Archbishop Michael, who served as Archbishop of North and South America from 1949 until his death in 1958, was noted as a theologian, a scholar, a pastor, an administrator and an ecumenist.
His years as Archbishop of our church in the Americas were a bridge between the Archbishoprics of Athenagoras and Iakovos. He built upon the foundations laid by Athenagoras, who had united American Hellenism and the Church. Michael was able to progressively develop the Church administratively in many ways, especially financially. He placed great emphasis on education, both ecclesiastically and Greek.
Archbishop Michael was born Thucydides Constantinides in Maroneia of Western Thrace on May 27, 1892. He entered the Halki Theological School in1906 and graduated in 1914. In 1915 he was sent to Russia for further study at the Theological Schools of Kiev and St. Petersburg, Russia, where he studied for four years on a scholarship from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
He returned to Constantinople after the Russian Revolution and was ordained a priest in 1919 and served a parish of Constantinople. He went to Greece in 1923 and was named chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens.
In 1927 he was appointed the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in London, England, where he remained until 1939, when he was elected Metropolitan of Corinth. During the 12 years of his London tenure he was pastorally, theologically and socially very active.
During this period he also authored many theological studies including translations from the Greek, Russian and English. He was at the same time active in ecumenical affairs. He represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Faith and Order meeting in Lausanne in 1927, representative of the Church of Greece at the meeting of Anglicans and Orthodox in 1920 on the occasion of the Lambeth Conference, represented the Patriarchate of Alexandria on the Anglican Orthodox Committee at Lambeth in 1931 and finally, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Conference of Life and Work at Oxford and Faith and Order at Edinburgh in 1937.
He wrote extensively on these ecumenical activities, which were published in various ecclesiastical journals. Both the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate named him Great Archimandrite.
He was elected Metropolitan of Corinth in 1939, and was a remarkable leader of his people during the war years and German occupation. After his election of Archbishop of the Americas in 1949, he undertook to reorganize the Archdiocese. He began by doubling the number of assistant bishops to help him administer the Archdiocese. He increased the number of parochial and Sunday Schools and reorganized the finances of the Archdiocese by instituting the dekadollarion (ten dollar) program instead of the previous monodollarion (one dollar) program.
He was the founder of GOYA, which became a nationwide vibrant organization of youth under his leadership. He took great interest in promoting the Holy Cross Theological School and St. Basil’s Academy. He reorganized the Orthodox Observer and founded the Home for the Aged in New York and established the Office of News and Information/Public Relations.
In 1956 he was invited by President Eisenhower to deliver the invocation at the second Eisenhower inauguration, the first time that an Orthodox churchman was so honored. This established a precedent for future presidential inaugurations.
His presence in America strengthened Orthodox presence in international ecclesiastical meetings and especially in the World Council of Churches. Michael was one of the most eminent and prominent ecclesiastical personalities of the Orthodox Church during the first 60 years of the past century.
His career at the three great centers, Corinth, London and America, left a remarkable reputation. Besides his role as an ecclesiastical leader he was distinguished as an author. His numerous books and almost a hundred theological articles remind us of one of the most learned hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in recent times. He is remembered by many for his deep spirituality, his distinctive liturgical presence and his stirring and learned sermons. His strong devotion and emphasis on the youth of the church spawned an entire generation of young people, especially within GOYA, who were devoted to him.
Ladies Philoptochos Society Board members meet with their Archbishop
Paul Manolis is retired director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, CA, was board chairman of the Orthodox Observer when it was transformed into its present newspaper format, and was assistant to U.S. Senator William Knowland from California. He served as vice-chairman of the Inaugural Committee 1957 of the Nationalities Liaison Committee.