Posts tagged 1927
A lot of Antiochian-related events this week:
January 30, 1902: Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in America, began a pastoral journey to Mexico. Later this week — on February 3 — he made a brief stop in Cuba en route to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. St. Raphael remained in the Yucatan for a month, until March 2. To his great surprise, he found not only Arab Orthodox Christians, but also many Mexican Catholics who were interested in converting to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this would be the only visit St. Raphael ever made to Mexico, and the missionary potential there was never realized. Incidentally, I’ve heard that the Mexican newspapers gave St. Raphael quite a bit of publicity, so if anyone reading this has access to Yucatan papers from 1902 (and can read Spanish), please let me know.
January 31, 1938: Metropolitan Samuel David, head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, was excommunicated by both the Patriarch of Antioch and the ROCOR Holy Synod. The backstory was this: In 1935, the Arab Orthodox in America were set to elect a new hierarch who would, it was hoped, unite the long-divided factions of Antiochian Orthodoxy in America. The majority voted for Archimandrite Antony Bashir, who was duly consecrated in New York. But a strong minority favored Archimandrite Samuel David of Toledo. That minority found some other bishops to consecrate their man on the very same day that Bashir was consecrated. This division lasted until 1975, when Met Michael Shaheen of Toledo accepted subordination to Met Philip Saliba of New York.
February 1, 1928: The future Greek Archbishop (and Assembly of Bishops President) Demetrios Trakatellis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. May God grant him many, many more years!
February 2, 1927: The Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA) created “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America” (more palatably known as the American Orthodox Catholic Church). This body — let’s just call it the AOCC — was led by Bishop Aftimos Ofiesh, who was simultaneously the head of the Metropolia’s Syro-Arab Mission. Whatever the intent of the Metropolia in creating the AOCC in the first place (and that intent is far from clear), Ofiesh himself viewed the AOCC as the vehicle for Orthodox unity in America. The AOCC was always on the fringe in terms of legitimacy, having been the ambiguous creation of the Metropolia, which itself was on shaky canonical footing in that era. (Only a few years earlier, the Metropolia had declared itself independent of the Soviet-influenced Moscow Patriarchate.) It wasn’t long before Ofiesh and his jurisdiction ticked off their Metropolia creators, driving the AOCC even further away from the mainstream. For all intents and purposes, the AOCC experiment ended in 1933, when Ofiesh married a young girl. However, as Fr. Oliver has recently shown, the AOCC did continue on until 1940 in the person of Bishop Sophronios Beshara, its last surviving hierarch. For a lot more on the AOCC, check out my conversation with Fr. Andrew Damick over at Ancient Faith Radio.
February 5, 1873: The future Fr. Nicola Yanney was born in what is today northern Lebanon. Yanney eventually immigrated to America and settled down in Nebraska. After being widowed at a young age — and with a house full of young children — Yanney was chosen by his fellow Syrian parishioners in Kearney, NE to be their first parish priest. He traveled to Brooklyn and studied for the priesthood under St. Raphael, who had just been consecrated a bishop. In fact, Fr. Nicola was the first priest to be ordained by St. Raphael. Upon returning to Kearney, Fr. Nicola not only shepherded that community, but he was given responsibility for an immense territory — he was essentially responsible for all Arab Orthodox Christians living between Canada on the north and Mexico on the south, the Mississippi on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west. Roughly speaking, he was the lone priest over all the territory that now comprises the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. And he was a single parent.
Fr. Nicola was, by all accounts, an outstanding pastor. His end was a testament to his dedication: he died from influenza in 1918. Of course, that was the year of the horrible flu pandemic that killed so many millions. Fr. Nicola’s parishioners were among those dying from the disease, and rather than keep himself safe, Fr. Nicola went to his stricken people, hearing their final confessions and giving them communion. In this way, he caught the flu and soon died. It seems to me that he may be worthy of canonization. (To learn more about Fr. Nicola, read this article by Fr. Paul Hodge.)
Back in June, I gave a paper at St. Vladimir’s Seminary entitled, “The Myth of Past Unity and the Origins of Jurisdictional Pluralism in American Orthodoxy.” The unwieldy title notwithstanding, the premise of my paper was simple: that the commonly-held story of a unified American Orthodoxy which fragmented after the Russian Revolution is, quite simply, not accurate. In fact, administrative division has been part and parcel of Orthodox life in the United States from the very beginning.
In my latest American Orthodox History podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I interviewed our own Fr. Andrew Damick on the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” which was an attempt, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, to form a single American Orthodox jurisdiction. This is part of my miniseries on past attempts at administrative unity.
In that interview, Fr. Andrew explained that it was from the American Orthodox Catholic Church (henceforth, “AOCC”) that the “myth of past unity” originated. Until the AOCC came along in 1927, nobody, so far as I can tell, ever claimed that all of American Orthodoxy was administratively united prior to 1917. Sure, from time to time, Russian church leaders would claim that everyone should have been under their authority. That was the ideal, but it was obvious enough to everyone at the time that the ideal wasn’t being lived out in practice. It was only later, with the advent of the AOCC, that people started saying that administrative unity had been a fact prior to 1917.
Who first made this claim? As best I can tell, it was Fr. Boris Burden, one of the leading priests in the AOCC. In 1927, Burden wrote,
The advent of Greek-speaking Orthodox Catholics followed this establishment of the Russian Hierarchy by many years, and the early Greek churches and faithful were naturally and canonically under the protection and care of the Orthodox Catholic jurisdiction thus established by the Russian Holy Synod for all American Orthodox residents. [...]
For nearly fifty years after the Russian Hierarchy in America had thus established the first Greek church in this country [in New Orleans,] Greek churches and faithful continued to increase and multiply under the care and authority of the Russian Bishops of America. [...]
We have viewed the history of all these [ethnic groups] in outline down to the period just preceding the World War and seen them, at that time, united solidly under one Hierarchy of the Church in America established for them by the Russian Holy Synod.
Burden wrote that in the first issue of the Orthodox Catholic Review, the short-lived official publication of the AOCC. I won’t bother to refute Burden’s assertions here, since I’ve done that elsewhere. But it’s worth noting that Burden himself only converted to Orthodoxy in the early 1920s, so he wasn’t personally around during the supposed period of blissful unity.
A couple years after Burden’s article in the Orthodox Catholic Review, the head of the AOCC, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, propounded the myth in a series of letters to Archbishop Alexander Demoglou, who was the head of the Greek Archdiocese. These letters appear in Volume II of Paul Manolis’ The History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents. On January 15, 1929, Aftimios wrote,
[...] I secured from the Synod of Russian Bishops in America, who alone exercise the sole and exclusive canonical jurisdiction and authority in America held solely by the Patriarchate of Moscow from 1764 to 1927, the right and authority to establish and conduct an independent American Orthodox Church.
Aftimios repeatedly referred to the “sole and exclusive” canonical authority of the Russian Church in America, which established the AOCC, but at the same time he spoke of the AOCC itself as the “sole canonical jurisdiction” in America. He said that, for 130 years, the Russian Church had “undisputed [...] administration over all Orthodox people in America.”
Aftimios repeated his claims in another letter, dated February 14. Echoing Fr. Boris Burden, he wrote, “[I]n 1860 the first Greek-speaking church was dedicated in the United States with its Greek Priest [...] under and by the sole and exclusive Russian canonical authority and all without ever a word of protest or claim of jurisdiction on the part of Constantinople.” He went on to say that “the first intimation of any Constantinopolitan claim of American jurisdiction” came in the 1908 Tomos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in which the EP gave over its authority in America to the Church of Greece. Aftimios continued:
In characterizing any claim to Orthodox jurisdiction in America other than the Russian as recent, uncanonical, and unhistorical no offence is intended — only the truth is stated plainly and the foundation of the true American jurisdiction derived from the Russian Bishops set forth in essential contrast to others. All others not derived from the Russian Bishops are recent, because they have appeared only during the last twenty years of more than a hundred and fifty years of American Orthodoxy, uncanonical, because they deliberately ignore the Sacred Canons [...] and unhistorical, because they ignore the fact of a long Orthodox history in America under Russian Jurisdiction still continuing and still canonically excluding their claims.
Archbishop Alexander was not impressed. On February 23, he wrote to Aftimios, “[A]s long as Alaska was a Russian territory, the Russians had jurisdiction in their own house, but it makes a great difference thence to jump to Canada, to the United States, etc.”
That logic is reasonable; unfortunately, Alexander had a claim of his own to make. He went on, “The jurisdiction over all Orthodox in the Diaspora, including the whole Western Hemisphere, which includes Alaska as well, being no more a Russian territory, belongs undisputably to the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.”
A few days later, in another letter, Alexander said,
It is not true that any group of Greeks in America did ever willingly recognize the asserted Russian jurisdiction in America. [...] And not only the Greeks, but also the most important sections of other Orthodox nationalities in America, did and do reject Russian jurisdiction. [...] Thus, your assertion that the Russian Church and its creations in America were universally accepted by the Orthodox people in America, and that they “governed the whole North American Province undisputedly, peacefuly and without opposition”, falls to pieces.
Basically, what we have here are dueling claims to exclusive jurisdiction, with Alexander appealing to Canon 28 of Chalcedon, and Aftimios holding to what might be called the “flag-planting theory.” And, to support his claims, Aftimios also espoused the myth of past unity, saying that not only did Russia have rightful jurisdiction in America, but that everyone — Greeks included — acknowledged it.
How did the leaders of the AOCC come up with this rendition of history? It makes sense that a newcomer like Fr. Boris Burden might not know the true story, but Aftimios Ofiesh had been in America since 1905. He certainly knew full well that there were numerous Greek and other Orthodox parishes which had no connection at all to the Russian Mission well before the First World War.
I suspect what was really happening was spin, pure and simple. The legitimacy of the AOCC depended entirely upon the legitimacy of the Russian Mission in America. If the Russian Mission wasn’t the “sole and exclusive canonical authority” in the New World, then the mission of the AOCC was in jeopardy. That explains why Aftimios would hold to the flag-planting theory, but why bother concocting an obviously false story about everyone actually being under one jurisdiction until 1917?
Well, really, Abp Alexander was right, partly: it was one thing for the Russians to claim Alaska, but to jump from there to Canada, Florida, and all points in between was another matter entirely. To really secure his claim that the Russians were the rightful authority, Aftimios (and Burden) had to act like everyone — the EP included — accepted this reality. He had to act like the very notion that America was up for grabs was, itself, a novel concept. Then, he could make another jump and claim that he, as head of the AOCC, held “sole and exclusive canonical authority” over all of America.
Nobody really believed Aftimios when he made that claim, but the broader myth of unity has hung around a lot longer, all the way up to the present.
ONE MORE THING: A couple of disclaimers, here at the end… I am not saying that the Russian Mission was not the rightful canonical authority in America. I’m not saying that they were, either; as I’ve said before, the question of what was is different than the question of what should have been.
Also, I promised I wouldn’t refute the myth of unity here, but I realized that using the term “myth” might cause some controversy, so I feel like I should justify myself. Here is my point:
- American Orthodoxy didn’t really exist prior to 1890. There was Alaskan Orthodoxy, and there were parishes in San Francisco and New Orleans, but the United States proper just didn’t have a significant Orthodox presence until after 1890.
- As soon as Orthodox parishes started popping up in the US after 1890, there was jurisdictional pluralism. This is a well-documented fact.
Thus, the “myth of unity” is a myth in multiple senses. One definition of “myth” is as follows:
A traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation.
Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, the “myth of unity” fits this definition. It is a commonly held simplification of our past. Of course, “myth” also has negative connotations, as in, a false story, a fiction. An alternate definition of the word is, “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.” I would argue that the “myth of unity” fits this category as well. It is based in truth — in the ideal of the Russian Mission — but it isn’t accurate, and it is often used as a bludgeon with which some American Orthodox Christians beat others over the head.
A couple weeks ago, I posted a 1927 article about a Greek priest in Connecticut who claimed to have made bread rise without the use of yeast. Instead, he used holy water, and this was apparently done in the context of a church service. I had never heard of such a thing, but I was quickly informed that it is an old tradition among Greek Orthodox, being observed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which those of us on the New Calendar celebrated on Monday.
I updated my original posting to include this new information, but this week, John Sandiopoulos wrote an article on the tradition, called “Prozimi,” at his blog, Mystagogy. I thought I’d link to it here, so interested readers could learn more.
Every once in a while here at OrthodoxHistory.org, I like to take a break from serious historical study to present completely random, strange pieces of information from the past. Today is one of those days. The following article appeared in the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner on November 15, 1927:
WATERBURY, Conn., Nov. 15. — (By The Associated Press) – Asserting that the church already has been held up to enough public ridicule through the “absurd challenge” of George Invalis of New Britain, George Pistolas, president of the Hellenic Orthodox congregation here, announced Monday night that the Rev. John Gerotheou would ignore all challenges directed at his claimed powers of causing bread to rise without yeast through the use of holy water. Mr. Gerotheou’s powers were disputed also by the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism.
Invalis, a soda clerk, announced that he would post $200 in a Waterbury bank today to back up his challenge, but the posting of the money will go unheeded as the challenge has, according to Pistolas.
The church official said the congregation would continue to worship as it saw fit regardless of challenges launched at it. On days when the ritual of the Orthodox Greek church permits it, however Mr. Gerotheou would continue to raise bread without yeast, Pistolas said, but only as part of the religious ceremonies of the church.
Does anyone have any idea what “religious ceremonies of the church” they might mean? I can’t think of a church service that calls for the miraculous raising of bread with holy water. Was Fr. John Gerotheou baking the holy bread at home, and using holy water instead of yeast?
UPDATE: Over on our Facebook page, there’s been an interesting discussion about this post. First of all, a reader named Elizabeth Riggs made this comment:
My hubby makes Salt Rising Bread – it requires a bacteria rather than a yeast. He adds water to our, mixes into a batter-dough, and lets it sit for 2-3 days. He can tell by the smell when it is right. Making your own sourdough riser is pretty much the same, but you put a towel over it to keep bacteria out, but open it every so often to let the yeast in. It’s an interesting process. That’s how sourdough used to be made in centuries past. God provides what we need when we need it.
This is a very common practice in the Greek speaking churches, though relegated especially to monasteries these days. The process is sometimes called “prozimi”. Some include a piece of basil and it is often done on Sept. 14 for the feast of the Holy Cross.
We use something called “prozimi” instead of yeast to make the bread rise. Prozimi itself is a miracle. On either September 14 (Exaltation of the Precious Cross) or on Holy Friday a bowl containing only water and flour is taken into the altar during the Gospel reading. The priest then blesses it. Afterwards our Gerondissa takes it into the kitchen and places it in the oven (the oven is not on) and leaves it there overnight. The next morning the bowl is overflowing with this “yeast”. It is then separated and refrigerated in airtight containers and is used each time prosphoro is made. Every time you make a new batch of dough you tear a small piece off and set aside for next time.
In 1927, Fr. Boris Burden wrote the following:
The Church of the Holy Trinity in New Orleans, La., claims to have been the first Greek church in the United States. On the occasion of its dedication in 1860 Alexander II, Czar of Russia, sent to its Greek Priest, the Reverend Father Michael, a gold-embossed Book of Gospels in token of his imperial pleasure over the beginning of Greek-speaking churches within the American diocese of the spiritual jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia. For nearly fifty years after the Russian Hierarchy in America had thus established the first Greek church in this country Greek churches and faithful continued to increase and multiply under the care and authority of the Russian Bishops of America.
This quotation (and, frankly, Burden’s whole article) is fraught with inaccuracies. Unfortunately, Burden had a pretty significant influence on later thinking about American Orthodox history, so his errors have become, in many places, conventional wisdom.
- The New Orleans Greek church was not dedicated in 1860. It appears to have been dedicated around 1866; in any event, it was the late 1860s.
- The “Reverend Father Michael” (aka Fr. Michel Kalitski, Fr. Michael Karydis, or Archimandrite Misael — all, apparently, the same person) didn’t become the pastor of the church until about 1881.
- The Russian Church certainly didn’t found the New Orleans parish.
- The claim that Greek parishes, for the next half-century, ”increased” and “multiplied” under “the care and authority of the Russian Bishops of America” just doesn’t hold water. The next Greek parish, period, was founded in New York in 1892, under the Church of Greece. The overwhelming majority of Greek people, parishes, and clergy were completely independent of the Russian bishops.
Anyway, my point is not really to pick apart Fr. Boris Burden’s 82-year-old essay. No, I want to focus on one aspect in particular: the “gold-embossed Book of Gospels.”
The first traces that I can find of this Gospel Book date to 1872. That year, the Russian Grand Duke Alexis was touring the United States, and in February, he visited New Orleans. Among those greeting him upon his arrival were representatives of Holy Trinity Church, among them Nicolas Benachi, the Greek Consul. From the Daily Picayune, a New Orleans newspaper (February 15, 1872):
Mr. Benachi took occasion to add a few remarks on their behalf, praying His Highness to think his mother, the Empress of Russia, for the kind solicitude she had manifested for their Church, and the rich presents which she had bestowed upon the tiny edifice, situated on Dorgenois Street, near the corner of Ursulines; and also to express to the Empress the wishes of thee Greek and Russian congregation of New Orleans for the welfare and prosperity of the Imperial family of Russia.
The Gospel Book appears to have been one of the gifts sent by the Empress — that is, the Tsarina, rather than the Tsar. But the text isn’t really clear on when she sent the book. Was the parish thanking the Grand Duke for a gift sent prior to his visit, or were they thanking him for a gift that he himself had brought, on that trip, on his mother’s behalf?
In any event, the Gospel Book was far from the only gift sent by the Empress. A travel guide from 1885 mentions that the parish had a “rare Madonna and child, brought from the far-off shrine of St. Petersburg.” Another 1885 book describes an icon “of Christ partaking of the sacrament; around it in Russian: ‘He who takes the sacrament never dies.’” A 1904 guide to New Orleans says, “The ornaments on the altar were presented by the late Empress of Russia.”
When I spoke with the current pastor of Holy Trinity several months ago, he confirmed that the parish still possesses a Gospel Book and old icons from Russia; these are almost certainly the same items that were present in 1872. I’d love to get some photos of those things, particularly photos of any inscriptions that might appear. (If anybody out there can help, let me know!) That might help us better understand when the items were sent, and what exactly they meant to the sender and the recipients.
 Hieromonk Boris (Burden), “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America,” Orthodox Catholic Review 1:1 (1927), 10.
 His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexis in the United States of America During the Winter of 1871-72 (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1872), 216-218. This was taken directly from the February 15, 1872 issue of the New Orleans Daily Picayune.
 Lydia Strawn, “The North, Central and South American Exposition, New Orleans. Opens November 10th, 1885. Closes April 1st, 1886.” In Pen Points from the American Exposition, Presented by the Illinois Central R.R. (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 1885), 10.
 Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs (New York: Will H. Coleman, 1885), 121.
 The Picayune’s Guide to New Orleans (New Orleans: The Picayune, 1904), 58-59.