Metropolitan Anthony Gergiannakis, spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in California and six other Western states, died Saturday of cancer. He was 69.
A resident of San Francisco, he had been hospitalized for several weeks at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where he died, according to Father Paul Schroeder, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco.
Metropolitan Anthony, as he was widely known, became the first bishop of the newly created Metropolis, or diocese, in 1979 and was named metropolitan, a title similar to that of a Roman Catholic cardinal, in 1997. During his 25 years in church leadership in California, he increased the number of parishes from 47 to 68. Currently there are about 250,000 Greek Orthodox in the San Francisco Metropolis and some 2.5 million nationwide, Schroeder said.
Metropolitan Anthony also built three monasteries in his territory, which includes Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as California.
“He was known as the building bishop,” said Theofanis Economides, president of the Metropolitan Council of San Francisco and a close friend of Metropolitan Anthony. His most recent building project was a Hellenic Heritage Library, now in the planning phase, at St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in Dunlap, Calif.
Metropolitan Anthony was also known for his commitment to educating the young. He oversaw the launch of a scholarship fund for seminarians studying to become Greek Orthodox priests and created a number of programs for children of Greek heritage, to teach them about their culture in informal settings.
One of his best-known projects is the Folk Dance and Choral Festival. The annual event is held in various cities in the diocese and features dozens of Greek folk-dance groups as well as a dance competition.
“He saw the festival as a way to bring young people together,” Economides said.
“Metropolitan Anthony was a man of the people,” Schroeder said Monday. “He always stayed in touch with his roots, the small village where he was born.”
A native of Avgeniki on the island of Crete, Metropolitan Anthony graduated from the Halki Theological School of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey, and was ordained in 1960.
He came to the United States and earned a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School before he was named dean of St. George Cathedral in Montreal in 1974. He remained in that position until becoming bishop of the San Francisco Diocese five years later.
Metropolitan Anthony is survived by three sisters and several nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland.
A divine liturgy is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., followed by the funeral at 11 a.m.
Contributions in his name can be made to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, 372 Santa Clara Ave., Santa Clara, CA 94127.