Kairis, Theofilos

1. Early years

Thomas Kairis was born on Andros in 1784. He studied literature, philosophy, math and natural sciences at Kydonies with significant teachers (Grigorios Sarafis and Veniamin Lesvios), and later on at the school of Patmos and Chios, where he saw Athanasios Parios and Dorotheos Proios teach. When he was 18, he was ordained a deacon and was named Theofilos.

In 1803, with the help of his uncle and the community of Kydonies, he went to Europe to study. At first, he studied philosophy, math and science in Pisa. In 1807, he continued his studies in Paris, where he was associated with Adamantios Korais. In February 1809, he returned to Andros and then Kydonies in 1810, in order to lead the Academy after Veniamin Lesvios quit. We are not certain he actually did, since in 1811 he was asked to lead the School of Smyrna (Evangeliki Scholi), which did not yield fruit. In 1812, he was once again at Kydonies, where he taught at the Academy.

2. Political activities

In 1819, he joined the Philiki Etairia (“Society of Friends”), a secret society aiming to liberate Greece. As soon as the Revolution broke out in 1821, he left Kydonies. On May 10, 1821, he raised the flag of the Revolution on the island, and then went to the Peloponnese. He took part in the First National Assembly (Dec. 1821) and was injured during the 1822 Olympus campaign. In the following assemblies, he took part as a “plenipotentiary aid” of Andros, and became a member of the Deliberative Assembly. On January 11, 1828, he appeared for the last time in politics, on Aigina. He was assigned to address Ioannis Kapodistrias, who had come to Greece as a governor, delivering a liberal speech. In 1835, he refused to be decorated by unpopular Bavarian king Otto, protesting for the lack of constitution. Two years later, he turned down the chair of philosophy at the newly established University of Athens.

3. The "Orphanotropheion" (Orphanage and School)

From an early time, Kairis had come up with the idea of an orphanage and a school on Andros. From 1827 on, he toured the Greek islands seeking funds, and from 1831 on, after being ordained a priest, he continued in the Greek communities abroad. The Orphanage officially operated for the first time on January 6, 1836, and pretty soon its fame spread throughout Greece and the Greek communities. At the Orphanage, senior students taught younger ones. Kairis himself taught literature, philosophy, math and astronomy. All this time, Kairis had created his own philosophical and religious movement called “Theosebism”.

4. Conviction and death of Kairis

From spring 1839, rumours regarding his religious beliefs became wild, which led the Holy Synode to ask him to sign a profession of faith. Because of his denial, he was put into restraint on Skiathos, and the Orphanage was shut down. One year later, he was put into a two-year restraint on Santorini. He was then unfrocked, and both him and his teachings were anathematised.

In March 1842, he went abroad and lived there until June 1844. When freedom of religion was established by the Constitution, he returned to Andros. He took care of the Orphanage again, where a few orphans had remained, and tried to spread his teachings of “Theosebism”. As a result, in December 1852 at Syros he was accused of converting and spreading a new unknown religion, and was therefore brought to trial. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. On the night of February 9 to 10, 1853, he died, and was buried near Lazareto (a hospital) of Syros. The next day, the authorities opened the tomb and filled it with lime, to prevent his students from holding a proper funeral service. Ten days later, after his brother Dimitrios Kairis appealed to the High Court, the rule of the court of Syros was recalled, and his memory was protected.

5. Philosophical thought of Kairis

His views had been influenced by the French liberalism of the early 19th century, and the liberal Christianism and movements in the West, which aimed at the emancipation from the Catholic Church and gaining constitutional rights. It has actually been said that the Orphanage was not only an attempt to create an educational center; it was also a field for experimenting on and putting forward new social ideas, which combined religion, scientific knowledge and social justice. It was these very liberal ideas, though, that caused conservatives’ angry reactions.