Archive for November, 2009
In 1878, the Arbeelys immigrated to the United States. They were the first Syro-Arab family to come to America; or, at the very least, they were the first prominent Syrians in America. Najeeb Arbeely founded the first Arab-American newspaper, Kawkab America, and he also held the post of immigration inspector at Ellis Island. His brother Abraham was instrumental in bringing St. Raphael Hawaweeny to the United States.
A couple of years after their arrival in this country, Abraham did an extensive interview with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (7/22/1880). It’s long, but it’s also extremely interesting, so I’m reprinting the whole thing here:
“A native of Syria — of Damascus?”
“Yes; Dr. A.J.A. Arbeely;” and the person addressed bowed with Oriental grace, as he made himself known to the reporter.
“When did you arrive?”
“This morning,” answered the Doctor.
“Are you connected with the Syrian family that arrived in New York a couple of years ago?”
“The same; the party was composed of my father and mother, five brothers — I am the eldest — and sister. They are all in Tennessee now except my mother. She is dead.” And as he conveyed this last item of information the Doctor took off the red turban he wore, and bowed his head a moment in reverie. Then he continued: “The family are in Maryville, Tennessee. I have been in Texas eighteen months practicing medicine. My younger brother is also a doctor in practice in Tennessee.”
“Tell me about your coming to this country.”
“Well, you see we are Christians — my father being a Doctor of Divinity in the Greek Church, as well as a Doctor of Medicine — and we were subjected to great persecution at the hands of the Turks.”
“You were converts, then?”
“No; the family had always been Christian, that is, as far back as we have any record. My ancestors, as Christians, ante-dated the invasion of the Turks. My father, prior to coming here, was employed for many years in teaching the Syrian language to the missionaries from America. He had incurred the displeasure and hostility of the Turkish authorities. We were in the massacre of Christians in Damascus in 1860 — I was only 10 years old then — but my father, although hunted like a wild beast, succeeded in makign his escape. The murderous Turks made several other attempts upon his life, but a kind Providence protected him so that not a hair of his head was harmed. The Mohammedan persecution finally became so great that my father resolved to leave the land of our nativity, and upon consultation with the American missionaries he concluded to emigrate to America. In the summer of 1878, during the Parish Exposition, a passport was obtained for the entire family to visit the Exposition, and they started, but stayed only a few days in Paris, and then came to the United States, landing in New York in September. They spent a month in that city, but concluding that the weather would be too severe for them they went to Maryville, East Tennessee, and settled. Thus the first Syrian family that ever emigrated to this country came and took up their residence under the aegis of the stars and stripes.”
“Is it not difficult to leave Damascus — to emigrate — or are the Turks glad enough to get rid of Christians?”
“The Sultan and the Turkish Pasha (Governor) at Damascus look with great disfavor upon emigration of Syrians, and so many obstacles have to be overcome by emigrants that very few leave indeed, and thus it happens that we are the only Syrians in America. Passports are withheld, and as no one is allowed to leave there without these documents, the disfavor amounts to really a prohibition. That’s the reason no other family of that nationality has ever come to this country before. Our friends are very anxious to come, and thus establish a Syrian colony here in America, but such a scheme was then impracticable. We promised to look the country over, however, and if possible find a suitable locality.”
“How much have you done already in this direction? Missouri, you see, is making an effort to induce immigration.”
“Well, the difficulty is to find a section suitable in every respect. The great obstacle is the climate. It is too changeable and uneven in those localities I have visited — a marked contrast to Damascus, where the climate is always even. Still we may yet find a suitable locality. We went to Texas in 1878, and it was hard getting along at first, as we could not speak English very well, as you observe I can now. When we arrived at Austin, Texas, I concluded to stop there for a time and see how the country agreed with me. My father went on and visited different parts of the State, but found nothing that suited him, so he returned to his home in Tennessee, where he has resided since. I practiced medicine at Austin for the past eighteen months, when I was called home suddenly by my mother’s death, and coming by the way of Kansas City, where I stopped for a few days, I arrived in St. Louis yesterday, as stated.”
“How do you like the country, generally?”
“It is magnificent — all the parts I have visited — except in respect to climate; and St. Louis is simply magnificent, if the weather could be always like this.”
“You liked Texas?”
“Very much. The people were very kind to me, and assisted me to a large practice. I shall probably return there. Kansas City I also greatly admired, and the professional brethren and others placed me under many obligations for courtesies. I wish I had time to visit all the medical institutions here and meet the doctors, but I shall have to go home in a day or two.”
“What is your school of medicine?”
“Oh, I am regular, as you call it here, or old school. I have several diplomas: one granted by the Syrian Protestant College, located at Beirut, chartered by the State of New York, and, therefore, an American institution. After receiving the parchment I was obliged to go through a very severe examination by the Sultan’s head medicine man, at the Royal Medical College at Constantinople, before I could practice my profession, as the other college is not recognized by the Government.”
He was awarded a diploma from the Royal College, and both of the documents are decorated with seals, indicating their authenticity.
And then the Doctor took his turn at interviewing.
“Are you the religious editor?”
“Not often; why?”
“Because I wonder when I read the Globe-Democrat every day in Texas, how it ever got so much religious matter. Is that the reason why it is called the great religious daily?”
“Yes, and because it is so thoroughly orthodox.”
“I notice that. I am orthodox myself. My father, besides being a Greek ecclesiastic, is very intimate with the Greek Patriarch at Antioch. Oh, yes, we are orthodox. I have letters from a number of clergymen, as well as doctors.”
And here the Doctor showed a number.
“Wasn’t there some talk of uniting the Anglican Church — Protestant Episcopal in America — with the Greek Church?”
“I believe there was some effort in that direction, and there is very little difference between them. Indeed, we are in accord with most evangelical bodies, and I have some very kindly reflections of the Presbyterians.”
“Isn’t there a Greek Church in New York, with which the Episcopal Church is in accord?”
“I believe they agree. But my father could tell you much better of these things than me, as the greater part of his sixty years of life has been spent in that direction.”
The Doctor was then entreated to explain somewhat of the Arabic tongue, and did so to the great interest of his auditors. He incidentally remarked that he believed the Oriental way of writing from right to left more proper and convenient than the English method, from left to right. The Arabic alphabet has twenty-nine letters, with only three vowels and a like number of accents. The Doctor contrasted it with the Greek, with which he is also familiar, and pointed out the differences. His sketch of the Syrian people was very interesting, and, if he is a specimen, they are a fine type of manhood, tall and dignified in appearance. His complexion is dark — olive rather than swarthy — and hair very black. Red heads are rare in Syria.
The population of Damascus he estimated at 150,000, of which about three-fourths are Mohammedan, about 25,000 Christians and the balance Jews. The latter are chiefly bankers or brokers. The Christians are not generally wealthy, and mostly engaged in weaving and the manufacture of damask. The Turks, many of them, live in opulence. There is no inter-marrying between Turk and Christian, or Hebrew and Christian. The Ottoman Government is represented by a Pasha, or Governor, who is a very enlightened man, but the people other than the Turks are not in favor of the Government, and covet independence. The future of Turkey, the Doctor thinks, will be just what the great Powers choose to make it. The Turks are a hindrance to Christian civilization, and must sooner or later be blotted out. Nothing but the jealousy of the Powers prevented them taking the territory, and eventually they will probably assume a protectorate over it. Perhaps Great Britain or France will eventually get Damascus. Further alluding to the manners and customs of his people, the Doctor spoke of prolonged religious fasts among the Turks, at times.
“What do you think of Dr. Tanner?”
“Oh (laughing), I hardly know what to think about his feat. I have been reading your paper every day about it and am much interested. I hardly think he can succeed. It doesn’t seem in accordance with nature. But he may. In this great country I don’t allow myself to be surprised at anything.”
Dr. Arbeely goes hence to Louisville, and from there to Knoxville, Tenn., and a visit to his family. He will probably return West via St. Louis.
A few things… I don’t know who “Dr. Tanner” is, though Arbeely’s comments have piqued my curiosity. His remarks about the fate of Turkey are almost prophetic, coming nearly four decades before the end of World War I. Also, what he says about religious persecution in Turkey is certainly accurate, but it shouldn’t be assumed that the later Syro-Arab immigrants — the “Ellis Islanders,” if you will — were fleeing such persecution. Most of the immigrants in the 1890-1920 period (including my own family) came to the US principally in search of prosperity and opportunity, rather than religious freedom.
The Arbeelys ultimately ended up back in New York, where, as I said earlier, Najeeb Arbeely became an immigration inspector and newspaper editor, and Abraham organized the Syro-Arab Orthodox and worked to bring St. Raphael to America.
I happened to pick up an old favorite off the bookshelf recently — E.H. Carr’s classic What Is History?, published in 1961. It’s a wonderful little book about the method of history; if you majored in history in college, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it. It’s not quite Robin Collingwood, but it’s pretty darned close.
Anyway, I ran across this passage, which I’d dog-eared years ago. It had always resonated with me, but, having now presented my unfinished wanderings to the general public over these past five months, it means more to me now than ever.
Laymen — that is to say, non-academic friends or friends from other academic disciplines — sometimes ask me how the historian goes to work when he writes history. The commonest assumption appears to be that the historian divides his work into two sharply distinguishable phases or periods. First, he spends a long preliminary period reading his sources and filling his notebooks with facts: then, when this is over, he puts away his sources, takes out his notebooks, and writes his book from beginning to end.
This is to me an unconvincing and unplausible picture. For myself, as soon as I have got going on a few of what I take to be the capital sources, the itch becomes too strong and I begin to write — not necessarily at the beginning, but somewhere, anywhere. Thereafter, reading and writing go on simultaneously. The writing is added to, subtracted from, re-shaped, cancelled, as I go on reading. The reading is guided and directed and made fruitful by the writing: the more I write, the more I know what I am looking for, the better I understand the significance and relevance of what I find. [...]
I am convinced that, for any historian worth the name, the two processes of what economists call “input” and “output” go on simultaneously and are, in practice, parts of a single process. If you try to separate them, or to give one priority over the other, you fall into one of two heresies. Either you write scissors-and-paste history without meaning or significance; or you write propaganda or historical fiction, and merely use facts of the past to embroider a kind of writing which has nothing to do with history.
Before I started writing almost daily here at OrthodoxHistory.org, I kept copious notes of my research findings. I drafted and re-drafted dozens of articles — some long, some short, but none for immediate publication. I wrote, with myself as my only audience, because I could not resist the urge to write. And as Carr said, the act of writing fueled the act of researching, and led me to grapple with the evidence and better understand it in the process.
Now that I write for public consumption, that process has only intensified. I still keep private notes (hundreds of pages’ worth, by now), but I also put a lot of my unfinished work here at OH.org. I have been pleasantly surprised to find so many people who are also interested in American Orthodox history, and many of you have turned the tables, writing to me and, in the process, teaching me and forcing me to look at my own research in a fresh light. The whole experience has been extremely gratifying.
So, in this season of Thanksgiving here in the United States, I would like to thank each of you who read what we write here at OrthodoxHistory.org, be it on the website itself, on Facebook, on Google Reader, or via some other means. I am humbled that you would take the time to read our work, and I am very happy to know that there are thousands of you out there who care about this subject. I know I speak for all of us here at SOCHA when I say: Thank you.
I always laugh a little bit when I hear people complain about Orthodox involvement in things like the World Council of Churches. It’s not that I support such involvement — my position on modern ecumenical relations really isn’t relevant here — but I laugh because I can’t imagine what the present-day anti-ecumenists among us would say about what was going on at the turn of the last century.
For instance, can you imagine what would happen if the World Council of Churches was expanded to include Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? And if Orthodox bishops and priests were some of the main participants? That’s what happened at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where the “Parliament of Religions” tried to serve as a veritable United Nations for religion.
In the future, we’ll talk in detail about the Orthodox involvement in this event. For now, though, I’d like to focus on one of the Orthodox attendees in particular — the Antiochian archimandrite Fr. Christopher Jabara, who held the most extreme views of any of the Orthodox who were present.
For a number of years, Jabara had been the head of the Antiochian metochion (representation church) in Moscow. During this period, Jabara happened to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, and he helped arrange for an Antiochian student to attend the Patriarchal seminary at Halki. That student? A young monk named Raphael Hawaweeny.
A decade later, Jabara ran into problems in Russia. Apparently, he started talking about all religions being the same — particularly Christianity and Islam. This incurred the ire of the Metropolitan of Moscow, who ran him out of the country. His replacement as head of the metochion? Deacon Raphael Hawaweeny.
I’m not sure exactly where Jabara went after that, but by the end of 1892, he was in New York — one of the first Antiochian priests to come to America. He was carrying credentials from the Patriarch of Antioch (or at least, that’s what he said; unless we can inspect them, we can’t really be certain). The local Syro-Arab Orthodox, who were just glad to see an Antiochian priest, welcomed Jabara, and they set up a temporary chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets in New York City. At some point along the way, Jabara authored a book entitled, The Unity of Faith and the Harmony of Religions. The next year, the Parliament of Religions met in Chicago, and Jabara was there. Among other things, he said,
My brothers and sisters in the worship of God! All the religions now in this general and religious congress are parallel to each other in the sight of the whole world. Every one of these religions has supporters who prefer their own to other religions, and they might bring some arguments or reasons to convince others of the value and truth of their own form of religion.
Therefore, I think that a committee should be selected from the great religions to investigate the dogmas and to make a full and perfect comparison, and, approving the true one, to announce it to the people. This is easy to do in America, and especially in Chicago, as here the means for realization may be found.
First, there is full religious liberty; second, there is great progress in all branches of science; third, there is presence of great learning; fourth, wealth and benevolence; fifth, the piety of the American people in general and their energy in so many things useful to humanity, making this country a refuge to all nations.
Columbus discovered America for the whole world and discovered a home for the oppressed of all nations. As Columbus discovered America, so must Americans show the people of all nations a new religion in which all hearts may find rest.
That wasn’t all. Jabara told the Globe reporter,
I think and believe that when the gospels and the Koran, which are really one, are reconciled and the two great peoples, Christians and Mahometans, are also reconciled, the whole world will come into unity and all differences fade away.
All the human kind will become brethren in worshipping the true God and following Christ, the savior of the world, and I, as a servant of religion during all my life, have come from far away Damascus on my own account and in my poverty pray, in the name of God the omnipresent, that the people may consider my ideas on the unity of religion, especially between the sacred books.
Needless to say, the Syro-Arabs ran Jabara out of New York. There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that when Jabara returned to the chapel, his key didn’t work — somebody had already changed the locks. (This story is printed in the Antakya Press life of St. Raphael.)
Jabara stayed in America, and, as I said, he was in Boston in March of 1894. But he wasn’t there to minister to the Orthodox of the city; according to the Globe, he “came to Boston especially as a center of Unitarianism where the tenets of religion and the principles of his mission can be sifted and appreciated.”
Eventually, Jabara left the US, traveling to Egypt. An American Protestant named John Henry Barrows met him there in 1896-97, and wrote this account:
Two other men, who were present at the Parliament, I unexpectedly met at the Sunday services in the American Mission. One of them is Christophora Jibara, formerly Archimandrite of Damascus. He is still very active and earnest in what he deems his chief mission, persuading Christians to give up the doctrine of the Trinity, which prevents, as it seems to him, their coming into any union with Mohammedans and Jews. He believes that Christ is the Son of God and wrought a gospel of redemption. Jibara is a master of several languages, and I tried in vain to persuade him to employ his powers of speech in preaching a positive gospel, instead of smiting all his life at a dogma which has worn out many hammers.
I don’t know what happened to Jabara after 1897. The last traces I’ve found of him are from 1901, when Gerasimos Messara, the Metropolitan of Beirut, wrote a reply to an open letter by Jabara. (I don’t have copies of either Jabara’s letter or Met. Gerasimos’ reply; all I’ve found is this Google Books reference.)
With Jabara out of the picture, the Syro-Arabs in America still needed a priest. In 1895, they finally got one. His name? Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny.
One issue that has come to the fore in discussions at SOCHA’s website has been the use of historical sources. This got me thinking about what it means to be an historical theologian. It is not strictly the same as being an historian, though members of SOCHA, such as Matthew Namee, may consider themselves to be precisely that. Yet, historical theology is not systematic theology or philosophical theology. It is, after all, historical. So, where to start?
Let me start with the term theologian in historical theologian. Evagrios, though not a saint of the Church, did correctly note that a theologian is “he who prays rightly.” Theologians pray. They become spiritual fathers and leaders. They defend the faith. They build up the Body of Christ. Sometimes, they even heal people, feed people through miracles, and raise the dead. That is what theologians do when they “do theology.”
When combined with a contemporary, Western understanding of “theology,” which tends to mean treatises and reflections about God and Christianity, theology serves to articulate a vision of God, to uplift the faithful, to defend the faith, to express discernment, and to further a life of prayerful contemplation. This sort of theology does so making use of systematic, philosophical methods with contemporary concerns in mind (e.g., how does the Christian faith affect women and minorities?). Therefore, Orthodox theology in our current context is a movement from active prayer and contemplation and asceticism to intellectual apprehension and articulation of one’s spiritual experience(s).
What makes the historical theologian unique is that he or she does not concentrate only on the systematic and philosophical, but descends into the murkiness of the historical, for all that it implies, including overlap with anthropology, archaeology, and sociology. This assumes, of course, that the “historical theologian” brings his or her own experience and questions to historical studies. For this reason, an ascetic rigor of dispassionate openness to the historical evidence becomes paramount. Indeed, the historical theologian can only be faithful to the historical witness if he or she is able to maintain a healthy balance and dispassion in the face of his or her own theological experience and questions. Dispassion is a key factor here, but not in the sense of not caring, but in the sense of fighting the passions. The historical theologian must never allow an agenda to have a passionate hold on his or her own soul.
The basis for this understanding lies not so much in the historical distance between the Orthodox historical theologian and the people and events under study, but in the deifying or sanctifying distance that lies between the historical theologian and people and events in question. For God is the God of the living, and a cloud of witnesses surrounds and uplifts the historical theologian as he or she engages in prayer within an essentially structured community. In this experience, the difference in sanctification between a saint, or the witness of the fathers, and the historical theologian becomes all too obvious. Therefore, as a matter of humility, the Orthodox historical theologian seeks to learn from God’s presence in his saints throughout all the ages, and so remains open to the historical context rather than simply and anachronistically applying a contemporary and personal agenda.
The results of the historical investigation are then brought to bear upon the theological expressions at the systematic and philosophical level. In turn, these re-investigated expressions and understandings are applied to the realm of theology proper (prayer, discernment, and Christian action within the community).
“Historical theology,” therefore, denotes a circular process. It does not exist as an end in itself, but constantly evokes reflection and investigation on the part of the religious scholar. This process begins with an ascetic prayer life, expresses that experience through academic intellectual means, embraces and investigates history, and applies the results of historical inquiry to the academic intellectual expressions, which together shape prayer. As such, this circle is not a continual repeating of the same things, but the same process experienced anew each time. When done properly, historical theology becomes one small means by which we can circle the mind back up that downward spiral we have created since the first moment of Adam and Eve’s existence.
A note from Matthew Namee: What follows is a first glimpse of what is, I am confident, the most exciting research currently being done on the subject of American Orthodox history. As I’ve been telling others, my own research is pretty interesting stuff, but Nicholas Chapman’s work blows mine out of the water. Nicholas is a native of England, but he now lives in New York, where he works for the presses of both St. Vladimir’s and Holy Trinity (Jordanville) seminaries. I hope to interview Nicholas for my American Orthodox History podcast in the near future, and his article below is only the first of many.
It will come as a surprise to many, if not all Orthodox Christians in America, to learn that the story of their Church here begins not in 1794 but in 1738. Not in Russian Alaska, but rather British Virginia. Furthermore, what began in 1738 was not a mere blip on the radar, a passing moment of no historical import. Otherwise, how could it be that the daughter of a man described as “renowned in early Virginia history “(Annette Gordon-Reed: The Hemingses of Monticello) would write to President Thomas Jefferson early in his second term of office (Aug 27, 1805) “With the blessing of God I am now in good health, and with my priest’s blessing and command who is the Rev. Mr. Smirnov.”
Where does this story begin and who are its principal characters? Where are there descendants today and what became of their heritage of Orthodox faith and life that lasted for at least sixty/seventy years? My early research is only beginning to answer some of these questions, whilst posing many more.
Let’s begin with Colonel Philip Ludwell III, a third generation Virginian. He was the man who in 1753 gave George Washington his commission in the army and they exchanged frequent correspondence. Ludwell was a cousin of Washington’s wife, Martha. He was also a relative of Confederate General Robert E Lee and Presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, amongst many other distinguished figures of American history. His grandfather, Philip Ludwell I was the first British Governor of the Carolinas and his father, Philip Ludwell II a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and Rector of the College of William and Mary. (The second oldest college in the USA and its first University.) Ludwell’s English manservant, John Wayles, was the father in law of Thomas Jefferson and the father of Jefferson’s African American mistress, Sally Hemings!
When, where and why did Colonel Philip Ludwell become Orthodox? He was received in the Russian Orthodox Church in London, on December 31, 1738 (Old style) by Fr. Bartholomew Cassano, a half French, Alexandrian Greek whose wife Elizabeth (nee Burton) is one of the first recorded English converts to Orthodoxy. Ludwell would have been twenty-two years old at the time. His reception was authorised at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia, who blessed him to take the Holy Gifts back to Virginia and which approved of his translation into English of the “Orthodox Confession” written by Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev, one hundred years earlier. They also granted him a dispensation to continue attending the Anglican church in Virginia, taking into account his position as “an important Royal official” and recognising that “apart from the Province of Pennsylvania, all religions but Protestantism are banned.”
His extensive business interests seem to have led him to travel frequently between Virginia and London. The London parish register documents his participation in the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion on twelve occasions between August 5 1760 and his death on March 14, 1767. (This is very frequent by the standards of the time when once a year communion was the norm.) On April 3, 1762 (Holy Wednesday) he brought his three daughters to be chrismated and somewhat unusually also stood as their sponsor.
His health began to fail him during 1766 and the register records that on Sunday, September 17, 1766, “The sick Philip Ludwell received Holy Communion in his house during the day.” On February 22, 1767 it states “the sick Mr. Philip Ludwell confessed and received Holy Communion, and was anointed with oil at his home.” Shortly thereafter on March 14, 1767 “Philip Ludwell died at five o’clock in the afternoon” and that the following day the “Canon after the departure of the soul from the body” was read at the church. On March 19, 1767 (the fourth day of Great Lent) his funeral took place. On March 22,1767 he was buried in the crypt of the church of St. Mary Bow. (A small Anglican Church to the east of the City of London, which at that time was a distinct village apart from the city.)
Another hint of the intensity of Ludwell’s commitment to the Church is found in Edward L Bond’s 2004 work Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia. Writing in the context of what Bond describes as “Private devotional exercise common among some of Virginia’s elite gentleman” he states that “Philip Ludwell III transcribed from the Greek his own translation of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom “The Divine and Holy Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as it is performed without a Deacon.” ” Did Ludwell’s so called “private devotion” set him on a path to Orthodoxy? Perhaps it is so.
For now, I have only one clear statement, which is found in a letter written in 1791 by the Russian Ambassador in London, Count Vorontsov to his brother Alexander in St. Petersburg. The relevant passage is actually focusing on John Paradise (of whom there is much more to say.) Vorontsov writes “By a strange coincidence an Englishman, a friend of his (i.e. Paradise’s) father’s, who had some property in Virginia, took it into his head to read in the original all the Fathers of the Church and become convinced that our religion was the only true one; he forsook his own to study it and brought up his only daughter who afterwards married my friend Mr. Paradise.”
As mentioned previously, Ludwell in fact had three daughters, but only one was alive in 1791 and known to Count Vorontsov. All three daughters had been baptized as Orthodox Christians and at least one (Lucy who wrote to Jefferson in 1805) was married in the Church. In my next articles I will turn to their stories and those of the men they married.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, NY, Nov 11, 2009