Archive for June, 2011
This is about as unlikely a title for an article on American Orthodox history I ever expected to come up with! But a visit to a used bookstore in Canada a week ago has thrown up some whole new avenues for research. I found a slender volume entitled “Lincoln and the Russians.” (Woldman, Albert A., Lincoln and the Russians. New York: Collier Books, 1952. ) I haven’t finished reading the book yet but it already underscores to me how essential it is to research the history of Orthodoxy in the Americas within the wider context of the relationship between the “Great Powers” of the world stage from the fifteenth century to the present. (More on this theme at a later date, God willing.)
The story I want to recount today is not found in this book: rather a search suggested itself to me after I started reading the book. So here is the headline:
An Orthodox Christian fired the First Shot in the American Civil War!
How could this be you ask? Well, truth is, there seem to be a number of different understandings of what constitutes the first shot of the Civil War and who it was that fired it. But I want to share one of the most common ones here as it relates to a fascinating detail of Orthodox history in the USA. In 2011 we are remembering the one hundred and fiftieth outbreak of the civil war, which is generally dated to April 12, 1861. That was the day the Confederates opened fire on the Union controlled Ft. Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. (Some people reckon the date back to January 9, 1861 when the ship “The Star of the West” was sent to re-supply the Union forces in Charleston harbor and was driven away by Confederate fire.)
According to Southern folklore, it was the young daughter of the Governor of South Carolina who was given a lighted taper to fire the first cannon, by her father the Governor. (Some versions place this in January, some in April 1861.) What is well documented is that the Governor of South Carolina was Francis W. Pickens. He became Governor only weeks before South Carolina became the first state to secede form the Union on December 20, 1860. His daughter was also given the name Francis, although she was more commonly referred to as “Douschka. “ (That’s Russian for “Little Darling.) The little girl’s Russian connection is also suggested by her full legal name: Francis Eugenia Olga Neva Pickens.
So what was Francis W Pickens doing before he became the sixty-ninth Governor of South Carolina? (As an aside it is interesting to note that Philip Ludwell I is officially listed as the ninth.) Pickens was the US Ambassador to Russia. Whilst there, he and his third wife, Lucy Petway Holcombe, became intimate friends of the Russian Czar Alexander and his German born wife Marie of Hesse. Such close friends that when the Pickens’s daughter was born they agreed that she would be baptized as an Orthodox Christian and the Czar and Czarina stood as her Godparents. It was the Czarina who insisted she take the names “Olga” and “Neva.” The Czar simply took to calling her “Douschka.” The baptism took place in the Imperial palace in St. Petersburg in 1859.
I have found no evidence thus far to suggest that Governor Pickens or his wife Lucy embraced Orthodoxy. However, they are said to have studied the differences between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant doctrine. There is also a very beautiful account of their attending the Easter Night service in St. Petersburg.
Lucy Pickens went on to be known as “The Queen of the Confederacy” and she is the only woman depicted on the currency of the Confederate States of America. The “Holcombe Legion” of the Confederate Army was named after her and she reputedly funded it by the sale of diamonds given her by the Russian Czar. Douschka likewise went on to live a colorful life and became known as “The Joan of Arc of Carolina.” This was for her leadership in the post Civil War “Red Shirt” movement which fought openly to defeat Republican political candidates and limit the civil rights of the newly freed black population. All very ironic, given that it was her Godfather, Alexander II who liberated the serfs in Russia!
To conclude, here is the Douschka Pickens Civil War story as recounted in a book from the beginning of the twentieth century:
“It is said that General Pickens on the twelfth day of April, 1861, at Charleston, took his little daughter in his arms and placed in her tiny hand the lighted match that fired the first gun of the war on Ft. Sumter. Mrs. Pickens held all through her life the friendship of the Imperial Family of Russia, and on the marriage of their daughter, ‘Douschka,’ a silver tea service was sent to her by the Imperial Family.” (Logan, Mrs. John A, The Part Taken by Women in American History, Wilmington, Delaware: The Perry-Nalle Publishing Co., 1912.)
Copyright – Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, June 27, 2011
When I hear “Archbishop Iakovos” and “civil rights,” I immediately recall that famous cover of LIFE, with the powerful Greek Archbishop standing next to Martin Luther King, Jr. during King’s legendary 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto an August 14, 1963 Los Angeles Times article in which Iakovos argued against public civil rights demonstrations.
Don’t get me wrong — Archbishop Iakovos was opposed to racism, and he supported the civil rights movement. But he told the LA Times that he wouldn’t participate in a planned demonstration in Washington, DC, even though the National Council of Churches (in which Iakovos was a leading figure) was involved.
“I am for civil rights and equality,” Iakovos explained, “but I think that if we believe we have some sort of moral influence over our congregations we should limit ourselves to that task and not try to exert influence in massive demonstrations.”
He continued, “Too often the demonstrators go home and say, ‘I did my part,’ but refuse to carry through. How many of them are willing to live with Negroes as neighbors, or give them a job or train them for a skill? In those areas lie the long-range benefits.”
What about Orthodoxy and the black population? “Our doors are open to all who care to worship with us,” Archbishop Iakovos said, but then he added, “though of course it is difficult for one of a non-Orthodox background to come into our faith.”
Just a couple of months before this, both Iakovos and Martin Luther King had been named to the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race. The 20 or so months that followed must have changed the Archbishop’s views, because in March 1965, Iakovos joined King in his Selma march.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
On Facebook, my friend (and historian of Alaskan Orthodoxy) Eric Peterson posted a link to an article on the impending (June 26) auction of a rare Alaskan Orthodox “peg calendar,” dating to the late 19th century. In the article, Fr. Michael Oleksa explained, “I think the average lay person kept track of the feast days of the church. They celebrated Christmas, they celebrated other church holidays that are fixed on the calendar year. And they kept track of the holidays and then when it was their name day or the anniversary of the birth of a child, the name day of a relative, the death of a relative — they had that all marked on their own personal calendars and could keep track of those dates just by moving a small peg from day to day.”
The small wooden artifact was owned by the same family for more than a century, but now the family is putting it up for auction. The auctioneer thinks it could go for up to $10,000.
To read the article, click here.
Matthew Namee’s somewhat recent post concerning what constitutes a parish caught me by surprise, as I was preparing a very similar article of my own to illustrate a problem I’ve been having in continuing to tell the story of the Armenian Orthodox Church for SOCHA. When I agreed to assist SOCHA in covering Armenian topics, I envisioned my first posting to be a quick narrative about the Armenian Church (which it was, you can read that here), and my second to follow soon thereafter, containing a listing of the first parish in each of the twenty-four states where the Armenian Church is found. Matthew Namee, of course, did the same thing for the growth of Eastern Orthodox parishes, and I thought it might be helpful to our readers if I did, too.
I quickly found that writing such an entry was difficult, precisely out of the primary question Matthew posed in his entry: What truly constitutes a parish? I was consulting parish and diocesan websites, several books published by the church (dating back as early as the 1940’s), newspapers, and couldn’t find a set standard anywhere. Some parishes gauged their founding from the building of their first sanctuary. Others dated it from the first vestiges of a board of trustees, or the first time there was really any appreciable, united Armenian community. Even more confusing are the so-called “Mission Parishes,” which ordinarily do not have (and probably never have had) either a permanent sanctuary or a priest, often both. These communities tend to date their founding by the year in which they were formally recognized as a Mission Parish, which doesn’t seem to have been general practice until the 1970’s, even if an Armenian presence and some modicum of organized church life existed long before.
My home parish (when I’m not in Chicago), St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, Michigan, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. That’s all well and fine, except the first evidence of a parish organization apparently dates to 1909, and first priest assigned to Detroit arrived in 1913. There was no sanctuary, so the community met in a number of borrowed spaces, especially St. John Episcopal Church in downtown Detroit (which, interestingly, also housed the plenary sessions of the 4th All-American Sobor in 1924, for those interested in Metropolia/OCA history), until they could afford to purchase land and build a church of their own. The movement to build the first church began in 1928, and it was ready for consecration in 1931.
So there’s three possible anniversary dates here if we look at when the community came together, when the first priest came, and when the first church was built: 1909, 1913, and 1931. To give you an idea of what standard the parish ended up using, in 2006, we celebrated our 75th anniversary, and this year we celebrate the 80th.
Then there’s the situation of the Armenian community in Chicago, which seems to truly defy explanation, and gets at the root of the incredibly strange arrangements that combined to form the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America in 1898 (which I hope to cover later on). The previous year, the entire country was separated into four “ecclesiastical districts:” Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Fresno (California), and Chicago, and the scant amount of Armenian clergy distributed amongst them. This could be considered an odd choice, considering an 1898 list of the seven largest Armenian communities in the United States prepared by Bishop Hovsep Saradjian ranked Chicago dead last, numbering just 400 people. Yet this was the biggest Armenian community in the Midwest at the time. Fr. Khat Markarian was assigned to travel to Chicago, but a disagreement over his reassignment from his parish in Boston resulted in Markarian instead going to New York. No replacement was named, and Chicago languished.
While other communities around the country rapidly grew, taking advantage of massive waves of immigration to build churches and the infrastructures of parish life, Chicago was a comparative non-starter. Though he visited nearly every corner of the country, Bp. Saradjian never visited the city. In 1901, he sent Fr. Vahan Messirlian to Chicago to organize a slate of trustees to establish a parish, and while he may have been marginally successful in the short-term, there were no representatives from Chicago at the 1902 Diocesan Assembly. There were loose associations of parish life over the next decade, but there would not be a permanent priest assigned to Chicago until 1915. St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church formally dates its establishment to that year, and was the culmination of all that had happened in Chicago since 1898. Since St. Gregory is the oldest Armenian parish in Illinois, is 1915 really the right year to pick for its establishment?
So, like Matthew, I’m struggling a bit with how one gauges the intricacies of parish formation, especially looking at situations that were anomalous both in geographical dispersal as well as the highly irregular way in which the Armenian Church in America constituted its hierarchical administration in its earliest years. Long story short, I guess, that list I mentioned at the opening is forthcoming, once I can determine some kind of standard, and wade through the evidence enough to come to a consensus.
Until then, SOCHA readers, are there any particular issues you want me to cover about the Armenian Church?
This article was written by Aram Sarkisian.