This morning on his Frontier Orthodoxy blog, Fr. Oliver Herbel offered a post with the provocative title, “St. Peter the Aleut Did Not Exist.” Fr. Oliver says that he intentionally did not publish the article here at OH.org so as to spare us the inevitable debate; however, I do think it’s appropriate that we link to the post and give people a chance to read it.
Fr. Oliver’s argument boils down to six main points:
- Unlike so many Alaskan Orthodox stories (e.g. St. Juvenaly), the St. Peter story has no supporting oral tradition.
- Fr. Michael Oleksa, the foremost scholar on Alaskan Orthodox history, has written next to nothing about St. Peter. In Orthodox Alaska, Fr. Michael makes not a single mention of Peter’s story. (I would add that Fr. Michael mentions St. Peter only in passing in Alaskan Missionary Spirituality.)
- No corroborating evidence exists — that is, there is no other evidence of Spanish-Russian violence in California in that era. The St. Peter incident sticks out as an anomaly.
- On the contrary, there is an internal Roman Catholic document from the period that actually contradicts the idea that the Spanish would torture Native Alaskans.
- There is no evidence that St. Peter and his alleged persecutors would have been able to converse in the same language, which makes the exchange between them unlikely.
- There is only one primary account of St. Peter’s martyrdom, and it is suspect for various reasons.
I’d encourage you to read the whole article, as I’ve just barely summarized Fr. Oliver’s observations. And, for the time being, I’m going to stay out of the public debate over whether St. Peter was real (and, if he was real, whether he was really martyred). I do think it is of paramount importance that the original account of St. Peter’s martyrdom be made public and translated into English. We don’t have that account, and I don’t know of anyone who has ever seen it, although in the comments to Fr. Oliver’s post, someone says that it was due to be published in a book.
At some future point, I’ll examine the pro-Peter arguments, and generally discuss the merits of his case.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you should visit the new website of our Episcopal Assembly: www.episcopalassembly.org. Among other things, the site includes official EA news and press releases, a list of all the active canonical Orthodox bishops in North and Central America, and a directory of Orthodox parishes in America (brought over from the old SCOBA website). I understand that the site will be updated regularly, and information on the EA’s committees should be forthcoming.
While looking for something else, I happened upon an incredible anecdote in a book called Arizona: A State Guide, by Thomas J. Tormey (Hastings House, 1940). From page 389:
TACNA, 79.6 m. (340 alt., 7 pop.), began as a stage station called Antelope Hill. In the seventeenth century, a Greek priest named Tachnapolis came to this region from California and spent his last days with the Indians, who called him Tacna, the name later given to the station.
Think about that — the 17th century! That’s a century before the Russians discovered Alaska, and two centuries before Lewis and Clark made their trek to the Pacific Ocean. It is literally inconceivable that a Greek priest could have been in California in the 17th century. Or the 18th, for that matter. The first Greek priest in America, as far as I am aware, was Fr. Stephen Andreades in New Orleans in about 1867. The first Greek priest in California was probably Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas in the early 1890s. And the first Orthodox priest of any kind to visit Arizona seems to have been Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, also in the 1890s.
Obviously, this called for an investigation. An Internet search immediately turned up a more recent book, American Trails Revisited: Following in the Footsteps of the Western Pioneers by Lyn Wilkerson (2003). This publication simply repeats the above reference verbatim. Even more recently, the 2010 book Desert Duty: On the Line with the U.S. Border Patrol mentions Tacna as the former site of a Border Patrol station:
At times the Border Patrol station has been located in the small farming town of Tacna. The owner of a roadside gas station and soda stand on the highway from Yuma to Phoenix or Tucson contrived to call it Tachnopolis, after an imaginary Greek priest, but the actual town never was very big and the signpost has moved several times.
Obviously, the authors of Desert Duty didn’t buy into the Greek priest story, and neither do I. The website triptrivia.com seems to settle the matter:
Tacna started off as Antelope Hill, a stage station. With the coming of the railroad, and a post office, the name Tacna was given to it, but it did not last. In the early 1920s Max B. Noah had arrived from Texas and set up business under a tree, with a barrel of gasoline and a hand pump.
Noah was noted for his tall stories, and it was apparently he who started a story about the Greek priest named Tachnapolis who had come from California to Arizona in the seventeenth century, and spent his last days with the Indians, who shortened his name to Tachna, or Tacna. H had picked up the name from the old railroad siding, and used the name when he applied for the post office. When Noah’s little community began to fade, the Tacna post office was moved four miles further east and given the name Ralph’s Mill-Tacna, the Ralph being for Joe Ralph, who ran a small cafe for travelers. The origin of the name Tacna remains a mystery.
Triptrivia.com doesn’t give any clue as to where they got their information, but the Yuma Sun (3/3/2007) confirms the role of Noah in naming Tacna: “There are differing stories about the origin of the name Tacna, but it likely was adopted from an old railroad siding sign by Max B. Noah, who arrived in the early 1920s and set up business under a tree with a barrel of gasoline and a hand pump. Where the railroad came up with the name is unclear.” According to the Sun, the railroad had succeeded the above-mentioned Antelope Peak Stage Station on the Butterfield Overland Trail. All of which date to no earlier than the 1850s.
It all certainly sounds pretty straightforward. The railroad adopted some long-forgotten name, ”Tacna,” which perhaps came from a local tribal language (although Fr. Oliver Herbel humorously notes that “tacna” is a reasonable transliteration of the Serbian word for “saucer” — that is, a dish for a teacup). Decades later, along came Max Noah, a big-talking Texan, who used the old railroad’s sign and fabricated an outlandish story about a Greek priest. Noah was pretty well-traveled — he’s described as a Texan, but he was born in Colorado and was living in Virginia in the 1920 Census – and it’s likely that he ran into some Greeks in the course of his travels. The whole story, then, appears to be a clever hoax, born of the creative mind of Max B. Noah.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS), has interviewed Romanian doctoral candidate Fr. Ilie Toader, pursuing his doctorate through the Bucharest Faculty of Theology. This is definitely something to be noted and anticipated. I have not seen the Bucharest institution, though I did briefly visit the seminary in Cluj back in 2000. Please note Fr. Ilie’s comments concerning frequent participation in the Eucharist, the connection between history and doctrine, and the unitive function of chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Of interest are the names mentioned by him: Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Meyendorff, and Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Florovsky served as dean from 1949-1955. Schmemann was dean from 1962 until his death in 1983. Meyendorff served as dean from 1984 until he retired in 1992. All three men also taught at SVS and their writings remain influential to this day.
The interview may be found here:
By way of disclosure, perhaps I should add that as a student I took courses from Dr. Bouteneff and he will be speaking at our second annual St. Nicholas Retreat (held the first Saturday of each December).
[This article was written by Fr. Oliver Herbel.]
Over the past decade, my friend, the incomparable sociologist Alexei Krindatch, has developed a reputation for his remarkable studies of Orthodox Christianity in America. The full collection of his work is housed at www.orthodoxreality.org. Today, Alexei has released the results of his latest and most ambitious project yet — a census of all Orthodox congregations in the United States. The most notable aspect of this census is the fact that Alexei didn’t just go to the administrations of each jurisdiction and ask for their reported numbers. He contacted every single parish in America, asking two key questions:
- Approximately how many individual persons in total are associated in any way with the life of your parish: counting adults and children, regular and occasional attendees, paid stewards and persons who do not contribute financially?
- Approximately how many persons — including adults and children — attend Liturgy in your parish on a typical Sunday?
Counting all “Orthodox” churches — that is, including the non-Chalcedonians as well as HOCNA (which isn’t in communion with mainstream Orthodoxy) — Alexei found that 1,043,600 people were associated with American Orthodox parishes. Of those, about 280,300 (27%) attend Liturgy on a typical Sunday.
I’m tempted to pick out some of my favorite bits of data from the census, but I really do want you to visit Alexei’s website and read what he’s presented. In the future, I’ll probably unpack the census a bit, comparing it to the old Censuses of Religious Bodies. Once again, here’s a link to the 2010 Census, and here’s a link to Alexei Krindatch’s website.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]