Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Prince Philip, Orthodoxy and His Unknown Visit to Mount Athos in 1992

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was born on the Greek island of Kerkyra on the dining room table of the villa of Mon Repos on 10 June 1921.

He was baptized by the Greek Orthodox priest Fr. George Sardanis, at the Church of Saint George in the Old Fortress.

When he was eighteen months old he was exiled from Greece with his family. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, had been sentenced to death for high treason after the Asia Minor catastrophe, and was saved at the last minute, with British intervention. He was blamed in part for the country's defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and for the loss of Greek territory, and the family was forced into exile until the restoration of the Greek monarchy in 1935.

The British naval vessel HMS Calypso evacuated Prince Andrew's family, with Philip carried to safety in a cot made from a fruit box. Philip's family went to France, where they settled in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud in a house lent to them by his wealthy aunt, Princess George of Greece and Denmark. Prince Andrew and his family were stripped of their Greek nationality, and traveled under Danish passports.

Prince Andrew with a young Prince Philip

Because Philip left Greece as a baby, he did not speak Greek. In 1992, he said that he "could understand a certain amount". This is probably due to his father, who preferred speaking Greek. Philip stated that he thought of himself as Danish, and his family spoke English, French, and German. Philip was somewhat raised as a Greek Orthodox Christian, though he never really had an upbringing from his parents, as his father was always away and estranged from his wife by 1930, and his mother suffered from a "mental illness" (her deep piety and conversion to Orthodoxy was diagnosed as schizophrenia by the royal nobility and this caused the estrangement from her husband after she was admitted against her will to an asylum), so he was thus left to mostly take care of himself.  
Though Philip appeared "always to have regarded himself as an Anglican", and he had attended Anglican services with his classmates and relations in England and throughout his Royal Navy days, he had been baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, wanted to "regularise" Philip's position by officially receiving him into the Church of England, which he did in October 1947, before he was married.

Prince Andrew, Philip's father, died in Monaco in 1944 and was at first buried in the Russian Orthodox church in Nice, but in 1946 his remains were transferred, by the Greek cruiser Averof, to the royal cemetery at Tatoi Palace, near Athens.

Prince Philip with his mother Princess Alice in Greece in 1964

Philip's mother Princess Alice (known properly as Princess Andrew) was admitted to the Orthodox Church on October 20, 1928. Her decision was conscious and personal, influenced by the life of her saintly aunt, Holy Grand Duchess of Russia and New Martyr Elizabeth. During the German Occupation of Greece she was in charge of distributing food to those in need, while she herself lost 26 kilos. Because she protected a Jewish family in her home during this time, she is now considered one of the "Righteous Among the Nations".

In January 1949, the princess founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, modeled after the convent that her aunt, the martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, had founded in Russia in 1909. She trained on the Greek island of Tinos, established a home for the order in a hamlet north of Athens, and undertook two tours of the United States in 1950 and 1952 in an effort to raise funds. However, the order eventually failed through a lack of suitable applicants.

After the fall of King Constantine II of Greece and the imposition of military rule in Greece in 1967, she was invited by her son and daughter-in-law to live at Buckingham Palace in London, where she died two years later. During this time she had an Orthodox chapel built in Buckingham Palace. In 1988, according to her wishes, her remains were transferred from a vault in her birthplace, Windsor Castle, to the Church of Mary Magdalene at the Russian Orthodox convent of the same name on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, to be near the remains of her aunt. Her remains were received by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Prince William visits the tomb of his Great Grandmother at Gethsemane

Prince Philip did not have good relations with Greece, because he attributed to it the dissolution of his family and connected the country where he was born with the near execution of his father. However, his children, and especially Prince Charles, inherited a love for Greece and a respect for their Orthodox heritage. Prince Charles has visited Greece and Mount Athos several times.

Due to his bad memories regarding Greece, Prince Philip visited only a few times in his hectic life. Only two of his visits are known. Once during the German Occupation, when he disembarked from a British submarine in Kerkyra to visit the place where he was born and the priest who baptized him, Fr. George Sardanis. The other was in 1964, when he attended the wedding of King Constantine of Greece.

What is unknown, however, is that Prince Philip was back in Greece in the autumn of 1992. The reason was to visit Mount Athos.

The Prince visited the Church of Protaton in Karyes and the then Iberian Holy Supervision. Then he walked on the route from the Monastery of Stavronikita to the Monastery of Pantokratoros. He also visited the Monastery of Simonopetra, where he spent the night. Leaving Mount Athos, he visited the Monastery of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Ormylia, Halkidiki. In the top color photo above, Prince Philip is on the famous balcony of Simonopetra.

In an article of that time written by Giles Milton (The Spectator, 14 March 1992), it was revealed that in May 1991 he had spoken in private to a Russian Orthodox bishop in London (Anthony Bloom) and for June 1993 he was planning a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, a visit to the Holy Mountain of Athos in Northern Greece and a visit to the Patriarch of Moscow. In the same article, the Prince’s words to an Orthodox conference on Ecology in Crete in November 1991 were also quoted:

"The Orthodox Church has always known that every form of religious expression, worship, prayer, festival, preaching, monastic life or mysticism – can provide the inspiration to a practical response to the ecological crisis."

On 25 May 2011, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, met with Prince Philip, at Buckingham Palace. Metropolitan Hilarion greeted the Prince with his coming 90th birthday and presented him with an icon of Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth the New Martyr, who was beloved by his mother. They discussed various matters about Orthodoxy and Mount Athos.

His funeral is scheduled to take place on 17 April 2021 at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

The Spectator (14 March 1992) article is offered below:

By Giles Milton
AT THE age of 70, Prince Philip seems to be in a reflective mood. A glance at his diary for the following year suggests that, though he converted to Anglicanism on his marriage to the Queen, he is anxious to rediscover his Greek Orthodox roots. He has personally planned a number of foreign trips that will take him on a pilgrimage to the holy peninsula of Mount Athos and to meetings with Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Prince Philip was baptised into the Greek Orthodox Church and brought up in a devoutly religious family. His great-aunt died for her faith, according to Prince Philip, while his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, became a nun after she was widowed. She created a private chapel for herself in Buckingham Palace which was hastily dismantled following her death in 1969.

The Orthodox rite differs from that of the Western Church in stressing the central importance of the liturgy as well as in retaining the rituals of worship such as icons and incense. Together with the Bible these are seen as forming a living continuity with the early church. The Eastern Church was excommunicated in 1054; since that time Western Christians including Anglicans like Prince Philip have not been allowed to take communion in the Orthodox Church.

It is not unusual for people to find a deep sense of faith as they grow old. Although Prince Philip has spent half a lifetime of association with the Church of England, he has increasingly sought a personal role within the Orthodox Church since having a private meeting with the Russian Orthodox Bishop, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, last May.

Buckingham Palace, aware that the Queen's position as head of the Church of England makes these trips especially sensitive, has been anxious to avoid any publicity. 'We have no knowledge of them,' a Palace spokesman said. 'They are not recorded in Prince Philip's diary.' But the Duke of Edinburgh's religious consultant, Martin Palmer, has confirmed that plans for all the trips are almost complete.

Prince Philip will visit the new Patriarch of Constantinople in June and address an Orthodox conference in Turkey. This trip in particular is said to be causing unease at the Foreign Office — Turkey's tiny Christian community has a precarious existence in the predominantly Muslim state, and the religious academy Prince Philip will visit on the island of Heybeliade in the sea of Marmara has only recently been allowed to re-open by the Turkish authorities.

Later in the year, Prince Philip intends to visit Mount Athos — the monastic and spiritual centre of Greek Orthodoxy and in 1993 he is planning to meet the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow — the first time that a senior member of the royal family will have visit- ed the country since the Romanovs were assassinated in 1917.

Prince Philip and Martin Palmer have collaborated in the planning of the foreign visits. Palmer — director of the Manchester-based International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture and often described as the Duke's religious 'guru' — told me he believes that .Prince Philip's growing interest in Orthodoxy is due in part to his dissatisfaction with the Church of England.

This first struck Mr Palmer when he was commissioned to write a liturgy for a Radio Four religious programme. He involved Prince Philip in the project, and was told by the Duke to make it just like an Orthodox liturgy. 'That was my first hint that he felt there was something deeper in Orthodoxy,' he said.

Palmer believes that the Duke of Edinburgh is also sympathetic to the hierarchical structure of the Eastern Church something which the Church of England has lost. 'Prince Philip is a person who responds to chains of authority and the Orthodox Church is a very hierarchical church,' he said. 'The lines of authority are absolutely crystal clear. When the Patriarch says "jump" you ask "how high?" After a lifetime of dealing with Anglican bishops — who when you say "jump" ask where and why — I think there is a certain meeting of minds. There is an authoritative structure in Orthodoxy that appeals to Prince Philip's own sense of responsibility.'

Prince Philip's personal interest in ecology also naturally pulls him towards the Orthodox Church rather than the Church of England. The Eastern Churches celebrate the physical world in a way which is somewhat frowned upon by the Church of England. As President of the World Wildlife Fund, Prince Philip can readily identify with the more earthy Orthodox approach, and has already agreed to take part in a future series of six radio programmes about Orthodoxy and ecology for the World Service.

In November last year Prince Philip addressed a pan-Orthodox conference in Crete on why he believed religion held the key to the future of the environment. Untypically for Prince Philip — whose speeches are often notable for their vagueness — this one was highly specific in its praise for the Orthodox Church.

'The Orthodox Church has always known that every form of religious expression worship, prayer, festival, preaching, monastic life or mysticism — can provide the inspiration to a practical response [to the ecological crisis]; he said. 'The Orthodox Church is setting a splendid example of practical action. The challenge is for all the Orthodox Churches to examine their consciences and to consult their scriptures so that all their members can make an appropriate response to the crisis that is now confronting God's Creation.'

The strong relationship between Prince Philip and the Orthodox Church seems to be a meeting of like minds. 'We all had a very interesting discussion in Crete as to whether Prince Philip was still Orthodox or not,' says Palmer. 'The monks said his conversion to Anglicanism 49 years ago didn't matter because he was baptised Orthodox and that is all that really counts.'
Nov. 6, 1991 at the Orthodox Academy of Crete