Posts tagged Meletios Metaxakis
On October 19, I wrote about Archbishop Panteleimon of Neapolis (today’s Nablus), a bishop of the Jerusalem Patriarchate who was active in America in the 1920s. Since then, thanks to help from some readers, I’ve learned more about Abp Panteleimon’s later years in America. Here’s an update.
Abp Panteleimon seems to roughly parallel the Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi. Both came to America for specific, temporary purposes (Germanos to raise money, Panteleimon to attend an Episcopal Church conference and also to raise money). Both were initially quite popular and well-received. Both developed a liking for America, and decided to stick around indefinitely. Both attracted some parishes to join them. Germanos was opposed by the Syro-Arab leadership under the Russian Mission, as well as the later leadership of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Panteleimon was opposed by the Greek Archdiocese and the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And finally, both ultimately left the US in the early 1930s.
On March 12, 1924, Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory I wrote to Patriarch Damian of Jerusalem, explaining that Abp Panteleimon was meddling in the affairs of the Greek Archdiocese in America. Later that year, on September 5, the Greek Bishop Philaret of Chicago complained to his superior, Abp Alexander, that Panteleimon had come to Chicago and was “trespassing on canonical territory.” Shortly after this, in November, Panteleimon assisted the Antiochian Metropolitan Zacharias of Hauran in consecrating Abp Victor Abo-Assaly to be the first head of the new Antiochian Archdiocese.
For the rest of the 1920s, Panteleimon caused one problem after another for the leaders of the Greek Archdiocese, and successive Ecumenical Patriarchs asked Jerusalem to recall him. At one point, reference was made to a “dependency of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in New York”; this seems to refer to Panteleimon’s metochion (embassy church).
By the late ’20s, Abp Panteleimon was in Canada. On February 23, 1929, leaders of an Episcopal church in Montreal wrote to the Greek Abp Alexander:
We expect to proceed against the emissaries of Panteleimon at any moment, and hope to secure their punishment and deportation. Panteleimon himself will never again be permitted to enter this country, being now known to the Canadian Department of Immigration as an imposter and fraud one, who took part in securing large sums of money in Montreal by false pretenses.
The story wasn’t over, though. In 1930, both Abp Alexander and the Ecumenical Patriarch were trying to arrange for Panteleimon to leave North America. By November, the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate seem to have hit upon a solution: Panteleimon could be assigned to the Jerusalem Patriarchate’s metochion in Constantinople, thus removing him from America and offering him a comfortable alternative. Finally, in January of 1931, the Patriarch of Jerusalem recalled Panteleimon.
But in March, Panteleimon was still in America, apparently requesting funds in order to leave the country. The new Greek Archbishop, Athenagoras, worked with the Greek Ambassador, and they came up with the money: 100 British pounds, a small price to pay to get rid of what by 1931 was quite a migrane for the Greek Archdiocese.
At long last, on August 14, Abp Athenagoras sent a telegram to the Greek Ambassador, informing him that Panteleimon “is immediately departing from the United States.” Panteleimon initially planned to go, not to the Jerusalem Patriarchate, but to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. This switch was said to be for “personal reasons.” (Interestingly enough, the Patriarch of Alexandria was none other than former Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis, the founder of the Greek Archdiocese of America.) In the end, Panteleimon doesn’t seem to have actually gone to Egypt; as best I can tell, he returned to the Jerusalem Patriarchate. I can’t find any traces of him after 1931.
Most of this information comes from Paul Manolis’ three-volume collection of primary sources, The History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents. Unfortunately, most of the documents are in Greek, which I can’t read, so I’m relying mainly on the short English summaries provided by Manolis at the beginning of each document. The gist, however, is clear enough: Abp Panteleimon, who came to the US as a sort of religious ambassador / fundraiser, ended up contributing his share to the jurisdictional chaos that was American Orthodoxy in the 1920s.
It is often asserted that Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis invented the idea that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has authority to extend its jurisdiction beyond its traditional boundaries into the so-called “diaspora.” This is the Patriarchate’s current interpretation of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, which Meletios used in 1921-22 in order to justify his establishment of the Greek Archdiocese. He has received much criticism for this supposed invention.
Yet in 1908, when Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III (r. 1878-84, 1901-1912) issued a tomos transferring the Greek churches in America temporarily from his own jurisdiction to the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece, he wrote:
For, it is obvious that neither the Holy Church of Greece, having been granted by our Patriarchate the status of autocephality within strictly defined jurisdictional boundaries, nor any other Church or Patriarchate, could canonically extend its authority beyond the boundaries of its defined jurisdiction except our Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne; this both by virtue of the privilege accorded to it to ordain bishops in the barbarian lands which are beyond the defined limits of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and by virtue of its seniority to extend its ultimate protection to the said Churches in foreign territories.[*]
This is the same Patriarch Joachim who is supposed to have refused to send a Greek bishop to America because he recognized Russian authority there. The tomos was entitled “Concerning the Grant to the Most Holy Church of Greece of the privilege of canonical sovereign jurisdiction for the spiritual protection and supervision of all the Orthodox Greeks in the diaspora in Europe, America and other countries, excepting only the Orthodox Greek Church of Venice.”
Commentary: Posting this source should not be construed as agreement with its contents and/or canonical interpretations. This is simply meant to illumine the discussion on these two points:
- Whether Meletios Metaxakis invented this idea about the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1921-22.
- Whether Joachim really believed that America belonged to the Russians and not to himself.
[*]“O Patriarchikos kai Synodikos Tomos,” Ekklesiastike Alletheia 3 (1908): 183. Referenced in FitzGerald, Thomas E. The Orthodox Church. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1995, p. 134, note 13.
Also quoted in Trempelas, Panagiotis. The Autocephaly of the Metropolia in America. Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross School of Theology Press, 1974, pp. 25-26.
Few photos from the early 20th century history of American Orthodoxy are so rich in significance as this one. This was taken during the 1921 visit of then-deposed Abp. Meletios (Metxakis) of Athens to America, beginning the process of founding the Greek Archdiocese. He came traveling with Bp. Alexander (Demoglou), who would become the first Greek Archbishop of America. Meletios and Alexander did a remarkable amount of work toward uniting the Greek parishes in America, which were numerous by this time and deeply divided along political lines, with factions supporting either the Greek monarchy or the Venizelist democratizers. Meletios was later elected as Ecumenical Patriarch in November of this same year.
1921 also saw the arrival in America of Metr. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), who had previously been the Russian primate in America but had returned to Russia and now subsequently fled back to America as a refugee. His see was in Odessa, but with the encroachment of the Red Army, he abandoned it and was later popularly acclaimed as primate again in America (a status later denied him by Patriarch St. Tikhon, though possibly under duress from the Soviets). He and Abp. Alexander Nemolovsky flank Meletios. Alexander was the Russian primate in America at the time, though he would later resign in 1922 and return to Europe. In 1923, Platon was acclaimed primate.
To the right of Alexander stand Bp. Aftimios (Ofiesh), the successor to St. Raphael Hawaweeny in the see of Brooklyn as head of the Syro-Arab diocese under the Russians. By this time, the Syrians were already deeply divided, with a rogue faction being led by Metr. Germanos (Shehadi), a renegade bishop who had abandoned his own archdiocese in Lebanon. In 1927, with the imprimatur of Platon, Aftimios founded the American Orthodox Catholic Church, the first attempt at an autocephalous church for America. When Platon eventually distanced himself from the project, Aftimios repudiated the former’s authority and declared that he had had no right to be acclaimed primate, since he was so without the patriarch’s sanction.
Next to Aftimios is Archdeacon Vsevelod (Andronoff), who was the cathedral deacon at the Russian cathedral in New York.
Who G. Polis is (far left) is not clear, but he appears in several photographs from Meletios’s time in New York. He may have been a prominent local layman accompanying the bishop in his travels.
This photograph was found in the archives of the Library of Congress. As yet, there have been no official documents that have surfaced detailing what this 1921 meeting must have entailed. It might have been only a courtesy call, with a photo op at the end. Whatever it may have included, it’s at least clear who is regarded as the senior cleric among them (Meletios), despite his status at the time as having been deposed from the see of Athens. (Update: This last sentence should not be misconstrued to suggest that they regarded Meletios as having jurisdiction in America, just that they recognized him as canonical and, it would seem, as the first in seniority among them.)