November 8, 1894: Memorial services for Tsar Alexander III of Russia were held in New York and Washington, DC. The New York memorial was held in Holy Trinity Greek church, because there was no Russian church in the city. In Washington, President Grover Cleveland attended the service, which was led by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about these memorials; click here to read it.
November 9, 1897: Fr. Sebastian Dabovich officiated at the marriage of his niece Ella to Theodore Pashkovsky, who later became dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco. After Ella died, Fr. Theodore was consecrated a bishop (taking the name “Theophilus”), and he ultimately became primate of the Russian Metropolia from 1934 until his death in 1950.
The Pashkovskys had a son, Boris, who shortened his last name to “Pash” and went on to live a rather remarkable life himself. He worked security on the Manhattan Project — in fact, he was one of two sons of Orthodox bishops on the project, the other being the son of Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich — and after World War II, he negotiated to have the Japanese Orthodox Church placed under the jurisdiction of the Russian Metropolia in America.
November 8, 1900: Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, along with Fr. John Kochurov and Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, attended the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The gathering became known as the “Fond du Lac Circus,” and, honestly, it’s high time that this event gets a full article of its own. I’ll add it to the to-do list.
November 9, 1902: Bishop Tikhon consecrated St. Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in Brooklyn, NY. He was assisted by Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Mission in North America.
November 5, 1905: Ingram Irvine, a convert from the Episcopal Church, was ordained an Orthodox priest by Archbishop Tikhon at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York. Irvine had been an Episcopalian priest for a quarter century before being defrocked by his bishop for “conduct unbecoming a clergyman.” His ordination to the Orthodox priesthood sent shockwaves through the Episcopal Church.
I used to write about Irvine all the time here at Orthodox History, but not so much lately. Why, you ask? Because Aram Sarkisian (and, to a lesser extent, I) came upon some really important sources on Irvine — sources that don’t present him in a particularly good light. We’re still getting some things translated, and until Aram has a chance to present those findings, it’s a little difficult for me to say much about Irvine. In any case, my perspective on Irvine has changed quite a lot because of these new sources, and I’m much more inclined to think that the Episcopalians who disliked him had good reasons for doing so.
November 11, 1908: James Chrystal, a Protestant minister, died in Jersey City, NJ. Many years earlier, in 1869, Chrystal had traveled to Greece, converted to Orthodoxy, and been ordained a priest by the celebrated Archbishop Alexander of Syra. But Chrystal soon repudiated Orthodoxy because of his opposition to icons, and for the rest of his life, he held out hope that the Orthodox would abandon their “idolatry.” For more on Chrystal, check out my podcast and article on him and his fellow convert-turned-apostate, Nicholas Bjerring.
November 5, 1913: At a convention in Chicago, the Serbian Orthodox clergy in America formally requested to be transferred from the jurisdiction of the Russian Church to that of the Serbian Church. Nothing official happened until after World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, but the wheels were in motion to create a separate Serbian jurisdiction in America.
Incidentally, this fact is one of the many pieces of evidence against the notion that the Bolshevik Revolution caused the subsequent jurisdictional chaos in America. The Serbs — along with the Greeks, Syrians, and others — were already either not part of the Russian Mission, or openly talking about leaving it, well before 1917.
November 9, 1924: Archimandrite Victor Abo-Assaly was consecrated in Worcester, MA to be the first primate of the brand-new Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
November 6, 1954: Robert Royster, a Baptist convert to Orthodoxy, was ordained to the priesthood by the BIshop Bogdan, head of the Ukrainian jurisdiction under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Royster took the name “Fr. Dmitri,” and he was just one of many American converts that Bishop Bogdan ordained. In his important 1973 book The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, Fr. Seraphim Surrency wrote,
Bp Bogdan ordained over a dozen native converts to the Orthodox priesthood without requiring any theological training, and as might be expected the results were disastrous (an exception was Fr. Dmitry Royster who later transferred his allegiance to the Russian Metropolia and was consecrated Bishop in 1969).
Of course, the Metropolia morphed into the OCA in 1970, and Dmitri became one of its most prominent bishops. In 1977, he received by far the most votes in the election for a new OCA Metropolitan, but he was just shy of two-thirds, which meant that the names of both Dmitri and the distant runner-up — Theodosius Lazor — were submitted to the Holy Synod for consideration. In spite of Dmitri’s high vote total, the Synod quickly elected Theodosius as Metropolitan. The next year, Dmitri took over the fledgling OCA Diocese of the South, which he led until his retirement in 2009. Dmitri died in 2011.
And just to make quick plug: the best, most balanced and well-researched treatment of Dmitri that I’ve ever seen is Fr. Peter Robichau’s recent St. Vladimir’s Seminary thesis, From District to Diocese: An Examination of the Founding and Missionary Methods of the OCA Diocese of the South. It’s not published, but I hope Fr. Peter turns it into one or more articles in the future. If you happen to be at SVS, it’s worth a look.
November 8, 1979: Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska died. Many people today consider her to be a saint, and you can find icons and even an akathist service to her on the internet. For more on Matushka Olga, check out Kevin Wigglesworth’s 2008 article published in The Canadian Journal of Orthodox Christianity, and available online. The article leans more toward hagiography than history, but you’ll get a good sense of why so many people admire her.
Once again, my apologies for the lack of new material over the past couple of months. We do have some really fascinating material in the pipeline, and I’m trying to get my “This week” series back on track, so stay tuned. – Matthew Namee
In its early years, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) went through priests like a newborn goes through diapers. In the dozen years from its founding in 1892 until 1904, the parish welcomed, and said goodbye to, no fewer than eight pastors. These included some (relatively) big names:
- Fr. Paisios Ferentinos, the first Greek priest in New York
- Fr. Kallinikos Dilveis, who went on to found the Greek church in Lowell, Mass. before returning to Greece and becoming a bishop
- Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, who moved to New York after founding the first church in Chicago
But none of those men stuck around for very long, and when Fr. Methodios Kourkoulis took charge of Holy Trinity in 1904, I doubt he was expected to fare any better. But he did — against all odds, Fr. Kourkoulis lasted a whopping 37 years, serving as pastor of Holy Trinity until his death in 1941.
That period, 1904 to 1941, witnessed remarkable, dramatic changes in America in general, and Orthodoxy in particular. When Fr. Kourkoulis arrived, the Greeks were in a state of disarray, with no real hierarchical oversight of any kind. By the time he died, nearly every Greek church in America was part of the Greek Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Athenagoras and a cadre of titular bishops.
I know very little about Fr. Kourkoulis himself. I mean, he was around for everything, but it’s hard to get a clear picture of what sort of person he was. I do know that he was born on the island of Mytilene in the Ottoman Empire in October 1861. He studied in Jerusalem, Athens, and Germany, and was ordained a priest at Lesbos in 1892. He spent the next dozen years as a teacher and missionary in his native Asia Minor, but also, apparently, did the same thing in Egypt, Sudan, Smyrna, and the Holy Land. And we’re not talking about a monastic priest, here — Fr. Kourkoulis was married and had at least two children.
In 1904, he was sent to New York to take charge of Holy Trinity. One writer said of Fr. Kourkoulis, “He laid the solid foundation of the community during the earlier years of his office.” Shortly before his death, the widowed Fr. Kourkoulis was elevated to archimandrite. And, as I said, he died in 1941.
He must have been well loved, considering the remarkable monument erected in his honor. The inscription reads, “For the valuable services rendered as a clergyman for 38 years – this monument is gratefully dedicated.” And it’s just an awesome monument, right? Does any Orthodox clergyman in America have a more striking tombstone?
Anyway, I’d love to learn more about Fr. Kourkoulis. If anyone reading this has more information, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
(An earlier version of this post was published in 2010.)
108 years ago this week, in 1904, St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the Syro-Arab Bishop of Brooklyn, officiated at a wedding in St. Louis. The English bride and Arab groom had a rather romantic backstory, and the wedding took place at the imitation Holy Sepulchre in the “Jerusalem” exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. The newspaper article below appeared in the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald (10/1/1904). After the article, I’ll offer some additional information and commentary.
It was a great event, this marriage of a fair haired English girl and dark-skinned Syrian. In Jerusalem at the World’s Fair every one was in gala attire. There was a sea of [...] color. The Turk, resplendent in flowing silken robes with red tarbouche on head; the Syrian, in gold broidered jacket and trousers of ample proportions; the solemn-visaged Jew and the white-burnoused Arab sheik from the Saharan desert, were assembled to do the couple honor.
The wedding was the culmination of a romantic courtship which was not without its thorny side. The bride, Miss Ethel Thomas of Hanley York, England, met the hero of the romance while a tourist in the Holy Land. Under the warm skies of Palestine their love grew apace, and while the intelligent dragoman waxed eloquent over many a hoary rum his glances were all for the pretty English girl. The other members of the party decided that the attentions of the swarthy guide were too pointed and demanded his removal. Whether it was pity engendered by his dismissal or real affection, the spirited girl determined to leave the party. She joined another, always with the faithful Najib Ghazal as the dragoman. When the tour was over, Miss Thomas returned to the bosom of her family. Her swarthy adorer quickly followed and asked the father of the damsel for her hand. This was refused, and the family offered violent opposition. Mr. Ghazal was under contract to appear as a guide in Jerusalem at the World’s Fair, and was forced to sail without his bride to be. Finally the matter was adjusted, and Miss Thomas sailed to New York, where she was met by her faithful lover. He saw Archbishop Hawawini of Brooklyn, the high primate of the Greek church in the United States, who consented to come to St. Louis in order to unite the pair. The ceremony was inaugurated with all of the state incident to the Greek ritual. The marriage took place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The bride and her only bridesmaid or shabinat, were attired in white. The bride, with a hat instead of the conventional bridal veil, led the procession, the groom and groomsmen, or shabins, following. In the regular Syrian service it is the custom for the groomsmen to carry the groom, holding him high above the bride during the ceremony. This is to signify the lower position of the wife in the household, for in Oriental countries she is quite a subordinate being. The air was redolent with the perfume of flowers, the air was heavy with aromatic incense, the guests held painted and blessed wax candles, the lights dancing like ingnus fatui in the semi-gloom of the church. These holy tapers are preserved as mementoes. The bride and groom also held two artistically ornamented candles. During the ceremony the priest asks the couple all sorts of trying questions, as for instance, he demands of the bride whether she will promise to bear every vicissitude with loving patience and be ever faithful to her lord and master. He asks the groom whether he will provide a comfortable home and always be kind to his wife. Of course, they signify their consent. There is much chanting during the service, accompanied with profound genuflexions. It is in Arabic. Long and tedious but of picturesque grandeur is the Greek wedding ritual. The priest places upon the fingers of the couple two silver rings linked together with a slender chain, emblematic of their eternal union. The chain is then severed and the golden wedding ring placed upon the fingers of both. Still kneeling the couple drink holy wine from the same cup and partake of the sacrificial bread. This is to signify the union of the blood of life, the bread typifies the flesh. Lastly a cup of water is drunk, which is emblematic of the washing away of all impurity.
When the bridal party emerged from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a silver clarinet played a triumphal bridal march. The newly married pair threw nickels and bon bons to the crowd who scrambled for the largess.
Before entering her home provided for her the bride flings a piece of dough upon the portal. If it sticks it is regarded as a happy omen, but if it does not dire misfortune is predicted by the wise women.
Mr. and Mrs. Najib Ghazal will remain in St. Louis until the conclusion of the exposition, as Mr. Ghazal is employed as a dragoman in Jerusalem.
The betrothal of a Syrian couple is entirely the affair of the parents, the prospective bride and groom having nothing whatever to do with it. It is not even considered good form for the young man to see the face of the young woman. He must be content with the description of his mother or the professional matchmaker. What a number of disappointments there must be in store. The burden of providing a trousseau for the bride rests upon the groom. Even though he belongs to the middle class and is not the possessor of great wealth, he must send not less than twenty silk dresses to his bride, also ten gold or silver necklaces, diamond earrings and brooches. This is a provident proceeding, for the groom if disenchanted may abandon the bride the next day; in this case he leaves her well provided with the wherewithal to entrap another husband. The bride must always be subject to her mother-in-law, as it is the Syrian custom not to provide a separate home. This is a survival of patriarchal or rather matriarchal domination which prevails in most Oriental nations.
Prior to the marriage ceremony the friends of the groom take him to the nearest bath house and scrub him thoroughly, the prospective bridesmaids doing the same for the bride. Instead of the butter knives, pickle dishes and assortment of heterogeneous objects presented to the American bride, relatives and friends send offering[s] of money. This is in reality money loaned without interest, as the exact sums must be returned to each donor upon their marriage. Every guest proffers two cakes of soap, and when the pair have a number of relatives and friends, there is often sufficient soap to last a lifetime.
This article’s description of the Orthodox wedding is… well, curious. I am by no means an expert on Orthodox wedding practices, but I am an Arab Orthodox Christian myself, and I was married a traditional Orthodox ceremony in the Antiochian Archdiocese. I’ve attended numerous other Orthodox weddings — all here in the United States, which does limit my exposure, but still — and I’ve never heard of a groom being hoisted into the air by groomsmen during the wedding service. It’s also not clear what, exactly this St. Louis couple consumed. My wife and I partook of wine in the “common cup.” In the distant past, I understand that the Eucharist itself was used. But this St. Louis couple apparently was given, separately, wine, bread, and water. And then there are the questions — the wife was asked whether she would “be ever faithful to her lord and master,” and the husband whether he would “provide a comfortable home,” etc. But in my experience, the husband and wife are only asked one question apiece — whether they have come with a “free and unconstrained will” to be joined to the other person. If any of our readers have insight into what was going on at this St. Louis wedding, please let me know.
(A thought just occurred to me: maybe the author of this article mistakenly attended some other wedding, rather than the Orthodox one. Does the description sound like a ceremony any of you recognize? Or, I guess, the author could have not attended the wedding at all, and made up the details. After all, this article appeared in a Washington newspaper, half a country away, just one day after the event. But… I don’t know. What do you think?)
Anyway, I did some further digging to learn more about Najib Ghazal and Ethel Thomas. Najib arrived at Ellis Island on May 1, 1904, having sailed from Liverpool aboard the Lucania. He is listed on the ship manifest as “Nagib E. Ghazal,” a single 30-year-old Syrian. His reported residence is London. Ethel was about 22 at the time of her wedding. After the World’s Fair, they remained in the United States; presumably, both became naturalized US citizens. They moved around quite a bit — the US Censuses have them in Brooklyn in 1910, San Francisco in 1920, and Detroit in 1930. I can’t find either Najib or Ethel in the 1940 Census, so they might have died by then. As best I can tell, the couple had one child, George, who lived from 1906 to 1984. A quick Google search turns up several Ghazals in Detroit, and these may be the descendants of Najib and Ethel.
If anyone out there has more information, please let us know.
September 18, 1905: On the very same day, two big events took place:
- St. Tikhon Bellavin, the Russian Archbishop of North America, elevated Fr. Sebastian Dabovich to the rank of archimandrite. Dabovich was the leader of the Serbian Orthodox in America, and Tikhon planned to make him a bishop, although that never happened. Tikhon gave one of his own miters (crowns) to Dabovich, and years later, Dabovich auctioned off the miter to support the Serbian war effort. To read more about that, click here. (In fact, if you live in the Los Angeles area and would like to make a big historical discovery, you might consider helping figure out what happened to the miter.)
- Late at night, a gunfight between the Orthodox Syrian and their Maronite Catholic counterparts took place in Brooklyn. St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the Bishop of Brooklyn, was there, and he was arrested along with a bunch of others. I did a whole series of articles on this mess awhile back, and it’s a pretty crazy story. (I still need to get around to finishing that series, actually.)
September 18, 1907: Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvensky arrived in America to replace St. Tikhon as Archbishop of North America. Platon served here until 1914, but he returned as a refugee after the Bolshevik Revolution and ended up leading the Russian Metropolia until his death.
September 17, 1914: Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi of Baalbek arrived in America on a fundraising visit for an agricultural school in his archdiocese back in Syria. But St. Raphael soon fell ill and died, and a lot of Syrian-Americans really liked Germanos, and Germanos really liked America, and a World War was going on, so… why go back? Germanos tried to stake his own ecclesiastical claim in America after St. Raphael’s 1915 death, leading to the Russy-Antacky schism among the Arab Orthodox in America. But in September 1914, all that was in the future, and Germanos was welcomed by pretty much everyone.
September 19, 1916: Fr. Raphael Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America, wrote a letter against black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. I wrote an article about Morgan’s letter in March 2010; click here to read it.
September 19, 1920: Brand-new convert priest Fr. Patrick Mythen was elevated to the rank of archimandrite by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky. Mythen was a religious chameleon who was Catholic, and then Episcopalian, and then Catholic, and then Episcopalian, and then a sort-of-kind-of Theosophist, and then Orthodox, and finally Catholic again before his tragic young death in the mid-1920s. During his brief stint as an Orthodox priest, Mythen was given considerable authority, helping run the Russian Archdiocese during probably the craziest period in the history of Orthodoxy in America.
September 18, 1938: Bishop Orestes Chornock was consecrated in Constantinople to become the first head of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD). He led the diocese until his death in 1977. Fr. Lawrence Barringer wrote a biography of Bishop Orestes, Good Victory, which was published by Holy Cross in 1985.
September 21, 1996: The new Greek Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned in New York. To say that that worked out badly would be the understatement of the year, but I hesitate to say anything more because 1996 wasn’t all that long ago.
September 18, 1999: In a nice bit of symmetry, three years to the week after Archbishop Spyridon’s enthronement, his replacement, Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, was enthroned. That worked out a lot better, to say the least. In addition to his duties with the GOA and the broader Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop Demetrios chairs the Assembly of Bishops, which held its latest meeting in Chicago last week.
September 22, 2000: Longtime ROCOR Archbishop Anthony Medvedev of San Francisco died. He was consecrated for ROCOR’s Australian diocese in 1956, and in the late ’60s, he succeeded the departed St. John Maximovitch as Archbishop of San Francisco. He held that position for over three decades, until his death at the age of 92.
Recently, I was alerted to several photographs of a visit Fr. Alexander Schmemann made to Detroit in the winter of 1962. Today would have been Fr. Alexander’s ninety-first birthday, so I thought this to be as good an opportunity as any to share these pictures with our readers.
1962 was a turning point in the history of Orthodox theological education in North America, and in turn was a major transition for Fr. Alexander as well. As our readers surely know, Fr. Alexander is best known for his involvement with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Fr. Alexander arrived at the seminary as a faculty member in 1951, and was part of the institution’s growth into one of the major centers of Orthodox thought and scholarship in the western hemisphere by the end of the decade. By 1962, the seminary had grown to the extent that it was prepared to move into a permanent facility, the now-familiar campus in Crestwood, New York. The move to Crestwood also marked Fr. Alexander’s move to the position of seminary dean.
The two photographs shown here show Fr. Alexander at the cusp of these major developments, speaking at what appears to be either an event sponsored by the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC, now the FOCA) or the Detroit Council of Orthodox Christian Churches (COCC), who have organized evening vespers services in Orthodox parishes around the Detroit area each Sunday evening during Lent since the late 1950s. The venue appears to be Holy Ghost Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, a parish founded in 1919, which in the 1960s was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolia, and subsequently the OCA (though later it was a part of ROCOR, and now is a parish of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria).
The early 1960s were a transformative time in the history of the Metropolia, with St. Vladimir’s Seminary and its faculty playing a key role. Fr. Alexander was instrumental in the early meetings of the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), which held its first meetings in 1960, and was an Orthodox observer to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), when it opened its sessions in 1962.
This era found the Metropolia, especially Fr. Alexander and his colleagues at St. Vladimir’s, interested in the jurisdictional trajectory of the canonical chaos which defined Orthodoxy in America in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Amongst the early academic explorations of the movement towards the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia in 1970 was the publication of Alexander Bogolepov’s Toward an American Orthodox Church in 1963, early, tense encounters between the Metropolia and the Church of Russia that same year, and Fr. Alexander’s three-part exploration of the problems facing Orthodoxy in North America, which appeared in the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly in 1964.
When Fr. Alexander came to Detroit on a winter’s evening in 1962, he was at the cusp of a truly transformative decade in his own career. On November 30, 1962, following the institution’s move to its new Crestwood campus, Fr. Alexander was appointed to the position of Seminary Dean, replacing Metropolitan Leonty. For the Life of the World, the book for which he is perhaps best known, was published the next year, which was followed by a string of similarly seminal works of Orthodox thought in the West, including The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (1963), Introduction to Liturgical Theology (a reworking of his doctoral dissertation, first published in English in 1966), Great Lent (1969), and an edited anthology of modern Russian religious thought, Ultimate Questions (1964).
Of course, far removed from a Detroit church fellowship hall in 1962, the culmination of this decade of constant productivity was the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970. This was a process of intense negotiations (what he would later term “a meaningful storm”), in which Fr. Alexander was intimately involved at nearly every stage.