Abp Panteleimon & the Jerusalem Patriarchate in America

Abp Panteleimon of Neapolis (Jerusalem Patriarchate), presenting a portion of the True Cross to President Warren G. Harding in 1922

Abp Panteleimon of Neapolis (Jerusalem Patriarchate), presenting a portion of the True Cross to President Warren G. Harding in 1922

When most people think of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in America, they think of the controversial jursidiction that spung up in the past decade or so, which included ethnic Palestinians and some former clergy of Ss. Peter and Paul (Antiochian) in Ben Lomond, California. This jurisdiction received a bishop in 2002, but it was dissolved just last year by an agreement between the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople.

But the history of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in America goes back long before the 21st century — all the way back to 1922 (and, in some respects, even earlier). In a 1905 report (translated by Fr. Andrew Kostadis in his 1999 St. Vladimir’s Seminary thesis Pictures of Missionary Life), St. Tikhon wrote to the Russian Holy Synod,

[I]t is difficult to trust the Greeks: although they have parishes in America, some are dependent upon the Synod of Athens, some on the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and some on Jerusalem (quite a weak dependence!), and, according to the politics characteristic of Greeks, they would hardly wish to be under any kind of subjection to the Russian hierarchy.

I’m not sure which specific Greek parishes were tied to Jerusalem; it couldn’t have been more than a few, as almost all Greek churches at the time had connections with either Constantinople or Athens.

Seventeen years later, in 1922, a hierarch of the Jerusalem Patriarchate arrived in America. He was Archbishop Panteleimon of Neapolis, and he came, initially, as the Patriarchate’s representative to the conference of the Episcopal Church, held in Portland, Oregon. (This conference was a pretty big deal, and lots of major Orthodox figures attended, but that is a story for another day.)

Abp Panteleimon got to Portland in early September, and he served the Divine Liturgy at the Greek church there. After the conference, he remained in the US, mostly with the goal of raising money for the Holy Land. Panteleimon told one newspaper (Bridgeport Telegram, 11/12/1923),

The World War and the Russian revolution are the chief reasons why the Eastern Orthodox church is unable to carry out its sacred trust as it should and endeavors to. Whereas 10,000 pilgrims from the steppes of Russia came to Jerusalem to place their life savings in our coffers each year to enable us to keep from harm the places and keep alive the memory of Our Lord, not one comes to Jerusalem today.

Abp Panteleimon also explained that the Jerusalem Patriarchate had land holdings in Russia, Turkey, and Romania, and in each case the governments of those states confiscated the land. This virtually cut off the Patriarchate’s revenue stream. (Incidentally, this highlights some of the ripple effects of the Bolshevik takeover in Russia. Its impact was felt all over the Orthodox world.)

The Washington Post (12/28/1922) reported that the Abp Panteleimon had just met with President Harding. The Archbishop made Harding a “Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher,” and, most significantly, gave him a splinter of wood from the True Cross, “imbedded in wax, and inclosed in a gold box set with diamonds.”

Actually, Abp Panteleimon seems to have made a habit of awarding people with pieces of the Cross. In addition to the one he gave President Harding, he handed out at least five or six other pieces to various people. One went to the promient Episcopal Bishop William Manning, another to a Chicago merchant named A. Theodoracoplos, and another to a Washington lawyer named Soterios Nicholson. According to the Chicago Heights Star (4/12/1923), Panteleimon gave the relics “in recognition of the aid given by the people of the United States in relieving the distress of the Greek people who were murdered, outraged and rendered homeless by the Turks.”

As an Orthodox Christian, this is a little shocking. The True Cross is one of the most priceless relics we have, and the idea of it being used as a thank-you gift is a bit unsettling. I don’t doubt that the recipients were worthy of some sort of honor, but why not just give them a medal, or an icon, or something? Why the Cross of Christ?

Anyway, Abp Panteleimon appears to have established a metochion (basically, an embassy church)  in the US. I’m not sure where this metochion was; possibly New York City, though it may have been in Washington, DC, since the Archbishop spent a lot of time in that city. While in America, Abp Panteleimon convinced a young Greek man named John Nicholaides to be ordained a priest. This man later returned to Greece and went on to become a great Athonite ascetic, Elder Joachim of St. Anne’s Skete.

The last traces I have of Abp Panteleimon are from 1924, and he was certainly gone by 1930 at the latest. (That’s when the Ecumenical Patriarchate reorganized the Greek Archdiocese.) I’d be very interested to learn more about Abp Panteleimon and his metochion, if anyone out there has any information.

Also, it would be interesting to know what happened to the pieces of the Cross distributed by Abp Panteleimon. Is President Harding’s piece still in the White House, or did it go to his family? What about the pieces given to the aforementioned Mr. Theodoracoplos of Chicago, or Soterios Nicholson of Washington, or Peter Vanech of Stamford, Connecticut?

As you can see, there’s a lot left to be learned about Abp Panteleimon.

3 thoughts on “Abp Panteleimon & the Jerusalem Patriarchate in America

  1. I don’t know how defunct this jurisdiction is (though I think it is becoming defunct in its own jurisdiction), snce, although the Phanariots in Istanbul, Jerusalem and New York think the faithful can be traded like chattel, they still seem to have refused to go. Since the GOA charter plainly states that “The Archdiocese receives within its ranks and under its spiritual aegis and pastoral care Orthodox Christians, who either as individuals or as organized groups in Dioceses and Parishes have voluntarily come to it and which acknowledge the supreme spiritual, ecclesiastical and canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” it would seem GOARCH is estopped from receiving them.

  2. Btw, this isn’t the only example of pieces of the True Cross being given out: the Fairy Castle in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago:
    “As you go around the corner, stop and look through the clear glass in the center of the chapel window. You will see the altar, and on this altar is a little tabernacle. On top of the tabernacle you will see a beautiful golden sunburst. In the center is a glass container holding a sliver of the true cross. This was given to me by my friend, Clare Booth Luce, when she was the Ambassador to Italy and had her first audience with the Pope. He gave this to her, and she gave it to me to put in the chapel of the Fairy Castle.”

    http://www.msichicago.org/whats-here/exhibits/fairycastle/the-exhibit/great-hall/

  3. Pingback: OrthodoxHistory.org » Blog Archive » Jerusalem’s Abp Panteleimon in America, 1924-1931

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