A new report from Orthodoxy and World Religions, a sister site of John Sanidopoulos’ well-known Mystagogy blog, reveals that the notorious Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople used to serve as a rabbi for Jewish friends at the same time that he was an Orthodox metropolitan.
Moreover, the Patriarch himself recalls how he used to confess to a Muslim dervish in his childhood, because they didn’t trust the local priest.
“Many things have been written about the former Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and his ecumenist activities, some of which can be viewed as positive steps, but there are also things so cringeworthy awful that one can hardly believe they are true without seeing the evidence first. One of these things is the claim that he had once served as a Rabbi to Jews at the same time he was a Metropolitan for Orthodox Christians,” Sanidopoulos begins his report.
As he recalls, he was told that evidence of this claim could be found in the New York Times article, “Greek Jews Here Pray for Victory,” from November 25, 1940, when Athenagoras was Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America.
At a reception in his honor following a prayer service at a New York synagogue, Abp. Athenagoras “said he had ‘enjoyed the ceremonies very much’ and that he was ‘particularly pleased because most of this congregation of Greek Jews is from my own town of Yanina.’
“’We are of the same town and I am very proud of them,’ he added.” And he confesses: “‘In Corfu, where I once lived, I acted many times as rabbi for my Jewish friends.’”
As Sanidopoulos recalls, Athenagoras was a young deacon when he was elected as Metropolitan of Corfu in 1923, where he remained until moving to serve in America in 1930. Thus, by his own admission, then-Metropolitan Athenagoras served as a Jewish rabbi “many times” at the same that he was an hierarch of the Orthodox Church.
Sanidopoulos comments: “Though it is true, it is hardly surprising. Athenagoras is well-known as being an extremist as far as ecumenism is concerned, and many Orthodox faithful condemned him for it. After all, in a letter to Pope Paul VI in 1968, he not only praised the Pope for being greater than the Apostle Paul, but he also told him that he commemorated his name in every Divine Liturgy, since according to Athenagoras the Great Schism ended in 1965.”
It was Pat. Athenagoras himself who lifted the 11th-century anathema against the Pope of Rome and unilaterally declared the schism between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic church to be over.
Canon 64 of the Holy Apostles states: “If any clergyman or layman shall enter into a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray, let the former be deposed and let the latter be excommunicated.”
Further, Sanidopoulos writes that Pat. Athenagoras’ predecessor, Patriarch Maximos V, said that he saw Athenagoras pray in mosques in both Constantinople and in Jerusalem, and that he had told him: “In our village, we had in our paternal household two people, the priest and the dervish, the dervish Kamil. We would confess and tell our secrets to the dervish Kamil, because we had no trust in our priest.”
And Sanidopoulos concludes: “Therefore, as a child Athenagoras was raised to treat an Islamic dervish as his spiritual father above the Orthodox priest of his village. It’s no wonder his ecumenism reached such extremes, extremes that would prove to be disastrously harmful for the unity of the Orthodox world.”
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