Posts tagged 1892
Back in 2009, I wrote an article about a unique Independence Day church service held in Chicago by Fr. Firmilian Drazich of Serbia. I thought it’d be appropriate to link to it today. If anyone out there has more information about this fascinating event, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
In the comments section of an old article I wrote on the first Orthodox parishes in each US state, Isa Almisry and I have recently had an interesting exchange about an Old Catholic parish in Wisconsin which discussed joining (and possibly did briefly join) the Russian Orthodox Church in 1891-92. This story involves Joseph Rene Vilatte, a former Roman Catholic priest who went on to become a prolific vagante bishop and who would reappear in American Orthodox history over the coming decades.
I don’t really have the expertise to outline the history of the Old Catholic movement, but suffice it to say that, in the latter half of the 19th century (and especially after the first Vatican Council in 1870, which promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility), a number of Roman Catholics broke away from their church.
Joseph Rene Vilatte was born in Paris in 1854. Originally, he was a Roman Catholic, but he became the quintessential religious chameleon as an adult. In the 1880s he came to the United States, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary in a Belgian Old Catholic community in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While there, he made contact with local Episcopal Bishop John Brown of Fond du Lac, who in turn recommended to the Old Catholic Bishop Edward Herzog of Bern, Switzerland that Vilatte be ordained a priest. This took place in 1886.
Soon, Bishop Brown died, and the new Episcopal bishop of Fond du Lac, Charles Grafton (the future friend of St. Tikhon), did not see eye to eye with Vilatte. Forced to make a choice between Episcopalianism and Old Catholicism, Vilatte chose the latter, and he tried to have himself consecrated a bishop in the Old Catholic Church. The church authorities in Europe declined. This is where our story begins. [Incidentally, this preliminary information on Vilatte comes from Theodore Natsoulas, "Patriarch McGuire and the Spread of the African Orthodox Church to Africa, Journal of Religion in Africa 12:2 (1981), 81-104. This is one of the only scholarly sources which discusses Vilatte at any length.]
Vilatte wanted to be consecrated a bishop, and he wanted as much autonomy as possible. That is the first thing to understand. In the paper cited above, Theodore Natsoulas says that the Old Catholics turned down Vilatte because he was “unpredictable,” and they did not want him to be their sole representative in America. Here is how Natsoulas describes what happened next:
[Vilatte's] attempts to be raised to the episcopate included approaches to the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Green Bay. Both turned him down, although Vladimir, the Russian Bishop, in order to incorporate the Old Catholics within his fold, did extend some form of recognition and protection to Vilatte and the Old Catholic Church. Vladimir and Vilatte, however, could not arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.
It all began when Vilatte traveled to San Francisco to meet with Bishop Vladimir, sometime in 1890 or early 1891. Interestingly, this coincided almost precisely with the visit of a delegation of Uniates from St. Alexis Toth’s parish in Minneapolis. It must have been amazing for Bishop Vladimir, sitting there in San Francisco, to receive near-simultaneous unsolicited visits from two Upper Midwest groups connected to Roman Catholicism and seeking reception into the Orthodox Church.
Bishop Vladimir traveled to Minneapolis in March of 1891 and formally received the Minneapolis parish into Orthodoxy. After that historic visit, Vladimir passed through Chicago, which had a sizeable Orthodox community which was determined to remain independent of the controversial Bishop Vladimir. He left Chicago on April 10, and by April 11 he was in Green Bay. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the next day that Vladimir came for the purpose of visiting Vilatte and his Old Catholic parish in nearby Dyckesville. The Russian bishop “expressed great sympathy with [Vilatte's] work, and it is stated that he was agreeably surprised to find that the doctrinal basis of the Old Catholics at this place, and that of his own large church of 100,000,000 souls were precisely identical.”
But what, exactly, was the relationship between the Russian Diocese and the Old Catholics in Wisconsin? According to a web-published biography of Vilatte by Bertil Persson (the reliability of which is unclear), Vilatte had originally visited Bishop Vladimir in San Francisco in January 1891, at which time Vladimir “approached The Holy Synod of The Russian Orthodox Church suggesting that Vilatte should be consecrated.” I don’t doubt that Bishop Vladimir notified the Holy Synod of Vilatte’s visit, but I cannot believe that he actually suggested that the Russian Church consecrate the man.
Also according to the Persson biography, after visiting Vilatte’s parish in April, Bishop Vladimir issued the following certificate:
CERTIFICATE. The Russian Ecclesiastical Consistory of Alaska, San Francisco, Cal: May 9, 1891. By the Grace of God and the Authority bestowed on me by the Apostolic Succession, I, VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church, announce to all clergymen of the different Christian denominations and to all Old Catholics that The Reverend Joseph René Vilatte, Superior of the Old Catholic Parish in Dyckesville, Wisc:, is now a true Old Catholic Orthodox Christian, under the patronage of our Church, and no Bishop or Priest of any denomination has the right to interdict him or to suspend his religious duties, except the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, and myself. Any action contrary to this declaration, is null and void on the basis of liberty of conscience and the law of this country. ‡VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Greco-Russian Orthodox Ch.
I have no idea whether this document is authentic or not, and unfortunately, Persson only reprinted the text, so we can’t examine the letterhead or Bishop Vladimir’s signature.
Anyway, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia soon after all this, in the wake of a series of scandals in his San Francisco cathedral. His replacement, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, visited the Wisconsin Old Catholics in May 1892. According to Dom Augustine de Angelis in the Fond Du Lac Reporter (quoted in the Milwaukee Sentinel, 5/16/1892), “Bishop Nicholas, head of the Greek church in America, visited the Old Catholic mission at Dyckesville, last Monday. He has been in America only a month and a half, but has already made his episcopal visitation of the Orthodox and Old Catholic churches, preparatory to his annual visitation of the vast region of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. [...] His first impressions of America and Americans are very favorable, and he sympathizes with us in our hopes of seeing an Orthodox American church, in which mass shall be said in English, French, German, etc., until all have become so American that English shall be the common tongue of all…”
But the parish priest, Vilatte, wasn’t there. He was in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), awaiting his long-sought consecration to the episcopate. He had found a taker in the ancient Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the non-Chalcedonian church in India. Vilatte never seems to have considered himself to be a Malankara Syrian Orthodox; he was interested in their apostolic succession, not their actual Church. (As Theodore Natsoulas puts it, “Vilatte’s commitment to the [Malankara] Church of Antioch, or, in fact, to any other religious organization, never was very deep.”) He returned to Dyckesville in August, and on September 11, the New York Times reported that Vilatte had created the American Catholic Church. Needless to say, any connection he might have had with the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands was dead by this point.
Vilatte went on to an exceedingly colorful career as a vagante bishop, and many little Old Catholic and pseudo-Orthodox groups have websites claiming “apostolic succession” through him. More importantly for our purposes, Vilatte remained in occasional contact with Orthodoxy. Robert Josias Morgan — soon to become Fr. Raphael, the first black Orthodox priest in America — was briefly a deacon in Vilatte’s church in the early 1900s. And many years later, in 1921, Vilatte consecrated George Alexander McGuire, who immediately formed the “African Orthodox Church.”
Was Vilatte’s Old Catholic parish once a part of the Russian Orthodox Church? Even if we assume that the purported certificate from Bishop Vladimir is authentic, I’m really not sure. Bishop Vladimir may have viewed St. Alexis Toth and Joseph Rene Vilatte as parallel church leaders, and he may have imagined that, just as Toth began a flood of Uniate conversions to Orthodoxy, so too Vilatte would be the first of thousands of Old Catholics to join the Russian Mission. But from Vilatte’s perspective, this whole idea would have been laughable. He was, it seems, utterly committed to becoming a vagante bishop. He wanted a mechanical, legalistic “apostolic succession,” and then he wanted to be left to his own devices. There is simply no way that he, or his Wisconsin parish, could have been effectively incorporated into the Russian Mission.
Much of this story remains a mystery, but at this juncture, I am most struck by the contrast between Toth and Vilatte, both of whom, in their own very different ways, made substantial impacts on the religious life of the United States in the decades that followed.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
I’ve recently stumbled onto a really interesting article on the history of Chicago’s Serbian community. This paper, written by Krinka Vidaković Petrov, was published in the journal Serbian Studies in 2006. It helps shed further light on the early history of Orthodoxy in Chicago, which we’ve discussed many times on this website. I found this paragraph to be especially enlightening:
The Metropolitan of Belgrade Mihailo sent archimandrite Firmilian Dražić to Chicago in 1892. He did so in response to a letter by Krsto Gopčević, who had addressed the Metropolitan on behalf of the Greek-Russian-Serbian Orthodox parish established in Chicago in 1891. Gopčević suggested that the Metropolitan send a priest who could speak Serbian, Greek and also “a little Arabic, since there are quite a few Syrians here.” Services in this parish were conducted in a small chapel improvised in a private home since the parishioners struggled to provide enough financing from their small community. Archimandrite Dražić returned to Belgrade six months later. After his departure from America, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade was not in a position either to send a permanent priest or to provide financial support for this parish, which was unable to provide funds for its own survival. Even though the parish was extinguished, its short-lived efforts were an indication of the Chicago Serbs’ need to get organized in order to be able to fulfill their religious needs.
Of course, we’ve heard about both Mr. Gopčević (or Gopchevich) and Fr. Firmilian Dražić (Drazich) in the past. I would be very curious to know whether there was an actual Serbian parish in Chicago in 1892, as Petrov suggests, or whether Fr. Firmilian merely made an extended visit to the city.
According to some sources, Archimandrite Kallinikos Kanellas was the first ethnic Greek priest to serve in America. And those sources may be right, depending on your definition of “Greek.” The only other candidates would be from the Greek church in New Orleans. Fr. Stephen Andreades was the priest in the late 1860s, and Fr. Gregory Yayas served there from 1872-74; considering their names, both were almost certainly Greeks of one sort or another. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Kalitski) was the priest from 1881-1901, but he was reportedly from Bulgaria. In any event, Kanellas was one of the very first Greek priests in America.
I don’t know anything about Kanellas’ early life. I do know that, before he came to the United States, Kanellas had spent some time in India. From 1880 to 1886, he was the rector of the Greek church in Calcutta (the origins of which dated to the 1700s; see this fascinating history for more information). He first shows up in the US in 1889, as one of the priests of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco. He seems to be the first of several non-Russian priests brought over to America to serve in the Russian Diocese — “client clergy,” as Fr. John Erickson has called them. Soon, he would be followed by people like Fr. Ambrose Vretta, Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny, and Fr. Michael Andreades. But Kanellas seems to have been the original.
I’m not sure what Kanellas was doing from 1886 to 1889, but I suspect he might have been in Russia. This would explain his connection to the Russian Diocese in America.
Kanellas appears to have been trusted by Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky, who appointed him to serve on the Alaskan Spiritual Consistory, the group of clergy which ran many of the day-to-day affairs of the diocese. He was particularly useful in ministering to ethnic Greeks. In 1891, he made a cross-country missionary trip. He stopped in Savannah, Georgia, and baptized a Greek child. The Columbus Enquirer-Sun (6/24/1891) reported that the child’s father spent $650, which presumably included transportation and lodging costs. The paper said that the amount “includes a handsome fee.” $650 seems outrageous, though. I checked an online inflation calculator, and it estimated that $650 in 1891 is equivalent to over $15,000 in 2008.
From Savannah, Kanellas went to New York City, where he baptized the daughter of Anthony Ralli (who was possibly connected with the well-known Ralli Brothers merchant firm). The New York Sun (6/26/1891) said that Kanellas had a “patriarchal beard and jewelled gown.” According to one account, he actually had to bring his own baptismal font — can you imagine taking one of those on a train?
I’ve seen some references to Kanellas having served in Chicago. That’s a bit of a puzzler… In July 1891, the Chicago Inter Ocean (7/11/1891) reported that a certain Archimandrite Lininas, “who presides over a temple in San Francisco,” was visiting Chicago and holding services for the Orthodox there. I haven’t been able to find evidence of this Fr. Lininas being in San Francisco, and it’s very possible that this was actually Kanellas, on his way back from New York to California. However, the Inter Ocean says that Fr. Lininas “is a finely educated gentleman, speaking German, Russian, and French fluently, but his English is best understood through an interpreter.” So according to the paper, he didn’t speak Greek (which, if true, means he wasn’t Kanellas).
In 1892, amid much turmoil and scandal, Bp Vladimir was recalled to Russia and replaced with Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. On July 1 (June 19 Old Style), the members of the Spiritual Consistory (of which Kanellas was apparently no longer a member) wrote to the new bishop,
Today, the Archimandrite Kallinikos was informed that he has to leave the Mission as of July 1. He replied that he has nowhere to go. In accordance with Your Grace’s will, we deemed it was better to say nothing in reply: Your Grace has ordered not to drive him out.
Obviously, something was up, but I don’t know what. The 1893 San Francisco city directory doesn’t list Kanellas among the cathedral clergy, so he didn’t stick around much longer. And for the next 18 years, I can’t figure out he was. I’m pretty sure he stayed in America, and by at least 1911 (and probably earlier), he was pastor of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama. In the 1913 book Greeks in America, Thomas Burgess, writing about the Birmingham church, said,
Of its former pastor, says the “Greek-American Guide,” “The Rev. Arch. Kallinikos Kanellas is a very sympathetic and reverend old man of whom it is possible to say that of the Greek clergy in America he is the most—shall we say ‘disinterested’? The Greek word is a dandy, (literally, ‘not loving of riches’). Plutarch used to use that word.
In 1913, Kanellas moved to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spent the rest of his life there. This is from Annunciation’s parish history:
Father Kallinikos Kanellas was brought to Little Rock on a permanent basis in 1913, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall near 9th and Main Streets for the next eight years. This hall included a small chapel for Liturgies and Sacraments such as weddings, baptisms, etc., as well as a place for social gatherings. Incidentally, research indicates that Father Kanellas probably was the first Orthodox priest of Greek ancestry to come to the United States. When Father Kanellas became seriously ill, young Theo Polychron visited him daily, bringing soup from his little café. Father died in 1921 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery where most of the early Greek immigrants were also interred.
As you can see, Kanellas’ story has a lot of missing pieces. I suspect a lot of the gaps could be closed by a letter Kanellas wrote to Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis on March 16, 1918, in which he gave an account of his career in both the Russian Diocese and the Greek communities in America. That letter appears on page 333 of Paul Manolis’ History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents… unfortunately, though, I can’t read Greek, so for now, I don’t know what the letter says. If any of you out there can read Greek and are interested in Kanellas, email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
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.