Posts tagged 1907
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.
On today’s episode of our American Orthodox History podcast, I discuss Isabel Hapgood, an Episcopalian woman who had a significant impact on American Orthodox history. She is most famous today for her landmark English translation of the Orthodox Service Book. Her translation was first published in 1906, and remains in print today. Below, I am reprinting a review of the book, from the New York Tribune (12/15/1907):
Uniformity of doctrine is an unfailing note of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church of the East. But with dogmatic unity once assured the Church has always been ready to adapt itself to the exigencies of national life among the peoples to whom its message has come. Thus the Syro-Arabian, Greek and Russian branches of the Orthodox Apostolic Church, while one in doctrine, are each independent, or rather autocephalous, in government, and the cultus varies in form and language according to the needs of the different groups within the pale of the Eastern Obedience.
The Service Book compiled and translated by Miss Hapgood for use in public worship of the Russian Church in North America is a timely recognition of the presence in this country of an increasing number of adherents of the Eastern Church, and of the fact that English is the only language that communicants in America may hope to have in common. In her important project Miss Hapgood has had the backing of the Holy Synod of Russia, by whom part of the expense of publication is defrayed. Count Sergius I. Witte has been a liberal contributor, and dignitaries like the Archbishop of North America have given sympathetic scholarly aid.
The old Church-Slavonic service books from which the translations have been made contain a wealth of liturgical material too bounteous for ordinary purposes. By following the canon of judicious neglect Miss Hapgood has succeeded admirably in making a book which shows all the services in general use. The list includes the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, the Service of the Hours, the All-night Vigil and Grand Compline. Offices for the chief festivals are given, as well as orders of Ordination, Holy Baptism, Holy Unction and the lesser rites. The translator has added valuable chapters on the significance of the liturgical actions and on the symbolism of the Church, and has furnished complete tables of the lessons, feasts and fasts.
Apart from its immediate usefulness for English speaking members of the Russian Church, the Service Book will have interest for many sorts of churchmen. It stimulates inquiry as to what steps may be taken by American adherents of a great communion whose ideal calls for separate national churches professing the same faith. As to a possible rapproachment with other churches having “national” aspirations, discussion may at least be deferred until the three branches of the Orthodox Church in this country, Russian, Greek and Syro-Arabian, are found in organic union. The Service Book makes entirely clear that the Eastern Church regards its own orthodoxy with complete seriousness. All postulants must repudiate the distinctive tenets of their old allegiance. Lutheran and Reformed candidates are required to forswear “Protestant errors,” and applicants from the Roman-Latin Confession must renounce in terms one false doctrine, filioque, and three erroneous beliefs, and must disavow “all the other doctrines of the Western Confession, both old and new, which are contrary to the Word of God and the true tradition of the Church, and to the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils.”
When once through the wicket, however, the convert finds that the Orthodox Apostolic Church has ample pastures for the flock. As James Darmesteter said of Judaism, there is with the cult of isolation a creed of catholicity. Whoever turns to the treasury of devotion which Miss Hapgood’s pious initiative and diligence have made accessible will in the closer view of this venerable communion get fresh impressions of its length and breadth, a deepened reverence for its great names, a more sympathetic understanding of its intricate yet effective symbolism. A spirit breathes through the ancient forms a needfulness and awe characteristic of worship at its highest.
Hapgood’s Service Book has been digitized and is available at both Google Books and the Internet Archive. The only real biographical work on Hapgood, so far as I’m aware, is Marina Ledkovsky’s 1998 article. And, to listen to my new podcast on Hapgood’s life, click here.
Today, of course, is Christmas for those Orthodox Christians on the Old (Julian) Calendar. Until the 1920s, all of Orthodoxy used the Old Calendar, and of course that included all the Orthodox in America. As we’ve discussed, the American media thought that this was thoroughly fascinating, and newspapers often ran articles on “Greek” or “Russian” Christmas. One thing that I’ve noticed, in reading these Christmas accounts, is the diversity of traditions among the Orthodox in various parts of the country.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/24/1905) commented on the East-West calendar difference, and then pointed out another distinction:
In the [Western denominations] both the time immediately preceding and the period following Christmas Day are times of feasting. In the Greek Church, on the contrary, the forty days preceding Christmas are set aside as a time of fasting, just as Lent precedes Easter. In the local church the communicants are not required to strictly observe this rule. All that is asked is that they observe the week preceding Christmas as a time of fasting.
I suspect that this laxness in fasting was pretty common in American Orthodox parishes. But people didn’t just universally ignore the fast. The Washington Times (1/7/1912) notes, “Since December Greeks abstained from eating meat.” With the arrival of Christmas, the DC Greeks began to feast, going from house to house. “The most humble peanut vendor is privileged by this custom to enter the home of the wealthiest man in the city and cannot be turned away.”
Children, of course, have always been prominent in Christmas celebrations. On Christmas Eve in the Russian church in Wilkes-Barre, PA, the priest, St. Alexis Toth, held a special event for the children of the parish. From the Wilkes-Barre Times (1/7/1907):
A large Christmas tree, prettily decorated and lighted, had been erected on the platform and after several hymns had been sung the treat consisting of candy and fruit for each child had been distributed by Father Toth, there were several more hymns, including the rendition of “America” in English.
It’s not clear, from the newspaper, whether the Christmas tree was actually inside the temple, or in some other part of the building.
While some Orthodox exchanged gifts on Christmas Day, others waited until Old Calendar New Year’s Day. From the Galveston Daily News (1/8/1913):
Christmas among the members of the Greek Orthodox Church is purely a religious festival. Unlike the Yuletide celebrations of the other Christian churches, it contains no elements of feasting or gift giving. The Greek New Year, which is to be celebrated on Jan. 13, is in commemoration of the circumcision of the Child Christ and is the day of feasting and giving of gifts among the members of the faith. Places of business are closed and every child of the Greeks, rich or poor, great or obscure, is remembered with presents.
The giving is observed in a peculiar form. Santa Claus is not known by name, but the children are told that the “ghost” has come down the chimney and brought the candies, sweets and presents that make them happy. Every child is remembered without any exception, and the parents cloak their giving unselfishly, letting the child believe that the gifts came direct from God, as the ghost who brings them is supposed to be the Holy Spirit.
I’m curious; do any of our readers know about this tradition — both the giving of gifts on New Year’s Day and the Holy Spirit coming down the chimney?
On today’s episode of the American Orthodox History podcast, we’re running a lecture I gave at the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black conference in Indianapolis at the end of May. The subject is Fr Raphael Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America. The text of the lecture is below. Also, later this year, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly will be publishing a paper I wrote on Fr Raphael.