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Matthew Namee serves as editor of OrthodoxHistory.org. He specializes in the history of Orthodoxy in America from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. His publications include "Father Raphael Morgan: The First Orthodox Priest of African Descent in America" in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly (2009), Wichita's Lebanese Heritage (coauthor, 2010), and the Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches (contributing author, 2011). He has lectured at numerous conferences and hosts the American Orthodox History podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.
Matthew is the former research assistant to baseball author and Boston Red Sox executive Bill James, and he helped to produce the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (2004). Also in 2004, Matthew cofounded The Hardball Times, a popular baseball website. He earned his J.D. from the University of Kansas in December 2012, and currently works as an associate in the employee benefits department at Hinkle Law Firm in Wichita, Kansas. He and his wife Catherine have three children. Matthew can be contacted at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
Posts by Matthew Namee
Things have gotten more, rather than less, chaotic of late, and I apologize for the lack of new material here. I’ve had this article written for a couple of months, and now seems like a good time to run it.
Recently, an article has been circulating among some Orthodox folks on the Internet on a purported Greek Orthodox church in Connecticut, dating to the 5th century. If the article is accurate, it’s an absolute bombshell — it claims that Orthodox monks from North Africa fled persecution in the late 400s and ended up on the east coast of America. That’s centuries before the Orthodox Vikings traveled to the Western Hemisphere, and even before the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator’s voyage to America. (To read the article, click here.)
According to the article, ruins of the church in Connecticut include an altar, a throne (for a bishop?), a baptismal font, and a “candelabra” — all carved from stone. Also (again according to the author), the site features inscriptions in Greek (such as “ICXC”).
I’m not a historian of the Byzantine Empire or ancient “pre-contact” America; my own focus, as you probably know, is on Orthodoxy in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Here at SOCHA, the furthest back we can go with much confidence is the 18th century, thanks to the work of Nicholas Chapman. But the fifth century? That’s way, way out of our comfort zone.
That said, I do think I should say something about this case. What can we determine, simply on the basis of what we non-experts know? Looking first at the article itself, it features some pretty unspectacular photos. (Click here to see them.) Three of them, to be precise:
- A photo of the “Main Altar,” which looks like a rock with lines and holes. It’s not a great shot, and it’s not clear exactly what we’re actually looking at.
- A photo of a “flame-shaped Baptismal Font,” which looks like a hole in the ground.
- A photo of an “Overflowing Fountain” sculpture, which looks kind of cool, but doesn’t scream “Byzantine” to me.
Maybe an expert could look at those photos and see something more, but to me, they’re unconvincing. The article also features several drawings by the author, including a map of the site, a sketch of another baptismal font, and reproductions of the Greek letters. In all of this — the article, the photos, the sketches — we’re being asked to trust the author. The article isn’t peer-reviewed; we’re relying on the credibility of the author and, by extension, the magazine that published the article. So let’s look at the author and the magazine.
The author’s name is John Gallager (no “h”), who claims to be a “historical detective” who used to work at the “American Institute of Archaeological Research” in New Hampshire. The problem? I can’t find anything else on this John Gallager, and the American Institute of Archaeological Research appears not to exist. (If it does, Google doesn’t know anything about it — which seems implausible.)
The magazine is called Ancient American. On its website, the magazine describes itself in this way:
Each issue presents such otherwise neglected and even suppressed factual evidence demonstrating the lasting impact made on the Americas by Scandinavian Norsemen, Pharaonic Egyptians, Bronze Age Mediterraneans, Semitic Phoenicians, West Africans, Dynastic Chinese, seafaring Polynesians, and many other culture- bearers. All contributed to the birth and development of numerous and sophisticated civilizations which flourished throughout the American Continents in pre-Columbian times.
The description goes on,
As such, our staff and contributing reporters believe they are writing a New History of our nation by convincingly offering research that, in the coming century, will amount to virtually a total revision of American antiquity. Because of its revolutionary potential, Ancient American, although authoritatively written, is not a scholarly journal. It is a popular science publication specifically aimed at attracting the broadest possible general readership, while refusing to compromise its scientific credibility.
In general, I’m sympathetic to alternative historical views, including the idea that Old World cultures may have come into contact with Native Americans prior to the arrival of Columbus. The problem is, when you start looking at research on that sort of thing, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. And there’s a lot of chaff: in addition to legitimate historical and archaeological work, there’s all manner of speculative writings out there — spurious “discoveries,” far-out theories, and crazy Atlantis-esque notions that are more fantasy/science fiction than reality.
So we can’t find any traces of John Gallager, and Ancient American has virtually no credibility. But what about the purported site itself? Gallager’s article says that the “church” is in Cockaponset State Forest, near the town of Guilford in southern Connecticut. So I picked up the phone and called Cockaponset State Forest and spoke with an official there. His response? They’d never heard of such a thing, and thought it was kind of funny.
I’m not a professional scholar myself, and a lot of my work isn’t peer-reviewed (although some of it is). But I always try to be transparent about my sources, and my methodology is available for all to see. John Gallager… well, he (whoever he is) just expects us to take him at his word. But on what grounds? He writes this one-off article in a beyond-fringe publication, disappears, and we’re supposed to just believe him? When no one else has written a single word of original research on this supposed 5th century “church,” and the people at the supposed site have never heard of it? That’s asking too much.
So to be very, very clear: there is no evidence whatsoever that 5th century North African Orthodox monks established a Greek church in what is now Connecticut. As they say on Mythbusters, this myth is BUSTED.
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.
Editor’s note: Today, July 13, marks the 54th anniversary of Archbishop Michael Konstantinides, primate of the Greek Archdiocese. Archbishop Michael has been largely (and unfairly) forgotten, for a simple reason: his eight-year tenure was sandwiched in between the larger-than-life Archbishops Athenagoras and Iakovos. But Archbishop Michael was a genuinely outstanding hierarch, and he’s worthy of our attention.
The following biography of Archbishop Michael was written by Presbytera Nikki Stephanopoulos and originally appeared on the GOA website. It is reprinted with permission from the Greek Archdiocese of America.
His Eminence Archbishop Michael served as spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Western Hemisphere from 1949 until his untimely death in 1958. A noted scholar, theologian, pastor, ecumenist, author and administrator, he is most remembered as a man of deep spirituality with a devotion to his sacred mission of promulgating the Faith in the United States. A man loved and respected for his exemplary life and for having personalized the motto of his beloved Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA). “Live Your Orthodox Faith”, his nine years as Archbishop in the Americas were a bridge between Archbishop Athenagoras and Archbishop Iakovos.
Born Thucydides Constantinides on May 27, 1892, in Maronia, Western Thrace, he was admitted to the Halki Theological School in 1907. He was ordained to the Diaconate in 1914 and assumed the ecclesiastical name of Michael. He taught at Halki for one year and did his post-graduate work at the historic seminaries of Kiev and St. Petersburg, where he was an eye-witness of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1919 he was ordained priest in Constantinople and appointed pastor of St. Stephen Church. In 1923 he was appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens and All Greece and from 1927 to 1939 he served as Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in London. During his priestly tenure he represented the Patriarchate at the Assembly of Faith and Government at Lausanne of 1927, and as representative of the Church of Greece at the Conference of Anglicans and Orthodox in London in 1930.
In 1939 he was elected by the Holy Synod of Greece as Metropolitan of the ancient historic Apostolic Diocese of Corinth. As Metropolitan of Corinth, with his own money he established a small general hospital and organized soup kitchens for the poor, and a library to educate faithful. He established an Ecclesiastical School, Philoptochos Society and afternoon and Sunday schools. He established the St. Paul Association, held spiritual gatherings and Sunday Bible study. Metropolitan Michael could not imagine a parish without a preacher, Sunday school or philoptochos society.
ARCHBISHOP OF NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA
On October 11, 1949, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected him Archbishop North and South America and he was enthroned December 18, 1949 during a four-hour service attended by 2,000 at Holy Trinity Cathedral. In his comments Archbishop Michael thanked President Harry Truman and the American people for recent moral and material aid to Greece and declared his mission would be to build upon native traditions in making 1,000,000 Greeks better American citizens. He emphasized the place religion had taken in Greek life particularly as a fortifying element against totalitarianism.
Archbishop Michael was internationally known as an outstanding theologian, writer and administrator who wrote many theological treatises in Greek and English. He was also a linguist and was fluent in Greek, English, French, Russian and Turkish. Highly regarded in religious, education and government circles, he received honorary degrees from Yale University, St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary. In 1954 Archbishop Michael represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, IL and in recognition of his many services to the Church and other Christian groups was elected as one of the six presidents of the WCC.
A dynamic hierarch, his pastoral virtues excelled. In 1950, he officiated and gave sermons in 107 parishes and traveled 46,952 miles by airplane, train and car. He also was the first Greek Orthodox Archbishop to travel to South America and had extensive discussions with Juan and Eva Peron in Argentina. In a report to Patriarch Athenagoras On July 21, 1951, His Eminence said:
I was successful in persuading President Peron to permit the immigration of 50,000 Greeks to Argentina for a span over five years and having clothing (produced by Greek women in Buenos Aires factories) sent to Greece, without any hindrance, for the orphan victims of the rebellion, as well as financial assistance from the Greeks to friends and relatives in Greece, wounded by the despicable plague of communism. Mrs. Peron recalled the prayers offered by Your All Holiness on the occasion of Mr. Peron’s illness and asked me to convey to Your All Holiness her fervent gratitude and thanks The President himself said that he will be at my disposal for any matter that relates to our Greek brethren in Argentina.
Another significant contribution of Archbishop Michael was to continue the efforts of Archbishop Athenagoras to obtain recognition of Orthodoxy as a major Faith in the United States. He succeeded in having this resolution passed in twenty-six states. The recognition led the Congress to adopt a bill that recognized Eastern Orthodox in the Armed Forces as separate from Catholics and Protestants. Because of this, Orthodox Christians included the initials E.O. for Eastern Orthodox on their tags.
Archbishop Michael’s efforts were recognized at the highest level when on January 21, 1957, he became the first Orthodox hierarch to take part in the inaugural ceremony of a president, that of Dwight D. Eisenhower, by delivering the invocation. Earlier, on September 30, 1956, President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower participated in the laying of the cornerstone of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, DC. First attending the Divine Liturgy and at the conclusion an overflowing crowd of over 1000 witnessed the President as he approached the foot of the altar and was presented with the Golden Cross of St. Andrew fastened around his neck by the Archbishop; Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower received a similar medal. It was a moving and historical moment (to be recognized also on the front page of the New York Times the next day). as the Archbishop blessed the President and Mrs. Eisenhower with these words:
May the Almighty and Everlasting God, our common Heavenly Father whom we know and love through our common Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ bestow upon you and Mrs. Eisenhower and all your family the best of health and all His blessing so that you, Mr. President, carry on the most effective way your high and responsible duties to the benefit of our dearly beloved America and the freedom living peoples and nations of the world.
Recognizing the financial and spiritual needs of a growing national church, Archbishop Michael proposed at the 1952 Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles an increased family obligation to the Archdiocese, first introduced at the 1950 Clergy-Laity Congress in St. Louis. For ten years, the monodollarion, or one dollar per family obligation, instituted by Archbishop Athenagoras, had sustained the needs of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Michael urged the Congress delegates to approve the dekadollarion, or $10 per family.
On May 28th, 1958, Archbishop Michael opened the doors to St. Michael’s Home, the only Archdiocesan institution serving the needs of elderly Greek Orthodox. He also created the Office of News and Information/Public Relations, brought about acceptance of the Uniform Parish By-Laws of the Archdiocese and gained membership for the Archdiocese in the National Council of Churches of Christ.
GREEK ORTHODOX YOUTH OF AMERICA
Archbishop Michael’s accomplishments and innovations were many and varied. Foremost, however, was the founding of the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) In a message to the 6th GOYA Conference in Los Angeles, July 15th, 1957, His Eminence concluded with these words:
As modern Americans of Greek descent you will accomplish much; but in attaining worldly destinies, never forget that as members of GOYA, you who are our pride and hope belong to an essentially religious organization, and whatever you attain on this earth is, in the last analysis, of little value without a deep and firm belief in the tried and tested religion of your forefathers. Adhere firmly to this faith, observe strictly its tenets, and in so doing you will in fact realize the motto of GOYA and truly live your Orthodox faith, thus becoming better Christians and better American citizens worthy of your noble Greek descent. With all my blessings for the future, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The untiring efforts of the Archbishop paid off. GOYA became the most vital segment of the Archdiocese with chapters in practically every community of the country. By the time of its founder’s death, GOYA had reached a membership of over 30,000. The 1957 Birmingham GOYA Conference approved a National Memorial Chapel Drive to raise funds for a Chapel to be built on the grounds of Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Under the chairmanship of Ernie and Vickie Villas, GOYA pioneers, a goal of $150,000 was set, funds were raised and the magnificent Holy Cross Chapel became a reality – dedicated to Archbishop Michael and the Greek immigrants, the parents, who established Orthodoxy in the Nation, nurtured it, sacrificed and saved for it and placed it in the hands of new generations for safekeeping.
LAST PUBLIC APPEARANCE
The Grand Banquet of the 14th Biennial Congress at Salt Lake City was on July 5th, 1958 with almost 1000 people in attendance and had as the main speaker Howard W. Pyle, deputy assistant to President Eisenhower. He spoke eloquently on the importance of the Churches to American life and world peace. Leaving his sick bed again, Archbishop Michael told the delegates that “our Church never felt it has a monopoly of salvation” over other religions. He declared, “We must co-operate with other Christian denominations all over the world to settle social and moral questions”.
He concluded his remarks by referring to St. Paul’s famed epistle on agape: “Now abideth Faith, Hope and Love, of these, Love is the greatest.” And as he stepped down from the rostrum and prepared to depart for his coming struggle with death, which was to claim him a week later, he looked at the GOYA representatives and with a benign and prophetic smile he told them: “Look after GOYA”.
Immediately following the banquet, he was flown to New York by an army plane sent by President Eisenhower, and entered Doctors’ Hospital, where he was operated on for an intestinal disorder. He died in Doctors’ Hospital on July 13. Funeral services for Archbishop Michael, the first Greek Orthodox Archbishop to die in the United States, were held on July 17 at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Bishop Germanos of the Southern States Diocese, later to be named Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese, officiated, assisted by five Greek Orthodox bishops, Archbishop Athenagoras of Great Britain and Metropolitan Germanos of Elias, Greece. Attending also were Archbishops and Bishops of Orthodox churches in the United States and over 150 priests from every state in the union. Also, in attendance were many religious, diplomatic and government officials.
[This article was written by Presbytera Nikki Stephanopoulos. Copyright Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and used with permission.]
Just a quick note of apology for the lack of new material both here and on the podcast. My third child was born last week, so as you might expect, life has been rather crazy of late. I’ll try to have things back to normal here at OrthodoxHistory.org very soon.
In the meantime, feel free to browse our extensive archive of past articles, and listen to one of the dozens of American Orthodox History podcast episodes over at Ancient Faith Radio.