Posts tagged 1910
For Orthodox Christians on the Old Calendar, today is the feast of Theophany. I’m hoping to air a whole podcast on Theophany very soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d reprint an article about a Theophany celebration that took place one hundred years ago.
I live in Kansas, and the first Orthodox parish in my home state was St. George Serbian Church, founded in Kansas City, Kansas in 1904. A few days after the feast of Theophany in 1910, the parish priest, Fr. John Markovich, blessed the waters of the Kansas (or Kaw) River. The following report appeared in the Kansas City Star (1/23/1910):
The waters of the Kaw River are to be blessed as are the waters of the Danube and the rivers of Servia. The ceremony will take place at 11 o’clock this morning on the Central Avenue Bridge. The Rev. John Markovich, rector of the Servian Orthodox Church in Kansas City, Kas., will officiate.
The ceremony is performed on what is known as the Feast of the Three Kings, in commemoration of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in the manger. This feast was last Thursday, but as the members of the church were at work in the factories it was decided to celebrate today.
In Servia and countries where the Greek branch of the Catholic Church holds sway the rivers are blessed each year. From these rivers is drawn the water used in the rites of the church. The little church of St. George at 37 North First Street, Kansas City, Kas., stands near the Kaw River, and from that stream is drawn the water used for its rites. Hence the Kaw, like the rivers of the Old World, is to be blessed on the Feast of the Three Kings.
The Servian societies of St. George and St. Jovan will meet at the church at 10:30 o’clock this morning and march to the river. When the center of the stream is reached the priest will bless the water. Then he will lower a bucket and draw up water which he will distribute among church members.
The Kaw is not “blue” like the Danube, nor clear like the mountain streams of Servia, but to the members of the little church in the Servian colony along its banks its muddy waters will be just as sacred as those of the rivers in their native land.
As you can see, the reporter has confused the Orthodox feast of Theophany, which celebrates Christ’s baptism, with the Western Epiphany celebration of the Three Kings. The next day, the Kansas City Times (the sister newspaper of the Star), ran an article on the blessing of the river:
In the midst of traffic the quaint rites of a ceremony handed down from the Middle Ages were observed on the Central Avenue Bridge in Kansas City, Kas., yesterday when the Kaw River was blessed as the Danube and the rivers of Servia have been blessed since Christianity was preached in the days of chivalry.
Three hundred Servians gathered around a little altar on the lower floor of the bridge. They stood with bowed heads while a priest in vestments of silk brocaded with silver, like those worn on similar occasions centuries ago, performed the ceremony in the same way that it was done then.
Trolley cars rushed along the elevated structure above them, the smoke of the packing houses formed a background and the whistle of a switch engine in the railroad yards a hundred feet away prevented the people from hearing all that the priest said. But the altar boys chanted, the censor was swung and drops of water were sprinkled upon the heads of the parishioners.
The priest was Father John Markovich, pastor of the Servian Orthodox Church of Kansas City, Kas. The people were the parishioners of the little church of St. George at 37 South First Street, and the ceremony was a part of the services held in observance of the Feast of the Three Kings, in commemoration of the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus. In Servia the Danube and other rivers flowing through the principality are blessed every year. Instead of the clear waters of the “Blue Danube,” the people of St. George’s Church now see every day the muddy waters of the Kaw. They work in the packing houses all week and so the feast, which was last Thursday, was not celebrated until yesterday.
The Servian societies of St. George and St. Jovan met at 10 o’clock yesterday morning at the church, held services and led by a band marched to the Central Avenue Bridge. First in the procession came two altar boys in white surplices, one carrying a silver crucifix and the other a censor. They were followed by the Rev. Father Markovich, dressed in the silk, silver brocaded vestments of the church brought over from the Old Country. In the middle of the bridge he took the crucifix from the altar boy, turned east, north, west and south, making the sign of the cross in each direction, and he made a prayer blessing the waters of the river. A bucket was lowered and brought up filled with water. The choir boys chanted while he cast a few drops in each direction. The people came one by one and kissed the cross. Then the priest sprinkled a few drops of what was now holy water on each bowed head and blessed each parishioner.
Since the custom was inaugurated in Servia in the Middle Ages it has been the belief that after a river has been blessed its waters will not overflow or do any harm, but will bring prosperity to the people living along its banks.
The Kansas City Serbs were obviously trying, as best they could, to maintain their Orthodox traditions in a rather strange land — a land with not only a muddy river and a traffic-filled bridge, but jobs that didn’t allow for a festal day off. They made do by observing the feast a few days late.
I especially like the idea, most clearly expressed at the end of the first article, that, by blessing the waters, the Kaw becomes just as sacred as any river in Serbia (or, for that matter, the Jordan itself). In a very special way, Theophany takes America, a foreign land for Orthodoxy, and blesses it, makes it holy. It sends the message that, even though we may not have two thousand years of history and saints and ancient churches in our country, we too are Orthodox, and salvation can be accomplished here just as much as it can be in a traditionally “Orthodox” land.
Exactly 100 years ago — January 15, 1910 – the following article appeared in the Boston Globe:
GREEKS OBSERVE NEW YEAR.
Services Held in City Churches and Gifts are Exchanged.
The members of the Orthodox Greek church celebrated their new year yesterday. The observation of the day included prayers in the two churches in the city, the exchange of gifts among the members of the faith and jollifications in the evening.
Among the people of the Orthodox Greek faith in Boston are Russians, Syrians and a few Armenians. Services were held at the church of the Annunciation on Winchester st and the Syrian mission on Edinboro st. In the former edifice Rev Nestor Souslides officiated, while Rev P.S. Sailer conducted the services for the Syrians.
When I read that article, I was confused, because I knew that Fr. George Maloof was the priest of Boston’s Syrian church (St. George) from 1900 to 1920. Who, then, was Rev. P.S. Sailer? A bit of digging revealed that this Rev. Sailer was not Orthodox at all, but Protestant. He’s listed in the 1911 Quadrenniel Book and Christian Annual, published by the “Christian Church (American Christian Convention),” which I think is the same thing as (or a predecessor to) the “Disciples of Christ” denomination.
These particular Protestants seem to have been proselytizing among the Syrian Orthodox of Boston. I found this in the September 8, 1910 issue of Herald of Gospel Liberty, a “Christian Church” publication:
The work among the Syrians is a little more than one year old. It began with seven little girls and now has an enrollment of seventy-five. The scarcity of teachers for this work is the greatest handicap.
There is great need of the influence of a Christian home, a Christian family to live in the Syrian belt, the wife to visit in the homes, have classes for women and children and teach home making.
This need has been recently met. Dr. White, a practicing physician among the Syrians, has been associated with our Chinese mission in Boston for some years. She will give at least three hours a day to our work, more if possible, working mainly among the Syrians during the week. She will hold mothers’ meetings on week days, lecturing on hygiene and sanitation, teaching the mothers how to prepare wholesome food for their children, warning them of the dangers of the “little mother” evil, call at their homes to teach them personal home making. She will teach in both the Syrian and Chinese Sunday-school. Her acquaintance with the needs, customs and habits of this portion of the foreign population will make her an invaluable assistant. This will slightly increase the cost of the Boston work.
Two nights each week are devoted to teaching Syrian men to read and write. Twenty-five men attend these classes. Rev. P.S. Sailer, the devoted pastor, is meeting their great needs as fast as it is possible with the care of two churches.
Were these Protestants holding special services for the Julian Calendar New Year? It sure looks that way. Initially, I was confused by the Boston Globe‘s statement that Sailer will be serving at “the Syrian mission on Edinboro st.” This confused me, because the actual Syrian Orthodox church was located at 38 Edinboro. (See the parish history.) Most likely, these Protestants set up their “Syrian mission” in the heart of the Syrian neighborhood, right down the street from the Orthodox church.
On the face of it, these Protestant efforts seem noble — helping immigrants get established in America, teaching them English, etc. But they were usually part of a broader agenda to convert the Orthodox immigrants to Protestantism. After all, Sailer wasn’t just teaching English; he was conducting church services for the Syrians. By setting up shop on Edinboro Street, these particular Protestants were just doors away from their Orthodox “competition.” And you’ll notice that the Syrian Orthodox New Year’s services aren’t mentioned by the Boston Globe — only Sailer’s “Syrian” services are brought up. This little nugget provides a tiny glimpse into one of the many the challenges facing Orthodoxy in America a century ago.
If you were living in New York City exactly one hundred years ago, you could have read the following article in the Tribune, one of New York’s many newspapers:
Prayers Offered for Czar at Cathedral of St. Nicholas.
Christmas was celebrated in New York yesterday by ten thousand Russians, Greeks and Syrians, in accordance with the Julian calendar, which is thirteen days later than the Gregorian calendar. The observation of the day was almost purely religious, and services were held in two Orthodox Greek churches and two Greek Catholic churches in Manhattan.
As there are no seats in the Greek orthodox churches, one thousand Russians stood for two hours in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, in East 97th street, while the liturgy was chanted and a sermon delivered by the pastor, the Rev. A. Hotovitsky. The service closed with a prayer for the safety of Nicholas II, Czar of Russia.
For those who attended these services and those at the branch of the Cathedral at No. 347 East 14th street, where the pastor is the Rev. Peter J. Popoff, the day ended six weeks of fasting. The home celebrations, which began after the services, consisted of elaborate feasts. Among those who attended the branch church were twelve Russian immigrants, the members of two families, who left Ellis Island in the morning. Consequently it was their first Christmas Day in the new land. They will stay at the Russian Immigrants’ Home, which is under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Popoff, until employment is found for them.
Two hundred Syrians gathered in the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, in Pacific street, Brooklyn, at midnight, to begin the observation of the day. A low and a high mass were celebrated during the morning. In the Syrian quarter business was dropped for a day of devotion and festivity.
Rev. A. Hotovitsky is, of course, St. Alexander. He presided at the Russian cathedral because the archbishop, Platon, was visiting Russia at the time. I’m pretty sure St. Raphael was in Brooklyn at this point (as opposed to traveling), so he would have served at the Syrian cathedral. Oddly, especially given the title of the article (“Greek Christmas”), the Tribune makes no mention of the actual Greek churches in New York, which were also celebrating Christmas that day.
The following three pdf files are the May, June, and July issues of a monthly newsletter, The Voice of the Church, published by my parish (St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Fargo, ND). The main goal of the newsletter is to provide readers with modern Orthodox theological reflections, especially those not easily obtained in an English translation. For the months of May, June, and July, however, we ran a reprint of a book chapter written by Fr. Nathaniel Irvine in 1910. The newsletter can be found under our parish’s “information” tab. Anyone may visit to read our monthly newsletter.
The three most recent issues are shared here at SOCHA because of the content, the essay “Greek Orthodox Catholicity: Religion of Syria, Greece, Russia, etc.,” written by Irvine.