Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Etna

Although the ever-memorable Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Etna held the simple title of “Professor” at the Seminary, he was, nevertheless, the principal founding father of the school, which was, in many ways, the culmination of his life’s work as an academic. He lavished his extensive experience as a scholar, as an educator, and as an administrator on the establishment of the Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary, every detail of which he oversaw with diligent care.

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Metropolitan Chrysostomos (in the world, Arthur Edward John González de Iturriaga Alexopoulos) came from a family of cultured aristocrats, learned academics, and accomplished professionals. A natural polyhistor, Metropolitan Chrysostomos learned Greek, English, German, French, and Catalan in his childhood, and he successively or concurrently earned five degrees in his early adulthood: a B. A. in History from the University of California, Riverside, in 1967; a B. A. in Psychology from the California State University, San Bernardino, and an M. A. in Byzantine History from the University of California, Davis, in 1971; an M. A. in Psychology from Princeton University in 1974; and a Ph. D. in Psychology from Princeton University in 1975. From 1972 to 1975, he was a Preceptor in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University, and in 1975, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

But in order to put his academic achievements at the disposal of the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Chrysostomos sacrificed his personal career by becoming a monk in 1975, the year that, together with Bishop Auxentios of Etna and Portland, he founded the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery. His life of service as a clergyman began with his Ordination first to the Diaconate and then to the Priesthood in 1976. He was Consecrated to the Hierarchy in 1986 (as Bishop of Oreoi, a Titular See), enthroned as Bishop of Etna in 1989, and elevated to the rank of Archbishop in 1995. His elevation to the rank of Metropolitan in 2014 would be followed a few months later that same year by his retirement from active Episcopal duties.

In all of his years as a Churchman, Metropolitan Chrysostomos remained involved in academia in one way or another. In 1979, he was appointed a Visiting Lecturer in Eastern Christian Thought at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, and from 1980 to 1981, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Ashland University, also in Ohio. While at Ashland University, he was awarded, in 1981, a Chairman’s Research Grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities. That same year, Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios established the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, the predecessor institution of the Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary. From 1981 to 1983, Metropolitan Chrysostomos was an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Ashland University, and in 1983, he earned a Lic. Theol. from the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies. Also in 1983, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Divinity School of Harvard University. In 1985, he was appointed a Marsden Foundation Research Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, and in 1986, he became a Marsden Foundation Research Fellow at the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, which institution he would consecutively serve as Academic Director from that year to 1998, as Research Associate from 1998 to 2001, and as Senior Research Scholar from 2001 until his repose. In 1987, Metropolitan Chrysostomos was appointed a Visiting Lecturer in Patristics and the Psychology of Religion at the Theological Institute of Uppsala University in Sweden.

A new phase began in his academic activities when he became a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Romania, from 2000 to 2001. During this period, he was a Fulbright Lecturer in Byzantine History and Byzantine Theological Thought in the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest, in 2000; a Fulbright Lecturer and Visiting Professor of Byzantine History in the Faculty of History and a Fulbright Lecturer and Visiting Professor of Business Ethics and Consumer Behavior in the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iași, in 2001; and a Fulbright Lecturer and Visiting Professor in the Theology of Orthodox Ecclesiastical Art and Architecture at the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest, in 2001. Also in that year, he was the Facilitator of the Senior Staff Retreat for the United States Embassy in Bucharest, as well as a Consultant and Grantee for the Project on Media Ethics of the Office of International Information Programs of the United States Department of State. These activities were followed by his appointment as Executive Director of the United States Fulbright Commission in Bucharest, which position he held from 2002 to 2003. It was also during this period that he was a Guest Lecturer at the American Studies Center of the University of Bucharest. He was an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program in Church Architecture of the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism from 2002 to 2005.

In 2004, he was a Visiting Scholar in the Program in Comparative Religion at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, and in 2005, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. In the following year, Metropolitan Chrysostomos was appointed the David B. Larson Fellow in Health and Spirituality at the John W. Kluge Center of the United States Library of Congress. Finally, he became a Professor, teaching statistics, pastoral psychology, and Patristics, at the Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary in 2016, holding this position until his demise. His literary output over a period of more than half a century included the publication of some three dozen books and Patristic translations, and more than sixty scholarly articles, which appeared in various theological, historical, and psychological journals.

After a long bout with heart disease, Metropolitan Chrysostomos reposed in the Lord on February 3/16, 2019. He was seventy-five years of age. By Divine Providence, the funeral of the Metropolitan, who was buried as a simple monk at the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, fell on February 6/19, the Feast Day of the Patron Saint of the Seminary. This was especially appropriate, since it was he who had urged that the Seminary be named after Saint Photios the Great, the outstanding ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople whose intellectual accomplishments and ecclesiastical leadership he so admired and himself emulated. Like Saint Photios, Metropolitan Chrysostomos was a voracious reader—from the age of twelve, when he began a private personal tally, until his death, he read over 4,900 books, an astonishing lifetime average of about seventy-seven books a year. Also like Saint Photios, who is famously credited with having invented the book review, Metropolitan Chrysostomos penned scores of book reviews, most of which were published in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, The Patristic and Byzantine Review, and Orthodox Tradition. His personal book collection formed the nucleus of what would become the library of the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, originally housed at the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery and now held by the Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary. This library, together with thousands of new acquisitions made by the Seminary since its founding, was christened the “Metropolitan Chrysostomos Theological Library” in honor of Metropolitan Chrysostomos upon his repose.

The erudition and the wisdom, the solicitude and the discipline, the charisma and the humor of Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Etna are sorely missed by all who knew him. He was the best of spiritual Fathers to his spiritual children; may God grant that the Seminary faithfully preserve the inestimable legacy he has bequeathed it. Eternal be his memory!

Michael N. Gombos, Sr.

The son of a Greek immigrant, Michael N. Gombos, Sr., was born in 1927. He entered his father’s trucking business at a young age. Demonstrating a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial talent, he took over operations in 1948 and quickly began diversifying the company. His energetic personality was always interested in new ventures. With Michael’s capable oversight, the family enterprises thrived and, with their growth, helped many people achieve business success. It was a tribute to Michael’s charitable character that he took more satisfaction in the wealth he brought others than in his own prosperity.

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In the 1990s, Michael zealously returned to his Orthodox roots, followed by his devoted and supportive wife, Philothei. In the Church, he found genuine fulfillment for the searching that had driven his many ventures. In his enthusiasm and, one might guess, lengthy experience in the world of business, he set out to help Orthodoxy grow in Bakersfield, helping to found the Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Mission. His hopes for the Mission’s quick growth were soon thwarted by the realities of Church life in the United States, and especially by the fact he could not secure a permanent Priest for the Mission.

By 2014, Michael had resolved that, rather than continue suffering with the Church’s perennial problem of a shortage of clergymen, he was going to be part of the solution. So it was that, in early 2015, with the reorganization of the Holy Diocese of Etna and Portland, Michael contacted its new ruling Hierarch, Bishop Auxentios, with a proposal to purchase property in Etna. Though he had never met or communicated with His Eminence, Michael had already formulated a plan to found a theological seminary capable of preparing a new generation of Priests for service to the Orthodox Church and, in particular, its needy West Coast parishes!

Michael soon visited Etna, and through his and his family’s generosity a suitable property for the Seminary was purchased. Renovation of the existing structure was soon completed. Michael followed the growth and realization of his dream with enthusiasm and satisfaction, and in particular by his service on the Seminary’s Board of Directors for some two years. Unfortunately, his declining health prohibited a further visit to Etna, though it remained an aspiration until his very end.

Many observed a shift in Michael’s focus in his final years, with a giving of greater attention to the interior life and an understanding that his own spiritual growth was as important a service to Orthodoxy as his extraordinary labors and contributions to the welfare of the Church’s institutions. Michael reposed peacefully on January 30/February 12, 2018, and is survived by his widow, Philothei, four of his children, and a large extended family. Eternal be his memory!