Meletios Metaxakis’s Support for St Tikhon

1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress

The 1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress is most (in)famous for proposing the Revised Julian (“New”) Calendar, which was subsequently adopted by many (but far from all) of the world’s Orthodox Churches. The Congress occurred at one of the most tumultuous moments in church history (you can read all about the crazy year that was 1923 here). One of the lesser-known, and, perhaps to some, surprising decisions of the Congress was a resolution in support of the embattled Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, who had just been “defrocked” by a robber council of the Soviet-backed “Living Church.” The top signatory of the decision was Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis, who, as best I can tell, consistently supported St Tikhon and the canonical Moscow Patriarchate and rejected the claims of the Living Church.

Here is the full text of the Congress’ decision, taken from A Quest for Reform of the Orthodox Church: The 1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress, Fr Patrick Viscuso’s excellent translation of the Congress’ acts and decisions.

The Pan-Orthodox Congress in Constantinople assembled under the presidency of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV which became informed that a church clergy-laity assembly gathered in Moscow, which among other uncanonical decisions also issued a decision defrocking His Beatitude Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia who is held in prison, decides the following unanimously:

1.) It expresses grief at this act against the Primate of the Most Holy Church in Russia, during which particular time his martyrdom continues, and heartfelt sympathy with the confessor Patriarch.

2.) It makes supplication to the Most High for strengthening him until his last breath during his good struggle for the faith.

3.) It makes an appeal to the entire Christian world for the release from his bonds and of the hierarchs as well as the rest of the clergy captive with him.

4.) It requests the Ecumenical Patriarchate might consult with the rest of the Orthodox churches concerning the ecclesiastical situation in Russia so that firm guidance might be given to the troubled religious conscience of the pious Russian people who are being terribly tested in the faith.

In the Patriarchate on 6 June 1923.

MELETIOS of Constantinople

Kallinikos of Kyzikos
+ Archbishop Aleksandr of North America
+ Metropolitan Gavrilo of Montenegro and Parathalassia
Basileios of Nicaea
Iakovos of Dyrrachion

Archimandrite Iuliu Skriban
B. Antoniades
Dr. M. Milankovic

A month later, on July 9, 1923, Time reported that the Living Church tried to secure Meletios’s support for their purported defrocking of St Tikhon, but he refused to give it: “This written consent the radicals failed to obtain from Tikhon’s peer, Meletios Metataxis, Patriarch of Constantinople, and from him the quasi Patriarch of Moscow is now said to be seeking aid and comfort.”

That said, Meletios was also quick to take advantage of the collapse of the Russian Empire and the resulting loss of control of Orthodox churches in the newly independent states such as Finland and Estonia, extending the jurisdiction of Constantinople to those places. The Estonian tomos is interesting, coming just weeks after the Time report, in late July 1923. I haven’t seen the Estonian tomos myself, but according to the British legation in Riga (in a communique dated July 25, 1923), “The Tomos states that owing to the impossibility of communicating with the Patriarch of Moscow the Esthonian Greek Apostolic Church has been canonically united to the Patriarchate of Constantinople with a Metropolitan as its ecclesiastical head.” (The British communique is available here.)

Meletios himself was under intense pressure in Constantinople and would soon be forced out of the city by the leaders of the newly-declared Turkish Republic.

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