Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans was the first organized Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. Despite that fact, precious little is known about its early history. The first priest to visit New Orleans was the infamous Fr. Agapius Honcharenko, but, contrary to popular belief, Honcharenko was not actually the parish priest. He was only in town for a short visit, after which he returned to New York and then moved to the San Francisco Bay area.
The actual first pastor of Holy Trinity seems to have been Archimandrite Stephen Andreades. He was there as early as December 1867, when he gave a homily which was translated into Russian and published the following March in Honcharenko’s Alaska Herald. I haven’t seen the homily itself, but according to Fr. Alexander Doumouras (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 1967), “In this sermon Fr. Andreades stated that he had been ‘invited from Greece’ to come to America and serve the parish in New Orleans. He did not state who invited him and who appointed him.”
I don’t know when Andreades left Holy Trinity, but I do know that, by 1872, Fr. Gregory Yayas was the parish priest. I’ve seen all sorts of spellings for Yayas’ name, including, “the Right Reverend Father Gregorio Therodidasme von Giagias.” I’ve only found one account of Yayas, from Elizabeth Brooks’ Prominent Women of Texas (1896). In the chapter on Mrs. V.O. King, we find the following:
The Greek became to her [Mrs. King] a familiar tongue, but only as it was spoken twenty-five hundred years ago. A new ambition seized her; the modern or Romaic Greek must be acquired. The design was scarcely formed before events were so ordered as to favor its accomplishment. Her husband removed to New Orleans to practice his profession [medicine], where, very soon, he made the acquaintance of Father Gregorio, priest of the newly-organized Greek Church in that city. The Reverend gentleman was a scholarly man and deeply cultured in both the modern and Hellenic literature of his country, but he knew not one word of English and he was thrown among people who knew not one word of Greek. When Mrs. King, therefore, proposed that he should become her teacher in the colloquial forms of his language, he was not loth to accept the charge. As the years went by, the interest of both pupil and preceptor daily grew with the progress they made, and when this relation ceased they talked together in his native tongue as freely as Greek might discuss with Greek the school of Plato in the grove of Academus.
Yayas’ tenure appears to have been rather brief, 1872 to 1874 or ’75. As best I can tell, Andreades and Yayas were the first ethnic Greek priests to serve in America.
Yayas did not have an immediate successor. It wasn’t until 1881 that Holy Trinity received a new priest. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Michael Kalitski, or Karidis, or Karidas, etc.) was from Philippopolis, Bulgaria, and was born sometime in the 1840s. The Chicago Herald (5/31/1886) described him as “a stout, florid-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard.” The Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said that he “resembled the pictures of the patriarchs of old, with his long flowing snowy white beard.”
Karydis was a pretty colorful figure, and in some upcoming posts, I’ll discuss his career and his tragic death.