Posts tagged 1915
Recently, on our Facebook page, someone left a comment requesting information on Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, who is apparently being considered for canonization. I was vaguely familiar with Korchinsky; I’d read his name before, but knew next to nothing about him. Obviously, I wanted to learn more. Over the past couple of days, I’ve pieced together as much as I can about Korchinsky. My own conclusion: the man is almost certainly a saint.
Just to clear up any confusion up front: if you search for “Jacob Korchinsky” on the Internet, you might find a reference to St. Juvenaly, the hieromartyr of Alaska. Coincidentally, St. Juvenaly’s name before becoming a monk was Jacob Korchinsky. I don’t think he’s related to this more recent Jacob Korchinsky, though.
Here is an account of Korchinsky’s first five decades, from Michael Protopopov’s fascinating 2005 dissertation, The Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia:
Jakov Kosmich Korchinsky was born into a family of landed gentry in 1861, he attended the Elizavetgrad Secondary School and then a four year course to become a teacher. In 1886, Jakov married Varvara Yakovlev. Whilst working in diocesan schools, Jakov was recognized as an excellent teacher by the Ruling Bishop of the diocese, Archbishop Nicandor of Kherson and Odessa, and ordained a deacon on 8 November 1887. Whilst a deacon and still teaching, Fr Jakov enrolled at the Odessa Theological Seminary which he completed in 1895. Fr Jakov was then invited to teach in the missions in Alaska by Bishop Nikolai of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and the young deacon and his wife set off for the Americas. On 25 March 1896 Fr Jakov was ordained priest and began his missionary work in Alaska. Within two years Fr Jakov had been awarded his first ecclesiastical distinction for “converting to Orthodoxy more than 250 savages.” In 1901, he was again recognised for building a church whilst doing missionary work in Canada. By 1902 the Korchinskys returned to Kherson because of Varvara Korchinsky’s failing health and Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the Resurrection church in Bereznegova on the Black Sea. In 1906 he was appointed rector [of] the Protection church in the Kherson prison.
After two years in the prison church, Fr Jakov reapplied to return to America and was appointed to the St Michael parish in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Whilst in Pennsylvania Fr Jakov was awarded the gold pectoral cross by an Imperial Decree. On 25 March 1911, the Korchinskys were relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the St Michael church and visiting priest to parishes in Erie, Carnegie and Youngstown. In the years immediately prior to his appointment as missionary to the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines, Korchinsky was also Dean of Pennsylvania, a trustee of the Orthodox Orphanage of North America, Vice President of the Russian Emigre Society of North America and a member of the Imperial Russian Palestine Society.
And he still had another 30 years to go. Korchinsky was one of the jewels of the Russian Mission in America, one of those super-priests who covered vast territories and founded numerous churches. In 1900, he was sent to Edmonton, Alberta to become the first permanent parish priest in Canada. The same year, he visited Shandro, Alberta, and baptized 33 children in a single day. You get the sense, from reading about Korchinsky’s life, that this sort of event was rather commonplace for him. In his November 26, 1906 report to the Holy Synod, St. Tikhon wrote of Korchinsky, “He did much to convert the heathens to the Christian Faith and returned many Uniates to the Orthodox Church. He set the foundation for parish life in many places, built churches and assisted the unfortunate with his acquied medical knowledge.”
He founded churches in the United States, too. At the very least, I know that he was the founding priest of the Nativity of Christ Church in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1915. The same year, Korchinsky was elevated to Archpriest, and he relocated to Hawaii. From Orthodox Wiki’s excellent article on Hawaiian Orthodox history:
In 1915, an official request by the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii and the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, Henry B. Restarick to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; a priest was dispatched that same year to Hawaii (with the blessing of Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) of the Aleutians) to pastor the large population of Orthodox Russian faithful. He establishsed permanent liturgical services in Hawaii and on Christmas December 25 (O.S.) / January 7 (N.S.) 1916, Protopresbyter Jacob Korchinsky celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu. Thus Orthodoxy was re-established in Hawaii.
While in Honolulu, writes Protopopov, Korchinsky happened to meet a group of Russian Latvians who were sailing from Australia to Egypt via Honolulu and the brand-new Panama Canal. They told him that there were Russians in Australia; not long afterwards, Korchinsky read this in the Vestnik (the official publication of the Russian Mission in America, January 1916):
[I]n Australia, there live thousands of Russian people, who are spiritually ministered to by a Greek priest who visits once a year. His services are conducted unwillingly and without a sense of piety, even though he receives a large amount of money for his services. It has also been reported that a self-styled “priest” has arrived in Australia from North America who has exploited the unsuspecting Russians with excessive fees for baptisms and weddings, so much so, that they complained to the police and the “priest” was arrested.
Korchinsky had heard enough. He wrote to the Russian Consul-General in Melbourne, who asked Korchinsky to come to Australia immediately. He arrived in March of 1916. In the months that followed, he visited 750 families and 500 isolated individuals, baptizing 16 children along the way (all these numbers are from Protopopov). But he contracted malaria due to the excessive heat, and in July, he returned to Russia. He wrote this to his bishop, Archbishop Evdokim Meschersky:
We have elected a committee to oversee church life, but my illness brought on by the excessive heat, has caused me to take to my bed and has deprived me of being of any further use… I most respectfully plead that Your Grace does not forsake the Russian Orthodox in Australia and especially their next generation of youngsters. I beg that Your Grace may raise the question of the Church in Australia at the forthcoming All Russian General Council and if it be appropriate to appoint me as the permanent priest for Australia.
The Holy Synod ended up placing Australia under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Tokyo. Korchinsky, meanwhile, needed money. He had spent all his own funds on his missionary work. All the while, his wife and three-year-old daughter had remained in America, and Korchinsky wanted to go to them. He was given permission, and money, but then World War I intervened. Korchinsky was assigned to be a chaplain at the military hospital in Odessa, serving there from December 1916 to August 1917. From Protopopov:
Upon being demobilised from military service, Korchinsky was again faced with the problem of having nothing to live on. On 29 August 1917, he again wrote to the Holy Synod asking that he be assigned a pension, as he was so poor that he needed to live in a rural village where the folk fed him out of compassion. A second resolution was made by the Holy Synod for a pension to be granted to Korchinsky, but no documentary evidence is available to confirm a pension ever having been paid. Nor is it known if he returned to his family in Pennsylvania.
One way or another, Korchinsky’s family made it back to Russia. About his family… At some point amidst his travels, probably in 1913 or 1914, Korchinsky spent some time in Mexico City. While there, he adopted an orphaned infant named Dominica. Here is the story, told by the girl’s daughter in Faith, a Russian religious periodical, dated May 2006. The original in Russian, which I can’t read, so I used Google Translator:
Jacob Korchinsky was not the actual father of my mother, he was her adoptive father. In 1912-1916. He was the rector of the Orthodox Church in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. There he gave the girl in foster homes, from a poor family of Spanish origin. In 1916-1917 grandfather returned to his home in Odessa, along with a girl (my mother was then year 3-4).
The translation obviously isn’t great, and the dates aren’t precise, but the gist is clear enough. (And there are more details if you follow the above link and can read Russian. Google Translator has some issues with Russian, unfortunately.)
Korchinsky stayed in Russia through the Revolution and the terror that followed. He was arrested on June 23, 1941. Two months later, like so many of his fellow priests, he was executed. He was 80 years old.
Based on all this, it seems to me that Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was indeed a saint, just like his fellow American priests and Russian hieromartyrs Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov, and Seraphim Samuilovich. Korchinsky’s is a remarkable, multicontinental story which has not yet been told. If any of you have more information on Korchinsky, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
UPDATE (1/6/10): A reader named Michael informed me that St. Juvenaly’s surname was “Govorukhin” (or “Hovorukhin”), not “Korchinsky.” He sent along numeous source which testify to this, and I have no doubt that he is correct. Just for the record, I found the reference to St. Juvenaly’s name being “Korchinsky” in Fr. Michael Oleksa’s 2008 commencement address at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. It’s possible that Fr. Michael just mixed up the two missionary-martyrs’ names. My thanks to Michael for pointing this out to me.
A few days ago, we discussed the tragic story of Fr. Vladimir Alexandrov, the early 20th century Russian priest whose life reads like (as Fr. Andrew Damick has suggested) a Russian novel. Very briefly: Alexandrov accidentally killed his son; his wife had an affair with his assistant priest (and took the family’s $19,000 savings); he joined the Living Church, a puppet of the Soviet government, and became a bishop; he got into court battles over church property in America; and in 1933, he joined the Roman Catholic Church. And, as I discovered shortly after publishing the initial article, Alexandrov died in Baltimore in on May 20, 1945.
Anyway, I’ve continued to look for material on Alexandrov. It turns out that he participated in the first Orthodox liturgy ever celebrated in Canada, in 1897. Alexandrov was a chanter at the time, and the service took place in Alberta. Later, as both a deacon and a priest, Alexandrov would make other visits to Canada, receiving Uniate converts into Orthodoxy.
In 1915, Alexandrov was the rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, and he participated in the Fourteenth International Lord’s Day Congress, held across the Bay in Oakland. Afterwards, the conference papers were published in a book. Alexandrov’s is called, “The Church and the Sabbath: Position of the Greek Church.” The book also includes a small photo of Alexandrov, which appears above.
A lot of Alexandrov’s article isn’t as basic and rudimentary as one might imagine from the title. Talking about the Sabbath in Russia, he acknowledges the significant Jewish minority in the country, and its desire for an official rest day on Saturday as well as Sunday. He doesn’t think such a thing should or would happen, but he does say,
Besides, we are probably on the eve of possible Jewish political independence in historic Palestine, where, if God helps them again to establish their political entity, they will have their own Kings, or Presidents, and of course, their own up-to-date laws and privileges, and in all these, I for one, wish them God-speed.
I’m somewhat surprised to read such a sympathetic position towards Jews, held by a Russian priest in 1915.
Alexandrov also notes that a small percentage of American Christians attend church on Sundays, relative to Christians in Europe. “On Sundays, the churches are quite often only half filled or wholly empty while the moving picture houses as well as some of the theatres of the poorer class, often with very bad shows, are overcrowded,” he said. His solution? That churches offer Christian-themed movies on Sunday afternoons and evenings. According to Alexandrov, in Russia,
[B]esides the usual services on Sundays, semi-religious meetings were offered to the people in buildings of various schools and public institutions, in which moving pictures from the Bible were produced illustrating the life of Christ, His Mother and the Saints, and at the same time short lectures were delivered, accompanied by choir and general singing; and the success was grand.
In Alexandrov’s view, the same sort of thing should be adopted in America. But he doesn’t stop there. “I believe,” he writes, “that the so-called Kinematograph or moving picture industry should be under the control of the State for educational and religious uses in such a way that it shall not harm but help people mentally and spiritually.” He then echoes the ideology of the future Soviet regime: “If we have a ‘pure food law,’ why may we not also have a ‘pure thought law’?”
Finally, from the article, we get a little bit of additional biographical data: “During my twenty years’ work in the United States and Canada,” writes Alexandrov, “I have built about fourteen churches,” and ministered to Orthodox of all nationalities.
UPDATE: A reader named Schultz, who lives in Baltimore, dug through various Baltimore newspapers in search of an obituary for Alexandrov. Here’s what he posted, in the comments section of my earlier article on Alexandrov:
No real obituary in the Baltimore Sun or the other, smaller Baltimore papers. There is, however, the following death notice, printed on May 22, 1945, p. 16, c. 6 in the Sun:
ALEXANDROF – At 1:30 A.M., on Sunday, May 20, 1945. VERY REVEREND VLADIMIR V. ALEXANDROF, former Arch-bishop elect.
Solemn mass of Requiem in St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, on Thursday, May 24, 1945 at 10 A.M. Interment in St. Charles College Cemetery, Catonsville.
“Former Arch-bishop elect” — now, what does that mean? Presumably, he was never confirmed, or fully received, or something, as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. There’s got to be a story behind this. I would think that the local Roman Catholic diocese would be the best place to look for answers.
Last week, I posted Isabel Hapgood’s 1915 article in which she begged Archbishop Evdokim, “Please let us have a splendid choir!” She said, in part, “The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.”
The whole article is well worth reading, as it gives a fascinating insight into Hapgood’s personality. And it was a personality that Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine could not stand one bit. Irvine, who was always ready to defend Orthodoxy against any and all threats, responded forcefully in a lengthy reply to the editor in the next issue of the Vestnik (Messenger, September 23, 1915). I’m reprinting that letter — entitled, “The Choir and the Church” — and afterwards, I’ll offer some comments.
I am sure I would be untrue to both my priesthood and citizenship if I were to remain silent and not respectfully protest against the unchurchly and unpatriotic letter written by Miss Isabella F. Hapgood and published in our official magazine — the Russian Orthodox American Messenger of August 20th (Sept. 2d) of this year.
Miss Hapgood says, “The Cathedral Choir, properly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your (the Archbishop’s) Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.” This statement is a gross insult both to the Archbishop and to the whole Orthodox Priesthood in the United States. I refrain from speaking my full mind in reference to the blasphemous insult to the Holy Ghost whose voice is heard in every “little new” parish through the Right Hand of the Incarnation, namely, the Priesthood.
Such a letter, my beloved and learned friend, has already done harm. I noticed this insult to the priesthood myself last Sunday, but since then others have called my attention to the fact, — men outside the Orthodox Church.
Our Archbishop was not called by the Holy Ghost to consecrate Choir Leaders for roving Singing-Bands to help and please new Orthodox churchgoers — “Episcopalians” and Protestants in general to whom Miss Hapgood refers. The thoughtful of such respectable Bodies believe that, he came to America for a different purpose, viz; to oversee and represent the Mother Church of Christendom and perpetuate her Priesthood as well as see that, Houses of Worship were erected all over the land in which the Doctrines of Jesus Christ were preached.
Music is a luxury, but the “Bread of Life,” distributed through “twenty little new parishes,” is a necessity.
Christ and His Holy Apostles went forth, and sent forth their representatives, without Singing Bands to tickle “itching ears,” or please the sensual — Eternal Truths were the Themes then: — “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” — Salvation alone through the Blood of Jesus Csrist [sic]. — Repent and believe the Gospel. Except ye are Baptized, and eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Son of God ye shall not have Eternal Life. Today, the Themes are as necessary as ever.
Music is a grand expression of the feelings of the heart, — but it can, even in sacred art, be the generator of sensuality. Every cord [sic] whether minor or otherwise falling upon unconverted ears can suggest to the unsanctified souls the evil passions of this fallen nature. Who dares to deny this? Is our beloved Archbishop to be used as a medium of this world — devised, secular or sensual plans just for the sake of commercialists? I doubt it. He is too true and noble an Ecclesiastic to be misguided by Miss Hapgood in such an important matter. He is too loving a Chief Pastor to “let the falsehood spread that one good choir is worth twenty little new parishes.” Why, Oh, why, was such a letter as that of Miss Hapgood’s published? It is easier to spread an error than to correct it. The evil is done. The Orthodox are made a laughing stock to the pious Christians of both Protestant and Roman bodies. We have elevated Music above the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, – Miss Hapgood’s Musical heresy; — we have done it to the extent, at least, of publishing her letter.
Besides, please remember, Miss Hapgood is a Protestant. We do not desire to be ungracious, but there is not an Orthodox in America who would presume to dictate to Bishop Greer or any of the Protestant Episcopal Hierarchy that they should retard the growth of the parochial system and substitute a Musical propaganda instead.
We have in the United States, and especially connected with St. Nicholas Cathedral, Orthodox ladies capable of doing any thing, that is of any practical use, for the advancement of the Church. It would be ungallant to mention, in print their names, — but I can compare them with the ladies of any other portion of the Church in Christendom. Let us give them a chance to show what they can do. Let no overestimated wings of the outside world lower down upon their talents and over-cloud them. They are extremely modest for the reason that they are not in their native land. Yet I may assure them, as an American citizen, their adopted home needs such lov[e]liness and depth as well as lady-like sensativeness [sic] as are manifested in both them and their daughters who are being raised up in our midst.
But there is another point against, which I am solemnly protesting — Miss Hapgood’s unwarrantable statement as follows: — ["]For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia.” This, indeed, is not so. Why suggest that, so serious, of which we are doubtful?
America, as a Government “by the people and for the people” has always listened to “favorable remarks about Russia”; — has always looked upon Russia as her sincere friend, and has ever felt grateful to that great Empire for it’s [sic] silent yet impressive influence, in her behalf, at the most crucial times of our national history. Any learned reader of political history will recall what Russia did with her ships and guns, long ago, in solemn silence, in our waters when nations, more akin to us in blood, were only too anxious to see our Union disrupted.
We must draw a vast distinction between jingoists and Americans, between a Judaically subsidized press which has often mis-represented Russia to us and us to Russia, and that of the real thought and writings of intellectual and broadminded citizens. We too, must learn that, when a Unitarian President of the United States signed the abrogation of the Treaty between Russia and this country at the instance of the Judaically-influenced Congressman who was Chairman of the “Committee on Foreign Relations” that that President and that Congressman, as well as that whole Administration, were wiped out politically. And if, today, that Treaty were in existance [sic] the abrogation of it would be voted down in Congress like if it were the suggestion of an evil genius. We Americans love the Slavs. The revelations of despotic acts in their great Empire are no darker pages in history than what is goign on in the United States at this moment under mob law and grafters. We have nothing to boast over Russia. That great and mighty Empire consecrated to the service of the Blessed Trinity may not have stamped on her coins “In God We Trust” yet her sons and daughters have engraved upon their hearts the love of Jesus Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom which, alas, cannot be said of us as a Nation. When our star is waning Russia’s will be high in its meridian.
A few words more. I love music. But I may add, — never can any church choir equal a great organization such as the “Boston Symphony” or any other body so constituted of thoroughly trained Artists and Professionalists. A church choir is made up of members of mixed ages to lead in devotional exercises. A musical organization, such as Miss Hapgood requests, is for a wholly different matter — purely commercial purposes, however otherwise it may advance the Art of Music. They can neither be compared nor interchanged.
I dare not express my opinion of Miss Hapgood’s egotistical sentence — “I am going to be frank. There is no one else who can tell you (Archbishop) about the American public and the conditions connected with concerts as well as I can.”
I am afraid that our beloved Archbishop will be tempted after we have begun to revere him, to make preparations to leave us. Who would like to stay in a country where there was but one (lady) out of 100,000,000 souls that knows all? Shame, shame, shame on America! Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar. This time it must not be a trifling gold watch and chain but a diadem of gold beset with most precious jewels. By this time, I take it, — several copies of the Messenger are on their road to Russia to prepare the way for the presentation. I beg of the Orthodox ladies not to grow jealous. It is their own fault and in fact the fault of all of us that we are still ignoramuses. Why have we not had a few talents given to us, — one at least?
I remain, my Very Rev. Brother,
Faithfully and Lovingly Yours,
Ingram N.W. Irvine
A couple of comments. In this letter, Irvine juxtaposes a woman he obviously views as snobbish and prideful with the quiet, modest women from the Cathedral. I have no reason to think that Irvine was a misogynist, but he did apparently feel that Hapgood was being quite un-ladylike in her bold approach to the Russian Archbishop. Furthermore, Hapgood bears at least some resemblance to Emma Elliott, Irvine’s former Episcopalian parishioner who used her connections to have Irvine defrocked by his Episcopal bishop in 1900.
There may also have been a touch of jealousy. “Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar,” Irvine sarcastically remarks. He, after all, had given his life to Orthodoxy and was doing thankless work among immigrants, while Hapgood was receiving international acclaim and living comfortably. And it has remained so to this day: Hapgood is practically a household name among American Orthodox Christians, despite not being Orthodox herself, while Irvine, whose work was at least equal in significance, has been almost completely forgotten.
On Wednesday, I posted a collection of quotations from Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Among them was this, on the famous translator Isabel Hapgood: “That vixen Miss Hapgood. What a liar — she has damned the Church for years.” Over on our Facebook page, Michael Beck asked the very reasonable question, “What was his deal with Isabel Hapgood? I’ve never heard anyone mention her with anything less than praise.”
Today, Isabel Hapgood is remembered by Orthodox Christians for her groundbreaking translation of the Service Book. But she did more than that — she was a prolific translator and writer, with multiple books and countless articles to her credit. She was trusted by some of the leading Orthodox churchmen of her day — St. Tikhon, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, Constantine Pobedonostsev (the Ober Procurator of the Russian Holy Synod). And yet, she was loathed by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, which is especially ironic given that Hapgood and Irvine were the foremost advocates of the use of English in the Orthodox Church.
Or maybe it isn’t so ironic. Very often, the leaders of a given movement will be rivals. In England a generation earlier, the two great leaders of Anglo-Orthodoxy, J.J. Overbeck and Fr. Stephen Hatherly, opposed one another and had very different views about what Western Orthodoxy should look like. It’s likely that the same sort of rivalry existed between Hapgood and Irvine. It probably didn’t help that Hapgood was a well-to-do Episcopalian (exactly the sort of person Irvine tended to clash with), while Irvine had converted to Orthodoxy and was working in the trenches, teaching Sunday School and so forth.
We can get a sense of that rivalry by reading public letters written by Hapgood and Irvine on the subject of the St. Nicholas Cathedral choir. Today, I’ll print Hapgood’s letter, which appeared in the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) on September 2, 1915. Next week, I’ll publish Irvine’s reply.
I said a little to you yesterday about the Choir and the Concert. I did not say all that was requisite to give you a thorough understanding of the situation.
I am going to be very frank. There is no one else who can tell you about the American public and the conditions connected with Concerts as well as I can.
I paid the $50 you gave me to the Management of Aeolian Hall, to bind the contract for the hall on the evening of Dec. 21 next, for a Concert by the Choir. I have the contract, signed and binding.
The first concert which the Choir gave, Feb. 1, 1912, was successful, although there were only six men. The two concerts of the following season (the pay concerts), November 1912 and March 1913, were greater artistic successes, and finally established the reputation of the choir as the most unique and remarkable organization in America. There were eight men on these last occasions — the precize [sic] number indispensible to counterbalance the twenty-one boys. Twenty-one boys and eight men constitute the very smallest choir which can appear, successfully, before the American public; and they must all be perfect.
A newcomer to America does not realize what a musical centre New York is. The very best musicians in the world come here: the wealthiest, most widely-travelled, most musical, most cultivated people from all over this Continent come here, to attend the Opera and the great Concerts. Our public know what is the very best, and insists on having it. Now that there is little or no occupation for musicians in Europe, our choice here is unlimited.
If an organization, like a Symphony Orchestra or a Choir, can win the approval of the public, it can count upon a full well-paid audience year after year. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, for instance, gives a series of concerts here every winter. The same subscribers buy the same seats every year. No seat can ever be bought by anyone else — unless perhaps, when death, illness or absence throws one or two on the market. In that case, there are a dozen applicants, who are only too happy to pay ten or fifteen times as much for one seat, at a sigle [sic] concert as the subscriber paid for the entire series! Those concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra are considered the greatest events of the musical season in New York.
Of course, the popularity of the Conductor has an immense amount to do with this. The public realized that the perfection of execution and interpretation are due to his brains and training.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has existed for many years. Your Cathedral Choir has existed a very short time. Nevertheless, the Choir has made immense progress along the road to the same sort of fame, popularity and prosperity as the Boston Orchestra enjoys. Last winter it could not give a concert, as you know. If it now gives a concert less good than those of two years ago — its career is ended, so far as the musical critics and the best public are concerned. “That Choir is the most wonderful thing in all wonderful musical New York!” one musician said to me. “And it is all due to that wonderful Leader — it is his wonderful brain,” said another (the Secretary for over thirty years of a famous New York Chorus). As you see, we have the elements of a neat public future — a Choir and a Regent beloved by musicians, critics and public. If we ruin that magnificent foundation, it will take years to re-build it; and it may prove impossible to re-build it at all.
So much for that side of the question.
I now wish to repeat to you, with great emphasis:
The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes. It is particularly important at the present grave crisis in World affairs. For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia. Everything which can strengthen that favourable inclination is very precious. There is nothing which can exert so great an influence on the best, most influential part of the public here as can a splendid Cathedral Choir. There is nothing which can win more friends for your Church. The Roman Catholics are very powerful here, and the Orthodox Catholic Church needs every favorable influence it can secure, to combat prejudices in that quarter, and among the so-called “Protestants”. A prejudiced person who hears the Cathedral Choir will (if it is really fine), wish to know about the services of your Church which have inspired such music, such singing, such interpretation of spiritual emotion. They will become helpful friends of Russia and of your Church. Look it what the Choir has done for you already among the Episcopalians!
If we can give only one Concert in a season (and, in view of the fact that the Church songs cannot be diversified with solos by famous foreign singers, by piano concertos, or anything else, one good concert is all we can confidently plan, w[e] ought to be able to ask somewhat higher prices. We have never actually sold all the tickets, so far, it is true. But we have secured some of the wealthiest and most musical people in town for our friends, as well as the musicians and the critics, as I have already said. On that foundation we ought to grow more successful.
Please let us have a splendid choir!
Next week, we’ll print Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine’s reply.
I’ve conducted a little study on parish stability during the 1910s, with some slightly surprising results. I began with a list of the Orthodox parishes that had resident priests in 1911. For each of these, I checked to see whether the same priest was serving the parish four years later, in 1915. My results aren’t perfect; I couldn’t find data for a few parishes, so the percentages for the Greeks and Russians may be off a couple points.
Anyway, 135 American Orthodox parishes had resident priests in 1911:
74 Russian (not counting Alaska)
Four years later, in 1915, only 39 of those parishes had the same priest (28.9%). The percentages for each group break down as follows:
20.3% Russian (15/74)
27.5% Greek (11/40)
71.4% Syrian (10/14)
42.9% Serbian (3/7)
A few thoughts. I was somewhat surprised by the high turnover rate (with 7 out of every 10 parishes getting a new priest within four years). I have no idea what the numbers are today, but 70% seems pretty high.
The most striking thing, to me, is the retention percentage for the Syrians, with 10 of the 14 parishes retaining their priests. This is not a fluke: the Syrians under St Raphael were by far the most stable Orthodox ethnic group, by virtually any measure you choose. I’ll unpack that thought in future posts.
Another interesting fact is that the Russian churches were actually the least stable of all. I fully expected the Russians to be the most stable (since they were the most well-established, with a bishop and so forth), with the Greeks the most unstable (because of the trustee control of parishes and the lack of a resident bishop).
In response to this information, Fr John Erickson commented,
I’m not too surprised at the relatively high turnover of Russian priests during the period in question. I believe that at this point many still “signed on” for a relatively brief “tour of duty” in the North American mission, after which they would return to Russia, where their material circumstances were better. To determine whether this surmise is correct, one would have to determine whether or not the movement of priests was largely “internal” to the archdiocese. The greater stability among the other ethnic groups may be attributable, at least in part, to differences in immigration patterns: Once a priest came from the Old World he was more likely to stay permanently in the U.S.
This prompted me to look at the 59 Russian parishes which changed priests from 1911-1915. How many of those priests remained in the U.S., and how many returned to Russia?
I have been able to confirm that 44 of those 59 priests remained in the Russian Mission in America in 1915. That is, about 75% were transferred internally, rather than back to Russia. (The number may actually be higher, but I was only able to confirm those 44.)
That doesn’t mean that the Russian priests weren’t doing “tours of duty.” But with most of them touring the U.S., I have to wonder, why would the bishop bother moving 80% of his priests in a four-year period?
Anyway, much more to come. Stay tuned.