Michael D. Kalopothakis


Michael D. Kalopothakis

Michael D. Kalopothakis


Teacher, physician and theologian Michael Dimitrios Kalopothakis (1825-1911) was born December 17, 1825 in Areopolis the main town on the Mani Peninsula in the Peloponnese. He was best known as the pioneer of Protestantism in Greece and the founder and elder of the Evangelical Church of Greece (Ελληνική Ευαγγελική Εκκλησία).

In 1835, two American philhellenes, G.W. Leyburn and S. Houston, founded a school in Areopoli, which was attended by the 10-year old Kalapothakis. They read the Bible every day in school. Kalapothakis attended the high school of Georgios Gennadios in Athens. In 1842, Kalapothakis became a teacher, but after five years as a middle school director in Gythio (also on the Mani Peninsula, 27km from Areopolis), he ended his teaching career and returned to Athens.

In 1844, he enrolled in the Medical School at the University of Athens completing his education in 1853. Briefly, he was a surgeon in the Greek Army. While at the University of Athens, he attended the meetings of the Presbyterian missionary and philhellene Dr. Jonas King.

In 1853, Kalopothakis decided to quit his military surgeon job and continue his studies in medicine as well as study theology in the United States. He attended and graduated the Columbia University and the Union Theological Seminary a non-denominational Christian seminary in New York City (affiliated with Columbia University). There he met his future wife Martha Hooper Blackler (June 1, 1830 - December 16, 1871). He completed his studies in 1856, was ordained on April 26, 1857, and married Martha in 1858.

Reverend Michael D. Kalopothakis returned to Greece with his wife, Martha, and decided to devote himself to evangelical work. In doing so, he encountered increasing difficulties. Immediately after his return in 1858, Kalopothakis founded the Christian magazine "Astir tis Anatolis" ("Star of the East"), originally as a weekly, later as a monthly. Under pressure from the Orthodox clergy , the publishers soon refused to continue publishing. Kalopothakis then founded his own publishing house. He also founded the unique illustrated children's magazine "Efimeris ton Pedon" ("Children's Newspaper"), which had a monthly circulation of 8000 copies, which was unprecedented at that time. It eventually became one of the most well-known magazines in Greece. Reverend Kalopothakis started a small Sunday school in Athens and was the founder of an excellent girls' school in Athens, attended by the children of the most prominent Greek families.

When Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe visited Greece during the Cretan War of 1866 - 1868, to give aid to the Cretans with food and supplies, Reverend Kalopothakis assisted Dr. Howe in his efforts. Along with his staff and fellow missionaries, Reverend Kalopothakis looked after Cretan refugees by providing food and accommodation for thousands. He also established the first school for the Cretan boys and girls. Dr. Kalopothakis organized four large Sunday schools in Athens for the children of the Cretan refugees, who fled in thousands to Greece to escape Turkish oppression. When the children returned to Crete in 1869, the Sunday schools were disbanded.

Rev. Kalopothakis and other Greeks built the first Greek Evangelical Church (Presbyterian) at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens in 1871. Within a few years several Greek Evangelical Churches (Presbyterian) were established in other cities in Greece and in the Ottoman Empire.

Martha had given Reverend Kalopothakis great support in his work. She acquired the Greek language with great facility, and with such efficiency, that she was able to correct the proof-sheets of the "Star of the East." During the last three years of her life she translated books from tho English and wrote articles for the "Children's Paper." Martha's gentleness and devotion to the work upon which she had entered, drew the people to her irresistibly, and her influence was widely felt among the Greek women. But her excessive labors affected her health so seriously that it became necessary for her to return with her husband and children to the United States for a brief respite. In August 1871, she sailed back to Greece with her family. On December 16, 1871 his wife Martha passed away at the age of 42. She is buried in the First Cemetary of Athens. Reverend Kalopothakis married Miss Margaret Kyle, his second wife, on January 31, 1877 in Athens at the Seminary for Girls of The Woman's Missionary Union by Rev. G. L. Leyburn [Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia). 13 Mar 1877, p 3].

Rev. Kalopothakis was the first Greek director of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Athens and spread the Bible throughout Greece – Christians, primarily young people, traveled to towns and villages across Greece and sold Bibles. He was also an associate member of Parnassus, a member of the Archaeological Society, founder of the animal protection association and introduced Sunday as a day off in Greece.

Reverend Michael D. Kalopothakis retired in 1904 and remained in Athens. He he passed away January 29, 1911 and was buried in the First Cemetary of Athens.

Reverend Michael and Martha Kalopothakis had 6 children. Unfortunately, only three of their children lived into adulthood. Their daughter, Dr. Maria Kalopothakis was the first women physician in Greece became a prominent doctor and pioneer of emancipation. Their son, Dimitrios Kalopothakis, continued his parents' work and was also a journalist and elder of the Evangelical Church. Their other daughter, Daphne Kalopothakis, was a pioneering women archaeologist and expert in "all things Greek."

Also known as Michael D. Kalopathakes

[ Read more about Dr. Maria Kalopothakis ]

[ Read more about Dimitrios Kalopathakis ]


Greek Going Home

The London "Religious Times" contains a letter from New York, in which some facts are given about a young Greek who recently graduated from the Union Theological Seminary. The writer says:

By the steamer there goes out to Europe a most worthy young Greek, who will bear to you a note of introduction from me. He is a Mr. Kalopothakes, a native of what was in ancient times, the country of Sparta, but received his university education at Athens. Tho Rev. Dr. King, our American missionary in that city, sent him over to this country to pursue his theological studies in tho Union Theological Seminary. In this institution Mr. Kalopothakes spent three years, going through the studies of tho entire course with great credit to himself. Some of his vacations he spent as a colporteur in the service of the American Tract Society, and a part of tho last year he labored as a Sunday School Missionary; and although he knew tho English language very imperfectly when he came, he now speaks and writes it with great fluency and accuracy. He returns to Greece an ordained minister, to preach the glorious gospel to his countrymen. It is probable that he will establish a religious journal in Athens, to edit which he is well qualified. This will be a most important enterprise.

Source: Vermont Chronicle (Bellows Falls, Vermont). 21 Jul 1857, p. 2.

Professor Edward North of Hamilton College has great hopes of modern Greece. He says: "The journalism of the Greeks points to a growing power that is destined to wield an influence second to that of no other political agency. Athens, with a population of 50,000, has not less than fifty periodicals." And he adds: "One of the most genial and enterprising editors in Athens, the Rev. George Constantine of the Athenias, was educated at Amherst college, and carried home one of the first fruits of American culture in a true American wife. Another Athenian editor, the Rev. M. D. Kalopathakes, received his theological training in New York, and has twice expressed his preference for an American wife."

Source: Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) 27 Feb 1877, Tue Page 3

Michael Demetrius Kalopothakis Obituary

I have just received from Athens a card announcing his death. It reads:


Born December, 1825

Died June 29, 1911.

(In Greek)

"I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." 2 Tim. 4:7

Beyond this I know nothing of his closing days, and there is no time or need just here for an extended notice of his life and work. Enough now to note:

As a boy at his home in Southern Greece – the old Sparta – he received impressions as to Bible truth and the way of life in a mission school, conducted by Rev. Messrs. Samuel R. Houston and George W. Leyburn, as also from the godly lives of these two men, which led to his conversion when a student at the University in Athens. He at once connected himself as an "Evangelical" with the mission and work of which Dr. Jonas King was the head. Later he came to this country, graduated at Union Seminary, N. Y., and was ordained by Hanover Presbytery (New School) in 1856, I think. He then returned to Athens, where was his home and work for more than fifty years.

That work consisted in publishing religious papers, one a Family weekly and the other a monthly for children, and occasionally printing, or reprinting, religious books and tracts; in regular preaching and other religious services, and organizing churches at Athens and Plreus; in distributing the Scriptures as Agent for the American and British Bible Societies; and in establishing stations and churches elsewhere in Greece and in European Turkey. Much of this was of course done in connection with his colleagues, first the missionaries of the Southern Presbyterian Church for some 20 years after 1875, and all the time with other Greek Evangelical ministers and laymen; but he alone was connected with this work and mission continuously for more than half a century, and of this during all these years, it may be truly said, he was the prime mover and the backbone, and what efTect his death may have upon the work I do not know.

Our Brother had his faults and made mistakes, for he was human, and he was a genuine Greek. But in any fair estimate of his character and life-work this should be remembered: That for full 50 yoars and sometimes single handed and alone, he held up the banner of a pure gospel, a spiritual worship, and a scripturally organized church in the capital of his country, and in the face of the whole nation's opposition, detraction, anathemas, and threats, and even bodily danger at times; in all incited and led by the "Holy Synod" of the Greek church. Not many have had to endure so much, for so long a time and so continuously; and few in these days have stood up for the truth, God's Word and Truth, so steadfastly, consistently, and persistently in spite of such constant, universal, and at times bitter and violent opposition, misrepresentation, and vilification from his own people.

So it seems that the passage in Second Timothy may be appropriately used in this case, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."

Source: The Presbyterian of the South [Atlanta], 16 Aug 1911, p. 23


Editor Presbyterian of the South:

In your issue of August 16th a copy of the funeral notice of Dr. Kalopothakes, December 1825-June 59. 1911.

This little card awakened memories – a few of which may be of some interest to your readers; for it was the good fortune of the writer to know Dr. Kalopothakes in Athens long years ago when his scribe was residing and studying in Greece's far-famed capital.

Dr. Kalopothakes, when the writer first met him, was in mourning, having been lately bereaved by the death of his first wife – a most excellent American lady who had been a most active and valued coadjutor to her husband in his arduous and trying work. Their son – a little boy of three or four years had been taken in charge by Miss Kyle, formerly of Boston, who was Dr. K.'s Indefatigable assistant in the mission school work, and who a few years later became his wife.

American missionary work had begun at Athens almost with Greek independence and nationality. Athens was not at first the capital of newborn Greece, the revolutionary head of the nation was at Nauplia, the Napoli di Romania of the middle ages, in old Argolis of the Morea – Peloponnesus – not far from Corinth. But It seemed utterly out of place that any other city than Athens should be the seat of the Greek government, and so the capital was re-moved to Athens not long after the Greeks had won their freedom.

Athens under Turks, Crusaders and other former tyrants, had been reduced from the glorious marble city of Pericles to a miserable hamlet of about 300 houses grouped under the great rock of the Acropolis. Dr. Hill told the writer that when in 1830 he had established his mission school – Episcopal – in Athens, he could find only one house large enough to accommodate his first pupils – only a very few in number. Such was the wretched state of the old Athens, the beautiful "City of the Violet Crown," the joy of the whole earth. The Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists and other religious bodies were actively at work in various parts of Greece very soon after the nation had become independent.

The missionary work was watched by the Greeks with jealous eyes. What was the purpose of those foreign churches and schools?

Let it be remembered that for much more than a thousand years there had been an intense, a most bitter struggle between the Eastern and Western Churches. Time and again Rome had attempted by every means; ecclesiastical, political, violent, or what not, to reduce the Oriental or Greek Church, to subjection to the Papal power. Even the Crusades, or Holy Wars, avowedly for the purpose of regaining Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre from the Infidels, had violated the confidence of the Greeks by seizing upon Constantinople and transforming the Greek empire, for more than a half century, into a Latin kingdom; and later the Romish missionaries were everywhere at work in the domains of the Oriental Church, seeking that Church's disruption and destruction. Even the Saracen was a foe less wily than the Frank and less to be dreaded.

Let us remember, too, that the Oriental Church and Greek nationality have been identified in the mind of every Hellene, as one and inseparable. Whatever calamities befell the nation, the Church was the first and heaviest sufferer. The patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, had – many of them – suffered martyrdom at the hands of the enemies of the nation. The churches everywhere had been despoiled or destroyed by ruthless conquerors; the minor priests had always and everywhere identified themselves with the popular cause. Priests were leaders in every effort at resistance against the bloody foreign foe and barbarian; their blood had stained altars, churches and battlefields. In fine, the Greek Church and the Greek nationality were in the popular mind, one and forever indivisible. War upon one was war upon the other; patriotism and loyalty to the national Church were identical; disaffection to the one was treason to the other.

It is doubtful if our early American missionaries to Greek lands, made sufficient account of these inbred, time-consecrated feelings of the Hellenic race. With us the total separation of Church and State was and is a conviction as radical as the identity of the two in the Greek mind, and when our missionaries began the organizing of Protestant churches among the Greeks, it seemed to be a revival of the efforts of Jesuits and friars for the destruction of the Hellenic Church and nation. Was the newly-delivered nation to be disrupted by the insidious work of the foreign missionary?

True the Americans had by far the first place among the nations in the affection of the Greeks. We were looked upon as Philhellenes pre-eminently, ag well as phllanthropists. America's sympathy and open hand had heen extended often to Greece in her hours of direst need, and it may be safely said that today no other foreigners are half so popular with the Greeks as are we of the Western world.

But what of this Western invasion into the domains of their beloved Church?

Most of the early missionaries sought to organize churches of their own creeds along with schools, among the people. The schools, but not the churches, met with much popular favor among a people the most eager – perhaps the keenest intellectually – of all Europeans for culture. Doubtless had schools alone been the aim of the new missionaries, there would have been very general, hearty enthusiastic on the part of the Greeks. Very many of the Greeks – even before the revolution – had studied in foreign universities, especially in Germany. Foreign learning was at an immense premium, but foreign eccleslasticism was at a heavy discount. The colporteur work – especially the distribution of the American and British, Romaic or "Modern" Greek Bible – aroused the keenest antagonism. "What, have we not the Scriptures in our own sacred tongue, in the "original Greek" of the "seventy" and of the Apostles, that these foreigners should thrust upon us their barbarous versions in the vulgar Romaic, which we are expurgating, purifying and bringing back to the New Testament standards?" So the populace reasoned, and the poor colporteurs often had hard lines to pass, sometimes even attended with bodily danger.

Probably today with the advance of learning among the people there would be little need for a Romaic version of the Scriptures. As Dr. Chalmers once expressed It gleefully: "What a glorious thought! A whole nation needing no translation of the Bible."

The problem confronting the missionary organizations was, "Shall we establish churches based upon our creeds along with our initial missionary efTorts in Hellenic lands; or, shall we simply found schools, hospitals, and other institutions, etc., at the first, and depend upon, and wait for, the development of these as a basis upon which to build our future churches?"

It was a question as to the better policy in regard to the work. Let us not discount the good faith, the sincerity of either party in the work. Many – most indeed – of the churches represented in this mission field, chose to defer the organizing of their churches to a more favorable period, and confine their immediate efforts to educational and philanthroplc work, thereby getting hold of the people and preparing the way for future work. This was undoubtedly the far easier and more popular way of approach to the people. Comparatively little opposition was to be encountered along these lines. The venerable Dr. Hill, of the Protestant Episcopal mission, once told the writer that more than 10,000 Greek girls had been educated wholly, or in part, in the school conducted by his wife, the venerable "Mother Hill." What American in the Athens of thirty or forty years ago doesn't bless her memory?

The work of Dr. Kalopothakes, and doubtless the policy of his church, was of the more positive kind; i.e., of church-organizing and Bible and tract distributing. This manner of work of course brought him into direct and sharp antagonism to popular ideas and prejudices, and provoked most bitter hostility among the masses led on by the Greek clergy. His colporteurs many difficulties, sometimes even personal dangers, in their work, and his churches in Athens and in Peraeus had small favor with ithe national Church.

But the writer can never cease to admire Dr. Kalopothakes' fortitude and devotion in bearing up so nobly against the antagonism and calumny to which he was subjected. Despite it all he went bravely on with his work and it is doubtful if any other could have followed the lines laid out for him, and have done the work better. In it all he had the efficient help of the two noble, consecrated women who became successively his wives and cheered him through many a dark hour when other human help was unavailing.

His little church, or chapel, at Athens faced upon the great Square of Jupiter Olympus, where stand today some of the magnificent columns which impress with a sense of beauty and grandeur felt in the presence of no other creations of human genius. Just beyond the Olympian plateau was Calirrhoe – "Beautiful-flowing" – the "Nine Fourtains" – in the Ilissus; and beyond the stream was the station. Close behind the little chapel are the old Dyonysiac Theater, seat and home of old Greek tragedy and comedy, and towering above all is the glorious Acropolis, and just a little beyond, Mars Hill, on which was Paul's open-air auditorium, with the Pnyx beyond. But a philhellene cannot but grow enthusiastic at the very mention of such environment. Hymethus, Lycobettus, Parnes, Pentelicon, Salamis, the bright Aegean in the transparent, mirage-working Attic atmosphere and moonshine that the writer has felt tempted to throw a stone from the top of the Acropolis into the sea at Phalerum three and one-half miles distant. In this Dr. Kalopothakes had his little Presbyterlan church, a church which this writer frequently attended. One of these church services, a communion occasion, is perhaps more vividly stamped upon his mind than any other religious service of his life

An American, happened to be present that day and preached – in English, not a very common language in that pulpit – after which Dr. Kalopothakes received two members on profession into his church. One of these was an elderly man, and his responses to the vows and pledges taken for full fellowship, still ring in this writer's ears. The "Yes" in the soft Attic tongue, had a peculiar musical cadence.

But that communion service! Voices grew husky and eyes grew dim as it was administered. Was Paul out there on the Areopagus again, preaching to the Athenians the nature of the true God and the plan of salvation? That little audience would have been scarcely more impressed.

Dr. Kalopothakes was born at his country's most trying hour – December, 1825. That terrible Revolution (1821-28), whose watchword for the patriots was "Victory or Death," never had surrender as another alternative. It was to win, or leave Hellas a holocaust and a nesting place for the owl and the bittern.

By 1824 the Klepths of the mountains and the shepherds of the plains had expelled the "unspeakable Turk" from nearly every foot of Greek soil. Then the Sultan called to his help all the forces of Barbary, Syria and above all, the splendidly drilled troops of Mehemet Ali from Egypt. These convoyed by a British fleet – O, shame to England! – from Alexandria, landed in the Morea near Dr. Kalopothakes' birthplace in the spring of 1825, only a few months before his birth, and commenced their work of slaughter and rapine. Ibrahim Pasha, Mehemet All's son, was in command, and the work of desolation was assured. The Peloponnesus was swept by fire and sword; few, even of the tender and helpless, were spared. And Ibrahim proceeded to press the siege of Missoloughi where Byron had died the year before.

We have been awed by the terrible fate of Carthage and Saguntum; by the story of Thermopylae and of our own Alamo; but what of Missoloughi and its baptism of blood and fire? Two thousand women and children had been sent for safety to the little Isle Basilaki before the town was shut in. Month after month the siege, a Turkish siege, went on. Ibrahim lost his trained troops by myriads. Sword, yataghan, cannon and bayonet could not do the work. Then starvation's help was invoked, and a large part of the defenders died of hunger. The remnant resolved to cut through to liberty. A small number succeeded, but many were driven back with the women and children into the town, where a devilish and an indiscriminate butchery began. It was stopped when the women and children fighting desperately to the last, set fire to the magazine, blew themselves up and not one was left to tell the tale. Could Bozzaris "with the storied brave, Greece nurtured in her glory's time," have done more?

Under such surroundings Dr. Kalopothakes was born and thus his earliest years were passed. What effect does pre-natal and infantile influences have upon the life? This writer pretends not to say; but Dr. Kalopothakes also seemed to him to have a seriousness and melancholy in his countenance and bearing not at all characteristic of his vivacious, ofttimes voluble, countrymen. His work is done; may he rest in peace. Doubtless in the great awakening many will come forth to call him blessed.

H. A. Scomp. Parksville, Ky.

Source: Scomp, H.A. "Dr. Kalopothakis."The Presbyterian of the South [Atlanta], 20 Sep 1911, pp. 27-28



Appleton, D. "The American Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events." 1872.

"Michael D. Kalopothakes, 1825-1911." Presbyterians of the Past https://www.presbyteriansofthepast.com/2019/09/21/michael-d-kalopothakes-1825-1911/

Pitman, Emma Raymond. ""Mission life in Greece and Palestine." London: Cassell, 1881.

Howard, Phillip E. "Sunday Schools the World Around: The official report of the World's fifth Sunday-school convention in Rome, May 18-23, 1907." Philadelphia. 1907.

Xenides, J.P. "The Greeks in America." New York: George H. Doran Company New York, 1922, pp. 63-64