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.]
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.
Editor’s note: Today we present a book review by Richard Barrett, a parish cantor and Ph.D. student in History at Indiana University in the Ancient Studies field. This review is regarding a particularly interesting book on parish congregationalism in American Orthodox history. It appeared in an earlier form as a post on Mr. Barrett’s own weblog. His post on historiographical methodology in American Orthodoxy also makes for interesting reading.
We intend to run more book reviews on this site in the future.
In my research for the article on historiography of Orthodox Christianity in America, I encountered the book Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism by a Carpatho-Russian priest named Fr. Nicholas Ferencz. It was evidently his doctoral dissertation at Duquesne University, and it was published in 2006 by Gorgias Press under their “Gorgias Dissertations” imprint. It is, I think, a book that should be carefully read and considered by Orthodox Christians in America; it is able to be descriptive of what Fr. Nicholas sees as the problem without resorting to finger-pointing, and it is far more of an intellectually honest look at particular hotly-debated issues than some other books out there. Unfortunately, those other books are $15 a pop and Fr. Nicholas’ is $99 (the perils of a small boutique academic press, alas), so that’s unlikely to happen, but I’d like to make what case for the book I can.
Fr. Nicholas’ thesis is that congregationalism, or “trusteeism,” is unambiguously outside of Orthodox Christian tradition, but that it is nonetheless the de facto arrangement, at least in a modified form, for American parishes, and that this state of things represents a troubling gap between belief and practice in Orthodox Christianity as it is practiced in this country. “American Orthodoxy,” he contends, “lives out an experience of church which is at odds with its professed understanding of church,” a problem which most church leaders either cannot or will not acknowledge publicly, and of which most laity are unaware (p. 2).
The model of “modified congregationalism” within which most parishes function, he argues, boils down to the laity controlling the material assets of the community. At the same time, the laity “allows” the clergy (including the episcopate) more or less limited authority in the spiritual realm, but with the right implicitly reserved to either revoke that allowance, or to use material authority in a way that trumps the spiritual authority — that is, “the earthly coercive power of control” (p. 204). This is a problem, and a big one:
[C]ongregationalism does not work in practice within the Orthodox Church. Parish life does not divide into such neatly fragmented categories as spiritual/cleric on one side and material/laic on the other. A congregationalist structure merely serves to maintain a fiction which undermines the authority and responsibility of both the clergy and the laity, to the detriment of the parish and, therefore, of the church. (p. 7)
This state of affairs exists for a number of reasons, and there are three in particular on which Fr. Nicholas concentrates. The first is what he terms “the moral absence of the hierarchy,” both in the formative years and up to the present, the second is the long-term impact of the circumstances surrounding St. Alexis Toth’s bringing many of the Uniate parishes into the Orthodox Church, and the third is the result of lay societies being the engine which drove the formation of many early Orthodox parishes. Without going into the minutiae of his argument, the way that Fr. Nicholas lays out the historical circumstances in which the theoretical/practical gap developed in Orthodox Christianity as practiced in the United States is fascinating reading, and excellent food for thought.
So, what’s the way forward? There are several generations in this country, from cradle and convert stock alike, who are very used to things being the way they are, they don’t want to hear that what they’re doing is at variance with traditional Orthodox practice, and in fact they might even argue that we haven’t gone far enough towards congregationalism. So what do we do? Is it possible that there’s just no other way for Orthodox Christianity to function in this country? Is there just too much of a cultural disconnect for it to be otherwise?
At the macro level, the book gives the impression that the idea of more bishops covering smaller territories would be a practical way of dealing with the problem, since the impossibly wide geographic areas that bishops have had to cover in the Americas help create the problem of “moral absence” in the first place. More locally, Fr. Nicholas suggests that “[r]eal conciliarity on a parish level could be the beginning of the healing of the divisiveness of congregationalism,” (p. 210) with conciliarity being defined as “an authority structure which requires that all the People of God, ordained and unordained, participate in the authority of the church and the exercise of that authority as one, whole Body” (p. 209). At the same time, however, conciliarity is emphatically not “the gathering of an… ‘amorphous mass’ for the purpose of casting votes… [that is,] a democracy. It is the gathering, the coming together, of the Body of Christ in unity and in wholeness” (ibid.). This being the case, it is vital that we realize “[t]he participation of each member of the church is not exactly the same, uniform, and undifferentiated. Each person is called to share in Christ’s authority to the degree and in the manner in which they have received God’s grace to do so” (ibid.). It’s not an easy way forward in a culture where we don’t readily make a distinction between difference in function and difference in quality, so I don’t know how we get around that, but I suspect Fr. Nicholas is right regardless.
There’s much more to the book than this necessarily brief review will allow me to explore, but I recommend seeking it out. If you don’t want to fork out the $99 to buy it, interlibrary loan should be able to produce a copy. It’s very much worth reading and discussing further.
[This article was written by Richard Barrett and was originally published at his weblog on October 10, 2009.]
Editor’s note: Today, we are pleased to present an article by Dr. John Yiannias, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Virginia. Dr. Yiannias holds a Ph.D. in Early Christian and Byzantine Art from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a leading expert on Orthodox iconography. At the 2008 conference of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, Dr. Yiannias gave a lecture on iconography, and at the end of his talk, he offered the following addendum. He has kindly granted permission for us to publish it here at OrthodoxHistory.org. While, on the face of it, the subject may appear only tangentially relevant to American Orthodox history, it is actually rather relevant, in that the term “icon writing” is peculiar to American (or, at least, English-speaking) Orthodoxy, and may very likely have originated here in North America.
[Author’s disclaimer: I can’t claim for sure that the argument I give below is original. A few years ago I saw reference to an article that seemed intended to make the same point that I'm making, but I lost the reference and never actually saw the article. I’d appreciate learning of its contents and place of publication from anyone who may have read it.]
We’ve all heard, and many of us have used, the currently popular phrase “icon writing.” Whoever invented this expression must have noticed that in the Greek word eikonographia and its Slavonic translation ikonopisanie the suffixes (graphí and pisánie) very often mean “writing.” Our inventor thereupon thought it a good idea to speak of “icon writing,” probably imagining that the sheer oddness of the phrase would attract more attention than the prosaic “icon painting”and also convey a greater sense of the sacredness of the act of producing an icon. Ever since, this tortured translation has stuck to the lips of just about every English-speaking Orthodox Christian who talks about icons.
However, the suffixes graphí and pisánie both mean depiction, as well as writing. The first–more to the point here than the Slavonic term, which was formed on the basis of the Greek–is related to the verb gráphein/grápho and means any representational delineation — such as when you write the letters of an alphabet, but also when you sketch, say, a portrait. The precise translation depends on the circumstances. For example, “geography” does not mean “earth writing,” but earth description, whether verbal or pictorial. “Scenography,” from the word skiní, meaning a shelter, by implication a tent, and by further implication one of canvas, means the painting or other illustration of a backdrop, on canvas or similar material, for a theatrical production (whence our words “scene”and “scenic”); it does not mean “scene writing.” Whether the delineation referred to is verbal or pictorial, graphí implies circumscription, as when the Church says that God the Father is aperigraptos. That does not mean, obviously, that God the Father is “unwritable.” It means He is uncircumscribable, unbounded, undepictable, incomprehensible, unsusceptible to containment within the boundaries that we must impose on anything before we can comprehend or speak of it.
The habit of describing icons as “written” should therefore be dropped. Not only does the expression do violence to English and sound just plain silly, but it can introduce notions without basis in the Greek texts — such as, that an icon is essentially a representation of words, as opposed to a representation of things that words represent.
The theologically important fact that icons, which are pictorial, and Scripture, which is verbal, are nearly equivalent can be conveyed in other ways than by torturing English. It’s worth noting that in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Greek word used for an icon painter is simply zográphos (in Slavonic, zhivopísets), meaning simply a depicter of life, or of forms taken from life: that the subjects depicted were religious was more or less assumed. It seems that when secular artists eventually gained higher social status than before, and zográphos could apply to them as well as to the makers of sacred representations, the term was superseded in Greek by the more specific agiográphos, or eikonográphos (in Slavonic, ikonopísets).
An icon is painted, pure and simple, or produced by some other technique, if made of enamel or ivory or whatever else. But it is not written, and never in the Church’s history until our day, no matter what the language used, has the Church said or implied that an icon is written. Let’s hope it isn’t too late to expunge the expression.
[This article was written by Dr. John Yiannias. Originally delivered as an addendum to a talk given at the Orthodox Theological Society in America meeting in Chicago, IL, June 13, 2008.]
On today’s episode of our American Orthodox History podcast, I discuss Isabel Hapgood, an Episcopalian woman who had a significant impact on American Orthodox history. She is most famous today for her landmark English translation of the Orthodox Service Book. Her translation was first published in 1906, and remains in print today. Below, I am reprinting a review of the book, from the New York Tribune (12/15/1907):
Uniformity of doctrine is an unfailing note of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church of the East. But with dogmatic unity once assured the Church has always been ready to adapt itself to the exigencies of national life among the peoples to whom its message has come. Thus the Syro-Arabian, Greek and Russian branches of the Orthodox Apostolic Church, while one in doctrine, are each independent, or rather autocephalous, in government, and the cultus varies in form and language according to the needs of the different groups within the pale of the Eastern Obedience.
The Service Book compiled and translated by Miss Hapgood for use in public worship of the Russian Church in North America is a timely recognition of the presence in this country of an increasing number of adherents of the Eastern Church, and of the fact that English is the only language that communicants in America may hope to have in common. In her important project Miss Hapgood has had the backing of the Holy Synod of Russia, by whom part of the expense of publication is defrayed. Count Sergius I. Witte has been a liberal contributor, and dignitaries like the Archbishop of North America have given sympathetic scholarly aid.
The old Church-Slavonic service books from which the translations have been made contain a wealth of liturgical material too bounteous for ordinary purposes. By following the canon of judicious neglect Miss Hapgood has succeeded admirably in making a book which shows all the services in general use. The list includes the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, the Service of the Hours, the All-night Vigil and Grand Compline. Offices for the chief festivals are given, as well as orders of Ordination, Holy Baptism, Holy Unction and the lesser rites. The translator has added valuable chapters on the significance of the liturgical actions and on the symbolism of the Church, and has furnished complete tables of the lessons, feasts and fasts.
Apart from its immediate usefulness for English speaking members of the Russian Church, the Service Book will have interest for many sorts of churchmen. It stimulates inquiry as to what steps may be taken by American adherents of a great communion whose ideal calls for separate national churches professing the same faith. As to a possible rapproachment with other churches having “national” aspirations, discussion may at least be deferred until the three branches of the Orthodox Church in this country, Russian, Greek and Syro-Arabian, are found in organic union. The Service Book makes entirely clear that the Eastern Church regards its own orthodoxy with complete seriousness. All postulants must repudiate the distinctive tenets of their old allegiance. Lutheran and Reformed candidates are required to forswear “Protestant errors,” and applicants from the Roman-Latin Confession must renounce in terms one false doctrine, filioque, and three erroneous beliefs, and must disavow “all the other doctrines of the Western Confession, both old and new, which are contrary to the Word of God and the true tradition of the Church, and to the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils.”
When once through the wicket, however, the convert finds that the Orthodox Apostolic Church has ample pastures for the flock. As James Darmesteter said of Judaism, there is with the cult of isolation a creed of catholicity. Whoever turns to the treasury of devotion which Miss Hapgood’s pious initiative and diligence have made accessible will in the closer view of this venerable communion get fresh impressions of its length and breadth, a deepened reverence for its great names, a more sympathetic understanding of its intricate yet effective symbolism. A spirit breathes through the ancient forms a needfulness and awe characteristic of worship at its highest.
Hapgood’s Service Book has been digitized and is available at both Google Books and the Internet Archive. The only real biographical work on Hapgood, so far as I’m aware, is Marina Ledkovsky’s 1998 article. And, to listen to my new podcast on Hapgood’s life, click here.