Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople

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Patriarch Athenagoras

Patriarch Athenagoras I (March 25, 1886–July 7, 1972) was the 268th Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948 to 1972.

Early Life

Patriarch Athenagoras was born Aristokles Spyrou 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, 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, recommened 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.


Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (left) with Pope Paul VI

On November 1, 1948, Athenagoras was elected Patriarch of Constantinople, and was flown to Istanbul in the personal airplane of then-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 died 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, resulting in one hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret, writing a response to the patriarch that same year.

Succession box:
Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople
Preceded by:
Alexander (Demoglou)
Archbishop of America
Succeeded by:
Michael (Konstantinides)
Preceded by:
Maximus V
Patriarch of Constantinople
Succeeded by:
Demetrios I
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