Meletius Metaxakis

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Ecumenical Patriarch Meletius IV

Meletius Metaxakis served as Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church from 1921-1923.

His given name was 'Emmanuel Metaxakis. He was born on September 21, 1871 in the village of Parsas on the island of Crete. He entered the Seminary of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in 1889. He was tonsured with the name Meletius and ordained a hierodeacon in 1892. He completed the theological courses at Holy Cross and was assigned as secretary to the Holy Synod in Jerusalem by Patriarch Damianos in 1900. Meletius was evicted from the Holy Land by Patriarch Damianos, along with the then administrator Chrysostomos, later Archbishop of Athens in 1908 for "activity against the Holy Sepulcher." Meletius Metaxakis was then elected Metropolitan of Kition in 1910. In the years before the war Metropolitan Meletius began successful talks in New York with representatives of the Episcopal Church of America, with the intention of "expanding relations between the two Churches."

After the death of Patriarch Joachim III on June 13, 1912, Meletius was nominated as a candidate for the Patriarchal Throne in Constantinople. However, the Holy Synod decided that Meletius could not canonically be registered as a candidate. With the support of his political allies and acquaintances he was uncanonically elevated to the position of Archbishop of Athens in 1918, but after the usual political changes he was deprived of his see.

Metaxakis was one of the most fascinating characters in Orthodox church history. He was the only man successively to lead four autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Churches: those of Cyprus, Greece, Constantinople (Turkey), and Alexandria (Egypt). On the basis of a 1908 decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch that the independent "trustee" Greek parishes in America should receive episcopal oversight from the Church of Greece, Metaxakis journeyed to America in the summer of 1918 to survey the situation. Three months later he returned to Greece and appointed Bishop Alexander of Rodostolou as his resident American legate. Alexander was charged with the unenviable task of initiating canonical order among the independent Greek parishes throughout North America.

In the Greek elections of 1920, however, Venizelos was defeated. The king returned to power, and Metaxakis was deposed as Archbishop of Athens. His place was taken, on December 10, 1920, by the rightful canonical candidate, Theocletos, who had previously been deposed as Archbishop. While Meletius was still Archbishop of Athens, he along with a group of like-minded persons visited England where he conducted talks concerning the union between the Anglicans and the Orthodox Church. Like so many other political refugees, Metaxakis fled to the United States (February, 1921). Still recognized as the legitimate head of the Church of Greece by his American legate, Bishop Alexander, Metaxakis presided over the organization of some Greek parishes in North America into a formal "Greek Archdiocese" on September 15, 1921.

In yet another surprising reversal of fortune, the exiled Metaxakis was elected Ecumenical Patriarch only two months later (November 27, 1921). Meletius, however, was not about to give up his American creation. In one of his first acts as patriarch, Metaxakis repealed the 1908 Tomos, in effect transferring jurisdiction of the new Greek Archdiocese from himself (as Archbishop of Athens) to himself (as the Ecumenical Patriarch). Metaxakis justified the move by reference to canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), which he claimed granted the Ecumenical Patriarchate jurisdiction over Orthodox Christians in all "barbarian lands." Metaxakis appointed his old friend Bishop Alexander to lead the new archdiocese.

On December 17, 1921, the Greek Ambassador in Washington sent a message to the prefect at Thessaloniki stating that Meletius "vested, took part in an Anglican service, knelt in prayer with Anglicans, venerated their Holy Table, gave a sermon, and later blessed those present."

In effect, this was the first step towards the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, which was incorporated in 1921, and officially recognized by the State of New York in 1922.

Unfortunately, the hopes of the immigrant Greek community that their long canonical disorder in America would be settled were not realized. The royalists in Greece rejected both the creation and subsequent separation of a "Venizelist" Archdiocese in America. Metropolitan Germanos (Troianos), a royalist partisan, was sent from Greece to challenge Alexander for control of the new archdiocese. Spurred on by the two New York Greek language dailies, the royalist Atlantis, and the Venizelist National Herald, the fledgling Greek Archdiocese rapidly disintegrated into violently opposed factions. It would remain bitterly divided for almost a decade (1922-1931).

When Meletius was elected Ecumenical Patriarch Meletius IV in November, 1921, one of his first official decrees on March 1st of that year was to restore the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This was formalized on May 11, 1922 when Patriarch Meletios declared the Church of America as an Archdiocese appointing the Rt. Rev. Alexander Titular Bishop of Rodostolon , as his Patriarchal Exarch.

Under pressure from Meletius, the Patriarchate of Constantinople accepted the validity of Anglican orders in 1922 — an act which even Rome protested against. Then, in 1923, Meletius initiated the "Pan-Orthodox" Congress (May 10–June 8). On June 1st, clergy and laymen dissatisfied with the innovating Patriarch held a meeting which ended in an attack on the Phanar with the goal of deposing Meletius and expelling him from Constantinople. On July 1, 1923, on the pretext of illness and the need for medical treatment, Meletius left Constantinople. On September 20, 1923, under pressure from the Greek government and through the intervention of Archbishop Chrysostomos of Athens, Meletius retired as Patriarch.

Meletius Metaxakis died on July 28, 1935, and was buried in Cairo, Egypt.

Preceded by:
Germanos V
Ecumenical Patriarch
Succeeded by:
Gregory VII