Posts tagged 1920
Attend an American Orthodox parish today, of any jurisdiciton, and you’re likely to hear prayers offered for the President of the United States (and, in some parishes, for the other branches of government as well). The first evidence I’ve been able to find of such prayers is from the journal Christian Union, 10/4/1871:
Bishop Johannes, of the Russo-Greek Church on the Pacific coast, has ordered the prayer for the President of the United States, contained in the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church, to be used by the Greek Priests. The Russo-Greek Calendar has also been modified so as to make it conform to that of Western Christendom in several essential important points.
It’s not clear what those calendar changes were, but obviously, the prayers for the President were part of a broader program to make Orthodoxy more American.
Four decades later (and exactly 99 years ago today), a Greek fruit dealer in Boston decided that the local Greek parish (and, apparently, Greek churches throughout the country) should also pray for US leaders. From the Boston Globe (7/14/1911):
That the ritual of the Greek church in this country be changed so that prayers would be for “the President, his family, the governors and their families,” instead of the customary for “King George of Greece and his family,” was the object of a petition filed yesterday in the office of Clerk Darling in the U.S. circuit court.
Constantinos D. Dimary of 46 Curve st, a fruit dealer, prepared the document, writing it on a 20-pound brown paper bag with a pencil. There is considerable legal phraseology in the document, as Dimary studied law in Greece. He feels that the country which has been adopted by his countrymen should get the blessings of his church.
What exactly Mr. Dimary hoped to accomplish by filing a petition in court is beyond me. Did he expect the court to compel Greek churches to pray for the US President? It’s one thing to bring up such a thing to your parish priest (or local bishop, but the Greeks didn’t have one in 1911), but to seek the aid of the courts is a little extreme. I don’t know what became of this petition (although I can guess that it didn’t get very far), and I’m not sure how the Greeks of Boston responded. I know we’ve got quite a few Greek Orthodox readers from the Boston area; can any of you shed more light on this odd incident?
One more note along these lines. In 1920, the Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi — leader of the “Antacky” faction of Syrians — published a collection of Orthodox hymns, with music, in English, under the title The Paradise. Among those hymns was one that went like this: “God bless the President of the United States, and its people with peace and prosperity, God keep this peace and prosperity, forevermore, forevermore, forevermore. Amen.” This, it appears, was used in Met Germanos’ parishes during the Divine Liturgy, where once upon a time the Eastern Roman Emperor was commemorated.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
UPDATE (7/14/2010): After I published this article yesterday, Isa Almisry found an example of prayers for the US President in 1870, which is earlier than the Bishop John Mitropolsky example related above. From Isa:
The New York Times records on November 25, 1870, that “servives were conducted by Bishop PAUL, formerly Bishop of Alaska, who is on his way to Russia, to assume his new position as Bishop of Siberia. Rev. Mr. BJERRING also officiated. The litany was said by the Bishop, while prayers for the Emperor and Empress of Russian, and for the President and people of the United States were offered by the pastor.”
As we’ve discussed previously, in July of 1920, an all-convert, all-English Orthodox parish was founded in New York City. Called the Church of the Transfiguration, the parish was led by the newly-converted Fr. Patrick Mythen. But it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream of the elderly Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who served as the assistant priest.
The church held its first services on Sunday, July 18, 1920. Six days later, the New York Times ran an article on the parish under the headline, “Americanizing a Church.” The Church of the Transfiguration was, according to the article, part of a broader initiative, supported by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky, to “Americanize” the Russian Archdiocese. He had apparently commissioned a fresh English translation of the Divine Liturgy. English was the primary language of instruction in the Russian seminary in Tenafly, New Jersey, and Orthodox Christians in America were encouraged to obtain US citizenship.
On Saturday, July 31, someone reportedly broke into the church. Mythen told the Times (8/16/1920) that, oddly enough, nothing at all was taken. This was surprising — the burglars could have stolen the holy vessels made of gold and silver, and expensive clergy vestments, but they didn’t. From the Times:
The priests were puzzled by the objectless burglary, but on the following day, when he drank the sacramental wine from the chalice at the end of the service, Canon Ingram N.W. Irvine became conscious of an agonizing pain in his mouth, throat and stomach. Believing that in some manner the chalice had been filled with acid instead of wine, he acted immediately to save his own life. By his promptness he escaped without serious injury, though he was very sick for a day or more. Canon Irvine is 70 years old.
Immediately after this incident an investigation was made of the receptacle containing the wine intended for sacramental purposes, but not yet consecrated. The wine there was found to be perfectly pure and fresh.
The priests then considered they had found the explanation of the burglary. One or more persons, who hated the Orthodox Church, had forced an entrance into the church in order to put poison in the chalice in the hope of killing a priest.
Fr. Patrick Mythen connected this alleged poisoning to other recent incidents. He told the Times, “In addition to this certain other churches have been attacked and broken into within the last few weeks, and other priests assaulted. One Roman Catholic priest of Greek nationality was bound and beaten. An Orthodox priest in Bayonne was also attacked by three men, but the priest being of very powerful physique, seized the man with the revolver so quickly that when the weapon was discharged, the assassin shot himself. The man was taken into custody by the United States Secret Service and found to be an anarchist.”
The Orthodox leaders, and the Times, thought that all this was connected to the Americanization program that the Russian Archdiocese was instituting. Bolshevik sympathizers, who hated both America and Orthodoxy, supposedly found the mingling of the two to be intolerable. The Times article from which I’ve been quoting is actually all about another incident, which took place on August 15 (and which I’ll discuss in another post).
Now, about the Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine poisoning — They checked the container that held the unconsecrated wine, and it was clean. So, the poison was presumably put in the chalice itself. But if that were the case, wouldn’t someone else have gotten sick, too? Then again, it was pretty common then for people to take communion only a few times a year. Combine that with the fact that the Church of the Transfiguration was a tiny, new place, and it’s entirely possible that there were no lay communicants that day. On the other hand, the church had several attached priests who probably would have partaken. Why would Irvine have been the only one affected? There are two possibilities: one, Irvine may have been the only celebrant that day, and thus the only one to partake of the Eucharist. Two, it’s possible that the poison would only cause problems if consumed in large quantities. If the other priests only took a few sips, and Irvine finished the whole chalice, it may well have only affected Irvine.
So, was Irvine really poisoned? We will probably never know for sure. I’m confident that he wasn’t a liar, but I’m just as confident that he could be a bit melodramatic at times. I’m inclined to believe him when he says he was poisoned, but the circumstances are rather odd. It would be great to see the police report of the incident, but I don’t know if one has survived.
Another thing — note the statement that Irvine “acted immediately to save his own life.” It sure sounds like he forced himself to expel — vomit — what he had just consumed. That is, he intentionally threw up the Eucharist. I realize that he thought it was filled with acid, and that he was protecting his life. And he probably took measures to ensure that what he had just expelled was disposed of in a proper manner. But still, while I fully understand his actions, I find them rather shocking as well.
Irvine was back in church on August 19, preaching a sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration. He died the following January — 5 1/2 months after being poisoned. That said, I don’t think there was any connection between the poisoning and his death. He regained his health pretty quickly after the poisoning incident, and, according to his obituary, he died of heart disease.
Fr. Patrick Mythen was an Orthodox Christian for just four years, but in that time, he was one of the most powerful priests in the whole Russian Archdiocese. This period — 1920-1924 — was one of great tumult and trial for the Russian jurisdiction, as it shifted from an archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church to a de facto self-governing “Metropolia.” The early ’20s also witnessed the death of Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, the ordination of a slew of convert priests, the founding of the Greek Archdiocese, and the creation of a body called the “African Orthodox Church.” And Fr. Patrick Mythen was in the middle of all of it.
Mythen was born James Grattan Mythen, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1883. At least, I’m pretty sure it was Baltimore in 1883; I’ve also seen Boston in 1885, or New Orleans in 1886. I’m confident about the 1883 date, because that’s what Mythen gave, but I’m not 100% sure about the city.
As far as religion went, Mythen was… well, he was confused. His mother, a Roman Catholic, died while giving birth to him. His father was an agnostic Episcopalian, and after being widowed, he married a German Lutheran woman. But, according to Fr. Patrick, his father “lost his mind,” leaving young James to be raised by an uncle. He was brought up in the Episcopal Church, but when he was 14, he visited some of his mother’s relatives in Chicago, who acquainted Mythen with Roman Catholicism.
I think Mythen converted to Roman Catholicism at this point. He decided to become a priest, and at about 14, he entered the Roman Catholic Epiphany College in Baltimore. While he was there, the founder of the school became a Unitarian, of all things. At 17, Mythen moved to Villanova College (now University), where he was scandalized by a professor who focused a great deal of attention on the “bad popes” of history. So Mythen became an Episcopalian again — all while still a teenager.
Over the next decade or so, Mythen continued to bounce back and forth between Rome and Anglicanism. At 21, he enrolled at the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary in New York; when he graduated, he was ordained a deacon and was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But soon he went to Rome and was received back into the Roman Catholic Church… And, just as quickly, he returned to the Episcopal Church and was ordained a priest. For a little while, in his mid-20s, Mythen tried to become an Old Catholic Benedictine monk in the Episcopal diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (the diocese of Bishop Charles Grafton, who was old friends with St. Tikhon).
From 1912-1914, Mythen was very active in the women’s suffrage movement, participating in marches, speaking at conventions. Then the war came — World War I, of course — and Mythen joined the Navy. Later, he explained his reasoning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (8/30/1919):
On Easter Day I preached a sermon in favor of the war, and when the young men of my parish enlisted I felt that I, being unattached, economically responsible for no one, that it was unbecoming of me to be content merely to stand in the pulpit and urge other men to give their lives for the principles which I considered worthy of life giving. And so, with countless numbers of young men of the Nation I enlisted voluntarily, although I was exempt from the draft on account of my clerical profession, and also since I was beyond the draft age. I was content to serve in the ranks in the humblest capacity, feeling that the menial tasks which fell to my lot were noble because even in their small way they were aiding in achieving the high purport of the sacred mission to which our country had committed itself.
By the end of the war, Mythen had become a strong advocate of Irish independence. He pressed his cause with the Senate, saying, “The Irish issue might well be called the acid test of our international honesty.” He went on,
As a Protestant, sir, and a clergyman of the Protestant religion, I resent the implication that Protestantism requires the sustenance of British imperialism to maintain itself in Ireland or elsewhere. Were I convinced that this were a fact, that only through the power of British arms could my religion maintain itself in Ireland, then I would repudiate my religion at once. [...]
I want to say to you, sir, and gentlemen, that as a Protestant Irishman, whose family to-day in Ireland are representatives of the Protestant religion, that we would all gladly have Ireland free under any religious leadership rather than remain, as we are, the only white race still in slavery.
Mythen became the secretary of a group called the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom, and he toured the country, speaking on behalf of Irish independence. This understandably did not sit well with the Episcopalian hierarchy in America. After all, they were Anglicans, bishops of the Church of England. Pressured to quiet down, Mythen, of course, refused. Instead, he made yet another religious change — he decided to join the Orthodox Church.
I don’t know exactly when he converted to Orthodoxy, but it was sometime between February and July, 1920. In that period, he spent some time in Europe (perhaps Ireland, though he returned to America via England). He came back to America in April, and I would guess that he became Orthodox in May or June. As we discussed yesterday, by July, he was rector of the all-English Church of the Transfiguration in New York.
We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far, so I’m going to pause here, at the time of Mythen’s conversion to Orthodoxy, and pick up the rest of the story in another article.
For a while now, I have been meaning to write about the first all-English Orthodox parish in America, founded in New York City in 1920. Today, I’m going to give a brief introduction to that parish, and the main characters involved. This is hardly the whole story; it really is just an introduction.
To start — well, you know about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who converted to Orthodoxy in 1905. (If you don’t know about Irvine, you can read our earlier posts about him, or listen to two podcasts I did on Ancient Faith Radio.)
So Irvine converted in 1905, and he remained an Orthodox priest until his death, in January 1921. During that time, in both the Russian and Syrian Missions, he was a strong advocate of the use of English in American Orthodox worship. He felt that, for Orthodoxy to survive and thrive in America, it was imperative that it, to some extent, “Americanize.” (This is the term that was used at the time.)
For most of Irvine’s Orthodox career, there were not many converts. Irvine spent a lot of his time working with Orthodox young people, and interacting with Episcopalians, but he didn’t actually bring a lot of people into the Church. Late in his life, however, things started to change. An Episcopal priest named James Grattan Mythen converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. He was immediately ordained a priest by Abp Alexander Nemolovsky, and he took the name, “Fr. Patrick.”
Mythen would prove to be the first of a surprisingly large number of convert priests to enter the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s. Irvine was quite old by this point, in his early 70s at a time when most people didn’t live past 60. He was not really capable, physically, of running his own church. But Mythen was young — just 37 at the time of his conversion — and he became the leader of a group of convert clergy.
Within a very short period of time, Mythen was joined by the following men:
- Dr. Geoffrey A. Lang, ordained Fr. Stephen
- Robert F. Hill, ordained Fr. Antony
- Fr. Paul Ihmsen
- Dr. George Gelsinger, ordained Fr. Michael
- Royce M. Burden, ordained Fr. Boris
- Arthur W. Johnson, ordained Fr. Kyrill
- Sgt. William H. Schneider, ordained Fr. A. (not sure what it stood for)
Irvine didn’t know all of these men; several of them came along after he had already died. And Irvine doesn’t seem to have been the main person driving this enterprise; Mythen was. Abp Alexander put an enormous amount of trust in Mythen. For a while, in the early 1920s and before Metropolitan Platon took over the Russian Archdiocese, Mythen basically ran the whole Archdiocesan operation, even signing ordination certificates (a task properly done by a bishop). Needless to say, Mythen supplanted the aging (and then deceased) Irvine as the leader of the English Department of the Russian Archdiocese.
And in 1920, the newly-converted-and-ordained Mythen became the rector of the “American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration,” the first all-English, all-convert parish in history. The church was located at St. Vladimir’s Immigrant Home, 233 East 17th Street in New York City. The first services were held on July 18, 1920. This is part of an article from the New York Times (7/17/1920):
In the establishment of this English-speaking church by the Russian hierarchy the efforts of fifteen years of the Rev. Dr. Ingram N.W. Irvine, a canon of the local Russian Cathedral, have been realized.
Archbishop Tikhon, who was head of the Russian Church in America for several years, favored such a move, but he was recalled to Russia before he could organize such a branch. Appeal was then made to Archbishop Nemoloski, who agreed that an English mission would fill a need. Abbot Patrick (James Gratton Mithen), who came here from England three months ago, was designated as rector of the new branch. Dr. Irvine will be the associate rector. He and Abbot Patrick are major canons.
The other two members of the staff are minor canons. The first vicar is Canon Stephen, who came to America with Canon Patrick, and the second vicar is Canon Paul, who was ordained a priest of the Russian Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop Stephen of the Uno-Russian Diocese of Pittsburgh. He is a brother of Max Ihmsen, a newspaper editor. Dr. Irvine is Professor of the English Department in the Russian Seminary, Tenafly, N.J., and Canon Paul is his assistant.
A few things… One, I find the whole “canon,” “vicar,” language to be slightly amusing, borrowed as it is from the Episcopal Church. Is a “major canon” supposed to be an archpriest, in this context? I don’t know. I’m not aware of Irvine having ever been raised to archpriest, but it is possible.
Two, while Mythen did travel from England to the US, he was only in England for a few months. We’ll talk about his life in a separate post in the future, but he was born in Baltimore and was an American citizen. Like Irvine, Mythen was of Irish ancestry, but was an Anglican clergyman. He was very involved in politics and art — he was a vocal proponent of women’s suffrage and of Irish independence, and he moonlighted as a playwright. One of his allies in the Irish independence movement was Geoffrey Lang (aka Fr. Stephen), who, along with Mythen, helped run a group called Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom.
Fr. Paul Ihmsen — I’m not certain, but I think his given name was Charles. His brother Max, the newspaper editor, was a major figure in the newspaper industry of the early 20th century. He was a protégé of William Randolph Hearst, with titles ranging from “political manager” to “henchman.” He then went to California and ran the Los Angeles Examiner, and on the side, he became a pioneering apple farmer. The Ihmsens came from an old, prominent German family from Pittsburgh.
Another priest in these early years was Fr. Antony (Robert) Hill, who happens to be the second black priest in American Orthodox history, after Fr. Raphael Morgan. Hill was Orthodox for a very short time; he soon joined the upstart “African Orthodox Church,” about which, more in the future.
The other clergy I mentioned above — Gelsinger, Burden, etc. — came along later, after the Church of the Transfiguration had closed. And close it did, very soon — the New York Times has advertisements for the church through November 1920, but nothing afterwards. The church’s few months of existence were eventful, though. Two prominent literary figures, T. Everett Harre and Reginald Wright Kauffman (both, apparently, friends of Mythen), converted to Orthodoxy. In August, Irvine was apparently poisoned, allegedly by Bolshevik sympathizers. And in September, Abp Alexander raised Mythen (who was unmarried) to the rank of archimandrite. We will discuss all of these events, and the history of the broader English-speaking mission, in future articles.