Posts tagged 1903
Editor’s note: The following interview, with Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, originally appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and was reprinted in the Macon (GA) Telegraph on July 31, 1903. We’re reprinting it here in full.
Abbot Sebastian Dabovich, a priest high in the circles of the orthodox Russian church, passed through Seattle yesterday on his way to inspect the mission of that church in Alaska. The abbot is an authority on the Russian church in Alaska, and spoke very interestingly of the work there in an interview. He said:
Next to the Roman Catholics the Russian [Church] has the greatest number of communicants of any church in the civilized world. On the coast the two great strongholds of the Russian church are in Alaska and a section of California. Last year I made a trip of 6,000 miles in and along the Alaskan coast, inspecting our mission stations.
On this trip I go to consecrate a new church in Douglas Island, opposite Juneau, the communicants of which are mostly miners of the Slavonic race. From there I go to Sitka to look after the work. On the whole, the trip will be largely in the nature of a rest for me.
The work of our missions in Alaska is a continually growing one, and owing to the great floating population of that country, a work that is continually changing to meet the new demands.
The majority of native Alaskans are Christianized. Our own church has been organized in Alaska for nearly 110 years. Since the country has been occupied by the United States the Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and several other missionaries have come to spread Christianity.
The Russians of Alaska in early days had some land grants in California, and they occupied the whole of what is now known as Sonoma county. From here they shipped wheat and fruit to Alaska. The quality of fruit, which took a prize in the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893, came from Sonoma, and it was planted by the Russians, the seeds having been brought across Siberia from the Caucasian country and elsewhere.
Long before any one dreamed of a city of San Francisco there in San Francisco bay, in the little town of Sausalito flourished an iron foundry and machine shops. There in Sausalito the Russians built the first steamer that ever steamed to the north on the Pacific ocean. The engineer that brought the first steamer to Alaska is still living, now an old cripple of more than ninety years. He is an old Alaskan Creole, and lives with a son in Sedovia, Alaska.
On entering the old Russian capital of Sitka, the first building which attracts attention is the cathedral of St. Michael’s. The clock in the tower of this old church was made and put in its present position by Innocentius, the first bishop of Alaska.
From its founding in 1868, the Russian cathedral in San Francisco was a multiethnic community. In particular, Greeks and Serbs were an integral part of the church, and, at various times, there was an ethnic Greek (Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas) and an ethnic Serb priest (Fr. Sebastian Dabovich) serving the parish.
By 1903, however, the Greeks of San Francisco wanted their own church. From the San Francisco Call (1/8/1903):
While the Greek members of Bishop Tikhon’s flock have nothing but the kindest feelings toward their spiritual director and the church which has sheltered and fostered the faith of their own land, they find the Russian language, in which the church services are now conducted, a decided impediment in the way of a proper and beneficial appreciation of the good Bishop’s ministrations.
There were about 2,000 Greeks in the city at this point, and they got together and formed an association, with the aim of establishing their own, Greek-speaking church. By the end of the year, all the arrangements were in place, and Holy Trinity Church was born. (Yes, they adopted the same name as the Russian parish which they were leaving.) The community hired Fr. Constantine Tsapralis to be their priest. On November 16, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, who was serving at the Russian cathedral, sent the following report to his bishop, St. Tikhon:
It is my duty to report to your Grace that the Greek Community in San Francisco has begun building a new church in San Francisco on a plot of land purchased south of Market Street. They ordered a priest by mail for themselves who arrived and was present today at Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral church (he was standing in the altar). This priest (married) in the rank of sakellarios, Father Constantine . . .[Tsapralis, or Chaprales] has his credentials from his Bishop, Ambrose of the Diocese of Salaris [probably, Fr. Sebastian is mistaken, it could be "Salamis"] (in the Kingdom of Greece), in the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod in Athens. He has a Holy Antimension that was given to him (he says) to celebrate Liturgy in the United States of North America. He was here with two Orthodox Greeks known to me.
On December 12, Tikhon sent a brief reply: “May God grant them all success.”
(Both Dabovich’s letter and Tikhon’s response may be found in the incomparable archive of Holy Trinity OCA Cathedral.)
As Dabovich said, Fr. Constantine Tsapralis was a married priest. In 1904, he sent for his wife and son. Tsapralis was born in about 1869, so at this point, he was in his mid-30s. Despite this, he and his wife went on to have four more children, the last of them when Fr. Constantine was in his mid-50s.
The Holy Trinity Greek Church website has a profile of Tsapralis, which includes several descriptions and vignettes. Tsapralis is described as “durable,” having pastored the parish through many difficult times, including the devastating 1906 earthquake and various schisms in the decades that followed. He’s also described as “kind and compassionate,” “a good teacher,” and “gentle with children.” Here is one story about Tsapralis:
In 1913, a Greek man named Prantikos was convicted of murder. Fr. Tsapralis was asked to go to San Quentin to administer the last rights before Prantikos was hung for his crime. The event, described in the San Francisco Call Bulletin, said that Fr. Tsapralis was reading prayers on the way to the gallows. He was described as a strong, tall man. On the gallows, his knees buckled and he wavered at the sight before him. The prison chaplain put his arm around him to support him because he was worried that he might fall through the gallows. Fr. Tsapralis continued reading prayers and he witnessed the hanging. The prison chaplain later described him as a kind, gentle soul.
I found another story about Tsapralis that doesn’t appear on the Holy Trinity website. For several years in the early 1900s, Tsapralis had owned and operated a candy store, which has also been described as a “saloon.” If it really was a saloon (in the sense that we understand it), this would be uncanonical — an Orthodox priest is expressly forbidden from operating a drinking establishment. Eventually, Tsapralis sold the place… to his wife! The Morning Oregonian (11/18/1911) reported, “But before selling he neglected to liquidate a bill of $300 for a soda fountain and other fixtures in the shop. A collection agency sued, and, securing judgment, had an execution issued against the candy store.” The sheriff came and seized store property, but Mrs. Tsapralis protested, arguing that the store was her property, not her husband’s. The case went to court, and Fr. Constantine admitted having owned the store. I don’t know how the case turned out.
Anyway, after Fr. Constantine’s wife died, he was raised to the rank of archimandrite. He served the Holy Trinity community for more than three decades, finally stepping down in 1936. He died in 1942, at the age of 73.
St. Tikhon delivered the following address on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, February 23, 1903, in San Francisco. It was reprinted in Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE (the newsletter of the San Francisco OCA cathedral) in March 1995, and may be found in the fantastic Holy Trinity Cathedral online archives. We are reprinting it below in its entirety:
This Sunday, Brethren, begins the week of Orthodoxy, or the week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, because it is today that the Holy Orthodox Church solemnly recalls its victory over the Iconoclast heresy and other heresies and gratefully remembers all who fought for the Orthodox faith in word, writing, teaching, suffering, or godly living.
Keeping the day of Orthodoxy, Orthodox people ought to remember it is their sacred duty to stand firm in their Orthodox faith and carefully to keep it. For us it is a precious treasure: in it we were born and raised; all the important events of our life are related to it, and it is ever ready to give us its help and blessing in all our needs and good undertakings, however unimportant they may seem. It supplies us with strength, good cheer and consolation, it heals, purifies and saves us. The Orthodox faith is also dear to us because it is the Faith of our Fathers. For its sake the Apostles bore pain and labored; martyrs and preachers suffered for it; champions, who were like unto the saints, shed their tears and their blood; pastors and teachers fought for it; and our ancestors stood for it, whose legacy it was that to us it should be dearer than the pupil of our eyes. And as to us, their descendants,? do we preserve the Orthodox faith, do we keep to its Gospels? Of yore, the prophet Elijah, this great worker for the glory of God, complained that the Sons of Israel have abandoned the Testament of the Lord, leaning away from it towards the gods of the heathen. Yet the Lord revealed to His prophet, that amongst the Israelites there still were seven thousand people who have not knelt before Baal (3 Kings 19). Likewise, no doubt, in our days also there are some true followers of Christ. “The Lord knoweth them that are His”. (2 Timothy, 2, 19) We do occasionally meet sons of the Church, who are obedient to Her decrees, who honor their spiritual pastors, love the Church of God and the beauty of its exterior, who are eager to attend to its Divine Service and to lead a good life, who recognize their human failings and sincerely repent their sins. But are there many such among us? Are there not more people, “in whom the weeds of vanity and passion allow but little fruit to the influence of the Gospel, or even in whom it is altogether fruitless, who resist the truth of the Gospel, because of the increase of their sins, who renounce the gift of the Lord and repudiate the Grace of God” (a quotation from the service of Orthodoxy). “I have given birth to sons and have glorified them, yet they deny Me,” said the Lord in the olden days concerning Israel. And today also there are many who were born, raised and glorified by the Lord in the Orthodox faith, yet who deny their faith, pay no attention to the teachings of the Church, do not keep its injunctions, do not listen to their spiritual pastors and remain cold towards the divine service and the Church of God. How speedily some of us lose the Orthodox faith in this country of many creeds and tribes! They begin their apostasy with things, which in their eyes have but little importance. They judge it is “old fashioned” and “not accepted amongst educated people” to observe all such customs as: praying before and after meals, or even morning and night, to wear a cross, to keep icons in their houses and to keep church holidays and fast days. They even do not stop at this, but go further: they seldom go to church and sometimes not at all, as a man has to have some rest on a Sunday (…in a saloon); they do not go to confession, they dispense with church marriage and delay baptizing their children. And in this way their ties with Orthodox faith are broken! They remember the Church on their deathbed, and some don’t even do that! To excuse their apostasy they naively say: “this is not the old country, this is America, and consequently(?) it is impossible to observe all the demands of the Church.” As if the word of Christ is of use for the old country only and not for the whole world. As if the Orthodox faith is not the foundation of the world. “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel into anger.” (Isaiah, 1, 4)
If you do not preserve the Orthodox faith and the commandments of God, the least you can do is not to humiliate your hearts by inventing false excuses for your sins! If you do not honor our customs, the least you can do is not to laugh at things you do not know or understand. If you do not accept the motherly care of the Holy Orthodox Church, the least you can do is to confess you act wrongly, that you are sinning against the Church and behave like children! If you do, the Orthodox Church may forgive you, like a loving mother, your coldness and slights, and will receive you back into her embrace, as if you were erring children.
Holding to the Orthodox faith, as to something holy, loving it with all their hearts and prizing it above all, Orthodox people ought, moreover, to endeavor to spread it amongst people of other creeds. Christ the Savior has said that “neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5, 15) The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: “Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Luke, 16, 15), “go ye therefore and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28, 19) We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light and joy with others, who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them. Once “a vision appeared to Paul in the night, there stood a man from Macedonia and prayed him, saying, come over into Macedonia, and help us,” (The Acts 16, 9) after which the apostle started for this country to preach Christ. We also hear a similar inviting voice. We live surrounded by people of alien creeds; in the sea of other religions, our Church is a small island of salvation, towards which swim some of the people, plunged in the sea of life. “Come, hurry, help,” we sometimes hear from the heathen of far Alaska, and oftener from those who are our brothers in blood and once were our brothers in faith also, the Uniates. “Receive us into your community, give us one of your good pastors, send us a Priest that we might have the Divine Service performed for us of a holy day, help us to build a church, to start a school for our children, so that they do not lose in America their faith and nationality,” those are the wails we often hear, especially of late.
And are we to remain deaf and insensible? God save us from such a lack of sympathy. Otherwise woe unto us, “for we have taken away the key of knowledge, we entered not in ourselves, and them that were entering in we hindered.” (Luke 11, 52)
But who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox faith, for the increase of the children of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all the members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also. “The whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4, 16) At the beginning, not only pastors alone suffered for the faith of Christ, but lay people also, men, women and even children. Heresies were fought against by lay people as well. Likewise, the spread of Christ’s faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heart-felt interest. This interest may show itself in personal preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
And to our great joy, we know of such examples amongst our lay brethren. In Sitka, members of the Indian brotherhood do missionary work amongst other inhabitants of their villages. And one zealous brother took a trip to a distant village (Kilisno), and helped the local Priest very much in shielding the simple and credulous children of the Orthodox Church against alien influences, by his own explanations and persuasions. Moreover, in many places of the United States, those who have left Uniatism to join Orthodoxy point out to their friends where the truth is to be found, and dispose them to enter the Orthodox Church.
Needless to say, it is not everybody among us who has the opportunity or the faculty to preach the gospel personally. And in view of this I shall indicate to you, Brethren, what every man can do for the spread of Orthodoxy and what he ought to do. The Apostolic Epistles often disclose the fact, that when the Apostles went to distant places to preach, the faithful often helped them with their prayers and their offerings. Saint Paul sought this help of the Christians especially. Consequently we can express the interests we take in the cause of the Gospel in praying to the Lord, that He should take this holy cause under His protection, that He should give its servants the strength to do their work worthily, that He should help them to conquer difficulties and dangers, which are part of the work, that He should not allow them to grow depressed or weaken in their zeal; that He should open the hearts of the unbelieving for the hearing and acceptance of the Gospel of Christ, “that He should impart to them the word of truth, that He should unite them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; that He should confirm, increase and pacify His Church, keeping it forever invincible”, we pray for all this, but mostly with lips and but seldom with the heart. Don’t we often hear such remarks as these: “what is the use of these special prayers for the newly initiated? They do not exist in our time, except, perhaps, in the out of the way places of America and Asia; let them pray for such where there are any; as to our country such prayers only needlessly prolong the service which is not short by any means, as it is.” Woe to our lack of wisdom! Woe to our carelessness and idleness!
Offering earnest prayers for the successful preaching of Christ, we can also show our interest by helping it materially. It was so in the primitive Church, and the Apostles lovingly accepted material help to the cause of the preaching, seeing in it an expression of Christian love and zeal. In our days, these offerings are especially needed, because for the lack of them the work often comes to a dead stop. For the lack of them preachers can not be sent out, or supported, churches can not be built or schools founded, the needy amongst the newly converted can not be helped. All this needs money and members of other religions always find a way of supplying it. Perhaps, you will say, that these people are richer than ourselves. This is true enough, but great means are accumulated by small, and if everybody amongst us gave what he could towards this purpose, we also could raise considerable means. Accordingly, do not be ashamed of the smallness of your offering. If you have much, offer all you can, but do offer, do not lose the chance of helping the cause of the conversion of your neighbors to Christ, because by so doing, in the words of St. James, “you shall save your own soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (5, 20)
Orthodox people, in celebrating the day of Orthodoxy, you must devote yourselves to the Orthodox faith not in word or tongue only, but in deed and in truth.
St. Alexander Hotovitzky was the rector of St. Nicholas Church (and then Cathedral) in New York City from his ordination in 1896 until his return to Russia in 1914. For almost all of that time, he was the highest-ranking priest in the Russian Mission. Of course, he was dean of the diocesan cathedral, but he traveled a great deal, ministering to Orthodox people all over the Northeast. He was also editor of the Vestnik (the official diocesan magazine).
Anyway, St. Alexander traveled to Russia in 1903, and while there, he paid a visit to Fr. John Sergiev — known even then as the wonderworker John of Kronstadt. After his return to America, St. Alexander spoke with a reporter from the Wilkes-Barre Times. The resulting article is one of the best things I have ever read in a newspaper, and, while it’s quite long, it is so good that I’m reprinting most of it in full. (The date, incidentally, is April 7, 1904.)
In the study of Rev. Alexander A. Hotovitzky, Archpriest of the church of St. Nicholas, the chief adornment is a large picture of Father John bearing his autograph. This was presented to Father Hotovitzky last Summer when, during a visit to Russia, he called upon Father John to thank him for the interest he had taken in his little flock. A portion of the funds necessary for the erection of the handsome new church edifice was collected in Russia, and Father John both by personal donations and by enlisting the interest of others in the cause became a substantial contributor.
The visit of Father Hotovitzky to Cronstadt [sic] occurred on July 19 (old style). It so happened that this was Father John’s name day. Faithful to a custom of many years, the Russian divine on that day celebrated a solemn mass in the cathedral and then entertained at dinner the many friends who had come to extend their good wishes. The Rev. Father Hotovitzky was one of the guests.
“Vice Admiral Marakoff was toast-master at the dinner,” said Father Hotovitzky yesterday. “It was only natural that he should be, for he and Father John are bound together by ties of warm personal friendship. There were present at that dinner many dignitaries of Church and State, but, nevertheless, it was a most democratic affair. Father John has some quaint notions, and even in a land of such marked class distinction as Russia, rich terms of equality. It was a good dinner, and good things to drink went with it, for Father John, though ordinarily he lives as frugally and abstemiously as a monk, believes that God put the good things of life on earth for the cheer of man, and he loves to see others enjoy themselves.
“Father John in some respects is the most remarkable man in Russia to-day, and certainly is the most talked of. He represents a type all by itself in the Russian Church, and no one has so vividly brought home to the people its power and potentialities with a complete leaving out of all the ostentation, pomp, and grandeur with which it formerly charmed and awed the people.
“Those who have been wont to consider Father John as a mystic or as a man of a monastic cast of mind have erred. He is the opposite. He took a wife, and he mingles freely in the common life of the people, and he enjoys a good joke. He has secularized religion and both by life and teaching has steadily striven to lift the common life to the level of religion. He is a strong advocate of the living help, and he turned his back on monastic orders just because he felt he was needed and could be a potent influence for good by remaining in the open life where those that needed him could constantly besiege the doors of his simple dwelling in Cronstadt when he is there and the crowds that gather at railroad stations during his many journeys through Russia which occupy the greater part of his time have shown that he was right.
“His influence reaches from the throne of the Czar to the meanest hovel in Russia. He takes from the abundance of the rich with both hands and scatters it as freely among those that need it. It is only through the remarkable gifts he receives that he has been able to maintain something like twenty-five asylums and institutions in different parts of Russia, of which he is the founder.
“One charm about Father John is his broadness. While orthodox in the essential meaning of that word, he makes no distinction between those that follow his and other beliefs. He bestows his blessing on all alike, for he recognizes as divine every channel through which a devout spirit and a realization of the highest life can flow into the human soul.
“In his study you will find a desk, a bed and some holy pictures. It is as simple as the cell of a monk. He spends little time there, however, for his time is mostly taken up with relieving suffering among the poor, comforting the dying, and on missionary journeys. Were a call to attend a deathbed at the other end of the empire to reach Father John in the middle of the night he would rise and take the first train.
“There are many in Russia who ascribe supernatural powers to Father John. He does not claim any, except the power of prayer. He is a firm believer in that, and the most remarkable thing is that his prayers are very brief. But one cannot look into his wondrous violet eyes without feeling that the look in them is not of this world. They seem to be looking, one minute far beyond the border line of life, and at other times they seem to penetrate into one’s very soul. Strangely, also, those who have observed him during the last twenty-five years of his life – he is now over seventy – declare that age seems to have wrought no change in his appearance.”
Further along in the article, the author (not St. Alexander) tells this story, which, while not really relevant to American Orthodox history, is still so good that I have to print it here.
During the lifetime of the late Czar [Alexander III] he [Fr. John] was often summoned to the Imperial Palace. Once he was sent for on behalf of the Princess Elizabeth, consort of Duke Sergius and a sister of the present Czarina. The Princess was ill and his prayers were wanted. Father John is said to have asked the Czar whether the Princess had entered the Greek Church from conviction or merely as a matter of policy – she was a German and originally a Lutheran. Astounded at his holiness, the ruler of All the Russias sharply told the prelate to mind his own business. Father John drew himself to his full height, fixed a penetrating glance on his imperial master and replied:
“That is just what I am doing, your Majesty. God, whose humble servant I am, demands that this question should be answered.”
Whether it was answered or not is not known. But when the Czar was dying in Crimea an urgent call was sent to Father John, and he was rushed across Russia on an imperial special [train] to the bedside of the monarch.
It’s hard to imagine something like this in a newspaper today, but in St. John of Kronstadt’s lifetime, the American press was fascinated with him. Beginning in the early 1890s, St. John appeared quite regularly in US newspapers, complete with accounts of miracles (including even the raising of someone from the dead). But this Wilkes-Barre Times article stands out from all the rest. Here, you have one saint talking about another (a rare enough thing), and for a secular audience no less.