After spending several days meeting civic and religious leaders, Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), head of the Archdiocese of America, was excited to experience Utah in a new way: on horseback.
“We’re going to ride horses like Utahns,” the Greek Orthodox prelate said with a smile Friday.
Elpidophoros’ leisure time was well earned. As of Friday, he had already spent three days in the Beehive State attending meetings, events and tours — including visits with LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar A. Solis along with a reception from the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable — and he still had two more full days ahead of him.
It’s little wonder he stayed so busy: Elpidophoros’ trip was the first to Utah by a Greek Orthodox archbishop since 2000. And with four Wasatch Front Greek Orthodox churches — Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City, Prophet Elias in Holladay, St. Anna in Sandy and Transfiguration Church in Ogden — Elpidophoros still had a lot of tending to his own flocks to do before he returned Sunday to his home in New York.
So, what is he taking from Utah’s Greek Orthodox community to the church’s faithful on the other side of the country?
“This enthusiasm that I see… to grow in a way not only materially and financially, but to grow as a community,” Elpidophoros said. “This is a healthy behavior [for] a minority group, which, if [it] behaves like this, [it] will never be a minority in danger of extinguishing, but flourishing.”
And it wasn’t only in his own community that he found this enthusiasm. Elpidophoros said he saw openness and love everywhere from his meetings with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall to his conversation with the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These values are in line with Greek Orthodox beliefs, Elpidophoros said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
“For us, love is the highest virtue that we have in the teaching of the gospel,” he said. “Love in the gospel is not only for your friends, for those who think the same way you think. [That] love is for everyone, and we need not only to teach that, but to practice [it].”
Practicing what he preaches
Elpidophoros said one highlight of his trip was meeting with top Latter-day Saint leadership on Thursday morning at the church’s Administration Building.
He was happy to hear how supportive the church has been of local Greek Orthodox projects, he said, such as a proposed $300 million Greek Town to be built around Holy Trinity Cathedral.
They also explored collaborations between local Greek Orthodox members and Latter-day Saints, as well as their mutual interest in religious freedom issues.
Elpidophoros said it’s important that religious leaders be an example of interfaith cooperation to their congregations.
“[Differences] are not an obstacle for peaceful cooperation and coexistence and love,” he said.
Elpidophoros has made headlines for living this philosophy. Last year, he participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn, a decision he said he’ll never regret.
This peaceful demonstration, he said, was generated by “young, brilliant people” who want to live in a society where differences are less important than human dignity and coexistence.
“I didn’t forget that,” he said. “Because I believe that, really, Black lives matter.”
Senior apostle Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, expressed a similar sentiment during a speech at Brigham Young University in October, when he called Black lives matter an “eternal truth all reasonable people should support.”
‘They really love Utah’
Elpidophoros also spent time with Cox and Mendenhall, who, despite their differences, both work for the betterment of Utah, he said. He noted that the two politicians are united on important issues such as supporting vaccinations and helping the environment.
“When I met them in person, I realized that they’re both successful. They’re both loved by the people,” Elpidophoros said. “They really love Utah and Salt Lake City, and they work for the citizens.”
He added that, while walking through the Capitol and other significant Salt Lake City buildings, he appreciated seeing how Greek culture has influenced Western civilization, something that “makes all Greeks feel at home, wherever we are in the West. That’s why America, for Greek Orthodox [people], is the best place to be.”
Elpidophoros said he wants people to know that Utah’s Greek Orthodox members love their city and state, and they want to show it.
“They have much to contribute, and they are here to do it,” he said. “They like it here. They don’t want to go away from Utah.”
He also invited people of all backgrounds to join their cultural celebrations — from festivals to music to food.
“We have a sense of openness and acceptance to all cultures,” he said, “… to anyone who would like to learn more about us.”