Calamos Supports Greece
GreekReporter.comGreeceFather Dimitrios: The Orthodox Monk Who Was a British Spy

Father Dimitrios: The Orthodox Monk Who Was a British Spy

father Dimitrios British spy
David Balfour as Father Dimitrios. Credit: Archive of St. Panteleimon Monastery, Athos

The story of Father Dimitrios, or David Balfour, who turned out to be a British spy in pre-World War II Greece, is a fascinating yet relatively little known chapter in modern Greek history.

Father Dimitrios, the monk with the voice of an angel, turned out to be a spy for the British Intelligence Service. The mission and wartime actions of the British priest could make a nail-biting spy novel or film.

Born into a wealthy British family on January 20, 1903, Balfour studied at the universities of Prague, Salzburg, Rome, and later, of Athens. He was a true polyglot, speaking English, French, Italian, German, Russian, Polish and Greek, and later even learning Turkish.

He was the perfect young man for Britain to recruit into their Secret Service.

Balfour, originally a Catholic, found himself becoming fascinated with the Orthodox Church. To satisfy his interest in Orthodoxy, he traveled to the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos in 1932.

His stay there, and the great influence of Monk Sophrony (whose real surname was Sakharov) led him to abandon Catholicism and become Orthodox.

Balfour then joined the Moscow Patriarchate and was ordained as a priest, taking the name of Father Demetrios, in the Three Hierarchs Church in Paris. In 1934, he was sent to London to liaise with a group of English Orthodox in a failed attempt to set up an Orthodox parish there.

The young priest returned to Mount Athos in 1935 and found accommodations in the Penteli Monastery, which enrolled him in the Theological School.

He was then granted the parish of the little church in the courtyard of Evangelismos Hospital in Kolonaki in central Athens.

Father Dimitrios becomes a confessor of rich Athenians

From the very first moment that Father Dimitrios arrived in Athens, he was sought after by all the wealthy families who lived in the capital. His sermons and chanting in the church in Athens’ richest neighborhood became quite popular.

His worn-out robe, sweet voice, philanthropic work, education, and calm demeanor in addition to his eccentric, forked beard all made him the most famous priest in Athens. And the awe that Mount Athos’ monks inspire was perhaps what made him most beloved to his flock of followers.

Father Dimitrios’ Greek language skills were perfected during his stay in Athens. He was often invited into high society parlors and became the chosen confessor for many prominent Athenians. He was invited into the homes, among many others, of General Alexandros Papagos and Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis.

The British priest also taught at the British Institute of Athens, teaching English to wealthy Greeks. He soon developed friendly relations with members of the “Zoe” school of theologians as well as the Archbishop of Athens.

From 1937 to 1939, the English spy, wearing his priest’s robes and his long, bifurcated beard, performed his ecclesiastical duties close to Greece’s royal family. His relations with King George II, the successor to King Paul and Princess Frederica, were especially close. His visits to the royal palace undoubtedly gave him access to valuable information.

British Intelligence must have learned a great deal about the Greek royal family during these crucial prewar years. King George II was a paternal first cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Members of the royal family often confessed to their beloved priest. At the same time, Balfour, under the cover of Father Demetrios, forged important acquaintances with high-ranking military officers and politicians with the blessings of the palace.

During the Greek-Italian War, Father Dimitrios surpassed every other Greek priest in his support of the Greek troops fighting in Albania and his assistance to their families.

David Balfour spy
David Balfour (left) with General Bernard Montgomery

The priest sheds his robe and beard and puts on khakis

Legend has it that just days prior to the Germans entering Athens as conquerors in April of 1941, his parishioners saw Father Demitrios coming out of his church with his hair cut short. He was clean-shaven and wearing khaki shorts and army boots.

He is said to have then jumped into a jeep belonging to the English expeditionary force which took off in the direction of the port of Piraeus along with British embassy staff.

His ultimate destination was Cairo, where King George II, along with a select Greek army unit, had fled before the Nazis took over in Athens.

He was now David Balfour, a prominent British diplomat and a top member of the British Intelligence Service. In Cairo, Balfour continued his warm relationships with the Greek royals as well as the future prime ministers, Georgios Papandreou and Panagiotis Kanellopoulos.

Balfour, the ex-spy, returns as a diplomat

Three and a half years later after Greece’s liberation, Balfour returned to Athens just after the last Germans left. Now known publicly as “Major David Balfour,” he began officially working at the British Embassy.

According to historian Sarantos Kargakos, the Greeks who saw the person they knew as Father Dimitrios return as a British official were understandably extraordinarily angry at him and no doubt felt deep betrayal.

Despite this, Balfour continued his work in establishing British influence in Greek politics after the war. This time, he did so in the post of “Advisor for Political Affairs” to the British Embassy.

Balfour’s influence and intervention was a matter of great discussion for historians, with scholars attributing several political actions and machinations to him. It is said that he was instrumental in putting Archbishop Damaskinos in the place of the Regency as well as the resignation of Georgios Papandreou from his premiership.

As an expert in the realm of Greek politics, Balfour played a significant role in the bloody events of December 1944 and the Varkiza Agreement of February 12, 1945 between the Greek state and the communist guerrillas.

It is said that he was even “the tongue and translator” of General Ronald Scobie, who was pivotal in the outcome of the Greek Civil War.

Balfour was also said to have served as the advisor to another obscure British man, Reginald “Rex” Leeper, a member of the Secret Service who served as Britain’s ambassador to the Greek government (which was in exile in Cairo until October of 1944) from 1943 to 1946. Leeper was also said to have played an important part in the Greek Civil War.

Major David Balfour lived in Greece until 1947.

See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!

Related Posts