Fr. Sebastian Dabovich was a monumental figure in American Orthodox history. An American-born Serb, he founded numerous parishes — Serbian and otherwise — under the auspices of the Russian Mission in America. He is currently being considered by the Serbian Orthodox Church and the OCA for glorification as a saint.
Dabovich knew Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine rather well. He was serving in Philadelphia when Irvine, who was also in that city, decided to convert to Orthodoxy in 1905. Dabovich was instrumental in arranging a meeting between Irvine and St. Tikhon, which ultimately led to Irvine’s ordination in November of that year. Nevertheless, Irvine, who was nothing if not bold, felt compelled to rebuke Dabovich in 1916, for the latter’s relations with the Episcopal Church. A former Episcopalian himself, Irvine felt that Dabovich was going too far in his ecumenical activity, and he wrote a strongly-worded letter. It’s rather long, but I am reprinting it in full below. The letter is dated September 16, 1916, and was found in the OCA archives.
Very Rev. and dear Brother:
I am very much perplexed and no one but you can give me a satisfactory explanation. However, I am sending a copy of this letter to our Archbishop for fear that, your acts are authorized by him, and, therefore I may have from him through you a sufficient answer.
You will surely remember that, when I was about to enter the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church, I called upon you in Philadelphia, and through you and by your kindness and courtesy, I transmitted my credentials and applications as an Anglican to the Most Reverend, and ever dear to America, Archbishop Tikhon. You, My Very Rev. and dear Brother, were my first door to a Church, wherein I am happy and for whom I am ready to live and die as well as serve in the humblest capacity.
Now, I entered the Holy Orthodox Russo-Greek Catholic Church believing that she, waiving all and every political and worldly consideration, brought my mind, soul and convictions nearer to God’s peace, “which passeth all understanding” than Anglicanism or any other portion of the Church founded by the Great Head of the Church, our one and only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the Russo-Greek Church My Soul is at peace with the whole family of God in Heaven and Earth, my only aim is to prove by a loving heart that, within her fold we see revealed as the Mother Church of Christendom, the “Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints” and held in trust to be transmitted, age after age, to a world hungry for the Bread of Life and the Living Water which alone are found in the Incarnate One’s bosom the Son of the Ever Virgin Mary and only Begotten of her and the Eternal Father by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
But, Very Rev. and dear Brother, though my peace, personally, is satisfactory I am anxious about what you are doing and what the results may be, for it seems to me that you are, unintentionally, tearing down the house which you helped to build as a refuge of Souls.
I read in the “Churchman” of September 16th, that you, clad in the Clerical Robes of the Orthodox Church attended both the Morning and Evening services of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Bar Harbor, Maine, and preached to large congregations. Is this true? Is it true that, you took part with the Rector of a Protestant Episcopal Church, a Clergyman whose Holy Orders are not acknowledged by the Holy Orthodox Church? I need not remined you of the Apostolical Canons. You are too well versed, I am sure, for me to quote any of them to you and show wherein you have overlooked the seriousness of your act.
But I need say no more on the following points, permit me only to add the facts as follows, namely: —
There is no intercommunion between the Holy Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion. This you surely know. Then think of the incongruity of any Orthodox Archimandrite standing at or near the Altar of a Church, side by side of one of her priests, which one half of whose clergy look upon as more benighted than the Church of Rome and only a relic of the dim past of Christianity and Icon Superstition! Think of the perplexing thoughts of the summer guests of Bar Harbor and the Laymembers of the Protestant Episcopal Parish, but, alas, think of the disturbed feelings of the members of the Holy Orthodox Church if any were present in that Congregation or in that watering place!
Perhaps, I may be pardoned if I remind you that, while the Protestant Episcopal Church may welcome you personally as a priest of the Holy Orthodox Church at her Altar and likewise any of our Bishops, she honestly and sincerely in her heart of hearts has no use for our Bishops. Why should she? Will you not please read again if you have before the Appendix written to my Booklet on “Anglican Claims” by t he Rev. William J. Seabury, D.D., late Professor of Canon Law in the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church claims full jurisdiction in the United States. Of course her claims and the Preface to her Book of Common Prayer contradict each other, for while in the former she claims full jurisdiction, in the latter she only speaks of herself as one of the Churches of the Republic. However, our Bishops are regarded as only provisional — Bishops in the United States of a Church whose members can not understand the English language and who in time may be swallowed up in the embrace of Anglicanism and fall under the supervision of the Anglican Episcopate.
Are you, my Very Rev. Brother, willing to concede this?
I believe that, the Orthodox have been led into traps by a certain Society known as the “Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union.” We have been misinterpreted and misrepresented by that Society. Rome, and the unlearned Orthodox surely have misinterpreted our Prelates. And some of our Prelates have made mistakes, and some have seen then after having become members or advocates of such a Society.
We cannot be united with the Anglican Communion if we truly hold the faith fo the Holy Orthodox Church. A fraction of the former believe as we do, but two thirds disagree with us in Matters which we deem essential.
We, as a Church, have but one view of Doctrine, Discipline and Worship. Not so with the Anglican. That Communion, is as varied in views as the Shades of the members of Protestant Sects or Romish perverts who may drop into her fold.
But, Very Rev. Brother, there is something bordering on to an Ecclesiastical tragedy in our hob-nobing with the Anglican Church.
It is cruel to the Anglicans. You know and so do I that, there is no intercommunion. Why should we not be honest and say that while we love all who believe in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, yet there are essentials important to us that are lacking to them, that, it would be cruel to deceive by Society Courtesy those who do not believe in its entirety the “Faith once for all delivered to the Saints?”
But the Tragedy is still more appalling in this respect, namely, we are disturbing the faith of the Youth of the Holy Orthodox Church. Remember, please, that no Anglicans come to us except it be to hear our music, which by some outside and others within the Russian Church is exploited for mercenary purposes. On the other hand, hundreds of our people, and, running up into thousands of our young are being lost to us because of, on the one hand our folly and the superciliousness of some of our Ecclesiastics, and, on the other, our lack of preparation to hold them, our priest being hide-bound to their own foreign language in a Country where nothing scarcely is taught but English to the Young of ever Nationality coming to our shores.
Won’t you, very Rev. and Dear Brother, review the past? Please do. Just think of my coming to the door of the Russian Church through you and knocking for entrance. Think of the day when I was ordained at St. Nicholas Cathedral. Think of the first service ever said in English of the Holy Orthodox Church. You and I said that service in the Russian Cathedral. What now does it all mean that you should help to tear down the house which you had helped to build?
I have prepared a long article on the reunion of Christendom etc., and the great danger in which the Orthodox Church in the United States stands in having any thing to do with such a step, as “Federation” or “Unions” at the present time. I hope some day, when I have the means, to have it published. It will explain fully to my brother priests our dangerous position stoical indifference and in flirting with the Anglican Church.
Trusting that you will pardon my long letter and any unintentional grief which it may give you, I am,
Ingram N.W. Irvine, D.D.