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Posts by Aram Sarkisian
One of my favorite blogs is the photography blog Shorpy, which specializes in posting glorious, high-resolution photographs largely from the Civil War through World War II, many of which come from the Library of Congress’ online databases of stock photos, government photographs, and newswire shots. They really do fantastic work, and I’ve long looked for a reason to link them here on OrthodoxHistory. Now, opportunity knocks.
A little while back, Shorpy’s editors posted a somewhat morbid, but oddly engaging photograph of a burial near Washington, DC circa 1925, which came from the Library of Congress. The picture had a rather minimal caption, so we have to go by what we see. What appears to be a group of well-dressed immigrants are gathered graveside around a casket. This is all pretty normal, except for the fact that the casket is propped up, and the head and shoulders of the deceased are visible through an opening in the lid. Yikes.
What immediately jumped out at me when I looked closer, however, was the fact that peeking out of the back of the crowd is a priest. Bald, bearded, and wearing a stole and pectoral cross. The wheels started spinning. It certainly looked Orthodox to me, but how could I prove it?
My research interests tend to be with Russian communities during this era, and this priest didn’t look familiar. Nor did the group of people look particularly Slavic to me. I suspected they may have been Middle Eastern, which is a bit out of my expertise. So I dispatched an email to my SOCHA colleague Matthew Namee, and after comparing notes for a little bit, we struck gold. The priest in question is Fr. Job Salloom, who was the pastor of St. George Syrian (now Antiochian) Orthodox Church in Washington, DC. And these, presumably, are some of his parishioners.
There is a surprisingly large amount of information online about Salloom, much of it being oral history by his descendants (including some photographs). Job Salloom came to America in 1904, and was ordained a priest in 1912. He served the St. George parish in Washington for over twenty years, and served itinerantly when needed to communities throughout the general region during that period as well. Fr. Job was apparently kind, well-liked, and had a lively sense of humor. He was beloved by his family, and apparently his congregation as well. According to the 1920 Census, Fr. Job and his wife Deby had five daughters and a son. This picture captures him around halfway through his ministry in America, when he was a little older than 50, and about a decade before his 1936 death.
This little discovery has led to a different project Matthew will be introducing in a few days. We’ve been on the phone about it constantly for the last few days, and I really think it’s going to be something our readers will enjoy. Stay tuned here at the SOCHA blog for that, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and poke around Shorpy for a while. It’s well worth your time.
We here at SOCHA would like to wish you and yours, Irish or not, a happy St. Patrick’s Day! And who better to portray those wishes than a figure we have written quite extensively about, Fr. Patrick Mythen. A proud descendent of the Irish political figure Henry Grattan, Mythen spent a good portion of his life working for various Irish political causes, most especially with the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom.
Upon his conversion to Orthodoxy in 1920, the former Rev. James Grattan Mythen took the name Patrick as an expression of his Irish heritage. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mythen loved St. Patrick’s Day. Ninety years ago today, in 1922, Archimandrite Patrick, then Vicar General of the Russian Archdiocese of North America, led the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom’s battalion (with band) in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us here at SOCHA!
One of the little mysteries I’ve been meaning to research for some time has a bit of a family connection. This past week, I finally had the opportunity to delve into it, and the results were far different than I ever anticipated.
My great-grandparents were married on May 2/15, 1908 at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. As someone who specializes in that particular era, and who has focused a lot of research on events and figures at St. Nicholas at the time, it’s always been a bit of a curiosity as to which priest married them. With the number of notable clegymen in and around New York at the time, and being a historian, I just had to know. Last week, while having lunch with my grandmother (their youngest daughter, now 97 years old), I asked if she had their marriage certificate. A few minutes later, she retrieved a rather fascinating set of documents from a file drawer, which included not only the answer to my original question, but also led me to something I think our readers would find interesting.
In 1916, my great-grandparents,who had moved to Detroit, wrote to the cathedral and requested the metrical records for their wedding and the baptisms of the three of their children who were born in New York. In return, they received pre-printed forms designed for this purpose, with the requested information from the metrical books filled in by hand by Vsevolod Andronoff, the cathedral’s deacon, and signed by Fr. Leonid Turkevich (the future Metropolitan Leonty), then the Dean of the Cathedral.
In the record for the marriage, I was surprised to find the name of a priest I had never seen before: Fr. Ilia Zotikov. When I got home, I searched through the print and online sources I normally use to find information on priests, and found surprisingly little. Other than the fact that he was in New York at the early part of the 20th century, Zotikov seemed to have fallen into obscurity. Then, like any crafty, 21st-century researcher, I ran a Google search in Russian. Dozens of hits popped up. This is where the story became something quite interesting.
In 1922, Fr. Ilia Zotikov, like untold thousands in his vocation during the Soviet era, was forced into the murky abyss of the Soviet prison system, where his personal and professional lives were interrupted by a dizzying series of arrests, trials, imprisonments, exile, and ultimately, death. Of course, Orthodox Americans are quite familiar with the Hieromartyr Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, who is depicted and venerated in iconography throughout the world, and whose biography has been published far and wide. This has as much to do with the circumstances of his various trials and ultimate martyrdom in the Gulag in the Soviet Union as his prominence in the North American Diocese during the nearly two decades he served in the United States. Yet the same cannot be said for Zotikov, even though his life, ministry, and subsequent fate were quite similar, and intrinsically tied, to those of Hotovitzky.
Ilia Ivanovich Zotikov was born into a priestly family in Finland in 1863. He was educated at the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, where his classmates included John Kochurov and Alexander Hotovitzky. In 1895, Zotikov was one of a number of Russian seminarians recruited for service as missionaries in America by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutians. Zotikov was assigned to be an assistant to Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch, and both were sent to New York City to start the small parish that would ultimately become St. Nicholas Cathedral.
They arrived in New York with their wives, both named Mary, on April 1, 1895 (NY Sun, 4/2/1895). On May 19th, Bp. Nicholas ordained Zotikov to the priesthood in the parish’s tiny house parlor sanctuary at 323 2nd Avenue (New York Herald, 5/20/1895). When Balanovitch left St. Nicholas in 1896, Zotikov stayed on to assist Balanovitch’s replacement, his seminary classmate Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, who had been ordained a priest in San Francisco earlier in the year. Together they were instrumental in both the growth of the congregation and the subsequent building of the parish’s new church on 97th Street, which would become the cathedral of the entire North American Diocese in 1905. Hotovitzky became the Cathedral Dean, and Zotikov the Sacristan. It was there that Zotikov officiated the marriage of my great-grandparents in 1908, and where, as my grandmother’s files revealed, Hotovitzky baptized their first daughter two years later.
In the late summer of 1910, Zotikov returned to Russia. For most of the ensuing decade, he served in various parishes in St. Petersburg. In 1919, he was reassigned to Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, where, alongside Hotovitzky, he served as Sacristan of the Cathedral and assistant to Patriarch Tikhon, in a nearly identical arrangement to that at St. Nicholas Cathedral more than a decade before. There, the Patriarch, Hotovitzky, Zotikov, and Cathedral Dean Fr. Nicholas Arseniev were on the front lines of the defense against the repression of the Church by the Bolshevik government. Both Patriarch Tikhon and Fr. Alexander would be arrested and imprisoned multiple times in the early years of Bolshevik rule.
In early 1922, the Bolshevik government ordered the seizure of all ecclesiastical vessels and objects of value held by the Church. This was met with resistance by clergy and laity alike. The clergy of Christ the Savior Cathedral, led by Hotovitzky, were especially instrumental in resisting the order, and meetings were held at Hotovitzky’s apartment to draft resolutions in opposition. For his participation in these meetings, Zotikov was amongst a group of clergy and laity arrested in the spring of 1922, and was subsequently sent to Butyrki Prison.
In December, Zotikov, Hotovitzky, and others appeared before the Moscow Revolutionary Tribunal. Hotovitzky and two others were given ten-year sentences. Most of the others, Zotikov amongst them, were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and one year of deprivation of civil rights. Appeals were unsuccessful, but in late 1923, many of the sentences were cut short on amnesty. Zotikov returned to Christ the Savior, and in 1924, was reassigned to the Descent of the Holy Spirit, where he remained for several years. Hotovitzky was left without a parish assignment, instead filling in where he was needed.
Zotikov was arrested again in June 1927. Found to be in possession of the “Solovki Declaration,” a document issued by bishops imprisoned in the Solovki prison camp in opposition to the Soviet government, Zotikov was again imprisoned at Butyrki, put on trial, and sentenced to three years of exile in Vladimir, about 120 miles east of Moscow. There, he became rector of a small cemetery chapel then serving as the cathedral for the entire Diocese of Vladimir following the forced closure of Dormition Cathedral earlier in 1927. By this point in time, Soviet law had restricted the clergy from nearly every aspect of their vocations, leaving priests like Zotikov on dangerous ground as they attempted to perform even the most basic sacramental duties. By 1929, widespread arrests of clergymen were underway.
In 1993, the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate published an article by Andrei Kozarzhevsky about parish life in Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s, which sheds some light on this period of Zotikov’s life. (Thе article was recently translated into English and published on the Russian website Pravoslavie.ru.) Kozarzhevsky was baptized by Zotikov in 1918, and was well acquainted with both Zotikov and Hotovitzky in his adolescence. As a child, he assisted Zotikov during services in Vladimir, and recalled Zotikov’s third arrest, on October 13th, 1930, for “membership in a counter-revolutionary organization of churchmen,” that being the Church.
On October 19th, 1930, Zotikov was convicted by the OGPU (the arm of the Soviet secret police who spearheaded the repression of religious groups) and was relegated to the notoriously brutal Vladimir Central Prison. On October 23rd, Zotikov was sent for execution. Some sources state both he and Protodeacon Michael Lebedev were shot by a firing squad, though Kozarzhevsky claims he suffered a fatal heart attack on the way to the execution. Regardless, Fr. Ilia Zotikov is considered a Hieromartyr, and is commemorated according to the church calendar with the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia on January 25/February 7.
Andrei Kozarzhevsky’s recollections of Zotikov do not end with his death. After Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky was martyred in the Gulag in 1937, Kozarzhevsky came into possession of a few of Hotovitzky’s personal effects, including a copy of a poem written by Hotovitzky in New York during the summer of 1910, on the occasion of a “triple event:” The feast of St. Elias, Zotikov’s name-day, and his imminent departure for Russia.
By any measure, it is clear that Zotikov and Hotovitzky (and their wives) were particularly close, a bond which apparently began in seminary, yet was forged largely in America. When Hotovitzky departed for Russia in 1900 to raise money for the building of St. Nicholas Church, it was Zotikov who officiated the service blessing his trip. When the church complex was finished, the Hotovitzkys and Zotikovs were neighbors in its apartments. Mary Hotovitzky and Mary Zotikov later served together on the board of the Cathedral Sisterhood.
Far away from their native land, the two former classmates depended on each other, and continued to do so after they were reunited in Russia, where they ultimately met similar fates in the Gulag. It is no surprise, then, that Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky’s 1910 poem was “dedicated to my best friend Fr. Ilia Zotikov.”
A note on sources: Much of the metrical data for this article, including the particular dates of Fr. Zotikov’s biography, can be found (in Russian) here. Additionally, biographical details and a brief biography of Zotikov can be found in The Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Central Russia (Vladimir Moss, 2009, 657-8), available for download (along with other similar works) here.
After reading Matthew Namee’s recent post on the celebration of Christmas according to the New Calendar in Orthodox parishes and jurisdictions in America during the first half of the 20th century, I thought it appropriate to post an article that appeared in the pages of the New York Times on December 25th, 1923.
I think it’s a rather unique picture of what Orthodox life was like in this era, especially given the political overtones of the repression of the Church of Russia, which we see in the first half of the article. With their brothers and sisters in Russia experiencing the initial stages of a rather aggressive anti-religious campaign from the fledgling Bolshevik government, the North American Archdiocese were experiencing crises of their own in the wake of the Russian Revolutions of 1917.
In Russia, the Bolshevik government had instituted the national move to the Gregorian (New) Calendar on February 1/14, 1918 (February 1st became February 14th). The Church of Russia resisted this change, and in discussions of the All-Russian Sobor of 1917-8 (in session as the calendar switch went into effect), determined to retain the Old Calendar.
By 1923, however, this would be tested by the rise to power of the Living Church, a reformist movement that had coalesced out of several radical factions within the Russian Church over the previous two decades. Backed by the Bolshevik government, the Renovationists attempted to force the implementation of the New Calendar, and over time, the calendar issue became a distinct point of differentiation between the so-called “Renovationist” and “Tikhonite” factions within the Church of Russia.
In America, this differentiation, apparently, also resulted in a distinct rejection of the New Calendar within the North American Archdiocese. In December of 1923, the Archdiocese was in the throes of its legal battles with the Living Church-backed John Kedrovsky, who had returned to America in October claiming to be the Archbishop of North America and the Aleutian Islands. With confusing accounts coming out of Russia regarding the status of Patriarch Tikhon, reports of bizarre and troubling attacks against the Church and religious life by the Soviet government, and very real threats of the loss of St. Nicholas Cathedral and other church properties in American courts, the Archdiocese chose to reject the recent decision of the Pan-Orthodox Congress to institute the use of the Revised Julian (or New) Calendar.
Plainly, for many Orthodox Christians in America of Russian descent in this era, the New Calendar was not primarily associated with a Pan-Orthodox Congress, but with Bolshevism and the repression of the beloved Patriarch Tikhon, who was obviously revered in all corners of Orthodox America.
The allowance for the use of the New Calendar within what would become known as the Metropolia would not come until the 13th All-American Sobor in 1967. While some corners of the OCA have almost universally moved to the Revised Julian Calendar, there are yet still many parishes throughout the United States and Canada that will be celebrating the Nativity of Christ two weeks from now. As Matthew outlined the other day, there is similar plurality across the other jurisdictions in America. Yet regardless of when we observe this important day, it is with the same spirit of joy in the birth of Christ.
Matthew Namee’s somewhat recent post concerning what constitutes a parish caught me by surprise, as I was preparing a very similar article of my own to illustrate a problem I’ve been having in continuing to tell the story of the Armenian Orthodox Church for SOCHA. When I agreed to assist SOCHA in covering Armenian topics, I envisioned my first posting to be a quick narrative about the Armenian Church (which it was, you can read that here), and my second to follow soon thereafter, containing a listing of the first parish in each of the twenty-four states where the Armenian Church is found. Matthew Namee, of course, did the same thing for the growth of Eastern Orthodox parishes, and I thought it might be helpful to our readers if I did, too.
I quickly found that writing such an entry was difficult, precisely out of the primary question Matthew posed in his entry: What truly constitutes a parish? I was consulting parish and diocesan websites, several books published by the church (dating back as early as the 1940’s), newspapers, and couldn’t find a set standard anywhere. Some parishes gauged their founding from the building of their first sanctuary. Others dated it from the first vestiges of a board of trustees, or the first time there was really any appreciable, united Armenian community. Even more confusing are the so-called “Mission Parishes,” which ordinarily do not have (and probably never have had) either a permanent sanctuary or a priest, often both. These communities tend to date their founding by the year in which they were formally recognized as a Mission Parish, which doesn’t seem to have been general practice until the 1970’s, even if an Armenian presence and some modicum of organized church life existed long before.
My home parish (when I’m not in Chicago), St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, Michigan, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. That’s all well and fine, except the first evidence of a parish organization apparently dates to 1909, and first priest assigned to Detroit arrived in 1913. There was no sanctuary, so the community met in a number of borrowed spaces, especially St. John Episcopal Church in downtown Detroit (which, interestingly, also housed the plenary sessions of the 4th All-American Sobor in 1924, for those interested in Metropolia/OCA history), until they could afford to purchase land and build a church of their own. The movement to build the first church began in 1928, and it was ready for consecration in 1931.
So there’s three possible anniversary dates here if we look at when the community came together, when the first priest came, and when the first church was built: 1909, 1913, and 1931. To give you an idea of what standard the parish ended up using, in 2006, we celebrated our 75th anniversary, and this year we celebrate the 80th.
Then there’s the situation of the Armenian community in Chicago, which seems to truly defy explanation, and gets at the root of the incredibly strange arrangements that combined to form the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America in 1898 (which I hope to cover later on). The previous year, the entire country was separated into four “ecclesiastical districts:” Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Fresno (California), and Chicago, and the scant amount of Armenian clergy distributed amongst them. This could be considered an odd choice, considering an 1898 list of the seven largest Armenian communities in the United States prepared by Bishop Hovsep Saradjian ranked Chicago dead last, numbering just 400 people. Yet this was the biggest Armenian community in the Midwest at the time. Fr. Khat Markarian was assigned to travel to Chicago, but a disagreement over his reassignment from his parish in Boston resulted in Markarian instead going to New York. No replacement was named, and Chicago languished.
While other communities around the country rapidly grew, taking advantage of massive waves of immigration to build churches and the infrastructures of parish life, Chicago was a comparative non-starter. Though he visited nearly every corner of the country, Bp. Saradjian never visited the city. In 1901, he sent Fr. Vahan Messirlian to Chicago to organize a slate of trustees to establish a parish, and while he may have been marginally successful in the short-term, there were no representatives from Chicago at the 1902 Diocesan Assembly. There were loose associations of parish life over the next decade, but there would not be a permanent priest assigned to Chicago until 1915. St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church formally dates its establishment to that year, and was the culmination of all that had happened in Chicago since 1898. Since St. Gregory is the oldest Armenian parish in Illinois, is 1915 really the right year to pick for its establishment?
So, like Matthew, I’m struggling a bit with how one gauges the intricacies of parish formation, especially looking at situations that were anomalous both in geographical dispersal as well as the highly irregular way in which the Armenian Church in America constituted its hierarchical administration in its earliest years. Long story short, I guess, that list I mentioned at the opening is forthcoming, once I can determine some kind of standard, and wade through the evidence enough to come to a consensus.
Until then, SOCHA readers, are there any particular issues you want me to cover about the Armenian Church?
This article was written by Aram Sarkisian.