Orthodox priests in America in 1849-50

Earlier today, I posted this note from the January 1850 issue of the Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America:

Efforts are now making in New York to form a congregation of Greek Christians. We observe an announcement that a priest of that denomination, with an interpreter, is now in New York, and will doubtless take charge of the movement.

I’ve tracked down a bit more on this intriguing story. The December 8, 1849 issue of the North American and United States Gazette (published out of Philadelphia) reported, “Efforts are making in New York to form a congregation of Greek Christians, from the many Greeks, Russians, etc., now in that metropolis. One has lately been formed in London.”

Three days later, the same newspaper published this:

We have already noticed the efforts now making in New York to form a congregation of Greek Christians. We observe an announcement that a priest of that denomination, with an interpreter, is now in New York, and will doubtless take charge of the movement.

Obviously, the 1850 Presbyterian source quoted above got its information from the Gazette; that, or they both got it from some third source.

Finally, on February 14, 1850, the Gazette published this:

There are now in Harrisburg, Pa., the Rev. Flabianos, a priest of the Greek Catholic church, from near Mount Lebanon, and Nasseef Shedady, from Beyroot, in Syria, his private secretary and interpreter, who speaks our language quite fluently. Their object is to secure aid for their brethren in Syria, who are suffering very much, and are in a state of destitution, in consequence of the wars between the Mahometans and Druses, by which the country has been devastated.

Okay. It’s not clear whether this Rev. Flabianos of Mount Lebanon is the same priest who was in New York in December 1850. Also, I’m not certain whether Rev. Flabianos was Orthodox or Maronite. Given the references to both Greeks and Russians in New York, it’s clear that the New York priest — whoever he was — was indeed Orthodox. It seems unlikely, although certainly not impossible, that two Orthodox priests happened to visit the United States in the winter of 1849-50.

Anyway, this story remains very, very cloudy, but we’ve now got multiple sources and at least some specifics. I’ll continue researching this one.

This article was written by Matthew Namee.

UPDATE: I just found an article from later in 1850 which seems to refer to the same visitors from Lebanon. From the Syracuse Daily Standard, 8/8/1850:

For several days past a couple of singularly dressed personages have been parading our streets, attracting considerable attention by their strange appearance. It is generally understood that they were soliciting aid for a convent in Syria and one of them represents himself to be a monk from the Greek convent of Kurkafen on Mount Lebanon, accompanied by his interpreter. The Puritan Recorder declares them to be impostors, and publishes a somewhat lengthy article signed by four missionaries at Beirut, Syria, warning the people of the U. States against their impositions. According to this article they belong to the Greek Catholic Church, a sect of which but little is known in this country, and are not entitled to the countenance of either Protestants or Roman Catholics. It is intimated that their sole object in visiting this country is to see foreign lands without any cost to themselves, and those who make donations cannot be sure that what they bestow will ever reach the object for which it is solicited.

Sounds kind of like the Bulgarian Monk, doesn’t it? But he came along a quarter century later.

Anyway, this article makes me skeptical that this priest from Mount Lebanon is the same person as the priest who was trying to start a multiethnic church in New York in December 1849. At this point, I think we’re dealing with two unrelated clergymen who happened to visit America at the same time.

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