The following is a translation from the French of the article “Un Conquete du Patriarcat Oecumenique,” from Échos d’Orient, Volume 11, 1908, concerning Fr. Raphael (Robert Josias) Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America. The article uses his middle name “Josias.”
The translation was done using Google Translate with a little cleaning afterward. A few pf the phrases made sense neither to Google nor to me, but I tried my best with my rudimentary French. Corrections are welcome. This article was originally spotted by Matthew Namee.
A CONQUEST OF THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE
The Church of Constantinople recorded last summer a resounding conquest, which has made local headlines for days in the newspapers and halls of the capital. An American clergyman, a native of the English Antilles [the West Indies], a negro of the finest black, the Reverend Robert Morgan, after a few weeks of living on the shores of the Golden Horn, has had the singular grace of seeing the light of Tabor and being admitted into Orthodoxy. His [prior] baptism worthless, like all unbelievers who live outside the Orthodox Church, the said negro, a robust fellow of about thirty-five years, was plunged three times from head to toe in the font of purification, and came out white, one of the flock of the great Church of Christ. After which, the neophyte, wishing to obtain the sacred order of priesthood that he was only supposed to have before, was ordained priest by Mgr. Joachim Phouropolos, a Metropolitan expelled from Monastir [present day Bitola, FYROM - edited thanks to comment!], who recited the prayers of the Pontifical in English. Since then, the ex-Reverend Morgan, now become Father Josias Morgan, said Mass in the Byzantine rite in the English language [emphasis in original].
This is how this this actually happened. It is understandable that this is of public interest in Constantinople, which really lacks entertainment.
I saw Father Josias, and one summer morning I mounted with him the green and sunny shores of the Bosphorus. At the pier of the Chirket, with the wide sleeves of his rasso, in his kamilafki all brand new, and with his booming voice, he attracted the attention of all, to the delight of the Greeks, proud of their booty, and to the great amusement of young Ottoman officers accustomed to seeing people of color in the company of Turkish women. Having gone to see an Englishman of my acquaintance, I told him of my meeting. I now literally transcribe the brief dialogue that ensued between us:
- “M. G…, I saw this morning, one of your compatriots.”
- “Where was this?”
- “On the boat Chirket.”
- “Where is he from?”
- “I think he is from Jamaica.”
- “Introduce him to me, so I may make his acquaintance,” said my friend who has long lived in this island.
- “I will do so, but I must warn you that he is a negro.”
- “Oh! Well, don’t introduce me.”
- “I should add he became a Greek priest.”
- “A Greek priest! You are confused and this must be a sorcerer.”
- “I’ve never seen a negro sorcerer, but I know enough of the dress of Orthodox priests such that there is no error on my part.”
- “You’re right, after all; this does not surprise me.”
- “What! I am surprised by this very much.”
- “The negroes are very religious.”
- “Indeed, yes, they have so much religion that they change it every week.”
My friend was wrong. Many weeks have passed since our conversation, and Father Josias remained faithful to the Orthodox Church. He left Constantinople for Philadelphia in the United States in the first days of November, carrying 28 Turkish lira (a lira is worth about 23 francs) which was given by the holy synod for his travel expenses.
What will he do in his country? Certainly, [he will] found an Orthodox church of negroes. But what else? That’s what we know, and in fact, the first goal was good enough [et d'ailleurs le premier but suffit - edited thanks to Facebook comment!]. It seems, however, that the Reverend Morgan had intended, embracing Orthodoxy, to be consecrated bishop. The Holy Synod declined, and I think it was wrong. The ordination of a bishop of color would have rendered invaluable services.
Firstly, being an American and a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said Morgan would have exercised jurisdiction over all the Greeks settled in America. Hence a great advantage would be obtained by the Phanar over the Church of Athens. At the same time, the latter took their revenge. Indeed, if the Greeks of America continue to ask for a bishop, they will want a white [one], of course. They are a people of such a taste and wit as never to accept a negro bishop, even were he the eunuch of Queen Candace [of Ethiopia]. From the day they would have imposed Morgan as Bishop on them, they would have returned to the motherland; which contrasts with Athens on the question of emigration, which furnished to Cabinet Theotokis ten thousand conscripts who lack the necessary annual [pay] [et fournissait au Cabinet Theotokis les dix mille conscrits nécessaires qui lui manquent annuellement].
It is really unfortunate that the Church of Constantinople had not thought of all these advantages and has left the negro Morgan unconsecrated as bishop.
Update: It should be noted that the posting of this historical article should in no way be construed as an endorsement of the opinions expressed therein.