Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I died in Istanbul, Turkey on July 7, 1972 at age 86.
A giant in global Orthodoxy, Athenagoras first went to the United States to unite a fractured group of politically-opposed communities into one archdiocese.
The patriarch is widely-remembered for making a historical agreement with Pope Paul VI in 1965 to revoke the mutual excommunication decrees of 1054 between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
The meeting marked the first between leaders of the split church since the original East-West Schism almost 1,000 years prior.
Athenagoras was born as Aristocles Matthew Spyrou on April 6, 1886 in the village of Vasiliko near Ioannina, Greece. From an early age, he devoted himself to religion due to encouragement he received from his mother and the village priest.
On November 1, 1948, he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. Shortly thereafter, U.S. President Harry Truman offered his presidential airplane to the patriarch to fly from the U.S. to Istanbul — where he assumed his new position.
Today, a statue of Athenagoras stands in Chania, Crete.
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