Archive for January, 2012
It has come to my attention that people have been confused by our past calls for membership all the while there is nothing concrete by way of that membership. One person asked me what it even meant to acknowledge that he/she would like to be considered a member. This is a fair response and so I thought I would speak to this concern.
First and foremost, please accept our apologies here at SOCHA. It has taken us longer to develop some aspects of SOCHA than we had initially anticipated. In large part, this is because we have limited funds and also time constraints as well. Our requests for “membership” in the past have been to help us get a sense of how many people would actually be willing to become due paying members in time. This information has been helpful to us in our strategic planning.
Secondly, here are some things that we anticipate for the future. We intend to have SOCHA legally incorporated. This necessary step will enable us to collect funds. Once that is done, we will determine what sort of benefit to members could come from our partner journal, the Journal of American Orthodox Church History (JAOCH), published by Prairie Parish Press (http://prairieparishpress.com). Future members will either receive a discount on the journal or receive it as part of their membership in SOCHA. We will also explore the possibility of providing SOCHA members with a discounted registration for our symposia.
Another future project will be an online database of searchable primary sources. That will take quite some time to develop, and we are still debating whether this will be free or available to members only via a password, but we hope that some year down the road, this will come to fruition. Regardless of how we structure this, monies from future membership will help fund this.
In the very long run, we also hope that membership monies will help fund research grants (modest in size). Obviously, all of this takes time to develop and we ask for your patience. It is our hope and prayer that SOCHA will continue to be a beneficial presence to anyone interested in Orthodox Christian history and thought and we assure you that we are doing the best we can.
Yours in Christ,
A lot of Antiochian-related events this week:
January 30, 1902: Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in America, began a pastoral journey to Mexico. Later this week — on February 3 — he made a brief stop in Cuba en route to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. St. Raphael remained in the Yucatan for a month, until March 2. To his great surprise, he found not only Arab Orthodox Christians, but also many Mexican Catholics who were interested in converting to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this would be the only visit St. Raphael ever made to Mexico, and the missionary potential there was never realized. Incidentally, I’ve heard that the Mexican newspapers gave St. Raphael quite a bit of publicity, so if anyone reading this has access to Yucatan papers from 1902 (and can read Spanish), please let me know.
January 31, 1938: Metropolitan Samuel David, head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, was excommunicated by both the Patriarch of Antioch and the ROCOR Holy Synod. The backstory was this: In 1935, the Arab Orthodox in America were set to elect a new hierarch who would, it was hoped, unite the long-divided factions of Antiochian Orthodoxy in America. The majority voted for Archimandrite Antony Bashir, who was duly consecrated in New York. But a strong minority favored Archimandrite Samuel David of Toledo. That minority found some other bishops to consecrate their man on the very same day that Bashir was consecrated. This division lasted until 1975, when Met Michael Shaheen of Toledo accepted subordination to Met Philip Saliba of New York.
February 1, 1928: The future Greek Archbishop (and Assembly of Bishops President) Demetrios Trakatellis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. May God grant him many, many more years!
February 2, 1927: The Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA) created “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America” (more palatably known as the American Orthodox Catholic Church). This body — let’s just call it the AOCC — was led by Bishop Aftimos Ofiesh, who was simultaneously the head of the Metropolia’s Syro-Arab Mission. Whatever the intent of the Metropolia in creating the AOCC in the first place (and that intent is far from clear), Ofiesh himself viewed the AOCC as the vehicle for Orthodox unity in America. The AOCC was always on the fringe in terms of legitimacy, having been the ambiguous creation of the Metropolia, which itself was on shaky canonical footing in that era. (Only a few years earlier, the Metropolia had declared itself independent of the Soviet-influenced Moscow Patriarchate.) It wasn’t long before Ofiesh and his jurisdiction ticked off their Metropolia creators, driving the AOCC even further away from the mainstream. For all intents and purposes, the AOCC experiment ended in 1933, when Ofiesh married a young girl. However, as Fr. Oliver has recently shown, the AOCC did continue on until 1940 in the person of Bishop Sophronios Beshara, its last surviving hierarch. For a lot more on the AOCC, check out my conversation with Fr. Andrew Damick over at Ancient Faith Radio.
February 5, 1873: The future Fr. Nicola Yanney was born in what is today northern Lebanon. Yanney eventually immigrated to America and settled down in Nebraska. After being widowed at a young age — and with a house full of young children — Yanney was chosen by his fellow Syrian parishioners in Kearney, NE to be their first parish priest. He traveled to Brooklyn and studied for the priesthood under St. Raphael, who had just been consecrated a bishop. In fact, Fr. Nicola was the first priest to be ordained by St. Raphael. Upon returning to Kearney, Fr. Nicola not only shepherded that community, but he was given responsibility for an immense territory — he was essentially responsible for all Arab Orthodox Christians living between Canada on the north and Mexico on the south, the Mississippi on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west. Roughly speaking, he was the lone priest over all the territory that now comprises the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. And he was a single parent.
Fr. Nicola was, by all accounts, an outstanding pastor. His end was a testament to his dedication: he died from influenza in 1918. Of course, that was the year of the horrible flu pandemic that killed so many millions. Fr. Nicola’s parishioners were among those dying from the disease, and rather than keep himself safe, Fr. Nicola went to his stricken people, hearing their final confessions and giving them communion. In this way, he caught the flu and soon died. It seems to me that he may be worthy of canonization. (To learn more about Fr. Nicola, read this article by Fr. Paul Hodge.)
In an article about Fr. Stephen Andreades, the first resident priest in New Orleans, I quoted from Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, by Demetrios J. Constantelos (published 1982). At the time, I had only a Google Books “snippet view” of the book, but I’ve since acquired a copy through interlibrary loan, and I thought I’d publish the section dealing with the early Orthodox communities in Galveston and New Orleans. From pages 129-30:
The earliest Greek Orthodox church in the United States was established in 1862 in the seaport city of Galveston, Texas, and it was named after Saints Constantine and Helen. Even though the church was founded by Greeks, it served the spiritual needs of other Orthodox Christians, such as Russians, Serbians, and Syrians. It passed into the hands of the Serbians, who split with the Greeks. The Greeks then established their own church several decades later; but knowledge of the early years of the Galveston Greek Orthodox community is very limited. Neither the number of Greek Orthodox parishioners there nor the name of the first priest is known. The first known Greek Orthodox priest of this community was an Athenian named Theokletos Triantafylides, who had received his theological training in the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and had taught in Russia before joining the North American Russian Orthodox Mission. Versed in both Greek and Slavonic, he was able to minister successfully to all Orthodox Christians.
Knowledge of the second Greek community in the United States is more extensive. It was organized in 1864 in the port city of New Orleans. Like the Galveston community, the second one was also founded by merchants. For three years (1864-1867) services were held irregularly and in different buildings. Then in 1867 the congregation moved to its own church structure, named after the Holy Trinity. It was erected through the generosity of the philanthropist Marinos [sic -- Nicolas] Benakis, who donated the lot and $500, and of Demetrios N. and John S. Botasis, cotton merchants who together contributed $1,000.
The church was located at 1222 Dorgenois Street and for several years it became the object of generosity not only of Greeks but of Syrians, Russians, and other Slavs. In addition to Greeks, the board of trustees included one Syrian and one Slav. Notwithstanding the predominance of Greeks on the board, the minutes were written in English and for a while it served as a pan-Orthodox Church.
The early Holy Trinity Church was a simple wooden rectangular edifice 60 feet long and 35 feet wide. The major icons of the iconostasis were painted by Constantine Lesbios, who completed his work in February of 1872. The name of the first parish priest is unknown, but it is believed that a certain uncanonical clergyman named Agapios Honcharenko, of the Russian Orthodox mission in America, served the community for three years (1864-1867). In 1867 the congregation moved to its permanent church and appointed its first regular priest, Stephen Andreades, who had been invited from Greece. He had a successful ministry from 1867 to 1875, when Archimandrite Gregory Yiayias arrived to replace him.
The New Orleans congregation also acquired its own parish house; a small library, which included books in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic; and a cemetery.
There’s some good information here, although Constantelos cites no sources, and he gets some important facts wrong. Most crucially, Agapius Honcharenko was in no way connected to the Russian Mission in America, which at the time was limited to Alaska and would later regard Honcharenko as an obnoxious heretic. And Honcharenko did not serve the New Orleans parish from 1864-67 — in fact, he was never the parish priest at all. He visited the community in the spring of 1865, remaining for perhaps two weeks. He did celebrate the first Divine Liturgy in New Orleans, but he was not the first parish priest.
That distinction properly belongs to Fr. Stephen Andreades, but Constantelos gets Andreades’ dates wrong. While he did come to New Orleans in 1867, Andreades was gone by 1872 at the latest; we know this because Fr. Gregory Yayas was the priest by that point.
And before I close, a word about Galveston. First of all, I wouldn’t regard the 1860s Galveston community as a full-fledged “parish.” They had no priest, no known permanent building, and no known affiliation with a bishop. I do believe that a group of Orthodox in Galveston met for prayers under the name “Saints Constantine and Helen.” They may even have been visited by an Orthodox priest traveling aboard a Russian steamer, or something like that. But I regard the pre-Triantafilides Galveston community as a “proto-parish.” In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if New Orleans wasn’t also a “proto-parish” all the way up to 1867. As Constantelos correctly notes, it wasn’t until that year that the community got a priest and a building. Perhaps we should push their founding date up a couple of years, from 1864/5 to 1867?
Anyway, the thing I want to emphasize, because I’ll be coming back to it in other posts in the near future, is that Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides of Galveston may be The Most Interesting Man in American Orthodox History. Before he came to America, he had lived a full life — as a monk on Mount Athos, as a tutor in the employ of the King of Greece, and later as a tutor to the future Tsar Nicholas II. When he came to the United States, Triantafilides was already in his sixties. When you take into account the changes in life expectancy, that’s equivalent to being in your eighties today. And he lived another two decades, tirelessly serving the Galveston community and beyond, traveling throughout the South in service to the scattered Orthodox people, regardless of nationality. He also appears to be one of the earliest American Orthodox priests to evangelize Protestant Americans (i.e. not only Native Alaskans and Carpatho-Rusyn Uniates).
That’s enough for today, but I assure you that we’ll have more on Triantafilides in the future. In the meantime, be sure to check out Mimo Milosevich’s highly informative website and lecture on the great priest of Galveston.
On January 20, 1811, an Orthodox baptismal service took place at the home of the future President of the United States John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa. At that time they were living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Louisa Adams took an active part as one of the Godparents of the little girl being baptized, along with her fellow sponsors Martha Godfrey (the Adams American chambermaid) and Mr. Francis Gray, one of the secretaries to the American legation in Russia.
John Quincy Adams later became the sixth President of the United States, serving his one term of office between 1825 and 1829. He was the eldest son of the second U.S. President, John Adams. From a young age John Quincy lived in Europe with his father, as the latter served as American representative in France and the Netherlands. At the relatively tender age of 14, in 1781, John Quincy travelled for the first time to Russia as secretary to Francis Dana whose mission was to obtain recognition by Russia of the nascent American republic. This initial visit was to last almost 3 years.
John Quincy returned there for a further 5 years in 1809 when President James Madison appointed him as the first fully credentialed US ambassador to Russia. In this role his wife, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, who holds the distinction of being the only foreign born First Lady of the United States, ably supported him. (She was born in London to an English mother and American father.)
So how did Louisa Adams and the other Americans become co sponsors of an Orthodox baptism? As John Quincy recounts, on Russian New Year’s Day, 1811, his footman Paul, a Finnish man of Lutheran faith and his wife, “a Russian of the Greek church,” had a baby daughter. Because of the mother’s faith it was agreed that the child “was to be christened according to the fashion of the Greek Church.” At the request of the Lutheran footman Paul, Mrs Adams and Martha were asked to stand as Godmother and Mr. Gray as Godfather. The baptism took place at 8 o’clock in the evening in the parlor of the Adams home. The service was conducted by a priest “and an inferior attendant not in clerical habits, who chanted the Slavonian service, the priest from a mass book.”
Given the unusual time and location of the baptism and the use of non-Orthodox sponsors, (assuming none of the Americans had converted), one has to wonder if the child’s life was in danger and hence the unusual circumstances. Because at that time the calendar difference was 12 days, the evening of January 20, would have been the eve of the child’s eighth day, the traditional time for its naming. But whether this was deliberate or co-incidental cannot be said. It may also be that John Quincy Adams, as the head of the extended household, influenced the timing. In September of the same year the resident English chaplain of the Russia Company also baptized in his home, but according to the rite of the Church of England, his daughter Louisa Catherine. In connection with this baptism John Quincy wrote: “ (T)he rite itself, the solemn dedication of the child to God, I prize so highly, that I think it ought never to be deferred beyond a time of urgent necessity.”
In any event, John Quincy describes the service in meticulous detail. He writes:
A plated vessel of the size of a small bathing tub contained the water, which the priest consecrated at the commencement of the ceremony. Three tapers were at first fixed at the end most distant from the priest and at the two sides of the baptismal vase. The child was brought in and held by the nurse, until the priest took it naked and plunged it three times into the water. With a pencil-brush before and after plunging, he marked a cross on its forehead and breast, and finally on its forehead, shoulders and feet – repeating the same thing afterwards with a wet sponge. A shirt and cap, provided by the godmother, were then put upon the child, and a gold baptismal cross, furnished by the godfather. Tapers lighted were put into their hands, two of them from the sides of the vase, round which they marched three times, preceded by the priest. He then with a pair of scissors cut off three locks of the child’s hair, which, with wax, he rolled up into a little ball, and threw into the water in which the child was baptized; and finally, after a little more chanting from the book, the ceremony was concluded. During the first part of the ceremony the priest turned his back to the vessel of water, and the sponsors, with the nurse and child, to the priest. Another singularity was that at one part of the ceremony they were all required to spit on the floor.
John Quincy’s diaries report numerous other experiences of Orthodox worship during this second period in Russia, including attending the Paschal night service and a liturgy followed by veneration of the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky that took place at the monastery in St. Petersburg which bears the name of the saint. From a brief review of his diaries covering his five years in Russia as Ambassador it seems that Adams attended at least 50 Orthodox services, most commonly Te Deums, the short Orthodox service of thanksgiving and intercession. His writings also evince an interest in questions such as the dating of Easter and the moment of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic liturgy.
His experience of Orthodox services was far from being uniformly positive: In describing a baptism at St. Isaac’s Cathedral he recalls that, “The choir of singers at the left hand of the chancel was small, the singing, as usual, excellent.” But he moves on to say
The mothers appeared delighted to have obtained the blessings. The multitude of self crossings, the profound and constantly repeated bows, the prostrations upon the earth and kissing of the floor, witnessed the depth of superstition in which this people is plunged perhaps more forcibly then I had seen before.
Perhaps surprisingly his attitude to the Orthodox practice of fasting and abstinence was more positive. He recounts a conversation with his Russian landlord during the second week of Lent that is worth quoting in full:
He spoke of their Lent, of which this is the second week. They keep their first and last week with great rigor, and in them they are not allowed to eat fish, no animal food of any kind – scarcely anything but bread, oil and mushrooms. The common people he says, consider a violation of the Lent as the most heinous of crimes. Murder, they suppose, may be pardoned, but to break the fast is a sin utterly irremissible. He himself kept the fast last week, not from a religious scruple, but because he thought it a salubrious practice, and a useful one to form a habits of self-denial. I am of that opinion myself, and I have often wished that the reformers who settled New England had not abolished the practice of fasting in Lent. I am convinced that occasional fasting, and particularly abstinence from animal food several weeks at a time, and every year, is wholesome, both to body and mind. It is true that fasting is not expressly enjoined in the Scriptures, and therefore cannot be required as a religious observance; but, unless prescribed by a principle of religion, there is no motive sufficiently powerful to control the appetites of men.
John Quincy Adams’ engagement with Orthodoxy in the context of his ambassadorial duties was clearly substantial. In recent years it has become popular to refer to Orthodoxy as “the best kept secret in America.” The more I read from early sources the more it seems that Orthodoxy was in fact much better known two hundred years ago then now, at least amongst the educated and ruling classes of the nascent Republic. This is a theme to which I shall perhaps return in subsequent articles.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, January 20, 2012