Archimandrite Theoclitos Triantafilides is one of the most remarkable figures in American Orthodox history. An ethnic Greek, he served as tutor to the future Tsar Nicholas II and went on to establish the multiethnic parish of Ss. Constantine and Helen in Galveston, Texas, under the Russian Mission. His story has been mostly untold, until now. The following article, by Milivoy Jovan Milosevich, is the fullest and best work yet done on the life of Fr. Theoclitos and the history of Ss. Constantine and Helen Church. It originally appeared on the Galveston Orthodox Community website, which is run by Fr. Serge Veselinovich, the current pastor of Ss. Constantine and Helen. SOCHA has received permission to reprint the article here at OrthodoxHistory.org.
This picture of the Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite, Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides is the only one I am aware of. He was the first Orthodox Priest in Texas. The picture did hang with Honor in the Church Congregation Hall of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Galveston, Texas. It has been saved from “Hurricane IKE’s Destruction” (September 12, 2008), and will hang there again when the new hall is constructed soon. I live in Galveston, and I have been a part of the Church congregation since Baptism. My Mother was baptized by Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and was very proud to tell people of that fact until her death in 2001. I have studied everything I can find on this wonderful Priest over the years, including his Last Will, the Galveston Daily News archives, Immigration Records, the Rosenberg Public Library of Galveston, the Church records (Slavonic, long-hand written in Cyrillic), the Internet and greatly on the local “folklore” stories told of him.
IT’S HAS BEEN SAID….
His father was an Athenian Greek. When the first outbreaks of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire started on the Peloponnese Peninsula, his father, a fisherman crossed onto the peninsula to join the forces of famed Greek General Theodoros Kolokotronis, also an Athenian. Eight years later, when Independence was achieved (with great help from the Allied Russian, English and French Forces); he settled in Egio (one of the oldest cities in the Balkans), Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece.
Born in November of 1833, young Theodoros was named for the famed Greek General. They called him “Theos” and he celebrated his Name Day each September 22nd (Julian Calendar in the 1800′s), on the Feast Day of St. Hierotheos, the Student of Saint Paul, the Apostle, who in 53 A.D. became the First Bishop of Athens. Theodorus grew up fishing with his father, and spending time around the port; while his mother (a native of the Peloponnese Peninsula) pushed him to the Church. The era after Greek Independence was wrought with economic problems and the Armenians and Bulgarians had replaced the Ottomans as bankers and merchants, allowing our young Theos to become ever more acquainted with other cultures. Two-thirds of the population had vanished and the land was devastated.
His early schooling was in the Church of Panagia Trypiti that is built inside a cavity of the cliff just 150 stair steps above the Port of Egio and he helped the Priests with all their duties, occasionally traveling into the local mountains to visit Agia Lavras Monastery, about 20 miles south and up in the mountains. Greek Independence had started there with Bishop Germanos Declaring Independence with his blessing of the troops. Later the Ottomans burned the Monastery, but it was reconstructed with help from the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of the Icons there were gifts from the Russian Monastery Panteleimon on Holy Mt Athos and the Be-jeweled Gospel in the Monastery was printed, signed and given by Catherine the Great of Russia. History and multi-ethnic cultures literally surrounded him. As a young adult, he was Tonsured a Monk and was given the name Theoclitos. He soon traveled to Mt Athos where he was accepted as a resident of the Panteleimon Monastery, where he became fluent in Slavonic and studied Russian language and customs; and made regular visits to the Serbian Monastery Hilandar learning the Serbian language and customs. He had become fascinated with languages.
He was invited to complete a formal education and become a teacher at the Slavic Greek Latin Academy and Theological Seminary at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery, better known today as the Moscow Theological Academy, just outside Moscow, Russia. After under-graduate, a Graduate Degrees in Theology and a few years of teaching; he was called upon by the new Danish born King of Greece, George I, to tutor his son Prince George. Later, the King’s brother-in-law, Tsar Alexander III of Russia called upon him to tutor the Royal Family’s 6 children specifically in other Orthodox cultures including the Greek language. So, he became a Greek cultural teacher to the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. It is also said, Fr. Theoclitos was one of the 30 or so clergyman serving at the wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000. The Parishioners of Galveston would later call him, “The Priest of Three Kings.”
It is known that with the outset of the American Civil War, a group of multi-ethnic Orthodox Christians were having regular prayer meetings in Galveston, as early as 1861, and they called themselves “the Parish of S.S. Constantine and Helen.” Galveston is a seaport, and its citizens were accustomed to our Eastern European and Mediterranean People. Our Eastern Orthodox Christians were always around the port. There were those that came, returned home and came back again. The first known Serbian in America lived in Galveston for a long time; his name was Djordje Sagic (aka: Djordje Ribar and/or George Fisher). He came to Texas in the late 1820’s after “jumping ship” (because of indentured servitude) in Philadelphia, and became the first Port Director of the Port of Galveston under the Mexican Government. He then became a Major in the Texas Revolutionary Army under General Sam Houston. He served in public office as City Councilman in Houston, Texas and Justice of the Peace in Harris County after the Texas Revolution. Sagic had studied for the Priesthood in Karlovci Serbia, but left the seminary to join the last efforts of the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1813, lead by Serbian leader, Karageorge Petrovitch. He left the area in 1850 to ultimately retire in San Francisco, California as a Justice of the Peace and retained the status of the Official Greek Government Consul there until his death, in 1873. He knew 13 languages.
The First known Greek in Galveston participated in the Parish Church group. He called himself only by the name of Captain Nicholas. Captain Nicholas joined the notorious Privateer Jean Lafitte in New Orleans, when Lafitte sailed for Galveston, as Capitan of Lafitte’s prize schooner the Mirabella. Captain Nicholas sailed away from Galveston with Lafitte after burning everything they left behind. Captain Nicholas returned to Galveston after Lafitte’s death, becoming a farmer on west Galveston Island and recounting old pirate stories at the waterfront. He lived more than 100 years and is believed to have died in the Hurricane of 1900. Some have said that with Lafitte came the first of many nationalities to Galveston, but I am unable to corroborate any other Orthodox Christians. During the late 1880′s and early 1890′s these Orthodox Christian Serbian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Arab (Lebanese) immigrants to Galveston had organized and started gathering moneies for a church. Aside from the religious group, they each started several individual nationalistic groups. Each had separately written many petitions to their former Bishops back home for a Parish Priest and had received only denials; justified by the facts of distance and costs, but these denials were in some cases including the suggestion that they petition the Russian Orthodox Mission Diocese in North America. So the culture in Galveston was ripe for the addition of an Eastern European & Mediterranean Priest of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ stature.
Nicholas II became Tsar of Russia on November 26, 1894. The Romanov Royal Family had created and supported the Russian Orthodox Mission into North America through Alaska since 1794. At that time, because of the Romanov family’s truly un-matched wealth, the Russian Mission into America was the only Orthodox jurisdiction on the continent prior to 1922.
So, the Slavs, headed by Risto Vukovich; and the Greeks headed by Athurs Menutis gathered and decided to petition the Russian Mission Diocese. They sent three telegrams written in Cyrillic and signed by Vukovich, Christo Chuk, and Milosh Porobich which explained the diversity of the parishioners to; (1) the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, (2) Tsar Nicholas II personally, and (3) His Grace Bishop Nicholas in Sitka, Alaska. A short time later the parish board received a telegram personally from Tsar Nicholas II, stating his acceptance of their plea. The Tsar had a large Gospel Printed, all the Vestments and Liturgical necessities including a signed Antimins, and all the Icons for an Iconostas painted and assembled including the icon to be used for the name day of the future Church (His own Namesake, Saint Nicholas); and he chose his teacher Fr. Theoclitos to go to Galveston, telling him “Let there be an Orthodox Church in Galveston.”
By this time, Fr. Theoclitos was 61 years of age, and was a well traveled man and spoke more than a dozen languages: Greek, Russian, Serbian, Slavonic, Latin, Bulgarian, Arabic, Hebrew, Danish; and some Spanish, English, French, German, and Romanian. The Ambassador of Russia to the United States acquired US Citizenship for him even before he left Russia. Prior to leaving Russia, Fr. Theoclitos was given the heavy cross he always wore by Tsar Nicholas II and he was elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Archimandrite, because he would soon be the Priestly leader of a flock of Christians so far away with little known chance of a visiting Bishop anytime soon. His journey to the far off land of Galveston, Texas began with six companions. With him were; the Very Reverend Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny (Glorified a Saint in March of 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America) and his three Deacons Constantine Abu-Adal, Istvan Moldowanyi and John Shamie (later Shamie was a Priest in Galveston); and Archimandrite Fr. Theoclitos’ two Russian Deacons, Theodore Pashkowsky and Joakim Zubkowsky, and his Romanian Deacon Pavel Grepashewsky; and Fr. Peter I. Popoff. The first leg of the trip was by train to Berlin, serving liturgy there at the Russia Embassy Church; then on to the Port of Bremen. Next leg was by passenger ship to Southampton for a change of ships, then on to New York aboard the passenger ship, S.S Havel out of South Hampton, as a United States Citizen. Only 82 passengers sailed that day. Although a group of Priests were at the port of New York to greet them on the Morning of November 14, 1895, they were required by customs to spend one night in Quarantine. The next morning, they were joined in New York by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov of the Russian Orthodox Mission in America to consecrate the First Arab-Syrian Orthodox Church in America under the Russian Mission’s jurisdiction, and to install Archimandrite Raphael as Pastor, with his three deacons. A few days later, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, his three Deacons; and Fr. Popoff traveled with Bishop Nicholas by train to Washington D.C., then to western Pennsylvania, where Fr. Popoff was to serve and then on to Kansas City. At this point, it was decided that only the Romanian Deacon Grepashewsky would travel to Galveston with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos; and Bishop Nicholas and the other two Deacons would go on to San Francisco. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos stopped in Hartshorne, American Indian Territory, Oklahoma to have Liturgy for a group of Russian Miners, just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma before reaching Galveston.
The distances from Galveston to either San Francisco or New York are about 1600 miles. Although his rightful rank was high, which gave him the right to consecrate his own chapel including the right to wear a Mitre (Crown, but with a flat, not standing Cross on top) and carry a Pastoral Staff (Bishop’s Staff); he lived his life in Galveston as a meager Monk, teacher, and Pastoral Priest. The Church Congregation never paid Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, because he received his pay directly from the Tsar (1500 rubels a month and 500 rubels as expenses; about $120 total, at that time) until Arch. Fr. Theoclitos passed away in 1916, a year and a half before Tsar Nicholas II and his Family were murdered.
The Trustees of The Existing Congregation Board (Chris Vucovich, Chris Chuoke, Athurs Menutis and Mitchael Mihaloudski) formally received their State Corporation Papers on January 13, 1895 and subsequently purchased a 43’ wide x 120’ deep property that is at 4107 Avenue L, Galveston, Texas on December 15, 1895. They started to build a rectangular wood frame Orthodox styled Church, and when Arch. Fr. Theoclitos arrived, in January of 1896, he directed the finishing of the Church. The congregation was astonished to be blessed with an Archimandrite and a Deacon, not just a Priest, and best of all he was somewhat of a linguist.
In Galveston, all properties faced either North-west or South-east, so they had chosen property that leaves our Church unusually facing South-east. And, although the Icon of Saint Nicholas was placed in the Iconostas to Honor Tsar Nicholas II as the Patron of the Church; it was Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision to use the name S. S. Constantine and Helen Church, because the congregation that started on its own should be remembered. Bishop Nicholas was invited and he accepted; and the Consecration of our church occurred on June 3rd 1896, the feast day of Sts Constantine and Helen. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision on the name of the Church, was not unusual with him. He was known to have baptized children with names other than their parents had asked for. My mother’s name was to be Ruza, Serbian for Rose, but he baptized her as Sophia which her parents accepted without question, and gave my mother and others an unusual lifelong connection to their Archimandrite. But then, his guidance and decisions were always accepted by his congregation. There have never been any questions of his guidance that were ever passed down through the years even though we Eastern Europeans have always loved a good argument. He had services in the Slavonic, Greek and Arabic languages. It was as though his congregation was standing with a Saint.
In 1897, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos purchased a 36 plot track in the Lake View Cemetery as a gift to his Congregation. He buried his flock in the next consecutive plot, without regard to couples or children or any Relationship, because he saw them as one congregational family.
In early 1897, Bishop Nicholas replaced Deacon Grepashewsky with a young Russian Monk, Fr. Mikhail Kurdinovski to allow Arch. Fr. Theoclitos time to travel and invited Arch. Fr. Theoclitos to San Francisco to speak in the Greek language on the mounting losses of the Cretan insurgents in their revolution against Ottoman rule. Bishop Nicholas had to be acutely aware that his Archimandrite was the highest ranking Greek born Clergyman in America. While in route, we know that he also served Liturgy again in Oklahoma; and in Denver, Colorado. After his sermon in San Francisco he was asked to traveled with Fr. (later, Archimandrite) Sebastian Dabovich (currently being considered for Canonization as a Saint), to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where they served Liturgy in Slavonic, Greek and Arabic in both cities. He again traveled to San Francisco in 1898, to participate in the installation of Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, as the new Bishop, replacing Bishop Nicholas of the Aleutians and Alaska (Diocesan name was changed in 1900 to Diocese of the Aleutians and North America). Although little is known about it, Bishop Tikhon visited our parish in 1899, for the first of two visits.
It’s known that Arch. Fr. Theoclitos traveled extensively on the Gulf Coast going as far east as Mobile, Alabama, as far south as Corpus Christi, Texas, and into the interior north to Ft. Worth, San Antonio, San Angelo and Austin Texas, performing Marriages and Baptisms and serving Liturgy where ever he found our Orthodox Christians. In 1897, The Wiemar, Texas newspaper had an article about him; where he borrowed the local Catholic Church in LaGrange, Texas to perform the wedding of a Greek Couple. The writer (obviously Protestant) posted the short article that follows.
Weimar Mercury, 29 Jan 1898: “LaGrange, Tex., Jan. 25, –Married today, Mr, Abraham John to Miss Zeche Nemer, both Greek, at the Catholic Church by Rev. Theoclitos (Archimandrite of the Orthodox Church), Galveston, Tex. A very large crowd attended the ceremonies, which were ‘somewhat of a novelty,’ no such ceremonies having ever been performed here.”
Our Church Board additionally purchased a like adjoining property west of the Church doubling the size of the property in early 1900. But, in his 66th year, on September 8th 1900, Galveston Island was hit by the greatest natural disaster in United States history when the massive Hurricane of 1900 came ashore. The Island was almost totally destroyed (est. of 8,000 to 12,000 deaths of a population of 30,000, which included 24 members of the congregation. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and Fr. Mikhail spent 30 hrs in the church praying and giving refuge to parishioners and neighbors that sought safety in the church. After the storm had passed, the Church structure was still standing although it had floated to the west about 10 feet partially onto the additional property just purchased. Those that were with him in the church believed Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his church had truly saved their lives. The congregation gathered and raised the Church, repaired the damage and early in 1902 petitioned Bishop Tikhon, who had since moved the headquarters of the Diocese to New York, to visit and Re-consecrate their repaired Church. Bishop Tikhon accepted and arrived shortly before services on June 3rd 1903. This event made Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his congregation’s church not only patronized by, but also consecrated by future Saints of Orthodoxy. By order of Tsar Nicholas II, Bishop Tikhon bestowed on Arch. Fr. Theoclitos the Royal Honors of (1) the Order Of St. Vladimir and (2) the Order of St. Anne (in his picture, the ribbon and cross like medallion around the neck to his right side is the order of St. Vladimir, the ribbon and medallion around the neck to his left side is the Order of St. Anne and the necklet with the large medallion was awarded him upon attaining his Graduate Degree in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy.
While in Galveston, Bishop Tikhon visited the cemetery, and became aware that it was filling fast. As a gift to the Congregation, Bishop Tikhon,who was later made Patriarch of Moscow, purchased 27 additional plots next to the original cemetery track. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and the Church continued with a new influx of immigrants coming to Galveston each year, even purchasing another 21’ to the west of the Church. Although he did keep constant communications with the Diocese, it is not clear whether he ever met with Archbishop Platon of New York, who replaced Bishop Tikhon.
He was known to include the Romanov Royal Family each week in the Liturgy, as: (1) word of Tsar Nicholas II’s son, Alexander’s affliction with hemophilia began to spread, (2) World War I was building and (3) talk of revolution against the Tsar was in the news from time to time. Also, because of our multi-ethnic culture in Galveston, the shot by Serbian Gavrilo Princip that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, (believed to be the shot that started World War I, was heard loudly in our Church making the War and the assassination more than an important issue.
On weekly trips to the business district, the neighborhood children would gather on the church steps and wait for his return. He would always have a large bag full of fruit and the latest sweets for them, saving a large portion for his parish children. He became acquainted with many people during his years in Galveston and was thought of respectfully, while they became somewhat enchanted with his customary meager but stoic Orthodox Monastic ways. He was a constant visitor to St. Mary’s Infirmary (the local Catholic Hospital) and John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Following his heart, as the Apostle St. Paul guided him through his Name Day St. Hierotheos, he was known to give Confession, Baptizism and Communion to anyone who professed to be Christian. He truly became a friend to many families, who felt his visits to their loved ones in the hospital made those loved ones better. He converted to Orthodoxy many of these families: the Dambido family, the Matthews family and the Lelirra family to name a few.
In 1911, the Galveston-Houston Inter-Urban Train was instituted, allowing many of our Orthodox Christians in Houston (50 miles north and largely Greek and Lebanese) an ease of access to Galveston for Sunday Liturgy. The trains were one or multiple electric cars that ran from downtown Houston to downtown Galveston, and you could get on or off at any time. So, our members could get off, then on again, less than 800 feet north of the Church on the main road into Galveston. It was still a 75 minute trip, one way, but it was an inexpensive way for our Houston parishioners to get to church from time to time. It was later discontinued in 1936.
And then, in his 81st year, the Island was hit by another devastating Hurricane in August of 1915. Again, Arch. Fr Theoclitos and others prayed in the Church. This storm was even more tenuous for them, but never was anyone in the church lost in any storm. The Church floated to the north about 50 feet into the street, and the front wall was torn open and the Gospel given by Tsar Nicholas II was found by parishioner George Mandich another 200 feet away in the city cemetery across from the Church, miraculously with very little water damage. The congregation repaired the Church and moved it back into place with mule and muscle.
The parish again, needed more future graves. This time, as a religious benevolent society, they purchased their own private Cemetery in the western part of the city, about a quarter mile from the other cemetery. The land was far larger (would easily accommodate about 300 graves) and would meet their needs for long years into the future. But they also divided it into two sections, the Greeks to one side, and the Serbians and other Slavs on the other.
Later in the following year, the Church was hit by the loss of their 21 year life with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, just short of his 83rd year, on October 22nd 1916. He had become gravely ill six weeks before. He somehow knew his time was near, and had the Diocese notified of his illness, and he asked parish leaders to find a way for them to bury him under the Altar of the Church. It was his belief that his grave would, by its nature, cause the Church to continue at the location for centuries into the future. He passed to his Creator at 8:15 in the evening, in St. Mary’s Infirmary Hospital. With the help of Church leaders, his body was prepared by Malloy & Sons Funeral Home, but the parishioners then took the body to the church and stood vigil over his remains continually, until his Funeral. The New Archbishop Evdokim of New York ordered his Diocesan Secretary, Archpriest Fr. Peter I. Popoff (who had been one of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ companions on the trip from Russia), and two others of his Diocesan Council members; Fr. Louniky Kraskoff of Denver, Colorado (whom he had visited with on trips to San Francisco) and Hieromonk Fr. Paul Chubaroff of Hartshorne, Oklahoma to immediately travel to Galveston so that Our Beloved Archimandrite would be religiously cared for. They finally arrived in Galveston six days later, on the morning of October 28th. Hierarchical Funeral Services were held that afternoon at 2:00 P.M. During the six week wait, the Parish Board had received permission from the County Judge to place his remains under the Church’s Altar and workers prepared the Concrete Vault that was required by the Judge for his casket to be encased, where it remains today. As Arch. Fr. Theoclitos requested in his will, his Cross and Medals were all taken to Archbishop Evdokim by Archpriest Popoff.
In the following years our Church was served by numerous short-term or as they were called in those days, traveling Priests. In 1929, the parishioners, spear-headed by Petar B. Kovacevich, built a wood frame Hall (32’ X 75’) with a parish home above, in hopes of having a Priest and his family, stay in Galveston. It helped, but, in 1933, our Greek brethren gathered and purchased their own Church, The Assumption of The Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. Our parishes have helped each other thru the years, whenever either was without a Priest or there was a time of need, as our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos would expect of us.
The Hierarchs of the Church in those years were Archbishop Alexander, Metropolitan Platon, and Metropolitan Theophilus.
In 1934, Fr. Alexis Revera and his family arrived in Galveston and stayed for 27 years. In 1948, the parish decided it was time for the Church to receive some upgrades, mainly in the form of cosmetics. Wing additions were added to the elevated Altar area, the interior was totally painted, Stain Glass windows were added, hard wood flooring, a new roof coving, and the old siding was covered with a light brown brick; work was completed in 1949. The parish petitioned the Diocese, and in 1950, the newly elected Metropolitan Leonty, traveled to our fare city to re-consecrate the Church. Air-conditioning was added in the 1960.
In 1962, it had become apparent that the community was almost totally made up of Serbians. Metropolitan Leonty and Bishop Dionisije (right) of the Serbian Diocese met and sealed an agreement that put our beloved Church under the Serbian Diocese, while the Russian Diocese would receive under its control the Church in Billings, Montana, which was started by Serbian Bishop Nikolai (Canonized a Saint by the Serbian Orthodox Synod in 2003,) and Archimandrite Fr. Sabatian Dabovich; but had over the years become almost totally Russian. They further agreed to guide these two parishes to remain multi-ethic and services were to be in both English and Slavonic and should include a litany of any other languages when needed for other ethnic parishioners.
In 1964, the Texas Highway Department was working on plans to expand the street next to the cemetery into a 6 lane highway. They were intending to put an over-pass over the Serbian Section. Two parish leaders, Ilija P. Kovacevich and John N. Milosevich went to the highway department with their plan to move the Serbian Section at the Highway Department’s expense. The Highway Department agreed. So, it became the work of parishioners; lead by local Constable and parishioner Sam Popovich to get every relative of a loved one in the Serbian section to sign the necessary papers. The highway department would provide 6 times the land they were taking and would bare all expenses of exhumation and reburial; where a solid caskets or a vault was not found, the earthen material would be placed in a vault to be transported; and the Priest would attend and be paid for a service of exhumation and re-burial for each grave. The new cemetery is much like a Church with a center aisle and rows of graves to each side; with small side-walks between the rows and an Alter table at the front.
In 1978 our Parish came under the Jurisdiction of one of its own, Serbian Bishop Christopher. The First American Born Bishop to serve an American Diocese. He was born and raised in Galveston and had been ordained a Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1949. With his leadership, the congregation has prospered through the past 30 years, with him becoming Metropolitan in 1991.
Now we have been hit by another devastating Hurricane “IKE,” which came ashore on September 12, 2008. Our Church sustained minor damage with only a few inches of water inside and some wind damage (no doubt that our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos mystically was riding out the storm in his Sanctuary). But our Hall was in 3 feet of water. The old wood frame structure was left structurally unsound. The Parish decided to fix the Church first. We then had the old hall destroyed, and are planning to break ground on a new hall in early 2010. Our Greek Brothers and Sisters didn’t fare as well; their beautiful Church was inundated with 8 feet of sea water. The masonry of the Church and hall structurally survived, but the interiors didn’t make it. They are without a Priest, but have managed to somewhat re-do their Church and are working to completion. During this time, they have attended Liturgy on Sundays with us, and now that their Church is presentable, our priest Fr. Srdjan Veselinovich has liturgy on Saturdays for them.
In 2009 our parish was placed under the jurisdiction of His Grace, Serbian Bishop Longin, ending an over 40 year schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. Interestingly, His Grace Bishop Longin and Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, both received Graduate Degrees in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery (name changed to Zagorsk Monastery in 1930).
And so, 168 years after the first parish meeting in Galveston, Texas, we beseech Our Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides; his friends Archimandrite Saint Raphael Hawaweeny and Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich; Our Patrons Saints Tsar Nicholas II and Saint Trazistza Alexandra, Our First Metropolitan and Patriarch Saint Tikhon Bellavin, our first Serbian American Bishop Saint Nikolai Velimirovich and all those who with the Saints have guided our Parish in their goodness, to intercede on our behalf for yet another Century of existence.
From 1895 -2010, the Church-School Congregation of SS. Constantine and Helen was served by the following priests:
Archimandrite Theoclitos (Greek) 1895-1916
Father Michael Andreades (Greek) 1916-1918
Father John Shamie (Lebanese) 1918-1920
Father George Palamarchuk (Serbian) 1920-1925
Father Marko Dimitrieff (Greek) 1925-1926
Father Pavel Markovich (Serbian) 1927-1928
Father George Milosavljevich (Serbian) 1928-1929
Father Joakim Tkoch (Russian) 1929-1934
Father Alexis Revera (Russian) 1934-1961
Father Damaskin Susjnar (Serbian) 1961-1965
Iguman Mitrofan Kresejovich (Serbian) 1965-1968
Father Jovan Trisich (Serbian) 1968-1969
Father, Dr. Tihomir Pantich (Serbian) 1969-1971
Father Constantine Pazalos (Serbian), (Greek Born) 1971-1982
Father Svetozar Veselinovich (Serbian) 1982-1985
Father Zarko Mirkovich (Serbian) 1985-1987
Father Dragan K. Veleusic (Serbian) 1987-1992
Father Oleg Vifliantsev (Serbian), (Russian Born) 1992-1994
Father Dane Popovich (Serbian) 1994-1994
Father Dejan Tiosavljevich (Serbian) 1994-1995
Father Srdjan Veselinovich (Serbian) 1995-Present
Fr. Theoclitos performed Marriages and Baptisms, and Celebrated Liturgies in the following locations in America:
City/Town and Approx. Distance from Galveston
New York, New York 1416 miles
Washington, D.C. 1213 miles
Hartsborne, Oklahoma 380 miles
Dallas, Texas 269 miles
Ft. Worth, Texas 281 miles
San Angelo, Texas 363 miles
New Braunfels, Texas 199 miles
La Grange, Texas 132 miles
Galveston, Texas 0 miles
Houston, Texas 50 miles
Beaumont, Texas 90 miles
Eagle Lake, Texas 93 miles
Seattle, Washington 1937 miles
Portland, Oregon 1881 miles
San Francisco, California 1686 miles
Denver, Colorado 928 miles
New Orleans, Louisiana 287 miles
Lake Charles, Louisiana 117 miles
Mobile, Alabama 414 miles
Biloxi, Mississippi 362 miles
Port Lavaca, Texas 122 miles
Polacios, Texas 86 miles
Corpus Christi, Texas 181 miles
San Antonio, Texas 216 miles
Waco, Texas 209 miles
Austin, Texas 191 miles
Cameron, Louisana 81 miles
Rockport, Texas 154 miles
Indianola, Texas 35 miles
Brazos, Texas 60 miles
Sabine, Texas 75 miles
Approximate total missionary miles of work: over 25,000 by train or horse and buggy. 31 locations in 11 States in 21 Years.
Extreme Post Script:
In retrospect, this writer remains in awe, that The Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides may truly be “The Forgotten” First Greek-American saint. He was the answer to our predecessors’ every prayer. He traveled extensively on a global basis to serve the religious needs of many. He provided the “Connecting Link” for our multi-ethnic American lives, and through the teachings of Orthodoxy and his God-Given Art of Language, he lead us on the path of Saint Paul, the Apostle, past the ever separating ethnic divide.
On December 22, I wrote about the tragic death of Fr. Misael Karydis, longtime pastor of the Greek church in New Orleans. You’ll want to read that article first, to follow what I’m talking about today.
After I published that piece, I unconvered several more reports on Karydis’ death, from the New York Sun, Tribune, and Evening World. Those newspapers make it apparent that Karydis’ death was a suicide.
The Sun (6/7/1901) spoke with Captain Nicholas Theodore, the oldest member of the New Orleans parish. Here is what Theodore said:
Ever since Sunday I had known that something was going to happen. I was sitting out in the yard when Father Misael came running to the gate. He said he wanted to see me quick. His shirt was open in the front and his face was very pale. A lot of little boys were following him and calling him Santa Claus. I told them they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and made them stop. Then the father came in and talked to me.
He was pale and trembling all over. He did not look right. I don’t think he was quite right in his head. He had been working so hard and for so long on some kind of a thing to make a bicycle go that he was tired out. “I am tired of living,” he told me. “My father is dead in Bulgaria and I want to go there. I think I will kill myself.”
I told him that he ought not to talk of suicide, but that he should think of his congregation and the people for whom he had worked so long, and did my best to quiet him.
According to the Sun, the invention was less a flying machine than a kind of motorcycle: “a bicycle that would be a sort of automobile, the rider only guiding it. He made several applications for a patent, but could never perfect the invention.” Of course, it’s entirely possible — likely, even – that Karydis was working on multiple inventions.
Karydis came to New York and visited Demetrius Botassi, the Greek consul. Botassi was the son-in-law of Nicolas Benachi, the founder of the New Orleans church. Karydis told Botassi that he was on his way to Bulgaria, to claim an inheritance. Considering his statement to Capt. Theodore — “My father is dead in Bulgaria and I want to go there” — it seems likely that the elder Karydis had just died, and that the inheritance was from him. It could be, then, that something in Karydis snapped when he learned of the death of his father.
Then again, it could be something else. From the Sun: “Not long before he died at the Hudson street hospital here the priest told Policeman Durr that he had been accused of an assault on a boy in New Orleans.”
Karydis checked into the Eastern Hotel in the morning, and spent most of the day in the hotel’s cafe. A little after 4:00 PM, he went to his room and ordered some dinner. According to the World, when the waiter brought the food, he saw Karydis sitting at a table, writing something. Soon thereafter, a shot was heard. The hotel staff broke down the door to Karydis’ room, and saw that the priest was wounded. The newspapers differ on where the wound was — the Times and Tribune say that Karydis was wounded in his right side, but the World says that he was shot “over the heart,” which sounds more plausible. Karydis reportedly told the hotel manager, “Let me finish my work. I want to die.”
He did die, a few minutes before 11:00 PM. May God have mercy on his soul.
Archimandrite Misael Karydis spent twenty years as the priest in New Orleans, from 1881 until 1901. Two decades at a single parish is a long time, especially in the early years of American Orthodox history. Before Karydis, only one priest (that I know of) had ever served such a lengthy tenure — Hieromonk Nikolai Militov, who spent 22 years (1845-67) as pastor of the Russian church in Kenai, Alaska. Then came Karydis’ long stretch in New Orleans, followed by Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides (Galveston, 1896-1916) and Fr. George Maloof (Boston Syrian church, 1900-1920).
Karydis was an odd character. In 1888, he got into a fistfight with a Greek writer for a French newspaper. From the New Orleans Daily Picayune (8/24/1888): “A conversation was entered into and soon assumed the attitude of a heated debate. The language used by the reverend gentleman [Fr. Misael] was not very polite, and Mr. Nicolopulo reminded him of his insolence. Without more ado Misael struck Nicolopulo in the face…”
Despite the fact that Karydis, and not Mr. Nicolopulo, had done the striking, the police arrested Nicolopulo for assault and battery. Eventually, Nicolopulo was released, and the newspaper criticized the poor judgment of the officers.
Supposedly, Karydis had some mental problems. Here is a report out of New Orleans, published in the New York Times (6/6/1901):
The Rev. Michael Jevizoylon Karidis is pastor of Holy Trinity Church, on the corner of Dorgenois and Hospital Streets, here [in New Orleans]. His congregation is composed of Greeks. He came here from Bulgaria twenty years ago, and is supposed to have had some means. About eight years ago he showed signs of mental unbalance, and since then has been engaged in constructing a flying machine.
Last Sunday he donned a stovepipe hat for the first time in his life, and with a small grip left his house, announcing that he was going to collect some money that had been left to him.
He traveled to New York City. On the morning of June 5, 1901, he checked into the Eastern Hotel under the name, “Victor Misalel.” At 4:30 in the afternoon, a hotel porter heard a gunshot and rushed to Karydis’ room. From the Times:
The door was broken open and the man’s body was found lying on the bed, with a bullet wound in his right side.
The would-be suicide was removed by Dr. Johnson to the Hudson Street Hospital, where he died at 11 o’clock last night. Before his death he told an interpreter that he was Michael Jevizoylon Karidis, pastor of the Greek Church of the Holy Trinity of New Orleans, La.
News of Karydis’ suicide spread quickly. Before Karydis had even died, one of the Orthodox in New Orleans, Marcos Papovich, received a telegram saying that Karydis was deathly ill in New York. “Papovich says he does not know the priest,” the New York Times reported. “Karidis lived a rather secluded life.” In a front-page story, the Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said, “He had become demented from long work at a flying machine he was trying to invent. His workshop was a part of his home adjoining the church in which he had lived all alone for the past eighteen years.”
With only a handful of newspaper accounts as our guide, it’s difficult to get a real sense of who Karydis was. The papers say he was from Bulgaria, but was he an ethnic Bulgarian, or a Greek? How did he end up in New Orleans? He’s supposed to have been “mentally unbalanced” and “demented” because of his work on a flying machine, but just two years later, the Wright Brothers flew an airplane in North Carolina, so the idea of a flying machine was not, in and of itself, evidence of mental instability.
When I started research for these articles on Karydis, I assumed that his suicide was an open-and-shut case. The newspapers (and presumably the police) assumed the same thing, but I’m getting a little skeptical. Isn’t it at least a little odd that he traveled all the way to New York before committing the act? This suggests the possibility that Karydis left New Orleans with no intention of killing himself. We don’t actually know why he was in New York — he’d been there at least once before, in 1886. Was he really going to collect money, as he claimed? Are we to believe that he planned all along to shoot himself, but took the trouble to journey halfway across the country and check into a hotel first?
The location of the gunshot wound is also suspicious. Who shoots himself in the side? I don’t mean to be macabre, but wouldn’t some other part of the anatomy be more logical? Isn’t it at least possible that Karydis was shot by somebody else? The problem with that theory is that Karydis was apparently conscious enough to tell an interpreter who he was — and if he could do that, you’d think he could have told the interpreter if someone had shot him. Unless he had some reason not to reveal his murderer. It’s at least within the realm of possibility that Karydis was killed either in a crime of passion, or in some sort of nefarious act (blackmail?) gone awry — and in both cases, Karydis would have had an incentive not to tell the whole story.
Why am I writing about this? Why tell such an unpleasant story, and then speculate about even more unpleasantness? I’m writing about this because it is a part of our past. This man, Fr. Misael Karydis, was the longest-tenured Orthodox priest in America at the time of his death. His parish was, for over half of his career, the only Greek church in the Western Hemisphere. He appears to have served the first Orthodox liturgy in Chicago, and possibly in other places as well. He was one of the most significant figures in 19th century, continental US Orthodoxy, and yet no one, today, has ever heard of him. I would be negligent if I didn’t tell his story.
UPDATE (12/23/09): Below, a reader named Lolajl points out that I’m wrong about the photo: “Looking at the clothes, especially the women’s dresses and their hats, I would say that this was taken around 1908 – 1914. The big hat style was very popular in this time range. Plus the dress style of the woman standing to the left (and next to the woman with the big black hat) was popular around 1910 – 1912.”
Assuming those approximate dates are correct, the priest in the photo is most likely either Fr. Chrysanthos Angelopoulos, Fr. Paisios Ferentinos, or Fr. S. Vassiliades.
Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans was the first organized Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. Despite that fact, precious little is known about its early history. The first priest to visit New Orleans was the infamous Fr. Agapius Honcharenko, but, contrary to popular belief, Honcharenko was not actually the parish priest. He was only in town for a short visit, after which he returned to New York and then moved to the San Francisco Bay area.
The actual first pastor of Holy Trinity seems to have been Archimandrite Stephen Andreades. He was there as early as December 1867, when he gave a homily which was translated into Russian and published the following March in Honcharenko’s Alaska Herald. I haven’t seen the homily itself, but according to Fr. Alexander Doumouras (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 1967), “In this sermon Fr. Andreades stated that he had been ‘invited from Greece’ to come to America and serve the parish in New Orleans. He did not state who invited him and who appointed him.”
I don’t know when Andreades left Holy Trinity, but I do know that, by 1872, Fr. Gregory Yayas was the parish priest. I’ve seen all sorts of spellings for Yayas’ name, including, “the Right Reverend Father Gregorio Therodidasme von Giagias.” I’ve only found one account of Yayas, from Elizabeth Brooks’ Prominent Women of Texas (1896). In the chapter on Mrs. V.O. King, we find the following:
The Greek became to her [Mrs. King] a familiar tongue, but only as it was spoken twenty-five hundred years ago. A new ambition seized her; the modern or Romaic Greek must be acquired. The design was scarcely formed before events were so ordered as to favor its accomplishment. Her husband removed to New Orleans to practice his profession [medicine], where, very soon, he made the acquaintance of Father Gregorio, priest of the newly-organized Greek Church in that city. The Reverend gentleman was a scholarly man and deeply cultured in both the modern and Hellenic literature of his country, but he knew not one word of English and he was thrown among people who knew not one word of Greek. When Mrs. King, therefore, proposed that he should become her teacher in the colloquial forms of his language, he was not loth to accept the charge. As the years went by, the interest of both pupil and preceptor daily grew with the progress they made, and when this relation ceased they talked together in his native tongue as freely as Greek might discuss with Greek the school of Plato in the grove of Academus.
Yayas’ tenure appears to have been rather brief, 1872 to 1874 or ’75. As best I can tell, Andreades and Yayas were the first ethnic Greek priests to serve in America.
Yayas did not have an immediate successor. It wasn’t until 1881 that Holy Trinity received a new priest. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Michael Kalitski, or Karidis, or Karidas, etc.) was from Philippopolis, Bulgaria, and was born sometime in the 1840s. The Chicago Herald (5/31/1886) described him as “a stout, florid-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard.” The Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said that he “resembled the pictures of the patriarchs of old, with his long flowing snowy white beard.”
Karydis was a pretty colorful figure, and in some upcoming posts, I’ll discuss his career and his tragic death.
On the latest episode of our American Orthodox History podcast, Nicholas Chapman recounts the almost incredible story of Orthodox Christianity in colonial Virginia. Last month, we published Nicholas’ first article on the subject. Below, he continues his series.
On July 4, 1789, after nearly five years of service, Thomas Jefferson was coming to the end of his time as US minister plenipotentiary to France. It was the eve of what would come to be known as the French revolution, but this did not prevent Jefferson from hosting a celebration to mark the recently won independence of the United States. The party was attended by many of Jefferson’s closest friends in Paris, including John Paradise, the son in law of Philip Ludwell III.
John Paradise was by any account a remarkable man: an extraordinarily gifted linguist with a talent for friendship which brought him into contact with almost all the great men of his day. English was probably only his seventh language and by all accounts he never spoke it well! He was, however, able to converse freely in Greek, Italian, Turkish and Arabic amongst others and almost certainly knew Russian. He used his gifts to teach Thomas Jefferson classical Greek whilst visiting him in Paris.
John Paradise was also an Orthodox Christian. His father, Peter Paradise, had been the British Consul in Salonika (Thessalonica) and his mother was half Greek. It is possible that his paternal grandfather was also both English and Orthodox, making John Paradise a third generation English Orthodox at the time of his birth at Salonika in April 1743. His father, Peter, had contacts with monks from Mt. Athos during his years in Salonika and it is not known whether it was these, or his marriage, that had brought him to the Church.
After his early years in Greece, John was sent to the University of Padua (modern day Italy) and ultimately to Oxford to complete his education. At some point in the 1760’s it seems that the Paradises met Philip Ludwell and his three daughters in London. On April 20, 1766 they are all recorded as partaking of the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Russian Orthodox Church in London. When Philip Ludwell III died less than a year later, Peter Paradise became one of the legal guardians of Ludwell’s three daughters. When Frances died less than a year after her father and Hannah (the eldest daughter) married in March 1769, Lucy Ludwell went to live at Peter Paradise’s London home. Barely two months later Lucy married Peter’s son John.
Philip Ludwell III’s London house was also a home for an extended Virginian family including three of his sister Hannah’s children: Alice, Arthur and William Lee. It was William who was to marry the eldest Ludwell daughter in March 1769. She was also his first cousin. Close to the Ludwell house in Cecil St. was the London home of Benjamin Franklin, who at that time was on his second extended visit to England. Franklin was one of the early members of the Royal Society, to which John Paradise would subsequently be elected. Philip Ludwell III was very proud of the inventive achievements of his fellow countryman and in 1762 commissioned a portrait of Franklin. This became Franklin’s preferred painting of himself.
Franklin was an intimate of the Ludwell household and on his return to America he sent his “best wishes to Miss Ludwell and the other ladies.” This familial contact with Franklin was to prove vital for John Paradise and Lucy Ludwell Paradise. The division of the Virginian estates of Philip Ludwell III after his death was to prove complex and made even more so by the outbreak of war between the American colonies and the British Empire. By that time Franklin was the first US minister plenipotentiary to France. In this capacity John and Lucy Ludwell Paradise visited him in Paris in 1779. Through his office John Paradise was to be granted US citizenship in October 1780, whilst the War of Independence was still raging. It can be said therefore that one of the first (and perhaps the first) naturalized American citizen was an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church of mixed English and Greek ethnicity!
It was not until September of 1787 that John and Lucy Ludwell Paradise were finally able to travel to their estates in Virginia. During their time in America they were able to spend four days at Mt. Vernon with General George and Martha Washington. Washington’s diary for Sunday, December 30, 1787 records that at around eleven o’clock that day “Mr. Paradise and his Lady, lately from England but now of Williamsburgh , came in on a visit.” Sadly, we have no detail of the conversation that was exchanged during their stay, although it is known that Washington suspended the normal conduct of his affairs during their visit, which was not his normal practice. As John Paradise was on intimate terms with the two most important representatives of the United States overseas (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) and personally acquainted with so many other persons of note, it is not difficult to think that Washington would have found his visit of immense interest.
Barely two months after their visit to Mt. Vernon, the Paradises were to receive the shocking news of the death of their daughter Philippa, aged only thirteen, in London. So it was, that shortly afterward, they were to return to London. Here it was that they met the newly appointed Russian priest, the Rev. Yakov Smirnov, who was to become Lucy’s cherished spiritual father. John Paradise was to work very closely with Fr. Smirnov is 1791 in a concerted public campaign to persuade British public opinion against war with Russia. For his service in this respect Paradise was awarded a pension of £150 p.a. by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, a substantial sum for its time.
It also seems likely that Paradise recruited the assistance of Frederick North, the future Earl Guildford, whose father Lord North was British Prime Minister during the American War of Independence. The young North was secretly baptized as an Orthodox Christian in Corfu in 1791 and at the same time was composing and publishing sonnets in praise of Catherine the Great! When John Paradise died in 1795 he left Frederick North some of his most precious possessions, thereby indicating the closeness of the relationship they must have enjoyed during his lifetime.
I have only briefly skimmed the facts of John Paradise’s life and adventures here. There is more to be written. But it must be of considerable interest that a man who was clearly an active Orthodox Christians was on intimate terms with the first three Presidents of the United States. James Boswell in his famous “Life of Johnson” penned the best obituary of him. He wrote: “John Paradise (1743 1795). Son of the British Consul at Salonica and a native woman of that country. He was distinguished by his learning and a very general acquaintance with accomplished persons of almost all nations” (Boswell’s Life of Johnson, vol. IV, p. 364, note 2).
Nicholas Chapman, Yonkers, NY, December 14, 2009