Today being a Monday, I normally would publish the next edition of my “This week in American Orthodox history” series (in which I would say, among other things, that today marks the 97th anniversary of St. Raphael Hawaweeny’s repose). But that will have to wait until tomorrow, because I need to report on a pretty exciting development.
On Friday, ROCOR’s Eastern American Diocese announced that Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of ROCOR, has blessed the parishes of his diocese to hold an annual panihida (memorial) service for Philip Ludwell III on March 14, the anniversary of his repose. (ROCOR being on the Old Calendar, the panihida will take place on March 27 — that is, March 14 according to the Old Calendar.) Regular readers of OrthodoxHistory.org are no doubt familiar with Ludwell, the first known Orthodox convert in American history. Here is how the ROCOR article describes him:
He converted to the Orthodox faith at the Russian Church in London on December 31, 1738, several days after his twenty-second birthday. He was blessed by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church to return to Virginia with the Holy Gifts and increasing evidence now points to the existence of a lay Orthodox community headed by him in mid-eighteenth century Williamsburg.
Beyond dispute, he brought his three daughters up in the faith, and they were formally received into the Church in London in 1762. Some of their descendants also appear to have remained in the Church for several generations following Ludwell’s repose. He died in 1767 while resident in London. His funeral was served at the Russian Church in London on Monday, March 19/30, 1767 (at that time the calendar difference was only 11 days.)
Whilst still in Virginia, Ludwell translated The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as it is performed without a deacon and The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great as it is performed without a deacon. He also translated The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church, which was published in 1762, and penned what appears to be a short work of his own, entitled How to behave before, at, and after the Divine Service in the Church.
In all of these labors, he demonstrated an evident love for God and the Orthodox faith. He was also known for his cheerful and vivacious disposition, given to hospitality and to contributing to the needs of the poor. He also played a vital role in strengthening the defense of the Commonwealth of Virginia through tireless intercession with the British military authorities in his capacity as a member of the Royal Governing Council.
Ludwell’s story was uncovered by the indefatigable researcher and OrthodoxHistory.org columnist Nicholas Chapman. To read Nicholas’ articles about Ludwell (plus a couple less impressive pieces by me), click here. Also, be sure to visit the Eastern American Diocese website to read the full story on the upcoming panihida.
All of this prompts me to ask: are any other jurisdictions, bishops, or priests interested in participating in this annual memorial? I mean, Ludwell is, in a real sense, a forefather for all of American Orthodoxy, regardless of jurisdiction. If you’re a priest, would you consider serving a panihida (or pannikhida, if you prefer), or a trisagion service, for Ludwell’s soul? I’d love to see others in American Orthodoxy follow the lead of Metropolitan Hilarion and ROCOR.
February 14, 1872: Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, on a tour of the United States, visited New Orleans and met with representatives of the city’s fledgling Orthodox parish. The Grand Duke presented gifts to the parish, including, most likely, a gold-embossed Gospel book. 130 years later, the parish still has these gifts.
February 14, 1959: The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected Fr. James Coucouzis to be the new Greek Archbishop of North and South America. The new primate took the name Iakovos and was the most prominent and influential figure in American Orthodoxy until his retirement in the 1990s.
February 15, 1966: Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir died in Boston at the age of 67. He had led the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York for three decades, and was one of the most important American Orthodox bishops of his time. For more on Bashir, check out the article and podcast I did two years ago.
February 17, 1977: Metropolitan Orestes Chornock, founding primate of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, died. There is a nice little biography of Met Orestes on the ACROD website; click here to read it.
February 19, 1909: In South Omaha, Nebraska, a Greek man named John Masourides shot and killed policeman Ed Lowery. Two days later, a mass meeting was called to decide how to “rid the city of the undesirable Greeks.” At the close of the meeting, a mob descended on the Greek quarter. They attacked the Greeks, rioted, and destroyed property. The Greeks fled the city. The governor called in the National Guard. Order was restored, but the bigots of South Omaha had accomplished their goal: the Greeks were gone, and most of them would never return. The mass exodus almost wiped out the parish of St. John the Baptist. To learn more, check out this article I wrote in 2010.
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.
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.