This week in American Orthodox history (April 2-8)

April 3, 1904: On Palm Sunday, Fr. Nicola Yanney was ordained to the priesthood by St. Raphael Hawaweeny. Fr. Nicola was a young widower living in Kearney, Nebraska. His wife had died during childbirth in 1902, just days before  her husband’s 29th birthday, leaving behind three other children. In August of 1903, the Syrian Orthodox of Kearney decided that they wanted a priest, and they asked the 30-year-old Nicola to take the position. The next year, he went to Brooklyn and studied under the soon-to-be Bishop Raphael. In March 1904, Raphael was consecrated, and a few weeks later, he ordained Fr. Nicola — the first ordination ever performed by St. Raphael. Fr. Nicola was given responsibility for a vast territory; in addition to his regular pastoral duties in Kearney, he visited seven other states in his first eight months on the job. His life was difficult and inspiring — far too much to summarize here. I highly recommend reading the biographical article on Fr. Nicola written by Fr. Paul Hodge and published here at OrthodoxHistory.org.

April 2, 1922: St. Raphael’s remains were interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Brooklyn. After his 1915 death, St. Raphael’s body had been placed in a crypt in his Brooklyn cathedral, but a few years later, his successor Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh decided to move the cathedral to a new building, and Raphael’s body was moved to the cemetery. Decades later, it was transferred to the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA.

April 2-4, 1924:  [The following was written by Aram Sarkisian] The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America convened in Detroit for the 4th All-American Sobor.  The Sobor opened with a Presanctified Liturgy and Molieben at All Saints Russian Orthodox Church on the city’s east side, but for lack of space moved downtown to the parish house of St. John Episcopal Church for its plenary sessions.

Delegates to the 4th All-American Sobor, Detroit, MI, April 1924

The 4th All-American Sobor was convened for several reasons, much of it having to do with the general turmoil the Archdiocese had experienced in the wake of the Russian Revolutions of 1917.  The most notable of its decisions is the oft-cited “Declaration of Autonomy,” in which the Archdiocese invoked Patriarchal Ukaz #362 of November 1920, in which Patriarch Tikhon gave leeway to dioceses to temporarily govern themselves when communication and regular contact with the authorities in war-torn Russia became insurmountable for normal church life, until such time as normal relations could be established.

In an April 12th telegram to Patriarch Tikhon announcing the decision, it was stated that this action was taken “as a way of self-preservation,” a somewhat imperfect solution to an intensely difficult set of questions facing the church in North America.  And, thus, the jurisdictional body which would become known as the Metropolia was formed, which would in turn receive its autocephaly from Moscow in 1970 and rename itself the Orthodox Church in America.

April 7, 1934: Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi died in Beirut. Met Germanos had come to America twenty years earlier as a visitor, raising funds for an agricultural school in his archdiocese in what is today Lebanon. But then St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop in America, fell ill and died, and the popular Germanos decided to remain in America. The Syrians splintered, and one faction — the “Antacky” — recognized the authority of Germanos. The other group — the “Russy” — favored Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who served under the Russian Church. Germanos’ position was pretty shaky, because his own Patriarchate of Antioch refused to bless his work in America and instead ordered him to return to his archdiocese. Germanos held out, but then in 1924, the Patriarchate sent an official delegation to America and established the modern Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. This seriously undermined Germanos’ position, and most of his “Antacky” parishes naturally switched over to the official Antiochian jurisdiction. Germanos hung around in America for another nine years before finally returning to Syria in late 1933. The 62-year-old Germanos soon fell ill and died several months later. In addition to his role in the Russy-Antacky schism, he is most remembered for two things: (1) he briefly oversaw a Ukrainian jurisdiction in Canada, and (2) he was renowned for his beautiful singing voice.

April 7, 1947: Fr. Georges Florovsky arrived in New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Later this week, we’ll be publishing an article by Matthew Baker on this event.

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