This week in American Orthodox history (Nov. 5-11)

Photo from the consecration of Bishop Victor Abo-Assaly, first primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

November 8, 1894: Memorial services for Tsar Alexander III of Russia were held in New York and Washington, DC. The New York memorial was held in Holy Trinity Greek church, because there was no Russian church in the city. In Washington, President Grover Cleveland attended the service, which was led by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about these memorials; click here to read it.

November 9, 1897: Fr. Sebastian Dabovich officiated at the marriage of his niece Ella to Theodore Pashkovsky, who later became dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco. After Ella died, Fr. Theodore was consecrated a bishop (taking the name “Theophilus”), and he ultimately became primate of the Russian Metropolia from 1934 until his death in 1950.

The Pashkovskys had a son, Boris, who shortened his last name to “Pash” and went on to live a rather remarkable life himself. He worked security on the Manhattan Project — in fact, he was one of two sons of Orthodox bishops on the project, the other being the son of Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich — and after World War II, he negotiated to have the Japanese Orthodox Church placed under the jurisdiction of the Russian Metropolia in America.

November 8, 1900: Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, along with Fr. John Kochurov and Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, attended the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The gathering became known as the “Fond du Lac Circus,” and, honestly, it’s high time that this event gets a full article of its own. I’ll add it to the to-do list.

November 9, 1902: Bishop Tikhon consecrated St. Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in Brooklyn, NY. He was assisted by Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Mission in North America.

November 5, 1905: Ingram Irvine, a convert from the Episcopal Church, was ordained an Orthodox priest by Archbishop Tikhon at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York. Irvine had been an Episcopalian priest for a quarter century before being defrocked by his bishop for “conduct unbecoming a clergyman.” His ordination to the Orthodox priesthood sent shockwaves through the Episcopal Church.

I used to write about Irvine all the time here at Orthodox History, but not so much lately. Why, you ask? Because Aram Sarkisian (and, to a lesser extent, I) came upon some really important sources on Irvine — sources that don’t present him in a particularly good light. We’re still getting some things translated, and until Aram has a chance to present those findings, it’s a little difficult for me to say much about Irvine. In any case, my perspective on Irvine has changed quite a lot because of these new sources, and I’m much more inclined to think that the Episcopalians who disliked him had good reasons for doing so.

November 11, 1908: James Chrystal, a Protestant minister, died in Jersey City, NJ. Many years earlier, in 1869, Chrystal had traveled to Greece, converted to Orthodoxy, and been ordained a priest by the celebrated Archbishop Alexander of Syra. But Chrystal soon repudiated Orthodoxy because of his opposition to icons, and for the rest of his life, he held out hope that the Orthodox would abandon their “idolatry.” For more on Chrystal, check out my podcast and article on him and his fellow convert-turned-apostate, Nicholas Bjerring.

November 5, 1913: At a convention in Chicago, the Serbian Orthodox clergy in America formally requested to be transferred from the jurisdiction of the Russian Church to that of the Serbian Church. Nothing official happened until after World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, but the wheels were in motion to create a separate Serbian jurisdiction in America.

Incidentally, this fact is one of the many pieces of evidence against the notion that the Bolshevik Revolution caused the subsequent jurisdictional chaos in America. The Serbs — along with the Greeks, Syrians, and others — were already either not part of the Russian Mission, or openly talking about leaving it, well before 1917.

November 9, 1924: Archimandrite Victor Abo-Assaly was consecrated in Worcester, MA to be the first primate of the brand-new Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

November 6, 1954: Robert Royster, a Baptist convert to Orthodoxy, was ordained to the priesthood by the BIshop Bogdan, head of the Ukrainian jurisdiction under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Royster took the name “Fr. Dmitri,” and he was just one of many American converts that Bishop Bogdan ordained. In his important 1973 book The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, Fr. Seraphim Surrency wrote,

Bp Bogdan ordained over a dozen native converts to the Orthodox priesthood without requiring any theological training, and as might be expected the results were disastrous (an exception was Fr. Dmitry Royster who later transferred his allegiance to the Russian Metropolia and was consecrated Bishop in 1969).

Of course, the Metropolia morphed into the OCA in 1970, and Dmitri became one of its most prominent bishops. In 1977, he received by far the most votes in the election for a new OCA Metropolitan, but he was just shy of two-thirds, which meant that the names of both Dmitri and the distant runner-up — Theodosius Lazor — were submitted to the Holy Synod for consideration. In spite of Dmitri’s high vote total, the Synod quickly elected Theodosius as Metropolitan. The next year, Dmitri took over the fledgling OCA Diocese of the South, which he led until his retirement in 2009. Dmitri died in 2011.

And just to make quick plug: the best, most balanced and well-researched treatment of Dmitri that I’ve ever seen is Fr. Peter Robichau’s recent St. Vladimir’s Seminary thesis, From District to Diocese: An Examination of the Founding and Missionary Methods of the OCA Diocese of the South. It’s not published, but I hope Fr. Peter turns it into one or more articles in the future. If you happen to be at SVS, it’s worth a look.

November 8, 1979: Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska died. Many people today consider her to be a saint, and you can find icons and even an akathist service to her on the internet. For more on Matushka Olga, check out Kevin Wigglesworth’s 2008 article published in The Canadian Journal of Orthodox Christianity, and available online. The article leans more toward hagiography than history, but you’ll get a good sense of why so many people admire her.

Once again, my apologies for the lack of new material over the past couple of months. We do have some really fascinating material in the pipeline, and I’m trying to get my “This week” series back on track, so stay tuned. – Matthew Namee

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