Robert Josias Morgan visits Russia, 1904

It’s been a while since we talked about Robert Josias Morgan, the black Episcopal deacon who became an Orthodox priest in 1907, taking the name “Fr. Raphael.” In the past, I’ve mentioned that, prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, Morgan visited Russia in 1904. Upon his departure, he wrote a letter, which was reprinted in the October/November 1904 English supplement to the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger), the official publication of the Russian Archdiocese in America. Here is the text of that letter:

I, Robert Josias Morgan, a legally consecrated cleric of the American Episcopal Church, find it necessary to make it publicly known, that I am not a Bishop, as it was announced in some magazines and daily papers…

… I am not a Bishop, but a legally consecrated deacon.  I came to Russia in no way to represent anything, and I was not sent by anybody.  I came as a simple tourist, chiefly with the object to see the churches and the monasteries of this country, to enjoy the ritual and the service of the holy Orthodox Church, about which I heard so much abroad.  And I am perfectly satisfied with everything I saw and witnessed.

The piety and the fear of God amongst the Russian clergy, both superior and lower, and of the lay people in general are too great to be spoken of.  I like Russia, and as to the people I have simply grown to love them for their gentleness, their politeness, their amiability and kindness.  It would seem as if the Christian religion penetrated the whole life of the people.  This can be observed both in the private home life and the social life.  You have but to go to Church in this country, and you immediately see, that there is nothing too valuable for the people to be offered to God.  Note how they pray, how patiently they stand through the long Church services…

Now, having spent here about a month, I leave your country with a feeling of profound gratitude and take back to North America all the good impressions I received here.  And when there I shall speak boldly and loudly about the brotherly feelings entertained here in the bosom of the holy Orthodox Church towards its Anglican sister of North America, and about the prayers which are offered here daily for the union of all the Catholic Christendom.

My constant humble prayer is for the union of all Churches, and especially the union of the Anglican faith with the Orthodox Church of Russia.  I solicited the Metropolitans and the Bishops to grant me their blessing in regard to this prayer and obtained it.  Now I pray daily and eagerly for a better mutual understanding between the character and their union.  God grant a blessing to this cause and a hearing to our prayers and supplications.  Let us solicit the prayers of the Saints.  Let us seek the intercession of the holy Mother of God.  Virgin Mary, pray for us!

In conclusion I must say, that my stay in Russia did me personally much good: I feel now firmer and stronger spiritually than I did before I came.

God bless the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of this country!  God bless the Emperor and all the reigning family!  God grant them a long life, peace and prosperity!

            I am sincerely yours in God and in the name of Mary,

                        Robert Josias Morgan.

Years later, he told the Kingston Gleaner (7/22/1913) that he had visited Russia on two occasions, and both times was “received and entertained at the Great Monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church in Odessa, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kieff. He was also present at the anniversary service of the Coronation of the present Czar [Nicholas II] and at the Requiem High Mass said for the repose of the soul of the late Emperor [Alexander III], at which time, as special guest at the Kremlin Palace, his photographs appeared in the leading journals and magazines of Russia, Europe and other countries.”

As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s odd that Morgan didn’t join the Russian Church in America, but instead traveled all the way to Constantinople for ordination, and affiliated himself with the Greek churches. In Morgan’s day, the Greeks had no resident bishop in America, whereas the Russians had three. The Russians had a multiethnic diocese with seminary and a monastery, and very close relations with the Episcopalians. They also had just received Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who began promoting the use of English in church services. The Greeks, meanwhile, were much less organized, had no national structure or institutions, and were almost exclusively focused on Greek immigrants. In Philadelphia, where Morgan was based, the Russians had a parish, and one of the priests there was Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, an American-born Serb who spoke perfect English and was friends with Fr. Irvine. And yet, Morgan went with the Greeks and not the Russians.

Originally, I had thought that perhaps Morgan had developed a good relationship with the Greek priest in Philadelphia, Fr. Demetrios Petrides, who wrote a letter of recommendation to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Morgan’s behalf in 1907. Petrides was an outstanding priest and was very involved in dialogue with the Episcopalians, which might have drawn Morgan to him. But Morgan started attending the Philadelphia Greek church before Petrides even came to America, so that can’t have been the reason.

There must have been some reason why Morgan joined the Greeks and not the Russians, but I can’t come up with it. It’s one of the many mysteries of Morgan’s life.

4 thoughts on “Robert Josias Morgan visits Russia, 1904

  1. Did he travel to Istanbul to be ordained or did he travel to Constantinople where he was then ordained? Perhaps he took another tourist trip – what Orthodox of any background would not want to visit Istanbul? – and while there ordination was proposed to him. Such fait accompli announcements of ordination are common even today in Orthodoxy – “you will be ordained next Sunday”. A starry eyed convert in the Orient perhaps unaware of the jockeying that was perhaps just beginning to start in earnest between the EP and Moscow over North America could have simply accepted ordination as ordination by the Orthodox Church, not by this or that ‘jurisdiction’.

  2. He traveled to Istanbul/Constantinople (sorry; I use them interchangeably) specifically to be ordained. He had letters of recommendation from both the Philadelphia Greek priest (Petrides) and the Philadelphia Greek parish. He had already been affiliated with the parish for several years prior to this.

  3. Well, then it makes sense he went to Istanbul: that was the nearest bishop for that Church. Similarly, were my GOA priest to recommend I be made a Sub-Deacon, I’d be sent to the local GOA Metropolitan, even though any number of other Orthodox bishops are closer.

    It would be easily explained by the fact today that many people – even clergy from abroad recently in the US – simply think of all the Orthodox as Orthodox, regardless of the lack of jurisdictional unity. Practically, people treat the situation abroad in the same way overlapping jurisdiction is treated within the OCA today (geographical and ethnic dioceses overlapping), the EP today (overlapping geographical dioceses and exarchates) and in the Roman Catholic church (all sorts of overlapping sui juris churches, dioceses and orders and apostolates, etc.). These are seen as administrative strcutures we have little control over, but we are all in communion; we tend to choose a home and stick with its structure. That would seem to be the most simple explanation until other proof comes to light implying Fr. Raphael’s taking sides in the intra-Orthodox turf war in North America.

  4. I’m a little confused, Orrologion. Fr. Raphael lived in Philadelphia, where there were both Russian and Greek parishes. My only point was that it was odd that he would have attended the Greek parish, rather than the Russian one, given the situation at the time. I didn’t mean to imply that Fr. Raphael was “taking sides.” It’s just that, given his experience in Russia and the nature of the Russian Archdiocese in America at the time, it would have been most logical for him to join the Russians. That he chose the Greeks may be due to something simple, such as having developed relationships with local Greek people. But I don’t know for sure.

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