Archimandrite Stephen Andreades was the first priest of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in New Orleans. He arrived in late 1867, making him the very first resident Orthodox priest in the contiguous United States. Very little is known about Andreades, and most of what we know comes from a short homily he gave upon his arrival. The homily was published in the March 15, 1868 issue of the Alaska Herald (vol. 1, issue 2), a periodical published by the infamous Agapius Honcharenko.
Until recently, I had seen references to that homily, but I had never gotten my hands on the text itself. But a couple of months ago, Maggie Maag, who heads up the great historical work being done at Holy Trinity in New Orleans, sent me a copy. The homily was originally given in Greek, but it was translated into Russian for the Alaska Herald. Maggie found the Alaska Herald issue at the Library of Congress, and she arranged for Roman Alokhin of the New Orleans Museum of Art to translate it from Russian into English. I ran the translation past a Russian translator friend of mine, who made some minor edits. The result is below.
The homily is dated December 25, 1867. I suspect that’s the Julian (Old) Calendar date, so it would have been January 6, 1868 according to the Gregorian Calendar used in America. The original translation from Greek to Russian was done by a man named Thomas Kraskovsky, about whom we know nothing. Here’s the whole thing, followed by my own comments:
I see with which Heavenly glory the hearts of Orthodox Christians of the Eastern Church are filled, because of the establishment of the first Orthodox Church in the New World.
In the name of this blessed event, let’s exalt our hearts to God and thank Him for raising this church in the land of freedom, equality, enlightenment and humanity.
Here, the notion of the history of Christianity gives an acknowledgement that our Church is the only true and unshakable church. As the mother of other churches that enlightened the universe with Godly and human law is understood by those, who did not spare means, when our church in the east was subject to danger, they (Christians of Holy Trinity church) regardless of payoff decided: what to Greece is not given, is subsequently (after all) given to it (to this church).
The erection of this Orthodox Church is a great jubilation of Orthodoxy, Christian strength and virtue, it increases the magnificence of our church crown. You, coming here from so far away for trading business and for improving your fate, did not forget your motherland and your protectress Orthodox Church. You understood that God’s temple is a union of devout and illuminated by the heavenly truth society, that entering the temple as if into a place of unseen God, we strengthen our faith, receive light from the sky, receive holy mysteries and while reading the holy gospel we hear the voice of almighty God.
Such feelings of Christian love prompted you to build this delightful temple, where you invited me from Greece to conduct this first Godly Liturgy.
Rejoice with me, Orthodox Christians, and receive my heartfelt spiritual blessing. Blessed and glorified the name of God, who granted me to conduct a spiritual service in this new church, and I beg Him for help in my task. The permanent duty of my service in this church will be: to keep the commandments of God and to comply with church bylaws. To conscientiously perform the holy mysteries, as the source of immortality, so as our life is not deprived of God’s grace.
My children! Have faith with virtue and virtue with reasonableness. Accustom to sobriety, be pious and patient, love each other as this is the source and root of all goodness and foundation of Christian morals. Respect your parents and older people, equally respect property and rights of your neighbors. These qualities make humanity great, produce kind citizens, well-doers/benefactors and great people.
Holy Trinity! Infinite mercy, inconceivable light, illuminating anyone coming to you, we beg you, remain amidst your children and honor us with your grace. Illuminate us the sinful and give us the strength to praise your beneficence and dominion. Guard this new church and protect it against all dangers. Shelter the flock and the shepherd, turn away bad intentions of invisible enemies, accompany to the jubilation of Orthodoxy. Strengthen us in our reasonableness and sustain in all undertakings – Amen.
The part about Andreades coming from Greece is the one thing I had seen before. The homily makes it sound like the church building was recently constructed, which fits with my impressions from other sources. The June 13, 1867 issue of the New Orleans Times reported that the New Orleans Board of Aldermen adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, That the Surveyor be and he is hereby instructed to cause to be constructed a wooden sidewalk, 250 feet long and 2 feet wide, and a wooden crossing 42 feet long by 4 feet wide, opposite the Greek Trinity Church, on Dorgenois street, between Barracks and Hospital streets.
So obviously, by June, there was a church building — which means that the church building preceded the priest by at least six months.
This is just one of the many, many fascinating discoveries that they are making in New Orleans. The historical work being done by that community, and spearheaded by Maggie Maag, is really tremendous. We’ll have much more on that work in the future.
Continuing with the theme from Wednesday…
This photo depicts the burial of Archimandrite Theoclitos Triantafilides, the great priest of Galveston, TX, on October 27, 1916. We actually have several photos of this event — all courtesy of Ss. Constantine and Helen parish — but this one particularly interests me because of the individuals standing on the stairs on the right side of the photo. Look closely, and you’ll see that they are black — possibly Copts or Ethiopians. These Oriental Orthodox Christians were members of Fr. Theoclitos’ flock. In fact, this is the earliest evidence I’ve seen for Copts or Ethiopians attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in America.
In this way, as in so many others, Fr. Theoclitos was decades ahead of his time — today, it’s quite common to meet Copts, Ethiopians, and Eritreans at an Eastern Orthodox church, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Recently, I’ve been working with a group of researchers to document the life of Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the remarkable priest of Galveston, Texas. Fr. Theoclitos was from Greece — his father had fought in the Greek Revolution — and as a young man, Fr. Theoclitos lived on Mount Athos and later studied in Russia. He tutored the children of King George of Greece, and later the children of Tsar Alexander III (including the future Tsar Nicholas II). He was apparently quite close to Nicholas II, and when, in 1895, the Orthodox of Galveston requested a priest, the Tsar sent to them his former tutor. Fr. Theoclitos was already in his mid-60s — quite old for his era — but he served in America for a full two decades before his death in 1916.
The American ministry of Fr. Theoclitos was utterly unique. He was, as I said, an ethnic Greek, but he served under the auspices of the Russian Mission in America. His parish was composed of Greeks, Serbs, Syrians, and even Copts, and today, that parish is a part of the Serbian Church. Fr. Theoclitos was also one of the first Orthodox priests in America (and perhaps the first) to actively proselytize Americans. His parish was truly pan-Orthodox, and he was uniquely capable of ministering to the needs of such a diverse flock.
Until recently, we knew a fair number of facts about Fr. Theoclitos, but nobody, as far as I know, had found any surviving sermons or writings. Just the other day, though, the lead researcher — Mimo Milosevich, from Galveston — discovered the full text of Fr. Theoclitos’ Christmas sermon, given on January 7, 1914 and published in the next day’s issue of the Galveston Daily News.
It’s a short sermon, but it reveals much about the character and vision of the great archimandrite. According to the newspaper, Fr. Theoclitos began by recounting the story of the star, the wise men, their gifts, and King Herod. Then, said the paper, “Father Theoclitos took off his spectacles and used them to gesticulate with, as he preached a fatherly sermon on charity and its relation to happiness.”
My children: Before Jesus came into our world the earth lacked the attributes of sympathetic understanding, which we find necessary to our happiness in this era. The Lord gave us his son, Jesus, to soften us, to give us understanding of human wants, to give us a sense of forgiveness, to teach us that to forgive is our duty, and to teach us charity.
My children, be charitable, open your hearts, for only in charity is there happiness. Make life brighter for your brother and your sister and the candle you light for them will make your light brighter.
God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gave us his all, even his life. We can do no more than emulate him, and in doing that we do all.
Think today of the poor whom he loved, lighten their burdens, even as he did. Open your hearts, oh, my children, even as did Jesus of Bethlehem.
My children, when he came among us he did not ask, “Of what nationality art thou? What is thy belief?” No! He came down among us and was one of us and he ministered to us. Open thy hearts, likewise, my children, and go among the poor and succor them; all the poor, for they are thy brothers and sisters, my children, and they are his people.
My children, many of you are not native to this land and it is well to treasure memories of thine own country, but think that this is a good land, and its people are good to thy people, and you all are his people. Learn to love, be honest, tolerant, forgiving, and charitable.
I pray you Merry Christmas, my children, and many, many years of happiness.
After the sermon, Fr. Theoclitos passed a plate to collect alms for the poor. “The plate was heaped high with bills and coins,” reported the Daily News, “the merry chink-clink-chink of the contributions accenting like tiny cymbals the smooth melody of a beautiful hymn.”
In an article about Fr. Stephen Andreades, the first resident priest in New Orleans, I quoted from Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, by Demetrios J. Constantelos (published 1982). At the time, I had only a Google Books “snippet view” of the book, but I’ve since acquired a copy through interlibrary loan, and I thought I’d publish the section dealing with the early Orthodox communities in Galveston and New Orleans. From pages 129-30:
The earliest Greek Orthodox church in the United States was established in 1862 in the seaport city of Galveston, Texas, and it was named after Saints Constantine and Helen. Even though the church was founded by Greeks, it served the spiritual needs of other Orthodox Christians, such as Russians, Serbians, and Syrians. It passed into the hands of the Serbians, who split with the Greeks. The Greeks then established their own church several decades later; but knowledge of the early years of the Galveston Greek Orthodox community is very limited. Neither the number of Greek Orthodox parishioners there nor the name of the first priest is known. The first known Greek Orthodox priest of this community was an Athenian named Theokletos Triantafylides, who had received his theological training in the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and had taught in Russia before joining the North American Russian Orthodox Mission. Versed in both Greek and Slavonic, he was able to minister successfully to all Orthodox Christians.
Knowledge of the second Greek community in the United States is more extensive. It was organized in 1864 in the port city of New Orleans. Like the Galveston community, the second one was also founded by merchants. For three years (1864-1867) services were held irregularly and in different buildings. Then in 1867 the congregation moved to its own church structure, named after the Holy Trinity. It was erected through the generosity of the philanthropist Marinos [sic -- Nicolas] Benakis, who donated the lot and $500, and of Demetrios N. and John S. Botasis, cotton merchants who together contributed $1,000.
The church was located at 1222 Dorgenois Street and for several years it became the object of generosity not only of Greeks but of Syrians, Russians, and other Slavs. In addition to Greeks, the board of trustees included one Syrian and one Slav. Notwithstanding the predominance of Greeks on the board, the minutes were written in English and for a while it served as a pan-Orthodox Church.
The early Holy Trinity Church was a simple wooden rectangular edifice 60 feet long and 35 feet wide. The major icons of the iconostasis were painted by Constantine Lesbios, who completed his work in February of 1872. The name of the first parish priest is unknown, but it is believed that a certain uncanonical clergyman named Agapios Honcharenko, of the Russian Orthodox mission in America, served the community for three years (1864-1867). In 1867 the congregation moved to its permanent church and appointed its first regular priest, Stephen Andreades, who had been invited from Greece. He had a successful ministry from 1867 to 1875, when Archimandrite Gregory Yiayias arrived to replace him.
The New Orleans congregation also acquired its own parish house; a small library, which included books in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic; and a cemetery.
There’s some good information here, although Constantelos cites no sources, and he gets some important facts wrong. Most crucially, Agapius Honcharenko was in no way connected to the Russian Mission in America, which at the time was limited to Alaska and would later regard Honcharenko as an obnoxious heretic. And Honcharenko did not serve the New Orleans parish from 1864-67 — in fact, he was never the parish priest at all. He visited the community in the spring of 1865, remaining for perhaps two weeks. He did celebrate the first Divine Liturgy in New Orleans, but he was not the first parish priest.
That distinction properly belongs to Fr. Stephen Andreades, but Constantelos gets Andreades’ dates wrong. While he did come to New Orleans in 1867, Andreades was gone by 1872 at the latest; we know this because Fr. Gregory Yayas was the priest by that point.
And before I close, a word about Galveston. First of all, I wouldn’t regard the 1860s Galveston community as a full-fledged “parish.” They had no priest, no known permanent building, and no known affiliation with a bishop. I do believe that a group of Orthodox in Galveston met for prayers under the name “Saints Constantine and Helen.” They may even have been visited by an Orthodox priest traveling aboard a Russian steamer, or something like that. But I regard the pre-Triantafilides Galveston community as a “proto-parish.” In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if New Orleans wasn’t also a “proto-parish” all the way up to 1867. As Constantelos correctly notes, it wasn’t until that year that the community got a priest and a building. Perhaps we should push their founding date up a couple of years, from 1864/5 to 1867?
Anyway, the thing I want to emphasize, because I’ll be coming back to it in other posts in the near future, is that Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides of Galveston may be The Most Interesting Man in American Orthodox History. Before he came to America, he had lived a full life — as a monk on Mount Athos, as a tutor in the employ of the King of Greece, and later as a tutor to the future Tsar Nicholas II. When he came to the United States, Triantafilides was already in his sixties. When you take into account the changes in life expectancy, that’s equivalent to being in your eighties today. And he lived another two decades, tirelessly serving the Galveston community and beyond, traveling throughout the South in service to the scattered Orthodox people, regardless of nationality. He also appears to be one of the earliest American Orthodox priests to evangelize Protestant Americans (i.e. not only Native Alaskans and Carpatho-Rusyn Uniates).
That’s enough for today, but I assure you that we’ll have more on Triantafilides in the future. In the meantime, be sure to check out Mimo Milosevich’s highly informative website and lecture on the great priest of Galveston.
Editor’s note: The following article was provided by Magdalene Spirros Maag of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans. As most of our readers know, Holy Trinity, which was founded in the 1860s, was probably the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. In its early years, the community was multiethnic, and it was loosely affiliated with the Church of Greece. The archival work being done at the Cathedral today is incredibly exciting, and I thought that our readers would appreciate an update. We’ll continue to follow this project in future articles.
Hurricane Katrina severely flooded the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans with waters entering the Cathedral and the Hellenic Center Fellowship Hall leaving behind devastation that is all too familiar to Gulf residents. Of particular concern was the collection of religious artifacts the Greek Orthodox community had safeguarded since 1865 when the church was first established on N. Dorgenois St. Many items were lost and other relics were damaged in the flood waters. The collection includes icons, Bibles, priests’ vestments, liturgical objects, photos and church documents. In the fall of 2010 a major effort was launched to retrieve, assess and identify priority items for restoration and conservation.
Holy Trinity congregants have always safeguarded this collection throughout the century and a half since its beginning. Because of the foresight of Karen Clark, cathedral member and textile conservator, and the combined efforts of Cathedral members, most of the collection had been archived and stored on the second-floor of the Fellowship Hall the year before Katrina struck. But the dispersal of members and the rebuilding of the Cathedral and Hellenic Center structures, located in severely-hit Lakeview, took precedence for several years.
The reunification of the historic collection with its worshipping community was launched with a small display of key items during the 2010 Greek festival. The campaign to restore the collection began. Funds were raised to pay for the restoration of key items. Some of these items are:
- The Holy Kouvouklion cited in a New Orleans guide in 1885 with 12 priceless painted icons that depict our Lord’s Paschal death and resurrection
- Blessed Mother of God Icon, gifted to Holy Trinity by the Russian imperial family in 1872, was exposed to excessive moisture from flood waters for several weeks.
- The flooded Sacramental Journals had mold threatening the Greek handwritten data inscribed by priests beginning in 1880.
- Holy Trinity’s first Greek Orthodox Bible crafted in Agia Lavra Monastery where the Greek war for independence from the Ottoman Empire launched was falling apart.
On March 10, 2012, the Archives Committee of Holy Trinity will hold its first public exhibition of key artifacts. This event is a fundraising effort to pay for the continued restoration of priority items. A joint effort of the Cathedral’s Archives Committee and their charitable arm, Ladies Philoptochos Society, fifty percent of the ticket sales will support several regional nonprofit organizations that serve our fellow residents who are in need of social services and basic needs. Members of the Archives Committee accept memorial donations. See contact information below.
Please see the attached flyer for information on date, cost, location and highlights of the Keepers of the Faith: The Beginning 1865 – 1915 Exhibition. Please call Magdalene Spirros Maag @ 504-780-9165 and Connie Tiliakos @ 504-885-0206 for more information. The information is also posted on the Holy Trinity website, www.holytrinitycathedral.org.
To download the flyer, CLICK HERE.