Posts tagged 1881
Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans was the first organized Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. Despite that fact, precious little is known about its early history. The first priest to visit New Orleans was the infamous Fr. Agapius Honcharenko, but, contrary to popular belief, Honcharenko was not actually the parish priest. He was only in town for a short visit, after which he returned to New York and then moved to the San Francisco Bay area.
The actual first pastor of Holy Trinity seems to have been Archimandrite Stephen Andreades. He was there as early as December 1867, when he gave a homily which was translated into Russian and published the following March in Honcharenko’s Alaska Herald. I haven’t seen the homily itself, but according to Fr. Alexander Doumouras (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 1967), “In this sermon Fr. Andreades stated that he had been ‘invited from Greece’ to come to America and serve the parish in New Orleans. He did not state who invited him and who appointed him.”
I don’t know when Andreades left Holy Trinity, but I do know that, by 1872, Fr. Gregory Yayas was the parish priest. I’ve seen all sorts of spellings for Yayas’ name, including, “the Right Reverend Father Gregorio Therodidasme von Giagias.” I’ve only found one account of Yayas, from Elizabeth Brooks’ Prominent Women of Texas (1896). In the chapter on Mrs. V.O. King, we find the following:
The Greek became to her [Mrs. King] a familiar tongue, but only as it was spoken twenty-five hundred years ago. A new ambition seized her; the modern or Romaic Greek must be acquired. The design was scarcely formed before events were so ordered as to favor its accomplishment. Her husband removed to New Orleans to practice his profession [medicine], where, very soon, he made the acquaintance of Father Gregorio, priest of the newly-organized Greek Church in that city. The Reverend gentleman was a scholarly man and deeply cultured in both the modern and Hellenic literature of his country, but he knew not one word of English and he was thrown among people who knew not one word of Greek. When Mrs. King, therefore, proposed that he should become her teacher in the colloquial forms of his language, he was not loth to accept the charge. As the years went by, the interest of both pupil and preceptor daily grew with the progress they made, and when this relation ceased they talked together in his native tongue as freely as Greek might discuss with Greek the school of Plato in the grove of Academus.
Yayas’ tenure appears to have been rather brief, 1872 to 1874 or ’75. As best I can tell, Andreades and Yayas were the first ethnic Greek priests to serve in America.
Yayas did not have an immediate successor. It wasn’t until 1881 that Holy Trinity received a new priest. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Michael Kalitski, or Karidis, or Karidas, etc.) was from Philippopolis, Bulgaria, and was born sometime in the 1840s. The Chicago Herald (5/31/1886) described him as “a stout, florid-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard.” The Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said that he “resembled the pictures of the patriarchs of old, with his long flowing snowy white beard.”
Karydis was a pretty colorful figure, and in some upcoming posts, I’ll discuss his career and his tragic death.
Orthodoxy has been in Portland, Oregon for well over a century, and its history is of particular interest to me, as my in-laws live in the city, and I have visited there many times. Today, we’re going to look at the beginnings of organized parish life in Portland.
According to Brigit Farley, there are records of some sort of Orthodox religious activity in Portland dating to at least 1881. That year, Fr. Vladimir Vechtomov, the rector of the San Francisco cathedral, visited Portland to bury a Russian woman. That said, organized church life didn’t begin until the 1890s. In November of 1892, 29-year-old Fr. Sebastian Dabovich baptized two Greek children, in what the Oregonian (11/7/1892) called “the first ceremony of the kind that ever took place in this city.” The service was held in the St. Charles Hotel, the first brick hotel in all of Portland. The paper went on,
The Greek colony in this city only comprises about 20 members, but they are very active in church matters. They are at present contemplating the building of a church on the East side, and have purchased half a block of land at Twentieth and East Morrison streets. The structure will cost $5000, of which $1000 has already been raised. The Russian government contributes about $400,000 annually to the support of the Greek church in North America, and part of this fund will be available for the construction of a church in Portland. The bishop, of San Francisco, will furnish the chancel, pictures and other fixtures for the church, and will be present at the laying of the cornerstone.
I’m not sure how many actual Orthodox Christians were in Portland. The article says that the city’s Greek colony had only 20 people, but there were surely Orthodox of other nationalities, and there were also Greeks in neighboring communities. In fact, I’ve found evidence that at least one member of the Dabovich family was living in Portland at the time. In any event, Fr. Sebastian was convinced that Portland was the right place for an Orthodox chapel.
In March of 1894, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, accompanied by Dabovich and Fr. Alexander Pustynsky, paid a visit to Portland. It was his first stop in the city, but he actually wasn’t the first Orthodox bishop to set foot in Portland. In 1890, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky had spent a night in Portland while en route from Alaska to San Francisco, but there’s no evidence that he interacted with the small Orthodox population of the city.
Anyway, Bp Nicholas made another visit in June, on his way to Seattle. Then, in July and August, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich spent three weeks in Portland, raising money for the chapel. Instrumental in this was an Alaskan Creole named Chernov, who was living in the city and apparently had some means. By August 15, construction had begun at East 20th and Morrison. The chapel’s name would be “Holy Trinity Greek Russian Mission.” Dabovich was telling the locals not just that it was an Orthodox chapel, but that it was a part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
With things going smoothly in Portland, Dabovich then left for Seattle, where he hoped to replicate his success. The pattern repeated itself the following spring: Dabovich visited Portland to dedicate the new chapel in March, and then traveled to Seattle to perform the same service. The two communities, Portland and Seattle, would be closely linked years to come. The Russian diocese never assigned a priest to the Portland chapel, so it operated as a sort of dependency of St. Spiridon Church in Seattle.
It’s often said that the current OCA parish in Portland, St. Nicholas, is identical with this original Holy Trinity chapel, which was founded in the 1890s. This isn’t really accurate… By the early 1900s, the original chapel had fallen into disrepair, and the Greeks organized their own parish in 1908. There wouldn’t be a Russian church in the city until 1927, when St. Nicholas Church was founded.
Most of the time, on this website, we talk about the history of Orthodoxy in the Americas. But it’s important to remember that, especially in the 19th century, American Protestant missionaries were traveling in the other direction, going to places like Greece and Syria in an effort to convert Orthodox Christians to Protestantism.
I recently stumbled upon an interesting book, Fair Athens, written by Elizabeth Edmonds in 1881. Edmonds recounted a story that I suspect readers of this website will appreciate:
To send missionaries here [to Greece], with the intention of evangelizing, is futile, and the answer of a Greek peasant to some active Americans bent upon his conversion is quite to the point and conclusive. A copy of the Testament was offered to him, in modern Greek. On the title page he read, “Translated from the original Greek.”
“Thank you,” he said, giving it back; “we have the original.”