Posts tagged 1896
On April 27, MSNBC published photos of a medical train in Russia that includes a full-blown Orthodox chapel (thanks to the excellent Byzantine, TX blog for the link). The train/clinic, named after the great surgeon-bishop St. Luke of Simferopol, travels to the far reaches of Siberia and has “a carriage that operates as a mobile Orthodox church.”
This seems like a pretty innovative idea, but actually, it’s well over a hundred years old. Way back in 19th century Russia, Orthodox missionaries began using a pretty much identical arrangement on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. From Boston Globe, December 29, 1896:
Cathedral Car for Bleak Wastes of Siberia.
American Missionary Idea Adopted by Greek Church Priests.
The missionary railroad car, invented by an American clergyman, has been taken up by the Russian church authorities, and four of these peripatetic disseminators are now regularly used in Siberia.
The Scientific American illustrates the style of cars used by the Greek missionaries in the bleak plains of Siberia. The car is moved from station to station, and the Siberian peasants liberally take advantage of the chances thus offered for attending services.
The Russian cars are fitted up with much of the rich barbarity and splendor of oriental art. The interiors of the walls are covered with painted images, and the car is provided with an altar, a tabernacle, candelabra, and the trappings pertaining to the ritual of the Russian Greek service.
Access to this traveling church is had in the usual way. At one end of the car is a chime of bells, and the top is surmounted by Greek crosses.
The idea was first used in the United States in sparsely settled parts of the country, such as Montana. It was readily seized upon by English missionaries, who ordered a number of these cars built for India.
Greek priests at once saw the advantage derived from the missionary car, and the Russian government commissioned a number of them for use in Siberia, where settlements are far between and the people can seldom attend divine services.
Here’s the illustration that accompanied that 1896 Boston Globe article:
A year earlier, the New York Times had referred to these mobile Russian Orthodox chapels as “churches on wheels.” I’ve been able to trace them back to at least 1886, when the journal Christian Union ran a note about a plan for “church cars” on trains in Russia.
I’m curious to know more about the modern-day church cars. Is the St. Luke of Simferopol train the only one with a chapel, or do other Russian trains include special cars for Orthodox worship? Also, I assume that the church cars made in the 19th century fell out of use after the Bolshevik Revolution — so who is responsible for re-introducing the idea? If any of our readers have more information, please let me know, and I’ll publish an update to this article.
In September of 1896, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov made his first archpastoral visit to the brand-new parish of Ss. Constantine and Helen in Galveston, Texas. This multiethnic church was founded just a few months earlier by Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the great Greek archimandrite who served in the Russian Mission.
Just after the bishop’s arrival on September 19, a reporter from the Galveston Daily News paid him a visit (see Galveston Daily News, 9/20/1896). The reporter was told that Bishop Nicholas had fasted all day in preparation for the next day’s Divine Liturgy, and ”was about to retire into the room for the purpose of self communion and prayer.” On his way out, though, the reporter ran into Bishop Nicholas in the hall. The reporter wrote,
Bishop Nicholas is a typical Russian in appearance. He is large of frame, with a full, round face, somewhat thin beard and long, heavy, black hair. Though somewhat heavy, the features are those of a man with a strong mentality. From those who are in a position to know, it was understood that he is a man of great culture and scholarly attainments. He speaks very little English, but French and German fluently. He was attired in a long, black gown, similar to the ones used by the priests of the Roman church. From around his neck a gold chain was suspended, with a crucifix pendant.
Through a translator, Bishop Nicholas explained, “I am the only bishop on the American continents, and the head of the church in North and South America.” This is one of the earliest explicit assertions of Russian jurisdiction throughout the New World. The bishop continued, “My headquarters are in San Francisco, and I came here direct from that city. From what I have seen of Galveston, I think you have a beautiful city, and I like it very much.”
The reporter asked, “How many churches of the orthodox Russian-Greek faith are there in America?”
“There are about twenty-five churches and about sixty chapels scattered throughout the country,” the bishop said. “The largest are in Alaska, where the members are chiefly Russians, and therefore conform to the orthodox church. There are quite a number in Pennsylvania, but many of them do not belong to the orthodox church.” Of course, Bishop Nicholas was referring to the Uniate parishes, which began to join the Russian Mission in earnest during Bishiop Nicholas’ episcopate.
The reporter continued, “What is the difference between the orthodox and the unorthodox church?”
“The members of the orthodox church in America believe that God is the head of the chruch and the czar the first son of the church,” explained Bishop Nicholas, “while upon the other hand, owing to the political conditions of Russia, the people there have to believe that the head of the church is the pope. That is why the Russian people like America. They are free here to follow the dictates of their conscience, which they can not in Russia.”
I suspect that something got lost in the translation, because Bishop Nicholas was pretty obviously referring to the Carpatho-Rusyns living in Roman Catholic lands (particularly the Austro-Hungarian Empire), who retained many Orthodox traditions but acknowledged the authority of the Pope of Rome. The bishop certainly didn’t mean to say that otherwise-Orthodox people in Russia recognized the Pope and couldn’t “follow the dictates of their conscience” in Russia.
In any event, the interview concluded as follows:
“Is the church growing much in America?”
“Yes, it is growing steadily.”
“Do you expect to return or be recalled to Russia?”
“I may return, but not to work there. My field will be in America.”
The next day, Bishop Nicholas celebrated a hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Galveston church (Daily News, 9/21). A few interesting notes about that service:
- The service commemorated “the bi-centenary of the independence of the church under Prince Nicholas of Montenegro.”
- The congregation was mostly composed of Greeks and “Slavonians” (mainly Serbs and Montenegrins). Bishop Nicholas may well have been the only Russian in the building.
- Prayers were offered for the Prince of Montenegro, the Tsar of Russia, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the clergy, and the President of the United States. The newspaper doesn’t mention it, but I assume that the Holy Synod of Russia was also commemorated.
- Bishop Nicholas gave his sermon, on the doctrines of the Church, in Slavonic, but Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides translated it into Greek.
- After the service, in addition to receiving holy bread, the parishioners were given “a religious book in Greek or Slavonic and a small metal cross,” both gifts from the bishop.
- Also after the service, Bishop Nicholas appointed the trustees and officers of the church. I don’t know if the parish held elections which were merely ratified by the bishop, or if Bishop Nicholas actually made all the choices himself.
Bishop Nicholas left Galveston for New Orleans the following day, September 21. Just before he left, a Galveston Daily News reporter (probably the same one mentioned above) caught up with him for a final interview. Here is the resulting article, in full (Daily News, 9/22):
Bishop Nicholas, the head of the Russian Greek orthodox church on the continent of America, left Galveston yesterday afternoon at 4.30 for New Orleans, en route to Chicago and the larger cities of the east.
A News reporter called upon the reverend gentleman a few hours prior to his reparture and found him just about to partake of some tea with a dash of lemon in it, a la Russian. He courteously invited the reporter to join him in a cup, which invitation was promptly accepted.
In response to the quesiton if he had enjoyed his stay here, the bishop replied in the affirmative with considerable emphasis.
“I like Galveston very much,” he said by way of continuation. “It is a beautiful city, but a little too warm just now. I shall try to come here and make a long stay — say about two months.”
“You did not dedicate the new church yesterday?”
“No; the report in The Galveston News of this morning was correct about that. The people of the church here are going to try to build a residence for the pastor, a school house and make other improvements. I shall try to come back again in December next. I will dedicate the church then.”
The bishop here rose and, going to a desk at the other end of the room, took from it a small book and, handing it to the reporter, said with a smile:
“If you will study that you will be able to give the service in full when I come again.”
The book contained the liturgies of the Russian Greek church, printed in Greek on one side and English on the other. The paper was of fine quality and the book was neatly bound.
“Where are you going from here?” inquired the scribe after he had returned due thanks for the gift.
“I go to New Orleans from Galveston, then to Chicago, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, New York and other large places,” replied the bishop.
“In what condition did you find the affairs of the church here?”
“O, very good; very satisfactory. When I come back I will tell you all you want to know about the church, but I must now prepare to take the train,” and the bishop rose as an indication that the interview was ended.
It’s not known whether Bishop Nicholas visited the Orthodox church in New Orleans when he passed through the city. There is no evidence that the parish was a part of his diocese, but given Bishop Nicholas’ own view that he had jurisdiction over the entire Western Hemisphere, he may well have considered the New Orleans parish to be under his authority. It would be very interesting to know what, if any, contacts the New Orleans Orthodox community had with the Russian bishop.
In any case, Bishop Nicholas can’t have been in New Orleans for very long. He arrived in New York on September 25, in time to celebrate the Elevation of the Cross with two of his newest priests, St. Raphael Hawaweeny and St. Alexander Hotovitzky (New York Times, 9/26/1896).
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing some of the history of prayers for the US President in American Orthodox churches. After I published it, a reader named Andy Romanofsky sent along this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Archbishop Gregory Afonsky’s A History of the Orthodox Church in America: 1917-1939:
The faithful of the Orthodox Church in America never considered any form of political dependence on Russia. Just as in his own day the Russian Prince Vasili Dmitrievich (XIV century) stopped commemorating the Byzantine emperor in Russian churches on the grounds that, although the Russians received the Church from Byzantium, “they did not receive the emperor and will not have him,” so too Bishop Nicholas Zyorov, in 1896, reported to the Holy Synod that, “the commemoration of the Emperor and the Reigning House during divine services brings forth dismay and apprehension among Orthodox in America of non-Russian background. This practice is also a hindrance to the propagation of Orthodoxy among Russian Uniates who came to America from Austria-Hungary.” In an Ukase dated January 27, 1906, and addressed to Archbishop Tikhon, the Holy Synod confirmed the practice of commemorating the American President by name during divine services.
It’s not clear to me whether the Russian parishes in America actually ceased commemorating the Tsar, or whether they just began commemorating the US President along with the Russian Tsar. Frankly, I’d be very surprised if they simply removed the prayers for the Tsar altogether. They were, after all, still a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian hierarchs were still subjects of the Russian Emperor. If anyone has more details on this, please let me know.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Fr. Ambrose Vretta, the first parish priest of the Russian churches in both Chicago and Seattle. Toward the end of the article, I said,
In December of 1896, Vretta was transferred from Seattle… And I’m not sure where he went. He was only 37 years old, so he presumably had a long career ahead of him, but I can’t find him on any later lists of clergy (and I’ve got lists for 1906, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, and 1918).
As it turns out, the answer to the mystery of Vretta’s whereabouts after 1896 was right under my nose all along. In various places on this website, we’ve linked to Brigit Farley’s fascinating article, “Circuit Riders to the Slavs and Greeks: Missionary Priests and the Establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church in the American West, 1890-1910.” Vretta is one of the clergymen discussed in that paper, and in footnote #36, Farley writes, “Fr. Vretta had financial problems that made it necessary for him to return to Russia, where he soon died.”
Unfortunately, Farley doesn’t give a source for this information, and there aren’t any details beyond that one sentence. But it does explain why the 37-year-old priest suddenly vanished from the American Orthodox scene.
Since the closing of Fr. Nicholas Bjerring’s chapel in 1883, New York City had been without a Russian Orthodox place of worship. Greek churches were founded in the city in 1892 and ’94, and by 1895, there were Russian parishes in Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Finally, in April of 1895, the Russian Mission returned to New York with the founding of St. Nicholas Church.
St. Nicholas began in the former home of one of the parish trustees, at 207 East 18th Street. The main floor housed the chapel; the priest, Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch, lived upstairs with his family; and a Sunday School and reading room occupied the basement. (Before long, the parish moved around the corner, to 233 2nd Ave.)
But despite these modest beginnings, from the start, the parish had some impressive characteristics. Its iconostasis had previously been owned by the Russian army, and was used in the field during battles in the Balkans. A 12-person choir was led by Eugenie Lineff, a former opera singer.
The church trustees included some famous people — the Russian ambassador and consul general, and, most significantly, Barbara MacGahan, a famous journalist. Despite her surname, Mrs. MacGahan was actually a native Russian, and it was her strong desire for a Russian church in New York that ultimately led to the creation of the parish. These founders had been part of a New York Slavonic organization called the Virgin Mary Brotherhood, and they were the ones who petitioned the Holy Synod to establish a church.
Another impetus that led to the founding of St. Nicholas was the presence, in Brooklyn, of a sizeable number of Uniates, who, presumably, would be attracted to a nearby Orthodox church. It’s not clear whether these Uniates did, in fact, join the new parish.
The first priest of St. Nicholas was the aforementioned Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch. He was apparently from Austria, and only in recent years became associated with the Russian Church. (In fact, in one place he’s referred to as a “recent convert,” which makes me wonder if he wasn’t originally a Uniate.) The New York Times describes him in this way:
[He] is a man of striking appearance. Of immense frame, clear complexion, and with locks hanging far down his back, he had the appearance of a prophet of old.
Balanovitch was an educated man, with a Doctorate of Divinity from the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg. He must not have been terribly practical, though, as he quickly made enemies with the founder of the parish, Barbara MacGahan.
From the New York Times (1/11/1896), we learn that, during a meeting of the church trustees on November 17, 1895, Balanovitch called MacGahan (a journalist) some sort of name — a name which, according to the Times, “meant that Mrs. MacGahan’s pen is at the disposal of the highest bidder, and that consequently no value could be placed on her statements as a newspaper correspondent and magazine writer.” St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the newly-arrived Syrian priest, was present at the meeting, and didn’t know what the word meant. Confused, he asked somebody, and that person told MacGahan, and MacGahan promptly filed a lawsuit against Balanovitch.
MacGahan soon dropped the suit. On December 1, Balanovitch had agreed to resign as pastor and leave the country. MacGahan determined that Balanovitch himself wasn’t entirely to blame — “the whole trouble had been brought on him by outside parties,” MacGahan’s lawyer said, explaining that others within the new parish had incited the priest to make enemies with MacGahan. Mrs. MacGahan herself told the Times that, while Balanovitch “is a man of good intentions, he is easily led by others.”
These unfortunate events would have a happy ending, at least for the parish of St. Nicholas. Later in 1896, Balanovitch’s replacement — St. Alexander Hotovitzky — arrived in New York.