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.
Recently, Holy Cross Orthodox Press published the Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, edited by Alexei D. Krindatch. I contributed several pieces to the Atlas, including the article “Ten Interesting Facts About the History of Orthodox Christianity in the USA.” With Alexei’s permission, we’re publishing excerpts of that article here at OrthodoxHistory.org. To purchase your own copy of the Atlas (for $19.95), click here.
4. In 1888, the Orthodox of Chicago tried – but failed – to establish a multiethnic Orthodox parish.
By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in Chicago. Most of them were Greeks and Serbs, and despite the fact that they weren’t Russian, they petitioned the nearest bishop – who was Russian – to send them a priest. In 1888, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to gauge there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. George Brown, who emigrated from Greece as a young man, had fought in the American Civil War. He gave a short speech, saying, “Union is the strength… If our language is two, our religion is one… We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.”
Everyone at the meeting agreed to start a parish, with services in both Greek and Slavonic. Bishop Vladimir visited later that year, but unfortunately, he soon became embroiled in a series of scandals in San Francisco. One of his strongest opponents was a Montenegrin whose brother was a leader in the Chicago community. Hearing reports of the crisis, the Chicago Orthodox decided they wanted nothing more to do with the bishop, and instead contacted the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, and Serbia.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest. He established Chicago’s first Orthodox parish in 1892, specifically for Greek people. One month later, a Russian church was founded. For the first time in American Orthodox history, two churches answering to different ecclesiastical authorities coexisted in the same U.S. city. But despite their separation based on language and ethnicity, the two churches still got along well. In 1894, the Greek and Russian priests served together at the Russian church to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar died the following month, both priests held a memorial at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas Ziorov, visited Chicago, the local Greek priest participated in the hierarchical services. Later on, in 1902, Russian church bell was stolen, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the parishioners for help. The two churches, held a joint meeting in an effort to find the bell. Chicago thus represents both an early manifestation of “jurisdictional pluralism” and a wonderful example of inter-ethnic Orthodox cooperation.
Prior to Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny’s death in 1915, pretty much all the Syrian (Antiochian) Orthodox in America recognized his authority. This included St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was incorporated in 1910. The parish was under St. Raphael, and all seemed to be well. But in February 1915, St. Raphael died, and his flock split: some recognized the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch, and others the authority of the Russian Holy Synod and its North American Archbishop. This marks the beginning of the “Russy-Antacky” schism, which divided Antiochian Americans for many years.
This split not only divided St. Raphael’s diocese, but individual parishes as well. At St. George in Grand Rapids, the priest came back from St. Raphael’s funeral and told his congregation to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Russian archbishop. Not everyone complied, and pro-Antioch parishioners insisted that their priest commemorate the Patriarch of Antioch in the Divine Liturgy. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian group tried to amend the parish articles of association to place church property under the control of the Russian Holy Synod. The factions went to court, culminating in Hanna v. Malick, a 1923 Michigan Supreme Court case.
The key question in the case is which faction — Russy or Antacky — should have control of the church property. To figure this out, the court had to determine which hierarchy — Russian or Antiochian — was recognized by the parish when it formed in 1910. The Antacky members “claim that they organized under and are subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of Antioch, “whose representative in America was Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn.” The Russy members “claim that this local church was organized under and has always been subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of the Russian Church.
The original parish documents are somewhat ambiguous. Article 2 of the original articles of association describes the purpose of incorporation as follows: “To teach and promulgate the Christian religion in accordance with the tenets and doctrines and creed of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Syria, and the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, as expounded by the bishop thereof resident at Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.”
According to the trial court judge, the articles were prepared by a local Grand Rapids attorney “after he had asked these men under what jurisdiction this contemplated church was claimed by them to be.” Similar language appears in the parish bylaws:
All persons believing in the divinity of Christ, in God the Father and the Holy Ghost, the sacrament of baptism and marriage in accordance with the articles of faith established by the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria, shall be entitled to membership. Members are admitted by baptism and by confession of faith under the rules and tenets of the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria. They may be suspended or expelled for violation of the teaching and precept of the church as laid down and expounded by the bishop of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, resident at Brooklyn, New York.
Now, to a casual reader, these documents seem to recognize Antioch. There’s not a word to be found about the Russian Church. But there are references to the Bishop of Brooklyn, and the Russy party used this fact to argue for Russian jurisdiction. According to the Russy group, all the Orthodox in America were under the Russian hierarchy. In fact, they expounded what is, as best I can tell, the earliest coherent example of the “flag-planting theory” for Russian jurisdiction. Here’s how the trial court explained it: “By virtue of having established in the Western Hemisphere a Russian church, and the territory wherein the church was established having been purchased by the United States, the Russian Church now claims the right to rule over and assumes jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox churches within the United States, regardless of the nationality of the congregation or the membership of the local church.”
But the court wasn’t interested in the jurisdictional claims themselves. It’s not a dispute between Russia and Antioch, but between members of the local parish, for control over a piece of real estate. Because of this, the paramount question is the intention of the original incorporators. “If this were a lawsuit between the Patriarch of Antioch, on the one hand, and the Holy Russian Synod, on the other hand [...] it is possible that a different question might be raised.”
The case, then, boils down to St. Raphael himself. If he was under Antioch, as the Antacky claimed, then their side would win. If he was under Russia, the case for the Russy would be greatly strengthened. So the court looked at St. Raphael’s own writings: what did the man himself say about his jurisdictional position? The following quotations are from St. Raphael’s periodical Al Kalimat, and were translated for the court (brackets in original):
- “That he [Raphael] was consecrated bishop by the order and permission of Melatois, the Patriarch of Antioch.” (vol. 1, page 2)
- “Those who were consecrated bishops through his [Patriarch of Antioch] consent were his grace, Basileus Dibs, the Metropolite of Akkar, Syria, one of the Antiochian dioceses, and the owner of this magazine, the Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.” (vol. 2, page 95)
- “Patriarch Melatois counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” (vol. 3, pages 95-96)
- “And during his [Melatois'] administration [as patriarch] many unusual things many unusual things took place, such as the demise of several lamented archbishops. For this reason a conclave was had of archbishops, his beatitude presiding, during which conclave there were clected bishops for the seats vacated by such deaths. … Those who received the benediction of ordination into the high priesthood by the sanction of his beatitude are two, to wit, his eminence, Basileus Dibs, archbishop of Akkar, and the editor of this magazine (Bishop Raphael), Bishop of Brooklyn, North America.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “And the territorial jurisdiction of the See of Antioch became much more extensive during the time of his beatitude, for Syrians who emigrated to many other countries still retained their spiritual relations with and continued to acknowledge and yield allegiance to their mother church, the Holy Church of Antioch, and kept firm in the Orthodox faith. His beatitude manifested the most perfect evidence of his interest in and care for them to the best of his means and ability. In substantiation of this, when the Russian Holy Synod informed him that the lot of presiding in this diocese [the diocese of Brooklyn] had fallen upon our humble self [Raphael], his beatitude hastened to write to the Holy Synod, to His Eminence Tikon, then Archbishop, and to our humble self, sanctioning the choice and declaring that he [his beatitude] had instituted this new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “Whereas, we, the Syrian Orthodox residents of Greater New York and all other parts of North America constituting our new diocese (may God keep it) are considered a vigorous branch of our mother tree, the Church of Antioch; and whereas, this branch has flourished luxuriantly during the days of the administration of our father, may his name be ever blessed, the thrice illustrious Patriarch Melatios; and whereas, his beatitude was the first to sanction and bless the establishment of this new Syrian diocese in this new world.” (vol. 2, page 18)
The trial judge observed that “at first the writings of Bishop Raphael gave to the Patriarch of Antioch jurisdiction over the Syrian branch of the Orthodox Church in the United States, and later gave expression to language indicating that all the branches, including the Syrian branch, of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, were under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of Russia.” Without a clear-cut answer from St. Raphael’s own writings, the judge looked at two non-Orthodox sources: Funk & Wagnalls’ Religious Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. The former reported that “the Patriarch of Antioch elevated Raphael to the rank of bishop” (but that Raphael was consecrated by Russian hierarchs), while the latter noted that the Russian archbishop in America “is assisted by two bishops, one for Alaska [...] and one for Orthodox Syrians, residing in Brooklyn.” The secular sources don’t seem to settle things, either.
Texts being insufficient, the judge moved on to consider actions. He observed that “the record shows but one instance where he [Raphael] was directed by any church authority.” That instance was in August 1910, when St. Raphael announced in Al Kalimat an order he had received from the Patriarch of Antioch regarding marriages of Syrian Orthodox in America. In addition, in 1901, St. Raphael wrote that he had received a telegram from the Patriarch informing him of his election as Metropolitan of Salefkias. St. Raphael declined, but the judge saw this as evidence of a relationship between Raphael and Antioch. Furthermore, according to the judge, “It is not shown in this case that during the life of Raphael the authorities of the Russian Church in any manner gave any orders to the Syrian branch of the church, or attempted in any way to direct the actions or utterances of Raphael in his relations with the Syrian Church.”
There are some flaws in this reasoning. Yes, we can establish that there was a close relationship between Raphael and Antioch, but there was also a close relationship between Raphael and the Russian hierarchy in America. It was St. Raphael who, as an archimandrite, welcomed St. Tikhon to America in 1898, and Tikhon and his auxiliary Bishop Innocent were the ones who actually consecrated Raphael in 1904. It was St. Raphael who blessed the land on which St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Monastery was built, and there are countless examples of Raphael working with the Russian Archdiocese in America. The Russians themselves clearly understood Raphael to be one of theirs, and in his 1905 plan for Orthodoxy in America, St. Tikhon includes the Syrian bishop as a crucial part — while at the same time recognizing that Raphael was “almost independent in his own sphere.”
Both parties have a legitimate argument in this case, but as the judge consistently reiterated, this case is ultimately about the intent of the original incorporators of the Grand Rapids church — not about the relative claims of Russia and Antioch in America. Those claims are relevant only insofar as they help us better understand the incorporators’ intent.
In the end, the trial court sides ruled in favor of the Antacky group — that is, as best as the court could determine, the original parish incorporators intended to be under Antiochian jurisdiction. The court based its decision largely on the references to Antioch in the parish documents. Yes, those documents also refer to the bishop of Brooklyn, but the judge saw insufficient evidence to conclude that Raphael was under Russia rather than Antioch. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld the judgment (and, indeed, hardly added a word, mostly quoting directly from the district judge). The Michigan Supreme Court did note that, in light of the chaos that followed the Russian Revolution, “the precautions taken in organizing this Syrian church seem to have justified themselves.”
This is a terribly fascinating case from a historical perspective, and tells us a lot about how the early Antiochians in America thought about themselves. But what are the legal lessons we can learn? The district court judge — affirmed by the state supreme court — could not have employed “deference to higher church authorities” if he had wanted to, since the entire dispute was over which was the correct higher church authority. The judge was forced to employ something along the lines of a neutral principles analysis. Did he get the right answer? Well, it depends on the question. The judge was trying to figure out the intent of the original incorporators, and based on the language of the official documents, it does seem like they intended to be under Antioch. Were they really, in fact, under Antioch? What would the outcome be if the claim was between Antioch and Russia themselves, and actual jurisdiction had to be determined? That is a much, much more complicated question, to which there isn’t a single, clear-cut answer.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
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.
It’s been a week since we last posted new material, and for that, I apologize. I’ve been in Portland with my wife and kids, visiting the in-laws. Portland has a rich, fascinating Orthodox history, and I plan to discuss it in detail in future articles. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of the many Orthodox history-related photos I’ve taken while here:
To read my article on that original multiethnic Portland chapel, click here.
As I said, we’ll have lots more to come on Orthodoxy in Portland, but I thought I’d share these photos first.
– Matthew Namee