Posts tagged 1914
Recently, I’ve been working with a group of researchers to document the life of Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the remarkable priest of Galveston, Texas. Fr. Theoclitos was from Greece — his father had fought in the Greek Revolution — and as a young man, Fr. Theoclitos lived on Mount Athos and later studied in Russia. He tutored the children of King George of Greece, and later the children of Tsar Alexander III (including the future Tsar Nicholas II). He was apparently quite close to Nicholas II, and when, in 1895, the Orthodox of Galveston requested a priest, the Tsar sent to them his former tutor. Fr. Theoclitos was already in his mid-60s — quite old for his era — but he served in America for a full two decades before his death in 1916.
The American ministry of Fr. Theoclitos was utterly unique. He was, as I said, an ethnic Greek, but he served under the auspices of the Russian Mission in America. His parish was composed of Greeks, Serbs, Syrians, and even Copts, and today, that parish is a part of the Serbian Church. Fr. Theoclitos was also one of the first Orthodox priests in America (and perhaps the first) to actively proselytize Americans. His parish was truly pan-Orthodox, and he was uniquely capable of ministering to the needs of such a diverse flock.
Until recently, we knew a fair number of facts about Fr. Theoclitos, but nobody, as far as I know, had found any surviving sermons or writings. Just the other day, though, the lead researcher — Mimo Milosevich, from Galveston — discovered the full text of Fr. Theoclitos’ Christmas sermon, given on January 7, 1914 and published in the next day’s issue of the Galveston Daily News.
It’s a short sermon, but it reveals much about the character and vision of the great archimandrite. According to the newspaper, Fr. Theoclitos began by recounting the story of the star, the wise men, their gifts, and King Herod. Then, said the paper, “Father Theoclitos took off his spectacles and used them to gesticulate with, as he preached a fatherly sermon on charity and its relation to happiness.”
My children: Before Jesus came into our world the earth lacked the attributes of sympathetic understanding, which we find necessary to our happiness in this era. The Lord gave us his son, Jesus, to soften us, to give us understanding of human wants, to give us a sense of forgiveness, to teach us that to forgive is our duty, and to teach us charity.
My children, be charitable, open your hearts, for only in charity is there happiness. Make life brighter for your brother and your sister and the candle you light for them will make your light brighter.
God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gave us his all, even his life. We can do no more than emulate him, and in doing that we do all.
Think today of the poor whom he loved, lighten their burdens, even as he did. Open your hearts, oh, my children, even as did Jesus of Bethlehem.
My children, when he came among us he did not ask, “Of what nationality art thou? What is thy belief?” No! He came down among us and was one of us and he ministered to us. Open thy hearts, likewise, my children, and go among the poor and succor them; all the poor, for they are thy brothers and sisters, my children, and they are his people.
My children, many of you are not native to this land and it is well to treasure memories of thine own country, but think that this is a good land, and its people are good to thy people, and you all are his people. Learn to love, be honest, tolerant, forgiving, and charitable.
I pray you Merry Christmas, my children, and many, many years of happiness.
After the sermon, Fr. Theoclitos passed a plate to collect alms for the poor. “The plate was heaped high with bills and coins,” reported the Daily News, “the merry chink-clink-chink of the contributions accenting like tiny cymbals the smooth melody of a beautiful hymn.”
As I’ve probably said a hundred times now, America is a frontier region for Orthodoxy. This was especially the case at the turn of the last century, when the chaotic nature of the American Orthodox scene provided ample opportunity for imposter priests to make a good living on unwitting Orthodox immigrants. I’m sure we’ll discuss various examples of this phenomenon in the future. Today, I’m going to talk about two fundraising “monks” from, apparently, Kurdistan.
This report appeared in a number of newspapers (including the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post) on November 6, 1900:
Two priests of the Greek Church, Fathers Simeon and Joseph Nathan, from the Monastery of Oyos Caralambos, of Kurdistan, were ordered deported by the immigration authorities today. They are said to have come to this country by commission of Bishop Laveneu, the head of their order, to raise funds for the Church. Having very little money they were excluded as likely to become public charges. They said that they had passports from the authorities in Greece.
Frs. Simeon and Joseph appear to have been non-Chalcedonians of some sort or another. From later reports, it seems that they had previously visited India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Japan. They then reached the Pacific Coast of the US, where they met the Episcopal Bishop of Olympia, Washington. They traveled across the country (stopping in St. Paul, Minnesota, among other places), and eventually found their way to New York City. They claimed to be raising money for an orphanage. From the Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica, 10/30/1902):
It seems that they church to which they belong was destroyed at the time of the Armenian massacres by the Turks and their mission is to raise funds to establish a new church, and also an orphanage in connection with it, for the support of fifty orphans whose parents perished in that terrible affair.
After being deported from the US, these “Chaldeans” went to Haiti, and in the fall of 1902, they came to Jamaica. The Gleaner newspaper encouraged readers to contribute money, pointing out that the fundraisers had a letter of recommendation from (among others) the Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies. This effort appears to have been successful, and even the Acting Governor of Jamaica made a donation. After leaving Jamaica in November 1902, the “Chaldean agents” went to Colon and collected still more money.
It was only after they were long gone that the Gleaner received a letter of warning from Anglican representatives in Persia. From the December 5, 1902 issue of the newspaper:
We ask your permission to warn your readers against all persons coming from this country to England for begging purposes, whether they call themselves Assyrians, Chaldeans, Nestorians, Armenians, or by any other name. Many of the most worthless of these Christians have learnt to travel to Europe to beg nominally, in most cases, for some school or other institution, but in reality for themselves. Many persons in England have been deceived by them, even those universally known to be most astute, and the amount of money that has been wasted in this way is most lamentable.
The letter went on to comment that these fraudulent fundraisers displayed “a wonderful versatility in their religion. They will one day be Baptists, the next Anglican, the third Roman Catholics, and the fourth Orthodox Easterns. No religion comes amiss to them, if they can make money by it.”
Many years later, in 1914, other Chaldean fundraisers — or perhaps the same ones — surfaced in America. St. Raphael Hawaweeny found it necessary to publish this notice in the Russian Archdiocese’s Vestnik magazine:
For a long time already, various “collectors” with counterfeit documents, written in various languages, are traveling around North America… They claim to be Syrian or Orthodox Syrian-Arabs while they are Chaldeans and Nestorians by religion… Many times I warned my Syrian compatriots… now I found out that those “collectors” act among the Russian clergy… so I warn you… that those who do not have the papers with my signature and seal are tricksters. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn.
[I found this in Fr. Andrew Kostadis' 1999 St. Vladimir's Seminary thesis, Pictures of Missionary Life, page 39. The ellipses are in Kostadis' text.]
We’ll probably never know the true origins of these Chaldeans, or what became of them. But they were just two of many fake, or at least unauthorized, individuals who claimed to be Orthodox clergymen in America.
Most Honored Sir — I want to know if it is a crime to wear a beard? I suppose that this may appear to be a foolish question to you, but to me it means a great deal. I am the pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church on Pacific street, Brooklyn, and my profession calls for the wearing of a beard. When I got out on the street the boys and young men mistake me for a Jewish rabbi and insult and assault me.
They often throw decayed vegetables at me. If I were a rabbi, would that be an excuse for loafers to assault and insult me? I am a citizen and as such should be protected from assault.
I have borne the insults and assaults patiently up to last Saturday night, when an incident occured that made me lose all patience. I was alighting from a car at Seventy-third street and Thirteenth avenue, Brooklyn, when a little loafer hit me with a decayed vegetable, which I believe was a more than ripe tomato. This exhausted my patience. I went for the lad, who, luckily for him, escaped.
Hoping that you will do what you can for me and gain for me the protection I deserve, I am sir,
BASIL M. KERBAWY.
The mayor didn’t take long to reply. On April 12, 1911, he wrote to Kerbawy,
Reverend and Dear Sir: Your letter informing me that as you walk about the city visiting the homes of your parishioners people apply opprobrious names to you, and throw empty cans and rubbish at you, and otherwise assault you, on account of your beard, is at hand. You ask me, “Is it a crime in the City of New York to wear a beard”? No, it is not. I wear one myself and nobody ever takes any notice of it. How is it they take notice of your beard? Have you trimmed it in some particular way, contrary to the Scriptures? For you know the Scriptures say, “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.”
Yes, if they assault you, and throw cans at you, you have a right to defend yourself to the last extremity; but if you find it necessary I will have a detective go around with you for a few days until we arrest some of those who are wronging you. Are you certain that it is your beard which is the cause of the trouble?
Kerbawy actually took the mayor up on his offer of a detective. From the New York World (via the Washington Post, 4/28/1911):
The clergyman will be a striking figure with his tall, shiny hat and ruddy face almost hidden by the luxuriance of his black beard. It is not of such a length, being very neat in its trimming, but it is so abundant that only mere patches of the priest’s red cheeks show above it. Softly behind Father Kerbawy will tread a sleuth ready to promptly pounce upon the first person long the way who shies sticks, stones, objurgation, tomato, or even a spitball at the worthy priest.
Kerbawy’s reply to the mayor? “It was very kind of the mayor to give such prompt attention to my case. I shall probably write to let him know that my whiskers are trimmed in full accordance with the Scriptures.”
(Alas, I don’t have a good picture of Kerbawy, so I can’t show you his beard, which one newspaper described as being of the “lace curtain” variety. I’ve said it before, but if newspapers today wrote like they did a century ago, they wouldn’t be a dying industry.)
Of course, Kerbawy’s bishop was St. Raphael Hawaweeny, who, in 1895, had arrived in America with a bushy beard and a rather wild head of hair (see above).
But, as we saw on Monday, Raphael soon changed his appearance, cutting his hair, trimming his beard, and, outside of the church, trading his cassock for a suit and collar. In 1904, he told the New York Sun (5/22/1904), “I do not wish to attract attention by any peculiarities. There is no reason why I should be so extreme.” By the end of his life, St. Raphael looked like any other respectable gentleman a hundred years ago.
In the early 20th century, beardless faces were much more common among Russian priests than among their Greek counterparts, who tended to have full beards until around the 1920s. But not all the Russians were thrilled with clean-shaven clergymen. Fr. Joseph Stephanko, pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Passaic, New Jersey, dared to pick up a razor in 1913. A Russian-language newspaper in Jersey City accused Stephanko of “making void the Orthodox faith because he shaved himself.” The priest responded by filing a $25,000 libel suit against the paper (New York Times, 8/20/1914). A couple of years later, he was awarded $1,000 — a fraction of his original demand, but still a healthy chunk of change in the 1910s.