St. Paul is considered the founder of the Church of Rhodes. The name “Rhodes” is referred to in the New Testament (Acts 21:1) during the return journey of St. Paul to Jerusalem (3rd apostolic period). Likewise, his companion St. Silas, is traditionally revered as having furthered missionary activity in which he taught the word of God and revealed many miracles on the island of Rhodes.
The exact date in which the Church of Rhodes was elevated to an Episcopacy is not known. According to tradition, the first bishop of Rhodes was Prochorus (1st century A.D.). During the second century the name of bishop Ephranor is met and during the second half of the 3rd century bishop Fotinos in reference to the martyrdom of Sts. Clementos and Agathangelos.
According to the political geography of the Byzantines, the church of Rhodes was included in what was known as the “Metropolis of the Islands”. This eparchy of the Islands was ranked 29th and included the cities of: Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios, Mytilini, Methimna, Petelos, Tenedos, Proselini, Andros, Tinos, Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Melos, Ios, Thira, Amorgos and Astypalaia. During the late 4th till early 5th century the episcopacy of Rhodes was elevated ecclesiastically to Metropolis. Before this it was ranked as 26th in the order of the Throne of Constantinople.
The changes in order over the following centuries is documented as follows: 28th from the Synod of Chalcedon, 33rd from the middle of the 6th century till early 7th century (with 11 episcopacies), 33rd from the middle 8th century, 30th early 9th century, 38th from the 10th century till the 12th, 45th from the end of the 13th century till early 14th century and 38th again during the 17th century with only one episcopacy (that of Lernis).
As to the subject regions to the Metropolitan of Rhodes and their respective bishops there are also many fluctuations and changes over the years: From the 7th till early 9th century there were 11 subject episcopacies. Near the middle of the 9th century these increased to 13 with the addition of the episcopacies of Nysiros and Astypalea. In the 9th century they were reduced to 10, Nysiros and Astypalea were negated and simultaneously the episcopacy of Andros was annexed to the Metropolis of Athens. Later the same century Nysiros and Astypalea were reinstated and Ikaria episcopacy was added. Between 971-972 A.D. Nysiros and Astypalea and Ikaria were once again negated. Nysiros and Astypalea and Ikaria were reinstated during 972-976 A.D. and Trachias episcopacy being added. Later the episcopacies subject to Rhodes reached 15 with Lindos and Apamias amongst them (Order 17th century). It is recorded that bishops Hellanicos (or Hellanodicos) participated in the 3rd Ecumenical Council, Theodosios in the 5th Ecumenical Council, Isidiros in the 6th Ecumenical Council and Leon in the 7th Ecumenical Council.
The metropolis of Rhodes flourished until the island was conquered by the Knights of St. John. This historical period was a critical one for the survival of the Church of Rhodes. The Orthodox Metropolitan of Rhodes is replaced early on with a Latin Archbishop and Church property is looted. In protest the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to ordain successive metropolitans of Rhodes who are however not allowed to take up their duties in Rhodes. During this period the administration of the Church of Rhodes is in the hands of a committee made up of high ranking clergy and officials. In the year 1369 the administration of the Church of Rhodes is entrusted to Metropolitan Sidis.
An improvement in the circumstances occurs during the mid 15th century due to the conquest of Constantinople which signaled a real threat of a Turkish invasion of Rhodes. In order to gain the favour of the locals, the Italians allowed the return of the elected Metropolitan of Rhodes. The metropolitan of Rhodes Nathanial participated in the Synod of Florence but on his return he was barred from disembarking by the Latin Archbishop. This, together with the peoples’ opposition to the union of Florence agreement, sparked fierce opposition which was put down with violent measures against the orthodox population.
In 1522, Rhodes was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The first Metropolitan of the Turkish rule was Efthimios, who was later hung as the instigator of a revolutionary movement. Ecclesiastical life during this period was largely normalized without this meaning that problems were not encountered due to the conquerors exercise of power. During the period of the Greek revolution the Church was persecuted and many privileges were revoked. The law of Sultan Mahmout the 2nd (1835 A.D.) reinstated privileges which were to be revoked once again during the period of the New Turks.
In 1912 the island of Rhodes, as well as all of the Dodecanese islands, came under Italian rule. Initially the Italian authorities showed respect towards the local Church. This however did not last long and all the privileges enjoyed by the Church were revoked. A difficult period followed in which the issue of Autocephaly was promoted by the Italian authorities together with other measures against the Orthodox people. Fortunately, during the entire period of Italian rule the visionary Metropolitan Apostolos Tryphon was the primate of the Church of Rhodes. He endured many persecutions and was forced to abdicate on June 8, 1946. After the union of the Dodecanese with Greece the Metropolis of Rhodes began its contemporary period of its long and troubled history. In 2004 (Ecumenical Patriacate Synodal Decision) the islands of Symi, Halki, Tilos, and Castelorizo were taken from the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Rhodes in order to form the newly founded Metropolis of Symi. At the same time the island of Nysiros was annexed to the Metropolis of Kos.