I am posting this because Matthew is very busy and traveling about today (although I suppose posting it myself risks vanity).
I am honored to have been invited to be a guest of the pan-Orthodox clergy group in the Buffalo, NY area for the weekend and thought I’d call your attention to the Sunday of Orthodox Vespers to be held at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. If you are in Western NY or Ontario and are interested in a talk on early converts, with a special mention of some important happenings in Buffalo, please stop by. Also, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself. One of the best ways we can all further reflections on American Orthodox church history is through personal contact and communal worship.
This article was originally published on October 30, 2009.
On July 19, 1870, a Philadelphia newspaper called the North American and United States Gazette published the following report:
The Russian Ambassador has received instructions from his government that three bishoprics of the Greek Church are to be established forthwith in this country – one at New York, one at New Orleans, and one at San Francisco, in each of which last named places there is already a Greek church and a Russo-Greek priest.
A few days later, the journal Christian Union (7/23/1870) reported on the move of the Russian bishop from Alaska to San Francisco, and on the founding of Bjerring’s chapel in New York City. Citing the Pacific Churchman as its source, the article then stated the following:
New York is expected to be, in time, the seat of a Greek Orthodox Eastern Church arch-diocesan, and of the cathedral church of that hierarchy on the American continent, while New Orleans and San Francisco are to be episcopal seats. It is further stated that Mr. N.L. BJERRING, of Baltimore, a recent convert from the Roman Church, has been selected as one of the Orthodox bishops for this country, and that he has been invited by telegraph, from St. Petersburg, to proceed thither, to be baptized, ordained into the ministry, and be consecrated a bishop.
It’s interesting to read about a plan calling for New York to be the headquarters of an archdiocese; it would be more than three decades before this would actually happen. Also, Bjerring, being married, could not have become a bishop. It’s possible that the Russian Church wasn’t initially aware of this, and did at some early stage consider him a candidate for the episcopacy. It’s also possible that the newspaper reporter misunderstood something.
Anyway, within a few more days, the New York Sun had run a piece on all this. I don’t have the original Sun account, but it was picked up by various papers, including the Cleveland Herald (7/30/1870), the Chicago Tribune (8/1), and Flake’s Bulletin of Galveston, Texas (8/20). This is from the Cleveland Herald‘s version:
The Russian Government has decided to establish a Bishopric of the Greek Church in New York. The fact was made known to a number of Episcopal clergymen by Count Catacazy, the Russian Minister, and the Count recently offered the position of Prelate of the proposed See to the Rev. Samos [the other versions say "James"] Christal, an Episcopal minister, who is understood to have favored the plan of Dr. (now Bishop) Young of uniting the Episcopal and Greek churches. Mr. Christal has, however, declined to accept the office, on the ground that he could not subscribe to the articles of the Seventh Synod of the Greek church, relating to the images and creature worship, and the new Bishopric has not yet been filled.
Two other Bishoprics are to be established by the Russian Government, one in San Francisco and the other in New Orleans, but the candidates have not yet been named.
On August 27, Christian Union (which had already published a report on July 23 — see above) ran a similar story, but cited Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian Banner.
Finally, in October, a correction of sorts began to appear. From the Christian Advocate (10/10/1870; the same appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin on October 29):
The Russian Government does not contemplate sending Bishops of the Greek Church to form dioceses in this country. Greek Church communicants are too few to require them, and these few, it seems, do not desire foreign Bishops.
That is the last thing I’ve found on the plan.
All of these reports were coming during a time of transition for American Orthodoxy. During the same summer of 1870, Bishop John Mitropolsky was assigned to replace Bishop Paul Popov as the Russian hierarch in North America. The diocese itself was restructured, and the new Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was created. (Previously, Bishop Paul had been merely a vicar in the Diocese of Kamchatka.) Bishop John moved the hierarchical residence from Sitka (or New Archangel) to San Francisco. This move wouldn’t be officially recognized until 1872, but for all practical purposes, it took place with the change in bishops in 1870.
Also, in May of 1870, Nicholas Bjerring went to Russia and was ordained a priest. He returned to the US that summer, and news began to circulate that the Russian Church planned to establish a chapel in New York City.
Is it possible that the Russian Church (and the Russian government) was making initial efforts to implement St. Innocent’s recommendation from a few years earlier? Late in 1867, Innocent recommended, among other things, that
- The diocesan seat be moved from Sitka (New Archangel) to San Francisco,
- The American part of the Diocese of Kamchatka be separated from the Diocese (Innocent recommended that it be formed into a vicariate under St. Petersburg, so creating a separate diocese would have been an even bolder step),
- The former bishop be recalled to Russia, and a new bishop be appointed who is familiar with English, and
- The new bishop be allowed to ordain American converts to the priesthood for service in America.
It’s also interesting to note the apparent resistence of the few Orthodox living in America. The San Francisco community was probably not the source of the problem, since they were the one city that did receive a Russian bishop in 1870. The New Orleans parish may have taken issue with this proposal, though, since they were a mostly independent group connected with the Greek consulate and nominally affiliated with the Church of Greece. But, details being so scarce, it’s hard to know just what the real story is.
There are a couple of avenues one might pursue to get to the bottom of all this. Obviously, the Russian Orthodox Church may have records of this plan (and I would expect them to be in St. Petersburg). There also might be something in the records of the Russian embassy, since the Russian ambassador was the one who approached Chrystal about the proposal. It can’t have just been the imaginings of American newspapermen, and I for one would love to know rationale behind the plan — and the reasons why it was abandoned.
This article was written by Matthew Namee and was originally published on October 30, 2009.
Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on November 28, 1915:
The Holy Orthodox Russo-Greek Catholic Church has established a college for young women at the corner of Pennsylvania and Glenmore avenues, in the East New York section. About nine years ago Archbishop Platon and the priests of the Russo-Greek Church decided in their Convention that it would be advisable to found a college for young women of their own faith. This was thought especially desirable for the reason that many of the daughters of the clergy as well as of the laity could not gain as much attention in the secular institutions of this country in the branches of learning most needful to the Slavic population as in an institution of their own denomination. In time they were to take their places as polished and educated young Slavic-American citizens of the country; and, while devoted to their Church, still equally so to this republic as Americans. They would have to become factors in its life and progress. Russians move slowly but surely. Their Church in this country and in Canada has made very great strides. Their objects have been especially to gather in their own people who, for a time, from necessity, have been left here and there without a shepherd; to so work as to conform rigorously to the established laws of the United States without in any way grasping political power or drawing upon public State funds to help their Church institutions, but depend upon the pockets of their own children, however poor, to share for the common good of all; and, finally, to establish monasteries, nunneries, schools, orphan asylums, seminaries for theological students and colleges for the higher education of their young women.
The first of these latter institutions, the one in East New York, was founded by the Most Rev. Evdokim, the present Archbishop of North America, on the 14th of last September, which date, according to the Russian Julian Calendar, was September 1. The building was formerly the Russian Orphan Asylum, but on that institution having been demoved to the State of Massachusetts, it opened up the way for the far-seeing Archbishop to occupy the premises for the new venture.
Pupils from several States of America and the Balkans are already in attendance. They are a very bright and intelligent set of young women, ranging in age from 16 to 25 years. They are a serious and determined number of students, who realize much the object of their presence in their Church’s college. Indeed, from among their number many will become the wives of future priests of the Orthodox Church, fully equipped, both educationally, socially and religiously, as helpmates to their husbands.
The Russian priesthood is a Class in Society and their wives are expected to be refined and educated to fit into their lives and church interests. Of course, it is voluntary on the part of the Greek Orthodox Catholic clergy to marry or not, but they must marry, if at all, before they enter the priesthood, according to the ancient rule of the General Councils. And if, after marriage, a priest’s wife dies, he cannot remarry. The bishops are always selected from among the unmarried monastic, or “Black Clergy,” as they are called in contradistinction to the “White Clergy,” or secular priests, that is, the married, parochial clergy.
The general supervision of the college is under His Grace, Archbishop Evdokim, who, himself, visits regularly and acts as a professor in one of the branches. Besides the Archbishop there are nine other professors, five of whom are women, viz., Mrs. A.S. Meschersky, Miss Chervobawa, Mrs. Turkevitch and Mrs. Kohanik. The men professors are Very Rev. L. Turkevitch, Dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral; the Rev. Peter Kohanik, secetary of the North American Ecclesiastical Consistory; G. Cherepin and the Rev. Dr. Ingram N.W. Irvine. Mrs. E.A. Krilova is the house superintendent and Mrs. Meschersky is her local assistant.
The college is divided into two departments, namely, the Russian and English. The English department is under the Rev. Dr. Irvine, who, for a time, was a professor in the Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minn., and has been used as a utility priest in all departments of the Holy Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. In the theological seminary he was the lecturer for six chairs of instruction. He has been used in a versatile way in his Church and has ever been a great favorite with all the young of the different nationalities who are represented in the Russo-Greek and, in fact, the whole Holy Orthodox Church of America.
For some years Dr. Irvine was associated with the late Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn, head of the Syrian-Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. The doctor was his theologian and he always consulted him on matters of importance. They were old and fast friends till the bishop’s seemingly untimely death. Dr. Irvine on the death of his personal friend was retransferred to St. Nicholas Russian Cathedral, Manhattan, at the request of the Russian clergy, with whom he is quite a favorite. On the opening of the college in Brooklyn by the present Archbishop he was placed in charge as rector of the English department and the preacher at the chapel as well as associate at the Liturgical Service.
Few men of any nation have had a more varied experience than Dr. Irvine. He is acquainted with many characteristics of the Slovanic, Grecian and Oriental races, which make up the membership of the Holy Eastern or, as it is technically known, the Greek-Orthodox Catholic Church. The doctor is an Irishman by birth, but came to America as a youth, studied in the United States and graduated in the great Episcopal General Theological Seminary, West Twentieth street, New York City. A class of men now fast passing away were his associates. The present Episcopal Bishop Burgess of Long Island and Dr. Irvine were seminary rectors. In fact, Dr. Irvine in his early ministry was rector of St. James Church, Smithtown, Long Island, and through his influence Mrs. Stewart gave the money to build Garden City Cathedral Church.
The Rev. Dr. Irvine’s wife has been in his long ministry his fellow worker and is equally loved with him by all who know her. It is a pathetic sight to see the Syrian children, whose spiritual welfare was looked after for years in Brooklyn by the doctor, gather around him and Mrs. Irvine when they enter the section of Brooklyn or Manhattan where the Syrians reside, and embrace them. It matters not how the little faces look, clean or unclean, they are filled with pleasure.
Into St. Mary’s Russian College he takes the same love for and interest in the young priests who were his students in the West and who are now scattered through the States and Canada, holding his name as a household word. Another institution of learning has been added to Brooklyn’s long list and the Russian Church has selected a Long Island man to head her English department, especially a priest who thoroughly understands American life and the peculiarities of many denominations.
Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Isabel Florence Hapgood were the two people most responsible for the spread of English in early 20th century American Orthodoxy. Hapgood, a lifelong Episcopalian, was a renowned translator, honored by the Tsar, and she is still remembered today for her landmark 1906 English translation of the Orthodox Service Book. Less than a year earlier, in November 1905, Irvine, a defrocked Episcopal priest, was received into Orthodoxy and ordained by St. Tikhon. Irvine made it his life’s work to promote the use of English in American Orthodox parishes.
Yet despite their common advocacy English-language Orthodoxy, Irvine and Hapgood were like oil and water. Hapgood’s feelings towards Irvine are not well documented, but Irvine made his disdain for Hapgood clear, both in public and in private. In a 1915 letter published in the official magazine of the Russian Archdiocese (and reprinted on this site), Hapgood publicly begged the Archbishop to invest in a first-rate show choir, arguing that a great choir is “immensely more important” than “twenty little new parishes.” Irvine’s response was swift and strong, lambasting Hapgood for her “musical heresy.” Two years later, in a letter to Archbishop Evdokim (and preserved in the OCA archives), Irvine called her “that vixen Miss Hapgood,” and said that she had “damned the Church for years.”
It appears that the hostility between Irvine and Hapgood dates at least to the time of Irvine’s conversion to Orthodoxy, in late 1905. Not long ago, I happened to read Stuart H. Hoke’s outstanding paper, “A Generally Obscure Calling: A Character Sketch of Isabel Florence Hapgood” (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 45:1, 2001). This is, by far, the most complete and well-researched biography of Hapgood I have ever seen. Hoke points out that, in his 1906 book A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims, Irvine committed a “major slight” against Hapgood, erroneously identifying Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky as the person chiefly responsible for Hapgood’s brand-new English Service Book. Irvine wrote that the book had been “under the watchful eye of the Very Rev. A.A. Hotovitzky and its real merits as a valuable Liturgical work as well as a witness in the English language to ‘the faith once for all delivered unto the Saints’ must be ascribed to his painstaking and interest, both as a Liturgical Scholar and Theologian.”
This was all sorts of wrong, and Hotovitzky immediately moved to correct the problem. In a letter to The Living Church (a major Episcopalian periodical), published on December 15, 1906, St. Alexander wrote,
Such an assertion, which attaches my name to the publication, and imputes to me qualities and services to which I have made no claim in connection with that publication, unhappily and unjustly omits the name of the real author of the work, to whom, incontestably, all its merits, all praises and gratitude should be attributed. The Service Book was compiled by Miss Isabel F. Hapgood, on her own initiative. To her belongs the original idea of this work; hers are the plan and execution of it, which have required arduous labor and expenditure of strength for the space of several years, as she was compelled to study our Liturgical books, and the Church Slavonic and Greek languages, and so forth. Any one who has the slightest conception of the complicated structure of the Orthodox religious services, in their entire extent, will make no mistake if he applies to this labor the epithet “gigantic,” both as to its design and its importance; and the merits of Miss Hapgood’s liturgical English in this work are confirmed by learned ecclesiastical authorities of the Episcopal Church.
Further on, Hotovitzky instructed Irvine to insert a copy of this letter into his book:
In comparison with this enormous mass of labor — in truth a most precious and unselfish gift from Miss Hapgood to our Church — my share in it, (as an orthodox priest, who has rendered, so far as occasion required, only what aid was indispensable,) is merely of secondary importance; and, especially when her name is omitted, does not deserve to be mentioned. And therefore, being profoundly distressed that this statement, so unfortunately phraseed [sic], has found a place in your book, I most earnestly ask you to place the matter in its true and complete light by inserting my letter in the text of your book, so that no reader would be misled by that paragraph.
Hoke writes that Irvine obeyed Hotovitzky’s order, and I’m sure that did, but I’ve seen two copies of the book, and neither have such an insert.
Stuart Hoke refers to A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims as “Irvine’s spurious book.” This is way off base; Irvine’s book is a perfectly worthwhile piece of work. The “letter” referred to in the title was originally written by Irvine to St. Tikhon, explaining the ecclesiastical position of the Church of England. In addition to the letter, Irvine pulled together articles from prominent Episcopalian scholars and ecclesiastics, each one explaining a different aspect of Anglicanism. While Irvine’s statement about the Service Book was indeed wrong, it doesn’t mean that his whole book is “spurious.”
While all this provides helpful background on the Irvine-Hapgood dynamics, what is most interesting is the insight it provides into the relationship between Irvine and Hotovitzky. You may recall that Hotovitzky was actually Irvine’s priestly sponsor when he was ordained in November 1905. In fact, Hotovitzky had to defend Irvine’s ordination in the face of criticisms from, among others, The Living Church. A year later, though, Hotovitzky wrote to the same Living Church journal, strongly critiquing Irvine and instead defending the Episcopalian Hapgood. While both were important and admirable figures, Irvine and Hotovitzky were polar opposites in many ways — Hotovitzky more reserved and politically-savvy, Irvine a bull in a china shop. Hotovitzky takes a rather standoffish tone in his letter announcing Irvine of Irvine’s transfer from the Russian Mission to the Syrian Mission. It may very well be Hotovitzky did not really care for Irvine, and that some of that distaste originated in Irvine’s “slight” of Hapgood in 1906.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
I have uploaded a copy of a very short article on Christmas in New York in 1874. What I wish to do, however, is not simply provide you with a little factoid, but to use this piece as a window into what “evangelism” meant for Orthodoxy on the ground in NY in the 1870s. At the time, the diocese of the Russian Mission did not formally extend into New York, but this chapel existed as a show-chapel of sorts, in part to promote good relations with the Protestant Episcopalians. The pastor, Fr. Nicholas Bjerring, was himself a convert from Roman Catholicism and we have mentioned him more than once on this site. Perhaps we have even noted this news article. Bjerring connected with Bishop Henry Potter, the local Episcopalian bishop. Bjerring also made the newspapers at various times for different speaking engagements and sometimes for liturgical services. Bjerring had a soft approach to evangelism. He did not engage in direct proselytism and even discouraged people from attending and converting, though he also said he would not shut the door in inquirer’s faces. He wished to make Orthodoxy known, but in the context of a possible future reunion of Christians, especially the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church. Although one might consider that this approach would work against converting people, another aspect was his struggle with language. He served in English with a heavy accent. That is not mentioned here, but the language issue is hinted at in this piece by highlighting what was in Slavonic (which Bjerring did not know) and that the sermon was in English.
So, early on, the Russian Orthodox Church had a chapel that sought to entice people through a soft sell of providing information and services in English. This might not be the kind of evangelism many of us would want today, but it’s worth noting that this softer sell has a history in America. Of course, it might be easier to have a softer sell in a context in which religious concerns regularly made the papers. In many places in the country today, it takes a scandal to make the paper. Perhaps, though, the real lesson to be learned is twofold: a soft sell has a place at times but in the current situation, where real reunion between Orthodoxy and other Christian bodies seems highly unlikely, a more overt proselytism has a role to play. That is, somehow, what we may need is a marriage of the two. In January, I will continue with this theme of evangelism in America. Looking at our Orthodox heritage of missions and evangelism is vital.
[This article was written by Fr. Oliver Herbel.]