After a bit of a hiatus thanks to work and a new baby, we’re back with another edition of “This week in American Orthodox history.” No accompanying podcast yet, though — one thing at a time.
July 20, 1741: According to some accounts, the first Orthodox liturgy in the Western Hemisphere was celebrated aboard Vitus Bering’s ship, on his voyage to Alaska.
July 19, 1796: The Vicariate of Kodiak, Alaska was established by a decree of the Holy Synod of Russia. Three years later, Fr. Joasaph Bolotov, head of the original Kodiak Mission, was consecrated to be the first bishop. He never made it to Alaska, though, dying in a shipwreck en route.
July 17, 1898: Royce Burden was born. After finishing college, Burden, his professor George Gelsinger, and his classmate Arthur Johnson all converted to Orthodoxy and became priests: Fr. Boris, Fr. Michael, and Fr. Kyrill. Burden was a controversial figure who got into all kinds of trouble throughout his priestly career. He also wrote the first documented version of the “myth of unity” — the false claim that all of the Orthodox in America had been united under the Russian Archdiocese until the Bolshevik Revolution. (I should note that this birth date comes from a brief autobiographical note that Burden wrote; the Social Security Death Index lists his birthday as July 15, rather than the 17th.)
July 18, 1920: The first services were held at the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, an English-speaking parish of converts in New York City. The parish, which lasted only a few months, was staffed by a cadre of convert clergy, including its leader, Archimandrite Patrick Mythen, as well as an aging Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Within a few years, Irvine was dead and all of the convert priests had left Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, it was a landmark accomplishment — the first Orthodox parish in America composed entirely of (non-Uniate) converts.
July 16, 1964: Fr. John Geranios, a dean of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, gave the final benediction at the Republican National Convention. Fr. John’s prayer immediately followed presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech. Of course, Goldwater went on to lose to Lyndon Johnson that fall, but the convention is remembered as the beginning of then-actor Ronald Reagan’s political career (Reagan gave a keynote speech earlier in the convention).
As for Fr. John, he had been an early graduate of Holy Cross Seminary, back when it was based in Connecticut. He served Annunciation Cathedral from 1961-71 and also held the post of vicar general of the Greek Archdiocese. In 1977, he began serving at St. Basil’s Academy (an Orthodox school) in Garrison, NY. He died in 1980, at the age of 58. (Thanks to Basil Tsimpris, Fr. John’s grandson, for telling me about Fr. John’s role at the ’64 RNC.)
July 21-22, 2002: At the All-American Council of the OCA, longtime Metropolitan Theodosius Lazor officially retired. The following day, his replacement, Metropolitan Herman Swaiko, was elected.
Editor’s note: Today, July 13, marks the 54th anniversary of Archbishop Michael Konstantinides, primate of the Greek Archdiocese. Archbishop Michael has been largely (and unfairly) forgotten, for a simple reason: his eight-year tenure was sandwiched in between the larger-than-life Archbishops Athenagoras and Iakovos. But Archbishop Michael was a genuinely outstanding hierarch, and he’s worthy of our attention.
The following biography of Archbishop Michael was written by Presbytera Nikki Stephanopoulos and originally appeared on the GOA website. It is reprinted with permission from the Greek Archdiocese of America.
His Eminence Archbishop Michael served as spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Western Hemisphere from 1949 until his untimely death in 1958. A noted scholar, theologian, pastor, ecumenist, author and administrator, he is most remembered as a man of deep spirituality with a devotion to his sacred mission of promulgating the Faith in the United States. A man loved and respected for his exemplary life and for having personalized the motto of his beloved Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA). “Live Your Orthodox Faith”, his nine years as Archbishop in the Americas were a bridge between Archbishop Athenagoras and Archbishop Iakovos.
Born Thucydides Constantinides on May 27, 1892, in Maronia, Western Thrace, he was admitted to the Halki Theological School in 1907. He was ordained to the Diaconate in 1914 and assumed the ecclesiastical name of Michael. He taught at Halki for one year and did his post-graduate work at the historic seminaries of Kiev and St. Petersburg, where he was an eye-witness of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1919 he was ordained priest in Constantinople and appointed pastor of St. Stephen Church. In 1923 he was appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens and All Greece and from 1927 to 1939 he served as Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in London. During his priestly tenure he represented the Patriarchate at the Assembly of Faith and Government at Lausanne of 1927, and as representative of the Church of Greece at the Conference of Anglicans and Orthodox in London in 1930.
In 1939 he was elected by the Holy Synod of Greece as Metropolitan of the ancient historic Apostolic Diocese of Corinth. As Metropolitan of Corinth, with his own money he established a small general hospital and organized soup kitchens for the poor, and a library to educate faithful. He established an Ecclesiastical School, Philoptochos Society and afternoon and Sunday schools. He established the St. Paul Association, held spiritual gatherings and Sunday Bible study. Metropolitan Michael could not imagine a parish without a preacher, Sunday school or philoptochos society.
ARCHBISHOP OF NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA
On October 11, 1949, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected him Archbishop North and South America and he was enthroned December 18, 1949 during a four-hour service attended by 2,000 at Holy Trinity Cathedral. In his comments Archbishop Michael thanked President Harry Truman and the American people for recent moral and material aid to Greece and declared his mission would be to build upon native traditions in making 1,000,000 Greeks better American citizens. He emphasized the place religion had taken in Greek life particularly as a fortifying element against totalitarianism.
Archbishop Michael was internationally known as an outstanding theologian, writer and administrator who wrote many theological treatises in Greek and English. He was also a linguist and was fluent in Greek, English, French, Russian and Turkish. Highly regarded in religious, education and government circles, he received honorary degrees from Yale University, St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary. In 1954 Archbishop Michael represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, IL and in recognition of his many services to the Church and other Christian groups was elected as one of the six presidents of the WCC.
A dynamic hierarch, his pastoral virtues excelled. In 1950, he officiated and gave sermons in 107 parishes and traveled 46,952 miles by airplane, train and car. He also was the first Greek Orthodox Archbishop to travel to South America and had extensive discussions with Juan and Eva Peron in Argentina. In a report to Patriarch Athenagoras On July 21, 1951, His Eminence said:
I was successful in persuading President Peron to permit the immigration of 50,000 Greeks to Argentina for a span over five years and having clothing (produced by Greek women in Buenos Aires factories) sent to Greece, without any hindrance, for the orphan victims of the rebellion, as well as financial assistance from the Greeks to friends and relatives in Greece, wounded by the despicable plague of communism. Mrs. Peron recalled the prayers offered by Your All Holiness on the occasion of Mr. Peron’s illness and asked me to convey to Your All Holiness her fervent gratitude and thanks The President himself said that he will be at my disposal for any matter that relates to our Greek brethren in Argentina.
Another significant contribution of Archbishop Michael was to continue the efforts of Archbishop Athenagoras to obtain recognition of Orthodoxy as a major Faith in the United States. He succeeded in having this resolution passed in twenty-six states. The recognition led the Congress to adopt a bill that recognized Eastern Orthodox in the Armed Forces as separate from Catholics and Protestants. Because of this, Orthodox Christians included the initials E.O. for Eastern Orthodox on their tags.
Archbishop Michael’s efforts were recognized at the highest level when on January 21, 1957, he became the first Orthodox hierarch to take part in the inaugural ceremony of a president, that of Dwight D. Eisenhower, by delivering the invocation. Earlier, on September 30, 1956, President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower participated in the laying of the cornerstone of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, DC. First attending the Divine Liturgy and at the conclusion an overflowing crowd of over 1000 witnessed the President as he approached the foot of the altar and was presented with the Golden Cross of St. Andrew fastened around his neck by the Archbishop; Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower received a similar medal. It was a moving and historical moment (to be recognized also on the front page of the New York Times the next day). as the Archbishop blessed the President and Mrs. Eisenhower with these words:
May the Almighty and Everlasting God, our common Heavenly Father whom we know and love through our common Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ bestow upon you and Mrs. Eisenhower and all your family the best of health and all His blessing so that you, Mr. President, carry on the most effective way your high and responsible duties to the benefit of our dearly beloved America and the freedom living peoples and nations of the world.
Recognizing the financial and spiritual needs of a growing national church, Archbishop Michael proposed at the 1952 Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles an increased family obligation to the Archdiocese, first introduced at the 1950 Clergy-Laity Congress in St. Louis. For ten years, the monodollarion, or one dollar per family obligation, instituted by Archbishop Athenagoras, had sustained the needs of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Michael urged the Congress delegates to approve the dekadollarion, or $10 per family.
On May 28th, 1958, Archbishop Michael opened the doors to St. Michael’s Home, the only Archdiocesan institution serving the needs of elderly Greek Orthodox. He also created the Office of News and Information/Public Relations, brought about acceptance of the Uniform Parish By-Laws of the Archdiocese and gained membership for the Archdiocese in the National Council of Churches of Christ.
GREEK ORTHODOX YOUTH OF AMERICA
Archbishop Michael’s accomplishments and innovations were many and varied. Foremost, however, was the founding of the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) In a message to the 6th GOYA Conference in Los Angeles, July 15th, 1957, His Eminence concluded with these words:
As modern Americans of Greek descent you will accomplish much; but in attaining worldly destinies, never forget that as members of GOYA, you who are our pride and hope belong to an essentially religious organization, and whatever you attain on this earth is, in the last analysis, of little value without a deep and firm belief in the tried and tested religion of your forefathers. Adhere firmly to this faith, observe strictly its tenets, and in so doing you will in fact realize the motto of GOYA and truly live your Orthodox faith, thus becoming better Christians and better American citizens worthy of your noble Greek descent. With all my blessings for the future, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The untiring efforts of the Archbishop paid off. GOYA became the most vital segment of the Archdiocese with chapters in practically every community of the country. By the time of its founder’s death, GOYA had reached a membership of over 30,000. The 1957 Birmingham GOYA Conference approved a National Memorial Chapel Drive to raise funds for a Chapel to be built on the grounds of Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Under the chairmanship of Ernie and Vickie Villas, GOYA pioneers, a goal of $150,000 was set, funds were raised and the magnificent Holy Cross Chapel became a reality – dedicated to Archbishop Michael and the Greek immigrants, the parents, who established Orthodoxy in the Nation, nurtured it, sacrificed and saved for it and placed it in the hands of new generations for safekeeping.
LAST PUBLIC APPEARANCE
The Grand Banquet of the 14th Biennial Congress at Salt Lake City was on July 5th, 1958 with almost 1000 people in attendance and had as the main speaker Howard W. Pyle, deputy assistant to President Eisenhower. He spoke eloquently on the importance of the Churches to American life and world peace. Leaving his sick bed again, Archbishop Michael told the delegates that “our Church never felt it has a monopoly of salvation” over other religions. He declared, “We must co-operate with other Christian denominations all over the world to settle social and moral questions”.
He concluded his remarks by referring to St. Paul’s famed epistle on agape: “Now abideth Faith, Hope and Love, of these, Love is the greatest.” And as he stepped down from the rostrum and prepared to depart for his coming struggle with death, which was to claim him a week later, he looked at the GOYA representatives and with a benign and prophetic smile he told them: “Look after GOYA”.
Immediately following the banquet, he was flown to New York by an army plane sent by President Eisenhower, and entered Doctors’ Hospital, where he was operated on for an intestinal disorder. He died in Doctors’ Hospital on July 13. Funeral services for Archbishop Michael, the first Greek Orthodox Archbishop to die in the United States, were held on July 17 at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Bishop Germanos of the Southern States Diocese, later to be named Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese, officiated, assisted by five Greek Orthodox bishops, Archbishop Athenagoras of Great Britain and Metropolitan Germanos of Elias, Greece. Attending also were Archbishops and Bishops of Orthodox churches in the United States and over 150 priests from every state in the union. Also, in attendance were many religious, diplomatic and government officials.
[This article was written by Presbytera Nikki Stephanopoulos. Copyright Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and used with permission.]
June 21, 1863: Jovan Dabovich was born in San Francisco to Serbian immigrants. He would be baptized by an Orthodox priest aboard a visiting Russian ship, and he later became Fr. Sebastian, one of the most prominent Orthodox clergymen in America.
June 18, 1878: Fr. Paul Kedrolivansky, dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco, died under mysterious circumstances. I did a podcast on this one awhile back. Was he murdered by his assistant priest? The Russian vice consul? A random nihilist? Or was it a freak accident? Summarizing the story just won’t do it justice; listen to the podcast for the whole thing, and click here to read more.
June 21, 1923: Fr. Philaret Ioannides was consecrated Bishop of Chicago for the Greek Archdiocese — the first Orthodox consecration in the city’s history. At one point in the service, some in the crowd began to shout, “Anaxios!” and a near-riot broke out. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune described it the next day:
Archbishop Alexander, according to custom, had chanted out the query: “Is our new bishop worthy of the honor that has been bestowed upon him?” As if by prearranged signal a dozen or more in the audience sprang to their feet. “No, no, no. He is unworthy.”
Those backing Bishop Joannides accepted the challenge by leaping at the shouters and in a moment the ceremony had been turned into one of confusion.
Fists started flying, someone called the police, and when the dust settled, eight people were arrested. The whole mess was part of the broader split between “Royalists” (supporters of the Greek King Constantine) and Venizelists (supporters of the Greek prime minister) — a division that tore through Greek communities throughout the United States. According to the Tribune, Bishop Philaret was viewed as a Royalist.
June 19, 1933: Bishop Apollinary Koshevoy died at the age of 58. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Apollinary spent three years as a bishop in Jerusalem before coming to America. He initially served as Bishop of Winnipeg for the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA), and in 1926 he became the Archbishop of San Francisco. Right around this time, relations between the Metropolia and ROCOR soured, and Apollinary sided with ROCOR. He remained in San Francisco and founded the famed Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral. One of his successors, of course, was St. John Maximovitch.
June 23, 1941: Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, formerly a priest in America, was martyred by Communists. In a previous article, I pulled together a bunch of different sources on Fr. Jacob’s remarkable and well-traveled life. Click here to read it.
June 22, 1969: The convert priest Fr. Dmitri Royster was consecrated Bishop of Berkeley and auxiliary to the Metropolia’s Archbishop of San Francisco. Bishop Dmitri later went on to establish the OCA Diocese of the South, which he led for many years.
June 24, 1975: The rival Antiochian Archdioceses of New York and Toledo formally united into a single jurisdiction. In the wake of St. Raphael’s death in 1915, the Antiochians in America split into “Russy” and “Antacky” factions. This division persisted until the early 1930s, when the various competing hierarchs all left the scene (by death or otherwise) at basically the same time. It looked as if the schism would die with those bishops, but in 1936, a new split opened, with one bishop in New York and the other in Toledo. This new division lasted for almost forty years, until Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Metropolitan Michael Shaheen agreed to merge their Archdioceses, with Philip emerging as the primate.
June 19, 2009: Three years ago, we launched OrthodoxHistory.org. Thanks to all who have read and supported our work!
June 16, 1889: Deacon Raphael Hawaweeny was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Sylvester, rector of the Kiev Theological Academy. Deacon Raphael had come to the Kiev school a year earlier, and the plan was for him to study there and then return to Syria, where he would become the Russian-language secretary for the Patriarch of Antioch. Toward the end of the 1888-89 school year, however, the Patriarch appointed Deacon Raphael to be head of the Antiochian metochion (embassy church) in Moscow. The previous head of the metochion was Fr. Christopher Jabara, who had worn out his welcome because of his heretical theological views. And speaking of Jabara…
June 11, 1893: Fr. Christopher Jabara dedicated a chapel for the Syrians in New York City. After being ousted from his position in Moscow, Jabara falls off the radar for a few years before turning up in New York, on his way to the World’s Fair in Chicago. For the past year or so, the Arab Orthodox of New York had been attending the city’s new Greek church, and they were excited to see a priest who spoke their own language. They quickly established a chapel, and two Russian priests from visiting warships joined Jabara in the dedication. (Click here to read more about the chapel.)
Unfortunately, the chapel didn’t last long. At the “Parliament of Religions” held at the World’s Fair, Jabara promoted his idiosyncratic theology, arguing that Orthodoxy should abandon the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and unite with Islam. That pretty much killed any chance Jabara had of an Orthodox ministry in America, and the New York chapel seems to have died out. But two years later, the man who replaced Jabara at the Antiochian metochion in Moscow — Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny — himself arrived in America, inaugurating a 20-year ministry to the Arab Orthodox in the New World.
If you want to learn more about Fr. Christopher Jabara, check out this article from 2009.
June 17, 1893: Bishop Nicholas Ziorov blessed the Russian pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Fair was a tremendous event, and it had a lot of interesting Orthodox features.
June 11, 1983: Archbishop Nikon de Greve died. He was born in the Russian Empire in 1895 and served in the White Army during the Russian Civil War. Eventually, he ended up in Paris, where he studied at the famed St. Sergius Institute and became a hieromonk. He was serving at the Russian cathedral in Paris when the Nazi army took over the city during World War II, and when Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky (by then the Archbishop of Brussels) was arrested by the Nazis, Nikon went to Brussels and administered the diocese in Alexander’s stead.
Nikon was consecrated a bishop for Belgium in 1946, and the next year, he sailed for America. He served as bishop of Philadelphia and later Toronto until 1959, when he became primate of the Church of Japan. After four years in Japan, Nikon returned to America. By this point, he was nearly seventy. He took the title “Archbishop of Brooklyn,” but wasn’t given a diocese to oversee. He died at the age of 88, and is buried at St. Tikhon’s Monastery.
June 12, 1995: Bishop Gerasimos Papadopoulos (Greek Archdiocese) died. Some have suggested that Bishop Gerasimos may be worthy of canonization.
June 17, 2007: Archbishop Kyrill Yonchev, longtime head of the Bulgarian Diocese of the OCA, died. Fr. Andrew Damick wrote about Archbishop Kyrill and his diocese a few years ago.
June 12, 2009: The Pan-Orthodox Conference at Chambesy, Switzerland, concluded. This meeting set the stage for Assemblies of Bishops to be created throughout the so-called diaspora, including North America.
Awhile back, I did a podcast on a 19th century figure who called himself “The Bulgarian Monk.” This man, also known as Rev. A.N. Experidon, came to America in the 1870s and claimed to be an Orthodox hieromonk. He remained here until his mysterious death in Idaho in the early 1890s — after which, so goes the story, he became a ghost who haunted a now-abandoned mining camp.
And that’s just one of a multitude of crazy stories about The Bulgarian Monk. He tried to convert the Mormon leader Brigham Young to Orthodoxy. He told people he was going to walk on water like Jesus, and then proceeded to walk into the water. He imitated — no, wait, he was friends with — no, wait, he was the inspiration for — Mark Twain. (It’s hard to keep the story straight, because The Bulgarian Monk kept changing it.)
He preached on street corners and in opera houses in every small town in every state in America. He never slept under a roof, preferring to camp in a tent with his mangy dog (a gift from the Governor of Texas!) and his rifle. And the rifle — well, that came in handy not only to hunt for food, but also this one time when an unimpressed crowd started throwing stuff at The Bulgarian Monk during one of his lectures. Instead of leaving town, the next day he resumed his pontifications, with a loaded gun in his lap. There was no more trouble.
It’s just a crazy, crazy story, and the paragraphs I just wrote don’t even begin to convey it. For more, you can check out the aforementioned podcast episode, and read some of the past articles on this site.
All of which is by way of introduction, because, as the title of this article suggests, I’ve recently uncovered some new details on our intriguing subject. Thanks to the August 23, 1875 issue of the Buffalo Daily Courier, we now know the following facts (or perhaps we should call them claims?):
- Rev. Experidon and his family were, “for some time,” enslaved by the Turks, and the Russian government spent a whopping $37,000 to redeem them. In modern terms, that’s something like $725,000. And even if the newspaper inadvertently added an extra zero, we’re still talking about over $70,000 in today’s money. Of course, I have no idea if this is true.
- He was educated at St. Petersburg, Constantinople, Oxford, and Paris. A later source adds Berlin to this list, and specifies that his time at Oxford was spent at St. Mary’s College. Could there possibly be records of Experidon in these institutions?
- He spoke 13 languages fluently. In later years, the number would swell to 32.
- Rev. Experidon became an Orthodox priest in 1866 (I think — I’m reading a digitized newspaper, and the scan isn’t perfectly clear).
- In 1868 (again, I think this is right, but the scan isn’t clear), he was employed by the Greek Church “to make a tour of the earth, in order to write a history of mankind.”
It’s significant that this Buffalo article is one of the earliest sources we have on Experidon, and thus it’s presumably among the more reliable on the subject of his early life. Another early source (the Statesman of Marshall, Michigan from Sept. 6, 1876) reports that Experidon was given $3,000 by the Church to cover his expenses, and that he traveled through China and Japan before arriving in the United States. A third new source, the Shenango Valley Argus of Pennsylvania (July 15, 1876) states that “12 brother monks are now in this country taking in the Centennial and getting acquainted with the boys.” However, I’ve found no other references to a dozen Orthodox monks touring the United States in the mid-1870s.
Ultimately, all sources on Experidon’s pre-American life originate with the testimony of The Bulgarian Monk himself. All these newspapermen listened to him, maybe interviewed him, and then repeated what he said (perhaps even with some embellishment of their own, at times). So we have to take these things with a grain of salt. But with that caveat, we can come up with a very rough, very preliminary biography of Rev. A.N. Experidon.
He was born in Bulgaria sometime around 1830, most likely to an ethnically Greek family. If the story above is to be believed, he and his family were somehow taken captive by the Turks and then redeemed by the Russian government (which makes me think his family must have been wealthy or politically connected). He was educated in various European academies and at some point became a lawyer. He became associated with the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, becoming a monk and a priest in the 1860s. He lived in Jerusalem for a time (and supposedly met a visiting Mark Twain), but he also traveled to Egypt, where he encountered some former Confederate officers from the Civil War, who had entered the service of the Egyptian government. Late in the decade, probably when Experidon was in his mid-to-late thirties, he was given the task of traveling to America to write a book. He went east, through China and Japan, before arriving on the Pacific Coast of the United States in 1874 or early 1875. After that, our knowledge of Experidon becomes much clearer.
Needless to say, if anyone out there has any information about Rev. A.N. Experidon, especially concerning his early life, please let us know. He may well be the strangest person ever associated with Orthodoxy in America.
My thanks to Ken Wells for helping to inspire this article.