Editor’s note: Today, we present the second of three historical documents recently discovered by Nicholas Chapman. On August 24, we published Nicholas’ introduction to the documents, and last week, we published a letter by St. Philaret of Moscow on the subject of Orthodoxy in America in 1865. Today’s document is an 1865 letter from Agapius Honcharenko to a priest. While the recipient is not identified by name, Nicholas notes that the priest was “most likely the Rev. Eugene Popov, the Russian Priest in London, England.” The initial translation of this letter has been provided by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.
The letter isn’t dated, but we can get a good idea of when it was written from this sentence: “I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.” On March 26, 1865, the New York Times reported that Honcharenko was to depart for New Orleans “in a few days.” It is thus probable that the letter was written shortly before that date.
Very Reverend Father,
I have always regretted and wondered why in the new world there is no Catholic Orthodox faith and because of this having prepared myself with the necessary objects for a church service: of course icons, vestments etc. Last fall on October 1 I embarked from Smyrna on an American ship and left for America having received the ordination to the priesthood, the holy antimens and the holy myrrh with a letter from the Great Church. I arrived on Dec 21 and on Dec 25, the day of the birth of Christ, in our Orthodox dogma, among the Greeks, was performed the first liturgy on this continent since the time of Columbus.
In the Republic I find in the official documents seven thousand Orthodox Slavs, (Illyrian Dalmatians of Montenegro) , three thousand Russians and three thousand Greeks. These sheep live from birth without a Pastor. The Slavs and Russians, although they are citizens of the Republic…….. But they ask with all the soul addressing themselves to Russia, asking that the Russian Synod send a blessing for their church meetings and they ask to have the petition at the litany to commemorate the Emperor Alexander II and the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia as a symbol of the unity with the Russian Church. As I am a citizen of Greece, during my services I commemorate the Greek King and Synod and the Slavs do not wish this. During the several days of my stay in New York I baptized a few friendly …. (eight) and two Russians. I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.
By birth I am a Russian and I served at the Russian Church in Athens as a deacon. My unfortunate fate…….. (March 15, 1860) Unfairness of people …… made me become a Greek citizen. I am also with my soul and body dedicated to the Russian people…. The Russian government . Prince Gorchokov is convinced of this. But why does not the Russian Holy Synod recognise the truth of what I say?!!!
I am addressing you the deepest request very very Reverend Father. I have heard a lot about the goodness of your soul. Please pay attention to me and to the goodwill of the Orthodox Church and ask the petition for me that I would receive the blessing upon my sheep, both Slavs and Russians, from the Holy Synod, because I am the only and first Pastor of the Orthodox Church on this continent and the Pastor for all the Orthodox sheep of the flock of Christ.
I remain with the deepest respect ,
Priest Agapius Honcharenko
47 Exchange Place, Room 19, New York