Rev. Dionyisios Demessianos, 1930s



Wrong doing on the part of the clergy is always in the news regardless of the denomination. Our first question is “What did they do? Were they defrocked?”  Every faith can cite examples of priests that have done something wrong.   In our community's history, there are several examples of Greek Orthodox priests that have done something wrong and were either reprimanded or defrocked.  This article is about Rev. Dionysios Demessianos, a defrocked Greek Orthodox priest who served at Holy Trinity in San Francisco from 1936 – 1939. 

This article also delves into the topic of independent parishes. It's important to note that after the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1922, there were many independent parishes in the United States who did not want to be under the jurisdiction of  the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The church gradually brought almost all of these independent parishes under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese within a twenty year period.

Reverend Dionysios Demessianos was born in 1887 on the island of Corfu. He graduated from the Greek Theological School in Halki and the University of Athens.  He was appointed by the Greek government as a chaplain in the Greek army. He came to the United States in 1922 from Smyrna, Asia Minor. The Archbishop of Athens assigned him to a parish in the United States to meet the needs of the growing number of Greek immigrants. He arrived in the United States with his Presvytera Cleo and their children, Mary, Katerina, and Alex.

His first assignment was at St. Spyridon in Newport, RI. He was the second priest in their history. He served from 1924 -1927.

In 1927, Rev. Dionysios Demessianos came to Detroit as the priest of the Hellenic Orthodox Church, St. Sophia. When he failed to receive his salary, he resigned and organized his own congregation, the Independent Hellenic Orthodox Church. Theodore Gerasimos, president of the older congregation, sued him for the financial loss which he had sustained due to his departure. Mr. Gerasimos was ordered to pay all the court costs of his action. Later, he secured the writ, claiming that Father Demessianos owed him obligations. The damage done to the Independent  Hellenic Orthodox Church was severe but not irreparable.

During this time period, Reverend Dionysios was defrocked by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Instead of choosing a different career, he chose to serve independent parishes that did not want to be under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese. He (and possibly others) created the "Autonomous Hellenic Orthodox Archdiocese SE", an independent church.

In 1929, family members recall Reverend Dionysios sending a letter asking the Archbishop if he could marry two family members and his request was denied. He no longer had the authority to perform sacraments recognized by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

In 1933, he was appointed priest of the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Holy Cross in Birmingham, Alabama.

Reverend Dionysios, at times, struggled to pay his monthly bills. Several family members helped him with his living expenses. Presvytera Cleo did not travel  with him. She stayed on the east coast close to her children.

San Francisco, the Vote for Unification and the Aftermath

It's important to note that the Holy Trinity parish council during the 1920s recognized that they needed to be under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese but they also recognized the Autonomous Hellenic Orthodox Archdiocese.  In other words, there were factions within the parish community that believed they had the right to be independent.

After the Great Depression started in 1929,  St. Sophia Cathedral (later Annunciation) struggled financially. In July 1935, Bank of America filed an "Notice of Default and Election to Sell" and in December 1935, Bank of America bought St. Sophia in a foreclosure auction.  Holy Trinity's parish council discussed the bankruptcy and believed that they would need to plan for St. Sophia parishioners returning to Holy Trinity.

Fr. Vasilios Lokis arrived at Holy Trinity in May 1936 as an assistant priest to Fr. Constantine Tsapralis. Fr. Tsapralis had served Holy Trinity since 1903 and the intent was to have Fr. Lokis take over after Fr. Tsapralis’ retirement.  Fr. Lokis wanted to unite the two churches in San Francisco as St. Sophia Cathedral. Fr. Lokis started a campaign to unite St. Sophia and Holy Trinity. Members of Holy Trinity's parish council felt his speeches were inflammatory and incited anger and rioting. The president of Holy Trinity's parish council wrote letters and sent telegrams to the Archdiocese requesting his removal. The primary reason for requesting Fr. Lokis' removal is that he tried to appoint parish council members that would vote for unification instead of allowing the parish community to vote for who they wanted. Fr. Lokis’ move for unification created a schism within the community.

Holy Trinity's parish council filed a restraining order preventing Fr. Lokis from entering Holy Trinity property. Both churches took a vote for unification in 1936. St. Sophia voted for unification and Holy Trinity voted against it. The lawsuit was settled and as a part of the settlement Holy Trinity dismissed Fr. Lokis.  St. Sophia hired Fr. Lokis and Fr. Tsapralis. Holy Trinity’s parish council requested another priest.  Holy Trinity's parish council decided to be independent of the Archdiocese and they hired Demessianos as their next priest. At the time the San Francisco Examiner erroneously reported that Rev. Demessianos was under the Patriarchate of Antioch.  Over half of the parishioners at Holy Trinity left and went to St. Sophia and through the Greek Community's support, St. Sophia came out of bankruptcy and reorganized as Annunciation Cathedral.

In 1937, Rev. Demessianos was elevated to the "episcopacy" by the schismatic "Living (or Renovationist) Church" of Russia.  He took the name "Damaskinos Demessianos".  It’s important to note that the “Living or Renovationist Church” was the church put in place by the Russian communist government. The Russian Orthodox church did not elevate him to the episcopacy.  That is the reason why the word “schismatic” is used.

Reverend Demessianos lived at 1211 1/2 Guerrero Street. He served until 1939. The parish later hired Fr. Ambrosios Mandalaris as their next priest. Fr. Mandalaris was under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Holy Trinity's history as an independent parish lasted three years. There are no records of any sacraments performed during Reverend Demessianos’ time at Holy Trinity.

Reverend Demessianos' health declined in the late 1940s / early 1950s. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery . He spent his retirement years in Newport, RI. Reverend Demessianos passed away in 1960 at the age of 73. He died in San Francisco and his body was brought back to Newport, RI. He is buried next to Presvytera Cleo at the Newport cemetery.

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Copyright: Jim Lucas & Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area