Freemasonry and the Orthodox Church


Masonic lodge in Greece, with seats reminiscent of monastery “leaners.”

If you search the internet for Orthodoxy and Freemasonry, most of what you’ll find will be condemnations of the movement. You might also find my 2012 article on Freemasonry in American Orthodox history. But, as far as I know, there hasn’t been much work done to document the basic history of Orthodoxy and its interaction with the Masonic movement.

Freemasonry seems to have made its first appearance in the Greek Orthodox world in the 1740s. In 1744, a masonic lodge was founded in Constantinople, and a few years later, Ecumenical Patriarch Photius II condemned the movement in one or more patriarchal encyclicals. Some time after this, a prominent teacher in Cyprus named Ephraim the Athenian (who was later Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1766-70) preached against Freemasonry, calling it a “new infidel faith.” In 1793, Ecumenical Patriarch Neophytus VII listed the Freemasons alongside other “organs of perfect impiety and atheism” in an encyclical.

Despite this resistance, Freemasonry spread in the Greek world. Many of the key figures in the Greek War of Independence were Masons, including some bishops and priests. The Masonic-adjacent (spinoff?) secret society Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends) was organized in 1814 and served as the engine of the revolution that was launched seven years later. Some have claimed that Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V — a canonized saint — was a Freemason, although I don’t know if there is any actual evidence for this.

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Tsar Alexander I

Simultaneously, Freemasonry spread in Russia as well, emerging as a trend among the upper classes beginning in the 1770s. At least some clergy, and perhaps a few bishops, were Masons in late 18th and early 19th century Russia. In the wake of the French Revolution, Catherine the Great banned Freemasonry in 1794, concerned about its potential to subvert the authority of the monarchy. When Catherine’s grandson Alexander took the throne in 1801, he reversed the imperial policy, becoming a protector of Freemasonry, allowing the movement to grow and flourish, and surrounding himself with Masonic advisors.

One source (Jean-François Var, cited at the end of this article) claims that St Philaret of Moscow was a Freemason — a rather shocking claim, and one that does not hold up under scrutiny. Var’s source for this is a French text by Tatiana Bakounine, Répertoire biographique des Francs-Maçons russes, originally published in 1940 and then again in 1967. I haven’t read this source (it’s hard to find), but as I understand it, Bakounine didn’t necessarily have official membership lists — she was trying to reconstruct a partial list of Masons, more than a century after the fact. It’s possible that this is a case of guilt by association — many Freemasons were involved in the Russian Bible Society (including the Ober Procurator of the Holy Synod, Prince Alexander Golitsyn), and St Philaret was also deeply involved in the Bible Society in the late 1810s and early 1820s. (St Philaret’s involvement was rooted in his commitment to the translation of the Bible, and the teaching of Orthodoxy, in the vernacular — a commitment that lasted throughout his life and eventually led to the production of an official translation of the Bible in Russian, blessed by the Holy Synod.)

On the other hand, there’s an enormous body of evidence that St Philaret was not a Mason and, in fact, was very much opposed to Freemasonry. His spiritual father, Fr Anthony Medvedev (a disciple of St Seraphim of Sarov) was himself an outspoken opponent of Freemasonry. St Philaret consistently opposed the occult and external influences and advocated for the sacrament of confession and loyalty to civil authorities.

In 1822, Tsar Alexander I did an about-face and banned Freemasonry in the Russian Empire. This coincided with a broader shift in Alexander’s outlook and behavior, as he deepened his commitment to the Orthodox faith in the years leading up to his (purported) death in 1825. It also coincided with the rise of St Philaret, who became Archbishop of Moscow in 1821 and authored Alexander’s secret will, which passed over the Tsar’s presumptive heir (his brother Constantine) to give the throne to his younger brother Nicholas. If anything, the evidence we have might suggest that St Philaret could have played a role in the banning of Freemasonry in Russia. There is no reasonable basis to suggest that he was a Mason or even a sympathizer.

(Regarding St Philaret, I am indebted to Professor Nicholas Racheotes, the author of the excellent The Life and Thought of Filaret Drozdov, 1782–1867: The Thorny Path to Sainthood, who graciously answered my questions via email.)

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Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante

Throughout the 19th century, following the example of Greece, many Orthodox-majority countries gained their independence, and as a general rule, Freemasonry played an important role. Jean-François Var writes, “Within those politically and nationally committed Freemasonries, we can find priests, monks, even bishops, as members. So Freemasonry and Orthodox Churches closely cooperated in the fight for national freedom.”

While many of the Greek Independence leaders were Masons, the movement was not universally accepted in Greece. A controversy over Freemasonry erupted on the island of Zakynthos (Zante) in the 1880s. Archbishop Dionysius of Zante was one of the most prominent and respected bishops in the Church of Greece, and several years later, he would be the first Greek Orthodox bishop to set foot in the Western Hemisphere when he came to America to attend the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Dionysius published a magazine and would answer questions from his readers. In 1884, someone sent in a question about Freemasonry. Dionysius’s answer was cautious: he didn’t know much about Freemasonry but had concerns about their secrecy. He’d met plenty of Masons in various countries and they told him that their only focus was on doing good, but Dionysius countered that we have the Church for that and we don’t need a parallel organization like Freemasonry. However, Dionysius concluded that he couldn’t say anything too definitive about it because he lacked sufficient knowledge and had heard both positives and negatives.

A few years later, one of Dionysius’s experienced priests, Fr Ioannis Stratis, became a Mason, which caused a great scandal among the faithful. On May 9, 1887, Dionysius called a meeting of his clergy to discuss the crisis, and all agreed that Freemasonry is an anti-Christian sect, completely incompatible with Orthodoxy. Dionysius demanded that the Fr Stratis repent, withdraw his Masonic oath, and ask the Church for forgiveness. Stratis refused, saying that he was a Mason and would remain a Mason. The next day, Dionysius preached a fiery anti-Masonic homily and condemned any priest who joined a Masonic Lodge. Some newspapers criticized the archbishop and defended Stratis, who was then summoned before the Holy Synod of Athens. There, Stratis finally relented and renounced his Masonic oath, and the Synod declared him to be forgiven and reinstated. Stratis returned to Zante, but Archbishop Dionysius doubted his sincerity, and all of the island’s clergy refused to concelebrate with him. Dionysius then banned Stratis from serving in his diocese.

A year later, May 28, 1888, Dionysius was called before the Holy Synod, which urged him to lift his ban on Stratis. Dionysius replied that he would prefer to have his hands cut off and be hanged. But while Dionysius was away on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy Synod reinstated Stratis themselves.

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President Truman and Archbishop Athenagoras, February 1947

By the turn of the twentieth century, Freemasonry had made deeper inroads into the Orthodox Church. In 1900, Photios Peroglou became Patriarch of Alexandria. The next year, Joachim III — known as “the Magnificent” — was elected to his second term as Ecumenical Patriarch. According to the Grand Lodge of Greece, both men were Freemasons. In his own day, some were perplexed by Joachim’s mixed messages about Freemasonry, which begin to make more sense in light of the evidence that he himself was a Mason.

And this was just the tip of the iceberg: among the many Mason-bishops in the last century were Ecumenical Patriarch Basil III (1925-29), Archbishop Chrysanthus of Athens (1938-41), Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem (1957-80), and, most famously, Ecumenical Patriarchs Meletios Metaxakis (1921-23; also Patriarch of Alexandria from 1926-35) and Athenagoras Spyrou (1948-72). Meletios joined the Harmony Lodge in Constantinople in March of 1910, just before leaving for Cyprus, where he had been elected bishop of Kition. Athenagoras — who, when Meletios was metropolitan of Athens, served as his archdeacon — went on to have a well-known friendship with another Freemason, U.S. President Harry Truman.

In the United States, Freemasonry was also rampant among the Orthodox immigrants, many of whom innocently viewed it as a networking tool that could help them become accepted in American society. Some priests and even bishops joined the Masonic ranks. Most notable is Athenagoras, who, before becoming Ecumenical Patriarch, was the Greek Archbishop of North and South America from 1930 to 1948. Longtime Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir (1936-66) was also a Mason, and Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh was widely accused of being one, although this has not been definitively confirmed.

On the other hand, American saints like Nicholai Velimirovich and Raphael Hawaweeny strongly opposed Freemasonry. In his 1911 letter against the Episcopal Church, St Raphael accused the Anglicans of being overrun by Masonic clergy and bishops. In 1914 — a year before St Raphael’s death — he wrote to Patriarch Gregory of Antioch to ask about the visiting Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi: rumor had reached Raphael that Germanos was a Mason; was it true? Patriarch Gregory responded, “We questioned Metropolitan Germanos and he denied the charge… But if he goes to the United States, the land of freedom, we may discover his true nature.” The same year, Aftimios Ofiesh, facing allegations of Masonic membership, made a public renunciation of Freemasonry to St Raphael. After Raphael’s death in 1915, Germanos and Aftimios emerged as bitter rivals, vying for control over the Syrian/Antiochian parishes.

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As the twentieth century wore on, some synods of bishops turned their attention to the problem of Freemasonry. The ROCOR Synod of Bishops, led by Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, officially condemned it in 1932. At about the same time, the Church of Greece appointed a commission of four bishops to study the movement, and on October 12, 1933, the commission presented its initial findings. The Holy Synod also heard reports from the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens. After this, the Synod unanimously adopted several conclusions. Here are some selected bits:

  1. “Freemasonry is not simply a philanthropic union or a philosophical school, but constitutes a mystagogical system which reminds us of the ancient heathen mystery-religions and cults—from which it descends and is their continuation and regeneration.”
  2. “Such a link between Freemasonry and the ancient idolatrous mysteries is also manifested by all that is enacted and performed at the initiations.”
  3. “Thus Freemasonry is, as granted, a mystery-religion, quite different, separate, and alien to the Christian faith.”
  4. “It is true that it may seem at first that Freemasonry can be reconciled with every other religion, because it is not interested directly in the religion to which its initiates belong. This is, however, explained by its syncretistic character and proves that in this point also it is an offspring and a continuation of ancient idolatrous mysteries which accepted for initiation worshippers of all gods. […] This means that by masonic initiation, a Christian becomes a brother of the Muslim, the Buddhist, or any kind of rationalist, while the Christian not initiated in Freemasonry becomes to him an outsider.”
  5. “On the other hand, Freemasonry […] shows itself in this sense to be in sharp contradiction with the Christian religion.”
  6. “Thus, the incompatible contradiction between Christianity and Freemasonry is quite clear. […] [T]he Orthodox Catholic Church, maintaining in its integrity the treasure of Christian faith [has] proclaimed against it every time that the question of Freemasonry has been raised. Recently, the Inter-Orthodox Commission which met on Mount Athos and in which the representatives of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches took part, has characterized Freemasonry as a ‘false and anti-Christian system.’”

In conclusion, the Greek synod declared:

Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism. Freemasonry accepts as its members not only Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. Consequently clergymen cannot be permitted to take part in this association. I consider as worthy of degradation every clergyman who does so. It is necessary to urge upon all who entered it without due thought and without examining what Freemasonry is, to sever all connections with it, for Christianity alone is the religion which teaches absolute truth and fulfills the religious and moral needs of men. Unanimously and with one voice all the Bishops of the Church of Greece have approved what was said, and we declare that all the faithful children of the Church must stand apart from Freemasonry…

Archbishop Chrysanthus of Athens

Despite this, five years later, the Church of Greece found itself led by a Mason, Archbishop Chrysanthus. The Greek Synod had to renew its condemnation of Freemasonry in 1949 and again in 1969 — it seems that the problem was not going away.

In 1937, the Patriarchate of Romania also condemned Masonry. The leader of the Romanian Church at this time was Patriarch Miron, who — paradoxically — has been accused of being a Freemason himself.

In 1949, the Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia in America (today’s OCA) adopted the 1933 Church of Greece decision as its own, and in 1960, the Metropolia reaffirmed this decision.

As far as I know, these are the only formal synodal condemnations of Freemasonry. It seems unlikely that we will see any more, as Masonic membership has been in steep decline for decades. In America, from a peak of 4.1 million members in 1959, their numbers have fallen to 800,000 as of 2021 — and membership is dropping by something like 100,000 annually in recent years. Corresponding declines appear to be happening all over the world. In light of this, I would be surprised if future Orthodox synods will need to address the problem of Freemasonry again.

Main Sources

Freemasonry: Official Statement of the Church of Greece (1933)

Nésiotès Eutychios, “La franc-maçonnerie et l’Église grecque,” Échos d’Orient 95 (1912), 333-341. (link)

Nésiotès Eutychios, “La franc-maçonnerie et l’Église grecque en Grèce et en Turquie (1898-1908),” Échos d’Orient 100 (1913), 232-236. (link)

Oleksii Krykunov, Freemasonry in the Eastern European History: Its Political and Cultural Influence (Bonn, 2022). (link)

Jean-François Var, “Freemasonry and the Orthodox Churches,” Handbook of Freemasonry (Brill, 2014), 155-161.

16 Replies to “Freemasonry and the Orthodox Church”

  1. the major way our lay people became part of the fabric of this country was to be accepted into the masonic fraternity. The masons taught them Robert’s Rules of Order, taught them how to be effective leaders, taught them how to be charitble.It was due to what they were taught through their memberships in the masons – eastern star – grotto – shrine – rainbow girls – and demolay that gave them the talents, abilities, and confidence to fill a leadship void. These laypeople enabled the church to survive and prosper. They prospered and so did their church. It is easy to take pot shots at them, however what about the good that the organization did for the people and their church?

    What concerns me is that we love to point fingers, but I must ask what organizations did our church create that did for our people that organizations like the masonic fraternity did? In fact why is the Order of Ahepha embued with masonic symbolism and ritual? What bad things did our members do to create negatives, havoc, conflict in our communities? In doing my research on the subject, i have discovered a lot of good that came out of our laity being members.

    In fact, I am a supporter of the Shriner Children’s Hospitals, and good work tht they do. I would support such a hospital sponsored by our church in the USA if there was one.

    I am not advcating that anyone should join the masonic fraternity, but on the otherhand I am advocating that we cease fingerpointing and start to look at the good that is/had been done and the benefits that were reeived. We all have the free will to do whatever we wish, however it is important to balance one’s perpetive.

    1. My brother in Christ, it is not we men who sustain and grow the church, it is God who does. Any masonic styled organization is anti Christian so says the synod of bishops led by the holy spirit. It really is that simple.

      1. God works through his people. The good news of Jesus Christ was spread throughout the world by the Apostles, the Church Fathers, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and the laity.

        The growth of the Church is always dependent on the laity. Without the laity there is truly no church.

    2. Hi Robert,
      I would recommend you to read and watch testimonies of ex-masons 33 degree. They all say the same thing which is evil by its theology, and practically they use the blood collected from their supposed good hospital deeds for evening drinking sacrifice to their god to live longer life and reincarnation based on adrenochrome. Illuminati are also linked to it and the top leaders are considered priests located in london ( rothchilds…) who love human sacrifices. I can keep writing. But my point is that you should not rely on the facade but rather on what is the real purpose behind close doors. They worship Satan ( star…).

      Remember that Jesus never promoted revolution. The early christians did not want to follow the bar kokhba revolt in 130 AD over the romans even though they were persecuted.

      1. Sorry, those comments by ex-33’rds is both laughable and absolutely wrong. Most likely people that were rejected… and/or wannabes. Human ego’s cause a lot of strife. Mason’s don’t let anyone join. And less than 1% of all Mason’s become 33rds. I’ve heard it might be 0.5%…

    3. Completely agreed. Aren’t we all God’s children? Christ taught us to pray – “Our Father”. Which explicitly states both parenthood to the Father, and that we are all Siblings. Should we not be friends with members of other faiths?

      Apparently approximately half of the founding members of AHEPA were also Masons… one can see it in its principles, structure, and its ritual. The founder of the Order of DeMolay, Dad Frank S. Land, wrote the ritual for the Sons of Pericles.

      There are quite a few Masonic organizations that are explicitly Trinitarian Christian – Knights Templar, Royal Order of Scotland, Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and appendant orders of St John the Evangelist, and of the Holy Sepulchre. And quite a few others…

      From an outside view, I can see how the organization of Masonry can be considered an administrative threat to other organizations. Mason promotes Free Will (Genesis), Free Thinking, Open and Friendly Discussion. Many/most/all(?) of the founding principles of the USA are based on Masonic views. Many of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were Masons.

      As to proclamations by local synods, they are not infallible. Just look at the movie ‘Man of God’ for recent references.

      In closing, completely agree with your comment on ‘finger pointing.’ Time to realize we don’t have to condemn others to build ourselves up. And also understand the good that others accomplish and what we can do ourselves.

      “we are compelled to constantly preach the Gosple, and, when necessary, use words”
      St Francis of Assisi

      1. two other points that i have found in my research on masonry and the eastern orthodox community i the u s a. are as follows

        as i am told, anyone seeking to be a mason was investigated by the fraternity and a report made to the brotherhood regarding the character of the applicant. a secret ballot was taken with white and black balls. if one black ball was found in the box, the candidate was rejected. most of the most zealous anti masons were those who were black balled and not allowed to join.

        for example, in seymour ct, only those lemkos/ galician rus’ that were allowed to join were part of only one family.. others went to ansonia, where they were more receptive . the leadership at both holy trinity greek orthodox and three saints russian orthodox for many years were masons.

        non the less the most vocal nay sayers were those who were rejected for membership.

        for the most part the masons were an organization much like the grange, the odd fellows, the redmen, etc. these organizations, even the lions and rotary, brought people of many ethicities and religious backgrounds together for the common good.

        in fact, the most tragic, is that in my many years i have found many of my eastern orthodox brethren less christian in their actions and beliefs than many non christians. the basic priniples of love, comfort, helpfulness, and compassion were lacking in their character. but when it came to judgement, they were in the superlative.

        my main point is that when you point a finger, you will discover three pointing back at you. no matter how “unchristian” you find an organization to theoretically be, such as the masons,,,, there are still many positive attibutes that cannot be denied. and in my research i have found that our churches have derived more benefit from its masonic members, than detriment.

        of course this is all moot, because since the book “bowling alone” was published, the diminishing role of belonging to any organization was recognized and over the years membership in many organizations – social, fraternal, religious, professional etc has been on the wane..

      2. Please read my newer comment below, I forgot to click reply to this trail of comments. On top to my newer comment. It is impossible to be a human who is dedicated to read the bible on the daily basis, pray, do good deeds in the NAME OF CHRIST and come to the conclusion that you wrote. I urge you to really understand the bible seriously before promoting modern concepts and understanding of unity, love, etc… I meet people who give use thos misunderstood terminologies on a daily basis, and guess what they all do not know the bible ( whether baptist or not in Christ). They spent more of their life to business and sucess modern stories and play the victimization card for their parents exile while hidding that those parents were part of a revolutionary movement that goes against the teaching of Christ. Remember that the Jews tried to recruit Christians into the Bar Khokba revolt in 130 AD against the Romans and they rejected it because Christ Said so, not because Masons love peace. Come on start to be serious in your Bible reading and Christian Way, enough with this modern non sense.

    4. “… by masonic initiation, a Christian becomes a brother of the Muslim, the Buddhist, or any kind of rationalist, while the Christian not initiated in Freemasonry becomes to him an outsider.”

      This is uncomfortably close to the behaviour of St Peter in Antioch
      for which St Paul opposed him to his face. See Gal 2:11-14 [KJV]:

      ” 11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

      12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

      13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

      14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? ”

      Freemasonry is not compatible with Christianity.

    5. Many of the men in my family were Masons and I can say that what they do on the surface looks good but under the surface there is a lot of darkness. The secret rituals and symbology originated with middle Eastern paganism and even witchcraft. It’s interesting that they present themselves as a good natured organisation doing good things but all you have to do is read up on their actual beliefs and you can see that it is no place to be as a Christian. Their teachings are very anti Christian.

    6. Yes they’re a charitable organization which is a cover for the satanic rites practiced by the upper class leadership and by that I mean international bankers, European Royals and Elite bloodline families that wield power over these “fraternal, philanthropic societies”. The damage caused by these cults is incalculable due to the seriousness to which secrecy is practiced. The entire Western culture is now lead to believe that mutilating the genitalia of infants and children as well as their sexualization is to be considered “normal”, but normal people realize the madness of this concept. Tout the Freemasons as innocent improvers of men all you want but they have done absolutely nothing to slow the increasing decline of western civilization. In fact they appear to be feeding the fire of human degradation at this point. Not that the individuals themselves are wicked but the organization as a whole, just like the Roman Catholic Church, was formed with dubious intentions from the outset. Secret Societies would be banned and outlawed in a truly decent society. It makes no sense to create invisible borders within society knowing full well that division will be the product. Unity within Christ should be the only goal since that alone will produce healing and growth for our collective souls and society as a whole. Masonry is more concerned with secret knowledge rather than Truth and Life. Within their temples Christ becomes another idol in their collection. I renounce Satan and ALL of his lies, deceitful tricks and half truths. While I do not condemn individuals participating in secret societies, I am fully aware of the infinite wealth, power and influence of their hierarchies and their course of performance is that of snake oil salesmen and robber barons. By their fruits will you know them. Muddying the waters has always been their modus operandi.

  2. I had never heard that the Metropolia adopted the Church of Greece’s condemnation of Freemasonry. What is your source for that? I’d love to see it!

  3. Thank you for the excellent article.

    Although it is not a synodal decision, it is worth mentioning Archbishop Cyprianus of Cyprus’ Aphorism against Freemasonry, which may be read here: http://www.orthodox.net/ecumenism/declaration-of-cyprianus-against-free-masonry.html. He is considered a martyr for the cause of Greek independence, having shed his blood in the year of 1821.

    His Aphorism also appears at The Rudder, (1950 English Masterjohn translation), p. 550, which I think is the source for the above page and others elsewhere.

    I have also found in my files an unsourced reference, which says, “Likewise, Archbishop Hierotheus of Patras, Greece, published two comprehensive encyclicals against Masonry, one on October 5, 1897, and another on August 22, 1899.” It would be interesting finding such documents accessible in English.

  4. This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m focusing on the heroes of the Greek revolution. What have some illiterate villagers like Kolokotronis have to do with masonry. This is pure disrespect to us Greeks. Referring to Filiki Etairia being full of free masons? Get a hold of yourself. This is nonsense! The information you are trying pass us is that the modern Hellenic State and Revolution were founded on Freemasonry??? In what universe? I have read enough books to know important details about my country’s revolution and i have never seen something this absurd. Quit yapping about nonsense.

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