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Orbituary: Metropolitan Damaskinos

The Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Damaskinos passed away in Geneva on 5 November 2011. Born Basil Papandreou in Aetolia, Greece, in 1936 as the youngest child in a family of priests, he attended the Orthodox Halki seminary (closed by the Turkish government in 1971) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1955 to 1959. Following his ordination as a deacon in 1959, when he took the name Damaskinos, he continued his studies in Bonn and Marburg until 1965. It was during his studies, in 1961, that he was ordained to the priesthood and raised to the rank of archimandrite. From 1965 to 1969 he was the abbot of the Orthodox Monastic Centre in Taizé, France. He obtained his doctorate in theology in Athens in 1966.

In 1969 Damaskinos was appointed director of the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, near Geneva, which had opened three years earlier. He also became coordinator of the Secretariat for the Preparation of the Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, a role he held for over 30 years and filled with a matchless drive, determination and theological vision. During that time, the centre became a key point of contact for internal Orthodox developments, for the relations between the eastern and western Orthodox Churches, and for interreligious exchanges. In 1970 Damaskinos was ordained as bishop and elected Metropolitan of Tranoupolis, and in 1982 he became the first Metropolis of the newly formed Ecumenical Patriarchate in Switzerland.

Damaskinos was closely involved with fostering relations between the Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches. Of the seven general meetings of the Joint Orthodox–Old Catholic Theological Commission (1975–1987), three took place at the centre in Chambésy, where the iconographically bold Orthodox Holy Church of St. Paul was opened in 1975. The centre made its administrative infrastructure available for every general meeting, only one of which was organized and financed by the Old Catholic Church. Metropolitan Damaskinos was appointed co-Director of the centre with Bishop Léon Gauthier in 1980, taking over the role from Metropolitan Irenaios, who returned to Crete. For various reasons, however, the goal of full communion between the Churches was not met, despite the successful conclusion of the dialogue at commission level. A further successful official dialogue process was held with the old Oriental (or pre-Chalcedonian) churches, with Damaskinos assuming the co-Presidency in 1988.

Metropolitan Damaskinos received numerous distinctions for his contributions in the fields of theological dialogue between Churches, interreligious dialogue and education. The Faculty of Old Catholic Theology of the University of Bern awarded him (together with the Rt Revd Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester) an honorary doctorate in 1987. The Polish-catholic Church honoured him in 1984 with the Franciszek-Hodur-Medaille. On 22 September 1989 he gave the ceremonial address in Utrecht to mark the 100th anniversary of the Union of Utrecht.

In 2003 Damaskinos was forced to retire from his many commitments after suffering a stroke and becoming partially paralysed. He received the honorary title Metropolitan of Adrianopole and spent his last years in seclusion in Geneva. His final months were marked by sadness.

Old Catholic Bishop emeritus of Switzerland Hans Gerny, who enjoyed a close friendship with Damaskinos, expressed the condolences and gratitude of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht at a memorial service at St. Paul’s in Chambésy on November 10, 2011.

 

Prof. Dr. Urs von Arx

 

Shortly before Damaskinos’ death, a comprehensive appreciation of his life’s work was published. It contains a large selection of photos and was intended as a gift to mark his 75th birthday. Maria Brun, Damaskinos Papandreou. Erster Metropolit der Schweiz 1969-2003, Athens 2011, 766 pages (including a Greek translation by Konstantina Peppa).

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