As Utahns mark the entrance of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley some 174 years ago this week, the state’s Greek Orthodox community will celebrate a historic arrival of its own.
Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), head of the Archdiocese of America, will be visiting Tuesday through Sunday, meeting with top Latter-day Saint and Roman Catholic leaders, in the first trip to Utah by a Greek Orthodox archbishop in nearly two decades.
It’s “a little bit unprecedented” for an archbishop to visit one place for nearly a week, said the Rev. Archimandrite George Nikas, the presiding priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake. “So we’re very excited and feel very honored for this to be taking place.”
Nikas said Elpidophoros, who was installed in his new position in 2019, is a native of Istanbul and a longtime theology professor. He made headlines last year when he participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn.
“It is our moral duty and obligation to uphold the sanctity of every human being. We have faced a pandemic of grave physical illness, but the spiritual illness in our land runs even deeper and must be healed by actions as well as words,” he told the Greek Reporter at the time. “And so, I will continue to stand in the breach together with all those who are committed to preserving peace, justice and equality for every citizen of goodwill, regardless of their race, religion, gender or ethnic origin.”
During his Beehive State stay, Elpidophoros is scheduled to meet with a who’s who of religious and political leaders.
On Tuesday evening, he will huddle with Bishop Oscar Solis, who leads Utah’s 300,000-plus Roman Catholics, and interfaith leaders before touring downtown Salt Lake City’s majestic Cathedral of the Madeleine.
He will meet Wednesday afternoon with Gov. Spencer Cox, and Thursday morning with the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. He is scheduled to meet with Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, on Saturday.
“I’m sure they will be very warm and cordial and meaningful meetings,” Nikas said, “because the people of Utah are very hospitable.”
The archbishop also will spend time at Wasatch Front Greek Orthodox churches, including Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City, Prophet Elias in Holladay, St. Anna in Sandy and Transfiguration Church in Ogden.
Nikas said he and other Utah Greek Orthodox leaders will apprise Elpidophoros of the community’s philanthropic work, as well as progress on the church’s proposed $300 million Greek Town to be built around Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The community is looking forward, he said, to learning from and exchanging ideas with the visiting dignitary.
Nikas also hopes Elpidophoros comes away with “an appreciation of what it is to be a little bit farther removed” from Greek Orthodox Church headquarters in New York City, and especially in a place where members are very much a minority religion.
“This is kind of a get-to-know him a little bit better as our chief shepherd,” he said, “and hopefully having him get to know us as the Greek Orthodox, Greek American community here in Utah.”
News editor David Noyce contributed to this story.