After a bit of a hiatus thanks to work and a new baby, we’re back with another edition of “This week in American Orthodox history.” No accompanying podcast yet, though — one thing at a time.
July 20, 1741: According to some accounts, the first Orthodox liturgy in the Western Hemisphere was celebrated aboard Vitus Bering’s ship, on his voyage to Alaska.
July 19, 1796: The Vicariate of Kodiak, Alaska was established by a decree of the Holy Synod of Russia. Three years later, Fr. Joasaph Bolotov, head of the original Kodiak Mission, was consecrated to be the first bishop. He never made it to Alaska, though, dying in a shipwreck en route.
July 17, 1898: Royce Burden was born. After finishing college, Burden, his professor George Gelsinger, and his classmate Arthur Johnson all converted to Orthodoxy and became priests: Fr. Boris, Fr. Michael, and Fr. Kyrill. Burden was a controversial figure who got into all kinds of trouble throughout his priestly career. He also wrote the first documented version of the “myth of unity” — the false claim that all of the Orthodox in America had been united under the Russian Archdiocese until the Bolshevik Revolution. (I should note that this birth date comes from a brief autobiographical note that Burden wrote; the Social Security Death Index lists his birthday as July 15, rather than the 17th.)
July 18, 1920: The first services were held at the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, an English-speaking parish of converts in New York City. The parish, which lasted only a few months, was staffed by a cadre of convert clergy, including its leader, Archimandrite Patrick Mythen, as well as an aging Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Within a few years, Irvine was dead and all of the convert priests had left Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, it was a landmark accomplishment — the first Orthodox parish in America composed entirely of (non-Uniate) converts.
July 16, 1964: Fr. John Geranios, a dean of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, gave the final benediction at the Republican National Convention. Fr. John’s prayer immediately followed presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech. Of course, Goldwater went on to lose to Lyndon Johnson that fall, but the convention is remembered as the beginning of then-actor Ronald Reagan’s political career (Reagan gave a keynote speech earlier in the convention).
As for Fr. John, he had been an early graduate of Holy Cross Seminary, back when it was based in Connecticut. He served Annunciation Cathedral from 1961-71 and also held the post of vicar general of the Greek Archdiocese. In 1977, he began serving at St. Basil’s Academy (an Orthodox school) in Garrison, NY. He died in 1980, at the age of 58. (Thanks to Basil Tsimpris, Fr. John’s grandson, for telling me about Fr. John’s role at the ’64 RNC.)
July 21-22, 2002: At the All-American Council of the OCA, longtime Metropolitan Theodosius Lazor officially retired. The following day, his replacement, Metropolitan Herman Swaiko, was elected.