Last week, we reprinted Isabel Hapgood’s account of St. Raphael’s funeral. The Hapgood article appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. Two days later, the paper published the following letter to the editor from Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine:
To the Editor of The Tribune.
Sir: An unfortunate mistake was made in an article written by Miss Isabel Hapgood which would make it seem to appear that the Russian Bishop and his Russian clergy did not pay the proper repsect to the office of the Syrian Bishop at the funeral. The words to which exception is taken are as follows: “The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.”
Indeed, the respect and episcopal honor paid to Bishop Raphael’s office and person by Bishop Alexander was the most remarkable expression of love that has ever been known in the United States to the body of a dead prelate. From the moment Bishop Alexander was notified of his brother Bishop’s death until the day after his burial in the crypt of the cathedral (which, by the bye was not built by Bishop Raphael, as Miss Hapgood, through misapprehension, also states) he and his clergy were present and gave the same attention as if the deceased Bishop was of their own nationality. The usual custom of kissing the cross and the hand of the dead Bishop was also observed.
If, from matter of respect to the Syrian clergy, who had come from great distance to the funeral, Bishop Alexander and his clergy gave way for a moment, it was altogether because of the tenderness toward thirty priests of the Syrian Bishop who crowded around the casket brokenhearted and bereaved. However, from the first visitation to the dead body until the casket lid was locked down, Bishop Alexander and his clergy paid every required honor — indeed, to such an extent that it might have appeared to outsiders that he was their own Bishop and not that of the Syrian flock.
INGRAM N.W. IRVINE.
St. Nicholas Cathedral, March 9, 1915
As regular readers of this website know, Irvine was a prominent Episcopal priest who converted to Orthodoxy and was ordained by St. Tikhon in 1905. Irvine worked closely with St. Raphael and his Syrian Mission from the beginning, and around 1909, he was actually transferred to St. Raphael’s own jurisdiction. Irvine remained there until St. Raphael’s death, after which he returned to the main Russian Mission. Irvine was a tireless promoter of the use of English in American Orthodoxy, the education of Orthodox children, and the unity of all Orthodox ethnic groups under the Russian Archdiocese.
As we have seen before (and will see again), Irvine had an antagonistic relationship with Isabel Hapgood, the Episcopalian writer and linguist who translated the Service Book into English in 1906. While the pair shared an interest in spreading the use of English in American Orthodox parishes, they differed on virtually everything else. Hapgood’s views of Irvine aren’t well recorded (or, if they are, they haven’t been discovered yet), but Irvine is on record many times as an outspoken opponent of Hapgood and nearly all that she stood for. It is therefore unsurprising that Irvine would publicly call out Hapgood on such a seemingly insignificant error in an otherwise accurate article on St. Raphael’s funeral.
Then again, perhaps it wasn’t so insignificant. It’s established that, as early as St. Raphael’s funeral itself, the Syrian priests were divided over whether they should be under Russia or Antioch (see, for instance, the 1924 court case Hanna v. Malick). We also know, from other documents, that Irvine strongly supported the unity of American Orthodoxy under Russian jurisdiction. I’m just speculating here, but it is entirely possible that Irvine read Hapgood’s error in the context of the jurisdictional uncertainty and division that was beginning to overtake the Syrian Mission in the days and weeks after St. Raphael’s death. Viewed in this light, Irvine may have felt it necessary to emphasize, very publicly, the unity between the Russians and the Syrians. The fact that it also accorded him the opportunity to criticize his longtime foe, Hapgood, would have been icing on the cake.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Isabel Hapgood and appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. It is the most complete surviving description of the funeral of St. Raphael, who died on February 27, 1915. Hapgood herself had known St. Raphael for nearly two decades, from the time that he first arrived in America.
The first Syro-Arabian Bishop in America was buried yesterday in a tomb beneath the Syro-Arabian Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Brooklyn, which forms his monument.
Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny was born in Damascus, a pure Arab. [In fact, St. Raphael's family was from Damascus, but he was born in Beirut. - Ed.] From the Patriarchal Theological School, at Khalki, he went to Russia and became so identified with the spirit of the country that he was wont to say, “In soul I am a Russian.” He went in a monastery at Kiev for six years, and then was professor of Arabic at the University of Kazan. A desire for active work brought him to America.
In Russia he was ordained, and it was under the auspices of the Holy Synod that he labored here. On several occasions the Patriarch of Antioch offered him the rank of Metropolitan in his native Syria. It is probable that had he returned he would have become Patriarch, but he felt that his work was among the 25,000 Syro-Arabians here, whom he had organized into thirty parishes.
He came to this country in 1895. His first church was on the second floor of a house in Washington Street, Manhattan. How the floor bore up under the masses of worshippers, especially when the Russian Bishop held services there on his infrequent visits from San Francisco (then the seat of the Russian diocese), I never understood. Another dispensation of Providence was required to avert a catastrophe when we adjourned to the floor above and enjoyed a genuine Arab feast, ending with Arab coffee flavored with rosewater from Syria. All the partitions and supports below had been removed to make space in the church.
Bishop Nicholas, now Archbishop of Warsaw, remarked to me on one occasion: “I know now exactly how Louis XIV felt when he had to eat in public!”
After the feast a couple of handsome young fellows (ladies’ tailors by their American profession) in Albanian costume performed the famous sword play over the oilclothed floor, upon which dressy lengths of ingrain carpet had been loosely laid, with such vigor that they literally cut the gas jets, partly smashed the fixtures and had to be separated by the umpire, who interposed with a dagger — more Providence!
One day a pistol flew from one of the swordsmen’s sashes across the room and landed at my feet — that illustrates the vigor of the proceedings. I captured it and refused to return it until the end of the session — and thereafter, instead of sitting at the side of the room, I took a safe seat by the side of the Russian Bishop.
A few years passed and Father Raphael was able to move his church to a building on Pacific Street, near Hoyt Street, which later on became a cathedral. That was in 1904. Early that year he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite, and in May of that year he was consecrated Bishop, and became the second Vicar of the Russian Archbishop.
Ordinarily three bishops are required for consecration. In this case, owing to its exigencies, only two officiated, the Most Revered Tikhon, Archbishop of Aleutia and North America, now Archbishop of Vilna, and the Right Rev. Innokentz, first Vicar, later Bishop of Yakutsk and Viluisk, and now Archbishop of Tashkent, in Turkestan. That is, I am sure, the only ocasion [sic] when a Bishop of the Orthodox Eastern Church has been consecrated in America, and a wonderful service it was.
The Russian Ambassador, not being able to come, sent his representative, who sat at the right hand of the new Bishop at the banquet which followed. As the only representative of America and the Episcopal Church, I was placed at his left hand, opposite the consecrating prelates, and was called on for a speech after the Ambassador’s representative had conveyed his formal message.
In course of time Bishop Raphael came to know many of the Episcopal clergy, and was highly respected by them. His later alienation from them is regarded as having arisen under misapprehension. By his own people he was cherished as the man to whom they owed their beneficent organizations. The Young Turk element quarrelled with him for reciting the formal prayer for the Sultan, as the ruler of Syria, in the services, and several attempts were made on his life. At times he was obliged to go about with a guard, and I met him in the Syrian restaurants dining with a guard on duty. But he lived down their enmity.
Bishop Raphael died, after an illness of three weeks, from dropsy, kidney trouble and heart disease, worn and gray as a man of seventy with his toils and sufferings.
For a week he lay in state in his cathedral, and morning and evening requiem services were held by the Right Rev. Alexander, Bishop of Alaska, assisted by Russian and Syrian clergy. A wonderful service, picturesque in setting.
Across the foot of the open coffin was draped the purple episcopal mantle, with its crimson velvet “tables of the law.” Over the face lay a sacramental veil of white and silver brocade, embroidered with a gold cross. At the head of the coffin stood pontifical candles, but no longer lighted, as during pontifical service. They were tied with black ribbons, so that their tips spread abroad, reversed and unlighted. Between them, leaning against the head of the catafalque and the coffin rose the crozier. Behind, on a folding lectern, lay a purple velvet cushion, on which were placed the orders and decorations which the Bishop had received, many from Russia. The holy doors in the centre of the ikonostasis, with its many ikoni, were closed and draped in black and gold, purple and silver. All about the walls were more ikoni, and huge floral pieces surrounded the coffin. One of the set pieces was an armchair, of white artificial flowers, with sprays of lavender flowers and surmounted by a canopy or arched gateway of palms, violet tulle and white flowers.
At the evening requiems the church was always filled. Many women waited for hours to secure front seats in the little gallery. More women thronged every step of the stairs. The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand, after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.
The gospels were read night and day, instead of Psalms, as with a layman, by relays of clergy. The Syrians relieved one another at frequent intervals, and showed the finest, most varied forms of intoning.
Bishop Alexander who, by command of the Holy Synod, has charge of the vast Russian Diocese of North America until the newly appointed Archbishop shall arrive, stood at the services motionless (“like a candle” is the Russian term.)
Thursday evening, at the close of the services, a picture was taken of the dead Bishop and the circle of celebrating clergy. After the clergy had retired, representatives of all the Syrian societies, including women, made addresses from the chancel platform about the great work which Bishop Raphael had accomplished for his people in America.
Saturday morning, after the liturgy had been celebrated in Old Church Slavonic and Greek by Bishop Alexander and his clergy, and in Syrian by the Syrians, while the choir of the Russian Theological Seminary from Tenafly, N.J., sang their part in Slavonic, two requiem services were held, the first by the Metropolitan Hermanos Shehadah, of Selveskia Mount Lebanon [should be Baalbek - ed.], Syria (his black, waist-long hair concealed beneath his black cassock and cloth of silver pall) and the Syrian clergy; and the second by Bishop Alexander and a few Russian priests, the seminary choir singing. The Syrian clergy no longer kissed the dead Bishop’s right hand. That lay at rest forevermore. The raised left hand supported a large cross, and this alone was saluted.
Yesterday morning, at 10 o’clock, the liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Alexander, standing at the right of Metropolitan Hermanos, on their eagle rugs upon the dais at the head of Bishop Raphael’s coffin. As was customary, Bishop Alexander was vested on the dais in magnificent vestments of silver brocade. Metropolitan Hermanos wore gold brocade and the tall Metropolitan’s mitre of crimson velvet and gold, from whose crest rose a diamond cross. The choir of the Russian St. Nicholas Cathedral sang, except during the brief intervals when the Syrians chanted.
At a layman’s funeral the clergy wear black velvet and silver; at the funeral of a priest or bishop, no mourning is worn and the flowerlike vestments of the priests, mingling with the magnificent floral pieces, produce a very brilliant effect. The Syrian deacon wore pink brocade with a stole of blue and gold. As only 500 people were allowed by the authorities inside the cathedral, there was space for the ceremony of processions to and from the altar. At 12 o’clock the liturgy ended. At 1:30 the funeral began.
The singing was now done for the Syrians by the boys’ and girls’ choir of the Sunday school, wearing white vestments with lavender crosses, the girls, with mortarboard caps, occasionally assisting the clergy. The Russian singing was done by the clergy, assisted by the adult members of the choir. In all there were about forty priests, Russian and Syrian, who chanted, the Russians led by Archdeacon Vsevolod, of the Russian Cathedral, with his magnificent voice.
Among the hymns, which show the spirit of the service, were:
“Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of thy servant and establish him in Paradise. Where the choirs of the saints, O Lord, and of the just, shine like the stars of heaven, give rest to thy servant, who hath fallen asleep, regarding not all his transgressions.”
“Forasmuch as we all are constrained to that same dread abode, and shall hide ourselves beneath a gravestone like to this, and shall ourselves shortly turn to dust, let us implore of Christ rest for him who hath been translated hence.”
In the Eastern Church there are several orders of burial. One is for a child under seven years old, in which no mention is made of sin, because a child’s soul “is not grown,” as the Russians say, until he is seven. Another is for adult laymen; a third, for those who die in Easter week, in which there are almost no songs of mourning, but all are songs of the joy of the Resurrection; the fourth, for dead priests, has five epistles and five gospels. These were read by the Syrians and the Russians alternately, as were the many hymns, most of which were written by St. John of Damascus.
Then at last the clergy made addresses, Father Basil Kerbawy, dean of the cathedral, Father Sergius Snegyeroff and others, in praise of the Bishop. Father Kerbawy reduced the congregations to tears. Bishop Alexander made the last speech, directly addressing the dead as he stood by the coffin.
After “Memory Eternal” had been proclaimed in Syrian and in Old Church Slavonic, with the addition of the Bishop’s title and name, the procession formed. It is customary to carry the body of a Bishop around the outside of the church and to hold a brief service on each of the four sides before going to the graveyard. This constituted the funeral procession in the present case, as its route was along Pacific Street to Henry Street, thence to State Street, then to Nevins Street and back along Pacific Street to the cathedral.
The procession formed in the following order: Cronin, political leader of the district; squad of mounted police; twenty to thirty small boys in white tunics, with lilac crosses and flowers; the Cathedral committee (honorary pall-bearers); girls, singing hymns; Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society; the Homsian Fraternity; the Syro-American Political Club; members of the various Syrian diocesan parishes; the United Syrian Societies; cathedral Sunday school pupils, carrying crosses, candles and church banners; coaches with floral offerings; Archimandrite [Aftimios] Aphaish of Montreal, carrying the cushion with the late Bishop’s orders; finally, St. Joseph’s Society of Boston.
The dead prelate was borne in an open coffin by the priests, the snowflakes drifting down upon his splendid mantle of purple, crimson and white, his golden mitre, and the white brocade sacramental veil which covered his face. The body was followed by the Orthodox clergy, both Syrian and Russian; last came Bishop Alexander of Alaska. The family of the deceased, parishioners and friends followed, women joining, although it is not the custom to do so abroad.
Directly beneath the altar the Bishop had built for himself a vault. On the return of the procession masses of the flowers were carried into the crypt, and the clergy surrounded the bronze coffin into which the mahogany casket was lowered. The Metropolitan Hermanos made the final address before the coffin was closed, and a most distressing scene of grief ensued. Not only the clergy, but many parishioners, cast earth upon the body of their beloved Bishop.
Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, head of the Russian Mission in America from 1891 to 1898, is one of the most underappreciated people in American Orthodox history. I am afraid that I have done nothing to help this state of affairs. Back in June, I wrote dismissively that Bishop Nicholas “was a good man, but was also a Russian nationalist whose primary focus was (quite understandably) on the conversion of Uniates to Orthodoxy and their subsequent Russification.”
I based my assessment on a 1967 article by Fr. Alexander Doumouras (“Greek Orthodox Communities in America Before World War I,” published in St. Vladimir’s Quarterly). In the section dealing with San Francisco, Doumouras wrote the following:
It could also be that statements such as the following excerpt from a homily by Bishop Nicholas in 1896, helped to create division between the Greek and Russian parishioners. The sermon centered around the feast of St. Alexander Nevsky. Since it was also the feast of the Russian Tsar, the bishop urged his people to celebrate this particular feast with gratitude in their hearts to the Tsar of the Russian Empire: “It is meet that Orthodox Christians of foreign nationalities — Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Montenegrins, Roumanians, Georgians and others — should, as well as the Russian, celebrate the high feast days of the Russian Church. It is meet — if only out of sympathy with an Empire that followed the same religion. … But this is not enough; all Orthodox nationalities should be inspired in this matter by a feeling of gratitude to the Russian Empire; for the Russian sovereigns have always been zealous guardians and defenders of Orthodoxy all over the world.” It is not difficult to sense that such an expression of Russian nationalism could have antagonized Greek sensitivities and that shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, a Greek parish came into existence in San Francisco.
When I first read that passage, I had barely heard of Bishop Nicholas, and the idea of him as a mere nationalist got stuck in my head, in spite of all the facts to the contrary. Maybe he was a nationalist, but in the late 19th century, who wasn’t? Regardless, it’s clear that he was more than a nationalist.
The reality is that much of what St. Tikhon is credited with doing was actually accomplished by his predecessor, Bishop Nicholas. Yes, St. Tikhon was a visionary — but in many respects he was continuing, implementing, and expanding upon the vision of Bishop Nicholas. It was Nicholas, not Tikhon, who recruited gifted young men like St. Alexander Hotovitzky, St. John Kochurov, and St. Anatolii Kamenskii to serve in America. Bishop Nicholas ordained Hotovitzky and Kochurov to the priesthood, as well as the great Serbian priest Fr. Sebastian Dabovich. And it was Nicholas, not Tikhon, who first set up special ministries for different ethnic groups, empowering Dabovich and importing talented clergy such as St. Raphael Hawaweeny and Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides. The flood of Uniates into Orthodoxy began with the conversion of St. Alexis Toth shortly before Bishop Nicholas arrived in America, but it was under Nicholas that the “return of the Unia” really picked up steam.
Bishop Nicholas came in 1891 to a diocese that was reeling from the scandals of Bishop Vladimir, a diocese that had not experienced hierarchical stability since the drowning/suicide of Bishop Nestor Zass in 1883. The diocese in 1891 was centered in Alaska, with only two parishes in the continguous United States (San Francisco and Minneapolis). While not neglecting Alaska (he was a great advocate for the Orthodox natives), Bishop Nicholas oversaw dramatic growth in the rest of the US, with an average of about two new parishes founded every year. Whereas the diocese was tiny and weak in 1891, by the time of Nicholas’ departure in 1898, it was thriving and healthy. St. Tikhon, Nicholas’ successor, was able to accomplish so much because he was a genuinely great man, but also because he took the reins of a diocese made strong by Bishop Nicholas.
After leaving America, Nicholas served as Archbishop of Tver and Kashin, and later Archbishop of Warsaw. He died in 1915.
Nicholas Ziorov may not have been the perfect hierarch, he was one of the most stable, effective bishops American Orthodoxy has ever seen. He provided strong, sound leadership and a forward-thinking vision at a critical time in our history. His tenure and his legacy warrant further study.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Greek Archdiocese Clergy-Laity Congress in Atlanta. I gave the same talk on two days, July 5 and 6. Below, we’ve published the text of my lecture. A couple of things, up front: first, I didn’t include footnotes, because this was just the text I personally used in delivering the talk. And second, I make several references to Atlanta and Georgia, because that’s where I was speaking. Also, please forgive any typos or other errors; I know that there are a few, and I haven’t fixed all of them.
I’ve been asked to speak about Orthodoxy in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of course, this was the Ellis Island era, the time when hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It’s when many of your ancestors came here; it’s also when my own ancestors came here, from what was then the Ottoman Empire and what is today Lebanon. Of course, besides the Greeks and the Syrians and Lebanese, there were also lots of Serbs, Romanians, Carpatho-Rusyns, and Bulgarians. These were largely Orthodox people, coming to the United States from all over the Orthodox world, and bringing with them their ancestral faith. And while these people spoke different languages and had different local traditions, they all shared that Orthodox faith. Because they came here and preserved their faith – because of that, we have Orthodoxy in America today. My goal here today is to give you a sense of what it was like back then – what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in late 19th/early 20th century America.
In 1890, only two Orthodox parishes existed in the entire United States of America: a Russian cathedral in San Francisco and a semi-independent Greek church in New Orleans. Of course, there was a significant Russian Orthodox presence in Alaska, but at that time Alaska was just a territory, not a state, and it was both geographically and culturally disconnected from the US mainland.
The church in New Orleans was founded in 1865 by a group of Orthodox people led by a Greek cotton merchant named Nicolas Benachi. This was a multi-ethnic parish, and besides Greeks, it included Antiochians and Slavs among its members. The U.S. Census of 1890 describes it as a part of the Church of Greece, “in connection with the consulate of Greece in New Orleans.” The first priest to visit New Orleans – he wasn’t the parish priest, but he visited and served the first liturgy there – he was a strange character named Fr. Agapius Honcharenko. This man was an itinerant Ukrainian of questionable credentials who was visiting New York in 1865 when he was contacted by the New Orleans parish. He certainly was not connected to the Russian Church; he actually claimed that the Tsarist government had put a price on his head for his involvement in revolutionary activities. Honcharenko had some sort of connection with the Church of Greece, but not long after his visit to New Orleans, he left Orthodoxy altogether and tried to start his own Protestant sect in California.
The New Orleans parish itself was a really interesting community. Before they had actually organized themselves as a parish, they raised their own Orthodox militia regiment to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Later on, from 1881 to 1901, the community had a priest from Bulgaria. Until 1906, most of the church records were kept in English. It was only later that Greek became the dominant language.
After I finished preparing this talk, I learned of some very exciting developments happening with the New Orleans parish. After Hurricane Katrina, the parishioners were cleaning out the church, and someone stumbled onto bunch of old documents, tucked away in some long-forgotten cupboard or closet. As it turns out, these were the sacramental records kept by the parish priests in New Orleans, dating back to the earliest years of the parish. The papers were soaking wet, and right now, the parish is having them restored. They show that the parish had members of all different ethnic groups, and in particular, a lot of Antiochians. And these people weren’t just concentrated in the city of New Orleans – they were in small towns all over Louisiana, and probably beyond. We’re just now beginning to get a glimpse of what life was like in the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. There are plans to digitize the documents, and there’s even talk of building an Orthodox museum in New Orleans, to house the hundreds of documents and artifacts the community has accumulated over the past century and a half. Anyone interested in Orthodox history or Greek history will want to keep an eye on what’s going on in New Orleans.
The other really old parish, the San Francisco cathedral, was founded in 1868 under Russian authority. Just like New Orleans, San Francisco had a multi-ethnic Orthodox community. That community largely consisted of Greeks and Serbs, and in 1867, they formally requested that the Russian bishop in Alaska send them a priest. Soon after this, the Russian bishop moved his own residence down to San Francisco.
The San Francisco parish seemed almost cursed with turmoil. In 1879, the dean of the cathedral was apparently murdered, and one of the prime suspects was his assistant priest. A few years later, the Russian bishop drowned at sea; this appears to have been a suicide brought on by a physical ailment. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the cathedral community was rocked by scandal. The new bishop, Vladimir, was accused of all kinds of horrific crimes. The cathedral itself burned to the ground, and many people suspected arson. Eventually, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia, and by the end of the decade – by the end of the 1890s – the bishop in San Francisco was an outstanding man, Tikhon Bellavin, who was respected by all the different ethnic groups in the community. Bishop Tikhon went on to become Patriarch of Moscow. He suffered under the Communists, and in 1988, he was canonized a saint.
Now, as I mentioned, the New Orleans and San Francisco parishes were the only churches in the United States in 1890. They were outposts, really; there wasn’t much in the way of established Orthodoxy in America, outside of the Russians and Orthodox natives in Alaska. But after 1890, things began to change really rapidly. On the one hand, as I said before, thousands of Orthodox immigrants were arriving in the United States. And at the same time, entire parishes of Eastern Rite Catholics were converting, en masse, to Orthodoxy.
These Eastern Catholics were from the Austro-Hungarian Empires, and their ancestors had been Orthodox, but in the preceding centuries, they had left the Orthodox Church and joined the Roman Catholics. When they came to the United States, they were not very well-received by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America. The big moment came in 1889. An Eastern Catholic priest named Alexis Toth had just arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take over pastoral care of the Eastern Catholics in the area. And as was the standard procedure, when he got to Minneapolis, he presented himself to the local Roman Catholic archbishop, a man named John Ireland.
Archbishop Ireland was absolutely livid that Toth had come to Minneapolis. Ireland shouted at Toth, “I have already written to Rome protesting against this kind of priest being sent to me.” Toth said, “What kind of priest do you mean?” And Ireland said, “Your kind.” And then he continued, “I do not consider either you or this bishop of yours Catholic. […] I shall grant you no permission to work there.” Later on, Toth said, “The Archbishop lost his temper, I lost mine just as much.”
Unwelcomed by the Roman Catholics, Toth began to look into other options. At this point – and here, we’re talking right around 1890 – there wasn’t much in the way of Orthodoxy in America, as we’ve seen. Toth eventually contacted the Russian bishop in San Francisco, and his entire Eastern Catholic parish in Minneapolis converted to Orthodoxy. Toth himself became a leading proponent of Eastern Catholic conversions to Orthodoxy. Tens of thousands of Eastern Catholics joined the Russian Orthodox Church in America over the next several decades. The core of the growing Russian Archdiocese – and the core of what we know today as the OCA – consisted of these former Eastern Catholic parishes. The significance of the Eastern Catholic conversions cannot be overstated – this was a major, major development.
Of course, at the same time that this was happening – literally, at exactly the same time – thousands of people who were already Orthodox were coming to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. And these people were also starting their own Orthodox churches.
One of the most interesting of these early communities was in Chicago. In the 1880s – so, even before the big immigration started – Chicago had a growing Orthodox population. By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in the city. 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, the Russian bishop responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to figure out if there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. The Greek man was George Brown, who had come to America as a young man, and had fought in the American Civil War. George Brown gave a short speech, and it’s short enough that I’ll read most of it to you now, exactly as the Chicago Tribune reported it the next day:
“Gentlemans,” he said, “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 meeting ended with everybody wanting to start an Orthodox church, and they agreed that the services could be done in both Greek and Slavonic. The Russian Bishop Vladimir traveled east from San Francisco for a visit later that year, but unfortunately, this was the same Bishop Vladimir who became embroiled in a series of horrible scandals. One of Vladimir’s strongest opponents in San Francisco was a Montenegrin who happened to be the brother of one of the leaders of the Chicago community. So the Chicago Orthodox were hearing all these horrible things about Bishop Vladimir, and they decided they wanted nothing more to do with the man. They put out feelers to numerous other Orthodox churches – the Serbian Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Church of Greece.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest named Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, and in 1892 Phiambolis established the first Orthodox parish of any kind in Chicago. But this was not a multi-ethnic parish, like San Francisco and New Orleans. This parish was specifically for Greek people. The Chicago Tribune reported that the new Greek church “wants no one but those of Hellenic blood among its members” Almost exactly one month after the Greek church began in Chicago, the Russians established their own church. By now, I should note, Bishop Vladimir had been recalled to Russia, and was replaced by Bishop Nicholas.
So now in 1892, there were two Orthodox parishes in the city of Chicago – one Greek, one Russian. This was the first time in our history that two Orthodox churches, answering to different ecclesiastical authorities, coexisted in the same US city. But there’s a flip side to all of this. Despite the fact that they had separated based on language and ethnicity, they still got along with each other. In 1894, the Chicago Greek and Russian priests concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar Alexander III died the following month, a memorial was served by both the Greek and Russian priests at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas, visited Chicago in later that year, the local Greek priest, Phiambolis, participated in the hierarchical Liturgy at the Russian church. Later on, in 1902, the church bell was stolen from the Russian parish, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the Greek parishioners for help. The two churches, Greek and Russian, then held a joint meeting of both parishes, to organize an effort to find the bell.
On the Pacific Coast, Orthodox communities began to organize themselves in places like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. In both Portland and Seattle, there was a lot of diversity among the Orthodox, with Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, and Russians all in the same community. And in both Portland and Seattle, these diverse Orthodox populations affiliated themselves with the Russian Church. Seattle is a really interesting story, because, while it was under the Russian Church, the parish itself was named after St. Spyridon, who of course is a Greek saint. How did that happen? Well, the land for the church was donated by a Greek family, and because of that, they got to choose the name. Church services were in Greek, Slavonic, and English, and one of the prerequisites for being the pastor in Seattle was an ability to work in multiple languages.
Seattle’s multi-ethnic community didn’t last forever. By 1917, there were over two thousand Greeks in Seattle, and they decided they needed their own Greek church. But there weren’t any hard feelings. People said that they were just happy that there were enough Orthodox in Seattle for two churches.
Fr. Michael Andreades was of the early priests of that original multi-ethnic Seattle parish. Andreades was Greek, but he had been educated in Russia, and he was under the Russian bishop in San Francisco. He was one of several ethnic Greek priests who served under the Russian diocese. This was certainly not the norm for Greek clergy in America, but it definitely was not unheard of.
Another of these Greek priests was Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides. His father was an Athenian who fought in the Greek War for Independence, and then afterwards moved to the Peloponnese. That’s where Triantafilides himself was born. As a young man, Triantafilides went to Mount Athos and was tonsured a monk. He became affiliated with the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon, on Mount Athos, and from there, he went to Russia itself, where he studied at the Moscow Theological Academy. This is where things get really interesting. Triantafilides was asked by King George I of Greece to come to Greece and tutor the king’s young son, Prince George. Then the Russian Tsar, Alexander III, asked Triantafilides to return to Russia and tutor his children, including the future Tsar Nicholas II. Triantafilides was actually one of the priests who served at the wedding of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra.
So how did Triantafilides go from the royal courts of Greece and Russia to the United States? Well, in Galveston, Texas – which was a major seaport in the 19th century – there was another one of those multi-ethnic Orthodox communities. The Greeks and Serbs of Galveston got together and petitioned the Russian Church to send them a priest. Tsar Nicholas II himself answered their petition by sending them his old tutor, Triantafilides, who by this time was in his early sixties.
Triantafilides was the priest in Galveston for over 20 years, until his death in 1916. But he didn’t just take care of the Galveston parish. He took responsibility for the Orthodox people living throughout the Gulf Coast, traveling thousands of miles by horse and by train. His parish, which was named Ss. Constantine and Helen, eventually came to be predominantly Serbian, and many years after his death, the church switched from the Russian to the Serbian jurisdiction. But to this day, they continue to venerate their original Greek priest, sent by the Russian Tsar.
But Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides was not the first prominent Greek priest in America. That title belongs to Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas, who arrived in San Francisco in the early 1890s. Kanellas came to the US from India, where he had been the priest of the Greek Orthodox church in Calcutta. He initially came to America just for a visit, but he was a sickly man, and he became ill, which forced him to stay for awhile. He became affiliated with the multiethnic Russian cathedral in San Francisco. Of course, with so many Greeks there, having a Greek priest would have been particularly helpful. Like so many of his fellow priests, Kanellas traveled all over the country. He actually seems to have been the first Orthodox priest to visit this state – Georgia – when he baptized a Greek child in Savannah in 1891.
In 1892, a new Russian bishop took over in San Francisco, and he released Kanellas, who then traveled to the eastern part of the United States. Around 1902 or 1903, Kanellas was asked to become the priest of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was under the Church of Greece. He spent the next eight years there. The Greek-American Guide described him as “a very sympathetic and reverend old man.” He was one of the only Orthodox priests in the entire American South, so like Triantafilides, he traveled quite a bit. One of the places he visited was Atlanta. Kanellas eventually became the first priest of the Greek church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he remained there until his death in 1921.
Priests like Andreades, Triantafilides, and Kanellas were not Russian, but they all spent time serving in the Russian diocese. The reverse didn’t happen – Russian priests didn’t serve under the Church of Greece. But there is a fascinating story that I must tell you – because not all of the Greek priests were, in fact, Greek.
Just after the turn of the twentieth century, a man named Robert Morgan began to attend the Greek church in Philadelphia. The curious thing about Robert Morgan is that he was a black Episcopalian deacon from Jamaica. In 1907, he traveled to Constantinople, and was ordained an Orthodox priest. He was sent back to Philadelphia, and I’ll quote directly here, “to carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.” Morgan took the name “Fr. Raphael,” but unfortunately, he wasn’t very successful in his missionary work. Aside from his own family, there’s no clear evidence that he converted anyone else to Orthodoxy. But the startling fact remains that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate initiated a mission to convert black Americans to Orthodoxy.
Now, as I said, Fr. Raphael Morgan was attached to the Greek church in Philadelphia. When he went to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be ordained, he had two letters in his possession. One was from the Greek community of Philadelphia, which supported Morgan’s ordination, and said that if he failed to establish a black Orthodox church, he was welcome to be the assistant priest at their parish. The other letter was from the parish priest in Philadelphia, a remarkable man named Fr. Demetrios Petrides.
Petrides was born on Samos in the mid-1860s. He was a married priest, with children, but his wife died before he came to America. Back in Greece, Petrides’ daughter fell in love with a young man, John Janoulis, and they wanted to get married. Petrides approved, but the Janoulis’ father wanted his son to get an education, rather than get married. So Janoulis was disowned by his father, and Petrides took the couple under his wing. The young Janoulis left for America to earn money, which of course was common practice at the time, and then Fr. Demetrios was asked by the Church of Greece to become the new priest in Philadelphia. He arrived in 1907, and brought along his daughter, reuniting her with her husband. Just a couple of months after he arrived in America, Petrides wrote his letter, recommending that Robert Morgan be ordained a priest. For a while, Morgan actually lived in the Petrides family home.
Like so many of his fellow priests, Petrides traveled throughout his region of the country, ministering to the Orthodox people he found who didn’t have a priest. One time, he went to Ithaca, New York, to do a baptism. After the service, unbeknownst to Petrides, a 16-year-old Greek girl had advertised that she would go into a “spirit trance.” Greeks had traveled from all over to witness the spectacle. Petrides caught wind of what was going on, and he burst into the room, stopped the girl’s trance, and told the people that spiritualism is against the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This was the sort of man he was – completely unafraid to stand up for what was right, no matter what.
It was this gumption that got Petrides run out of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia church was dominated by a rich layman, Constantine Stephano, who was a millionaire cigarette manufacturer. Stephano and Petrides did not get along. Things came to a head in 1912, when Stephano sent the following message to Petrides – this is almost unbelievable. It said,
“Constantine Stephano commands you to appear at his office every evening at sunset and salaam low upon entering his presence. Then you are to stand erect, with folded arms, with your eyes cast downward, awaiting a word from Stephano before sitting down or otherwise changing your position. If you are not asked to be seated you are to remain in this position until Stephano leaves his office, and when he passes through the door you are to salaam low again and depart with bowed head.”
Stephano was obviously trying to humiliate Petrides, and Petrides would have none of it. He responded, “I will not thus humiliate myself before this maker of cigarettes.” Now, in the early twentieth century, Greek parishes in America had only a loose connection to the church authorities in Athens or Constantinople. As a practical matter, the parishes were run by lay boards of trustees, which would hire and fire priests at will. Constantine Stephano arranged for Petrides to be ousted from the Philadelphia church, by the slim margin of seven votes.
But, characteristically, Petrides left with his head held high. In September of 1912, newspapers in Georgia began reporting that a daring Greek priest was coming to Atlanta. One newspaper called Petrides “the stormy petrel of the cloth.” Another paper said that he was famous for his “lambasting of the rich Greeks who loved money for the sake of power.” He was warmly welcomed by the Greeks in Atlanta, who seemed to have a good idea of the sort of priest they were getting.
But Petrides was not simply focused on his fellow Greeks. At the turn of the twentieth century, there was a very active dialogue taking place between the Orthodox and the Episcopalians. This led to the creation of a group called the “Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union.” The Orthodox members of the group included clergy from various ethnic backgrounds, including Antiochians, Russians, and Greeks. For several years in the teens, Fr. Demetrios Petrides was the organization’s Greek representative. He thus was engaged in this national inter-Christian dialogue, and he was also cooperating with his fellow Orthodox of different ethnicities.
As the teens wore on, Petrides developed diabetes, and in the days before insulin, that was a death sentence. He died in September of 1917. Annunciation Cathedral here in Atlanta should be very proud to claim Fr. Demetrios Petrides as one of its first priests. He was a significant historical figure, and an outstanding pastor.
We’re nearly at the end of this talk, and I’ve basically just told you a series of stories. So what’s the point – are there any common threads, or lessons to be learned, from this admittedly limited look at early Greek Orthodox history in America? I think there are, and I’ll just touch on them very briefly here at the end.
First and foremost, it should be clear that Greek Orthodoxy in America did not develop in a vacuum, somehow separated from the rest of Orthodoxy in America. Most of the earliest communities of Orthodox Christians here were multi-ethnic. This was largely a matter of practicality: there simply weren’t enough people in each individual group to start forming separate ethnic parishes. In many places – San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, Galveston – there was a clear sense that, for Orthodox Christians to survive in America, they needed each other. They needed – we still need – to work together to build up Orthodoxy in our local communities. No matter what we’d like to think, we’re simply too small, too weak, to thrive on our own, without each other. And just as in those early parishes, cooperation and a unified effort does not imply the abolishment of our individual identities. I will always be Lebanese, just as so many of you will always be Greek. Working together, on a practical level, does not have to mean a compromise of our heritage. It didn’t a hundred years ago, and it does not now.
I’d like to close with the words of that Greek veteran of the Civil War, George Brown, the early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community: “Union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. Our religion is one. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.” Thank you.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
In the closing years of the 19th century, a number of Roman Catholic leaders in America were accused of a heresy called Americanism, and Pope Leo XIII wrote an apostolic letter specifically denouncing elements of this teaching, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. Americanism was essentially the emphasis on American political values over against the Roman Catholic political tradition, which was at the time at least distinctly uneasy regarding political positions such as the separation of church and state, freedom of the press, liberalism (in the classic sense) and the individualism which so marks American culture in general. While the episode in Catholic history was really quite minor, what was at stake was the question of religious identity in American society. It was probably not until the election of John F. Kennedy to the American presidency that Roman Catholics came to feel that they had finally come into their own in America, despite their presence on the continent for nearly as long as the English Separatists who founded the seminal colonies of American national life.
In our time, it would be regarded as absurd that anyone would accuse American Catholics of heresy over a devotion to such staples of American political values. Setting aside for the moment the controversial peculiarities of modern American Roman Catholicism even within the wider Roman communion, it must be admitted that the “Americanists,” such as they may have been, have essentially won. Few American Catholics would say that one cannot be fully American and yet fully Roman Catholic. There has come to be no contradiction seen between these identities. (For an example of a rather less successful merger of such values, one need only look at the liberation theology of South American Catholic Marxists.)
Like those Roman Catholics living in 19th century America, for Orthodox Christians living in 21st century America, the question of how exactly one is to be faithful to one’s communion in this particular place is again paramount. Though the debates about Orthodoxy’s history, present and future in America range widely—from canons to language to proofs to corruption to double-dealing to controversial candidates for the episcopacy or canonization—the question at the heart of all these debates is really this: What is our identity?
One attempt to grapple with our past and our future might also be termed Americanism. Unlike those 19th century Roman Catholics, however, modern Orthodox Americanists (not to be confused with Orthodox Americans) have chosen different elements of American identity with which to interpret and (I would argue) distort not only our history but our faith.
Perhaps the clearest and most troubling such element is the spirit of legalism which pervades Americanist readings of our history, accompanied by their prescriptions for our future. The narrative typically follows this shape: Because the Church of Russia was the first in America (in Alaska, 1794), it gained immediate rights to the whole continent. Thus, when in 1970 it granted autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (the Metropolia), which subsequently renamed itself as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the exclusively legitimate Orthodox Church for America finally was born.
There are numerous problems with this narrative even on purely “legal” grounds: Does jurisdiction in Russian Alaska automatically extend to the entire continent, under the control of multiple colonial powers at the time? Did the Russian Metropolia even view itself as exclusively legitimate prior to the establishment of other jurisdictions in America? What does it mean that the Metropolia granted canonical release to the Antiochian parishes operating on its territory? For the purposes of ecclesiastical annexation, do the canons actually allow for appointing bishops outside one’s canonical territory? (The opposite, really.)
But the issue here is not really all these legal grounds. For one thing, it is anachronistic to read our history in this fashion, since there is no indication prior to about 1927 that anyone was making the claim that all Orthodox in America had been united under the Russians, that the Russians enjoyed an exclusive, universally acknowledged claim over the whole continent, or that the Metropolia ever really regarded the other Orthodox in America outside its jurisdiction as illegitimate, uncanonical, etc. But now there are some commentators saying precisely all these things, some even going so far now as to claim that all those outside the Metropolia’s jurisdiction were really not Orthodox. Such a claim, if true, would render most Orthodox Christians currently in America bereft of the sacraments.
What is most troubling, however, is this dedication to legal technicalities. It is certainly a major facet of American life that we like to get the legal authorities involved at the drop of a hat, so much so that, even when we are not actually involving the police or the courts, we still think and speak in such precise technicalities. Even if this anachronistic narrative of our history were actually defensible on purely canonical, legal grounds, this spirit goes wholly against the spirit of the Orthodox Christian faith. We were not appointed by God to be lawyers for His Kingdom, but rather “able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Reading history in order to find ammunition for “claims,” etc., is basically a Westernization, a distortion of our church life along lines foreign to our basic ethos. It is what Fr. Georges Florovsky would have called a “pseudomorphosis” (a term he used when referring to the distortions which accrued in Russian theological life as a result of the “Western Captivity” which led up to the Bolshevik Revolution).
While it is surely an American thing to call out the lawyers and pull out the law books in order to adjudicate nearly every dispute, this is not the content of our Orthodox Christian faith. If we wanted to be Christian legalists, we would find no better home than Calvinism, a theology designed by a lawyer.
A dedication to “the letter” typically leads to sectarianism, the rigid sense that one particular ecclesiastical faction is right while all the others are wrong. At the foundation of this sensibility is also a historiographical problem, the identification of a sort of “golden thread” which stretches unbroken from some favored moment (e.g., St. Herman landing in Russian Alaska) to the current day. The favored sect is the sole lens through which this history is read.
The theological problem at the heart of this side of Americanism is the refusal to look into the faces of fellow Orthodox Christians and see the Church. This ideological approach to faith is the same one which gives rise to totalitarianism in politics, which always necessarily follows a dedication to ideology. What is most important is the transcendent narrative, not the other person. That is why the other can be dehumanized and demonized, and insulting epithets can be hurled at church leaders who do not represent one’s preferred sect. In politics, this leads to persecution, but in ecclesiology, this leads to schism.
I believe that one of the major elements in the Americanist approach to our history and our future is precisely the schismatic spirit, the one that prefers to be “right” rather than to love, the one that makes demands and sets exclusive terms rather than taking every opportunity to work together and sacrifice for the other. This attitude has been rarely more evident than in the recent Internet storm over the newly formed Episcopal Assembly, which it seems can only be up to no possible good. I very much believe that the Americanists want it to fail in its task. I’m not really sure what they would put in its place, however, other than an entirely unrealistic expectation that the overwhelming majority bow to the small minority of their favored “jurisdiction.”
But all our “jurisdictions” must die in order that our Church may live. We cannot become one Church for America without all giving up what we are in order to become what God has called us to be: a single testament to the Orthodox Christian faith. I cannot see any workable solution which would not require the disbanding of all our current “jurisdictions.”
As an example of the demonization typical of the sectarian spirit, many Americanists will point to the controversial claim of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to jurisdiction over all the diaspora (i.e., all areas outside universally acknowledged canonical territories) based on Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council. It is true that such a claim is almost never taken seriously except by Constantinople itself. Yet while Constantinople’s claim is raged about, few of the Americanists, who typically have a much greater affection for Constantinople’s main rival of Moscow, will criticize the much broader claim made by Moscow in its very Statute:
The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church shall include persons of Orthodox confession living on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Estonia and also Orthodox Christians living in other countries and voluntarily joining this jurisdiction. (emphasis added)
Not only does Moscow define its jurisdiction primarily as one over “persons” rather than simply over geographic territory, the very wording of its Statute permits Moscow jurisdiction everywhere in the world, limited not only to specific territories and the diaspora, but even theoretically to within the territories of existing Orthodox churches.
This disturbing, universalist approach to ecclesiology, with some variations, is not exclusive to Constantinople and Moscow, however. Contrary to the canons, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and even the OCA also maintain parishes outside their officially claimed canonical territory. This anomaly is rampant, and almost no Orthodox church in the world is innocent of it. We have indeed seen the enemy, and he is us.
The problem of nationalism in Orthodoxy throughout the world is of course also rampant and its sins well-known. For Americanists, it is most often expressed on grounds which are basically Orthodox—a desire to be shepherded by local shepherds—but the expression of those grounds often takes us into a rebellious and nationalistic direction. So-called “foreign” bishops are rejected (which discounts missionaries), total local independence is assumed to be the norm at all times (which discounts the numerous centuries throughout Church history in which various churches were dependent for lengthy periods on “foreign” administrations far away). The ultimate desire of Americanist nationalism is that our bishops would simply thumb their ecclesiastical noses at the “foreigners” in other lands and declare us immediately to be an independent, autocephalous church. As precedent for such an act, they correctly point to when this has happened before.
But with modern communication and travel, “foreign” bishops are not so foreign as they once were. In the past, a unilateral self-declaration of autocephaly was much more practical than it is today, due precisely to these same factors. Though uncanonical, it is now much more possible to have an international, worldwide jurisdiction answering to a single synod. What Rome declared de jure and enforced with anathema has now become de facto for ten Orthodox jurisdictions which operate outside their traditional and/or self-defined territory (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and the OCA).
Yet with such unilateral self-declarations of autocephaly in the past, the driving factor was practical: the need to form a local, self-sustaining common church life. What we have now is numerous overlapping networks of self-sustaining church life, bound together internationally by easy communication and speedy travel. Globalization has taken a toll on our Church life, permitting it to become distorted beyond the essentially localist approach witnessed to in our canonical tradition, where decisions made by leaders had to be lived with by those leaders. They were shepherding their neighbors.
If we are to regain our localist sensibility for church governance, then we cannot rely on a means which was supported by a different technological age. The unilateral declaration of autocephaly is impractical in our time. Why? It’s because there are already existing international networks for American Orthodox Christians to fall back on. This is why the formation of local networks is so critical. This is why our mother churches have mandated the formation of the Episcopal Assemblies.
It may well be that the Assemblies are just a power grab by whatever jurisdiction we hate the most. But even if that is true, what is happening at them is the formation of a common local identity.
The Cure for Americanism: The Common Identity
All of this fractiousness may be cured by looking no further than our common Creed, which attests to our belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As Orthodox Christians living in America, we have no path to unity—indeed, no path to our own salvation—except through love. We must look at one another’s faces and see the Church there. When we cease to do so, we have become sectarians and schismatics.
All of the history of Orthodoxy in America is our common history. It does not matter which “jurisdiction” we are in. The saints, the sinners, the laity, the clergy, the successes, the failures—all of these are mine. All of this history is our history. It is not the history of Russians or Greeks or Syrians or converts, etc. It is the history of the Orthodox. We need to learn to say with St. Raphael of Brooklyn, “I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul.” He didn’t just tolerate these other people; he identified himself with them.
Many of these elements of American culture that I call “Americanism” and that are at odds with our faith also are now characteristic of other cultures throughout the world, and we can see their ill effects in other Orthodox churches, as well. Claims and counter-claims, legalism, sectarianism and nationalism are all major pastoral problems plaguing Orthodoxy worldwide, and no doubt we would have a more peaceful and united presence in the world if we could shed these sins. American culture has much that is worth preserving and enhancing, but as truly Orthodox Christian Americans, there are some elements of that culture that need not preservation, but repentance.
We have an opportunity in our time to put aside all of our claims and sectarianism Phariseeism, to see one another as fellow children of God, and to build a common church life. We’ve come a long way, and at least to me, it seems that the future is starting to look a lot brighter.
I really cannot wait to see where we go from here.
[This article was written by Fr. Andrew S. Damick.]