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Posts by Aram Sarkisian
Herman, A Wilderness Saint: From Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska is a new book that I think will be of interest to many readers of this web site. It has been translated from Russian and contains material not previously available in English, which only became accessible in Russia after the fall of communism. Through its use of primary sources such as letters and reports, St. Herman’s life and character is revealed with startling clarity, together with many aspects of the wider Russian ecclesiastic mission to America of which he was an integral part. The three appendices bring the story of New Valaam up to our own time, offer details of the saint’s canonization by both the OCA and ROCOR in 1970 and provide more biographical background to some of the eyewitnesses to the saint’s life. The primary text is supported by easily referenced endnotes and rounded off by an index.
Of particular note for readers of this web site following previous articles published here will be the account of the martyrdom of St Peter the Aleut with a brief discussion of its historicity.
Further information about the book and how to order it in either print or digital formats can be found here. The monastery also published an earlier edition of this book in Russian, details of which may be found here. A look inside preview is available courtesy of Amazon here.
Thanksgiving Day as it is constituted as a civil holiday in the United States (and Canada) is not specifically found on the Orthodox liturgical calendar, but that doesn’t mean that Orthodox Christians in North America have ignored it. Here’s a notice from the New York Tribune for a Thanksgiving Divine Liturgy held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in 1921, celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky and Archimandrite Patrick Mythen.
From all of us here at SOCHA, Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating today!
Recently, I was alerted to several photographs of a visit Fr. Alexander Schmemann made to Detroit in the winter of 1962. Today would have been Fr. Alexander’s ninety-first birthday, so I thought this to be as good an opportunity as any to share these pictures with our readers.
1962 was a turning point in the history of Orthodox theological education in North America, and in turn was a major transition for Fr. Alexander as well. As our readers surely know, Fr. Alexander is best known for his involvement with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Fr. Alexander arrived at the seminary as a faculty member in 1951, and was part of the institution’s growth into one of the major centers of Orthodox thought and scholarship in the western hemisphere by the end of the decade. By 1962, the seminary had grown to the extent that it was prepared to move into a permanent facility, the now-familiar campus in Crestwood, New York. The move to Crestwood also marked Fr. Alexander’s move to the position of seminary dean.
The two photographs shown here show Fr. Alexander at the cusp of these major developments, speaking at what appears to be either an event sponsored by the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC, now the FOCA) or the Detroit Council of Orthodox Christian Churches (COCC), who have organized evening vespers services in Orthodox parishes around the Detroit area each Sunday evening during Lent since the late 1950s. The venue appears to be Holy Ghost Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, a parish founded in 1919, which in the 1960s was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolia, and subsequently the OCA (though later it was a part of ROCOR, and now is a parish of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria).
The early 1960s were a transformative time in the history of the Metropolia, with St. Vladimir’s Seminary and its faculty playing a key role. Fr. Alexander was instrumental in the early meetings of the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), which held its first meetings in 1960, and was an Orthodox observer to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), when it opened its sessions in 1962.
This era found the Metropolia, especially Fr. Alexander and his colleagues at St. Vladimir’s, interested in the jurisdictional trajectory of the canonical chaos which defined Orthodoxy in America in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Amongst the early academic explorations of the movement towards the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia in 1970 was the publication of Alexander Bogolepov’s Toward an American Orthodox Church in 1963, early, tense encounters between the Metropolia and the Church of Russia that same year, and Fr. Alexander’s three-part exploration of the problems facing Orthodoxy in North America, which appeared in the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly in 1964.
When Fr. Alexander came to Detroit on a winter’s evening in 1962, he was at the cusp of a truly transformative decade in his own career. On November 30, 1962, following the institution’s move to its new Crestwood campus, Fr. Alexander was appointed to the position of Seminary Dean, replacing Metropolitan Leonty. For the Life of the World, the book for which he is perhaps best known, was published the next year, which was followed by a string of similarly seminal works of Orthodox thought in the West, including The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (1963), Introduction to Liturgical Theology (a reworking of his doctoral dissertation, first published in English in 1966), Great Lent (1969), and an edited anthology of modern Russian religious thought, Ultimate Questions (1964).
Of course, far removed from a Detroit church fellowship hall in 1962, the culmination of this decade of constant productivity was the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970. This was a process of intense negotiations (what he would later term “a meaningful storm”), in which Fr. Alexander was intimately involved at nearly every stage.
As Matthew pointed out in his post yesterday, this week marks the 47th anniversary of the death of one of the truly great Orthodox churchmen of the 20th century, Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. With an ecclesiastical career in the United States spanning from 1906 to 1965, there are few figures in the history of Orthodoxy in America who can claim such longevity, much less a comparable length of time spent at the heights of church administration. From his first assignment in America, as Dean of the North American Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to his last, as Metropolitan of All-America and Canada of what was then the Russian Metropolia, Leonty served as a key figure in nearly every moment and institution of note for nearly six decades.
When Matthew asked me to write a piece about Leonty, I kept coming back to a single moment at the end of his life, a story for which there is a rare corroboration of accounts from multiple sources (one from the Moscow Patriarchate, the other from the Metropolia) that each give a unique picture of who Leonty was, and how his personality, longevity, and the weight of his institutional memory impacted those around him.
In early 1963, at the height of the Cold War, the National Council of Churches invited a delegation from the Church of Russia to visit the United States for a goodwill visit to acquaint the American religious establishment with leaders of the living, breathing Church behind the Iron Curtain. Led by Archbishop Nikodim Rotov of Yaroslavl, head of the Patriarchate’s Department of External Relations, a side benefit of the delegation would be an opportunity for an informal assessment the true situation of the tensions between the Metropolia and the Patriarchal Exarchate as it existed on the ground, if not possible dialogue. Through the formation of the Exarchate in 1933, a longstanding lawsuit over control of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City, and stalled negotiations following the decision of the 7th All-American Sobor to renew the Metropolia’s administrative ties with Moscow in 1946, a bitter period of animosity between two jurisdictions with a shared history had dominated both local and national church life for decades. Aside from an informal meeting in 1961 at a World Council of Churches meeting in New Delhi, by 1963, no formal or significant dialogue between the two parties had occurred for over a decade.
As he would recall over a decade later, one evening in March of 1963, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, received a telephone call from an Episcopalian acquaintance announcing that Nikodim and the delegation wished to visit the seminary, and would be arriving on campus within a few hours. Schmemann quickly dispatched a call to Metropolitan Leonty to ask for permission to receive the delegation. Leonty quietly replied, “receive them with love.” The visit went well, and Schmemann arranged for Nikodim to meet with Leonty several days later over dinner at the Metropolia’s Chancery in Syosset.
Schmemann recalled the elderly Leonty descended the Chancery stairs that evening dressed in his trademark white cassock, “so majestic… and yet so simple and joyful, so obviously the head of the Church to which he had given his entire life.” After dinner, Leonty rose to give an informal speech, in part a narrative of his ministry in America, as well as an expression of what the events meant for the future of Orthodoxy in North America. His was an institutional memory that stretched back to the administration of Bishop Tikhon Belavin, the bishop who had invited the young Fr. Leonid Turkevich to the United States in 1906 to oversee the Minneapolis Seminary, which Turkevich repaid in turn by personally nominating his former bishop for the office of Patriarch of Moscow on the floor of the All-Russian Sobor eleven years later. In fact, it is likely many of the events he described that evening occurred before the relatively young Nikodim (born in 1929) was even alive. According to Schmemann, Leonty’s words movingly expressed his love for the Church of Russia, yet also his firm belief in the future of the Church in America. (Constance Tarasar, ed. Orthodox America, 1794-1976. Syosset, 1975. 262-3.)
Several years later, Nikodim would recall the events of the Syosset dinner to Archimandrite Serafim Surrency, a priest who served as an assistant to Metropolitan John Wendland (then head of the Patriarchal Exarchate) at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. Surrency describes the elderly Leonty asking Nikodim firmly and directly, how he viewed Leonty and the other bishops of the Metropolia. Though Nikodim was clearly moved by his meeting with Leonty, and the momentum of the evening would carry into several more informal dialogues between the Metropolia and the Patriarchate (especially Nikodim) in the ensuing years, reality dictated he reply “as kindly as he could:”
“Your Eminence, forgive me, but I have no choice but to regard you and your bishops as schismatics.” According to Surrency, “…tears welled in the eyes of the aged Metr. Leonty.” (Archimandrite Serafim Surrency. The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America. New York, 1973. 78.)
As a historian, this moment in a lifetime of truly monumental moments offers a good entry point by which we can understand the broader picture and historical narrativity of Leonty’s impact in America. His role as a priest in the highest levels of diocesan administration, theological education, and publication shows the ambitious vision of the pre-Revolution North American Diocese to serve a rapidly growing, geographically expansive flock, and the extent to which the Revolution would fundamentally change this trajectory. Leonty’s episcopal career (and the process by which he became a bishop) is a lens by which we can explore the deep divisions of the jurisdictional fracture of Orthodoxy in America in the wake of the rise of Bolshevism. And in his final years, his hospitality and dialogue with Abp. Nikodim put in motion a series of sometimes tense, yet ultimately fruitful meetings leading to the granting of Autocephaly to the Metropolia in 1970, forming what is now the Orthodox Church in America.
In the months to come, I hope to further explore this dynamic figure, exploring how his roles within the Church found him intimately involved in some of the most controversial and heated moments Orthodoxy has seen on the North American continent, yet whose demeanor, deep spirituality, and kind and quiet disposition found him almost universally revered even in the face of discord.
For those of us historians who work in the early twentieth century, one of the major sources of our work (and indeed a lot of what we’ve done here at SOCHA) are public records. We heavily depend on things like marriage and death certificates, government documents, voter registration lists, and, most especially, census schedules. As mandated by the Constitution, every ten years, the government is required to count its population. What ensues is a series of snapshots of the population at that moment in time, recording names, addresses, places of origin, occupations, literacy and work status, and various other tidbits of information that we as historians can use as launching points for our research.
While the United States Bureau of the Census produces raw statistical data on the findings of the census in the immediate aftermath of the enumeration, specific, personal information (basically, the individual schedules recorded by enumerators) is kept under confidential seal for a period of 72 years. For historians, this means there’s an artificial barrier on how far we can go with this vital information. With the exception of the 1890 census (which was almost entirely destroyed in a fire), we’ve been able to utilize federal census information going all the way back to the first count, in 1790. With the advent of the internet, it’s become easier than ever to conveniently search for detailed, personal information and compile large amounts of material in relatively little time from fifteen of the twenty-three censuses.
Yet for the last ten years, we’ve been stuck at the composite picture of the United States as it was in 1930, in the early throes of the Great Depression, and the immediate aftermath of significant restrictions on immigration. Monday, however, that picture changed quite a bit, as the National Archives released the records for the 1940 census, bringing us past the Depression and to the brink of the Second World War.
The release date was an interesting day, to say the least. The record set covers some 132 million people, 3.8 million pages of records, coming in at about 18 terabytes of digital data (and, if you’re truly interested, it comes out to 4646 reels of microfilm, which would set you back a cool $580,750). This was all released as raw image files, with no indexing done aside from the separation of schedules by their enumeration districts. That’s where the public comes in.
After the unveiling at 9AM EDT, a mad flurry of researchers and volunteers from throughout the country flocked to the official website to begin downloading and indexing millions of pages worth of census schedules, many of them working in conjunction with FamilySearch.org, a rather comprehensive genealogy website operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Immediately, all of the major genealogy sites started a de facto horse race to get files downloaded, indexed, and uploaded to their sites, a process estimated to last well into the summer.
By noon, the website had received almost 23 million hits, and was almost immediately rendered useless. (According to the genealogy blog Ancestry Insider, the NARA’s contract with webhost Archives.com called for accessibility for 10 million hits and 25,000 concurrent users for the release date, with overflow handled by Amazon.com). I spent all day furiously attempting to download several enumeration districts I was interested in perusing, and in several hours of work, somehow managed to download exactly one district, some 29 pages covering several blocks in midtown Manhattan. By the late afternoon, it was impossible to get even a preview image to load. By all accounts, the release was a general failure, with the demand far outweighing the anticipated threshold of interest.
Clearly, the release of the 1940 census was something anticipated by many, and it will be interesting to watch as the millions of schedules are indexed state-by-state in the coming months. Slowly, we will see a more personal picture evolve out of this rich archive, indeed a much more personal picture than we’ve seen out of census documents in quite some time. It is estimated over 20 million people who appear in these documents are still alive today.
For us here at SOCHA, it means we will be able to move a lot of our stories ten years into the future, and opens up a number of new avenues for research. I’m excited to see where these documents will take us, and how we will be able to better tell the story of Orthodoxy in America as a result.