PHOTO: Masonic lodge in Greece, with seats reminiscent of monastery “leaners.”

By Matthew Namee ORTHODOXHISTORY.ORG

If you search the internet for Orthodoxy and Freemasonry, most of what you’ll find will be condemnations of the movement. You might also find my 2012 article on Freemasonry in American Orthodox history. But, as far as I know, there hasn’t been much work done to document the basic history of Orthodoxy and its interaction with the Masonic movement.

Freemasonry seems to have made its first appearance in the Greek Orthodox world in the 1740s. In 1744, a masonic lodge was founded in Constantinople, and a few years later, Ecumenical Patriarch Photius II condemned the movement in one or more patriarchal encyclicals. Some time after this, a prominent teacher in Cyprus named Ephraim the Athenian (who was later Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1766-70) preached against Freemasonry, calling it a “new infidel faith.” In 1793, Ecumenical Patriarch Neophytus VII listed the Freemasons alongside other “organs of perfect impiety and atheism” in an encyclical.

Despite this resistance, Freemasonry spread in the Greek world. Many of the key figures in the Greek War of Independence were Masons, including some bishops and priests. The Masonic-adjacent (spinoff?) secret society Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends) was organized in 1814 and served as the engine of the revolution that was launched seven years later. Some have claimed that Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V — a canonized saint — was a Freemason, although I don’t know if there is any actual evidence for this.

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Tsar Alexander I

Simultaneously, Freemasonry spread in Russia as well, emerging as a trend among the upper classes beginning in the 1770s. At least some clergy, and perhaps a few bishops, were Masons in late 18th and early 19th century Russia. In the wake of the French Revolution, Catherine the Great banned Freemasonry in 1794, concerned about its potential to subvert the authority of the monarchy. When Catherine’s grandson Alexander took the throne in 1801, he reversed the imperial policy, becoming a protector of Freemasonry, allowing the movement to grow and flourish, and surrounding himself with Masonic advisors.

One source (Jean-François Var, cited at the end of this article) claims that St Philaret of Moscow was a Freemason — a rather shocking claim, and one that does not hold up under scrutiny. Var’s source for this is a French text by Tatiana Bakounine, Répertoire biographique des Francs-Maçons russes, originally published in 1940 and then again in 1967. I haven’t read this source (it’s hard to find), but as I understand it, Bakounine didn’t necessarily have official membership lists — she was trying to reconstruct a partial list of Masons, more than a century after the fact. It’s possible that this is a case of guilt by association — many Freemasons were involved in the Russian Bible Society (including the Ober Procurator of the Holy Synod, Prince Alexander Golitsyn), and St Philaret was also deeply involved in the Bible Society in the late 1810s and early 1820s. (St Philaret’s involvement was rooted in his commitment to the translation of the Bible, and the teaching of Orthodoxy, in the vernacular — a commitment that lasted throughout his life and eventually led to the production of an official translation of the Bible in Russian, blessed by the Holy Synod.)

On the other hand, there’s an enormous body of evidence that St Philaret was not a Mason and, in fact, was very much opposed to Freemasonry. His spiritual father, Fr Anthony Medvedev (a disciple of St Seraphim of Sarov) was himself an outspoken opponent of Freemasonry. St Philaret consistently opposed the occult and external influences and advocated for the sacrament of confession and loyalty to civil authorities.

In 1822, Tsar Alexander I did an about-face and banned Freemasonry in the Russian Empire. This coincided with a broader shift in Alexander’s outlook and behavior, as he deepened his commitment to the Orthodox faith in the years leading up to his (purported) death in 1825. It also coincided with the rise of St Philaret, who became Archbishop of Moscow in 1821 and authored Alexander’s secret will, which passed over the Tsar’s presumptive heir (his brother Constantine) to give the throne to his younger brother Nicholas. If anything, the evidence we have might suggest that St Philaret could have played a role in the banning of Freemasonry in Russia. There is no reasonable basis to suggest that he was a Mason or even a sympathizer.

(Regarding St Philaret, I am indebted to Professor Nicholas Racheotes, the author of the excellent The Life and Thought of Filaret Drozdov, 1782–1867: The Thorny Path to Sainthood, who graciously answered my questions via email.)

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Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante

Throughout the 19th century, following the example of Greece, many Orthodox-majority countries gained their independence, and as a general rule, Freemasonry played an important role. Jean-François Var writes, “Within those politically and nationally committed Freemasonries, we can find priests, monks, even bishops, as members. So Freemasonry and Orthodox Churches closely cooperated in the fight for national freedom.”

While many of the Greek Independence leaders were Masons, the movement was not universally accepted in Greece. A controversy over Freemasonry erupted on the island of Zakynthos (Zante) in the 1880s. Archbishop Dionysius of Zante was one of the most prominent and respected bishops in the Church of Greece, and several years later, he would be the first Greek Orthodox bishop to set foot in the Western Hemisphere when he came to America to attend the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Dionysius published a magazine and would answer questions from his readers. In 1884, someone sent in a question about Freemasonry. Dionysius’s answer was cautious: he didn’t know much about Freemasonry but had concerns about their secrecy. He’d met plenty of Masons in various countries and they told him that their only focus was on doing good, but Dionysius countered that we have the Church for that and we don’t need a parallel organization like Freemasonry. However, Dionysius concluded that he couldn’t say anything too definitive about it because he lacked sufficient knowledge and had heard both positives and negatives.

A few years later, one of Dionysius’s experienced priests, Fr Ioannis Stratis, became a Mason…..

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9 COMMENTS

  1. There are masons and masonakia.
    I do not like to make a deep step in
    this subject , I will only referred to
    things that happened to hear from
    friends who were masons. With some
    of them we remained friends and with
    some others stoped talking to each other and the reason was that they
    were trying to make me accept the fact that they were better Christians
    than the non masons Christians which
    was a big lie .
    Masons is a secret society they do not
    have constitution or they have but they do not publish it and this is one
    of the facts that many people avoid to
    become memers . For many years they were not allowed to enter to the Christian church and they change it to
    avoid scandals with in family and friends. One thing that I have heard
    from some of them is that by becoming Mason your future will be
    great and you may reach high rank
    position and I was always telling them;” The higher the riskier”.
    All those they say or wrote about
    Filiki Eteria that they were masons it’s
    a big lie , they say so in order to feel
    better. We all know The Ecumenical
    Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis who made the schism of the Orthodox Church between old and new calendar
    and spread division amongst Orthodox
    Christians and we the Hellenes are the
    only Orthodox that we celebrate
    Christmas with Catholics and now
    this Patriarch is heading us to celebrate Easter with the Catholics.
    Personal I do not believe everything
    I read I use my own thought .
    Years ago when Korais honoured the greatest clergy leader Archibishop
    Iakovos and I was the President of
    the organising committee and I was going very often to his office in
    Manhattan in one of my visits I told him that I heard some people talking
    about you that you are mason , is that true? . He smiled and said , Captain
    most probably those people are masons and in order to feel comfortable they say Iakovos is also
    Mason. I really do not care what every one is , what I do not like is to try make me believe that is the perfect
    organisation. I know that they are helping each other within the narrow
    circle only and this is not according to
    what Jesus Christ is teething us , but
    to help every one who needs help.
    Please read the book of the Journalist
    Kostas Charouhas to become more
    informed.

    • “We the Hellenes are the
      only Orthodox that we celebrate
      Christmas with Catholics”

      Simply not true; Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians and others also use the new calendar.

        • Not true , Stelios Tatsis … the Jewish Zionist Neo Nazi Zelensky and his regime have just declared that the State owned Ukrainian Orthodox Churches will now make them celebrate Christmas according to U.S Christmas calender!
          So Stelios ..you will have to add Ukraine to Romania as another State department Franchise !
          And by the way Tom… as a Greek Orthodox Christian family , of course we have a Christmas celebration based on the enormous population of Non Greek Orthodox citizens pf America, as do jews!
          Simply put …Christmas in America is not a spiritual Christmas , but a time to celebrate Santa Clauss and exchanging Gifts ..which in Greece was never part of that !
          This is hilarious … Greeks celebrate “Thanksgiving” , which is meaningless to Greek Orthodox Christians , because it celebrates ” The Native indians sharing there food and day of friendship with the Puritan Settlers” , who ultimately genocided the Native Indians of America , in thanks!

          Yes , we Greeks in America refer to our Christmas as the “little Christmas” only because it encompases only Greek Orthodox Christians , not any of the mass Catholic and Protestant Chruches of Americ!

          By the way Tom …we also celebrate in America the Sabbath day of Sunday , when the sabath day is historically Saturday , another little trick of the Christian churches of the West !

  2. For more information on this subject please search the topic on Orthodox Reflections- looking at life in the Orthodox Faith. There are two detailed articles there

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