Athenagoras I of Constantinople

Athenagoras I
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch Athenagoras (1967).jpg
Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1967
InstalledNovember 1, 1948
Term endedJuly 7, 1972
PredecessorMaximos V
SuccessorDemetrios I
Personal details
Birth nameAristocles Matthew Spyrou
Born6 April [O.S. 25 March] 1886
Vasilikón, Janina Vilayet, Ottoman Empire (now Epirus (region), Greece)
DiedJuly 7, 1972(1972-07-07) (aged 86)
Phanar, Istanbul, Turkey
DenominationEastern Orthodox Church

Athenagoras I (Greek: Αθηναγόρας Αʹ), born Aristocles Matthew Spyrou (Greek: Αριστοκλής Ματθαίου Σπύρου; 6 April [O.S. 25 March] 1886 – July 7, 1972), initially the Greek archbishop in North America,[1] was the 268th Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, from 1948 to 1972.


Athenagoras was born to a Greek family as Aristocles Matthew Spyrou on April 6 [O.S. March 25] 1886 in the village of Vasiliko, near Ioannina, Epirus (then Ottoman Empire).[2] He was the son of Matthew N. Spyrou, a doctor, and Helen V. Mokoros.[2] Athenagoras devoted himself to religion at an early age because of the encouragement he received from his mother and a priest from his village.[2] After completing his secondary education in 1906, he entered the Holy Trinity Theological School at Halki, near Istanbul, and was ordained a deacon in 1910.[2]

Upon graduating, he was tonsured a monk, given the name Athenagoras, and ordained to the diaconate. He served as archdeacon of the Diocese of Pelagonia before becoming the secretary to Archbishop Meletius (Metaxakis) of Athens in 1919. While still a deacon, he was elected the Metropolitan of Corfu in 1922 and straightway raised to the episcopacy.

Returning from a fact-finding trip to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America in 1930, Metropolitan Damaskinos recommended to Patriarch Photios II that he appoint Metropolitan Athenagoras to the position of Archbishop of North and South America as the best person to bring harmony to the American diocese. The patriarch made the appointment on August 30, 1930.

When Archbishop Athenagoras assumed his new position on February 24, 1931, he was faced with the task of bringing unity and harmony to a diocese that was racked with dissension between Royalists and Republicans (Venizelists), who had virtually divided the country into separate dioceses. To correct that, he centralized the ecclesiastical administration in the Archdiocese offices with all other bishops serving as auxiliaries, appointed to assist the archbishop, without dioceses and administrative rights of their own. He actively worked with his communities to establish harmony. He expanded the work of the clergy-laity congresses and founded the Holy Cross School of Theology. Through his capable and fatherly leadership he withstood early opposition and gained the love and devotion of his people.

Archbishop Athenagoras consecrated the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on New York City's Upper East Side on October 22, 1933.[3] He called it: "The Cathedral of all of Hellenism in America."[3]

In 1938, Athenagoras was naturalized as a United States citizen.[4][5]

On November 1, 1948, he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople at the age of 61.[5] In January 1949, he was honored to be flown in the personal airplane of the American president Harry Truman to Istanbul, Turkey to assume his new position.[6] As Patriarch, he was actively involved with the World Council of Churches and improving relations with the Roman Catholic Pontiff, the Pope of Rome.

He was hospitalized on July 6, 1972 for a broken hip, but died from kidney failure in Istanbul (Constantinople) the following day at the age of 87.[7] He was buried in the cemetery within the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary of the Spring in Balıklı, Istanbul.

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