Posts tagged Greek
Yesterday, I ran the first of six articles on the so-called “Bulgarian Question,” a controversy that rocked the Orthodox world in the early 1870s and ultimately led to the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which condemned the heresy of “phyletism.” Search the Internet — both Google and the various subscriber-only databases of academic journals — and you’ll find precious little of substance on the Council. I recently stumbled onto a series of contemporaneous accounts published in the Methodist Quarterly Review, and I’m reprinting those accounts here.
I know I said that I’d run Part 2 next week, but I’ve got this ready to go now, so why wait? This latest installment appeared in the April 1871 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review — so, nine months after the article I printed yesterday.
The Bulgarian Church Question, to the earlier history and importance of which we have referred in former numbers of the “Quarterly Review” led in the year 1870 to very important developments. The demand of the Bulgarians to have Bishops of their own nationality, and a national Church organization like the Roumanians and the Servians, was, in the main, granted by the imperial firman of March 10. The substance of the eleven paragraphs is as follows:
- Article I. provides for the establishment of a separate Church administration for the Bulgarians, which shall be called the Exarchate of the Bulgarians.
- Article II. The chief of the Bulgarian Metropolitans receives the title of Exarch, and presides over the Bulgarian Synod.
- Article III. The Exarch, as well as the Bishops, shall be elected in accordance with the regulations hitherto observed, the election of the Exarch to be confirmed by the oecumenical Patriarchs.
- Article IV. The Exarch receives his appointment by the Sublime Porte previous to his consecration, and is bound to say prayer for the Patriarch whenever he holds divine service.
- Article V. stipulates the formalities to be observed in supplicating for the appointment (installation) by the Sublime Porte.
- Article VI. In all matters of a spiritual nature the Exarch has to consult with the Patriarch.
- Article VII. The new Bulgarian Church, like the Churches of Roumania, Greece, and Servia, obtains the holy oil (chrisma) from the Patriarchate.
- Article VIII. The authority of a Bishop does not extend beyond his diocese.
- Article IX. The Bulgarian Church and the bishopric (Metochion) in the Phanar are subject to the Exarch, who may temporarily reside in the Metochion. During this temporary residence he must observe the same rules and regulations which have been established for the Patriarch of Jerusalem during his residence in the Phanar.
- Article X. The Bulgarian Exarchate comprises fourteen dioceses: Rustchuk, Silistria, Schumia, Tirnovo, Sophia, Widdin, Nisch, Slivno, Veles, Samakovo, Kustendie, Vratza, Lofdja, and Pirut. One half of the cities of Varna, Anchialu, Mesembria, Liyeboli, and of twenty villages on the Black Sea, are reserved for the Greeks. Philippople has been divided into two equal parts, one of which, together with the suburbs, is retained by the Greeks, while the other half, and the quarter of Panaghia, belongs to the Bulgarians. Whenever proof is adduced that two thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are Bulgarians, such diocese shall be transferred to the Exarchate.
- Article XI. All Bulgarian monasteries which are under the Patriarchate at the present time shall remain so in the future.
The Greeks of Constantinople where indignant at this firman, because they were well aware that its execution would put an end to the subordinate position in which they have thus far kept the Bulgarians. They demanded that the Patriarch should either reject it or resign. The Synod which was convened by the Patriarch in April declared that the firman was in conflict with the canons of the Church, and that an Ecumenical Council should be summoned to decide the question. The Patriarch accordingly notified the Turkish government that he could not accept the firman, and that, therefore, he renewed his petition for the convocation of an Ecumenical Council. The Bulgarian committee, on the other hand, issued a circular in which the solution of the question by the firman was declared to be entirely satisfactory, and corresponding with their just demands. They pointed out that the principal demand of the orthodox Bulgarians had been that their Churches and bishoprics be intrusted to a clergy familiar with the Bulgarian language, and that they did not understand how the Patriarchate could designate as unevangelical so legitimate a desire. The Patriarch, in a letter to the Grand Vizier, declared that he could retain his office only if the government granted the convocation of the Ecumenical Council. The endeavor of Ali Pasha to induce the Patriarch to desist from his demand proved of no avail. The twelve Bishops constituting the Synod of Constantinople sent a synodic letter to the Porte, in which they implore the government to settle the Bulgarian Church question on the basis proposed by the Patriarch in 1869. The government now yielded. Ali Pasha invited the Patriarch to send to the government a programme of the question to be discussed by the Ecumenical Synod. To this the Patriarch replied as follows:
We had the honor of receiving the rescript which your highness has condescended to forward to us, as a reply to our letter and the Maybata of the Synod of Metropolitans. We perceive that we shall be authorized to convene the Ecumenical Council, to which will appertain the final solution of the Bulgarian question by canonical decision. Your highness expresses the desire to know beforehand the objects and the limits of the deliberations of the Council, and invites us to submit a programme of the same. We have the honor of informing you that the Ecumenical Council, for whose convocation we requested the authorization of the imperial government, will have to investigate and to adjust the controversy which has arisen between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians. Your highness is aware that said controversy resulted partly from the circumstance that the Bulgarians did not consider satisfactory the concessions which we granted them in regard to the administration of the Church, partly from the fact that the Bulgarians demand something which is in direct opposition to the spirit of our faith and to the commands of the holy canons, although they pretend that their proposals are not at all in contradiction to the holy laws. Thus the labors of the Council, which will not touch on any secular question, will be strictly limited to deliberations on the Bulgarian question; the demands of the Bulgarians, as well as the concessions made by the Patriarchate, will be minutely and impartially scrutinized, upon which the Council will come to a decision in accordance with the spirit of the canons, from which there can be no appeal.
Done and given at our Patriarchal residence on November 16, 1870.
And with that, the Methodist Quarterly Review article ends.
The biggest bombshell — the thing that really got the Ecumenical Patriarchate riled — seems to be Article X, which provided that, if two-thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are ethnically Bulgarian, the diocese would be transferred from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Bulgarian Church. If THAT is what we’re calling “phyletism,” then I can see why Constantinople would be upset. You can’t have a bishop’s territory taken away from him simply by virtue of the ethnic makeup of that territory.
Also, while such things have been common throughout history, it’s pretty jarring to see church policy so explicitly dictated by a non-Orthodox, secular government. I mean, I realize that Bulgarian Orthodox officials probably drafted the “firman,” but the thing was issued by the Turkish government, and it’s this document that lays out the structure of an entirely new (purported) Local Church.
The part about the Bulgarian Exarch living in Constantinople sounds pretty weird, too, but in those days it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. The article alludes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem doing the same thing, and other Patriarchs lived in Constantinople at various times throughout history.
Anyway, we’ll run the next article on this fascinating situation in the very near future. Thanks for reading.
Recently, I had occasion to research the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which somewhat famously condemned “ethno-phyletism.” The issue arose because, as I understand it, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church — which was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate — declared itself autocephalous. Anyway, before I began this research, I could probably tell you three or four sentences’ worth of information about the whole affair. Surprisingly, there is very little to be found online, and what little has been written about the Council tends to focus on applying it to a modern, American context — an endeavor that can lead to historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I also searched various databases of scholarly journals, but came up empty. At least in English, there appear to be almost no modern treatments of this Council.
I then checked my personal archives, and it turns out that I have a series of contemporaneous accounts of the situation, published in the Methodist Quarterly Review beginning in 1870. I’m going to reprint those articles here, because they are the best thing I’ve yet found on the subject, and also because they show the kind of reporting you could find in America on global Orthodox events in the 1870s.
This first installment comes from the July 1870 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review, beginning at page 451.
THE EASTERN CHURCH — THE BULGARIAN QUESTION. — Among the most important questions which have agitated the Eastern Churches since the beginning of the present century is the re-construction of a national Bulgarian Church, which is to remain united with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other parts of the Greek Church in point of doctrine, but to maintain an entire independence in point of administration. This question has obtained a political, as well as an ecclesiastical, importance, as Russia, France, and other European powers have tried to make capital out of it. A decree of the Turkish Government, issued in February, 1870, appears to decide the main point which was at issue. As important results may follow this decision, a brief history of the Bulgarian question will aid in a proper understanding of the situation it now occupies, and of the hopes that are entertained by the Bulgarians with regard to their future.
When the Bulgarians, in the ninth century, under King Bogaris, became Christians, the new missionary Church was placed under the supervision of the Greek Patriarch. About fifty years later King Samuel established the political independence of the Bulgarian nation and the ecclesiastical independence of the Bulgarian Church. But after his death, the Church was again placed under the Greek Patriarch, and did not regain the enjoyment of ecclesiastical independence till the latter part of the twelfth century. After the conquest of the country by the Turks, in 1393, many of the Bulgarians for a while became, outwardly, Mohammedans; but, as religious freedom increased, returned to their earlier faith, and the Bulgarian Church was made an appendage to that of Constantinople. Good feeling prevailed then between the Greeks and the Bulgarians, and the Sultan filled the Bulgarian Sees with Greek prelates, who were acceptable to the people. As the Bulgarian nobility was exterminated, and the people oppressed by wars which followed, there was, until the beginning of the present [19th] century, scarcely a single voice raised against the foreign Episcopate. But the national feeling began to assert itself about fifty years ago, and the Greek Patriarch was compelled to authorize several reforms. Abuses continued, however, and the national feeling increased, so that the Patriarch was obliged, in 1848, to approve the erection of a Bulgarian Church, and of a school for the education of priests, in the capital. The demand of the Bulgarians for a restoration of their nationality, in 1856, again aroused the slumbering zeal of the Greeks, and the differences between the two nationalities have continued very active up to the present time. The Porte, in 1862, named a mixed commission, to investigate and settle the inquiries. It proposed two plans of adjustment. According to one of these plans, the Bulgarian Church was to name the Bishops of those districts in which the Bulgarian population was a majority. The other plan accorded to the Bulgarians the right to have a Metropolitan in every province, and a Bishop in every diocese, where there is a strong Bulgarian population. Both plans were rejected, and the Turkish Government, having been to considerable pains for nothing, left the contending parties to settle the controversy in their own way.
Accordingly the Greek Patriarch, in 1869, proposed a General Council, and solicited the different Churches of the Greek Confession for their opinions and advice on the subject. Greece, Roumania, and Servia declared themselves in favor of the Council. On the other hand, the Holy Synod of Petersburgh, for the Russian Church, declared the claims of the Bulgarians to be excessive, and that, although it considered a Council the only lawful means of settling the points at issue, it feared a schism if the demands of the Bulgarians were complied with, and was further afraid that the fulfillments [sic] of the demands of the canons would be refused, and advised the continuance of the status quo. The Greek Patriarch, being unwilling to solve the question, the Turkish Government took the matter into its own hands, and in February, 1870, issued a decree which establishes a Bulgarian Exarch, to whom are subordinate thirteen Bulgarian Bishops, whose number may be increased whenever it may be found necessary. The Turkish Government has tried to spare the sensibility of the Greeks as much as possible, and has, therefore, not only withheld from the head of the Bulgarian Church the title of Patriarch, but has expressly provided that the Exarch should remain subordinate to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Nevertheless the Patriarch has entered his solemn and earnest protest against the scheme. His note to the Grand Vizier, which is signed by all the members of the Holy Synod of Constantinople, is an important document in the history of the Greek Church, and reads as follows:
To His Highness the Grand Vizier: – Your Highness was pleased to communicate to the Patriarchate, through Messrs Christaki, Efendi, Sagraphras, and Kara-Theodor, the Imperial firman, written upon parchment, which solves the Bulgarian question after it had been open during ten years. The Patriarchate, always faithfully fulfilling its duties toward the Emperor, whom the Lord God has given to the nations, has at all times remained foreign to any thought that the decrees of the Sublime Sovereign in political questions should not be obeyed. The Oriental Church obeyed with cheerfulness and respect the legitimate Sovereigns. The latter, on their part, have always respected the province which belongs to the ecclesiastical administration. The Sultans, of glorious memory, as well as their present fame-crowned successor, (whose strength may be invincible,) have always drawn a marked boundary-line between civil and ecclesiastical authority; they recognized the rights, privileges, and immunities of the latter, and guaranteed it by Hatti-Humayums. They never permitted any one to commit an encroachment upon the original rights of the Church, which, during five centuries, was under the immediate protection of the Imperial throne.
Your Highness: If the said firman had been nothing but the sanction of a Concordat between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians, we should respect and accept it. Unfortunately, things are different. Since the firman decides ecclesiastical questions, and since the decision is contrary to the canons, and vitally wounds the rights and privileges of the Holy See, the Patriarchate cannot accept the ultimatum of the Imperial Government. Your Highness: Since the Bulgarians obstinately shut their ears to the voice of that reconciliation which we aim at, and since the Imperial Government is not compelled to solve an ecclesiastical question in an irrevocable manner; since, finally, the abnormal position of affairs violates and disturbs ancient rights, the Ecumenical Patriarchate renews the prayer, that the Imperial Government may allow the convocation of an Ecumenical Council, which alone is authorized to solve this question in a manner legally valid and binding for both parties. Moreover, we beseech the Imperial Government that it may take the necessary steps which are calculated to put an end to the disorder which disturbs the quiet within our flock, and which can chiefly be traced to the circulars of the Heads of the Bulgarians (dated the 15th of the present month). The Ecumenical Patriarchate enters its protest with the Imperial Government against the creation of these disturbances.
Written and done in our Patriarchal residence, Mar. 24 (old style), 1870.
(Signed) GREGORY CONSTANTINE, Patriarch.
(Signed) All the members of the Holy Synod.
The note of the Patriarch and his Synod indicates that they are aware that, sooner or later, the national demands of the Bulgarians must be granted; and their chief concern now is to obtain as large concessions for the supremacy of the Patriarchal See as possible.
A peaceable and a speedy solution of the difference is the more urgent, as during the last ten years the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, aided by the diplomatic agents of the French Government, have made the most strenuous efforts to gain a foothold among the Bulgarians, and to establish a United Bulgarian Church. Nor have these efforts been altogether unsuccessful. Several years ago the Pope appointed the Bulgarian priest, Sokolski, the first Bishop of those Bulgarians who had entered the union with Rome, and who constituted a nucleus of the United Bulgarian Church, which, like the other united Oriental Churches, accepts the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, but is allowed to retain the ancient customs of the ancient national Church, (marriage of the priests, use of the Sclavic [sic] language at divine service, etc.). Bishop Sokolski was quite on a sudden carried off from Constantinople, (as was commonly thought by Russian agents,) and has never been heard of since. In 1855, Raphael Popof was consecrated successor of Sokolski; he still lives, as the only United Bulgarian Bishop, is present at the Vatican Council. He resides at Adrianople, and under his administration the membership of the United Bulgarian Church has increased (up to 1869) to over 9,000 souls, of whom 3,000 lives in Constantinople, 2,000 in Salonichi and Monastir, 1,000 in Adrianople, and 3,000 in the vicinity of Adrianople. The clergy of the Church, in 1869, consisted of ten secular priests.
The part about Rome and the emerging Bulgarian “unia” — complete with a Uniate bishop allegedly abducted by Tsarist agents! — is a topic worthy of study on its own. It’s also interesting to note that all of this was happening simultaneous with the First Vatican Council, which proclaimed the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility.
Next week, we’ll be back with another article on the “Bulgarian Question” and the build-up to the 1872 Council of Constantinople — which, as you might have noticed from the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s letter, was referred to as an “Ecumenical Council.” (Yes, there were Ecumenical Councils after #7.)
Once upon a time, it was the norm for American men to be members of fraternal organizations. These were especially attractive to new immigrants, who wanted to be integrated into American society and make progress in business. And in that earlier era, fraternal membership was the best and quickest way to achieve both goals. They joined the Rotary Club, the Lions, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Columbus, and a host of others. But the most famous — and infamous — of them all was Freemasonry. Countless men in American Orthodox history, including priests and bishops, have been Freemasons. This, despite the fact that membership in secret societies is widely viewed as incompatible with Orthodoxy.
For some background, let’s first look at the relevant canons. Now, I am not a canonist, nor am I a historian of the Eastern Roman (or “Byzantine”) Empire. But, as best I can tell, the key canons are Canon 18 of Chalcedon and Canon 34 of Trullo. Let’s take the latter one first:
But in future, since the priestly canon openly sets this forth, that the crime of conspiracy or secret society is forbidden by external laws, but much more ought it to be prohibited in the Church; we also hasten to observe that if any clerics or monks are found either conspiring or entering secret societies, or devising anything against bishops or clergymen, they shall be altogether deprived of their rank.
The Trullo canon was referred to as simply a renewal of Canon 18 of Chalcedon:
The crime of conspiracy or banding together is utterly prohibited even by the secular law, and much more ought it to be forbidden in the Church of God. Therefore, if any, whether clergymen or monks, should be detected in conspiring or banding together, or hatching plots against their bishops or fellow-clergy, they shall by all means be deposed from their own rank.
On their face, these canons seem to be focused on prohibiting clergymen from conspiring against other clergymen. I don’t think that the bishops who composed the canons had in mind groups like the Freemasons. That isn’t to say that Freemasonry is acceptable in Orthodoxy, but I don’t think there’s an explicit forbiddance in the ancient canons themselves. If anyone knows of other relevant canons, please let me know, because, as I said earlier, I am definitely not an expert on this stuff.
Freemasonry and other secret societies were extremely prevalent in Russia, Greece, and other traditionally Orthodox countries in the 19th century. Meletios Metaxakis — the Archbishop of Athens who founded the Greek Archdiocese and later became Ecumenical Patriarch — was a Freemason. So was Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, who led the Greek Archdiocese for two decades and then became a hugely influential Ecumenical Patriarch. Likewise Metropolitan Antony Bashir, the longtime head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York. And these were just three of the biggest names; numerous other Orthodox bishops were Freemasons in the 20th century. (In the case of Athenagoras and Bashir, I’ve talked to people who knew them, and it was common knowledge that they were Freemasons. But I must admit that I don’t have any hard evidence to prove this fact. Unfortunately, evidence beyond word of mouth is hard to come by on this sort of thing.)
In 1917, Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine argued strongly against the consecration of Aftimios Ofiesh as bishop for the Syrians. One of Irvine’s main contentions was that Ofiesh was a Freemason. I’ll quote Irvine’s letter at length here, because it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand. The letter, dated 2/5/1917, was written to the North American Ecclesiastical Consistory and is preserved in Irvine’s file in the OCA archives. All the emphases and misspellings are Irvine’s.
A Schism can be healed but the consecration of the wrong party for the Episcopate never. [...] Who is the candidate for the Syrian Vicar Bishoprick? A Freemason. It may be said that, he has given up Masonry. While I doubt it, it makes the matter more terrible than if he persisted in being an active member. And why?
First: Because by being an in-active member for the sake of a chance of being made a Bishop he must have lost the respect of both the Masonic Order and loyal Orthodox Christians.
Second: There is an old and well authenticated fact to wit: — “Once a Mason always a Mason.” An ignorance of the watchword because of delinquency of a member etc., for the time being, does not hinder the opportunity of having that ignorance remedied and the knowledge granted at an opportune moment. Insincerity under the first point would suggest the second idea.
The history of Freemasonry is a night-mare to Christianity in the West. Pardon a little bit of my own knowledge being interjected. Practical knowledge after all is the best.
[Irvine goes on to discuss his own negative experience with a Freemason bishop in the Episcopal Church.]
Freemasonry, today, is a mixture of spurious Christianity, agnosticism, infidelity, aethism [sic], Judaism, and in very many instances, immorality. I have carefully studied it for over fifty years. It’s [sic] nobility of long ago, while it has still had some noble men as members, has long since departed. It has damned the State and the Church by its under-hand influence and corruptive practices.
If a Bishop of the Church is a Freemason then every priest had better be a Mason in his Diocese, for otherwise it may follow that a Jew, an Infidel, an Aethiest etc. or the lowest saloon keeper, or house of ill fame manager, as a member would have more influence as a mason with the Masonic Bishop than the priest who was not a member of the Order.
One of the questions asked of me when I was a candidate for the Russian Orthodox Priesthood was “Are you a Freemason?” My reply was “I am not.” Have we changed? Are our conditions variable?
Now if the Episcopate is one, any member of it affects the whole. And if the Church is one, any member of the same may feel agrieved [sic] if he believes that a member of an alien and pernicious organization is permitted to rule in the high and sacred office of a Bishop in the Church of God Almighty.
The Orthodox Church has gained the Confidence and love of right-thinking people. Let us not tarnish her banner now by inserting amongst the title letters “Masonery.” Rome is marveling at our success and Orthodox Catholicity. Let us not give her a chance to say that, we have retrograded to rationalism and chicanery. Above all things let us guard the Episcopate from that which is worldly and earthly.
Therefore if all others keep silent, I for one, as a faithful priest of the Russo-Greek Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, most solemnly protest against the admission of Archimandrite Afiesh or any other Mason into the Episcopate.
And if he is admitted or any Mason, even under pain of Ecclesiastical penalties, I will never recognize him as a Bishop. I can not serve God and Mammon in the Episcopate. Masons as Laymen may be sinners, but as Bishops hypocrites and creatures of circumstances.
In spite of Irvine’s campaign against him, Ofiesh was consecrated a bishop. And his career did end badly — he exhibited erratic behavior and ended up marrying a young girl in 1933 — but I don’t think any of that was connected to his status as a Freemason.
Have any Orthodox Churches formally condemned Freemasonry? Yes, they have. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) condemned it in 1932. The Church of Greece followed suit the next year, issuing a rather lengthy statement. The Holy Synod of Greece had appointed a commission of four bishops to study Freemasonry, and on October 12, 1933, the commission presented its initial findings. The Holy Synod also heard reports from the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens. After this, the Synod unanimously adopted several conclusions.
- “Freemasonry is not simply a philanthropic union or a philosophical school, but constitutes a mystagogical system which reminds us of the ancient heathen mystery-religions and cults—from which it descends and is their continuation and regeneration.”
- “Such a link between Freemasonry and the ancient idolatrous mysteries is also manifested by all that is enacted and performed at the initiations.”
- “Thus Freemasonry is, as granted, a mystery-religion, quite different, separate, and alien to the Christian faith.”
- “It is true that it may seem at first that Freemasonry can be reconciled with every other religion, because it is not interested directly in the religion to which its initiates belong. This is, however, explained by its syncretistic character and proves that in this point also it is an offspring and a continuation of ancient idolatrous mysteries which accepted for initiation worshippers of all gods. [...] This means that by masonic initiation, a Christian becomes a brother of the Muslim, the Buddhist, or any kind of rationalist, while the Christian not initiated in Freemasonry becomes to him an outsider.”
- “On the other hand, Freemasonry [...] shows itself in this sense to be in sharp contradiction with the Christian religion.”
- “Thus, the incompatible contradiction between Christianity and Freemasonry is quite clear. [...] [T]he Orthodox Catholic Church, maintaining in its integrity the treasure of Christian faith [has] proclaimed against it every time that the question of Freemasonry has been raised. Recently, the Inter-Orthodox Commission which met on Mount Athos and in which the representatives of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches took part, has characterized Freemasonry as a ‘false and anti-Christian system.’”
I’ve truncated all of those conclusions; click on the above link to read the full statement. The Holy Synod of Greece concluded:
Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism. Freemasonry accepts as its members not only Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. Consequently clergymen cannot be permitted to take part in this association. I consider as worthy of degradation every clergyman who does so. It is necessary to urge upon all who entered it without due thought and without examining what Freemasonry is, to sever all connections with it, for Christianity alone is the religion which teaches absolute truth and fulfills the religious and moral needs of men. Unanimously and with one voice all the Bishops of the Church of Greece have approved what was said, and we declare that all the faithful children of the Church must stand apart from Freemasonry…
This is an especially remarkable statement given the prevalence of Freemasonry in Greece, and its role in the Greek Revolution a century earlier. The Church of Greece didn’t (and doesn’t) have an American jurisdiction, but in 1949 the Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia in America (today’s OCA) formally affirmed the statement of the Church of Greece. In 1960, the Metropolia’s Synod reiterated that affirmation (click here to read the 1960 affirmation).
As far as I know, those three bodies — ROCOR, the Church of Greece, and the Russian Metropolia (OCA) are the only Orthodox Churches/jurisdictions that have formally condemned Freemasonry. That isn’t to say that it is acceptable among the other Orthodox Churches, but it’s also a somewhat sensitive issue, given how many Orthodox men have been Freemasons over the past century.
This is all by way of introduction. There’s quite a bit of material online about Orthodoxy and Freemasonry, but unsurprisingly, most of it focuses on condemning Freemasonry, rather than talking about history. If anyone out there has more details on the historical side of things, please let me know.
Years ago, on an online database, I came across an article titled “The Two Greek Youth” and published in the April 1823 issue of The Guardian, or Youth’s Religious Instructor, a short-lived American magazine. According to the article, Protestant missionaries brought these two boys over from Malta to study at the Cornwall School in Connecticut.
One of the boys, Anastasius Karavelles (age 11) was the son of an Orthodox priest. Anastasius was born at Zante (Zakynthos), but the family moved to Malta when he was a small child. The other boy, Photius Kavasales, was a 15-year-old orphan who had lost almost his entire family (parents and six siblings) to the plague in Smyrna nine years earlier. He lived in a hospital for a few years, and when he was about 11 he was sent to live with an uncle in Malta. This uncle gave the Protestant missionaries permission to bring Photius to America.
According to the magazine, the boys both knew Greek, Italian, and Maltese, and before starting classes at the Cornwall School, they planned to spent time in Salem, Mass. and study English. The brief magazine article closed with a fundraising plea: “It may be proper to add, that their only dependence for support is upon the charity of the public — it is hoped that a generous sympathy will be felt for them, not only upon their own account, but on account of their oppressed and bleeding nation.”
Ah, yes, that’s right — this was smack-dab in the middle of the Greek War of Independence. Malta had become a part of the British Empire in 1819, but even so, the war in Greece must have placed some part in the boys’ (and their guardians’) thinking.
In any event, I always wondered, what happened to those boys? Is it even possible to find out, nearly 200 years after the fact, what became of a couple of Greek foreign exchange students from the 1820s?
To my surprise, it was kind of ridiculously easy. Do a quick Google search for “Photius Kavasales,” and you’ll find an act of the United States Congress dated May 3, 1848, authorizing the change of Navy chaplain Kavasales’ name to “Photius Fisk.”
Why Fisk? Because a certain Rev. Pliny Fisk was young Photius’ patron. In 1891, a biography of Photius Kavasales Fisk was published, written by Lyman F. Hodge, and it’s chock-full of information, including a lengthy letter from Rev. Fisk himself. (The entire book is available on Google Books.)
Apparently, Rev. Fisk was working as a missionary at Malta when, in the summer of 1822, he ran into the teenage Photius and invited him to attend the mission’s Sunday School. Photius turned out to be a star student, and Fisk invited him to come to America and receive a full education. Photius’ uncle agreed, and everything was arranged.
As all this was happening, one of the local Orthodox priests, Fr. John Karavelles, asked about the possibility of sending his son Anastasius to America as well. Of course, the Protestants thought this was a fabulous idea, and both boys were signed up. Here’s how Lyman Hodge describes what happened next, in his biography of Photius:
Having been .associates and playmates from the time that Photius came to the island, the boys had become fast friends; and Mr. Fisk had promised that they should be kept together, and should be instructed in the same schools. But, in order to unite them in still closer and more endearing relationship to each other, they were made brothers, through the impressive ceremonies of the Greek Church. Clad in his sacerdotal robes, the priest, after an appropriate address to the two boys, bound them together with a girdle, and laying his sacred hands upon their heads, he solemnly pronounced them brothers, and declared that the bonds of relationship were indissoluble.
This rare and little known ceremony, called “adelphopoiesis,” is a sacramental rite to make two men brothers. That’s what the term literally means, and it’s how the ceremony has been used in the Orthodox Church from time immemorial. Not too long ago, a Yale historian came up with the idea that adelphopoiesis wasn’t actually about making men brothers, but rather that it was a rite of same-sex marriage. This theory had the lovely features of lacking any historical foundation whatsoever and simultaneously appealing to modern trends, so it’s gotten some unwarranted attention, but it’s been successfully rebutted by both Orthodox and secular scholars.
Anyway, Photius and Anastasius were made brothers, and they sailed for America. After completing their studies, both young men returned to Greece. Anastasius remained there, but Photius loved America and soon returned. He became a Congregationalist clergyman, eventually changed his name to Photius Fisk in honor of his patron, and had all kinds of interesting adventures that you can read about in Lyman Hodge’s book.
After Photius returned to America, he didn’t see Anastasius again for almost half a century. The two were briefly reunited when Photius visited Greece in 1871. Anastasius had done quite well for himself: according to the Biographical Record of the Alumni of Amherst College, after returning to Greece he had studied law, become a judge, and worked as director of telegraphs at Syra, Greece. After the visit, Anastasius wrote a touching letter to Photius:
I received with the greatest pleasure your portrait and the Park Street views. I am very sad that I have not been able to fulfil my promise to you to go to Athens. I am a slave to a miserable salary, and consequently not free to do according to my wishes. We are not brothers by necessity, but by our own choice and circumstances. We left Malta when boys together, and with the same hopes ventured the great ocean of chance to find a home and happiness. Fortunately, we are both safe from the danger of destitution in this life. We had the happiness to see each other, separated as we had been by oceans. We may see each other again,— God knows. The early impressions of our boyhood have been indelibly fixed upon our minds and hearts. We have loved each other truly and fraternally. My dear Photius, remember me ever, as I will remember you. If idolatry is a sin, I will commit that sin in remembering you always; and, seeing your portrait, I will love you sincerely to the end of my life.
Mrs. Karavelles and my children desire to unite with me in expressing their sincere thanks to you for the love you bear to me, and participate in this proffered love. Please write to me how long you intend to remain in Athens, and if you intend to come again to Syra.
I remain yours, truly and sincerely,
Photius died in February 1890, at the age of about 83. I’m not sure when Anastasius died, but it was before Photius; the aforementioned book on Amhearst College alumni was published in 1883, and Anastasius had already been dead for “several years.”
In its early years, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) went through priests like a newborn goes through diapers. In the dozen years from its founding in 1892 until 1904, the parish welcomed, and said goodbye to, no fewer than eight pastors. These included some (relatively) big names:
- Fr. Paisios Ferentinos, the first Greek priest in New York
- Fr. Kallinikos Dilveis, who went on to found the Greek church in Lowell, Mass. before returning to Greece and becoming a bishop
- Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, who moved to New York after founding the first church in Chicago
But none of those men stuck around for very long, and when Fr. Methodios Kourkoulis took charge of Holy Trinity in 1904, I doubt he was expected to fare any better. But he did — against all odds, Fr. Kourkoulis lasted a whopping 37 years, serving as pastor of Holy Trinity until his death in 1941.
That period, 1904 to 1941, witnessed remarkable, dramatic changes in America in general, and Orthodoxy in particular. When Fr. Kourkoulis arrived, the Greeks were in a state of disarray, with no real hierarchical oversight of any kind. By the time he died, nearly every Greek church in America was part of the Greek Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Athenagoras and a cadre of titular bishops.
I know very little about Fr. Kourkoulis himself. I mean, he was around for everything, but it’s hard to get a clear picture of what sort of person he was. I do know that he was born on the island of Mytilene in the Ottoman Empire in October 1861. He studied in Jerusalem, Athens, and Germany, and was ordained a priest at Lesbos in 1892. He spent the next dozen years as a teacher and missionary in his native Asia Minor, but also, apparently, did the same thing in Egypt, Sudan, Smyrna, and the Holy Land. And we’re not talking about a monastic priest, here — Fr. Kourkoulis was married and had at least two children.
In 1904, he was sent to New York to take charge of Holy Trinity. One writer said of Fr. Kourkoulis, “He laid the solid foundation of the community during the earlier years of his office.” Shortly before his death, the widowed Fr. Kourkoulis was elevated to archimandrite. And, as I said, he died in 1941.
He must have been well loved, considering the remarkable monument erected in his honor. The inscription reads, “For the valuable services rendered as a clergyman for 38 years – this monument is gratefully dedicated.” And it’s just an awesome monument, right? Does any Orthodox clergyman in America have a more striking tombstone?
Anyway, I’d love to learn more about Fr. Kourkoulis. If anyone reading this has more information, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.