“[I]n 1921 … without the knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Greek Archdiocese was founded in America.” (Patriarch Alexy I of Moscow to Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, March 17, 1970.)
Patriarch Alexy’s position has been shared by many people, particularly since the OCA was granted autocephaly by Moscow in 1970. But is it true? Was the Greek Archdiocese really established against the wishes of the Russian Orthodox Church? I had always assumed so, until I stumbed upon a letter from Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky — the Russian Archbishop of North America — to his Greek counterpart, Bishop (later Archbishop) Alexander Demoglou, dated November 11, 1921. The letter is included in Paul Manolis’ The History of the Greek Church of America in Acts and Documents, and I have reprinted it in full below:
Most Reverend and Dear Brother in Christ:
After taking counsel and acting accordance with our knowledge and understanding of the Canon Law, we herewith inform you that our interpretation of the duty confronting us in relation to the established intercommunion of our Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Communion, we look to you and your Canonical Superiors as the head in America, North and South, of the interests of the Hellenic members of our Holy Faith.
By this, you will therefore understand that until further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople, the Russian Mission established in America with jurisdiction known as the Archdiocese of the Aleutian Isles and North America, as well as our local American work known as “The American Orthodox Catholic Church” under the immediate direction of the Right Reverend Archimandrite Patrick [Mythen], who is under obedience to us as Archbishop, are in full fellowship and communion with you, as the only valid and canonical head of the Hellenic Mission (for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece).
We beg you to take note of this, our official communication and pray that together under God’s direction, we may work in fraternal harmony in the Apostolic responsibilities resting upon us.
Prayin[g] God’s blessing on you and your work, I am
Archbishop of the Aleutian Isles and North America
Abp Alexander’s letter proves that the leadership of the Russian Archdiocese of North America welcomed the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921. Contrary to Patriarch Alexy I and so many others, the Greek Archdiocese was founded with the “knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Now, Abp Alexander Nemolovsky may well have been wrong to have written that letter. His understanding of canon law certainly seems peculiar, since he simultaneously claims to be Archbishop of North America and acknowledges another bishop as having the same jurisdiction. Later Russian Church leaders were free to disagree with Abp Alexander’s original position, but we cannot deny that the head of the Russian Archdiocese welcomed the creation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921.
What does it mean? It means that we should be honest when we’re debating the sticky questions of territorial rights and so forth. Yes, the Russian Church had the original Orthodox presence on the North American continent. The Russian Church was the first to formally claim North America as its ecclesiastical territory, and it was the first to engage in large-scale missionary work on that territory (among Alaskan natives and Eastern Rite Catholics). But it is wrong to say that the Greek Archdiocese was founded contrary to the wishes of the Russian Church. In fact, I would turn the question around — and I’m very open to new information on this: can anyone point to a specific document, from the 1918-1922 period, in which a Russian Church leader declared the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese to be uncanonical?
And, just to pre-empt any questions about it — I point all this out not to argue for (or against) the agenda of this or that group in the Church, but only to correct the historical record. The Russian Archbishop of America welcomed the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese. This is a fact.
12 Replies to “The Russian Archbishop welcomes the Greek Archdiocese, 1921”
…he simultaneously claims to be Archbishop of North America and acknowledges another bishop as having the same jurisdiction.
That isn’t my read of this document. It seems as if Abp Alexander is welcoming Bishop (later Archbishop) Alexander Demoglou and the GOA “as the only valid and canonical head of the Hellenic Mission (for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece).” That is, he seems to be accepting Bp Alexander as filling a role similar to that held by St. Raphael for the Syrians and that had been envisioned for Arch. Sebastian Dabovich and the Serbs. Whether the Greeks understood or accepted this perspective is a different question, but Abp Alexander states twice in this short letter that Bp Alexander is being welcomed “as the head in America, North and South, of the interests of the Hellenic members of our Holy Faith”, and those members alone.
This document does undercut Patriarch Alexy I of Moscow’s contention that “without the knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Greek Archdiocese was founded in America”, but it does not prove that Abp Alexander or the ROC accepted a parallel, separate jurisdiction to itself under either the Church of Greece or the EP.
I’m having a hard time reading this your way. Raphael and Dabovich essentially functioned under the authority of the Russian archbishop (though both maintained ties to their home countries). Nemolovsky couldn’t have possibly thought that Demoglou was one of his vicars. Indeed, he makes specific reference to “further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople,” a clear indication he didn’t regard Demoglou as under his own authority. He knew that Demoglou represented a jurisdiction other than his own.
Further, the language of “in full fellowship and communion with you” is not the language of an archbishop writing to his vicar, but of one brother to another. This is not the letter of a superior to a subordinate.
It is clear that Nemolovsky is saying “the Greeks are yours” (which of course is uncanonical from the get-go), but he’s most certainly not saying, “they’re yours in the same sense that the Syrians belonged to Raphael or that the Serbs belonged to Dabovich.”
I wasn’t claiming that Abp Alexander was, in fact, claiming Bp Alexander for a subordinate, just that Abp Alexander was not simultaneously claiming to be Archbishop of North America while acknowledging another bishop as having the same jurisdiction. Bp Alexander’s mission was focused solely on Greeks and in this way his mission was recognized as being similar to the focused mission of the ethnic dioceses as envisioned by St. Tikhon.
More broadly, Abp Alexander was in no way ceding jurisdiction for North America to the EP or limiting the ROC to being the ethnic church for the Russian diaspora.
“It is clear that Nemolovsky is saying “the Greeks are yours” (which of course is uncanonical from the get-go), but he’s most certainly not saying, “they’re yours in the same sense that the Syrians belonged to Raphael or that the Serbs belonged to Dabovich.””
LOL. Not that he didn’t try.
“The Russian Archbishop of America welcomed the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese. This is a fact…..Contrary to Patriarch Alexy I and so many others, the Greek Archdiocese was founded with the “knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church.””
LOL. Not quite. For one, per Apostolic Canon 34, Archb. Alexander had no power to canonically approve the GOANSA. Some history and context:
Bishop Alexander was consecrated in 1909 the vicar bishop of AK, the first when that see had been seperated from the primacy of North America, which Archb. Platon held. Between Archb. Platon’s return to Russia and Archb. Evdokim’s arrival (July 1914-March 1915) Bishop Alexander administered the Archdiocese, and then was translated to Winnipeg as Bishop of Canada. When Archb. Evdokim returned to Russia for the All Russian Council of 1917, he named Bishop Alexander to administer the diocese pending Archb. Evdokim’s return. Archb. Evdokim, however, never returned.
It was during that period that Bishop Alexander first had contact with Domoglu’s “Canonical Superiors” so-called (evident below). Met. Meletios, having been appointed Metropolitan of Athens by his long time ally, Prime Minister Venizelos (who had deposed Archb. Theoktist) called the Church of Greece to create an Archdiocese for the Greek Orthodox in America, and named himself as its bishop (although he remained Archbishop of Athens, and resident there). Said “Archdiocese of America” was to govern “all Greek Orthodox of permanent and/or temporary residence in North or South America,” and to “be considered as one of the Dioceses of the Autocephalous Church of Greece.” He then set off to America, and on his return to Athens, appointed Alexander, the auxiliary bishop of Rodostolon as “synodical representative” to the new “archdiocese” which Meletios himself remaind “Exarch for America,” as well as Metropolitan of Athens (a far greater problem than the bishop of AK residing in SF). As such Meletios gave a speech to the CoG on his visit to America, on August 4, 1920, beginning with the claim that “During my visit to America, I was informed of the presence of a Russian bishop on American soil without the permission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” There is, of course, plenty to show that Bishop Alexander in New York wasn’t surprise: Meletios just didn’t want to deal with the implications, which it goes on to relate:
“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 THT HE EXPECTED ME TO VISIT HIM, THUS RECOGNIZING HIM AS THE CANONICAL BISHOP IN AMERICA, UNDER WHOSE WHOSE JURISDICTION THE GREEK CHURCH OUGHT TO BELONG. [ISA: Emphasis supplied] 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 [ISA: this is Met. Germonos Shehadi of Zahle, the rogue bishop who came during St. Raphael’s tenure and refused calls both in New York and Antioch/Damascus for him to return to his see] to America for the needs of the Syrian Orthodox. Prior to this, Efthymios [ISA: this is Aftimos Ofiesh], 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 PRESSENCE IN AMERICA, THE RUSSIAN BISHOP ATTEMPTED INDIRECTLY TO IMPOSE THIS POSITION OF HEGEMONY, YET NEVER OPENLY OR OFFICALLY.”
It would seem that Meletios got the message, although Bishop Alexander never sent it directly. So too with this letter in question: Meletios and the Greek Alexander were quite emphatic that only they had canonical authority in North America, not the Russians. As has been posted here, Alexander continued to insist the Russians were usurpers, even as he used this letter to “prove” his jurisdiction.
Note Arb. Alexander’s letter does not ask for recognition from the Greeks. Rather, he extends recognition to them. Although Domoglu would like to ignore the implication, it is clear enough (especially the further you see the context of the letter).
In the meantime, the Second All American Sobor was postponed by the delay of Archb. Platon’s return (the first Sobor having been convened in 1907 i.e. before Constantinople’s Tomos of 1908, by St. Archb. Tikhon, who named the future Met. Leonty (the time only a priest) as chairman, when St. Alexander Hotovitzky, who received more votes, was not able to take the position. It closed with Arcb. Tikhon’s announcement of his return to Russia). In 1919 Arcb. Evdokim was named to the see of Nizhny Novgorod, and the Second Sobor convened to elect Bishop Alexander as primate. The problem was, there was no statute nor procedure empowering the Metropolia to do so. The Sobor also regularized the relationship of the Antiochian diocese to the Russian diocese (Patriarch Gregory of Antioch had asked Patriarch Tikhon to recognize the Antaky jurisdiction over the Russy, but St. Tikhon said he would defer to the decision of his and St. Raphael’s successors in North America), and authorized the formation of a Ukrainian Church, and the consecration of Mardary and Fan Noli as bishops of the Serbians and Albanians respectively. The last part is interesting, as the offiical organ of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1908 both reported the Tomos of 1908-upon which Meletios and hence Alexander Domoglu based their “canonical” authority-and whines about the “Bishop of Alaska” setting up the “independent Albanian Orthodox Church of America and Canada,” i.e. the present Albanian Archdiocese of Boston (OCA) and the Mother Church of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania.
Since Pope Photios had been active in Palestine (where Meletios was until he was expelled. Photios had been selected by the Phanar twice for that throne, but Russian opposition denied it to him) and had worked with Meletios to resolve the Cyprus crisis of the day (where Meletios was consecrated bishop, and acting as agent of Venizelos), we can be sure that Meletios et alia were aware of the “presence of a Russian bishop on American soil without the permission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” who in fact was acting on the autority of the Russian Church in organizing the other ethnicities in North America, including the Greeks, into branches of their Archdiocese.
That Archdiocese was, however, thrown in turmoil. On November 20, 1920 Patriarch Tikhon issued Ukaze 362, which the Metropolia and ROCOR used as their “Tomos.” In pertinent part it says:
“With the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch [Tikhon], the Sacred Synod and the Higher Ecclesiastical Council united together, have deliberated concerning the necessity, supplementary to the instructions already given in the encyclical letter of His Holiness the Patriarch in case of the cessation of the activity of the diocesan councils, of giving to the diocesan bishops just such instructions in the event of the severance of relations between the diocese and the Higher Church Administration, or the cessation of the activity of the latter and, on the basis of past decisions, we have resolved:
By an encyclical letter in the name of His Holiness to give the following instructions to the diocesan bishops for their guidance in necessary cases:
1) In the event that the Holy Synod and the Higher Ecclesiastical Council for any reason whatever terminate their ecclesiastical administrative activity, the diocesan bishop, for instructions in directing his ministry and for the resolution of cases in accordance with rules which go back to the Higher Church Administration, turns directly to His Holiness the Patriarch or to that person or institution indicated by His Holiness the Patriarch.
2) In the event a diocese, in consequence of the movement of the war front, changes of state borders, etc., finds itself completely out of contact with the Higher Church Administration, or if the Higher Church Administration itself, headed by His Holiness the Patriarch, for any reason whatsoever ceases its activity, the diocesan bishop immediately enters into relations with the bishops of neighboring dioceses for the purpose of organizing a higher instance of ecclesiastical authority for several dioceses in similar conditions (in the form either of a temporary Higher Church government or a Metropolitan district, or anything else).
3) Care for the organization of a Higher Church Authority as the objective of an entire group of dioceses which find themselves in the position indicated in paragraph 2, is the indispensable obligation of the senior bishop of such a group.
4) In the case of the impossibility of establishing relations with bishops of neighboring dioceses, and until the organization of a higher instance of ecclesiastical authority, the diocesan bishop takes upon himself all the fullness of authority granted him by the canons of the Church, taking all measures for the ordering of Church life and, if it appear necessary, for the organization of the diocesan administration, in conformity with the conditions which have arisen, deciding all cases granted by the canons to episcopal authority, with the cooperation of existing organs of diocesan administration (the diocesan assembly, the diocesan council, et al, or those that are newly organized); in case of the impossibility of constituting the above indicated institutions, he is under his own recognizance.
5) In case the state of affairs indicated in paragraphs 2 and 4 takes on a protracted or even a permanent character, in particular with the impossibility for the bishop to benefit from the cooperation of the organs of the diocesan administration, by the most expedient means (in the sense of the establishment of ecclesiastical order) it is left to him to divide the diocese into several local dioceses, for which the diocesan bishop:
a) grants his right reverend vicar bishops, who now, in accordance with the Instruction, enjoy the rights of semi-independent bishops, all the rights of diocesan bishops, with the organization by them of administration in conformity to local conditions and resources;
b) institutes, by conciliar decision with the rest of the bishops of the diocese, as far as possible in all major cities of his own diocese, new episcopal Sees with the rights of semi-independent or independent bishops.
10) All measures taken in places in accordances with the present instruction, afterwards, in the event of the restoration of the central ecclesiastical authority, must be subject to the confirmation of the latter. ”
The last point is key: the Tomos of 1970 and the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007 restored the central ecclesiastical authority of all parties, subjecting all their actions, including Archb. Alexander’s letter here, to confirmation by the Patriarch of Moscow. As Patriarch Alexy (both I and II) confirmed the OCA account of its authority over North America, rather than Archb. Alexander’s recognition of the GOANSA (EVEN IF that was Archb. Alexander’s intention), rendering it null and void. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
ROCOR had already begun organizig itself in 1920 in Constantinople, and had appointed the former Archbishop Platon as Metropolitan of North America (and Met. Evology as Metropolitan of Western Europe). On March 26, 1921 Patriarch Tikhon approved this appointment. Archb. Alexander had been rushed to CO, suffering from TB the month before.
In November of that year Met. Platon and Archb. Alexander in the Russian at Karlovtsky which organized ROCOR, adding another layer of authority, as ROCOR claimed to govern the Russian Church, including the North American Diocese. We know that Met. Platon and Bishop Alexander were in New York the following month.
Met. Platon and Bishop Alexander’s positions were in a state of flux, given that the White had not yet been driven from all of Russia and the Soviet Union not yet formed, the not yet determined organization of ROCOR and the Russian Archdiocese of North America’s position in it, and not least Bishop Alexander’s health problem’s and his reorganizations (plural) of the properties of the Churches. He writes this letter in the center of this ambiguity, which only began to clear when he abruptly left North America for Europe (the canons do not look with favor at abandoning your see): 8 months after writing this to the Greek Alexander, he tendered his resignation to Met. Platon.
Just to get the complete picture, I’ll continue with Bishop Alexander’s career: he went to Athos, and attended Meletios infamous Synod of Constantinople 1922, as Patriarch Tikhon’s representative (appointed by Meletios?). He then joined up with Met. Evology, who had in the meantime broke with ROCOR (as had Met. Platon) and joined up to the EP, who had joined up with the “Living Church” as the Russian Church, causing trouble outside of the North American Archdiocese: “In April 1924, Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople, in the heat of the struggle of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon with the Living Church, appealed to our Patriarch with the request that he “immediately depart from leading the Church,” that he dissolve the Patriarchate and hand over the fullness of Church authority to the Living Church. In July of that same year, the Metropolitan of Athens went even further, requesting that the Russian clergy in Greece recognize the “synod” of the Living Church , threatening otherwise to suspend all of them from their priestly functions.”
(As Patriarch Tikhon had excommunicated anyone connected with the Living Church, you have your declaration of the GOANSA being uncanonical). After WWII Bishop Alexander of Brussels places his see under the Patriach of Moscow. But back to 1921 and his letter to the Greeks on the Greeks.
“After taking counsel and acting accordance with our knowledge and understanding of the Canon Law, we herewith inform you that our interpretation of the duty confronting us in relation to the established intercommunion of our Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Communion, we look to you and your Canonical Superiors as the head in America, North and South, of the interests of the Hellenic members of our Holy Faith…By this, you will therefore understand that until further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople, the Russian Mission….are in full fellowship and communion with you, as the only valid and canonical head of the Hellenic Mission (for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece).”
Communion. This the key to the letter, if one looks to the circumstances surrounding the time of its writing: at the time Bishop Alexander was the only one in communion with the Greek Alexander and his “canonical head” Meletios, without clear authority to do so. I could swear I’ve recounted the facts of that situation here (we need a search engine), but I’ll post a snippet to follow.
I’m not sure if you understand what I (and Fr. Andrew) said. The point is not whether Nemolovsky was a good bishop, or whether he was right in what he said to the Greek Archbishop. The point is that the sole head of the Russian Archdiocese in America in 1921 was not only aware of the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese, but openly welcomed it. You can parse the words however you want, and you’ll get no argument from me if you want to discredit Nemolovsky himself. But the broader point still stands: the Russian Archbishop welcomed the foundation of the GOA. I don’t see how, or why, you’d try to deny that.
Incidentally, this isn’t relevant to whether the foundation of the GOA was actually right or wrong, good or bad, canonical or uncanonical. Nemolovsky’s statements aren’t binding on anybody, really. But they do contradict the claim that the GOA was NOT known about and welcomed by the Russian Archdiocese in 1921.
I know I posted the full details somewhere, so I’ll just skim here:
Meletios and Alexader were in North America for Archb. Alexander’s letter of recognition because Venizelos had fallen from power, Archb. Theoctist returned to Athens, and Met. Meletios fled to America. The Holy Synod of Greece declared Meletios election as primate of Athens, and all his actions “null and void.” When he and Alexander refused to come back though recalled to Greece, they declared their attachment to Constantinople (though the 1908 Tomos clearly stated that they were subject to Athens). Defrocked and deposed, they were pursued in America by a bishop sent by the CoG to fetch them.
A little after our letter, the following article sums up the circumstances surrounding our letter:
“ELECTION OF MELETIOS CONTESTED IN GREECE; Congress of Ecumenic Patriarchates Declares It to Have Been Illegal.
January 1, 1922,
WASHINGTON, Dec. 31.-The Greek Legation today received an official telegram from Athens stating that the Congress of High Clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchates which met at Saloniki yesterday declared that the election of Meletios Metaxakis as Patriarch of the Greek Church was anti-canonical, imposed by force, and that it should not have taken place.
Meletios Metaxakis was received last week at the White House by President Harding. The cablegram received at the Greek Legation today, dated yesterday, follows:
“The Congress of High Clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchates convoked at Saloniki was opened today. Metropolitan Cyzique, one of the principal members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Synod, was elected President. The Assembled prelates set forth first, and with unanimit, the legality of the reunion. The congress is to declare that the election of Meletios Metaxakis is anti-canonical, imposed by force, and should be considered as not having taken place.
“The disturbances of Metaxakis in America, who says he is Patriarch, leading into error American opinion, have caused astonishment here, especially as the majority of the Holy Synod of Constantinople has already informed him by telegraph of the illegality of his election.
“The orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, with his clergy, sent to the legitimate majority of the Synod fo Constantinople the following telegram disavowing Metaxakis’ election:
“We were grieved to learn by your telegram the circumstances of the Patriarchal election at Constantinople, and the violations of the canons, imploring divine assistance in view of reestablishing peace in the Patriarchal Church in Alexandria and assuring peace in the Apostolic Church at Constantinople, which is in conformity with the holy canons mentioned in your telegram. The Church of Alexandria will consecrate all its efforts for the triumph of the right.’
“According to information received up to the present, the orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem will not recognize Metaxakis’ election.”
“Greek public opinion is badly impressed in learning of the honors paid to Metaxakis in America, and which he himself provokes by fooling the clery and taking advantage of the respect and sympathy toward the orthodox Church. The lawsuit against Metaxakis by the Holy Synod of the Greek Church for illegally occupying the seat of Athens and anti-canonical disturbances in America is fixed for Jan. 31.”
Hence the importance of Arch. Alexander’s recognition: none of the Greek Church was recognizing Meletios, and their were others who claimed to represent “the interests of the Hellenic members of our Holy Faith.” Given those circumstances, it would seem that Archb. Alexander indeed intended to make the Greek Alexander the Greek Raphael or Fan Noli.
“not sure if you understand what I (and Fr. Andrew) said. The point is not whether Nemolovsky was a good bishop, or whether he was right in what he said to the Greek Archbishop.”
If he said it.
As I’ve posted, this wasn’t the first run in of the parties. Meletios emphasized that the Russian Alexander never openly asserted what Patriarch Alexei did decades later, but Meletios’ plain words indicate that Meletios understood precisely what Patriarch Alexei-and those before and since them-have stated. Unless Meletios misunderstood the Russian Alexander’s actions-and I have no reason to believe he misunderstood-we must take Meletios’ word that Alexander was claiming that he himself was the only canonical bishop, and the Greeks in North America must submit to him, even if he didn’t come right out and say that. I’m not putting Patriarch Alexei’s words in Bishop Alexander’s mouth: Meletios did.
“The point is that the sole head of the Russian Archdiocese in America in 1921 was not only aware of the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese, but openly welcomed it.”
We know that he wasn’t the “sole head”: Met. Platon had already been named by the proto-ROCOR, confirmed by Patriarch St. Tikhon, and was back in America: a NY Times article of September 25, 1921 states he was residing in the US.
An article of January 15, 1922 have him leaving New York for Yugoslavia with the intent of organizing the Russian emigrees.
It would seem Bishop Alexander was left to administer North America, as its Metropolitan Platon was going back and forth between the Old and New Worlds in the beginnings of the Russian exile.
That Alexander welcomed the formation of the Greek Archdiocese we can admit, but to what purpose we dispute: he lacked the skills of organization that Meletios without doubt had. At the time the Greek parishes were as independent as their founding, and wouldn’t be united into a single jurisdiction until a decade after our letter. If Meletios was able to organize them into a unit, as Fan Noli was for the Albanians as authorized by the same synod as elected Alexander, so much the better: Meletios, so it seemed, had no where else to go since being repudiated by the CoG. Demoglu, I’m afraid, didn’t “represent a jurisdiction other than [Alexander’s] own.” Meletios and Alexander claimed to act on the terms of the Tomos of 1908, which gave jurisdiction of North America to the CoG (for the moment, not considering the canonicity of that): the CoG had deposed and defrocked Alexander and his “canonical head” Meletios. Things would get worse the coming month, in that the whole epsicopate of the CoG gathered (for the 1st time in their history, all the CoG bishops) to condemn Meletios to confinement to a monastery on a Greek isle. As I said, I posted here somewhere the play by play, but IIRC Alexander and Meletios had made their appeal to Constantinople and the question was whether Constnatinople would give them canonical cover or not. “He makes specific reference to “further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople,” because that would clear any question on the matter of Alexander and Meletios’ deposition: one can’t accept a deposed cleric. Had the unexpected election of Meletios as EP not happened, or if the declaration by the Holy Synod of Constantinople et alia invalidating his election stood, Alexander’s plan (if I may read his mind) to have Meletios to organize tthe Greeks, dependent on the Russian Archdiocese by default, may have worked.
“You can parse the words however you want,”
I parse them the way Meletios’ own words show he parsed them. Nothing more.
“and you’ll get no argument from me if you want to discredit Nemolovsky himself. But the broader point still stands: the Russian Archbishop welcomed the foundation of the GOA. I don’t see how, or why, you’d try to deny that.”
As Fr. Andrew says ” the language of “in full fellowship and communion with you” is not the language of an archbishop writing to his vicar, but of one brother to another. This is not the letter of a superior to a subordinate.” Both Alexander and Meletios, however, made it clear they viewed the Russian in North America as subordinate, and a usurper at that. Alexander’s letter to Meletios and Greek Alexander felt like a condescending, patronizing slap across their proud face, the very idea of assuming a position to recognize them, and the fact that at the time they had to accept it for what it was worth as no one else recognized them, no doubt driving the Russian’s point home, if not stated. His signature “Bishop of the Aleutians and North America” said it.
“Incidentally, this isn’t relevant to whether the foundation of the GOA was actually right or wrong, good or bad, canonical or uncanonical. Nemolovsky’s statements aren’t binding on anybody, really. But they do contradict the claim that the GOA was NOT known about and welcomed by the Russian Archdiocese in 1921.”
Again, if we were Protestants, that might be true. But we all belong to a hiearchal Church, and Archb. Alexander didn’t have the competance to welcome the GOA, as all his actions were subject to approval to of the central ecclesiastical authority, e.g. Patriarch Alexei, per St. Tikhon’s ukaze. Of course, the central ecclesiastical authority was pretty much in the dark about what Meletios was up to. Deposed and defrocked, the charter for the GOANSA approved by Constantinople’s synod wouldn’t come for months after this letter. And again, the interpretation orologion and I have advanced comports with Meletios’ own read of Bishop Alexander’s words and actions.
I just came across a near contemporary account (1922) of “The Greeks in America” which sums up the scattered circumstances of Bishop Alexander’s position, what he was doing, and what Archb. Alexander might have intended with his recognition:
“Supervision of the churches.—The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, constituting the highest authority in the Greek church, claimed and had the right of founding and supervising churches in America. It transferred, however, this right to the Holy Synod of Greece in 1908. Until recently, the whole matter of the organization and supervision of the Greek churches was ill-defined and neglected and Congregationalism reigned supreme in an episcopal church. Individuals organized a community, owned property and found a priest to carry on the religious services, as independent bodies. Some secured their priests through the patriarchate and others from the Synod of Greece. There have been cases of individuals unconnected with either, and without proper credentials of ordination, acting as priests, in isolated colonies or communities….
“Organization of the churches.—In 1918 Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis, then Metropolitan of Athens and Primate of Greece, accompanied by other prominent ecclesiastics, visited the United States. Plans were then laid down for the organization and systematization of the church work in America. The plan provided for an archbishop, probably with seat at Washington, D.C., and two or three bishops with New York, Chicago, Lowell or San Francisco as their respective seats. There were financial and other difficulties in carrying it out, the main one being how to harmonize the right of jurisdiction and administration by the church of Greece, an established and state church, over congregations constituted as corporate bodies and holding property in accordance with the laws of the United States. Ultimately there will doubtless be an Independent Greek Orthodox Church of America as in various patriarchates, and the national churches of Greece, Rumania, etc.
“Pending further settlement of the organization of the churches, Archbishop Meletios left Bishop Alexander Rodostolou as delegate of the Holy Synod of Greece, to supervise the Greek churches in America. The office of the delegation is at 140 E. 72nd Street, New York. He has visited various Greek communities and is completing plans for the better organization of the work….
“Politics and churches.—Politics continue to have their factional influence even in ecclesiastical matters. The leaders of the Royalists, or the Constantine Party, characterized the delegation as Venizelist and tried to divide the churches on political grounds. Jn general, however the communities were united in acknowledging and respecting the authority of the delegation, in spite of the political views of the individuals, priests, or layman until June, 1921. The fall of Venizelos on Nov. 14, 1920 had far reaching consequences in the church both in Greece and America. The revolutionary government of Venizelos started at Salonica in 1917. The Holy Synod of Greece under the presidency of Metropolitan Theocletos, at the instigation of the Court anathematized Venizelos, not*ior*any spiritual offense or heresy but to discredit him and his act in the eyes of the people. After the exile of Constantine to Switzerland, Venizelos returned to Athens. A special ecclesiastical council of bishops, including those of the new Grecian territories, under the presidency of archbishop Gennadios, Metropolitan of Salonica, found Theocletos and some of his associates guilty in the matter of the anathema, unfrocked them and sent them to monasteries in Crete and elsewhere. Later Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis, Metropolitan of Kition, Cyprus, a Cretan, was called to Athens as Metropolitan and Primate of Greece. On Venizelos’ fall (Nov. 1920) the new Greek Government asked Archbishop Meletios to vacate his palace and seat claiming his appointment was null and void. He yielded, protesting against the interference of the state in affairs of the church, and claiming to be the lawful Metropolitan of Athens. The government restored Theocletos to the Metropolitan throne, ignoring the former action of the ecclesiastical council. Bishop Alexander Rodostolou in America refused to recognize the authority of the Synod and Metropolitan, as they were still under ecclesiastical discipline. The Synod charged him with disloyalty and summoned him to Greece. He refused to obey, saying he would acknowledge fealty only to the Patriarch of Constantinople, the highest authority in the church. The Synod then appointed Germanos Trojanos, bishop of Sparta and Monemvasia, as Synodical Exarch in North and South America. He reached New York in June, 1921. His office is at 12 W. 76th Street, New York City. A part of the priests and communities acknowledge Rodostolou and a part Trojanos as bishop. Each claims a majority. In December, 1921 a majority acknowledged Bishop Rodostolou. The breach widens, churches and communities are divided and the effect is depressing on the spiritual life of the church. In April, 1921, Archbishop Meletios came to America. He supported Rodostolou. The patriarchate at Constantinople recognized him as head of the Greek Church in America and refused to recognize the Synod in Greece. In November, 1921, Meletios was elected Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch. The Royalists or Constantinists refuse to recognize the election as legal. The Venizelists insist it was the most regular patriarchal election in years, and whatever dissensions there were among the bishops, the people of Constantinople were unanimous. The Synod of Greece besides refusing recognition of Meletios charged him with usurpation of the Metropolitan throne of Athens, and starting schism in the churches in America. He was tried in his absence and condemned to be unfrocked and shut up in a monastery in Zanta. Meletios regards his condemnation as a political move by the Court and that the Synod was illegally composed of unfrocked clergymen.
It might be added, that the Ecumenical Throne had been vacant since the end of WWI:
“THE play of politics finally led, just after the armistice in 1918, to the removal of Germanos V., who was suppsed to be unfavorable to the Allies. Dorotheos, Metropolitan Bishop of Brousa, was selected as the locum teiifns, the election of a regular Patriarch being postponed to a more favorable time. When, in March of 1921, Dorotheos died while on a visit to Eng
land, the Metropolitan Nicholas of Caesarea was chosen in his place. There was a growing feeling that the time had come to hold the regular election ; but several deterring features caused it to be postponed till December last.
“THE Patriarch, ever since the conquest by Mohammed II., has been a civil functionary of the Ottoman Government, and the civil head of all the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire. But since the armistice, nobody has been able with approximate exactness to define what is and what is not the Ottoman Empire.
Another trouble in the election was to bring about a general agreement among the Greeks. Church and State are so inextricably united in the Hellenic mind that party politics necessarily have their influence inside the church. Royalists and Venizelists find it very hard, if not impossible, to agree on ecclesiastical matters, and feeling is bound to run high when such a matter as a Patriarchal election is concerned. The Greek of Constantinople is as much a Hellene as is the Greek of Athens; and while he has no part in the government of Greece, he considers this as merely because he is still ” unredeemed,” and that justifies his being as strong a Venizelist or Royalist as if he were in Free Greece. Nor has the Greek of Athens any right to take part in the election of a Patriarch, who is an Ottoman functionary and has jurisdiction only within the Ottoman dominion ; but your Athens Greek is just as much interested as if he were under the Patriarchal See.
The strange mental somersault by which, after the armistice, the Hellenic people dropped their pilot, Venizelos, and recalled Constantine to power, had the effect of a wet blanket on the Greeks of Constantinople. The latter had banked on Venizelos to continue the work of political redemption till the two great dreams of the past four hundred and fifty years should come true—the Unfinished Liturgy in Saint Sophia should be resumed, and the Closed Gate at the Patriarchate at Phanar on the Golden Horn, closed in sign of mourning at the hanging of the Patriarch Gregory V., in 1821, should be opened once more with rejoicing. Almost to a man, the Greeks of Constantinople are Venizelists. It is natural that in choosing a Patriarch, they should wish one of the party; while this would be the very thing the Hellenic Government would wish to avoid.
[THIS btw is interesting, as the letter refers to the “citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece” but nothing on Ottoman subjects]
“The choice of a Patriarch was twice postponed, after it had been decided upon; and finally the majority of the electors and their friends became impatient of further delays and made up their minds that the election should be held. December 8th (Nov. 25h, old style) was fixed for the event. The Hellenic Government, though utterly incompetent legally to interfere in ecclesiastical matters outside of Greece, made a last effort by forbidding any of the Bishops in regions occupied by Greece to be present. This, however, could not prevent the holding of the election.
“The law, as laid down by Mohammed the Conqueror, is that this Mixed Council shall nominate three candidates, who shall then be voted on by the eligible Metropolitans ; and this election shall be submitted to the Sultan for his sanction. Should he wish to cancel the election, he may indicate that one of the other two candidates must be elected instead. The further stipulation has been, that the candidates shall always be subjects of the Ottoman Empire.
“It was understood that the favorites among whom the choice lay were the Metropolitans of Amasia, Trebizond. Cacsarca, Smyrna, and Athens, but that the second had not much chance because he was a Royalist sympathizer, and the last-named had no chance because he was a Hellenic subject.
[It would seem that disqualified Meletios in the last election, as he was not an Ottoman subject, as the source the turns to:]
“To add to the illegality of choosing a Hellenic subject as Patriarch, the election was never submitted to the Sultan for confirmation. This is the perfectly natural consequence of the anomalous state of affairs in the city of Constantinple today, where every Greek church flies over it the blue-andwhite flag of Greece, and the Patriarchate has long had no relations at all with the Sublime Porte. Under the martial law control of the Allied Powers, the Greeks can do about as they please in such matters.
“Two steps remained to be taken by the enemies of Meletios. During the same month of December, by order of the Hellenic Government a, so-called Synod was held in Salonica, attended by twenty-nine Metropolitan Bishops, who had also the proxies of nine others; and this Synod declared the election of Meletios illegal, null and void. Among the twenty-nine were the seven who had refused to attend the Holy Synod in Constantinople, and one of these was the chairman of the meeting. Very naturally, the Patriarchate regards this Salonica gathering as utterly unauthorized, and pays no attention to it.
“The other step was taken by the re-enthroned Metropolitan of Athens, in revenge for his own displacement years before by Meletios. On the basis of a message from a bishop in America, he declared that the said Meletios had been guilty of schism and of unlawful communion with heretics (meaning by this the American Episcopal Church), and was therefore condemned to anathematization and to spend the rest of his life in a monastery on one of the Greek islands. This, however, had no effect on the Patriarch-elect, even if it warmed the heart of Theoclitus. Inasmuch as the Hellenic Government has had no chance to seize the person of Meletios, the sentence cannot be carried out.
Consider now the abnormal and uncomfortable position of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Meletios IV. He is a man without a country—condemned to anathema and incarceration in his own land, not only not recogized but cordially hated in the Ottoman dominions. His election was full of irregularities. He is the civil and spiritual head of a large body of subjects of the Turkish Empire, and yet not a subject himself. By the autocephalous Church of Greece, he is sentenced to pass the rest of his life in a monastery prison; yet by his own constituency in Constantinople, he is so adored that beneath his photograph in the official organ of the Patriarchate appeared the words: ” Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”…Furthermore, the Angora government of Mustafa Kemal is doing its best to nullify his authority by setting up what it calls the “Turkish Orthodox Church,” under the present leadership of a certain Papa Eftim, a priest from the Caesarea region, and requiring the adherence of all Greeks who are Turkish subjects within the Nationalist domains, and insisting that the language of the new body shall be Turkish.
As long as the Allied forces occupy Constantinople, the Patriarch Meletios IV. is safe; and his strong sense of duty will probably make him stick to his post despite all his troubles. Should the Turkish Government regain absolute control of the city, there is little doubt they would wish to hang him, as they did his predecessor of a hundred years ago. Should the Hellenic dream come true, and the Hellenic Government secure control of Constantinople, he would at least be banished to a monastery on a distant island. His one safety seems to be in the continuance of the present situation until the Orthodox Church can become reunited and as a whole recognize his right to the post.”
So to put the letter of Archb. Alexander’s letter into perspective: He could have recognized Met. Germanos. He could have taken notice of the actions of the Church of Greece. He was not bound to await action of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a vacant throne to which Bp. Alexander had appealed. Given the jurisdictional disunity of both the Church of Greece and the Patriachate of Constantinople, we cannot conclude that Archb. Alexander “knew that Demoglou represented a jurisdiction other than his own.” Perhaps “Nemolovsky couldn’t have possibly thought that Demoglou was one of his vicars.” It would seem, however, that he intended to co-opt him as one: the status of the Greek jurisdiction of Met. Meletios and Bp. Alexander, at the time of this letter, resembles that of the Romanian and Bulgarian Episcopate at the time of their incorporation into the OCA. Given Archb. Alexander’s designation of Bp. Alexander “as the only valid and canonical head of the Hellenic Mission (for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece)” (despite what the CoG was saying)-far less than the universal claims of Bp. Alexander (as we know from his latter correspondence to Aftimos) and Met. Meletios (as know from this report to the CoG, his press releases, etc.)-it is clear that he was attempting to take advantage of the situation (much like ROCOR’s until the Act of Canonical Communion)) to bring the Greeks into his fold.
I should be clear: I honestly do not know, for sure, what Abp Alexander Nemolovsky was thinking when he wrote that letter. Nemolovsky was not exactly the most effective bishop in the world. He, like the GOA leaders in 1921, was in a rather precarious position vis-a-vis his Mother Church. It is possible that my interpretation of Nemolovsky’s intent is wrong. To better understand that, it would help to learn more about the interactions between the Russian Archdiocese and the GOA in that early period. I will try to do further research and publish what I find.
“I should be clear: I honestly do not know, for sure, what Abp Alexander Nemolovsky was thinking when he wrote that letter.”
I think odds are that Abp. Alexander didn’t know for sure what he was thinking when he wrote it. Given that he was thrust into the forefront by default, evidenlty had serious health issues, and was dealing with the collapse of the world that basically had existed for the last half millenium, even the best bishop would have found maneuvering events difficult.
I think Himka sums up the problems we have dealing with these sources. Speaking of writig the history of Orthodoxy in Galicia in the Austria Hungarian Empire, he remaks:
“But as the book developed, another, much more “Rankean” level emerged. I realiazed that in addressing my more theoretically informed questions, I was telling a story that was virutally unknown. As I put together fragmants from church archives in Rome, Lviv, and Przemsyl, from government archives in Vienna and Lviv, and from the Ruthenian and Polish press, I saw that a picture was coming into focus that perhaps no one had seen in all its complexity before
I had before me the Vatican documents that the archbishop of Lviv had never seen, the internal eparchial chancery documents that the political authorities had never been able to consult, the letters of ministers and dispatches of ambassadors and nuncios that were never shown to the people whose fate they decided, the articles in provincial newspapers that important decision makers could not be bothered about.”
Archbishop Alexander was at the Pan-Orthodox Congress of 1923 in Constantinople by invitation of Patriarch Metaxakis, and though he was no longer Archbishop in America he proposed that the Orthodox of America be under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that the bishops only be of Russian and Greek speakers, while those “of Antioch and Jerusalem depart.” The only reason he wanted to keep Russian bishops was because nationalist feelings among Russians in America were high, being loyal to Patriarch Tikhon. But it is interesting that all those present at the Congress declared that “the Ecumenical Patriarch, from time immemorial…possessed canonically the right of spiritual jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in the diaspora.”
“But it is interesting that all those present at the Congress declared that “the Ecumenical Patriarch, from time immemorial…possessed canonically the right of spiritual jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in the diaspora.””
LOL. Given the list of those present, not really. St. Nikolai Velimirovich writes about hearing this from Meletios as if it were (and it was) a novelty. I’ve yet to see any canonical literature prior to 1907 speaking about a “diaspora,” let alone putting the EP in charge of it.
Comments are closed.