Attend an American Orthodox parish today, of any jurisdiciton, and you’re likely to hear prayers offered for the President of the United States (and, in some parishes, for the other branches of government as well). The first evidence I’ve been able to find of such prayers is from the journal Christian Union, 10/4/1871:
Bishop Johannes, of the Russo-Greek Church on the Pacific coast, has ordered the prayer for the President of the United States, contained in the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church, to be used by the Greek Priests. The Russo-Greek Calendar has also been modified so as to make it conform to that of Western Christendom in several essential important points.
It’s not clear what those calendar changes were, but obviously, the prayers for the President were part of a broader program to make Orthodoxy more American.
Four decades later (and exactly 99 years ago today), a Greek fruit dealer in Boston decided that the local Greek parish (and, apparently, Greek churches throughout the country) should also pray for US leaders. From the Boston Globe (7/14/1911):
That the ritual of the Greek church in this country be changed so that prayers would be for “the President, his family, the governors and their families,” instead of the customary for “King George of Greece and his family,” was the object of a petition filed yesterday in the office of Clerk Darling in the U.S. circuit court.
Constantinos D. Dimary of 46 Curve st, a fruit dealer, prepared the document, writing it on a 20-pound brown paper bag with a pencil. There is considerable legal phraseology in the document, as Dimary studied law in Greece. He feels that the country which has been adopted by his countrymen should get the blessings of his church.
What exactly Mr. Dimary hoped to accomplish by filing a petition in court is beyond me. Did he expect the court to compel Greek churches to pray for the US President? It’s one thing to bring up such a thing to your parish priest (or local bishop, but the Greeks didn’t have one in 1911), but to seek the aid of the courts is a little extreme. I don’t know what became of this petition (although I can guess that it didn’t get very far), and I’m not sure how the Greeks of Boston responded. I know we’ve got quite a few Greek Orthodox readers from the Boston area; can any of you shed more light on this odd incident?
One more note along these lines. In 1920, the Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi — leader of the “Antacky” faction of Syrians — published a collection of Orthodox hymns, with music, in English, under the title The Paradise. Among those hymns was one that went like this: “God bless the President of the United States, and its people with peace and prosperity, God keep this peace and prosperity, forevermore, forevermore, forevermore. Amen.” This, it appears, was used in Met Germanos’ parishes during the Divine Liturgy, where once upon a time the Eastern Roman Emperor was commemorated.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
UPDATE (7/14/2010): After I published this article yesterday, Isa Almisry found an example of prayers for the US President in 1870, which is earlier than the Bishop John Mitropolsky example related above. From Isa:
The New York Times records on November 25, 1870, that “servives were conducted by Bishop PAUL, formerly Bishop of Alaska, who is on his way to Russia, to assume his new position as Bishop of Siberia. Rev. Mr. BJERRING also officiated. The litany was said by the Bishop, while prayers for the Emperor and Empress of Russian, and for the President and people of the United States were offered by the pastor.”