The First Orthodox Liturgy in the American South

As we discussed earlier, Fr. Agapius Honcharenko celebrated the first Orthodox liturgy in New York City on March 2, 1865. At the time, he was the only Orthodox priest in America outside of Alaska.

And as we’ve also discussed, there were Greeks and other Orthodox Christians living in New Orleans in the 1860s. In fact, they had been there for several decades already. The city was a major port, and it became an early center for Greek cotton merchants and sailors. A few weeks after Honcharenko’s liturgy in New York, the New York Times reported:

Father Agapius, the Russo-Greek priest, now residing in this city, will leave in a few days for New-Orleans, where there are about 300 Sclavonians [sic] and others who belong to the communion of his church. The Father will make a short stay in New-Orleans for the purpose of baptizing those who desire it.[1]

Upon arriving in New Orleans, Honcharenko wrote a letter to the city’s Orthodox Christians. This letter appeared in the New Orleans Times on April 11:

Beloved Children of the Orthodox Oriental Church in New Orleans:

Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, is pleased not to leave the members of our branch of the Holy Apostolic Church to remain any longer without the enjoyment of their own ecclesiastical services.

The Divine Mind has sent my humility — His Evangelist — to this New World, to gather together the scattered sheep and invite them again in the privileges of the Church.

I therefore come that I may show you how to so walk in the church militant, and to receive the Holy Sacraments, that you may be the better prepared for the church triumphant.

After spending some time in the Northern States of this great Republic I have just arrived in your city. I intend to remain here only until the 22nd of April — through Passion and Easter weeks.

I earnestly recommend you to prepare yourselves by fasting and prayer for confession and holy communion — yourselves and your dear children.

The divine liturgy, according to the Orthodox Oriental Church, will be celebrated by divine permission on Saturday next, April 15th, at 10 1/2 A.M., in St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Camp street, corner of Gaiennie. Those desiring to attend will please call at my present residence, No. 7 St. Ann street, Jackson Square, where I may be found every morning, excepting on Saturday next, until 12 o’clock M.

Your affectionate brother in Christ and Missionary to America,

AGAPIUS HONCHARENKO
Priest of the Orthodox Oriental Church[2]

Honcharenko is widely reported to have been the first pastor of the New Orleans parish (for instance, the website of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral refers to him as “the first priest of the Community”). But really, Honcharenko was only in New Orleans for a visit (cf. his above statement, “I intend to remain here only until the 22nd of April”), and he returned to New York soon thereafter. He soon moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he continued his colorful and controversial career (about which, more to come).

Incidentally, about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the site of the first Orthodox liturgy in the American South — the church of Honcharenko’s day was built in the mid-1850s, replacing an earlier structure. But New Orleans surrendered to the North early in the Civil War, and from 1862 to 1865, St. Paul’s was closed and the church was used to stable Union horses.[3] The Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865, and Honcharenko served liturgy on April 15 — in other words, that Orthodox liturgy must have been one of the first services in the newly-restored St. Paul’s. Unfortunately, the structure no longer exists; it burned in a fire in 1891.

The New Orleans Orthodox parish went on to build a church of its own, named for the Holy Trinity. Their first full-time pastor was a Fr. Stephen Andreades, who was apparently “invited from Greece” to come to New Orleans. We know that Andreades was in New Orleans by at least December of 1867, which makes him the first Orthodox parish priest in the contiguous United States.[4] In future posts, we’ll discuss both the life of Fr. Agapius Honcharenko and the early history of the New Orleans parish.

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[1] “General City News,” New York Times (March 26, 1865), 8.
[2] “The Orthodox Oriental Church,” New Orleans Times (April 11, 1865), 8.
[3]History,” St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
[4] Fr. Alexander Doumouras, “Greek Orthodox Communities in America Before World War I,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 11:4 (1967), 179.

3 thoughts on “The First Orthodox Liturgy in the American South

  1. Pingback: OrthodoxHistory.org » Blog Archive » Nicolas Benachi, founder of the New Orleans Greek church

  2. In addition to all you’ll be researching for this exceptional site, look into Fr. Stephen Andreades. I never heard he was the first Greek priest in America. The OCA’s “Orthodox America,” as I recall, but could be wrong, notes a Fr. Triadaphilos (or a similar name) who served the Galveston parish. Fr. Andreades transferred to the GOAA when it was founded (and the Metropolia was dismembering) and wrote to Archbishop Athenagoras that he felt he was being treated as a second class priest, because of his ordination from the Russian’s, as I recall.

  3. Basil, I believe you’re confusing Fr. Stephen Andreades with a later priest, Fr. Michael Andreades. Fr. Michael did indeed serve in the Russian Mission, and later joined the Greek Archdiocese. He came along about a generation after Fr. Stephen Andreades, who served in New Orleans in the late 1860s.

    We plan to discuss both Fr. Michael Andreades and Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides of Galveston in future posts.

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