Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy
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The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe is a diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople with see in Venice. The diocese was created in 1991. Current Archbishop and Metropolitan is Gennadios Zervos.
The presence of Orthodox Christianity in Sicily and Italy has its strength in the Greek diaspora, where cities like Syracuse, Messina, and Ragusa were founded by Greek colonists and were part of Magna Graecia before the conquest by the Romans.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the southern areas of Italy, such as Sicily, Puglia, Calabria remained under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) until the Norman conquest in the 11th century. In 1054, the Great Schism divided the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox bishops were replaced by Roman Catholic bishops and many churches, monasteries, convents and priories were suppressed or destroyed. By 1200, this division was essentially realized in Sicily and Southern Italy with the gradual appointment by the Norman kings of Roman Catholic bishops.
The Italo-Byzantine Monastery of St. Mary of Grottaferrata, 20 kilometers south of Rome, was founded by St. Nilus of Rossano in 1004, fifty years before the division between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church and remains to this day an enclave of Byzantine tradition under the Roman jurisdiction. The immigration of Albanian Orthodox to Southern Italy contributed to a brief revival of Orthodoxy in the fifteenth century, but soon the Albanians were assimilated by the Catholic Church, which preserved their autonomy and ritual distinctiveness within the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, of the Byzantine Rite.
The Italian Orthodox Church went underground, and the Bishops used to move to avoid persecution. Consequently, they were referred to as bishops residing in a given place, rather than as diocesan territorial overseers. However, due to its small numbers and persistent persecution by their Roman Catholic brothers, the Italian Orthodox Church became almost extinct and there were times when gaps existed in the hierarchy. Due to the persecution, comes the belief that there were many married bishops ordained secretly, although this practice was not endorsed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nevertheless, the Church has survived to this day and is experiencing a period of revitalization.
After the fall of Constantinople, many Greeks sought refuge in Italy and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople nominated a Metropolitan residing in Venice from 1537 to 1797. After the Napoleonic era until 1922, the Orthodox communities in Italy remained disorganised and dependent upon visiting priests and bishops. The continuation of that presence is represented by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy, which was established and created in 1991 by an act of the Holy Synod of the Church of Constantinople (Ecumenical Patriarchate). The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople re-organized the Orthodox churches in Italy: initially under the Exarchate of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (1922–1963), and under the Exarchate of the Archdiocese of Austria-Hungary (1963–1991), and finally created the Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe in 1991, with its Metropolitan See in Venice. Today the archdiocese has 49 churches.
There is today the Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and several Italian parishes under other canonical authorities.
Archbishops of Italy
- Spiridion Papageorgiou (1991-1996)
- Gennadios Zervos (1996-present)