Not going in chronological order, but continuing on the theme from yesterday… The following article appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin on December 6, 1862:
At the General Episcopal Convention recently held in New York, Dr. Thrall, late of San Francisco, took occasion to make some interesting statements as to the Russo-Greek church here. There were, said he, in San Francisco between 300 and 400 communicants of the Russo-Greek church, some of whom had been under his pastoral charge, although not feeling free to receive the communion at his hands, owing to the unsettled relations between their church and ours. They were about to build a church of their own and become organized into a parish; and before long there might be appointed a Bishop of the Russo-Greek church, who would claim jurisdiction and thus bring about a conflict with the Bishop of California. This ought to force upon the Convention the consideration of that great question — one of the greatest of questions — the establishment of full ecclesiastical relations with the Russo-Greek church. He was not prepared to pass an opinion on the subject, and did not suppose that, at this late moment in the session, the House would go into the discussion. He only asked for the appointment of a committee of inquiry and correspondence on the subject, the main object of which would be to present the claims of our own church as a true part of the Church Catholic, and thus as duly qualified to guide and feed those who might come from the Russian dominions to reside temporarily or permanently among us. There wre three possibilities that might ultimately result from the movement thus begun: 1st. A number of brethren of the Russo-Greek church might be brought into our own communion; 2d. It might lead the way to the correction of some of the errors of the Greek church itself; 3d. It might at last enable the Anglican and the Greek churches to present an undivided front to Rome and the infidel.
The article goes on to say that, after some discussion, the resolution passed “almost unanimously.” This committee — the “Russo-Greek Committee” — dove into its work. In 1865, it sent representatives to Russia to confer with the leading Orthodox churchmen there, including St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. The meetings were extremely positive; the Committee’s report to the 1865 General Convention can be viewed here.
From the above article, we also see that, in 1862, there were already several hundred Orthodox Christians in San Francisco, and even before the sale of Alaska to the US was imminent, they were hoping to establish a parish. The Episcopalians foresaw that ”before long there might be appointed a Bishop of the Russo-Greek church, who would claim jurisdiction and thus bring about a conflict with the [Episcopal] Bishop of California.” It is this potential territorial conflict which provides part of the impetus to create the Russo-Greek Committee.
Eventually, in the winter of 1867-68, an Russian church was founded in San Francisco, and in 1870, Bishop John Mitropolsky moved his residence to that city. But, as we’ve discussed previously, he formally claimed territory in Alaska only, with the title, “Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” thus avoiding a conflict with the Episcopal Bishop of California.
We’ll keep fleshing this out in the days to come; however, for now, consider some of the things that were going on in this period:
- As we saw above, at the 1862 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Dr. Thrall reported on the presence of Orthodox Christians in San Francisco, and the possibility of an Orthodox parish and even an Orthodox bishop in the future. The convention passed a resolution to create a “Russo-Greek Committee.”
- In 1865, Anglican representatives of the Russo-Greek Committee visited Russia and had very positive meetings with the hierarchs there. The same year, Agapius Honcharenko served the first Orthodox liturgy in New York, using the Episcopalian Trinity Chapel. Among many Episcopalians, this was seen a landmark event.
- In 1866, the Russian Church planned to establish a representation church in New York City, with the main goal of furthering dialogue with the Episcopalians.
- In 1867, Russia sold its American territory — Alaska — to the United States of America.
- In the winter of 1867-68, the Russian Church established a parish in San Francisco.
- In 1870, Nicholas Bjerring opened a Russian chapel in New York, apparently in fulfillment of the 1866 plan. The same year, the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was created, and the new hierarch, John Mitropolsky, moved the bishop’s residence to San Francisco.
Bottom line, it’s impossible to understand the policy of the Russian Church towards America in the 1860s without also considering the relations between the Russian and Episcopal Churches. And once you start to understand those relations, Russia’s seemingly paradoxical treatment of America — with territorial claims only in Alaska, but a bishop living in the contiguous US — begins to make sense.