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Editor’s note: The following article was written by relatives of Fr. Pythagoras Caravellas, and originally appeared in the 60th anniversary commemorative album for Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, published in 1996. The article has been reprinted at Annunciation Cathedral’s website, and we present it here courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Area Greek Historical Society. The Society has done outstanding work on the history of Greek Orthodoxy in the region, and its chairman, Jim Lucas, is building a virtual photo album which may be found at this link. The website includes special pages for Fr. Pythagoras Caravellas and St. Sophia/Annunciation Cathedral, where he served as a priest.
Pythagoras Caravellas was born in 1890, in Greece, on the small island of Samos, off the coast of Asia Minor. He was the son of a tobacco and cotton merchant and the youngest of four children.
At the age of 16, he completed his pre-university education at the gymnasium in Karlovassi. His schoolmasters, impressed with the young man’s curiousity and studious inclinations, recommended him for further study at one of the Greek teaching monasteries.
The year that young Pythagoras was cloistered in the mountain monastery, he applied himself diligently to the assigned subjects, religion, science, and the humanities. Perhaps it was the humility with which the monks imparted their wisdom to the young scholars that influenced young Pythagoras to cherish learning. This inspiration was to follow him always.
While under the tutelage of the monks, the Metropolitan of Corfu, Alexander, paid a visit to the monastery. The hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox faith had always taken a personal interest in the education and development of their youth. Alexander was not an exception. A man of deep perception, he was to become the first Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church. If his visits to the monasteries were anticipated by the students, a few requested were granted private audiences. The topics that generated the most interest were students’ personal aspirations.
During one of his private conversations with the Metropolitan whom he had known since childhood, Pythagoras confessed his secret hope to continue his education in the United States and perhaps establish a permanent home there. Expecting a small admonishment or to be dissuaded from his ambition, Pythagoras was pleased with the unexpected approval his received. The full impact of this meeting was not to emerge for twelve years, but its immediate result was that Pythagoras entered the Seminary in Athens to study for the priesthood. After a year, he was uncertain as to the wisdom of his action and decided to enroll in the University of Athens.
During the next four years he earned his degree and received his teaching credentials. While attending the university, he made occasional visits to his family in Samos. He also found time to tutor students, work for a tobacconist and take additional courses in English.
In 1911, he made his big decision to go to the United States. He went to Middleboro, Massachusetts, where a small colony of Greeks had settled, to live with his two brothers, Nicholas and Theodore, who had immigrated there two years before. Convinced that their brother was not interested in their restaurant business, they encouraged him to enter Harvard University with an offer to help him financially.
Before leaving Greece, Pythagoras had already decided to become a physician. Realizing how many long years of study lay ahead, he preferred not to accept his brothers’ generous offer. He considered ways in which he would attend school, allow time for studies, and still be able to earn an adequate income necessary for his tuition and living expenses. He would rely on his knowledge of small business accounting to earn his living and soon had a number of shopkeepers and restaurants as clients.
After graduation from Harvard with a degree in medicine in June, 1917, he became engaged to Evangeline Constantine. They were married in November, 1917. His work as a hospital intern offered some degree of fulfillment, but he was restless.
Recalling his year at the monastery and his communications with Archbishop Alexander, Pythagoras sent a letter to the Metropolitan asking for his guidance. The sincere simplicity of the Archbishop’s reply and his words of encouragement to enter the church convinced Pythagoras to give up medicine and to complete his studies in the priesthood.
Through further correspondence with the Metropolitan, Pythagoras learned of the need for Greek priests in the western part of the United States. As waves of Greek immigrants moved westward across the United States, they were dependent upon a small group of itinerant Greek priests for infrequent church services and the administration of religious rites. More Greeks lived and worked in the western states than the number of churches would suggest.
In 1921, Father Pythagoras arrived in San Francisco. At this time, his wife and daughter Theofani (Faye) were living in Chicago and it would be months later before he had the money to bring them to San Francisco. Once more the question of earning a livlihood and attending school was of immediate concern. Through letters of introduction and recommendation, Pythagoras became an assistant professor of Greek at the University of California, and attended the Pacific School of Religion. He supplemented his income writing for the Greek newspaper and the Christian Science Monitor. Soon, Pythagoras and Evangeline became an integral part of the young Greek community. Their resourcefulness and command of English, attracted the older families. They were often called upon to act as witnesses or interpreters in matters concerning immigration or in matters of law affecting members of the community. The more affluent Greeks were enthusiastic with the qualifications of the young couple and gave their wholehearted support for the erection of a church which would have Pythagoras as its priest.
After his graduation from the Pacific School of Religion in 1927, Pythagoras was ordained into the priesthood of the Greek Orthodox religion by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Metaxakis, and Archbishop Alexander, both of who were visiting in San Francisco at the time. The colorful ceremony was held in the new, small white church of St. Sophia. The presence of these eminent prelates in San Francisco created much interest and served to establish the young church of St. Sophia as a unified and integrated religious community.
With the advent of the Russian revolution, the organizational work of the Russian Orthodox Church in America came to an abrupt halt. In the meantime, the royalist-liberal controversy in Greece had divided event the Greek immigrants in America. The church could nor or would not steer a neutral course in the civil war raging between the forces of King Constantine and Premier Venizelos. This partnership, which had its beginnings in 1916, was to shake the church communities of Greece and United States to their foundation. The reaction in the United States was violent.
Reorganization required a degree of cooperation difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, Father Pythagoras managed to steer his congregation away from the repercussions of the political battles in Greece and toward the establishment of a Greek-American community whose growth would be a blending of the cultural heritage of Greece and the democratic principles of their adopted country, America.
Since coming to San Francisco, Father Pythagoras’ family increased by two daughters, Helen and Joan. After his ordination, Father Pythagoras budgeted his family severely. Occasionally, his small salary was supplemented by farmers; gifts of produce, fruit, and fowl. His parish was a poor one, and living became more difficult during the depression when members of his congregation dwelt on the edge of poverty. He administered to their needs, with words of encouragement and guidance. He would officiate at services during his frequent visits to farming communities. He taught the children of the community Greek after their regular school hours. He found time to program social activities for the community in observation of national and religious holidays. He made his rounds at the hospitals giving communion to the sick, the injured, and the dying. He conducted services every Sunday, every Holy Day and in the Greek church this alone is a rigorous and demanding schedule.
In 1931, the physical strain had taken its toll. Father Pythagoras was will with tuberculosis. He was a patient for three years at the California Sanitorium in Belmont. During his confinement, he continued to read avidly and began work for his degree as a Doctor of Divinity. He looked forward to returning to his church and his congregation. In late 1934, the doctors told him that he was cured and that he would soon be going home. On December 6, 1934, he suffered a heart attack and died. He was mourned by Greeks throughout the nation and his body lay in state in the church of St. Sophia for 7 days to afford his many friends the sad privilege of a final farewell.
Recently a historic event took place in New York: A pan-Orthodox Assembly of the Fullness of God’s Church on the North American continent, represented by the Hierarchs of the local Orthodox dioceses. The most important goal of this body is to witness Orthodox unity in a “new world,” and to secure a more effective organization of mission, witness, and cooperation of the local Orthodox Churches in the diaspora, faithful to the soteriological needs of contemporary man and society.
In accordance with the decision of the Fourth Pre-conciliar pan-Orthodox conference held June 6-12, 2009 in the Orthodox center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Switzerland, and at the invitation of Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the first Assembly of canonical Orthodox Hierarchs of North and Central America was held in New York May 26-28, 2010. Of sixty-six hierarchs of this region, fifty-five were present at this historic gathering.
It needs to be said that the entire gathering was held in a spirit and atmosphere of brotherly love, in the joy of the Pentecost Feast Day: Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Russians, Syrians, Arabs, Americans, and Latin Americans all together spoke with one mouth and one heart demonstrating that the ontological foundation of the unity of the Church is inconceivable without multiplicity. Discussions about various questions and problems of the “diaspora” went on in a spirit of understanding, while Archbishop Demetrios wisely and capably led the gathering. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios presided over this Episcopal Assembly, having Metropolitan Philip (Antiochian Orthodox Church) and Russian Archbishop Justinian (Moscow Patriarchate) as co-chairs. Bishop Basil of Wichita (Antiochian self-ruling Archdiocese) was elected secretary. His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher of Libertyville/Chicago and His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western American diocese represented the Serbian Orthodox Church.
One of the topics that was repeated many times as a refrain during this three-day Assembly was the will and desire of all participants “for the swift healing of all canonical anomalies which resulted from historical circumstances and pastoral necessity.” Above all, soteriology is of primary importance for this Assembly in its reflections on God, man, the Church, and the world today, and our unity must be visible, Eucharistic, and structured in accordance with the one-many life that the Eucharist imparts to the Church from its source in God Himself.
Along with this the participants emphatically called to mind the contributions of the Primates and representatives of the Orthodox autocephalous Churches gathered at the Ecumenical Patriarchate from October 10 to 12, 2008, to confirm their “unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church” (Chambésy Rules of Operation, Article 5.1a). A slightly different view was presented by one of the hierarchs, who questioned the necessity of jurisdictional connections with autocephalous Churches which are, as he stated, over seven thousand miles away and do not have any ties with the “new world.” This was somewhat of an isolated opinion. If there was an opinion that it is only necessary to follow the Primates of the autocephalous churches, or so called “Mother Churches,” in spirit rather than in letter, Archbishop Demetrios gave a witty answer: “This would test the distinct American sentiment for independence and democracy.” Through this exchange of opinions the participants came to the conclusion that the relatively “young” American Orthodoxy has a need for guidance and help from the “mother Churches” of the Old World, Middle East, Bosporus, and Balkans. There is the need for both dependence and a certain independence in making decisions.
During this gathering, and in conformity with the rules for regional Episcopal Assemblies established during the Fourth Pan-Orthodox pre-conciliar conference, the following were accomplished: A registry of canonical bishops (Article 6.1); a committee to decide the canonical status of local communities in a region which cannot be connected with (have no reference to) any of the Holy autocephalous Churches (Article 6.2); a registry of canonical clergy (Article 6.3); committees that will take on the work of the Assembly in addressing liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical, and legal questions (Articles 11 and 12); a committee to plan the organization of the Orthodox in this region on a canonical basis (Article 5.1). In addition to the above, it was agreed that the Assembly establish and maintain a directory of all canonical congregations in our region. This is in conformity with the basic Orthodox ecclesiological principle: it is primarily the bishop who presides at the Eucharist in his local church, so the principal manifestation of the Church is the gathering of the whole community around the bishop and his presbyters and deacons for the Liturgy.
A decision was also reached regarding the question of SCOBA. This Episcopal Assembly understands itself as the heir of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), and it has taken over all SCOBA agencies, dialogues, and other services. Interestingly, the question of the OCA (the Orthodox Church in America, formerly the Russian Metropolia) was not discussed, but it has become clear that its “autocephaly” (given by a unilateral decree of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970) is understood only as autonomy. Even though the OCA’s autocephaly is not recognized by most Orthodox local Churches (including the Serbian Patriarchate), the fact is that her hierarchs at the Assembly enjoyed the same rights and honor as others. The order of seating at the Assembly followed the Diptychs (the established order of precedence of the ancient and newer Patriarchates and autocephalous Churches), so that the bishops of the OCA came after the Serbian and Romanian delegations (a representative of Georgian church was not present at this gathering).
Upon formal petition of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Canada, the Assembly will send to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in accordance with the rules of procedure (Article 13), a petition that the current region of North and Central America be divided into two separate regions, of the United States and of Canada. In addition, upon petition of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Mexico and Central America, the Assembly will similarly recommend that Mexico and Central America join the regional Assembly for South America. For example, Serbian Bishop Mitrophan, who has jurisdiction in both those regions, would become a member of both those Episcopal Assemblies. Canadian Bishop Georgije, on the other hand, will be a member of the Canadian Episcopal Assembly, given that he has no jurisdiction outside Canada.
In open discussions about the demands of evangelization and enculturation, one could hear opinions on various questions of importance for Orthodoxy: questions of liturgical practice, pastoral challenges, financial aspects, the future of educational schools and programs, ecumenical dialogues, as well as some other legal issues. In this context, it was also clearly understood that contemporary Orthodoxy must be prepared to open up its theological frontiers to other sciences and cultural concerns and the challenges coming from the non-theological world.
It was clearly established that the Episcopal Assembly does not have jurisdictional power; rather it is of a consultative character, although in some questions it naturally has authority (as in establishing and maintaining the previously mentioned registries of canonical bishops, clergy, and parishes).
His Eminence Iakovos, Greek Metropolitan of Chicago, strongly emphasized that we Orthodox have a gift of dogmatic and liturgical unity that we already share, and that incidental differences (customs, liturgical practices, language, and similar things) need to be secondary. The Eucharist, understood in the light of the Trinitarian mystery, is the criterion for the functioning of the life of the Orthodox Church as a whole and the institutional elements should be nothing but a visible reflection of the reality of the mystery. The fact that this assembly-conference, as every church assembly from apostolic times to this day, can have its own controversial points need not discourage us; on the contrary, it should inspire participation and motivation. The use of the English language in services was also discussed, especially focused on the variations in usage of the personal pronoun when directly referring to God.
The question of the boundaries and limits of participation in theological dialogue with heterodox and non-Christians was raised, and in the discussion which followed the answer was crystallized: the Orthodox Church, not being afraid of dialogue because it has Truth, enters into such discussions with the deepest conviction that faithfulness to her Orthodox Tradition and active ecumenical engagement are not incompatible with each other, but rather one demands the other.
The Serbian Orthodox Church views this regional Episcopal Assembly as something positive, as is reflected in the Communiqué from the regular Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held in Belgrade from April 26 to May 5, 2010:
“The Assembly of Bishops heard and approved the following reports regarding the life of the Church over the past year since last year’s meeting: … on the decisions of the Fourth pan-Orthodox Pre-conciliar conference in Chambésy near Geneva in June 2009 on the theme of a more efficient and organized mission, witness, and cooperation of the local Orthodox Churches in the Diaspora and on the stand of the pan-Orthodox preparatory commission for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, held in December of last year also in Chambésy, on the manner of proclaiming church autocephaly and autonomy. In this context, the Assembly especially analyzed the status and problems of the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora and made appropriate decisions.”
Moreover, on the eve of the convening of this First Episcopal Conference of Orthodox Churches in North America, in the spirit of Pentecost, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej sent the Serbian hierarchs in North America his Patriarchal greeting for its successful work and for rich spiritual fruits of the descent of the Holy Spirit the Comforter to come upon all Orthodox in North America, calling them to take a part in this new Pentecostal work of historical significance. This conference is truly an excellent opportunity to clearly define a vision and establish a platform for the future of the Diaspora on a healthy theological and ecclesiastical foundation.
Here it is worthwhile to remember the visionary Saint Nicholai of Zicha and Ochrid, one of the first Serbian Orthodox laborers on the American continent. The most eloquent example of Nicholai’s openness and pan-Orthodoxy is his readiness to view the Serbian Orthodox Church in America in the context of the ancient orthodox canonical tradition and the wider, contemporary Orthodox context, as most eloquently witnessed by his words: “When, by God’s providence, the time comes for the realization of unity, it will be a joy for many. Undoubtedly, the primates and hierarchs of all of our Orthodox Churches, in Europe, Asia, Africa, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, will show love and understanding, and give their consent and blessing for the establishment of one new sister church in America” (Bishop Nicholai, Collected Works XIII, pages 565-572, Serbian text pages 573-579).
The appearing of Episcopal Assemblies throughout the world (these gatherings have already started work in Europe) should not be understood pretentiously, nor should they be presented one-sidedly, but rather it is necessary to take into consideration the reality and need for ecclesiastical unity on a pan-Orthodox level in its totality. A correct interpretation of this ecclesiologically and theologically important attempt from Chambésy to accomplish a fuller unity, cooperation, and catholicity (sabornost) on the territory of the diaspora only contributes to a stronger position for the particular Orthodox Churches and to the avoidance of their marginalization in their future ecclesiological formation on the American continent. With this, above all, we must be mindful of the pan-Orthodox consensus expressed in Chambésy.
Participation in the Episcopal Assembly is equally faithfulness to the Pneumatological catholic institution of the Holy Spirit who “holds together the whole institution of the Church” (hymn for Vespers on Pentecost). In this way we show faithfulness to the Apostolic Orthodox Faith, which obliges us to contribute “to this common work of addressing the pastoral needs of the Orthodox who live in our region.” By working together through this forum, the Serbian Church also has the opportunity to witness to its specific and particular place in the Orthodox family of America.
This synthetic and unifying work of the Assembly was also evident in the opening speech of Archbishop Demetrios. Regarding the equal dignity and particular gifts which each nation brings the Church, Archbishop wisely said: “In Pentecost, we celebrate the call to unity for all human beings through faith and obedience to the one Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, however, in Pentecost, we celebrate the refreshing reality of the diversity, wonderfully manifested in the extraordinary fact of the proclamation of the one Gospel in many languages as a result of the advent of the Holy Spirit.” Alluding to the reality of Orthodoxy in America, he added:
“As we behold the event of Pentecost, we observe that the multiplicity of languages used by the Holy Apostle in proclaiming the single Gospel is not a cause of confusion or conflict, but a reason for thanksgiving and celebration. The one Gospel does not obliterate linguistic, ethnic, or cultural differences and particularities. The Gospel is clearly a call to unity, but as our history of 2000 years demonstrates, it does not cause an eclipse of the diversity within the Church. And this speaks directly to our case today.”
The hierarchs have called the clergy and faithful to join them in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church in this region and her theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational, and missionary responsibility.”
The Assembly concluded its work by serving the Divine Liturgy on Friday, May 28, 2010 in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York. During Liturgy, prayers were offered for the eleven reposed victims of the ecological accident in the Gulf of Mexico, for the consolation of their families, and for all those who are afflicted by this catastrophe.
Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Western America
Editor’s note: For quite a while now, I have been corresponding with Ales Simakou of Gomel, Belarus. Ales describes himself as “a researcher of Belarusian-American (especially Indian) contacts,” and he has been researching the life of Fr. Nikolai Grinkevich, a Belarusian priest who was ordained in San Francisco and served in America in the 1890s. What follows is a translation of an article on Grinkevich, written by Ales. It was originally titled “From Repki to the Distant World” and was published in Golas Radzimy (Minsk) on February 4, 2010, No 4 (3172). Ales himself has translated the article into English, and we are very pleased to present it here.
Working out the theme “Belarus and the Indians”, we Belarusian Indianists, accidentally have come upon the trace of our compatriot, Nikolai Grinkevich, the son of Stepan Fedorovich Grinkevich, an Orthodox priest from the Rogachev uezd of the Mogilev province, a possible relative of the mother of the well-known writer Uladzimir Karatkevich. By the way, the bulletin Vesnik BIT that reflects the life of the Belarusian-Indian Society is published in Gomel.
Recently, the list of Belarusians connected with the history of Alaska was updated essentially due to the reference book Who’s Who in the History of Russian America by Andrei Grinev that was issued last year. Definitions from this biographic dictionary impress: “a native of the Vitebsk province”, “a Polotsk petty bourgeous”, “a Mogilev petty bourgeois”, “an appanage peasant of the Vitebsk province”, “was baptized in Polotsk” and so on. And do the surnames Bobrovskii, Bobchenko, Dudarev, Ivanov, Kovanskii, Kumachev, Pogurskii, Pushkarevich, Torkulov, Timofeev, Shapiro, Evstifeev tell you of anything?.. I suppose it will be interesting for present-day creators of genealogical trees in Belarus to search for their own ancestors among them. But the list of “Belarusian Alaskans” continues to be updated.
In North America of those times there were a lot of working people, hunters, sailors, merchants in stores… Among them was the priest Nikolai Grinkevich, a teacher of a spiritual school, where Indian children were also taught. By the level of education and the real scale of personality, N. Grinkevich is perhaps second among the Belarusians of America “in the diocese” after the famous doctor Russel (Nikolai Sudzilovskii) [...*]. From the accumulated material emerges an interesting figure of the “eternal traveller”, whose first significant trip was, probably, the arrival at the Gomel Theological School for training. The Grinkevich brothers, Dmitrii and Nikolai, were born at the village of Repki in 1862 and 1864, respectively, and were taught together at the Mogilev Theological Seminary and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. When Nikolai was in his fourth year, Vladimir, the new Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, was recruiting students at the Academy to participate in his mission. The Academy’s governing body satisfied the desire of the “true student” Grinkevich “to devote himself to serving the Orthodox church in the remote Diocese of the Aleutians”, having released from the final oral exam and having postponed the awarding of a scholarly degree of candidate of theology until Grinkevich could complete his dissertation.
In the spring of 1888, the group headed by Bishop Vladimir sailed to New York. From there it reached San Francisco, the diocesan center, by train. And here Alaska has drawn nearer to priest Nikolai in the form of Native boys, other Alaskans. Our compatriot was a clerk, treasurer of the Ecclesiastical Consistory, and church rector. A photograph from the M. Vinokouroff Collection in the Alaska State Library shows the milieu in which Belarusian N. Grinkevich in 1888-92 was known also as a teacher of the “theological school”. In the photo, we see pupils with sextons, priests and other persons, who took care of them, all surrounding the bishop. The school was experimental. Both Russians, Ukrainians, Anglo-Saxons, Jews and other “whites” and the indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere – Indians (Athapaskans and Tlingits), Eskimos, Aleuts, as well as mixed-bloods – met in it as pupils and teachers. The parish also included those coming from Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece; Macedonians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Orthodox Arabs also appeared in the enormous territory of the diocese.
Grinkevich has made the acquaintance with many notable people representing these ethnic groups. He ”often called on” the revolutionary Doctor Russel. While not so obviously and sensationally as his countryman and namesake, Grinkevich has left his name in “social history”, concerning both public charitable activities and ones of a clerk-organizer close to archival science. In 1893, he was sent for three months to Chicago to the World Exhibition on the occasion of 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, where he collected donations and served, as one of the first priests, in a local church. And before that he actively participated in relief to the victims of the bad harvest of 1891-1892 in Russia.
In 1896, Nikolai Grinkevich, already in the rank of archpriest, returned to Russia. At the same time he was approved in the degree of candidate of theology for the work “The Laws of the North American United States on the conclusion and termination of marriage in comparison with Russian church-civil legislation on marriage and divorce”, which received a positive review at the Academy. At the turn of the century he supervised the Orenburg Theological School, and afterwards he served in the Tula province.
The last known position of Father Nikolai is a religious teacher of the Tashkent Cadet School. What happened to him, his wife (the daughter of an Alaskan missionary), and children after the revolution, remains a mystery. After the events of October 1917, the School had to be evacuated to Irkutsk. Did the “Repki wanderer” try to reach his brother, who worked as a teacher of arithmetic and geography at the Blagoveschensk Spiritual School on the Amur?
I think if Uladzimir Karatkevich knew of the life path of his more then possible, but “forgotten” relative, it is possible that he would have written a story about him.
Ales Simakou, Gomel
The Golas Radzimy editorial staff’s caption for the photo:
Perhaps, one of the priests in the photo is our compatriot Nikolai Grinkevich.
The Belarusian original was published in the weekly Golas Radzimy (Minsk) on February 4, 2010, No 4 (3172). Click here to view the original.
*THE AUTHOR’S NOTE *[who was the first president of the Republic of Hawaii in 1893-1902"] This phrase that blatantly misinterprets the role of Nicholas Russel in the political history of Hawaii is an “insertion” of someone from the newspaper’s staff. The Republic of Hawaii’s period was from 1894 to 1898. This widely-spread mistake can be found even in some Belarusian encyclopedias, including the national universal Belaruskaia entsyklapedyia in 18 vols.
Link for the photo (Michael Z. Vinokouroff Photograph Collection,
Alaska State Library – Historical Collections, P.O. Box 110571, Juneau, Alaska).
On March 23, 2010, we linked to a survey of the OrthodoxHistory.org site being conducted by Donna Mazziotti, a librarian at the University of Scranton. The study is wrapping up, so the survey is now closed. On behalf of Miss Mazziotti, thank you for your responses.
If you are interested in contacting her about this study, you may do so at donna.mazziotti [at] scranton.edu.
Editor’s note: Today we present a book review by Richard Barrett, a parish cantor and Ph.D. student in History at Indiana University in the Ancient Studies field. This review is regarding a particularly interesting book on parish congregationalism in American Orthodox history. It appeared in an earlier form as a post on Mr. Barrett’s own weblog. His post on historiographical methodology in American Orthodoxy also makes for interesting reading.
We intend to run more book reviews on this site in the future.
In my research for the article on historiography of Orthodox Christianity in America, I encountered the book Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism by a Carpatho-Russian priest named Fr. Nicholas Ferencz. It was evidently his doctoral dissertation at Duquesne University, and it was published in 2006 by Gorgias Press under their “Gorgias Dissertations” imprint. It is, I think, a book that should be carefully read and considered by Orthodox Christians in America; it is able to be descriptive of what Fr. Nicholas sees as the problem without resorting to finger-pointing, and it is far more of an intellectually honest look at particular hotly-debated issues than some other books out there. Unfortunately, those other books are $15 a pop and Fr. Nicholas’ is $99 (the perils of a small boutique academic press, alas), so that’s unlikely to happen, but I’d like to make what case for the book I can.
Fr. Nicholas’ thesis is that congregationalism, or “trusteeism,” is unambiguously outside of Orthodox Christian tradition, but that it is nonetheless the de facto arrangement, at least in a modified form, for American parishes, and that this state of things represents a troubling gap between belief and practice in Orthodox Christianity as it is practiced in this country. “American Orthodoxy,” he contends, “lives out an experience of church which is at odds with its professed understanding of church,” a problem which most church leaders either cannot or will not acknowledge publicly, and of which most laity are unaware (p. 2).
The model of “modified congregationalism” within which most parishes function, he argues, boils down to the laity controlling the material assets of the community. At the same time, the laity “allows” the clergy (including the episcopate) more or less limited authority in the spiritual realm, but with the right implicitly reserved to either revoke that allowance, or to use material authority in a way that trumps the spiritual authority — that is, “the earthly coercive power of control” (p. 204). This is a problem, and a big one:
[C]ongregationalism does not work in practice within the Orthodox Church. Parish life does not divide into such neatly fragmented categories as spiritual/cleric on one side and material/laic on the other. A congregationalist structure merely serves to maintain a fiction which undermines the authority and responsibility of both the clergy and the laity, to the detriment of the parish and, therefore, of the church. (p. 7)
This state of affairs exists for a number of reasons, and there are three in particular on which Fr. Nicholas concentrates. The first is what he terms “the moral absence of the hierarchy,” both in the formative years and up to the present, the second is the long-term impact of the circumstances surrounding St. Alexis Toth’s bringing many of the Uniate parishes into the Orthodox Church, and the third is the result of lay societies being the engine which drove the formation of many early Orthodox parishes. Without going into the minutiae of his argument, the way that Fr. Nicholas lays out the historical circumstances in which the theoretical/practical gap developed in Orthodox Christianity as practiced in the United States is fascinating reading, and excellent food for thought.
So, what’s the way forward? There are several generations in this country, from cradle and convert stock alike, who are very used to things being the way they are, they don’t want to hear that what they’re doing is at variance with traditional Orthodox practice, and in fact they might even argue that we haven’t gone far enough towards congregationalism. So what do we do? Is it possible that there’s just no other way for Orthodox Christianity to function in this country? Is there just too much of a cultural disconnect for it to be otherwise?
At the macro level, the book gives the impression that the idea of more bishops covering smaller territories would be a practical way of dealing with the problem, since the impossibly wide geographic areas that bishops have had to cover in the Americas help create the problem of “moral absence” in the first place. More locally, Fr. Nicholas suggests that “[r]eal conciliarity on a parish level could be the beginning of the healing of the divisiveness of congregationalism,” (p. 210) with conciliarity being defined as “an authority structure which requires that all the People of God, ordained and unordained, participate in the authority of the church and the exercise of that authority as one, whole Body” (p. 209). At the same time, however, conciliarity is emphatically not “the gathering of an… ‘amorphous mass’ for the purpose of casting votes… [that is,] a democracy. It is the gathering, the coming together, of the Body of Christ in unity and in wholeness” (ibid.). This being the case, it is vital that we realize “[t]he participation of each member of the church is not exactly the same, uniform, and undifferentiated. Each person is called to share in Christ’s authority to the degree and in the manner in which they have received God’s grace to do so” (ibid.). It’s not an easy way forward in a culture where we don’t readily make a distinction between difference in function and difference in quality, so I don’t know how we get around that, but I suspect Fr. Nicholas is right regardless.
There’s much more to the book than this necessarily brief review will allow me to explore, but I recommend seeking it out. If you don’t want to fork out the $99 to buy it, interlibrary loan should be able to produce a copy. It’s very much worth reading and discussing further.
[This article was written by Richard Barrett and was originally published at his weblog on October 10, 2009.]