. Unwaveringly stoic, determined, tireless. Despite his health battles, it was hard to believe he had left us. It’s the end of an era.
As kids, we knew he was someone special. You could feel it in the way he carried himself, the genuine warmth of his blessings, a smile that conveyed optimism and a mischievous twinkle in his eye that concealed a witty sense of humour. People were drawn to him and looked forward to hearing his sermons which were delivered in dulcet tones. He addressed his parishioners as equals when imparting his knowledge and his advice. He set an example for us all.
People of all ages wanted to be around him, not just to receive a blessing or hear him speak, but because there was so much more to him than being a figurehead than his title. He did not merely have a duty, he was his duty. Despite his staggering intelligence he was always humble and went to great lengths to keep abreast of issues pertaining to youth. He wanted to speak their language, to engage with young people, not just to teach them, and made himself available at endless youth fellowships, dances, and conferences.
Born in Rethymno, Crete on 29 December 1935, he had a brilliant academic mind from a young age. He studied theology at the Theological School of Halki, was ordained a deacon in 1957 and a priest in 1958. He completed his postgraduate studies in systematic theology and the philosophy of religion at the University of Bonn in West Germany, from 1958 to 1966 where his lecturers included Cardinal (then Reverend Father) Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Following years as Professor of Theology at the University of Athens and then the University if Thessaloniki he was elected Archbishop of Australia and Exarch of Oceania in 1975. In this role, he was known for his effective communication and engagement in many dialogues between Orthodoxy and other Christian groups, most prominently as co-chairman of the theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, but also as co-chairman of the dialogue with the Anglican churches.
As Dean of St Andrew’s Theologic College in Sydney, he was a firm and inspirational lecturer, and he was also renowned as an award-winning poet and author.
Like every human, he was not without his flaws, he was not without his battles or hardships, but he was always humble with an unrelenting resilience. Even though his health battles, he continued to travel to fulfill myriad commitments. He pushed through personal pain to ensure he remained visible to all who counted on him.
I will miss the anticipation of hearing the bells signaling his arrival at esperinous and eagerly watching him walk in with a trail of priests from all parishes behind him. I will miss bumping into him on the afternoon walks he loved taking along Monterey. I will miss the warmth that soared through his smile, accompanied by a sparkle in his eyes and a throaty chuckle. I will miss hearing him speak at the 25th March parades at the Sydney Opera House, and at the throwing of the Cross in Yarra Bay. I will miss the endless time he had for young people and how he made them feel valued. I will miss the kindness with which he addressed parishioners as he sought (and achieved) a balance of teaching, guiding them and giving them courage. I will miss knowing he is here.
Rest in peace, your Eminence. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for being for us. For your service, guidance, and care over the past 44 years. For the legacy, you leave us. We will never forget you. Aionia sou i mnimi.
Condolences to his family and all who knew and loved him.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia has announced the Funeral Service for the late Archbishop Stylianos will take place on Saturday, March 30, 2019, at 11:30am at the Cathedral Church of The Annunciation of Our Lady (242 Cleveland Street, Redfern Sydney)
*Images with GCT logo by Nick Bourdaniotis Photography (Copyright)