Bishop Nicholas in Galveston, 1896
In September of 1896, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov made his first archpastoral visit to the brand-new parish of Ss. Constantine and Helen in Galveston, Texas. This multiethnic church was founded just a few months earlier by Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the great Greek archimandrite who served in the Russian Mission.
Just after the bishop’s arrival on September 19, a reporter from the Galveston Daily News paid him a visit (see Galveston Daily News, 9/20/1896). The reporter was told that Bishop Nicholas had fasted all day in preparation for the next day’s Divine Liturgy, and ”was about to retire into the room for the purpose of self communion and prayer.” On his way out, though, the reporter ran into Bishop Nicholas in the hall. The reporter wrote,
Bishop Nicholas is a typical Russian in appearance. He is large of frame, with a full, round face, somewhat thin beard and long, heavy, black hair. Though somewhat heavy, the features are those of a man with a strong mentality. From those who are in a position to know, it was understood that he is a man of great culture and scholarly attainments. He speaks very little English, but French and German fluently. He was attired in a long, black gown, similar to the ones used by the priests of the Roman church. From around his neck a gold chain was suspended, with a crucifix pendant.
Through a translator, Bishop Nicholas explained, “I am the only bishop on the American continents, and the head of the church in North and South America.” This is one of the earliest explicit assertions of Russian jurisdiction throughout the New World. The bishop continued, “My headquarters are in San Francisco, and I came here direct from that city. From what I have seen of Galveston, I think you have a beautiful city, and I like it very much.”
The reporter asked, “How many churches of the orthodox Russian-Greek faith are there in America?”
“There are about twenty-five churches and about sixty chapels scattered throughout the country,” the bishop said. “The largest are in Alaska, where the members are chiefly Russians, and therefore conform to the orthodox church. There are quite a number in Pennsylvania, but many of them do not belong to the orthodox church.” Of course, Bishop Nicholas was referring to the Uniate parishes, which began to join the Russian Mission in earnest during Bishiop Nicholas’ episcopate.
The reporter continued, “What is the difference between the orthodox and the unorthodox church?”
“The members of the orthodox church in America believe that God is the head of the chruch and the czar the first son of the church,” explained Bishop Nicholas, “while upon the other hand, owing to the political conditions of Russia, the people there have to believe that the head of the church is the pope. That is why the Russian people like America. They are free here to follow the dictates of their conscience, which they can not in Russia.”
I suspect that something got lost in the translation, because Bishop Nicholas was pretty obviously referring to the Carpatho-Rusyns living in Roman Catholic lands (particularly the Austro-Hungarian Empire), who retained many Orthodox traditions but acknowledged the authority of the Pope of Rome. The bishop certainly didn’t mean to say that otherwise-Orthodox people in Russia recognized the Pope and couldn’t “follow the dictates of their conscience” in Russia.
In any event, the interview concluded as follows:
“Is the church growing much in America?”
“Yes, it is growing steadily.”
“Do you expect to return or be recalled to Russia?”
“I may return, but not to work there. My field will be in America.”
The next day, Bishop Nicholas celebrated a hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Galveston church (Daily News, 9/21). A few interesting notes about that service:
- The service commemorated “the bi-centenary of the independence of the church under Prince Nicholas of Montenegro.”
- The congregation was mostly composed of Greeks and “Slavonians” (mainly Serbs and Montenegrins). Bishop Nicholas may well have been the only Russian in the building.
- Prayers were offered for the Prince of Montenegro, the Tsar of Russia, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the clergy, and the President of the United States. The newspaper doesn’t mention it, but I assume that the Holy Synod of Russia was also commemorated.
- Bishop Nicholas gave his sermon, on the doctrines of the Church, in Slavonic, but Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides translated it into Greek.
- After the service, in addition to receiving holy bread, the parishioners were given “a religious book in Greek or Slavonic and a small metal cross,” both gifts from the bishop.
- Also after the service, Bishop Nicholas appointed the trustees and officers of the church. I don’t know if the parish held elections which were merely ratified by the bishop, or if Bishop Nicholas actually made all the choices himself.
Bishop Nicholas left Galveston for New Orleans the following day, September 21. Just before he left, a Galveston Daily News reporter (probably the same one mentioned above) caught up with him for a final interview. Here is the resulting article, in full (Daily News, 9/22):
Bishop Nicholas, the head of the Russian Greek orthodox church on the continent of America, left Galveston yesterday afternoon at 4.30 for New Orleans, en route to Chicago and the larger cities of the east.
A News reporter called upon the reverend gentleman a few hours prior to his reparture and found him just about to partake of some tea with a dash of lemon in it, a la Russian. He courteously invited the reporter to join him in a cup, which invitation was promptly accepted.
In response to the quesiton if he had enjoyed his stay here, the bishop replied in the affirmative with considerable emphasis.
“I like Galveston very much,” he said by way of continuation. “It is a beautiful city, but a little too warm just now. I shall try to come here and make a long stay — say about two months.”
“You did not dedicate the new church yesterday?”
“No; the report in The Galveston News of this morning was correct about that. The people of the church here are going to try to build a residence for the pastor, a school house and make other improvements. I shall try to come back again in December next. I will dedicate the church then.”
The bishop here rose and, going to a desk at the other end of the room, took from it a small book and, handing it to the reporter, said with a smile:
“If you will study that you will be able to give the service in full when I come again.”
The book contained the liturgies of the Russian Greek church, printed in Greek on one side and English on the other. The paper was of fine quality and the book was neatly bound.
“Where are you going from here?” inquired the scribe after he had returned due thanks for the gift.
“I go to New Orleans from Galveston, then to Chicago, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, New York and other large places,” replied the bishop.
“In what condition did you find the affairs of the church here?”
“O, very good; very satisfactory. When I come back I will tell you all you want to know about the church, but I must now prepare to take the train,” and the bishop rose as an indication that the interview was ended.
It’s not known whether Bishop Nicholas visited the Orthodox church in New Orleans when he passed through the city. There is no evidence that the parish was a part of his diocese, but given Bishop Nicholas’ own view that he had jurisdiction over the entire Western Hemisphere, he may well have considered the New Orleans parish to be under his authority. It would be very interesting to know what, if any, contacts the New Orleans Orthodox community had with the Russian bishop.
In any case, Bishop Nicholas can’t have been in New Orleans for very long. He arrived in New York on September 25, in time to celebrate the Elevation of the Cross with two of his newest priests, St. Raphael Hawaweeny and St. Alexander Hotovitzky (New York Times, 9/26/1896).
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
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