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.
In the life of St. Raphael Hawaweeny published by Antakya Press (page 24, to be precise), there’s a reference to an early Syrian/Antiochian chapel in New York, dating to 1893. The story goes that a visiting Antiochian priest, Archimandrite Christopher Jabara, established the chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets in New York City. Unbeknownst to the local Syrians, however, Jabara espoused a radical, heretical theology, rejecting the Holy Trinity and calling for the unification of all religions — and especially a merger of Orthodoxy with Islam. Jabara was a speaker at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and his talks were reported in the New York newspapers. Jabara was “compelled to leave the country” and eventually died in Egypt. To read more about Jabara, check out this article I wrote two years ago.
I haven’t been able to find much of anything about that original Syrian chapel, but I did recently stumble upon the following note in the June 12, 1893 issue of the New York Sun:
The members of the Syrian Orthodox Greek Church who have been worshipping in the Greek chapel in Fifty-third street have now a chapel of their own on the top floor of the building at the northeast corner of Cedar and West streets. The chapel was dedicated yesterday morning at 10 o’clock. The service, which was in Greek, Arabic, and Russian, was conducted by Archimandrite Christophoros Jebarah, assisted by two priests from the Russian war ships now in the harbor. The Russian Vice-Admiral and a party of Russian sailors attended the service.
Jabara’s own weirdness aside, this is a really fine example of early inter-Orthodox cooperation. At the time, the only Orthodox church in New York was Greek, so that’s where all the Orthodox went — regardless of ethnicity. (Other sources tell us that the local Russians also attended the Greek church.) And when the Syrians opened their own chapel, the visiting Russian clergy and sailors came out for the dedication. Orthodoxy was small and new in early 1890s America, and the Orthodox, of necessity, had to work together. Of course, once the necessity passed, the Orthodox were content to break up into their respective ethnic groups.
Anyway, the Syrian chapel failed pretty quickly. It’s clear that Jabara wasn’t the right man to lead the church, but two years later, the right man, Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, arrived on the scene, leading the Syrians until his death two decades later.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Christopher Orr.
Update (6/18/11): What follows is an updated version of the original article.
On May 24, 2011 – the feast of the holy Equals-of-the-Apostles, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Enlighteners of the Slavs and the name day of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All-Russia – Metropolitan Jonah (Primate of the Orthodox Church in America) and Metropolitan Hilarion (First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Moscow Patriarchate) in New York City.
This is the first concelebration between the first hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in decades. 
Also concelebrating was Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk (Administrator of communities in the USA directly under the Moscow Patriarchate), Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania (OCA) and Bishop Jerome of Manhattan (ROCOR), Igumen (Abbot) Sergius of St. Tikhon’s Monsatery in South Canaan, PA and the former Abbot of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, CA, Archimandrite Gerasim, as well as clergy of the Patriarchal Parishes in the United States, the OCA and ROCOR.
By way of background, the OCA and ROCOR have had a stormy relationship since the latter’s formation in 1921.
The OCA – known previously as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, or informally as the “Metropolia” – was the Russian Orthodox diocese for North America established well before the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). ROCOR – informally known as “the Synod”, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), or the “Church Abroad” – saw itself as the duly constituted, representative body of all Russian Orthodox bishops, clergy and laity outside of Soviet Russia based on Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow’s Ukaze (Decree) 362.  The ROCOR hierarchy was primarily comprised of refugee bishops, their clergy and faithful fleeing Russia with the “Whites” who had lost the 1917-21 Civil War in Russia to the Bolshevik “Reds”. However, Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of the Metropolia and Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievsky) of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Western Europe saw themselves as more ‘canonically established’ than the refugee bishops who had (uncanonically, but understandably) their dioceses in Russia and were without dioceses abroad. That is, Mets. Evlogy and Platon were bishops resident in their own dioceses whereas the ROCOR hierarchs were bishops of dioceses in Russia, which they were unable to occupy.  The Metropolia cooperated with the ROCOR bishops at first but severed relations with them in 1926 citing the Synod’s increasing claims of authority over the more ‘canonically regular’ American diocese. The Synod, for its part, suspended Metropolitan Platon of New York and his clergy for disobedience. However, in 1935, an agreement was signed that normalized relations between the Metropolia and ROCOR, and the Metropolia’s 6th All-American Sobor (1937) affirmed that the Metropolia remained autonomous while reporting to ROCOR in matters of faith.
Towards the end of World War II, ROCOR, which had been cooperative with the anti-Soviet forces of Nazi Germany, was forced to move its base of operations from Yugoslavia (the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Serbia) to New York City (the jurisdiction of the Metropolia).
In November 1946, soon after the close of WWII (in which America was allied with the USSR against Nazi Germany), the 7th All-American Sobor of the Metropolia (comprised of laity, lower clergy and bishops) met in Cleveland and severed ties with ROCOR so as to attempt a reconciliation with the USSR-based Patriarchate of Moscow whose relations with Stalin’s government were greatly improved (comparatively) during and immediately after WWII. Reconciliation between the Metropolia and Moscow was proposed with the stipulation that the Metropolia be allowed to retain its complete autonomy from the Soviet-dominated Church of Russia. When this condition was not met, the Metropolia continued as a self-governing Church in communion with neither Moscow nor ROCOR.
For its part, ROCOR viewed the Moscow Patriarchate as a puppet church controlled by the anti-religious, militantly atheistic Soviet state. ROCOR saw itself as the only free, legitimate part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some within ROCOR even argued that the Moscow Patriarchate was “without grace”, i.e., no longer Church. ROCOR was constitutionally and culturally opposed to any reconciliation with the Soviet-controlled Moscow Patriarchate.
In 1968, the Metropolia and the Moscow Patriarchate again began informal negotiations meant to resolve their long-standing differences. Representatives from the Metropolia sought the right of sacramental independence and episcopal self-governance (autocephaly), as well as the removal of Russian jurisdiction from all matters concerning the American Church. Official negotiations on the matter began in 1969. On April 10, 1970, Patriarch Alexius I of Moscow and fourteen bishops of Moscow’s Holy Synod signed the official Tomos of Autocephaly, which reestablished communion between the two churches and granted the Metropolia complete autocephaly as the newly renamed Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the fifteenth autocephalous Orthodox Church according to Moscow’s reckoning. ROCOR was decidedly against what it viewed to be the OCA’s compromise with a Patriarchate they saw as being either created or controlled by the anti-religious USSR.
However, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resurgence of free church life in the Russian Church, the canonization of the New Martyrs who suffered under Communism (including Tsar St. Nicholas and his family), repentance over the murder of the royal family, and a general thaw in relations in the first decade of the 21st century, the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate and the the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were reconciled in 2007. ROCOR became an autonomous part of the Russian Church.
While intercommunion of OCA and ROCOR laity and clergy has occurred following the 2007 reconciliation , full intercommunion between ROCOR and the Metropolia/OCA in the persons of the presidents of their respective Synods had not taken taken place prior to this historic, 2011 Divine Liturgy. 
“Behold now, what is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 132:1)
1. No one seems clear on when ROCOR and OCA/Metropolia bishops last officially (or unofficially) served together in the altar prior to the 2007 reconciliation between Moscow and ROCOR.
2. See the unpublished M.Th. dissertation by Nikolaj L. Kostur, “The Relationship Between the Russian Orthodox Church in North America and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad from 1920-1950″ (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, May 2009), pp. 16-18.
3. As noted in a comment by Fr. Andrew Damick, Met. Platon was also a refugee who had abandoned his Russian diocese (Kherson and Odessa) and found refuge in America where he had previously been diocesan hierarch from 1907 to 1914. After his return to America as a refugee and the departure of Abp. Alexander (Nemolovsky) to Europe, Met. Platon was elected and confirmed as head of the Metropolia by Patriarch St. Tikhon. This appointment was rescinded by later decree of Patriarch St. Tikhon that many took to be written under Soviet duress to Soviet political ends. It became increasingly difficult for Russian hierarchs abroad to communicate with the Patriarchate – and to be sure the communications they received were authentic and freely given. This uncertainty and confusion fomented factionalism and chaos within the Church and emigre community abroad – which was the likely the intent of Soviet ‘meddling’. Met. Evlogy was thus the only hierarch resident in his diocese about which there was absolutely no question regarding his canonical standing, though Met. Platon and the other Russian bishops abroad would dissent the point on various, sometimes conflicting grounds.
The Russian bishops abroad found themselves in a bit of a canonical ‘no man’s land’ since they viewed themselves as refugees who would return home to Russia rather than as permanent residents abroad (or as missionaries). In some ways, with ROCOR being based in Karlovtsy, Serbia, the Russian bishops were hierarchs of the Serbian Church without traditional, geographically-defined dioceses – that is, except for the bishops of the previously established Russian Orthodox dioceses of Western Europe and North America.
This was a confusing time with competing narratives and facts. Time will tell the tale. Thankfully, due to the 1970 reconciliation between the Metropolia and Moscow, the 2007 reconciliation between Moscow and ROCOR, and the 2011 concelebration of ROCOR and the OCA’s first hierarchs the details are now moot outside of academic and historical questions.
4. While not concelebration proper, ROCOR and OCA bishops communed together during the 2010 Episcopal Assembly in New York City. The Liturgy was served by the Dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral (GOA) alone with the attending bishops communing in the altar.
5. It has been independently confirmed that individual bishops of ROCOR and the OCA have also served together prior to the May 24, 2011 Divine Liturgy, e.g., the enthronement of the OCA’s Met. Jonah (Paffhausen). It should also be noted that simply praying together – in the altar or anywhere – was an important step for ROCOR and OCA bishops given ROCOR’s stance on prayer with heretics and schismatics. The import of these common prayers was not well noted at the time.
In March, I gave a lecture at Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Westchester, Illinois, on the subject of Chicago’s Orthodox history. Since then, I’ve begun to probe deeper into the early history of Orthodoxy in Chicago. Many people have asked about one man in particular — George Brown, an early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community.
At a landmark meeting of the Chicago Orthodox in 1888, Brown was elected president of the fledgling multiethnic proto-parish. He offered this speech (reported in the Chicago Tribune the following day, 5/14/1888):
Gentlemans, union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. I have no jealousy. I am married to a Catholic woman but I hold my own. Let us stick like brothers. If our language is two, our religion is one. The priest he make the performance in both language. We have our flags built. It is the first Greek flags raised in Chicago. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.
The Tribune also reported that Brown was a veteran of the American Civil War. Three years later, the community was still trying to start a full-fledged parish, and Brown was still in a leadership role. From the Chicago Inter Ocean, we learn that “Mr. George M. Braun, a Greek, who is one of the leaders in the movement for a church in this city, says that they have been promised a priest of the orthodox faith as soon as they have erected a church.” Ultimately, no multiethnic parish was founded; instead, separate Greek and Russian churches were established in 1893.
Four years later, Greece was on the brink of war with Turkey, and thousands of Greek Chicagoans prepared to return and fight for their home country. The Tribune (2/15/1897) reported,
George M. Brown, a barber, No. 32 Wells street, and, in spite of his English name, of pure Greek blood, was seen last night at his home in North Market street, between Kinzie and Michigan. He rubbed his hands gleefully when told of the latest cable news.
“I am glad to hear this,” he said. “There are 2,000 of my fellow-countrymen in Chicago who will return to their native land to fight against the hated Turks. I hope it will end in driving the Musselmans [Muslims] out of Europe. We have been holding meetings for some time and almost without exception the Greek residents are anxious to fight. I do not know positively, but understand the resident Consul favors the movement and has promised its support. As soon as war is declared, and I guess the news of today is a practical declaration of war, we shall write to the Consul at New York and offer our services. Many of us can and will willingly pay our way back, but the majority will require assistance, which I have no doubt will be furnished by the proper authorities. The Greek colony numbers 3,000 and there are few women and children. If passage money is assured, it is probable 2,000 would embark for Greece without delay.”
Recently, I searched the US Census records to see if I could find Brown. And I did: the 1880 Census lists George Brown, a 40-year-old barber who was born in Greece and living in Chicago. He is listed along with his 26-year-old wife, Louisa, who was born in Italy (which is consistent with his statement in 1888 that he was “married to a Catholic woman”).
The couple also appears in the 1900 Census, along with their children. (The 1890 Census records are unavailable.) Here’s the family:
- George, born in Greece in May 1840, immigrated to America in 1855. He and Louisa had been married for 28 years as of the 1900 Census. This puts their wedding sometime around 1872. George still ran a barbershop in 1900.
- Louisa, born in Italy in June 1855, immigrated to America in 1870. She must have met George not long afterwards, since they were married by 1872 at the latest. The Census reports that Louisa could neither read nor write, although she could speak English.
- Son Leo was born in Illinois in March 1883. His occupation is listed as “Laborer in Grocery.”
- Son Lycurgos (clearly George picked this name) was born in Illinois in June 1884, and in 1900 he worked as an “Errand [boy] in Office.” Incidentally, the early Greek organization in Chicago was known as the “Society of Lycurgos.”
- Daughter Asphasia (or Aspasia) was born in Illinois in May 1890. She’s listed as being “At school.”
- Daughter Consulata was born in Illinois in September 1895.
I can’t find George Brown in the 1910 Census; in fact, I can’t find anyone who even possibly is a match — that is, (1) named George, (2) born in Greece sometime around 1840, and (3) living in Illinois. It’s entirely possible that Brown died between 1900 and 1910. Even in 1900, at age 60, he had surpassed the average lifespan of Americans in his day.
In trying to track down the Brown children, I started with son Lycurgos, for the obvious reason that there can’t be more than one Lycurgos Brown — right? Wrong, actually: In the 1920 Census alone, there were no fewer than six men named Lycurgos (or Lycurgus) Brown. Only one was reasonably close in age to our Lycurgos (who would have been 36 in 1920), but that man, aged 38, was born in Texas, as were his parents. I haven’t been able to find any of the other Brown children in later Censuses, either. However, I found possible matches for daughter Aspasia in the Social Security Death Index. We know that she was born in May 1890, and according to the SSDI, Aspasia Pantek and Aspasia Constantinou were both born in that month. If anyone wants to take the baton and try to track down George Brown’s descendants, go for it — it would be great to see what, if anything, they know about their ancestor.
Finally, further digging turned up the fact that our George Brown’s actual surname was Kotakis. He seems to have dropped it after coming to America. So, here is what we know:
- George Kotakis was born in Greece around 1840.
- He came to America in 1855, took the surname “Brown,” and fought in the Civil War.
- He married an Italian woman named Louisa around 1872.
- He was living in Chicago by at least 1880, and he worked as a barber.
- He was a leader in Chicago’s early Orthodox proto-parish, becoming the community’s president in 1888.
- He had at least four children — two sons and two daughters.
- He may have died between 1900 and 1910.
If anyone out there has any information that can add to our knowledge of George Brown, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
UPDATE: I may have found Lycurgos Brown, George’s second son. On November 16, 1917, a girl named Elizabeth Veronica Brown was born in Cook County, IL (i.e., Chicago). Her birth certificate lists her mother as the former Clara Scanlan, and her father as George Lycurgus Brown, age 33, born in Chicago. Doing the math (1917 minus 33), this man would have been born in 1884 — the same year as our Lycurgos Brown. It’s entirely possible that our Lycurgos actually had the first name of George (after his father), but went by his middle name as a child.
We can verify this hypothesis by revisiting the Census records. In 1910, George L. Brown, a 25-year-old shipping clerk, was living in Chicago with his wife Clara, 3-year-old son George E., and 7-month-old son Daniel P. And according to the Census, George L. Brown’s father was born in Greece, and his mother was from Italy. This is our guy.
I can’t find George Lycurgos Brown in the 1920 Census, but in 1930, he’s still in Chicago. Here is the family:
- George, age 46
- Clara, age 42
- Daniel, age 21
- Gordon, age 17
- Elizabeth, age 12
- Robert, age 5
- Clara G., age 3
- Thomas M., newborn
George Lycurgos Brown’s youngest children would thus be in their eighties today, and it is entirely possible that one or more is still alive. I wonder how much they know about their grandfather, the original George Brown?
UPDATE 2: Sorry for all the updates, but I’ve now traced George Brown’s line down to the present day. Son George Lycurgos Brown’s daughter Elizabeth married a man named Russell Garrett. Elizabeth died in Chicago in 2004, and according to her obituary, her descendants include daughter Elizabeth Balfanz and grandchildren Michael and Rebecca Balfanz.
I’m sure George Brown has dozens of other surviving descendants, through his various other children and grandchildren.
Way back in the summer of 2009, we went down to Houston to visit family, and while there, we made a special trip to the nearby city of Galveston. Really, my family was indulging me — I wanted to visit Saints Constantine and Helen Serbian Orthodox Church, the first Orthodox parish in Texas and one of the oldest Orthodox church buildings still in use in America. I took a bunch of photos, and I’ve been meaning to publish them here, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Until now:
I took a lot more photos, and I may post more in the future. To learn more about the fascinating history of Ss. Constantine and Helen parish, and their legendary priest Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, check out this article, posted on OH.org last January.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.