Yesterday, I ran the first of six articles on the so-called “Bulgarian Question,” a controversy that rocked the Orthodox world in the early 1870s and ultimately led to the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which condemned the heresy of “phyletism.” Search the Internet — both Google and the various subscriber-only databases of academic journals — and you’ll find precious little of substance on the Council. I recently stumbled onto a series of contemporaneous accounts published in the Methodist Quarterly Review, and I’m reprinting those accounts here.
I know I said that I’d run Part 2 next week, but I’ve got this ready to go now, so why wait? This latest installment appeared in the April 1871 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review — so, nine months after the article I printed yesterday.
The Bulgarian Church Question, to the earlier history and importance of which we have referred in former numbers of the “Quarterly Review” led in the year 1870 to very important developments. The demand of the Bulgarians to have Bishops of their own nationality, and a national Church organization like the Roumanians and the Servians, was, in the main, granted by the imperial firman of March 10. The substance of the eleven paragraphs is as follows:
- Article I. provides for the establishment of a separate Church administration for the Bulgarians, which shall be called the Exarchate of the Bulgarians.
- Article II. The chief of the Bulgarian Metropolitans receives the title of Exarch, and presides over the Bulgarian Synod.
- Article III. The Exarch, as well as the Bishops, shall be elected in accordance with the regulations hitherto observed, the election of the Exarch to be confirmed by the oecumenical Patriarchs.
- Article IV. The Exarch receives his appointment by the Sublime Porte previous to his consecration, and is bound to say prayer for the Patriarch whenever he holds divine service.
- Article V. stipulates the formalities to be observed in supplicating for the appointment (installation) by the Sublime Porte.
- Article VI. In all matters of a spiritual nature the Exarch has to consult with the Patriarch.
- Article VII. The new Bulgarian Church, like the Churches of Roumania, Greece, and Servia, obtains the holy oil (chrisma) from the Patriarchate.
- Article VIII. The authority of a Bishop does not extend beyond his diocese.
- Article IX. The Bulgarian Church and the bishopric (Metochion) in the Phanar are subject to the Exarch, who may temporarily reside in the Metochion. During this temporary residence he must observe the same rules and regulations which have been established for the Patriarch of Jerusalem during his residence in the Phanar.
- Article X. The Bulgarian Exarchate comprises fourteen dioceses: Rustchuk, Silistria, Schumia, Tirnovo, Sophia, Widdin, Nisch, Slivno, Veles, Samakovo, Kustendie, Vratza, Lofdja, and Pirut. One half of the cities of Varna, Anchialu, Mesembria, Liyeboli, and of twenty villages on the Black Sea, are reserved for the Greeks. Philippople has been divided into two equal parts, one of which, together with the suburbs, is retained by the Greeks, while the other half, and the quarter of Panaghia, belongs to the Bulgarians. Whenever proof is adduced that two thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are Bulgarians, such diocese shall be transferred to the Exarchate.
- Article XI. All Bulgarian monasteries which are under the Patriarchate at the present time shall remain so in the future.
The Greeks of Constantinople where indignant at this firman, because they were well aware that its execution would put an end to the subordinate position in which they have thus far kept the Bulgarians. They demanded that the Patriarch should either reject it or resign. The Synod which was convened by the Patriarch in April declared that the firman was in conflict with the canons of the Church, and that an Ecumenical Council should be summoned to decide the question. The Patriarch accordingly notified the Turkish government that he could not accept the firman, and that, therefore, he renewed his petition for the convocation of an Ecumenical Council. The Bulgarian committee, on the other hand, issued a circular in which the solution of the question by the firman was declared to be entirely satisfactory, and corresponding with their just demands. They pointed out that the principal demand of the orthodox Bulgarians had been that their Churches and bishoprics be intrusted to a clergy familiar with the Bulgarian language, and that they did not understand how the Patriarchate could designate as unevangelical so legitimate a desire. The Patriarch, in a letter to the Grand Vizier, declared that he could retain his office only if the government granted the convocation of the Ecumenical Council. The endeavor of Ali Pasha to induce the Patriarch to desist from his demand proved of no avail. The twelve Bishops constituting the Synod of Constantinople sent a synodic letter to the Porte, in which they implore the government to settle the Bulgarian Church question on the basis proposed by the Patriarch in 1869. The government now yielded. Ali Pasha invited the Patriarch to send to the government a programme of the question to be discussed by the Ecumenical Synod. To this the Patriarch replied as follows:
We had the honor of receiving the rescript which your highness has condescended to forward to us, as a reply to our letter and the Maybata of the Synod of Metropolitans. We perceive that we shall be authorized to convene the Ecumenical Council, to which will appertain the final solution of the Bulgarian question by canonical decision. Your highness expresses the desire to know beforehand the objects and the limits of the deliberations of the Council, and invites us to submit a programme of the same. We have the honor of informing you that the Ecumenical Council, for whose convocation we requested the authorization of the imperial government, will have to investigate and to adjust the controversy which has arisen between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians. Your highness is aware that said controversy resulted partly from the circumstance that the Bulgarians did not consider satisfactory the concessions which we granted them in regard to the administration of the Church, partly from the fact that the Bulgarians demand something which is in direct opposition to the spirit of our faith and to the commands of the holy canons, although they pretend that their proposals are not at all in contradiction to the holy laws. Thus the labors of the Council, which will not touch on any secular question, will be strictly limited to deliberations on the Bulgarian question; the demands of the Bulgarians, as well as the concessions made by the Patriarchate, will be minutely and impartially scrutinized, upon which the Council will come to a decision in accordance with the spirit of the canons, from which there can be no appeal.
Done and given at our Patriarchal residence on November 16, 1870.
And with that, the Methodist Quarterly Review article ends.
The biggest bombshell — the thing that really got the Ecumenical Patriarchate riled — seems to be Article X, which provided that, if two-thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are ethnically Bulgarian, the diocese would be transferred from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Bulgarian Church. If THAT is what we’re calling “phyletism,” then I can see why Constantinople would be upset. You can’t have a bishop’s territory taken away from him simply by virtue of the ethnic makeup of that territory.
Also, while such things have been common throughout history, it’s pretty jarring to see church policy so explicitly dictated by a non-Orthodox, secular government. I mean, I realize that Bulgarian Orthodox officials probably drafted the “firman,” but the thing was issued by the Turkish government, and it’s this document that lays out the structure of an entirely new (purported) Local Church.
The part about the Bulgarian Exarch living in Constantinople sounds pretty weird, too, but in those days it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. The article alludes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem doing the same thing, and other Patriarchs lived in Constantinople at various times throughout history.
Anyway, we’ll run the next article on this fascinating situation in the very near future. Thanks for reading.
Recently, I had occasion to research the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which somewhat famously condemned “ethno-phyletism.” The issue arose because, as I understand it, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church — which was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate — declared itself autocephalous. Anyway, before I began this research, I could probably tell you three or four sentences’ worth of information about the whole affair. Surprisingly, there is very little to be found online, and what little has been written about the Council tends to focus on applying it to a modern, American context — an endeavor that can lead to historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I also searched various databases of scholarly journals, but came up empty. At least in English, there appear to be almost no modern treatments of this Council.
I then checked my personal archives, and it turns out that I have a series of contemporaneous accounts of the situation, published in the Methodist Quarterly Review beginning in 1870. I’m going to reprint those articles here, because they are the best thing I’ve yet found on the subject, and also because they show the kind of reporting you could find in America on global Orthodox events in the 1870s.
This first installment comes from the July 1870 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review, beginning at page 451.
THE EASTERN CHURCH — THE BULGARIAN QUESTION. — Among the most important questions which have agitated the Eastern Churches since the beginning of the present century is the re-construction of a national Bulgarian Church, which is to remain united with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other parts of the Greek Church in point of doctrine, but to maintain an entire independence in point of administration. This question has obtained a political, as well as an ecclesiastical, importance, as Russia, France, and other European powers have tried to make capital out of it. A decree of the Turkish Government, issued in February, 1870, appears to decide the main point which was at issue. As important results may follow this decision, a brief history of the Bulgarian question will aid in a proper understanding of the situation it now occupies, and of the hopes that are entertained by the Bulgarians with regard to their future.
When the Bulgarians, in the ninth century, under King Bogaris, became Christians, the new missionary Church was placed under the supervision of the Greek Patriarch. About fifty years later King Samuel established the political independence of the Bulgarian nation and the ecclesiastical independence of the Bulgarian Church. But after his death, the Church was again placed under the Greek Patriarch, and did not regain the enjoyment of ecclesiastical independence till the latter part of the twelfth century. After the conquest of the country by the Turks, in 1393, many of the Bulgarians for a while became, outwardly, Mohammedans; but, as religious freedom increased, returned to their earlier faith, and the Bulgarian Church was made an appendage to that of Constantinople. Good feeling prevailed then between the Greeks and the Bulgarians, and the Sultan filled the Bulgarian Sees with Greek prelates, who were acceptable to the people. As the Bulgarian nobility was exterminated, and the people oppressed by wars which followed, there was, until the beginning of the present [19th] century, scarcely a single voice raised against the foreign Episcopate. But the national feeling began to assert itself about fifty years ago, and the Greek Patriarch was compelled to authorize several reforms. Abuses continued, however, and the national feeling increased, so that the Patriarch was obliged, in 1848, to approve the erection of a Bulgarian Church, and of a school for the education of priests, in the capital. The demand of the Bulgarians for a restoration of their nationality, in 1856, again aroused the slumbering zeal of the Greeks, and the differences between the two nationalities have continued very active up to the present time. The Porte, in 1862, named a mixed commission, to investigate and settle the inquiries. It proposed two plans of adjustment. According to one of these plans, the Bulgarian Church was to name the Bishops of those districts in which the Bulgarian population was a majority. The other plan accorded to the Bulgarians the right to have a Metropolitan in every province, and a Bishop in every diocese, where there is a strong Bulgarian population. Both plans were rejected, and the Turkish Government, having been to considerable pains for nothing, left the contending parties to settle the controversy in their own way.
Accordingly the Greek Patriarch, in 1869, proposed a General Council, and solicited the different Churches of the Greek Confession for their opinions and advice on the subject. Greece, Roumania, and Servia declared themselves in favor of the Council. On the other hand, the Holy Synod of Petersburgh, for the Russian Church, declared the claims of the Bulgarians to be excessive, and that, although it considered a Council the only lawful means of settling the points at issue, it feared a schism if the demands of the Bulgarians were complied with, and was further afraid that the fulfillments [sic] of the demands of the canons would be refused, and advised the continuance of the status quo. The Greek Patriarch, being unwilling to solve the question, the Turkish Government took the matter into its own hands, and in February, 1870, issued a decree which establishes a Bulgarian Exarch, to whom are subordinate thirteen Bulgarian Bishops, whose number may be increased whenever it may be found necessary. The Turkish Government has tried to spare the sensibility of the Greeks as much as possible, and has, therefore, not only withheld from the head of the Bulgarian Church the title of Patriarch, but has expressly provided that the Exarch should remain subordinate to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Nevertheless the Patriarch has entered his solemn and earnest protest against the scheme. His note to the Grand Vizier, which is signed by all the members of the Holy Synod of Constantinople, is an important document in the history of the Greek Church, and reads as follows:
To His Highness the Grand Vizier: – Your Highness was pleased to communicate to the Patriarchate, through Messrs Christaki, Efendi, Sagraphras, and Kara-Theodor, the Imperial firman, written upon parchment, which solves the Bulgarian question after it had been open during ten years. The Patriarchate, always faithfully fulfilling its duties toward the Emperor, whom the Lord God has given to the nations, has at all times remained foreign to any thought that the decrees of the Sublime Sovereign in political questions should not be obeyed. The Oriental Church obeyed with cheerfulness and respect the legitimate Sovereigns. The latter, on their part, have always respected the province which belongs to the ecclesiastical administration. The Sultans, of glorious memory, as well as their present fame-crowned successor, (whose strength may be invincible,) have always drawn a marked boundary-line between civil and ecclesiastical authority; they recognized the rights, privileges, and immunities of the latter, and guaranteed it by Hatti-Humayums. They never permitted any one to commit an encroachment upon the original rights of the Church, which, during five centuries, was under the immediate protection of the Imperial throne.
Your Highness: If the said firman had been nothing but the sanction of a Concordat between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians, we should respect and accept it. Unfortunately, things are different. Since the firman decides ecclesiastical questions, and since the decision is contrary to the canons, and vitally wounds the rights and privileges of the Holy See, the Patriarchate cannot accept the ultimatum of the Imperial Government. Your Highness: Since the Bulgarians obstinately shut their ears to the voice of that reconciliation which we aim at, and since the Imperial Government is not compelled to solve an ecclesiastical question in an irrevocable manner; since, finally, the abnormal position of affairs violates and disturbs ancient rights, the Ecumenical Patriarchate renews the prayer, that the Imperial Government may allow the convocation of an Ecumenical Council, which alone is authorized to solve this question in a manner legally valid and binding for both parties. Moreover, we beseech the Imperial Government that it may take the necessary steps which are calculated to put an end to the disorder which disturbs the quiet within our flock, and which can chiefly be traced to the circulars of the Heads of the Bulgarians (dated the 15th of the present month). The Ecumenical Patriarchate enters its protest with the Imperial Government against the creation of these disturbances.
Written and done in our Patriarchal residence, Mar. 24 (old style), 1870.
(Signed) GREGORY CONSTANTINE, Patriarch.
(Signed) All the members of the Holy Synod.
The note of the Patriarch and his Synod indicates that they are aware that, sooner or later, the national demands of the Bulgarians must be granted; and their chief concern now is to obtain as large concessions for the supremacy of the Patriarchal See as possible.
A peaceable and a speedy solution of the difference is the more urgent, as during the last ten years the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, aided by the diplomatic agents of the French Government, have made the most strenuous efforts to gain a foothold among the Bulgarians, and to establish a United Bulgarian Church. Nor have these efforts been altogether unsuccessful. Several years ago the Pope appointed the Bulgarian priest, Sokolski, the first Bishop of those Bulgarians who had entered the union with Rome, and who constituted a nucleus of the United Bulgarian Church, which, like the other united Oriental Churches, accepts the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, but is allowed to retain the ancient customs of the ancient national Church, (marriage of the priests, use of the Sclavic [sic] language at divine service, etc.). Bishop Sokolski was quite on a sudden carried off from Constantinople, (as was commonly thought by Russian agents,) and has never been heard of since. In 1855, Raphael Popof was consecrated successor of Sokolski; he still lives, as the only United Bulgarian Bishop, is present at the Vatican Council. He resides at Adrianople, and under his administration the membership of the United Bulgarian Church has increased (up to 1869) to over 9,000 souls, of whom 3,000 lives in Constantinople, 2,000 in Salonichi and Monastir, 1,000 in Adrianople, and 3,000 in the vicinity of Adrianople. The clergy of the Church, in 1869, consisted of ten secular priests.
The part about Rome and the emerging Bulgarian “unia” — complete with a Uniate bishop allegedly abducted by Tsarist agents! — is a topic worthy of study on its own. It’s also interesting to note that all of this was happening simultaneous with the First Vatican Council, which proclaimed the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility.
Next week, we’ll be back with another article on the “Bulgarian Question” and the build-up to the 1872 Council of Constantinople — which, as you might have noticed from the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s letter, was referred to as an “Ecumenical Council.” (Yes, there were Ecumenical Councils after #7.)
Sixty-five years ago today, on Holy Monday, April 7, 1947—the feast of Annunciation (O.S.)—an important event in the history of Orthodoxy in America occurred, with the first visit of Father Georges Florovsky to the United States. As with so many key turns in his ecclesiastical trajectory, Florovsky’s coming to America was occasioned by his intense involvement in the ecumenical movement.
The general plan to establish a World Council of Churches (WCC) had been agreed upon at the meeting of the Faith and Order Movement in Edinburgh, 1937, where Florovsky was present together with Fr. Sergii Bulgakov. While Florovsky himself had at this point yet no official standing as an Orthodox representative within Faith and Order, he was on this occasion elected to the “Committee of Fourteen,” composed of seven representatives of Faith and Order and seven of Life and Work, whose task it was to organize the future World Council of Churches. Given that the Orthodox representative for Life and Work was Metropolitan Germanos (Strinopoulos) of Thyateira and Great Britain, it was felt that the other Orthodox representative should be a non-Greek. The likely candidate was Fr. Sergii Bulgakov, who was both senior to Florovsky and had also been involved in Faith and Order since its inception at the Lausanne Assembly of August 1927.
Bulgakov, however, had recently drawn controversy for his sophiological teaching. And of the two, Florovsky had the greater facility with the English language. In all likelihood for these reasons, both the Orthodox and the Anglicans and American Episcopalians, who were responsible for funding much of the scholarly and ecumenical activity of the Orthodox centered at the Institute St. Serge (Paris), chose Florovsky instead, considering him the more trustworthy representative of Orthodox theology. According to Florovsky’s own unpublished account, it was Metropolitan Antony Bashir, also present at Edinburgh, who informed him of this decision. The reason Antony gave is interesting: it was because the “American Orthodox” wanted him.
The preparation of the World Council of Churches, however, was deferred by the Second World War. Florovsky was in Geneva at the outbreak of the war, unable to return to Paris, and therefore spent the whole of World War II in exile: in Yugoslavia (December 1939 to October 1944), serving as a chaplain and religion teacher at two high schools for Russian boys and girls; and then finally in Prague, teaching English and engaged in extensive pastoral work among the Russian emigres. Only in December 1945 was he able to return to Paris and resume his pre-war scholarly and ecumenical activities, commuting frequently throughout 1946 and 1947 to Geneva for meetings in preparation for the WCC. It was at this point that the stage was set also for his visit to the U.S. A meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC was planned to be held in America, Spring 1947. As a member of the committee, Florovsky was invited.
Other developments were taking place during this same time that would be determinative both for Florovsky’s future and that of Orthodoxy in America. In November 1946, the Seventh All American Church Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (the “Metropolia”) was held in Cleveland, Ohio. At the request of Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky), plans were drawn up for the re-formation of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (founded in 1938) into a real theological academy, on the model of the four pre-revolutionary Russian academies. At the suggestion of the historian George Fedotov, a colleague from St. Serge who had come to teach at St. Vladimir’s in 1945, Florovsky was named as the choice for professor of dogmatics and patrology.
The meeting of the provisional committee was held in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, on April 22-25, 1947. There it was announced that the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches would be held at Amsterdam from August 22 to September 5, 1948, having as its general theme “Man’s Disorder and God’s Design.” It is perhaps indicative of Florovsky’s influence that, already at this point, the WCC’s general secretary W. A. Visser’t Hooft emphasized to the press that the WCC was not to be understood as a “super-church” which would dictate to its member bodies, but only “an expression of the desire of the Churches to obey the will of their common Lord,” involving “not . . . the denial of the confessional heritage of the churches,” but rather “the attempt to manifest that unity which has actually been given to churches that take their confessions seriously” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7).
Following the conclusion of the provisional committee meeting, Florovsky traveled to New York in May 1947 to discuss the possibility of his coming to teach at St. Vladimir’s. The seminary was at this time housed in a cottage owned by General Theological Seminary (Episcopal Church USA), and had only a dozen students and limited faculty and resources. Florovsky spent most of his visit with Metropolitan Theophilus. The result of their conversations was that Florovsky agreed to accept appointment to the faculty, with the tacit understanding that he would later take up the deanship. Theophilus and Florovsky saw eye to eye both on the need to develop high-level theological education for clergy and to introduce the English language into teaching and church services. Almost exactly a year after Florovsky’s visit, on April 2, 1948, the Metropolitan Council of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America sent a letter to the American consulate in Paris requesting the entry of Florovsky and his wife into the US under non-quota status. Florovsky would later become a naturalized American citizen in 1954.
After his visit to Pennsylvania and New York in spring 1947, Florovsky returned to Europe. The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches took place in Amsterdam on August 22 to September 4, 1948, with some 14,000 persons present. Here, together with his friend the Anglican priest Michael Ramsey (who would become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1961) and the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, with whom he shared a common resistance to political pragmatism in ecumenical relations, Florovsky emerged as the leading theological voice. He was at this time elected also to the executive committee of the WCC.
Just ten days after Amsterdam, on September 15, 1948, Florovsky left Europe for good, arriving in New York by boat on September 21 to begin teaching at St. Vladimir’s. A year later, Florovsky took over the acting deanship from Bishop John Shahovskoy, and in 1950, he was officially made dean. He was to remain in that capacity until 1955. During his tenure at St. Vladimir’s, Florovsky raised academic standards and introduced the English language, placing the seminary on the map as an important center of theological education and injecting a crucial missionary dimension to its outlook.
Florovsky’s 1947 visit to America was therefore an event which both foreshadowed and helped to prepare two important developments in Orthodoxy and the Christian world at large: first, the formation of the World Council of Churches, and the presence of a powerful Orthodox theological voice within it; and second, the development of an articulate and missionary-minded Orthodox theology on American soil.
Photographs of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, published in The New York Times and Newsweek have a certain strangeness and wonder about them, marking the distance from his time and situation and our own. That the visit of any theologian—not to mention, Orthodox—would be considered worthy of feature in a major news source bespeaks a bygone age when Christian churches and theology still wielded a certain recognized cultural authority. That epoch gasped its last some time after the media excitement of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It is perhaps significant that, with the sole and recent exception of Pope Benedict XVI, no theologian has appeared on the cover of Time magazine since the April 20, 1962, feature of Karl Barth. It is hard to imagine a photograph of any leading Orthodox theologian today being featured within the pages of Time, Newsweek, or The New York Times, as Florovsky himself was in the 1940s and ’50s.
The modern ecumenical movement was itself conceived initially as a missionary response to an era of intense secularization. Doubtless, it was spurred on also by a humanitarian reaction to two massive wars, in which men of different countries equally confessing the name of Christ spilled one another’s blood over nationalist interests. Yet the early ecumenical movement came to birth nevertheless with a hope and confidence among some Christian leaders that a soundly Christocentric theology might matter still, and be heard by more than a few. With all their crucial differences, leading ecumenical figures of this period such as Florovsky and Barth were united at least in their attempt to respond to “man’s disorder,” not with humanitarian bromides regarding “tolerance” and “diversity,” or demi-Marxist clarions to class struggle, identity politics, and statist social planning, but with a word about creation, sin and redemption: the good news of Christ and his Church.
In “The Church and Her Responsibility,” a paper written for the Faith and Order Study Commission “The Universal Church in God’s Design” in March 1947, just a month before his visit to America, Florovsky stressed that the primary work of the Church was the proclamation of the Gospel, aimed precisely towards conversion—a ministry of the Word consummated in the ministry of the sacraments. This mission required that the Church avoid equally two temptations: sectarianism and secularization. The message of the Gospel is a word of judgment upon the world, but a saving judgment. The Church exists in the world as an antinomical and heterogeneous body, in a state of opposition, but also reformation of the world. As Florovsky said in his speech at Amsterdam, August 1948:
…the real strength of the Christian position is precisely in its ‘otherness.’ For indeed, Christianity is ‘not of this world’ and is not merely one of the elements of the worldly fabric. … the strength of Christianity is rooted in its opposition to everything Christless. No secular allies would ever help the Christian cause, whatever name they bear. As Christians we have but one Heavenly Ally, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all power has been given in Heaven and on earth, even in this perplexed and rebellious world of ours. For this very reason, Christians can and should never admit any other authority, even in secular affairs. Christ is the Lord and Master of history, not only of our souls. Again this gives ultimate priority to the theological issue. For our practical disagreements inevitably bring us back to the diversity of our interpretations of the Divine message and the Divine solution of our human tragedy and fall. (Florovsky, “Determinations and Distinctions: Ecumenical Aims and Doubts,” Sobornost, No. 4, Series 3, Winter 1948, 126-132, at 132)
It is dangerous to posit simple causes in the complex chain of historical events. Yet the marked wane in the cultural authority of theology and of churches themselves that became apparent only two decades or so after the Amsterdam Assembly did coincide with a certain “failure of nerve” on the part of theologians and pastors—a hesitance to address the culture at large with such robust evangel. Many preferred instead to adjust the content of their message in the attempt to be “relevant” to ever more radical forces of secularization.
Already at the meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC at Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, in April 1947, Dr. J. Hutchinson Cockburn, former moderator of the Church of Scotland, had noted how “anti-Christian forces” had become so strong that the Christian tradition “no longer dominates the European scene.” “If Christ is to be enthroned over the lives of men in Europe,” he added, “it will only be by the reviving of the Church by the Grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Of this revival the churches are the appointed instruments. It is Christian civilization that is at stake, not merely in Europe but also in Britain and in the United States” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7). Cockburn’s diagnosis remains even more true today. Yet it is a sad fact how many professed theologians and Christian leaders, even among the Orthodox, respond to it with sophisticated cynicism, chameleon-like compromise and defeat.
Images of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, Holy Monday—a day when many Orthodox in America celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, and all were preparing to follow after Christ to his sacred Passion in the city—show the Russian priest-theologian flanked by Cockburn and Visser’t Hooft aboard the deck of the Queen Elizabeth dressed in his riassa, cigarette visible between his fingertips, his long uncut hair blowing crazily in the wind, the expression on his face so confident as almost to radiate joy. It was precisely his spirit of confidence—confidence in the truth of Christ and his Church, and in the legacy and task of Orthodox theology—combined with magnanimity towards divided brethren, in hope of their eventual recovery, that made Florovsky’s example so singularly important for his time and context. Much depends upon the revival of that same spirit in our own.
(In addition to the articles cited and several unpublished sources, this essay relies upon Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” in Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual—Orthodox Churchman, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993, pp. 73-91.)
March 25, 1886: The future Greek Archbishop and later Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras Spyrou was born. Athenagoras led the Greek Archdiocese from 1930 to 1948, when he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He served in that position for nearly a quarter-century, until his death in 1972.
March 25, 1891: St. Alexis Toth and his Greek Catholic parish in Minneapolis joined the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
March 22, 1892: The French Orthodox convert priest Fr. Vladimir Guettee died. Guettee had been a respected Roman Catholic historian and Jesuit priest, but through his study of history, he came to believe that the Orthodox Church alone had preserved the true faith. He joined the Russian Church, taking the name “Vladimir,” and published a widely read journal on Orthodoxy which reported on American Orthodox events. He also wrote a lengthy refutation of papal claims, which can be read here.
March 25, 1896: The future hieromartyr Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. Korchinsky’s travels make his fellow circuit-riding priests look wimpy by comparison — Alaska, Canada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Mexico, Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, and finally back in his native Odessa (modern Ukraine). At 80, he was executed by the Soviets, and he is now being considered for glorification as a saint. To read more about Korchinsky, check out this article I wrote in 2010.
March 24, 1907: Russian Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin concelebrated his last Divine Liturgy in America, with Bishops Raphael Hawaweeny and Innocent Pustynsky.
March 22, 1908: In Boston, Fr. Theophan Noli celebrated the first-ever liturgy in the Albanian language, anywhere in the world. The service took place in Boston, where Noli was a student at Harvard. To read about that first liturgy in 1908, check out my article from 2010.
March 24, 1918: Almost exactly a decade later, Fr. Theophan Noli was appointed as the administrator of the Albanian Mission under the Russian Archdiocese of North America. Not long afterward, he returned to Albania, became the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, and finally was elected Prime Minister of Albania. He held that post for five months before he was exiled to America, where he led an Albanian jurisdiction for decades.
March 22, 1925: The former Archimandrite Patrick Mythen died in New York. Two years ago, I wrote about Mythen’s life prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, and I never got around to telling the rest of the story. So here’s the rest of the story, very briefly: Mythen, an Episcopal priest and former Roman Catholic, converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. Within months, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite and put in charge of a brand-new project called the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. This was supposed to be an English-speaking parish for American converts. It didn’t last more than a handful of months, but it included several convert priests, most of whom appear to have been Mythen’s friends. When chaos broke out in the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky relied more and more heavily on Mythen. According to Mythen’s own claims — the accuracy of which is uncertain — he (Mythen) was given power of attorney for the whole Archdiocese. I’ve heard that he even signed clergy ordination certificates. Within a few years, though, Mythen re-converted to Roman Catholicism. He was found dead in 1925, at the age of just 42.
March 25, 1925: Three days later, a man who could not be more different than Mythen — St. Tikhon, by now the Patriarch of Moscow — died in Russia.
March 24, 1935: Bishop Polycarp Morusca was consecrated in Romania to lead the Romanian Diocese in America. He was enthroned in Detroit a few months later, and over the next several years, he did a lot to organize the Romanian Orthodox of America. In 1939, he returned to Romania to attend a session of the Holy Synod, but World War II broke out, and Bishop Polycarp wasn’t able to return to the United States. In 1947, he notified the American diocese that it had been eliminated from the church budget. He was forced to retire, and future heads of the diocese would have to be approved by Romania’s Communist government. In 1951, the American diocese elected the exiled Bishop Valerian Trifa to be the nominal auxiliary to Bishop Polycarp, but given that Bishop Polycarp hadn’t set foot in America in more than a decade, for all intents and purposes Bishop Valerian was the new head of the diocese. Bishop Polycarp died in Romania in 1958.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey of New York signed into law a bill incorporating the Federated Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions of America. The Federation was sort of a primitive version of SCOBA. It included most of the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America, but there were notable exceptions, including the Russian Metropolia, ROCOR, and the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo. In the Federation’s short life — only about a year or so — it achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. The Federation managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. It also led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. The Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by the legislation, from way back in the 1940s. As far as I know, the last meeting of the Federation took place in February 1944, but the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it going on paper for another 15 or so years, when the dream of the Federation was revived as SCOBA.
March 25, 1998: The renowned church historian Jaroslav Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy. Pelikan was an intellectual giant, a longtime professor at Yale and a prolific writer. He had been well acquainted with Orthodoxy for decades before his conversion, which Fr. John Erickson has described in this way: “In a conversation shortly after his entrance into the Orthodox Church, Jary likened his path to Orthodoxy to that of a pilot who kept circling the airport, looking for a way to land. Orthodox Christians can be thankful that he landed before running out of fuel.” In his later years, Pelikan served as a key member of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Board of Trustees. He died in 2006. For more on Pelikan, read this 2003 article by Fr. John Erickson. I particularly liked this quote from Pelikan, on being a historian: “Everybody else is an expert on the present. I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.”
March 20, 2003: The Orthodox Church of Poland formally glorified St. Vasily Martysz, who had once served in America. To read more about St. Vasily, click here.
March 22, 2009: Archbishop Dmitri Royster of Dallas retired as head of the OCA Diocese of the South.
March 2, 1865: Fr. Agapius Honcharenko served the first public Orthodox Divine Liturgy in New York. Way back in 2009, I wrote a pair of articles about that liturgy; click here and here to read them. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that Honcharenko had celebrated the Divine Liturgy at least once in New York prior to March 2 — on January 6, which was Christmas (December 25) according to the Orthodox calendar in the 19th century. But the March 2 liturgy was the first public liturgy. Rev. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church and one of the most prominent Episcopalian clergymen of his day, wrote of the liturgy in his journal, “This 2nd. day of Lent was a memorable one, because the Liturgy of the Eastern Church was sung in Trinity Chapel, at 11 A.M. This never occurred before so far as I have heard, in any Anglican Church. Bishop Potter was to have been there, but backed out, and went down to S. Paul’s instead, to the noon day communion.”
February 28, 1904: Barbara MacGahan died in New York. A native of Russia, MacGahan was the widow of a famous American war correspondent, and she became a renowned journalist in her own right. She was the principal founder of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) in New York City, and she played an important role in the Russian Mission until her death. In MacGahan’s day, a disproportionate number of the Orthodox in America were men. And the status of women in turn-of-the-century America was certainly far more restricted than it is today. I mean, today, we don’t bat an eyelash at the thought of a woman chairing a parish council, but such a thing was probably inconceivable more than a century ago. It was in that world that MacGahan became a major player in the Russian Mission, right at the time when it was expanding beyond its original focus of Alaska. Barbara MacGahan may have been the most influential woman in the early history of American Orthodoxy.
February 28, 1914: The choir of New York’s St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral performed at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson. Some of the robes worn by the choir members at this event have survived, and are held at the OCA archives in Syosset, NY.
February 27, 1915: St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the Syrian Bishop of Brooklyn, died. What can be said of St. Raphael that has not already been said? How about this quotation from Rev. T.J. Lacey, a notable Episcopalian priest who had a strong affinity for the Orthodox Church:
Bishop Raphael was a master-builder. He laid strong enduring foundations, gathering a large constituency and acquiring valuable property for the congregation. He was a man of wide education and keen intelligence, a master of many languages. He possessed rare gifts of administration, and was unselfishly devoted to the spiritual and material welfare of his people. His death, in 1915, deprived the Syrian Church of a strong leader.
February 28, 1937: The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop Bohdan Spylka was consecrated by the Greek Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou.
UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I said that Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky returned to Russia on February 27, 1914 (so, the day before his cathedral choir performed at the White House). But my fellow SOCHA director Aram Sarkisian informed me that this was incorrect — actually, Hotovitzky was present at the White House concert, and he left for Russia on March 12. The reason for the error is that March 12 is February 27 according to the Old Calendar. We’ll make note of Hotovitzky’s departure in a couple of weeks, when we get to the actual anniversary.
Also, I originally said that the choir concert was on February 29 (the date reported by other sources), but as Aram points out, 1914 was not a leap year. The concert actually took place on February 28.