Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople
His All-Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras I (Greek: Αθηναγόρας Α' ), born Aristokles Spyrou (Αριστοκλής Σπύρου), was the 268th Successor to the Apostle Andrew and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948-1972.
Patriarch Athenagoras was born in Vasilikón, near Ioánnina, Epirus, Greece, on March 25, 1886. The son of the village doctor, his mother died when he was only 13. He attended the Patriarchical Theological School of Halki, graduating in 1910. Upon graduating he was tonsured a monk and ordained to the diaconate, taking the name Athenagoras. He served as archdeacon of the Diocese of Pelagonia before becoming the secretary to Archbishop Meletius of Athens in 1919. He was raised to the episcopate as the Metropolitan of Corfu in December 1922, while still a deacon.
Archbishop of America
In 1930, Metropolitan Damaskinos, after returning from a trip to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, recommended to Patriarch Photios II that Athenagoras be appointed Archbishop of America. Damaskinos felt that Athenagoras was best suited to fix the many problems of the archdiocese, and Photios made the appointment on August 30, 1930.
When he assumed his new position on February 24, 1931, Athenagoras was faced with the task of bringing unity and harmony to a diocese that was racked with dissension between Royalists and Venizelists who had virtually divided the country into independent dioceses. To correct this he centralized the eccelesiastical administration in the Archdiocesean offices with all other bishops serving as auxiliaries, appointed to assist the archbishop, without dioceses and administrative rights of their own.
During his 18-year tenure, he actively worked with his communities to facilitate these reforms, in part by expanding the work of the clergy-laity congresses. He established the women’s Philoptochos, the philanthropic arm of the Church, as well as an orphanage, St. Basil’s Academy. He also founded the first Greek Orthodox seminary in America, the Holy Cross School of Theology. His capable leadership allowed him to withstand the early opposition he faced and eventually gain the love and devotion of his flock.
On November 1, 1948, Athenagoras was elected Patriarch of Constantinople, and was flown to Istanbul in the personal airplane of US President Harry Truman. As patriarch, he was actively involved with the World Council of Churches and improving relations with the Pope. His long reign ended with his death in Istanbul on July 7, 1972.
His 1964 meeting with Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem led to the mutual lifting of the Bulls of Excommunication that resulted in the Great Schism of 1054. This was a significant step towards restoring communion between Rome and Constantinople. It produced the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965, which was publicly read on December 7, 1965, simultaneously at a public meeting of the Second Vatican Council in Rome and at a special ceremony in Istanbul. The declaration did not end the schism, but showed a desire for greater reconciliation between the two churches. Nevertheless, not all Orthodox shared this sentiment, including Metropolitan Philaret, who wrote a response to the patriarch that same year.
Excerpts from Conversations with Patriarch Athenagoras:
"I do not deny that there are differences between the Churches, but I say that we must change our way of approaching them. And the question of method is in the first place a psychological, or rather a spiritual problem. For centuries there have been conversations between theologians, and they have done nothing except to harden their positions."
"Those who accuse me of sacrificing Orthodoxy to a bind obsession with love, have a very poor conception of the truth. They make it into a system which they possess, which reassures them, when what it really is, is the living glorification of the living God, with all the risks involved in creative life. And we don’t possess God; it is He who holds us and fills us with His presence in proportion to our humility and love. Only by love can we glorify the God of love, only by giving and sharing and sacrificing oneself can one glorify the God who, to save us, sacrificed himself and went to death, the death of the cross."
"Orthodoxy, if it goes back to the sources of its great tradition, will be the humble and faithful witness to the undivided Church. The Orthodox Churches, in coming together themselves in mutual respect and love, will set a movement of brotherhood going throughout the Christian world, giving the example of a free communion of sister Churches, united by the same sacraments and the same faith. As to the Orthodox faith, centered as it is on liturgical praise and worship, and on holiness, it will bring the criterion of spiritual experience to ecumenical dialogue, a criterion which will allow us to disentangle partial truths from their limitations so that they may be reconciled in a higher plenitude of truth."
"But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy? Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given? We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals."
Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople
|Archbishop of America
|Patriarch of Constantinople
- St. Paul's Greek Church
- Catholic-Orthodox Joint declaration of 1965
- A Protest to Patriarch Athenagoras On the Lifting of the Anathemas of 1054 by Metr. Philaret of New York (December 2/15, 1965)
- Another Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I dated 28 October 1967
- Remembering Patriarch Athenagoras
- "Patriarch Athenagoras: Prophet of Love" by Bishop John (Kallos) of Thermon (Orthodox Research Institute)