Posts tagged 1867
On October 18, 1867, the Russian Empire formally ceded Alaska to the United States. The next month, St. Innocent was elected Metropolitan of Moscow. Shortly after this, Innocent sent the following letter to the Ober-Procurator (the Tsar’s representative) of the Holy Synod.[*]
Rumor reaching me from Moscow purports that I wrote to someone of my great unhappiness about the sale of our colonies to the Americans. This is utterly false. To the contrary, I see in this event one of the ways of Providence whereby Orthodoxy will penetrate the United States (where even now people have begun to pay serious attention to it). Were I to be asked about this, I would reply:
A. Do not close the American vicariate – even though the number of churches and missions there has been cut in half (i.e., to five).
B. Designate San Francisco rather than New Archangel the residence of the vicar. The climate is incomparably better there, and communications with the colonial churches are just as convenient from there as from New Archangel (if not more so).
C. Subordinate the vicariate to the Bishop of St. Petersburg or some other Baltic diocese, for once the colonies have been sold to the American Government, communications between the Amur and the colonies will end completely and all communications between the headquarters of the Diocese of Kamchatka and the colonies will have to be through St. Petersburg – which is completely unnatural.
D. Return to Russia the current vicar and all clergy in New Archangel (except churchmen) and appoint a new vicar from among those who know the English language. Likewise, his retinue ought to be composed of those who know English.
E. Allow the bishop to augment his retinue, transfer its members and ordain to the priesthood for our churches converts to Orthodoxy from among American citizens who accept all its institutions and customs.
F. Allow the vicar bishop and all clerics of the Orthodox Church in America to celebrate the Liturgy and other services in English (for which purpose, obviously, the service books must be translated into English).
G. To use English rather than Russian (which must sooner or later be replaced by English) in all instruction in the schools to be established in San Francisco and elsewhere to prepare people for missionary and clerical positions.
This is obviously a remarkable vision. St. Innocent calls for an English-speaking bishop and English-language church services, books, and schools. He speaks of “converts to Orthodoxy from among American citizens,” and he foresees the day when “Orthodoxy will penetrate the United States.” The greatest missionary of modern times lays out his plan for an American Orthodox Church, and 140-odd years later, we are still struggling to make real that vision.
Needless to say, the Russian Church did not fully implement St. Innocent’s suggestions. Yes, San Francisco soon replaced Sitka (New Archangel) as the diocesan seat, but the use of English did not become the norm, and converts were few and far between. In fact, outside of Alaska, the Russian Mission established only two parishes in the quarter century following the sale of Alaska, and one of them — Nicholas Bjerring’s New York chapel — was not only not missionary, but decidedly anti-missionary in its focus. Orthodoxy would not begin to “penetrate the United States,” as St. Innocent put it, until the great immigration in the 1890s. And it wouldn’t embrace large numbers of converts until well into the 20th century.
Whatever one’s views on jurisdictional claims, it is clear that the Russian Church missed a golden opportunity when it failed to take St. Innocent’s advice. Had they done so, the immigrants of the 1890s would arrived in America and been met with a well-established Local Orthodox Church, rather than a struggling mission centered in far-off Alaska and with a few outposts on the Pacific Coast.
But in another sense, the Russian Mission itself can’t totally be blamed for its relative failure in the 1867-1892 period. Administering Alaska alone was a massive job for the bishop; spreading Orthodoxy throughout the rest of the continent while simultaneously caring for his Alaskan flock would have been well-nigh impossible. Furthermore, funding was an issue: if the Tsarist government didn’t want to foot the bill for missionary work in the United States, the Russian Church was largely out of luck.
Still, one can’t help but read St. Innocent’s vision and wonder, “What if?” I suppose it’s now up to us, a century and a half later, to make that vision a reality.
[*] Printed in Paul D. Garrett, St. Innocent: Apostle to America (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979), 275-277.
From the Congregationalist and Boston Recorder, January 16, 1868:
Many will remember that, some two years ago, a famous service was held in Trinity Chapel, New York city, in which, with a great flourish of trumpets, one “Father Agapius,” who purported to be a Priest of the Greek church, celebrated “the Sacrifice of the Mass” in the Greek tongue; to the great delectation of the High Churchmen, who enjoyed the show intensely, and who feld that they were coming very near, in this performance, to the real thing. Great was the glorification which was made over this manifestation of the “Orthodox Catholic Church.” Father Agapius had the genuine Apostolical succession, and it was a blessed symbol that he should condescend to hold his gorgeous Greek service in an American Episcopal church! Father Agapius, however, soon after mysteriously disappeared. It was darkly hinted, after a time, that he was — tell it not in Gath — a swindler and a cheat; and, most mournful of all, a mere mechanic and prosaic printer. Father Agapius has turned up again, however — this time in the Methodist connection. The Pacific Churchman of San Francisco, Cal., of 28th Nov. last, contains the following advertisement:
“Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Agapius Honcharenko, Pastor. Preaching every Sabbath morning at 9 o’clock in the Vestry of the Howard Street M.E. Church. Services conducted in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages. All are invited.”
We hope there is no irreverence in the suggestion; but wouldn’t it be well to have Trinity Chapel disinfected?
And here is the original article in the Pacific Churchman, to which the above article refers:
FATHER AGAPIUS – Some of our readers may recall the name of this individual, who, about two years ago, appeared in New York, claiming to be a priest of the Greek Church. At first his pretensions were received by some of the clergy, and a Greek service was arranged for him. Immediately afterwards, however, he disappeared, and, we believe, subsided into his original employment, which was that of a printer. Since then nothing has been heard of him, until about a fortnight since, when he appeared in this city [San Francisco] as – to copy his card – a member of the “Orthodox Catholic Church.” We find, however, from the following advertisement that he has now transferred his valuable talents to our Methodist brethren:
“Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Agapius Honcharenko, Pastor. Preaching every Sabbath morning at 9 o’clock in the Vestry of the Howard street M.E. Church. Services conducted in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages. All are invited.”
As the members of the Greek Church (if there are any here) cannot recognize him, and American Methodists cannot understand “Services in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages,” we think his chance is a small one of founding a sect with the “stunning” name of the “Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church.”
As it happened, there were indeed Orthodox Christians living in San Francisco in 1867. They were grouped into two societies — the Russian Slavonian Benevolent Society and the Greek-Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society. Just a couple weeks after the above article ran, the two societies merged, and the Russian and Pan-Slavonic Benevolent Society was incorporated. The Orthodox in San Francisco had initially attended some of Honcharenko’s church services. In a letter in 1868, Prince Dimitry Makutsov (acting director of the Russian American Company) wrote, “Last year Agapius Honcharenko arrived in S.-Francisco, who escaped from a certain monastery. At the beginning, he was conducting divine services here, but, since he is not following the precise rules of our Church, all those who share our faith left him and renounced him as a schismatic.” The realization that Honcharenko was a fraud appears to have been part of the impetus for the San Francisco Orthodox community to form a parish.
One of the immediate goals of the society was to build an Orthodox church. In March of 1868, they sent a petition to Bishop Paul in Alaska, asking that he send Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin to San Francisco. The bishop granted the society’s request, and Kovrigin was in San Francisco in time for Holy Week. This was the first formal Russian parish in the contiguous United States, and Kovrigin was the first resident parish priest.
 The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder (January 16, 1868), 20.
 “Father Agapius,” San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (reprinted from the Pacific Churchman, November 30, 1867).
 “Russian Benevolent Society,” San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (December 27, 1867).
 Prince D. Makutsov to Bishop Paul (March 1868). Published at Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA), http://www.holy-trinity.org/history/1868/03.00.Maksutov-Paul.html.