Posts tagged 1933
In the half-dozen years before his wedding on April 29, 1933, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh had moved further and further away from mainstream Orthodoxy, setting himself up as the head of an “autocephalous” jurisdiction called the American Orthodox Catholic Church—which at its inception in 1927 had the official blessing of the Russian Metropolia in America (which would in 1970 become the OCA).
His wedding to the former Mariam Namey (no relation to our own Matthew Namee) essentially represented his final break with any official Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities. Aftimios continued to call himself an archbishop, and he even made occasional visits to Orthodox parishes, but his hierarchical career was effectively over the moment he tied the knot. He also became a pariah in the Syrian community in and around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where Mariam was from and where the couple lived (among other places) for years after their wedding.Before he met Mariam, there were indications that Aftimios had planned to marry, essentially to try to make a point about his opinions on episcopal celibacy—that it was a “man-made” institution that could be abrogated at any time, especially now that he was in the New World. Even though his own synod in the American Orthodox Catholic Church officially agreed with him, they also declared him “retired” in the same message with which they congratulated him on his nuptials.
Despite the ideological premeditation of his marriage, when Mariam later recounted their meeting in her biography of her late husband, she described it in endearing, romantic terms. Their marriage lasted until his death thirty-three years later, producing a son named Paul within a couple of years after the wedding.
Aftimios never served as a bishop of the Orthodox Church ever again, although he dressed as one, and members of the Namey family remembered him as Amo Sayidna (“Uncle Master”; sayidna is the Arabic equivalent of the Greek despota or Russian vladyka). His break with Church authorities was so bitter that in his will he stipulated that his funeral and burial were to involve no clergy of any kind. He died in 1966.
The following item appeared in the Washington Post (among other papers) on July 6, 1933:
Martins Ferry, Ohio, July 5 (A.P.). – The Rev. Parthenios Colonis, 72, pastor of the Martins Ferry Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, died today from hatchet-inflicted wounds. He was found unconscious in the basement of the church Saturday night, his skull fractured by blows from the blunt and sharp edges of a blood-stained hatchet.
He regained consciousness, but did not indicate who attacked him, although police say they believe he knew his assailants. It was the third time in three years that the priest was mysteriously assaulted in his church.
Archimandrite Parthenios Kolonis (or Colonis) born on the Greek island of Patmos in the early 1860s. He was ordained a priest in 1904 and immediately sailed to America, where he went to Milwaukee and established the Church of the Annunciation (Evangelismos). Kolonis served in Milwaukee until 1913; after that, he briefly stopped in Haverhill, Massachusetts before moving to Wheeling, West Virginia, where the founded the parish of St. John the Divine. In 1921, Kolonis made his final move, to Martins Ferry, Ohio, where he reportedly spent a whopping $7,000 of his own money to build the Church of Zoodochos Peghe (the Life-Giving Spring). Finally, as reported above in the Washington Post, Kolonis was brutally murdered in Martins Ferry in 1933.
Apart from his tragic death, Kolonis’ career (on the surface) seems rather ordinary for a Greek priest in early 20th century America. He founded three parishes and spent most of his career in those communities (Milwaukee, Wheeling, and Martins Ferry). He served in numerous other cities as well, among them Pittsburgh, Jacksonville (FL), Pueblo (CO), and Haverhill (MA). All in all, Kolonis had a pretty typical priestly career for his time. Except that he didn’t, because everywhere he went, Fr. Parthenios Kolonis was accused of being a predatory homosexual.
Margot Canaday tells the story of Kolonis in The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. According to Canaday, Kolonis left Milwaukee under a cloud of scandal. A parishioner had suggested that Kolonis was gay, and Kolonis himself had purportedly written a letter to a boy in Greece, suggesting that the two had engaged in a sexual relationship. Later, an investigation turned up the accusation that Kolonis had sexually assaulted a steward on the ship that brought him to the United States. After leaving Milwaukee, Kolonis moved on to Haverhill, Mass., but he was almost immediately run out of town when multiple young men separately accused the him of sexual misconduct. (I am intentionally not providing all the gory details, but Canaday’s book is pretty explicit about the specific allegations in all of these cases.)
In Wheeling, the problem reached a tipping point. Kolonis purportedly made more advances on young men (including paying money for sexual favors), and eventually news of this reached the US Bureau of Immigration. The Bureau opened an investigation, and they found out about the Milwaukee and Haverhill allegations. In February 1916, the Secretary of Labor issued a warrant for the arrest of Kolonis on the grounds that, being a “moral pervert,” he should have been designated a likely public charge (and thus deported) when he immigrated to the United States in 1904. Kolonis’ attorneys made successful legal arguments in their clients’ favor, and the warrant was rescinded.
But the allegations were still out there. Kolonis argued that he was the victim of an “elaborate blackmail scheme” (Canaday’s description). This seems incredibly unlikely. Kolonis was accused of sexual misconduct literally everywhere he went, by numerous individuals. The accusers in one city seem to have been totally unaware of the allegations in the other cities. We can’t prove anything, certainly not a century after the fact, but I just cannot see how Kolonis could be innocent. (Oddly enough, Canaday’s narrative ends here; she appears to be unaware of Kolonis’ final years and violent end.)
Somehow, Kolonis remained in Wheeling for another five years, even after all the allegations were public. And while I don’t know much about his tenure in Martins Ferry, I think it’s safe to assume that Kolonis was accused there as well. That would certainly explain why he was “mysteriously assaulted in his church” three times in his final three years, and why he apparently knew, but would not identify, his murderer(s). In fact, when Kolonis was discovered by the police, he initially claimed that he had slipped on the basement steps and hit his head on the concrete floor. Dr. Bill Samonides did some digging in local newspapers, and offered the following findings:
According to the Steubenville Herald-Star of July 6, 1933, Fr Colonis died at Martins Ferry Hospital at 12:45 PM. He was attacked the previous night. did not die instantly, but lingered for some hours in the hospital after he was discovered. He is said to have been struck from behind by a hatchet. A skull fracture was assigned as the cause of death. He was struck in the basement of the church. He sustained a head injury in the church the previous Saturday night [July 1]. He told police that he had slipped on the basement steps and struck his head on the concrete floor.
Weirton Daily Times of July 7, 1933 reported that the Martins Ferry Coroner had arrested a Nick George of that town in connection with the murder. Witnesses told the coroner that they had seen George dining with Fr Parthenios the evening of the fatal attack. These witnesses also said that George was the last person seen on the church grounds that day. George was later exonerated and released.
Weirton Daily Times of July 8, 1933 reported that Rev Chrysostomos Papalambrou of Weirton was in charge of the funeral. It seems odd that the Wheeling priest was not in charge.
According to Dr. Samonides, that July 8 Weirton Daily Times article also noted that among Kolonis’ possessions was a painting said to have been owned by Tsar Nicholas II, and valued at a whopping $25,000 (over $400,000 today). I’d love to know what happened to that piece of art after Kolonis died.
We’ve reached the end, and it’s not unreasonable to ask the question, “Why bother telling this horrible story?” The unpleasant reality is that Orthodoxy in America has, today, a serious problem with sexual misconduct among the clergy. It’s a problem that crosses jurisdictional lines, and all ranks of clergymen. The Kolonis story demonstrates that this is, unfortunately, not a new problem for American Orthodoxy. There have always been bad priests who prey on vulnerable people and bring shame upon the Church. Kolonis didn’t really have a bishop (or at least, not one more than an ocean away), so it was easy enough for him to just move to a new city when his deeds started to catch up with him. Today, we don’t have that excuse.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
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.”
One of the curiosities of studying American Orthodox history is that a number of the “firsts” are largely unknown. Matthew Namee has done a lot of work in introducing the first black Orthodox priest in America, Fr. Raphael Morgan. With this post, we’re going to look briefly at the first convert bishop in Orthodox America, Ignatius William Albert Nichols.
Never heard of him? It’s probably because his time as an Orthodox bishop lasted just about ten months (more or less). It’s probably also because the vast majority of information about him available is regarding his career as an episcopus vagans, which bracketed his brief stint within Orthodoxy.
William Albert Nichols (b. Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 4, 1877) started out his ordained ministry as an Episcopal deacon in 1908 in Arkansas, having received theological education at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest two years later in Colorado and also trained and worked as a chaplain and journalist, eventually becoming religion editor for the New York Sun and the Brooklyn Standard Union (1926-28) and later The New York World-Telegram (1929-43). He served as an Episcopal parish priest in Brooklyn for two years (1927-29).
Things were going fairly “normally” up until he decided to leave the Episcopal priesthood and was in 1929 consecrated as a bishop of the so-called “American Catholic Church” by Bp. Arthur Edward Leighton. Someone must have told him that his orders were “invalid,” however, because in 1930, he was ordained again to the priesthood and consecrated again to the episcopacy, though this time by Abp. Samuel Gregory Lines of the “Apostolic Christian Church.” Sometime between 1930 and 1932, he became interested in Orthodoxy.
From the sources I’ve read (mainly secondary), it’s not clear when Nichols was received into Orthodoxy or by whom. But we do know that in 1932, he was part of the American Orthodox Catholic Church under Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh, probably having founded with Aftimios in 1931 the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil.
The AOCC was at that time of questionable canonical status, though it had been founded in 1927 with the blessing of the Russian Metropolia in America (itself of questionable canonical status since 1924, when it declared itself independent of its mother church). By 1932, though, Aftimios had made multiple enemies within the ecclesiastical world, as well as suffering the (rather quick) withdrawal of the support of the Metropolia. Despite its isolation, it seems that communion was not broken between the AOCC and other jurisdictions (though Platon in 1930 did say that Aftimios was no longer a Metropolia bishop but a bishop in another jurisdiction), and clergy were readily received from it (typically back into the Metropolia). In any case, by 1932, the AOCC had few parishes.
Aftimios’s general vision was modeled on that of St. Tikhon, who attempted to form a multi-ethnic jurisdiction under the Russian archdiocese, with bishops for each ethnic group. Aftimios likewise appointed bishops for the Syrians (Sophronios Beshara and Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, St. Raphael’s former archdeacon) and Ukrainians (Joseph Zuk). He also attempted to appoint a bishop for the Russians, one Fr. Leonid Turkevich (whose consecration as such had been specifically blessed by the Metropolia at the founding of the AOCC, but the blessing was later withdrawn).
The last bishop whom Aftimios consecrated was William Albert Nichols, who took the name Ignatius. The consecration took place on September 27, 1932, and Ignatius was appointed as Archbishop of Washington and auxiliary to Aftimios, specially charged with evangelizing “Americans” in English. Ignatius’s work with the Western Rite via the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil continued with him as its bishop. Thus, Ignatius is also history’s first (and so far, only) modern Orthodox bishop solely dedicated to the Western Rite.
In 1933, Aftimios’s spiral away from any semblance of ecclesiastical stability finally swirled totally out of control, and in April he got married in a civil ceremony to a Syrian girl from Wilkes-Barre some 30 years his junior. A synod was held by Ignatius with Joseph Zuk (Emmanuel had since returned to the Metropolia) in which they congratulated Aftimios on his marriage and declared him retired. Ignatius later sent a message of congratulations to Aftimios, telling him, “Wind will winnow chaff out of your brave act. Orthodoxy will begin new life in America. God bless you both.”[*]
Clearly inspired by his former primate, in July, Ignatius himself married a woman named Emily Chasman. In November, Sophronios declared Ignatius deposed from the episcopacy. Totally isolated from even the fringes of Orthodoxy, Ignatius nevertheless continued his work with the Clerks Secular.
He functioned independently until the time of his death in 1947, consorting with multiple episcopi vagantes along the way (even briefly going into communion with John Kedrovsky and his son Nicholas of the Soviet “Living Church”). During this time, he (often with other episcopi vagantes) consecrated six different men to the episcopacy. One of these men was Alexander Turner, who in 1936 took over headship of the Clerks Secular. From 1959-61, Turner succeeded in bringing many of his flock into the Antiochian Archdiocese, thus founding the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.
Through Ignatius, there are now dozens (perhaps more) of lines of episcopi vagantes who trace themselves back to Aftimios.
[*]“Marriage Wins Bishop’s O.K.,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, 10 May 1933, Archives of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
(The general outline for this post was taken from the biographical sketch by Bertil Persson found at this link, with some material added from my own research. I’m not sure who Persson is, exactly, but he seems to have done work on various personages in the world of episcopi vagantes and to have some academic standing in Europe. The link contains references to Persson’s sources.)