The American tour of a Greek archbishop in 1893

Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante

As we’ve discussed several times in the past, in 1893, a Greek archbishop visited the United States. His name was Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante, and he came to America to attend the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. That’s where we last saw him; today, we’ll pick up Abp Dionysius’ trail after the Parliament concluded.

The Parliament ended in late September, 1893. In October, Abp Dionysius was present in Boston for the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop (Boston Globe, 10/6/1893). The next month, he went to St. Louis and was the guest of the Episcopal Bishop George Seymour, who happened to be a friend of the future Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. A couple of days after that, Abp Dionysius made his way back to Chicago, where he delivered a speech at an Episcopal Church conference. In fact, that speech is a good deal more interesting than anything Abp Dionysius said at the Parliament of Religions, and we’ll reprint the text in its entirety here. From the Galveston Daily News (11/12/1893):

My brethren in Jesus Christ: I consider myself again very happy in presenting myself before this most reverend council of the eminent divines and minsiters of your holy church. (You will excuse me if I make any mistakes in a language which is foreign to me, and in which of necessity I am obliged to speak before you.)

It is not the first time that a Greek archbishop approaches the Episcopal church and enters into the temples of this church, so eminent a member of the Christian body, a member of the Christian family. I am not the first and I think I shall not be the last. Twenty years ago another Greek archbishop, the archbishop of Syra, Alexander Lycurgus, was in London, when the Anglican clergymen and the archbishop of Canterbury solemnly and demonstratively received him and introduced him in the cathedral church of St. Paul, where the Greek archbishop, standing on the platform of the church, had the honor to give the blessing to the clergymen and laymen of the Anglican church.

By the opportunity of my invitation and my presence at the religious congress in this city, I have also had the great honor to present myself more than once in your churches, on your tribunes and platforms; and I am not only invited to this honor, but I also come self-invited and quite voluntarily, from the feelings which I have, with other bishops of Greece, toward your holy church. And I thank your dignified bishops, especially Henry C. Potter, bishop of New York, who not only opened to me, with brotherly feelings, the doors of the churches, but at the same time opened their arms and embraced me and conducted me to the most honorable places of your temples.

As self-invited also, and as voluntarily coming into the presence of this eminent council of your church, I speak before you to-day sincerely and with heart full of love, as a brother in Christ, as a friend in the love of the divinely inspired Gospel.

I approve and admire your practical work, your struggle and perseverance, and your great expenditures for the diffusion and propagation of Christian doctrine in every part of our globe; and lastly, for the pure moral Christian education, without distinction, to all members of Christian communities. We have such an instance and testimony in our country — the school established under the direction of the persons of happy memory, the Rev. Mr. Hill and Mrs. Hill, the Americans who sacrificed their lives while working incessantly for their lovely Greece. This school was the first girls’ school in our classic land after the freedom of Greece, which gave, nearly fifty years ago, many well brought up mothers to many families, rich and poor, without any distinction; and for that reason the entire Greek nation expresses her gratitude especially to your Christian association and generally to your American people. We regard not with indifference your church, but we look always to your work with the deepest interest, with hearts full of love, and also with hope for the future.

As regarding this hope for the future, it suffices me to repeat here before you, word for word, my address which I pronounced in Trinity church, at Boston, during the holy service of the consecration of the new Bishop Lawrence. “It is certainly,” I said, “a great pleasure for you to see a new bishop in your circle, but your pleasure can not be greater than the one I experience in being here and looking at your reverend persons and listening to the divine service of your church. For in your church, and in the eminent divines of that church, one can see concentrated the hopes of the union in the future of all the Christian churches in the world. Surely you are Protestants, but at the same time you are also Catholics. You are Protestants on the one hand; you only can embrace all the other Protestant bodies. And, on the other hand, as Catholics, you alone can command the attention of the Catholic churches. For wh ile you have protested, you alone have retained a great part of the rites of Catholicism, and you have not rejected all the traditions of the Catholic church.

“Hence your church, sister to the one on account of protesting, sister also to the other on account of the Catholic traditions, is the center toward which all the eminent persons of the distinctive churches will cast their eyes in the future, when, by the grace of God, they will decide to take steps for the union of all the Christian world into one flock, under one shepherd or pastor. In this pre-eminent idea and hope for the future, I embrace the new bishop and all the other bishops here present as my brethren in Christ. I embrace your church, the pen and ink of which anxiously awaits a bright page in the future history of the Christian religion.”

Needless to say, this sort of speech was music to the ears of the Episcopalians who heard it. Abp Dionysius expressed exactly the sort of role that so many Episcopalians envisioned for their Church: the great center towards which the Protestants and the “Catholics” (Orthodox and Roman) would ultimately move. It is quite possible that Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, then an Episcopal priest, was present at Abp Dionysius’ speech. Years later, Irvine expressly rejected the idea that Anglicanism was the platform for Christian unity, instead arguing that Christian unity was possible only in the Orthodox Church — the “Mother Church of Christendom,” as he called it, the true Church from which all others had deviated. That Abp Dionysius adopted, not the Irvinian position (which really is the Orthodox position), but rather the standard Anglo-Catholic one, is rather remarkable.

After the Episcopal conference in Chicago, Abp Dionysius traveled west, visiting San Francisco in early December (Los Angeles Times, 12/17/1893). It isn’t clear whether he met with the Russian Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, but he almost certainly encountered some of the hundreds of Orthodox Christians in the city.

On his return trip to Greece, Abp Dionysius went across the Pacific. On a train ride from Singapore to Calcutta, he happened to run into a Methodist bishop, who invited him to attend a Methodist conference in Calcutta. Abp Dionysius accepted. According to one American periodical, “Although he remarked privately that Bishop Thoburn was not a real bishop, he bestowed upon him when taking leave the apostolic kiss” (Congregationalist, 4/26/1894). At his host’s request, Abp Dionysius delighted the Methodists by delivering St. Paul’s Mars Hill sermon in its original Greek. (Christian Advocate, 4/5/1894)

Abp Dionysius made it home to Greece by the middle of 1894, but soon thereafter, late in the summer, he died. The New York Observer and Chronicle (1/24/1895) offered a fine obituary:

Some interesting details connected with the death of Archbishop Dionysios Latas of Zante, who died last August, and whose name is familiar to Americans since his visit to Chicago the year before, have very recently been sent to this country by Bishop Potter. Archbishop Latas was greatly beloved by the people of Zante. As a preacher he was eloquent and tireless; and in his work as a leader of the clergy he was most efficient, giving to the island good priests, and developing those whom he had found already there.

His own training was well rounded. Besides his native tongue he was a master of German, Italian and English. He was distinguished by his fine presence and sonorous voice and by the gentleness and sweetness of his manners. Though far past the prime of life he had still before him many years of work. A writer in one of the Athenian journals, referring to the time of the late earthquake in Zante, says: “I remember him when the island was shaking and the houses falling in ruins, going about in his carriage through the narrow roads of the settlements from morning till night, comforting and advising, cheering and inspiring confidence in divine help, the only hope of people in the perilous state of the hapless Zacynthians. And I saw him, as they grasped his hand, secretly giving material help along with his prayers.”

The funeral took place with great magnificence, and in the midst of great emotion and sorrow, the people all through the two days previous flocking in crowds to the central church of the town, where the body had been placed, and reverently kissing the hand of their beloved priest.

A British writer, in the journal Academy, offered these comments (reprinted in The Dial, 10/1/1894):

A greater breadth of thought — acquired probably from his long studies in Germany — brought him closer to the intellectual classes in modern Greece than most of his brethren. Whenever he preached in the Metropolitan Church of Athens, the building was closely packed. When it was my privilege to hear him, his restrained yet burning eloquence and the but half suppressed applause of his hearers brought to my remembrance the accounts that are extant of the effect of the preaching of the Golden-mouthed [Chrysostom] at Constantinople, fifteen centuries ago.

Archbishop Dionysius Latas was 58 when he died, and had served as bishop of Zante (Zakhynthos) for ten years.