Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople

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Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (Greek: Αθηναγόρας Α'), born Aristocles Spyrou (Αριστοκλής Σπύρου; March 25, 1886 - July 7, 1972) was the 268th Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948 to 1972.



Patriarch Athenagoras was born on March 25, 1886 into an Albanian[1] or Aromanian family[2] as Aristocles Spyrou in Vasiliko, near Ioannina, Epirus (then Ottoman Empire). He was the son of the village doctor and his mother died when he was only 13. He attended the Patriarchical Theological School at Halki, Turkey, graduating in 1910. Upon graduating he was ordained to the diaconate taking the name Athenagoras. He served as archdeacon of the Diocese of Pelagonia before becoming the secretary to Archbishop Meletius (Metaxakis) of Athens in 1919. He was raised to the episcopacy as the Metropolitan of Corfu in 1922 while still a deacon.

Returning from a fact-finding trip to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America in 1930, Metropolitan Damaskinos recommended to Pat. 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.

In 1938, Athenagoras was naturalized as a United States citizen.[3] On November 1, 1948, he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople at the age of 61.[4] 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. As Patriarch, he was actively involved with the World Council of Churches and improving relations with the Roman Catholic Pontiff, the Pope of Rome.

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