The ties between Eastern and Western Christianity were on full display Tuesday when the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America visited with Utah’s top Roman Catholic leader.
Together, they — and representatives of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable — stressed the importance of dialogue and the need for interfaith unity.
The meeting was part of the Salt Lake City visit by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), the first trip to Utah by a Greek Orthodox archbishop since 2000, according to information from local Greek Orthodox leaders.
Tuesday night’s reception was hosted by Bishop Oscar Solis, who leads Utah’s 300,000-plus Roman Catholics, at the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s pastoral center.
Afterward, the group toured downtown Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine.
In his remarks to the Interfaith Roundtable, Elpidophoros emphasized the meaning and impact of dialogue in interfaith relationships.
The word “dialogue” in Greek commonly refers to “an exceptionally diverse array of realities,” a definition which he said “resonates strongly” in an interfaith context.
“Dialogue becomes the key,” he said, “in which we are all called to dissolve our divisions, to heal hatred, to foster resilience, fight against prejudices ... [and] promote peace and reconciliation.”
Elpidophoros said the Greek Orthodox Church recognizes differences but believes in cooperation and peace among faiths. This means truly listening to other points of view and accepting common values.
Real dialogue, Elpidophoros said, begins in families and communities.
“Make your faith, make your tradition more rich,” he said. “The richness comes from the ecumenical values [of] listening to others [and] receiving whatever is good.”
Solis said Catholics follow the guidance of Pope Francis in creating human relationships with people of all other faiths.
These relationships “define the course of our vision and mission as a Catholic community,” he said. “We came from one God, and we are all children of God. ... And that is why we can easily see each other as brothers and sisters.”
Muslim makes her own sacrifice
Elpidophoros gave special thanks to Zeynep Kariparduc, chairperson of the Salt Lake Interfaith Council and a Muslim woman, for being at the event when she could have been celebrating Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, with family and friends.
As a native of Turkey, Elpidophoros said he understands the significance — indeed the sacrifice — of Kariparduc missing part of the multiday Islamic holiday.
He presented her with a silver medallion made in Istanbul that depicts Abraham, or Ibrahim (a prophet revered in Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and wife Sarah hosting three angels.
He also gifted Solis with a silver cross made in Istanbul.
Kariparduc said people of different religious backgrounds should get to know one another so they can be better at practicing their own faiths.
Tuesday night’s meeting was important, she said, because as faith leaders get along, so will their followers.
“Without each other, we can’t create a diverse society,” she said. “Faith leaders play a very crucial role in establish[ing] peaceful societies.”
‘Keep alive our identity’
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Elpidophoros said it’s important for him to visit every state and parish in the U.S.
In Salt Lake City, he said, there are two large parishes, “so we had to come.”
Although the Greek Orthodox community in New York is across the country, Elpidophoros said those members have plenty in common with their Salt Lake City brothers and sisters. Many of them have ancestors who came to the U.S. chasing the American dream; they pray, attend school and perform in cultural events together.
“The church is for us always the place where we keep alive our identity,” he said, " ... [our] cultural, linguistic and religious identity.”
At the same time, Elpidophoros said, every parish adapts to its state and community in different ways. That’s why he wants to learn firsthand about the needs and expectations of each parish.
More meetings await
Elpidophoros’ historic visit this week comes as Utahns mark the entrance of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley some 174 years ago.
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.”
Throughout his visit, Elipidophoros is meeting with a number of top government and religious leaders.
He’s scheduled to 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.
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.
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.”