I know I owe you a recap of our recent Princeton symposium, but before I do that, I’m going to launch a new feature here at OH.org. I’m calling it “In Search Of…” The idea is pretty simple: I’ll present what I know about an interesting but obscure figure from American Orthodox history, and I’ll ask readers to help fill in the biographical gaps. If I get a good response, I’ll do a follow-up piece.
Not only do I think this will be a fun exercise, but (crucially) it’s simple enough for me to fit into my own crazy schedule (family, church, law school, etc. – you know the drill). We’ll start today at the top of the alphabet, with the early Syrian (Antiochian) priest Fr. Moses Abihider.
Fr. Moses Abihider (or “Haider,” or “Abi-Hider”)
- Born March 1, 1863
- Died June 10, 1926
- Pastor of St. George Syrian Orthodox Church in Lawrence, MA from at least 1911 to 1912
- Pastor of a Syrian/Antiochian church in Springfield, MA from at least 1915 to 192
- The only anecdote I’ve ever read about Fr. Moses comes from the strange biography of Aftimios Ofiesh, the disgraced ex-Archbishop of Brooklyn. The book was written by Aftimios’ widow, who obviously heard this story from her husband. This reportedly took place in Brooklyn just after St. Raphael’s death (so, March 1915). Aftimios was with St. Raphael’s archdeacon, Emmanuel Abo-Hatab.
Speaking directly to Abohatab, Reverend Abihider said, as told by Aftimios, “You are my friend, Emmanuel, and I like you; however I don’t want you as my bishop.”
Aftimios interrupted saying, “Our bishop is still among us, even though he lies dead. We should have enough respect for our leader to refrain from such discussions now.”
“Don’t tell me this,” replied Reverend Abihider, “tell it to Emmanuel and [Fr. Basil] Kerbawy [dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn]. They are busily engaged among the clergy and laity, telling them that you have ceded this candidacy to Emmanuel.”
[Mariam Ofiesh, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966): A Biography Revealing his Contribution to Orthodoxy and Christendom (Sun City West, AZ: Aftimios Abihider, 1999), page 57.]
Note the name of the publisher: Aftimios Abihider. This man is now dead, but I remember hearing that he was somehow related to Aftimios Ofiesh. “Abihider” isn’t exactly a common name, so it’s entirely possible that there was a some sort of family connection between Aftimios Ofiesh and Fr. Moses Abihider.
I found the record of Fr. Moses and his family in the 1920 U.S. Census. From this, we learn that Rev. Moses Abihider immigrated to America in 1908, along with his eldest daughter (who would have been about 14 at the time). Two years later, Fr. Moses apparently sent for his wife and other children; in all, he had six daughters and one son (with ages ranging from three to 26) living with him in Springfield, MA in 1920.
Those ages are interesting; Fr. Moses was 15 years older than his wife, who would have been about 16 when they had their first child. And Fr. Moses was well into his fifties by the time his youngest child was born. The age difference between husband and wife seems scandalous to us today, but it was pretty common in turn-of-the-century Syria. (Indeed, my own great-grandparents had a similar age difference.)
The strangest thing about the census record is that it clearly indicates that Fr. Moses and his family were “Serbian,” and born in “Servia.” This can’t be right; the man’s last name is obviously Arabic, and he was a priest of the Syrian (not Serbian) Mission. But it’s just as obvious that the census record reads Servia and Serbian, not Syria and Syrian. I’m pretty sure this was just an error on the part of the census worker who took down the information. But of all the census records I’ve looked at (and I’ve looked at a lot of them), this is the first such error I’ve found.
Anyway, the most notable thing about Fr. Moses is the odd fact that he is one of many clergymen who is buried with St. Raphael at the Antiochian Village. In fact, Fr. Moses shares a tombstone with the great Raphael. I frankly have no idea what was going on here. The Antiochians took possession of St. Raphael’s body not all that long ago (the 1990s, I think), but for some unknown reason, they didn’t build a worthy tomb for their forefather Raphael. Instead, they buried him with a random collection of other clergymen. In order of appearance, you’ve got St. Raphael, Bishop Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, Rev. Moses Abihider, Bishop Sophronios Beshara, Archimandrite Agapios Golam, Archpriest Makarios Moore, and Economos Farid Farkouh. Here, see for yourself:
What’s clear is that Fr. Moses Abihider was associated with some pretty significant figures in American Orthodox history, and he lived through a truly remarkable time. If you know anything that can shed more light on his story, please comment below or send me an email at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.