Posts tagged 1917
One of the most obvious practical issues facing early Orthodox Christians in America was the difference between the Church calendar — the “Julian” calendar — and the civil (“Gregorian”) calendar. In the 19th century, twelve days separated the two calendars; after the turn of the century, the difference was thirteen days. And since the “New Calendar” wasn’t adopted by any of the world’s Orthodox Churches until the 1920s, the calendar discrepancy was something that every American Orthodox Christian dealt with.
Newspaper reporters were amused by the difference, and every year, there would be a spate of articles on the “Russian Christmas,” or the “Greek New Year.” For instance, here’s something from the Philadelphia Inquirer (12/24/1905):
When the thousands of children of this city upon whom the favor of good old St. Nicholas will fall this year have lost the keen delight first occasioned by the sight of their toys there will be about three hundred little ones who will still be wondering what Christmas morn will bring forth. There will also be about one thousand adults who have not yet satisfied their inclination for gift-giving.
It will not be until the seventh day of January that Christmas Day will dawn for these people.
It is due to the fact that they are communicants of the Greek Orthodox Church that their Christmas is so belated in comparison with that of the Western churches, the difference in time — thirteen days — being caused by the Greek Church’s adherence to the Julian calendar. All the Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, it having been adopted early in the eighteenth century.
Even before a portion of global Orthodoxy adopted the New Calendar in the 1920s, some American Orthodox people thought that a change should be made. On Pascha in 1906, Greek laborers in Gurley, Arkansas got into a fight over ”whether the modern or the Greek Church calendar should be observed in celebrating the Christian festival.” The fight turned into a drunken riot, and it got so bad that the National Guard had to be called in. At least seven men died, and many more were injured. (Cf. New York Times, 4/17/1906.)
Fortunately, the calendar issue didn’t always lead to such turmoil. The Greeks in Columbia, South Carolina peacefully took matters into their own hands. From The State (1/8/1915):
Yesterday was Christmas day, under the Julian calendar, which is that retained by the Greek Orthodox church, but the Greek colony in Columbia, comprising upwards of 100 persons, lacking a church, did not observe the day. Louis Malloy, proprietor of a restaurant, said that he and his fellow countrymen in Columbia had adopted the Gregorian calendar and therefore their Christmas is December 24.
I should emphasize, both the chaos in Arkansas and the unilateral lay action in Columbia were anomalies; the vast majority of American Orthodox kept strictly to the Julian Calendar. In 1917, Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine drafted an article on the calendar issue. I don’t think it was ever published; I found a handwritten copy in the OCA archives, and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.
It is very inconvenient, for the members of the Holy Orthodox Church to be observing the Great Festivals and fasts on days other than those on which Christians who belong to the Western Patriarchate and Protestantism observe. Many faithful sons of Orthodoxy have lost their positions because they have kept Fasts and Festivals on days which have not coincided with those of their Western brethren. Work would not wait for them and therefore, others stepped into their “jobs.” In many respects it takes a martyr to be a member of the Holy Orthodox Church in America – especially in the City of Greater New York.
The Holy Orthodox Church observes what is known as the Julian Calendar. The Roman Church and all Protestant Bodies, on the other hand, observe the Gregorian. At present there is (since 1901) thirteen days difference. That is, the Gregorian Calendar runs ahead of the Julian and unless some conclusion is universally accepted as to the best method of correcting the whole Calendar the difference will become greater as the years come and go.
Who is at fault for this divergency? Historians will not lay the blame on the Orthodox. Rome has ever been the transgressor in such matters. Her assumption of the doctrine of “supremacy” has given her the idea that all Christendom must bow before her. Four hundred years ago the Orthodox Church had little consideration in the minds of the West. Protestantism even worried more over Papal doctrines, interval abuses and superstitions than about the ancient ways and unblemished truths kept sacredly in the bosom of the Holy Orthodox Church of the East.
It may, indeed, be inconvenient for the Orthodox Church members in the West to go by the Julian Calendar and while Western Christians may count their Eastern brethren archaic in their observations yet the keeping of the Julian Calendar here in the West serves a good purpose. It is a standing protest against the encroachments of Rome on the rights of Christendom and suggests investigation on the part of seekers after Ancient ways and truths amongst Protestants.
So, according to Irvine, the calendar difference could actually be a blessing in disguise, providing an opportunity for evangelism. He then went into considerable detail about the differences between the two calendars, and why Rome was wrong to have arbitrarily changed things. He then concluded:
According to this mode of reckoning, and because of the Church of the West’s disregard under the Roman Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th Century of the Canons of the General Council of Niece, there is sometimes several weeks difference between the two Churches in holding Easter. This creates confusion and is destructive to the Faith.
Again: — Whose fault is it? Surely it is not that of the Holy Orthodox Church. Being the Mother Church of Christendom she must protect the Canons of the General Councils which are binding upon all Christians. The Western Church is only a part of the Catholic Church, in fact her disobedient child.
For the information of inquirers it may be added that, Easter will fall on the same day for both Churches in the years 1916, ’22, ’30, ’36, ’39, ’42, ’43, etc., etc. In the intervening years there will be from one to several weeks apart in the observance of the Blessed Day – the greatest of Feasts which ought to bring us all together to the Empty Tomb of our One Lord and Risen Saviour. Whose fault is it that we are divided?
Of course, in the end, most of the Orthodox in America did switch to the New Calendar (with only the Paschal cycle remaining on the Old). That change, which was first implemented in 1924, is a story for another day.
Fr. Vladimir Alexandrov was a priest in the Russian Mission in the late 19th and early 20th century. He began his career in 1896, as the choir director of the multiethnic St. Spiridon Church in Seattle, Washington. After his ordination in 1898 (or ’99), he remained in Seattle as the pastor of the church. It was there, in 1904, that tragedy struck. From the San Jose Evening News (January 28, 1904):
Rev. Vladimir V. Alexandrof, pastor of the Greco-Russian Orthodox church gave his five year old son Nicholas a teaspoonful of strychnine last evening. Three physicians were immediately summoned, but before they could do anything the child died in convulsions. Both Rev. and Mrs. Alexandrof are prostrated over the terrible mistake.
Alexandrof thought he was administering penopeptine in accordance with the physician’s instructions, but picked up the bottle containing strychnine instead. The medicines were in bottles of [the] same size. The Alexandrofs had only two children, and it is a little girl which is left to them. Rev. Sebastian Dabovich of San Francisco has been telegraphed for and will arrive in time to conduct the funeral services next Saturday.
This has to be one of the saddest stories in early American Orthodox history, and it is also illustrative of the pharmaceutical industry at the turn of the century. The Alexandrovs no doubt had strychnine in the house to kill rodents, but it was in the same generic bottle as the actual medicine, and apparently kept in the same place. (Incidentally, I looked up penopeptine, but found no results. Anyone know what it would be used to treat?)
Normally, if a priest takes a life — even by accident — he can’t continue serving at the altar. St. Tikhon, who was the Russian bishop at the time of the tragedy, must have decided to exercise economia in this case. Fr. Alexandrov was a young priest with a family, and he was obviously suffering immensely. Losing his priesthood would have only made things worse.
I haven’t been able to track Alexandrov’s whole career, but he appears to have been transferred to the parish in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. After that he served in, among other places, Ansonia, Connecticut; Chicago (as successor to St. John Kochurov); and San Francisco.
But Fr. Alexandrov’s troubles were far from over. His life reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. In 1917, he was rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. Upon returning from a trip to Russia, Alexandrov found that his wife had disappeared and $19,000 was missing from his bank account. The culprit in both cases was Fr. Vasily Dvornikoff, Fr. Alexandrov’s assistant priest. Dvornikoff and Mrs. Alexandrov were lovers, and had run off to Buenos Aires, Argentina with all of the Alexandrovs’ money. Fr. Alexandrov sent a public letter to the newspapers:
October 7, 1917.
Mrs. Rose V. Alexandrof, wherever she may be.
Dearest Wife: October first I returned from Russia finding you missing. I know from your letters your desire to join me in Russia. No matter what may have happened to you, please know my absolute faith in your goodness, truthfulness and love for me and children and pay no attention whatsoever to the slandering false stories.
Nobody believed them, as your noble and exemplary record of wifehood and motherhood for twenty years with me, known by many, stands well in your favor, and if you fell victim of prearranged criminal plot of robbery of those whom you and I were helping in their needs and who having robbed you, still, are trying to defame you, please do not for a moment hesitate to communicate with proper authorities and me, as I care so much more for you when you are suffering.
Trust in God’s mercy and help and in my everlasting devotion to you and that soon our hears’ wounds will heal and we will become still happier. My trip to Russia was especially successful. I received special honors for my services to my fatherland in connection with this God-blessed country and have full hope that we shall enjoy life with our dear children better than ever before. My address is 834 Cabrillo street, telephone Pacific 8381, San Francisco, Cal.
REV. ARCHPRIEST VLADIMIR ALEXANDROF.
Dvornikoff was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of grand larceny, and he was arrested upon his arrival in Buenos Aires. Mrs. Alexandrov was with him. (Documents and articles related to the case can be found here.)
So Fr. Alexandrov had lost both his son and his wife, and both in the worst ways possible. I’m not sure exactly what happened to him in the years immediately after 1917, though I suspect he returned to Russia. In 1923, he was made a bishop of the Bolshevik-backed Living Church. He returned to America, and to his old parish, St. Spiridon in Seattle. He was obviously a damaged man, and he became a thorn in the side of the Orthodox community.
In 1932, “Bishop” Alexandrov filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court, trying to take control of the St. Spiridon church property. Alexandrov won, but the St. Spiridon parishioners stripped the church of everything — icons, holy vessels, etc. Alexandrov was left with an empty church, and essentially no congregation. (For more information, see click here and go to page 6.)
Of course, the Living Church itself wasn’t to last much longer, and in July of 1933, Alexandrov was received into the Roman Catholic Church, which recognized him as a bishop. Here is the New York Times report from July 28, 1933:
SEATTLE, July 28 (AP). — The Most Rev. Vladimir Alexandrof, Seattle Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, has been made an Archbishop-elect of the Catholic Church.
The reception of the Russian Archbishop into the Catholic Church, with Papal recognition of his rank, was disclosed by The Catholic Northwest Progress and the Right Rev. Mgr. J.G. Stafford, pastor of St. James Cathedral.
Church leaders here said that his request for recognition and the acceptance is the first among fourteen other Russian orthodox priests in America.
Papal recognition of his rank was involved, editors of The Catholic Northwest Progress said. He spent several months at the Franciscan Graymoor Monastery at Garrison, N.Y., for a period of meditation and prayer before he made his profession of the Roman Catholic faith.
The profession was made to the Most. Rev. Peter Bucys, who was delegated by the Holy See to receive it, on June 4. As Archbishop-elect he is now at the head of the Catholic Russian Mission of North America.
The Most. Rev. Alexandrof was married — the Russian clergy is allowed marriage — and he was received into the Catholic clergy under the vows of celibacy, with which many other men, once married, have become priests. He has been separated from his wife for several years.
I’m not sure what happened to Alexandrov after that, but whatever the case, it’s a sad end to a tragic story. One cannot help but think that all of Alexandrov’s troubles began on that awful day in 1904, when he accidentally killed his son.
May God have mercy on his soul.
UPDATE (9/30/09): It appears that Alexandrov died in Baltimore, Maryland on May 20, 1945. The entry just lists his title as “Rev.”, and I’m not sure if he was still a Roman Catholic bishop.
Also, I stumbled upon the 1932 diary of James Wickersham, the then-Congressman from Alaska. It includes the following entry for June 28: “Archbishop Vladimir Alexandrof who claims to own the Russian Church property in Alaska called – I do not care for him – He is a troublesome Soviet agent if I am not mistaken.”
The video takes a few minutes to get going, but here is a roughly 80-minute history of the Russian council of 1917-18, bracketed by history of the Russian Metropolia, entitled True Faith and the Ground of Liberty (subtitled St. Tikhon and the 1917-1918 Council: Architect and Blueprint for the Orthodox Church in America), delivered by OCA chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs. It was delivered on June 18 at the recent conference held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (the same conference which featured our own Matthew Namee).
The first fifteen minutes or so are the conference’s opening talk by seminary dean Fr. John Behr and the introduction of Garklavs by seminary chancellor Fr. Chad Hatfield.
Toward the beginning, Garklavs does include some sidelong remarks indicating he agrees with the conventional depiction of a mono-jurisdictional Orthodox administration prior to 1921, but his narrative largely avoids this question. He does comment at one point when mentioning the Greeks under the Russians that there were also Greeks outside the Russian jurisdiction.
Regarding America, he mainly focuses on the life of St. Tikhon and his work in America, as well as the effect of the Russian council of 1917-1918 on the Russian Metropolia and, subsequently, the OCA (and Tikhon’s effect on it, based on his experience in America). The bulk of the talk is on the council itself, based on reading primary sources coming out of the council. The last fifteen minutes come back to America and cover mainly administrative history.
There’s nothing too controversial here, as the parts of this speech concerned with America revisit well-worn ground regarding one of the great heroes of Orthodox history in America. One controversial comment is his suggestion that Tikhon’s model for administration—independent bishops whose jurisdiction is based on ethnicity rather than geography, but sitting together in synod—might represent a best hope for Orthodox unity in America.
It is probably not terribly controversial when Garklavs hails the 1917-18 Russian council as a proper “blueprint” for the OCA. What is more debatable, of course, is whether the blueprint was followed in the construction. Despite this conventional take on the council, I do recall one of my seminary professors (a cleric of the Moscow Patriarchate), who seemed to believe that the council was largely a failure and that the Bolshevik Revolution was God’s final judgment on such a colossal apostasy. That, I think, is somewhat of a minority view, at least here in America. I’d be interested to read what modern Russian Orthodox have to say about the council. To be sure, its effects are not felt there hardly at all (probably at least partly because of the later association of anything “progressive” with the Soviet-sponsored “Living Church” movement). I imagine American Orthodox talk about it quite a lot more.
Hat tip to Byzantine, TX.