L to R:  G. Polis, Bp. Alexander (Demoglou), Metr. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), Abp. Meletios (Metaxakis), Abp. Alexander (Nemolovsky), Bp. Aftimios (Ofiesh), Adn. Vsevolod (Andronoff)

L to R: G. Polis, Bp. Alexander (Demoglou), Metr. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), Abp. Meletios (Metaxakis), Abp. Alexander (Nemolovsky), Bp. Aftimios (Ofiesh), Adn. Vsevolod (Andronoff)

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.)

9 Replies to “Not Quite SCOBA”

  1. The library at the OCA Cathedral in NYC is named after Archdeacon Vsevelod (Andronoff). A picture of him much later in life and looking much more severe graces its door. It was critical in my conversion.

    I’m not sure if your comment that “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” – if this is to meant to imply the status of his ‘jurisdiction’ – stems from the photo itself. If the picture were taken at a church under Meletios and/or if he had just served Liturgy, then the above picture would make perfect sense even if he were considered the least of the bishops present.

    It would also be interesting to inquire as to the consecration dates of the bishops as the Russians tend to always order such things by seniority – if Meletios was the ‘eldest’ bishop by consecration he would be given the most senior position.

    Also, he had been (was still considered?) head of a local church, which would have been higher in rank than any other bishop present and thus given centrality, but his personal status as most senior cleric wouldn’t say anything about whether his ‘jurisdiction’ was seen as more senior in the US or wherever this photo was taken.

    The photo does say that these bishops seem not to have accepted Meletios’ deposition as making his canonicity in any way suspect. But, then again, St. Tikhon was fully vested in a photo with the Episcopal Bishop of Fond-du-Lac, WI with whom he was not in communion.

    Wonderful photo. Thanks for the resource.

  2. This snapshot in time (and in photography) I think clearly illustrates the chaotic nature of Orthodoxy in America in 1921. Two of these men were refugees (though of different sorts) — Meletios and Platon. It’s curious that Meletios is in mantiya while the others are in street clothes, though Adn. Vsevolod is fully vested.

    I don’t think that any of this implies anything in particular about “jurisdiction.” Alexander (Nemolovsky), the ranking local Russian primate, does not strike me as the sort who was trying to sort those kinds of things out. Even Platon, when he later took up the mantle, did not make any serious attempt to bring those outside his control under it.

    Given all this, it would not at all surprise me if Meletios were accepted as fully canonical. What a motley crew this is, though! Platon is probably some sort of monarchist, while Meletios is at least officially with the Venizelist democratizers. But they at least got along long enough for this photo to be shot. O to be a fly on that wall!

    Anyway, I’m not sure where this is. You can see that they are in some kind of chapel. My guess is that it is a sort of house chapel belonging to Nemolovsky, since the Greeks would not have been in New York long enough to set up such a thing.

    Incidentally, I dug this up while looking for material on Aftimios for my M.Div. thesis.

  3. Something I just noticed — Platon is wearing a white hat. Why is this? I know he did this after he became head of the Metropolia, which had split from the Moscow Patriarchate, but this photo was taken before that, when Abp Alexander Nemolovsky was still the ruling Russian bishop in America.

  4. He no doubt got the white hat when made Metropolitan of Kherson and Odessa, which was the diocese he fled before coming back to America.

  5. This wasn’t the first time Met. Meletios had a run in with the Russian bishops of America, as he recounted to the Holy Synod of Greece in 1920 concerning his visit to America:
    “The Patriarchal Tome of 1908 directed the immediate assignment of a Greek Bishop in America. However I learned in America that for a decade, diplomatic pressures prevented the implementation of the Patriarchal Tome. Upon my arrival, I waited for the Russian Bishop to come to me; however, he did not. In order to give him the opportunity, I sent Archimandrites Chrysostom and Alexander to him. He, in turn, reciprocated by sending an Archimandrite to visit me. I then realized that he expected me to visit him, thus recognizing him as the canonical Bishop in America, under whose jurisdiction the Greek Church ought to belong. I held a press conference with the Greek and English language newspapers, in which I quoted Orthodox teaching relative to lands outside the existing Patriarchal boundaries that canon law places them under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Thus, the Church in America is under the canonical authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and only by its authority can certain actions be taken. Our presence in America is by virtue of the permission granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Tome of 1908, rendering us the only canonical jurisdiction[emph. in the original] No other such permission has been granted. We are aware only that the Patriarchate of Antioch requested the permission of the Patriarchate to send the Bishop of Seleucia to America for the needs of the Syrian Orthodox. Prior to this, Efthymios, who was ordained by the Russians for the Syrians, but never recognized by the Patriarchate of Antioch, was abandoned by the Russians. This event reinforced our position regarding canonicity in America. Throughout our presence in America, the Russian Bishop attempted indirectly to impose this position of hegemony, yet never openly or officially.”

    The NY Times of Dec. 19, 1921 notes that Meletios had “arrived having been exiled as Metropolitan of Athens when King Constantine returned to the throne and Eleutherios Venizelos, friend of Meletios, resigned as premier and left Greece…Meletios preached in Greek. He said the veto placed by the Sublime Porte upon his election was invalid. He asserted the Treaty of Sevres specifically provided for the full religious autonomy of minorities within the Ottoman Empire, and that the former right of the Sublime Porte to overrule such an election had vanished with the signing of that treaty. Meletios expressed regret at the opposition of the Greek Government, along with the Turkish power, to his election. The prelate said he hoped the Greek Government would not insist upon interferring in this matter, in which the Greek clergy had full autonomy.”

    there is another article I hope to dig up where the Greek Government protests Met. Meletios’ reception at the White house, the Pope of Alexandria to fight validation of his election, etc. but to the point of the picture: some did recognize Meletios as EP:”The Patriarch elect, who has been recognized by both the Russian and Episcopal Churches here, will sail for Constantinople by way of Liverpool. This morning at 10 o’clock there will be a service for him in St. Nicholas Russian Cathedral, Ninety-Seventh Street, near Fifth Avenue, which will be attended by two Russian archbishops, three Episcopal bishops and a Russian, Serbian and Syrian bishop. Wednesday afternoon at 4 o’clock there will be a service in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on invitation of Bishop Manning.”

    Odd, the Churches who insist on the EP’s interpretation of canon 28 refused to recognize Meletios (other articles show telegrams were sent from Athens, Constantinople etc. informing him the election was void), but he was recognized by those bishops who he said had no jurisdiction.

  6. The report of the NY Times two days (Dec. 9, 1921) after Meletios’ election as EP, “The news of the elevation of Meletios to the highest place in the Eastern Church created a stir in Greek circles…” ends “This morning at 10 o’clock the Most Rev. Alexander, Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America, for the Russian Church, will formally call upon the Patriarch-elect and officially present the felicitations of the 100,000 Russians in the Western Hemisphere, who are his spiritual subjects.”

    The rest of the article contains an interesting take on his career:

    A supporter of former premier Venizelos, Archbishop Metaxakis was formerly a candidate for election as Bishop of Athens. His election, it is understood here, signifies a rupture in relations between the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Athens Government…..The Most Rev. Meletios Metaxakis, exiled Metropolitan of Athens….sat in his modest office in the residence of Bishop Alexander of Rodoshelow, acting bishop for the Greek Church in North and South America, at 140 East Seventy-second Street. He has been here in exile since last March. He was Metropolitan or Archbishop of Athens until Nov. 14, 1920, when the Venizelist Government fell, and another Metropolitan put in his place. This was Theocletos, who remains in this office.”
    [Actually, Arb. Theocletos had preceeded Meletios, and had been deposed by Venizelios, an act the entire hierachy of the CoG found “invalid and void.”]
    “In these eight months Meletios has organized the Greek churches of this country into a body independent of the See of Athens, with which they were formerly in direct connection. He labored in trying to stop another martyrdom of the Christians of Asia Minor. He has established a Greek theological seminary in this city…’Up to this moment I have not received official advice from the Synod,’….In 1918 he was elected Metropolitan of Athens. In that same year he made his first and only other visit to this country. He made the journey to organize the Greek churches in the United States and to place in charge the first Bishop. This was the Right Rev. Alexander of Rodosholow, although he has so far not been officially installed. It was predicted last evening that one of the first official acts of Meletios will be to appoint Alexander permanently as Bishop of North and South America.”
    [Rather odd that Bp. Alexander was not “officially installed.” The CoG had recalled him and defrocked him. Meletios here is saying that he had been organizing the Greeks as a jurisdiction independent of the CoG. Yet he had used the Tomos of 1908 as his justification. Now that authority of the CoG had declared his archepiscopate “null and void”]
    “The new Patriarch is only 50 years old…He was born on the Island of Crete. His father Nicholas, and his mother, Maria, still live there.
    In 1889 Meletios went to Jerusalem, where he served as a novice with the Patriarch of Antioch. In 1892 he was ordained a deacon in Damascus and appointed to the Metropolis of Amida in Mesopotamia. A year afterward he came to the theological seminary of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem as a protege of the Patriarch of Antioch. He received the title of Doctor of Divinity in 1900. For the following ten years he was secretary to the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
    In 1910 Meletius as elected unanimously as Metropolitan of Kition, in the Island of Cyprus….Aside from his Greek, he converses fluently and writes in French, Russian and Arabic. He speak little English.”

  7. On google books, I came across this:
    The Outlook, Volume 130 By Lyman Abbott, Ernest Hamlin Abbott, Hamilton Wright Mabie, Francis Rufus Bellamy

    It is only a snippet view, and doesn’t include the picture, but the label names the bishops in the same order as the picture, under the captions “Prelates of the Greek Catholic Church Who Participated at the Proclemation of Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis as Patriarch.” and under is “Archbishop of Athens, in the Greek Church, has been elected Patriarch by the Holy Synod of Constantinople. It is the highest ecclesiastical authority and corresponds to the college of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

  8. Found a better result for the above. No, it is not our picture.

    It is another one, of the exact same time.

    p. 9. After recouting (with some bias) the problems Meletios was having, it ends:

    “Though evidence of the strenght of the Patriarch-Elect’s position may be wanting in Constantinople and Athens, it is not wanting in America, where he has been residing for several months. He has been officially greeted as Patriarch by prelates of his own, the Russian and the American Episcopal Churches in their resepective cathedrals in the metropolis.”

    The only prelates “of his own” would be the defrocked Bp. Alexander.

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