Fr. Andrew S. Damick
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Posts by Fr. Andrew S. Damick
Some more impressions, not terribly well sorted:
One thing that struck me about the event was its lack of staff. Normally, these kind of big church events are swarming with photographers, porters, subdeacons swirling about, etc., but this one was rather decidedly subdued. I was there to help one of the bishops, along with one other cleric, but most of the bishops had absolutely no staff with them at all. There was also very little support staff for the event in general. Most things were taken care of by the hotel staff in their usual capacities (wait staff, food service, maintenance, etc.). I didn’t see anyone else with a camera besides myself and the few taking shots with cellphones here and there. This event did not really present the appearance of much of an “event.” It was all so routine, orderly and low-key that I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had to remind himself that history was really being made.
One thing that seems to have generated some discussion here and there online is the apparent seating order during the meetings. While getting worked up about that strikes me as fairly petty, a close look at the order reveals that the officers were seated at the head table, followed by the bishops arranged by jurisdiction according to the diptychs, then arranged internally according to seniority. This put the OCA bishops at the ends of the tables (not with the Moscow bishops, by the way), which is exactly where they would want to be. So, whether you accept the OCA’s autocephaly or not, they were precisely where you’d want them to be.
Abp. Demetrios, who freely mingled and circulated with all present, was clearly looked to as a primate. I do not know what is in his heart, but he seems to me a serious, down-to-earth man with dignity and focus. He was quite obviously respected by all present. This was apparent everywhere he went.
Bp. Basil was indeed elected Secretary, as I wrote yesterday (but had not confirmed), and Abp. Antony was elected as Treasurer.
There was not politicking going on in the halls and at meals. There were just men working together. It was all almost routine, not particularly energetic. They were clearly comfortable with each other. This comfort and familiarity were evident this morning at the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan. I’ve been to liturgies where everyone was formal and stiff and concerned with what everyone else is thinking, but this was not one of those. These bishops were calm, prayerful, relaxed, and I was personally very deeply moved to stand in the altar with them as they received Holy Communion. There was nothing formal or perfunctory about it. It was really communion in every sense.
In speaking with a friend in the priesthood, he interpreted this apparent brotherhood very positively, saying that this may represent another step in the formation of a mutual identity. That interpretation certainly fits with everything I saw.
This was not an event with “drama,” or, if there was any drama, any symptoms of it were completely absent in the halls, at meals, in church, etc. I think those interested in some sort of major declaration, some dramatic moment, will be disappointed. One thing I noticed is that there were some other priests there on the sidelines, as I was, some of whom have been working toward events like this for many decades. What I noticed of them (and one in particular whom I admire; no guesses entertained—he’s not a man of any fame, but he has been quite instrumental) was that they were also relaxed, enjoying themselves (more than the bishops were, probably because they didn’t have to sit through the meetings!), and in good spirits. To me, that the real foot soldiers, mature engineers, and genuine architects of our coming unity (and it is coming, by the way; God will not be long mocked) are hopeful and satisfied means that a significant line has been crossed.
In historical landmark terms, SCOBA is now over. (Matthew Namee called Abp. Nicolae’s speech a “eulogy to the death of SCOBA.”) It served its time, and it’s now been superseded by something much more significant—all of our archpastors (not just certain ones), all encouraged to be present and working together by our hierarchies across the oceans. No matter how one may choose to read the politics of all that (even quite cynically), that all these men were present together in the same room and are now beginning the actual process of forming committees to work together on practical problems means that a mutual church life is being formed. This development is of no lesser historical importance than a dramatic declaration. Indeed, it is much more significant, since it is far more likely to have a lasting effect.
I went into my small part of the Episcopal Assembly a bit hopeful, certainly aware of the historical significance, but without any big expectations. I came away with more hope, and a strong feeling that things are moving smoothly, methodically, and very much in the right direction. The words from the official statement I think summarize what I saw quite well:
…we are inspired by our leaders, the Heads of all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who proposed that which we painfully yearn for in this region, i.e., the “swift healing of every canonical anomaly” (Message of the Primates 13.2). We are also grateful that they established a fundamental process toward a canonical direction and resolution.
May it be blessed.
Update: One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that apparently Jesse Jackson (yes, that one) showed up last night. (A couple of witnesses told me this, but I was not there.) He reportedly tried to hobnob with some of the gathered hierarchs at the hotel restaurant at dinner, but didn’t really make much headway.
It was a pretty hot day in Manhattan yesterday. Despite the discomfort, though, the Orthodox Christian hierarchy of North America seemed to be in pretty decent spirits.
I’m here in Manhattan at the 2010 Orthodox Episcopal Assembly of North America in an auxiliary role. I don’t get to attend the actual meetings, though I’ve been at some of the meals and have spent time with the hierarchs and others present in the halls of the hotel. Since this is such a genuinely historic occasion, we thought it might be of interest to readers to provide an informal witness to how things have been proceeding, to what it’s like to be here. (You may also be interested to read the officially published opening addresses of Abp. Demetrios (Constantinople), Metr. Philip (Antioch), Abp. Justinian (Moscow), and Abp. Nicolae (Romania).)
First, although things are happening in an expensive hotel right on Central Park in Manhattan, it’s not a particularly posh or opulent place. The building consists mostly of hotel rooms, most of which (including those being stayed in by the bishops) are not really of higher level than your average Holiday Inn. To be honest, most Holiday Inns I’ve ever been to have far vaster facilities than the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, which doesn’t boast numerous parlors and meeting rooms. There’s essentially one large meeting room where the Assembly is taking place, as well as an adjacent dining area where the bishops are eating. (The dining room was small enough that people like me had to eat our meals out on the roof in the sun!) My guess is that the facility was either donated or a good deal was gotten, since the gentleman in charge of the hotel has a rather Greek name. The food is decent, though not extravagant.
Milling about among the hierarchy—more than 50 in all—I am of course struck by the several languages one can hear. I’ve heard at least English, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic and Greek. But it’s mostly all English, which is not surprising, since there is very little in the way of the bishops sticking to their “own” jurisdictional groups. That is, from what I can see, they’re not being cliquish. They are actually circulating quite a lot among each other. Speaking of languages, though, it was enjoyable last night at dinner at a nearby restaurant when the prayer before the meal including chanting in Arabic, Slavonic and Greek, along with some spoken parts in English. I was fascinated at how many of the assembled hierarchs could sing the Pentecost troparion together in Greek. (Your humble servant remembered only maybe 50%.)
The mood among the bishops seems mostly good-natured and perhaps just a little bored. I’ve been told that most of what was done yesterday was procedural. There are a decent number of smiles among the hierarchy, though there does not seem to be either an ecstatic mood nor a sullen one. I’ve not heard any “exercised” conversations, though I have heard plenty of laughter as the bishops sit at table. One of the highlights of yesterday’s proceedings (Update: I heard, but have not confirmed) was the election of His Grace, Bishop Basil of Wichita, as the Secretary of the Assembly. My speculation is that that means he’ll be doing a lot of the day-to-day management of the ongoing work of the Assembly. (Update: After looking at the scheduled agenda, it seems that the election of a Secretary and Treasurer are not supposed to be until this afternoon. Not sure what that means in light of what I heard.)
All in all, it’s good to be here, and my impression is that, even if not quite yet the case, we are witnessing the beginnings of brothers dwelling together in unity. No doubt this will be a long, bumpy road, and there will be much to do, with lots of boring, detailed work along the way. But as one who is hopeful for our coming together in a single Orthodox Church for America, it appears to me that there is a good beginning here in Manhattan. No doubt the prayers of the faithful that are blanketing this modern-day New Rome are having a good effect.
For the most part, the attitudes we find towards the Orthodox Church, typically referred to as the “Greek Church” among southerners, were either negative or ambivalent. There were some individuals, particularly George Fitzhugh, who praised the Orthodox Church, but for the most part southern attitudes towards Orthodoxy were informed by either a prejudice against anything that seemed Catholic or were filtered through an Enlightenment lens. Much of what southerners knew of Orthodoxy was through Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon took an unfavorable view of the eastern churches and wrote of the rise of Islam thusly:
More pure than the system of Zoroaster, more liberal than the law of Moses, the religion of Mahomet might seem less inconsistent with reason than the creed of mystery and superstition which, in the seventh century, disgraced the simplicity of the Gospel.
Southerners consistently praised Islam and Muhammad for limiting the influence of the Eastern Churches. C.A. Woodruff, who wrote for the Southern Quarterly Review, judged Islam “more pure” than the “depraved” Orthodox churches that were existing in the Near East. Those churches had fallen into “gross superstition,” through the “idolatrous introduction of images as objects of worship,” and the “deification of saints and martyrs.” An article in the Southern Quarterly Review on Peter the Great contrasted the “self-control” enforced by Islam with the “merely nominal” Greek Christianity adopted by the Russians. John Fletcher, a New Orleans Orientalist and author, also credited Muhammad and Islam with limiting the influence of the “degenerate” Eastern Church, even though he argued that Islam adopted the “errors” of the Eastern Churches to mollify Greek Christians. Just what these errors were, Fletcher does not say.
An article that appeared in the 18 April, 1846 issue of the Southern Quarterly Review described the condition of life in Palestine and Jerusalem in particular, with a great deal of attention given to what the author considered the “nominal” Christians of the Eastern churches. The author ridiculed the descent of the Holy Fire at Pascha as a “farce” and compared the gathering of the faithful in the rotunda of the Holy Sepulchre as more akin to a heathen ceremony or an Indian war dance. “Of the iniquity of the bishop, who thus annually deceives these deluded pilgrims, it is not necessary to speak,” he writes.
The article is an indictment of the worship and lifestyle of eastern Christians, and the author wonders how such a brand of Christianity could ever attract anyone:
The following is a translation from the French of the article “Un Conquete du Patriarcat Oecumenique,” from Échos d’Orient, Volume 11, 1908, concerning Fr. Raphael (Robert Josias) Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America. The article uses his middle name “Josias.”
The translation was done using Google Translate with a little cleaning afterward. A few pf the phrases made sense neither to Google nor to me, but I tried my best with my rudimentary French. Corrections are welcome. This article was originally spotted by Matthew Namee.
A CONQUEST OF THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE
The Church of Constantinople recorded last summer a resounding conquest, which has made local headlines for days in the newspapers and halls of the capital. An American clergyman, a native of the English Antilles [the West Indies], a negro of the finest black, the Reverend Robert Morgan, after a few weeks of living on the shores of the Golden Horn, has had the singular grace of seeing the light of Tabor and being admitted into Orthodoxy. His [prior] baptism worthless, like all unbelievers who live outside the Orthodox Church, the said negro, a robust fellow of about thirty-five years, was plunged three times from head to toe in the font of purification, and came out white, one of the flock of the great Church of Christ. After which, the neophyte, wishing to obtain the sacred order of priesthood that he was only supposed to have before, was ordained priest by Mgr. Joachim Phouropolos, a Metropolitan expelled from Monastir [present day Bitola, FYROM - edited thanks to comment!], who recited the prayers of the Pontifical in English. Since then, the ex-Reverend Morgan, now become Father Josias Morgan, said Mass in the Byzantine rite in the English language [emphasis in original].
This is how this this actually happened. It is understandable that this is of public interest in Constantinople, which really lacks entertainment.
I saw Father Josias, and one summer morning I mounted with him the green and sunny shores of the Bosphorus. At the pier of the Chirket, with the wide sleeves of his rasso, in his kamilafki all brand new, and with his booming voice, he attracted the attention of all, to the delight of the Greeks, proud of their booty, and to the great amusement of young Ottoman officers accustomed to seeing people of color in the company of Turkish women. Having gone to see an Englishman of my acquaintance, I told him of my meeting. I now literally transcribe the brief dialogue that ensued between us:
- “M. G…, I saw this morning, one of your compatriots.”
- “Where was this?”
- “On the boat Chirket.”
- “Where is he from?”
- “I think he is from Jamaica.”
- “Introduce him to me, so I may make his acquaintance,” said my friend who has long lived in this island.
- “I will do so, but I must warn you that he is a negro.”
- “Oh! Well, don’t introduce me.”
- “I should add he became a Greek priest.”
- “A Greek priest! You are confused and this must be a sorcerer.”
- “I’ve never seen a negro sorcerer, but I know enough of the dress of Orthodox priests such that there is no error on my part.”
- “You’re right, after all; this does not surprise me.”
- “What! I am surprised by this very much.”
- “The negroes are very religious.”
- “Indeed, yes, they have so much religion that they change it every week.”
My friend was wrong. Many weeks have passed since our conversation, and Father Josias remained faithful to the Orthodox Church. He left Constantinople for Philadelphia in the United States in the first days of November, carrying 28 Turkish lira (a lira is worth about 23 francs) which was given by the holy synod for his travel expenses.
What will he do in his country? Certainly, [he will] found an Orthodox church of negroes. But what else? That’s what we know, and in fact, the first goal was good enough [et d'ailleurs le premier but suffit - edited thanks to Facebook comment!]. It seems, however, that the Reverend Morgan had intended, embracing Orthodoxy, to be consecrated bishop. The Holy Synod declined, and I think it was wrong. The ordination of a bishop of color would have rendered invaluable services.
Firstly, being an American and a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said Morgan would have exercised jurisdiction over all the Greeks settled in America. Hence a great advantage would be obtained by the Phanar over the Church of Athens. At the same time, the latter took their revenge. Indeed, if the Greeks of America continue to ask for a bishop, they will want a white [one], of course. They are a people of such a taste and wit as never to accept a negro bishop, even were he the eunuch of Queen Candace [of Ethiopia]. From the day they would have imposed Morgan as Bishop on them, they would have returned to the motherland; which contrasts with Athens on the question of emigration, which furnished to Cabinet Theotokis ten thousand conscripts who lack the necessary annual [pay] [et fournissait au Cabinet Theotokis les dix mille conscrits nécessaires qui lui manquent annuellement].
It is really unfortunate that the Church of Constantinople had not thought of all these advantages and has left the negro Morgan unconsecrated as bishop.
Update: It should be noted that the posting of this historical article should in no way be construed as an endorsement of the opinions expressed therein.
On today’s podcast on AFR, we discuss the American Orthodox Catholic Church, an early attempt at multi-ethnic jurisdictional unity in the United States. One of the issues brought up was that, within about a year after the creation of the AOCC by Russian Metropolia authorities in February of 1927, the Metropolia’s head, Metr. Platon Rozhdestvensky, withdrew his support from the new jurisdiction. Indeed, even within just a few months, Platon wrote to Aftimios telling the latter to cease his “steppings out” against the Episcopalians—some of Aftimios’s priests were publishing excoriating comments against the Episcopalians, who had been providing the Russian Metropolia with financial support (hoping, most likely, eventual recognition of the validity of their holy orders). Platon wrote: “I must attest before Your Eminence that without their (American Episcopalian) entirely disinterested assistance our Church in America could not exist.”
On October 29, 1928, Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh wrote a letter complaining of the withdrawal of support, including Platon’s refusal to let Aftimios consecrate Fr. Leonid Turkevich as the first auxiliary for the AOCC. (Read the full letter here.) Here are some interesting excerpts, showing how distressed Aftimios was and the strong sense of the betrayal he felt at his treatment by Platon:
It is with the deepest grief and pain that I enclose a copy of a telegram which persistent reports have forced me to send to His Grace Bishop Theophilos [Pashkovsky] since I was unable to discover your address even by telephoning to the Archimandrite Benjamin in New York. I am most deeply and sadly disappointed in having to call to the attention of Your Eminence injurious reports which I had preferred to ignore. Even in the face of the fact that Your Eminence forbid Bishop-Elect Leonid Turkevich from accepting Consecration after Your Eminence had yourself proclaimed his election and given order for his Consecration. I have wished to believe it impossible that Your Eminence should secretly attempt to destroy the work of your own hands in the creation of an American Orthodox Catholic Church founded by your order and committed by Your Eminence and the other Russian Bishops into my charge and authority. As a son to his father, I turn to Your Eminence now asking an explanation of your attitude and a final setting at rest of the ugly rumors which are a disgrace to our mutual work for our Holy Orthodox Church and Faith.
Not only was Platon apparently working against Aftimios’s new jurisdiction, but it seemed that he may also have been interfering in the parishes under Aftimios which still remained under the Syrian Mission:
At all times I have defended Your Eminence loyally and labored without ceasing for the Church and for the position of Your Eminence as Head of the Russian Archdiocese in America. Yet I hear repeated rumors that Your Eminence is dissatisfied and I do not know why. Finally it comes to me that Your Eminence has received some unauthorized and rebellious letters and requests from a few with whom I have trouble in my Diocese of Brooklyn and Syrian Mission or in the new American Orthodox Church and that Your Eminence will answer favorably these irresponsible troublemakers and will take action interfering in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Syrian Mission. I can not believe that Your Eminence will do so or that it is your intention. But I am forced to ask that Your Eminence give me formal assurance in this matter and put a stop to the rumors and reports which interfere with the peace and unity of our work together for Holy Church.
No doubt the need for money and other kinds of material support from the Episcopalians was not the only reason for Platon’s reversal on his support for Aftimios, but whatever the case, it’s clear that Platon’s loyalty to his heterodox supporters and to his own agendas was greater than his investment in the new jurisdiction he had signed into being. Aftimios, as may be imagined, reacted quite badly.