Monday, April 10, 2017
Georgios Aggelopoulos was born to a poor family in Dimitsana, Greece, in the year 1746. Like so many of his contemporaries, he seemed destined for a fairly forgettable life comprised mostly of hard work, limited rewards, and devotion to the Church--this ended up being true but not quite in the way that we might expect. Georgios received a decent education but his own natural talents and aptitudes propelled him forward so that he was able to study in Athens for two years. His uncle was an influential man in Smyrna, however, and arranged for Georgios to receive a high quality education there not because of any ability to pay but rather because of his surprising intellect and in spite of his many obstacles. Georgios' family expected that he would go on to a career in academic circles and this would have been a surprising career for one of his background. Yet, it was his commitment to the Church and monastic spirituality that would hold most strongly when presented with other callings. Georgios became a monk and took the name of Gregory. As a monk he finished his education before becoming first a deacon and eventually an archdeacon in the Church in Smyrna.
At the time, the metropolitan of Smyrna was a man named Prokopios and under his guidance, Gregory was ordained a priest and designated the aid of the bishop. In 1785, Prokopios was selected to become the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This meant moving to Turkey and being an Eastern Christian leader in the heart of the Ottoman empire. The Ecumenical Patriarch was a representative not only of Christianity but also of the Greek people. However, when Prokopios was elected patriarch, Gregory was ordained as a bishop and installed as the Metropolitan of Smyrna. By all accounts, he was an able and gifted metropolitan who seemed intimately concerned with the pastoral care of the people in Smyrna. It comes as no surprise then that he was the successor of Prokopios as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1797. In many ways, this was a drastic change. He left behind Greece for the heart of the Ottoman empire and with his departure lost many of his securities and protections. As the patriarch, he was forced to deal with Turkish leadership that resented not only him but all of the people he represented. Approximately one year later, Gregory was deposed from his position by the Muslim leaders of Turkey and banished from Turkey. He took up residence at a monastery on Mount Athos and devoted himself to study and prayer. In 1806, after a change in politics by the Turkish leadership, he was once again appointed Ecumenical Patriarch. His second appointment lasted approximately four years before he was once again deposed and deported.
It was in January of 1819 that he returned to Constantinople for the third and final time. As the Christian leadership of a resented Christian population, he continued to anger the Ottoman leadership. In March of 1821, Greek citizens began to violently resist Ottoman domination of Greece and blood was spilled by both sides. Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II demanded that Gregory suppress the Greek violence against Turks in Greece. Gregory did what he could to make for peace but it did not come. As the Ecumenical Patriarch and the ethnarch of Greeks in Ottoman Turkey, he was held responsible for the violence and the uprisings that would later be known as the beginning of the Greek revolution. Shortly after worship ended on Easter Sunday in the year 1821, Ottoman soldiers arrested Gregory from within the sanctuary of the church where he had just celebrated Easter. He was dragged to the edge of the city in his clerical vestments and hung from the gate in retribution for the acts perpetrated by the revolutionaries against the Ottoman authorities. His body hung there for three days as an example before being drug through the streets and being cast into the Bosphorous. His body was recovered by a sailor and given a Christian burial. In his memory, the main gates of the Patriarchate compound were welded shut in 1821 and have remained so since then.