When to sit and when to stand

Last week, I spent about 2,000 words discussing the question of pews in early Greek churches in America. Based on my findings to date, it seems that pews became popular in Greek churches sometime in the 1920s, for reasons that aren’t yet clear. In Paul Manolis’ indispensible History of the Greek Church of America in Acts and Documents, he reprints a letter — in Greek — written by Archimandrite Kyrillos Papageorgiou to the Synod of the Greek Archdiocese. The date on the letter is February 14, 1925, and Manolis’ brief summary (in English) makes it clear that this letter dealt with the issue of pews. But, since it’s in Greek, I can’t read it.

A regular visitor to our website, Ioannis Fortomas, has very graciously offered to help me with translations from the Greek. Thanks to Ioannis, we now have the following translation of Papageorgiou’s letter:

14-2-1925

To the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church in America

New York

Your Eminence, Mr. President,

It is well known to your Eminence that in many American Orthodox Churches they have put seats, instead of the stalls (stasidia) which we have in our churches in the homeland. The seats have been laid out towards the purpose that the Christians may sit during the divine services. A blessed question arises though. Do the Christians know when they should arise and when they should sit? From a first glance, my question may appear to you as being trivial and unworthy of conversation and attention. But if you think a little, you will see that it is worthy of careful thinking, because it pertains to the order and decoration of not one, but of all Orthodox Churches in America. And so that problems do not arise: one Christian from one city traveling to another and seeing a difference in the Church, not knowing himself when he should sit and when he should stand. Therefore, according to my humble opinion, the Synod should publish an encyclical epistle to all the priests in America, setting forth precisely the moments when the Christians should sit and when they should stand. The priests should teach the contents of the encyclical to the faithful.

Finishing with respect,

Your child,

Archimandrite Kyrillos Papageorgiou

First of all, let me publicly thank Ioannis for his excellent work. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for his assistance.

I don’t have much information about Papageorgiou himself. I think he’s the same person as Fr. Cyrillos Papagregoriou, who had several stints as pastor of St. Vasilios Church in Peabody, Massachusetts in the early 1900s. I don’t know where he was in 1925.

It’s not clear whether the Greek Archdiocese responded to Papageorgiou’s request. If they did, it’s not in Manolis’ book. But the Papageorgiou letter itself is enlightening enough. It confirms that, by 1925, pews were becoming reasonably widespread among Greek churches, replacing the more traditional stalls or leaners. But pews were new enough that the people weren’t quite sure what to do with them. This letter also implies that the Archdiocese had not, up to 1925, directly addressed the pew issue.

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