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John Wesley & Gerasimos Avlonites: Two Paintings

Many of us who are interested in the theology of John Wesley are also fascinated by the connections that seem to exist between Wesley’s theology and the theology of the Eastern Orthodox church. For example, the Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis seems to mirror strikingly Wesley’s teaching on Christian Perfection.

Gerasimos Avlonites

Gerasimos Avlonites, portrait by Inès Lee commissioned by John Das

But, then, there is also the fascinating story of John Wesley and Gerasimos Avlonites (also known as Erasmus of Arcadia), an 18th century Greek Orthodox bishop — and friend of Wesley’s. Gerasimos Avlonites originally hailed from Crete. Ted A. Campbell describes him as “a native of Corfu and a subject of the Latin and Catholic Republic of Venice, [he was] exiled from his ecclesiastical see in Ottoman-dominated Crete, [and] brought his own pietistic sense of Christian unity to his interactions with European Protestants who were also evolving a pietistic sense of Christian identity in the mid-eighteenth century.”

Arnold A. Dallimore refers to the relationship of John Wesley and this man when writing on the life of Charles Wesley:

John Wesley showed him kindness but had one of his men write to the Patriarch of Smyrna inquiring about him. He received word that Erasmus was the Bishop of Arcadia on the Isle of Crete. Wesley also heard the same from Amsterdam, and accordingly accepted him as a link in the supposed chain of the apostolic succession.

John Wesley spoke highly of Gerasimos Avlonites saying: “He had abundant unexceptionable credentials as to his episcopal character.”

There is a brief and helpful entry on him (with links to further information) at Wikipedia here: Erasmus of Arcadia. This article contains the following claim:

He is regarded as the founder of the first Greek Orthodox congregation in Amsterdam. In 1763, the Greek bishop, who was visiting London at the time, consecrated John Wesley a bishop, and ordained several Methodist lay preachers as priests, including John Jones and Thomas Bryant.

While I think the claim that Gerasimos Avlonites “consecrated John Wesley as a bishop” is in doubt (more on that below), it is true that some of Wesley’s lay preachers were ordained by him.

In early 2018, John Das chose to draw attention to this interesting relationship by commissioning two paintings. Although John’s career is in the profession of medicine, he has always had a passion for theology and ecumenism, especially in relations between Catholicism and Methodism. This particular historic ecumenical interaction between early Methodism and Eastern Orthodoxy has been of especial interest to him. These commissioned paintings call attention to this.

The artist, Inès Lee, is the wife of a Lutheran priest, and has her specialties in landscape, portrait and genre paintings in watercolor and oil. Although now based in Brooklyn, she has lived in parts of Europe and Asia, which have contributed to her artistic formation.

The first of the commissioned paintings is of Gerasimos Avlonites himself. (You can see a picture of this included in this post above.)

Gerasimos Avlonites Ordains John Wesley to the Episcopate

Gerasimos Avlonites Ordains John Wesley to the Episcopate, painting by Inès Lee commissioned by John Das

The second of these paintings requires a little more comment. As I already stated, John Wesley had some of his lay preachers ordained by Gerasimos Avlonites. This was in 1764, and Gerasimos Avlonites ordained several Methodist clergy, most notably the Reverend John Jones, whose Holy Orders came to be recognized by Wesley. In addition, John Wesley desired that other Methodist lay preachers be ordained, so that they might be able to administer the sacraments. In light of this, it has been claimed that John Wesley petitioned Gerasimos Avlonites to ordain him as a bishop, an act that could not be announced due to England’s praemunire law. The second painting commissioned by John Das is thus Gerasimos Avlonites Ordains John Wesley to the Episcopate.

There is some scholarly doubt whether John Wesley’s ordination as a bishop, at the hands of Gerasimos Avlonites, ever actually occurred. Joining other scholars, John Das himself believes that the Erasmian consecration probably did not occur, although he finds that it would have interesting implications for Methodism, with respect to apostolic succession, as understood in a catholic sense.

John Das hopes that these paintings will stir a greater interest in the history of Christianity, as well as in ecumenical relations between Christian Churches. These paintings are the first in history to illustrate Erasmus of Arcadia, as well as the possible consecration of John Wesley to the episcopate.

Larger pictures of these paintings can be found at Wikipedia here: Gerasimos Avlonites and here: Gerasimos Avlonites Ordains John Wesley to the Episcopate.

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