Archive for June, 2009
I’ve conducted a little study on parish stability during the 1910s, with some slightly surprising results. I began with a list of the Orthodox parishes that had resident priests in 1911. For each of these, I checked to see whether the same priest was serving the parish four years later, in 1915. My results aren’t perfect; I couldn’t find data for a few parishes, so the percentages for the Greeks and Russians may be off a couple points.
Anyway, 135 American Orthodox parishes had resident priests in 1911:
74 Russian (not counting Alaska)
Four years later, in 1915, only 39 of those parishes had the same priest (28.9%). The percentages for each group break down as follows:
20.3% Russian (15/74)
27.5% Greek (11/40)
71.4% Syrian (10/14)
42.9% Serbian (3/7)
A few thoughts. I was somewhat surprised by the high turnover rate (with 7 out of every 10 parishes getting a new priest within four years). I have no idea what the numbers are today, but 70% seems pretty high.
The most striking thing, to me, is the retention percentage for the Syrians, with 10 of the 14 parishes retaining their priests. This is not a fluke: the Syrians under St Raphael were by far the most stable Orthodox ethnic group, by virtually any measure you choose. I’ll unpack that thought in future posts.
Another interesting fact is that the Russian churches were actually the least stable of all. I fully expected the Russians to be the most stable (since they were the most well-established, with a bishop and so forth), with the Greeks the most unstable (because of the trustee control of parishes and the lack of a resident bishop).
In response to this information, Fr John Erickson commented,
I’m not too surprised at the relatively high turnover of Russian priests during the period in question. I believe that at this point many still “signed on” for a relatively brief “tour of duty” in the North American mission, after which they would return to Russia, where their material circumstances were better. To determine whether this surmise is correct, one would have to determine whether or not the movement of priests was largely “internal” to the archdiocese. The greater stability among the other ethnic groups may be attributable, at least in part, to differences in immigration patterns: Once a priest came from the Old World he was more likely to stay permanently in the U.S.
This prompted me to look at the 59 Russian parishes which changed priests from 1911-1915. How many of those priests remained in the U.S., and how many returned to Russia?
I have been able to confirm that 44 of those 59 priests remained in the Russian Mission in America in 1915. That is, about 75% were transferred internally, rather than back to Russia. (The number may actually be higher, but I was only able to confirm those 44.)
That doesn’t mean that the Russian priests weren’t doing “tours of duty.” But with most of them touring the U.S., I have to wonder, why would the bishop bother moving 80% of his priests in a four-year period?
Anyway, much more to come. Stay tuned.
The video of my own talk, “The Myth of Past Unity,” can be found here:
For audio only, click here.
Continuing the theme from yesterday… After the death of St. Philaret, St. Innocent was chosen to be his replacement as Metropolitan of Moscow. Below is his first pastoral address as Metropolitan, given in Moscow’s Dormition (Assumption) Cathedral on May 26, 1868. The address was printed in the English-language Orthodox Catholic Review (Vol. 2, 1868, edited by the English convert J.J. Overbeck).
“Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Thus the Apostles were accustomed, according to the commandment of the Lord, to greet the Churches, and thus also the pastors of the Church following their example greeted their flocks, when entering into spiritual communion with them. By the same law, I also, their most unworthy successor, am emboldened to greet you with these very same words, my brethren, and henceforward beloved brethren and children in the Lord, entering as I am into communion with you.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
But who am I daring to take upon myself the voice and authority of my predecessors?
A disciple of a distant age, of a distant region, and one who has passed more than half his life in a still more distant land; one, but a humble labourer on a small field of Christ’s; a teacher of infants in faith. And is it for the least of labourers to become a labourer in a great, glorious and ancient vineyard of Christ? Is it for such a teacher to instruct a fold which sends teachers and instruction, ay, teachers of teachers, to all the ends of Russia?
True it is, that I might well say the same in every other place, to which I might have been called; — but the gravity of the question is enhanced in this case by the fact – after whom I am placed here? Who was my predecessor and who am I? No comparison can be made here. Or every comparison will be far from advantageous to me, in some respects against me. I understood all the weight and sadness, bitterness of such comparisons – natural, unavoidable, most just comparisons; they are not idle talk. I understood also how elevated, how difficult are the duties of this position, and it behoves me consequently to decline, at least I might have declined this honour, having besides a visible motive for doing so. But who am I to oppose God – our Heavenly Father, without whose will not even a hair of our head may fall? Who am I to contradict the earthly king whose heart is in the hand of God? Nay, I said to myself: let what the Lord wills be with me: I will go whither I am ordered. And lo! I am come.
Bless me then, O Lord, to enter upon my work. Lord, I am Thine, and I will be Thine for ever and everywhere; do Thou with me as Thou willest in this life and in the life to come, that I may become here but a simple instrument in Thy hands!
O most holy Lady, Mother of God, my aid, — do not deprive me here of Thy help, protection, intercession and prayers. Ye Saints of Christ, Peter, Alexis, Jonas, and Philip, and all ye Saints resting here receive me into your prayers – me, your most unworthy successor. Brethren and fathers! Most especially you, illustrious teachers and fathers. It was not such an unlettered Archpriest it behoved you to have. But bear with me in Christ’s love, — receive me into your family prayers, more especially pray, that false doctrine and carnal wisdom may not creep into the midst of Orthodoxy, on account of my ignorance. … I pray ye all, brethren and children, pray for me, a sinner. “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
St. Innocent served as Metropolitan of Moscow from 1867 until his death in 1879.
On my Ancient Faith Radio podcast, I’m in the midst of a three-part interview series with Eric Peterson on the subject of Alaskan Orthodox history. Today, AFR aired Part 2 of that series, focusing on the period from 1824 (St. Innocent) to 1867 (the sale of Alaska to the United States).
Below is an article that originally appeared in a Protestant religious journal called The Pacific, and was reprinted in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin on April 29, 1864:
The people of California have reason to know that there is such a region as Russian America, because Sitka supplies them with ice. They do not realize that in those cold, waste, inhospitable lands, dwell a population of 60,000 human beings. It is a comfort to know that there are Christians, not indeed of our sort, but Christian, nevertheless we hope, who care for these Esquimaux souls. Priest Benjamin [i.e., Veniaminoff], now Archbishop of Kamchatka, and resident there, commenced missionary work, in 1823, on one of the Aleutian Islands. He learned the language of those tribes, translated portions of the Scriptures and other religious books, and taught the islanders to read and write. From 1830 onward, those people rapidly became Christians. After a time the priest removed to Archangel, on the island of Sitka. Other missionaries succeeded him. One, Sitziazen by name, baptized 530, and the number annually baptized since, has been about 40; the whole number of converts has been estimated at 4,700. Greater success has attented the work on Cook’s Sound, farther northwest. A Missionary, by the name of Netzvetoff, has labored with the tribes so far up as Bhering’s Straits. In all these colonies of Russian America, there were in 1860, seven parish churches served by 27 priests. There were besides 35 chapels. The old priest Benjamin, now called Innocent I., visits every part of this cheerless diocese, and kindles its very snows with his warm zeal. There is one great fact for encouragement in these Missions of the Russian church. The Bible is translated into the language of the people, and they are urged to read it. Doubtless the Russian church keeps too much the traditions of corrupted ages, but we may well rejoice in the knowledge that the Missionary spirit, carrying the Bible to the savage tribes of our borders, is thus active and vigorous. The established church in Russia, is a component part of the “Greek Church.”
In 1888, a pan-Orthodox parish was almost established in Chicago. On my Ancient Faith Radio podcast, American Orthodox History, I devoted an episode to that story. I read from a couple of newspaper articles, the most interesting of which is below (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1888):