Irvine responds to Hapgood on St. Raphael’s funeral

Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine

Last week, we reprinted Isabel Hapgood’s account of St. Raphael’s funeral. The Hapgood article appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. Two days later, the paper published the following letter to the editor from Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine:

To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: An unfortunate mistake was made in an article written by Miss Isabel Hapgood which would make it seem to appear that the Russian Bishop and his Russian clergy did not pay the proper repsect to the office of the Syrian Bishop at the funeral. The words to which exception is taken are as follows: “The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.”

Indeed, the respect and episcopal honor paid to Bishop Raphael’s office and person by Bishop Alexander was the most remarkable expression of love that has ever been known in the United States to the body of a dead prelate. From the moment Bishop Alexander was notified of his brother Bishop’s death until the day after his burial in the crypt of the cathedral (which, by the bye was not built by Bishop Raphael, as Miss Hapgood, through misapprehension, also states) he and his clergy were present and gave the same attention as if the deceased Bishop was of their own nationality. The usual custom of kissing the cross and the hand of the dead Bishop was also observed.

If, from matter of respect to the Syrian clergy, who had come from great distance to the funeral, Bishop Alexander and his clergy gave way for a moment, it was altogether because of the tenderness toward thirty priests of the Syrian Bishop who crowded around the casket brokenhearted and bereaved. However, from the first visitation to the dead body until the casket lid was locked down, Bishop Alexander and his clergy paid every required honor — indeed, to such an extent that it might have appeared to outsiders that he was their own Bishop and not that of the Syrian flock.

INGRAM N.W. IRVINE.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, March 9, 1915

As regular readers of this website know, Irvine was a prominent Episcopal priest who converted to Orthodoxy and was ordained by St. Tikhon in 1905. Irvine worked closely with St. Raphael and his Syrian Mission from the beginning, and around 1909, he was actually transferred to St. Raphael’s own jurisdiction. Irvine remained there until St. Raphael’s death, after which he returned to the main Russian Mission. Irvine was a tireless promoter of the use of English in American Orthodoxy, the education of Orthodox children, and the unity of all Orthodox ethnic groups under the Russian Archdiocese.

As we have seen before (and will see again), Irvine had an antagonistic relationship with Isabel Hapgood, the Episcopalian writer and linguist who translated the Service Book into English in 1906. While the pair shared an interest in spreading the use of English in American Orthodox parishes, they differed on virtually everything else. Hapgood’s views of Irvine aren’t well recorded (or, if they are, they haven’t been discovered yet), but Irvine is on record many times as an outspoken opponent of Hapgood and nearly all that she stood for. It is therefore unsurprising that Irvine would publicly call out Hapgood on such a seemingly insignificant error in an otherwise accurate article on St. Raphael’s funeral.

Then again, perhaps it wasn’t so insignificant. It’s established that, as early as St. Raphael’s funeral itself, the Syrian priests were divided over whether they should be under Russia or Antioch (see, for instance, the 1924 court case Hanna v. Malick). We also know, from other documents, that Irvine strongly supported the unity of American Orthodoxy under Russian jurisdiction. I’m just speculating here, but it is entirely possible that Irvine read Hapgood’s error in the context of the jurisdictional uncertainty and division that was beginning to overtake the Syrian Mission in the days and weeks after St. Raphael’s death. Viewed in this light, Irvine may have felt it necessary to emphasize, very publicly, the unity between the Russians and the Syrians. The fact that it also accorded him the opportunity to criticize his longtime foe, Hapgood, would have been icing on the cake.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]