A few days ago, we discussed the tragic story of Fr. Vladimir Alexandrov, the early 20th century Russian priest whose life reads like (as Fr. Andrew Damick has suggested) a Russian novel. Very briefly: Alexandrov accidentally killed his son; his wife had an affair with his assistant priest (and took the family’s $19,000 savings); he joined the Living Church, a puppet of the Soviet government, and became a bishop; he got into court battles over church property in America; and in 1933, he joined the Roman Catholic Church. And, as I discovered shortly after publishing the initial article, Alexandrov died in Baltimore in on May 20, 1945.
Anyway, I’ve continued to look for material on Alexandrov. It turns out that he participated in the first Orthodox liturgy ever celebrated in Canada, in 1897. Alexandrov was a chanter at the time, and the service took place in Alberta. Later, as both a deacon and a priest, Alexandrov would make other visits to Canada, receiving Uniate converts into Orthodoxy.
In 1915, Alexandrov was the rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, and he participated in the Fourteenth International Lord’s Day Congress, held across the Bay in Oakland. Afterwards, the conference papers were published in a book. Alexandrov’s is called, “The Church and the Sabbath: Position of the Greek Church.” The book also includes a small photo of Alexandrov, which appears above.
A lot of Alexandrov’s article isn’t as basic and rudimentary as one might imagine from the title. Talking about the Sabbath in Russia, he acknowledges the significant Jewish minority in the country, and its desire for an official rest day on Saturday as well as Sunday. He doesn’t think such a thing should or would happen, but he does say,
Besides, we are probably on the eve of possible Jewish political independence in historic Palestine, where, if God helps them again to establish their political entity, they will have their own Kings, or Presidents, and of course, their own up-to-date laws and privileges, and in all these, I for one, wish them God-speed.
I’m somewhat surprised to read such a sympathetic position towards Jews, held by a Russian priest in 1915.
Alexandrov also notes that a small percentage of American Christians attend church on Sundays, relative to Christians in Europe. “On Sundays, the churches are quite often only half filled or wholly empty while the moving picture houses as well as some of the theatres of the poorer class, often with very bad shows, are overcrowded,” he said. His solution? That churches offer Christian-themed movies on Sunday afternoons and evenings. According to Alexandrov, in Russia,
[B]esides the usual services on Sundays, semi-religious meetings were offered to the people in buildings of various schools and public institutions, in which moving pictures from the Bible were produced illustrating the life of Christ, His Mother and the Saints, and at the same time short lectures were delivered, accompanied by choir and general singing; and the success was grand.
In Alexandrov’s view, the same sort of thing should be adopted in America. But he doesn’t stop there. “I believe,” he writes, “that the so-called Kinematograph or moving picture industry should be under the control of the State for educational and religious uses in such a way that it shall not harm but help people mentally and spiritually.” He then echoes the ideology of the future Soviet regime: “If we have a ‘pure food law,’ why may we not also have a ‘pure thought law’?”
Finally, from the article, we get a little bit of additional biographical data: “During my twenty years’ work in the United States and Canada,” writes Alexandrov, “I have built about fourteen churches,” and ministered to Orthodox of all nationalities.
UPDATE: A reader named Schultz, who lives in Baltimore, dug through various Baltimore newspapers in search of an obituary for Alexandrov. Here’s what he posted, in the comments section of my earlier article on Alexandrov:
No real obituary in the Baltimore Sun or the other, smaller Baltimore papers. There is, however, the following death notice, printed on May 22, 1945, p. 16, c. 6 in the Sun:
ALEXANDROF – At 1:30 A.M., on Sunday, May 20, 1945. VERY REVEREND VLADIMIR V. ALEXANDROF, former Arch-bishop elect.
Solemn mass of Requiem in St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, on Thursday, May 24, 1945 at 10 A.M. Interment in St. Charles College Cemetery, Catonsville.
“Former Arch-bishop elect” — now, what does that mean? Presumably, he was never confirmed, or fully received, or something, as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. There’s got to be a story behind this. I would think that the local Roman Catholic diocese would be the best place to look for answers.