In 1926, Metropolitan Gennadios of Thessaloniki (1868-1951) visited America. During the 1920’s, the political rivalry between Eleftherios Venizelos and the Greek royalists created tensions within and among parishes across America.

From 1923 to 1930, the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America headquartered in New York, headed by Archbishop Alexander, had jurisdiction, but the Autocephalous Church of America and Canada in Massachusetts, presided over by self-proclaimed Archbishop Vasilios Komvopoulos, was also contending for the loyalties of the Orthodox faithful.

Metropolitan Gennadios, a native of Prussa, Asia Minor, served as head of the Church in Thessaloniki from 1912 until his death in 1951. He was honorary head of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Thessaloniki, just as the Metropolitan in Athens was honorary head of the YMCA there. A Protestant organization founded in London in 1844, the YMCA had a long history in Greece. The first chapter was established in Athens in 1892, and Venizelos later opened another in Thessaloniki. After the fall of Smyrna and the defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor in 1922, the refugee crisis was overwhelming. The Thessaloniki chapter of the YMCA provided significant assistance at this difficult time.

On March 25, 1926, Metropolitan Gennadios and two companions arrived in America on a mission sponsored and underwritten by the Thessaloniki YMCA. The purpose of this two-month visit was to thank the YMCA and the American people for their help in resettling the Asia Minor refugees and to raise additional funds. It also provided an opportunity for fact-finding about the workings of the YMCA. Metropolitan Gennadios and his delegation stressed that the visit was “to help solidify friendship between his country and the United States. Although the mission is strictly non-political and non-partisan, it carries the official recognition of the Greek government.” They took great pains not to compromise the mission, remaining neutral between the rival jurisdictions. Metropolitan Gennadios did not schedule any public meetings with Archbishop Alexander, although he and his delegation passed through New York City several times as they crisscrossed the country.

Among his many American destinations, Metropolitan Gennadios had been invited to visit Rochester, N.Y., by the head of the local YMCA, who had also served the YMCA in Thessaloniki. The Metropolitan arrived in Rochester on April 9 to attend the 10th annual dinner of the local YMCA.

The chapter arranged an elaborate demonstration to show the Metropolitan the practical benefits the YMCA provided to the youth and the community.

Metropolitan Gennadios had originally planned to leave Rochester for Toronto on Sunday, April 11, when the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Rochester was to be consecrated by Archbishop Alexander. After much discussion, his party was persuaded to remain in town for the consecration.

Greek Orthodox services had been held in Rochester since the community organized in 1910. After incorporating in 1917, the Sts. Constantine and Helen parish purchased the Disciples of Christ building, celebrating their first Liturgy on Dec. 5, 1920. The consecration of this building, initially planned for 1921, did not occur until Archbishop Alexander made his first visit to Rochester in 1926.

The consecration took place on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. It was cool and rainy with temperatures in the 40’s. On that April day in Rochester, clergy from Toronto and the six other Greek Orthodox parishes in upstate New York, as well as a choir from Buffalo, participated in the services. Metropolitan Gennadios and his party attended but did not take part in the dedication itself. Afterward other members of the Metropolitan’s party were guests at a public luncheon. The Metropolitan and Archbishop were able to meet privately over lunch at a local home.

Later that afternoon, Metropolitan Gennadios and his party boarded a train for Niagara Falls for a brief sightseeing diversion before proceeding to Toronto. Archbishop Alexander and his party were feted at a public dinner that night. The next day, the Archbishop traveled to Syracuse to make preparations for the consecration of the St. Sophia church scheduled to take place in May, then returned to his headquarters in New York City.

Metropolitan Gennadios, near the end of his travels in America, visited Lowell, Mass., the headquarters of Archbishop Vasilios. He had planned no meeting with the hierarch and avoided presiding at services in either of the two Lowell parishes. The highlight of his Lowell visit was a mass meeting of local Greeks at the Memorial Auditorium. His message focused on the importance of unity: I advise you to forget the differences which have separated you in the past and to remember your common, glorious tradition as a race and as a religious people. Your interests as well as those of your native land and your mother church demand that you unite. . . . In 1912, many of you present here tonight helped us rid Bulgaria and the rest of our lands of the last vestige of Turkish oppression. Unfortunately, Greece met with a great national disaster in 1922 and was forced to support more than 1.5 million refugees from Asia Minor. I do not wish to remind you of this except in such a manner as to bring to your minds the necessity of forgetting the past and going forward to the realization of the dreams and ideals of your nation

For another five years, this goal remained elusive. Political passions took time to cool. Beginning with the mission of Metropolitan Damaskinos in 1930 and continuing with the extraordinary efforts of Archbishop Athenagoras, unity finally became a reality for the Church in America.

The author thanks Irene Georgantas of Rochester and Mary Steve of Uhrichsville, Ohio.

Editor’s note: After a six-month hiatus, Dr. Samonides is resuming his articles relating to the Church in America and its clergy in the early 1900s. He is also collecting information from parishes and individuals for articles that will be part of the Orthodox Observer’s coverage in 2022 relating to the centennial of the Archdiocese.