Trouble in Istanbul: The Early Years of Patriarch Athenagoras

Source: Orthodox History

January 26, 2022

Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras was elected at the end of 1948, thanks in no small part to the intervention of the United States government, in coordination with the governments of Turkey and Greece. Athenagoras was flown to Istanbul in January 1949 aboard a plane provided by U.S. President Harry Truman. Born in Greece, with hierarchical experience on Corfu and in America, Athenagoras was an outsider to the Phanar. He also had a reputation for bucking tradition. Going back to his days on Corfu, he had ruffled feathers in the Church of Greece by introducing the use of organ music in the island’s churches. Putting the edgy Athenagoras at the head of the old school Phanar was like mixing oil and water.


In February 1950, Athenagoras had been on the throne for just over a year. During that time, he’d had frequent interactions with U.S. government representatives. The U.S. Vice Consul in Istanbul, James Gustin, was about to return to the United States, and in the weeks leading up to his departure, he had three meetings with the Ecumenical Patriarchate: one with Grand Logothete Ghiokas and two with the Patriarch himself. On February 18, Gustin sent a packet of secret reports on the three conversations back to the U.S. State Department. These reports have since been declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. You can click here to download all three documents.

The first of the three meetings was on February 1, 1950, between Vice Consul Gustin and Patriarch Athenagoras. Upon arriving, Gustin — accompanied by the new U.S. Consul, Merrill — was greeted by the ever-enthusiastic Patriarch, who declared that he “was working steadfastly in America’s cause. He stated that the United States is the hope of the world […] He also expressed appreciation for the close cooperation which he had received in the past from the State Department.” Although this was supposed to be a farewell meeting for Vice Consul Gustin, Athenagoras asked him to come again in a few days, as he wanted Gustin to deliver a letter from the Patriarch to the American government. Gustin promised that he would return.

... Read the rst at Orthodox History.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Vkontakte, Telegram, WhatsApp, MeWe, and Gab!

Matthew Namee


to our mailing list

* indicates required