To shave or not to shave?

For three tumultuous decades — 1907 to 1938 — Fr. Basil Kerbawy was the dean of St. Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn. Apparently, in 1911, he was having some issues related to his beard, and things got so bad that he wrote to William Gaynor, the mayor of New York. I can’t resist reprinting their…

Passing Judgment on the Past

This week, I’ve written about two topics that can be somewhat divisive: clergy dress, and pews. From the feedback I’ve been getting, it seems that some people want me to come down on one side or the other. Should priests wear cassocks everywhere? Should they wear collars? Should our churches have pews, or shouldn’t they?…

Pews (or lack thereof) in early Orthodox churches

Yesterday, I introduced one of my ongoing research projects, a study of the origins of pews in American Orthodox churches. Oh, I’m famililar with the old story — that early Orthodox parishes bought old Protestant churches and retained the inherited pews — but whenever I hear that story, it seems to be just a bald…

Built or Bought? Greek church buildings in the 1910s

Pews are a common sight in American Orthodox churches, especially those in the Greek and Antiochian Archdioceses. I remember, as an adolescent in an Antiochian parish, learning that my fellow Orthodox in Greece or Russia or Lebanon don’t have pews in their churches. When I asked why we had pews and the rest of Orthodoxy…

Cassocks or Collars?

It’s a common debate within American Orthodoxy: should our priests wear cassocks, or should they wear suits and collars like their Roman Catholic and Protestant counterparts? One side rightly argues that cassocks are the traditional and virtually universal style of dress for Orthodox clergy. The other side just as correctly points out that even some American saints wore…

Calendar issues in early American Orthodoxy

One of the most obvious practical issues facing early Orthodox Christians in America was the difference between the Church calendar — the “Julian” calendar — and the civil (“Gregorian”) calendar. In the 19th century, twelve days separated the two calendars; after the turn of the century, the difference was thirteen days. And since the “New…