Obituary: His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios

by
29 November 2019

Alexios Gennaris

The chairman of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, Canon William Taylor, writes:

HIS Eminence Archbishop Gregorios (born Gregorios Theocharous Hadjitofi), a former Archbishop of Thyateira & Great Britain, died at 7am on Wednesday 20 November, aged 91.

Born in the village of Marathovounos, in Cyprus on 28 October 1928, he was the ninth and last child of Maria and Theocharis Hadjitofi, who died when Gregorios was three years old. After completing his primary education at the village school, the 11-year-old Gregorios became an apprentice shoemaker in his brother-in-law’s shop, working there for the next eight years. At the age of 20, he was accepted in secondary school; he enrolled in 1949 at the Higher Commercial School of Lefkoniko. In 1951, he transferred to the Pan-Cypriot Gymnasium In Nicosia, and was ordained deacon in 1953 in St Sava’s, Nicosia, by the late Archbishop Makarios III.

His ecclesiastical life and career thus begun, he graduated from the Gymnasium in 1954 and was enrolled in the Theological School of the University of Athens, but, before receiving his university degree in 1959, he was sent to serve at All Saints’ in Camden, London. He was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Thyateira, Athenagoras (Kawadas), later that year.

In 1964, he was appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Thyateira, and, in 1970, was consecrated Bishop of Tropaiou, administering St Mary’s Cathedral and St Barnabas the Apostle in Wood Green, north London. In 1988, he was unanimously elected by the Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as Archbishop of Thyateira & Great Britain, thus beginning a 30-year archiepiscopate, throughout which he was Orthodox Patron of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association. It was during this time that he rose to national and international recognition as the “face of Orthodoxy” in these islands.

Neither the bare bones of a long and well-lived life, nor the recording of ecclesiastical honours convey personality. It was this which made Archbishop Gregorios stand out, and at the same time drew people to him. He was not impressed by high rank, wealth, or power, and never dismissed people at the opposite end of the spectrum.

A close friend of Archbishop Gregorios recalled arriving at his residence very early one morning to go out on an official engagement with him to find the rubbish-collecting van outside the house and hearing laughter from behind the van. There was Archbishop Gregorios, laughing and joking with the rubbish collectors, acknowledging their humanity and the dignity of their work. At the same time, he acted as spiritual adviser to the high-born, including royalty.

As Archbishop, he never became remote, grand or bureaucratic. Whenever I needed to speak to him I did, and never had to make an appointment with the PA to the PA to the PA. As a Bishop, he cared about clergy — not only his own, but also others not of his own Church. When I had trouble of my own, it was to him I turned, knowing that I would be given the time and the wisdom I needed, with no “note on the file” culture. At Christmas, I would often find a simple gift on my doorstep (homemade Cypriot marmalade was a favourite) with a note from him. The human connection was always there, especially in his capacity to make the person to whom he was talking feel like the most important person in the room. Unusually, he combined high ecclesiastical office with great spiritual wisdom and human warmth.

He was the right Archbishop for the right times, overseeing the rapid growth of the Greek Orthodox Church in the UK from less than 100 parishes and monasteries at the time of his appointment as Archbishop to 125 at the time of his retirement and subsequent death in 2019 — I the last decade, more than 100,000 Greeks arrived to live in the UK. He was also dedicated to the many church schools in the Archdiocese, always supporting and encouraging the staff and students by his frequent visits. During this time, Orthodoxy (in its many forms) became part of the mainstream expression of the Christian faith in this country, and latterly no national event seemed complete without his presence.

His final days were, by his own lights, too long. As he lay confined to bed, he expressed the hope that he was ready to die, while still retaining the wisdom for which he was known for those around him. An Anglican Bishop who was close to him visited him in his final days and asked for his blessing, which he gave. When told that his visitor would be ordaining deacons the next day, his eyes lit up and he said, “Deacons — the meaning of the ordained ministry.”

Archbishop Gregorius embodied the orthodox Christian belief, expressed through the Orthodox Church, that our full humanity will be revealed only after the death of our physical body. It is that full humanity which he has now entered close to His Lord and ours.

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