June 3, 2020

Holy Hieromartyr Joseph III (Antonopoulos), Archbishop of Thessaloniki (+ 1821)

St. Joseph III of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - June 3)

Saint Joseph, originally from Dimitsana in the Peloponnese, was Metropolitan of Thessaloniki during the difficult years of the Ottoman occupation and especially during the years of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, when he was captured by the Turks and killed. Although he is not officially recognized as a Saint by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he is recognized locally in Thessaloniki as a Holy Ethnomartyr and Hieromartyr. We do not have a complete biography of Saint Joseph, so what we do have has been gathered from sporadic sources. Most of the information we have comes from his service in the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, during which time his signature was affixed to important synodal documents.

Joseph was from Dimistsana, where the later Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople was also from and with whom he may have been peers or perhaps a little younger. He came from the well-known Antonopoulos family, which contributed much to the struggle of 1821. Until recently, there was a view that he bore the surname Daliviris, until the Memoirs of Kanelos Deligiannis were published, where it is recorded that the brother of Joseph, Athanasios Antonopoulos, was killed by the Sultan in Constantinople with Patriarch Gregory V, and thus his real last name was revealed. Though we do not know of his educational background, it seems likely he studied in Smyrna, where Gregory V was educated.

When Gregory V ascended the Patriarchal throne, Joseph was appointed Deacon to the Metropolitan of Ephesus. He then became the Chancellor of the Patriarch. On 20 August 1787 he was elected to be the Metropolitan of Drama. Metropolitan Joseph was distinguished for his education, piety, and industriousness. He even contributed financially to the publication of various works. He also urged Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite (July 14) to write the Synaxaristes, a work whose publication he had promised to finance. Indeed, after Nikodemos' death in 1819, Joseph kept his promise, only to keep his offer a secret. Finally, he financially supported the School of his birthplace.

From the autumn of probably 1808 or 1809 Joseph attended the Patriarchal Synod as Metropolitan of Drama. During this period we find his signature in various synodal documents, including the printed sigil of Patriarch Kallinikos V in 1809, which is an act of submission to the Ottoman rule of both the Metropolitans and the Christians.

In November 1810 Joseph was transferred to Thessaloniki to succeed the late Gerasimos. The Diocese of Drama was a poor ecclesiastical district in relation to Thessaloniki; so this promotion was an act of recognition of Joseph's contribution to the Church.

During the years 1819 - 1821, Joseph again participated in the Patriarchal Synod, this time of course as the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki. Thus we find his signature in several synodal documents and letters, as in the encyclical of 1820, which Gregory V addresses to the Metropolitan, the Bishops and the people of Thessaloniki, in order not to be seduced by the movement of Ali, but to remain faithful to the Sultan. Also, in 1821 Joseph, as a synodal member, also signed the excommunication letter of the protagonists of the liberation struggle. These actions of Joseph should not, as historical research has shown, be perceived as treacherous, but should be interpreted in conjunction with the whole climate of the period and especially with the difficult role that the Patriarchate had taken on as a protector of the Christian population.

Following the outbreak of the revolution in the Danube region, the Patriarch was ordered by a firman on March 9 to send some of the distinguished hierarchs to the Sublime Porte. However, this may have happened when the Peloponnese uprising was announced to the Sultanate, at which point specific persons were asked to do so, otherwise he would have to put himself in the group of sent envoys to the Porte.

In fact, the arrests of the hierarchs must have taken place gradually; Dionysios of Ephesus must have been the first to be arrested and imprisoned, since we do not find his signature on any of the patriarchal documents denouncing the movement. Then followed Athanasios of Nicomedia and Eugenios of Anchialos who were killed together with Patriarch Gregory V. After April 10, Gregory of Derkon, Ioannikios of Tyrnovou, Dorotheos of Adrianople and Joseph of Thessaloniki were arrested and imprisoned at the prison of the Bostancıbaşı. The imprisonment of the hierarchs lasted for a long time. On May 27, when the Sultan was informed of the burning of the Turkish duchy in Lesvos, he ordered the killing of the prisoners in retaliation. Thus, on June 3, the victims, along with their executioner, were transported to the European beach of the Bosphorus to be executed. Ioannikios of Tyrnovou was hanged first in Arnaoutkioi, then Dorotheos of Adrianople in Megalo Reuma, third was Joseph in Neochori and finally Gregory of Derkon in Therapia.

After Joseph's death, his property was confiscated and the School of his homeland was deprived of the financial support he gave. In July of the same year, Matthew of Ainos was transferred to the Metropolitan throne of Thessaloniki, where he remained until 1824.