Fr. Arsenios Davis & communion with Episcopalians

Archimandrite Arsenios Davis of Savannah, participating in the cornerstone-laying ceremony at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1911.

Archimandrite Arsenios Davis of Savannah, participating in the cornerstone-laying ceremony at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1911.

Officially, of course, the Orthodox Church has never been in communion with the Protestant Episcopal Church. Yes, there’s been some close dialogue over the years, and once upon a time even St. Raphael blessed his people to seek out Episcopal priests in extreme situations (though he soon rescinded that permission). Still, Orthodoxy has never entered into communion with the Episcopalians.


Unofficially, things occasionally get a little fuzzy. Case in point: Archimandrite Arsenios Davis, a Greek priest in the American South during the early 20th century. Davis (or Davids) was an Anglicized name; Fr. Arsenios was an ethnic Greek through-and-through. Born, most likely, in the mid-1860s, Davis held the title “priest of the Holy Orthodox Church of Savannah and Archimandrite of Southern Georgia and Northern Florida.” He was pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Savannah, Georgia from 1909 to 1916. After that, he spent three years as the priest of St. Nicholas in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The last traces I have of Davis are from 1922, when he visited Columbus, Georgia, and baptized some Greek children.

When he was the priest in Savannah, in 1911, Davis visited Brunswick, Georgia, to participate in a cornerstone-laying ceremony at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Brunswick had no Orthodox church, so a lot of the town’s Greeks attended St. Mark’s. From a local newspaper:

It is appropriate to dwell for a moment on the presence of the Greek Archimandrite. There are many Greeks in this city, who, having no church of their own communion, have for many years and especially during the rectorate of Mr. Boykin, sought and received the ministrations of the American [Episcopal] Church. They have been placed by their own clergy under the pastoral care of the rector, and are frequently seen in large numbers at the services of the Church. This has led to very close relations between the clergy and Bishop of our own Church with the Greek clergy, and it is no uncommon thing to see them at the greatest functions of either communion.

At the most recent celebration of Greek Independence Day, the newspaper continues, the Episcopal bishop was invited to “pontificate” at St. Paul’s Greek church in Savannah. Meanwhile, “at the last annual convention of the diocese of Georgia, Father Davis was present in the chancel at the opening service, and received the Blessed Sacrament at the hands of this Bishop.

At the cornerstone-laying ceremony, reports the paper,

Father Davis was present in his own vestments (as the accompanying photograph shows), and addressed his own people, urging them to more regular attendance at the services of the American Church. At the Holy Eucharist following he occupied a stall on the right hand of the rector, and after the Gospel advanced to the altar and read the Epistle and Gospel in Greek. Thus Georgia seems to be “setting the pace” for intercommunion with the Orthodox Church, not by talking or discussing, but by “doing things” in a quiet matter of course way.

This is the only example I’ve yet seen of an American Orthodox priest openly communing with Episcopalians.