Posts tagged 1947
Sixty-five years ago today, on Holy Monday, April 7, 1947—the feast of Annunciation (O.S.)—an important event in the history of Orthodoxy in America occurred, with the first visit of Father Georges Florovsky to the United States. As with so many key turns in his ecclesiastical trajectory, Florovsky’s coming to America was occasioned by his intense involvement in the ecumenical movement.
The general plan to establish a World Council of Churches (WCC) had been agreed upon at the meeting of the Faith and Order Movement in Edinburgh, 1937, where Florovsky was present together with Fr. Sergii Bulgakov. While Florovsky himself had at this point yet no official standing as an Orthodox representative within Faith and Order, he was on this occasion elected to the “Committee of Fourteen,” composed of seven representatives of Faith and Order and seven of Life and Work, whose task it was to organize the future World Council of Churches. Given that the Orthodox representative for Life and Work was Metropolitan Germanos (Strinopoulos) of Thyateira and Great Britain, it was felt that the other Orthodox representative should be a non-Greek. The likely candidate was Fr. Sergii Bulgakov, who was both senior to Florovsky and had also been involved in Faith and Order since its inception at the Lausanne Assembly of August 1927.
Bulgakov, however, had recently drawn controversy for his sophiological teaching. And of the two, Florovsky had the greater facility with the English language. In all likelihood for these reasons, both the Orthodox and the Anglicans and American Episcopalians, who were responsible for funding much of the scholarly and ecumenical activity of the Orthodox centered at the Institute St. Serge (Paris), chose Florovsky instead, considering him the more trustworthy representative of Orthodox theology. According to Florovsky’s own unpublished account, it was Metropolitan Antony Bashir, also present at Edinburgh, who informed him of this decision. The reason Antony gave is interesting: it was because the “American Orthodox” wanted him.
The preparation of the World Council of Churches, however, was deferred by the Second World War. Florovsky was in Geneva at the outbreak of the war, unable to return to Paris, and therefore spent the whole of World War II in exile: in Yugoslavia (December 1939 to October 1944), serving as a chaplain and religion teacher at two high schools for Russian boys and girls; and then finally in Prague, teaching English and engaged in extensive pastoral work among the Russian emigres. Only in December 1945 was he able to return to Paris and resume his pre-war scholarly and ecumenical activities, commuting frequently throughout 1946 and 1947 to Geneva for meetings in preparation for the WCC. It was at this point that the stage was set also for his visit to the U.S. A meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC was planned to be held in America, Spring 1947. As a member of the committee, Florovsky was invited.
Other developments were taking place during this same time that would be determinative both for Florovsky’s future and that of Orthodoxy in America. In November 1946, the Seventh All American Church Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (the “Metropolia”) was held in Cleveland, Ohio. At the request of Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky), plans were drawn up for the re-formation of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (founded in 1938) into a real theological academy, on the model of the four pre-revolutionary Russian academies. At the suggestion of the historian George Fedotov, a colleague from St. Serge who had come to teach at St. Vladimir’s in 1945, Florovsky was named as the choice for professor of dogmatics and patrology.
The meeting of the provisional committee was held in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, on April 22-25, 1947. There it was announced that the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches would be held at Amsterdam from August 22 to September 5, 1948, having as its general theme “Man’s Disorder and God’s Design.” It is perhaps indicative of Florovsky’s influence that, already at this point, the WCC’s general secretary W. A. Visser’t Hooft emphasized to the press that the WCC was not to be understood as a “super-church” which would dictate to its member bodies, but only “an expression of the desire of the Churches to obey the will of their common Lord,” involving “not . . . the denial of the confessional heritage of the churches,” but rather “the attempt to manifest that unity which has actually been given to churches that take their confessions seriously” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7).
Following the conclusion of the provisional committee meeting, Florovsky traveled to New York in May 1947 to discuss the possibility of his coming to teach at St. Vladimir’s. The seminary was at this time housed in a cottage owned by General Theological Seminary (Episcopal Church USA), and had only a dozen students and limited faculty and resources. Florovsky spent most of his visit with Metropolitan Theophilus. The result of their conversations was that Florovsky agreed to accept appointment to the faculty, with the tacit understanding that he would later take up the deanship. Theophilus and Florovsky saw eye to eye both on the need to develop high-level theological education for clergy and to introduce the English language into teaching and church services. Almost exactly a year after Florovsky’s visit, on April 2, 1948, the Metropolitan Council of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America sent a letter to the American consulate in Paris requesting the entry of Florovsky and his wife into the US under non-quota status. Florovsky would later become a naturalized American citizen in 1954.
After his visit to Pennsylvania and New York in spring 1947, Florovsky returned to Europe. The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches took place in Amsterdam on August 22 to September 4, 1948, with some 14,000 persons present. Here, together with his friend the Anglican priest Michael Ramsey (who would become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1961) and the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, with whom he shared a common resistance to political pragmatism in ecumenical relations, Florovsky emerged as the leading theological voice. He was at this time elected also to the executive committee of the WCC.
Just ten days after Amsterdam, on September 15, 1948, Florovsky left Europe for good, arriving in New York by boat on September 21 to begin teaching at St. Vladimir’s. A year later, Florovsky took over the acting deanship from Bishop John Shahovskoy, and in 1950, he was officially made dean. He was to remain in that capacity until 1955. During his tenure at St. Vladimir’s, Florovsky raised academic standards and introduced the English language, placing the seminary on the map as an important center of theological education and injecting a crucial missionary dimension to its outlook.
Florovsky’s 1947 visit to America was therefore an event which both foreshadowed and helped to prepare two important developments in Orthodoxy and the Christian world at large: first, the formation of the World Council of Churches, and the presence of a powerful Orthodox theological voice within it; and second, the development of an articulate and missionary-minded Orthodox theology on American soil.
Photographs of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, published in The New York Times and Newsweek have a certain strangeness and wonder about them, marking the distance from his time and situation and our own. That the visit of any theologian—not to mention, Orthodox—would be considered worthy of feature in a major news source bespeaks a bygone age when Christian churches and theology still wielded a certain recognized cultural authority. That epoch gasped its last some time after the media excitement of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It is perhaps significant that, with the sole and recent exception of Pope Benedict XVI, no theologian has appeared on the cover of Time magazine since the April 20, 1962, feature of Karl Barth. It is hard to imagine a photograph of any leading Orthodox theologian today being featured within the pages of Time, Newsweek, or The New York Times, as Florovsky himself was in the 1940s and ’50s.
The modern ecumenical movement was itself conceived initially as a missionary response to an era of intense secularization. Doubtless, it was spurred on also by a humanitarian reaction to two massive wars, in which men of different countries equally confessing the name of Christ spilled one another’s blood over nationalist interests. Yet the early ecumenical movement came to birth nevertheless with a hope and confidence among some Christian leaders that a soundly Christocentric theology might matter still, and be heard by more than a few. With all their crucial differences, leading ecumenical figures of this period such as Florovsky and Barth were united at least in their attempt to respond to “man’s disorder,” not with humanitarian bromides regarding “tolerance” and “diversity,” or demi-Marxist clarions to class struggle, identity politics, and statist social planning, but with a word about creation, sin and redemption: the good news of Christ and his Church.
In “The Church and Her Responsibility,” a paper written for the Faith and Order Study Commission “The Universal Church in God’s Design” in March 1947, just a month before his visit to America, Florovsky stressed that the primary work of the Church was the proclamation of the Gospel, aimed precisely towards conversion—a ministry of the Word consummated in the ministry of the sacraments. This mission required that the Church avoid equally two temptations: sectarianism and secularization. The message of the Gospel is a word of judgment upon the world, but a saving judgment. The Church exists in the world as an antinomical and heterogeneous body, in a state of opposition, but also reformation of the world. As Florovsky said in his speech at Amsterdam, August 1948:
…the real strength of the Christian position is precisely in its ‘otherness.’ For indeed, Christianity is ‘not of this world’ and is not merely one of the elements of the worldly fabric. … the strength of Christianity is rooted in its opposition to everything Christless. No secular allies would ever help the Christian cause, whatever name they bear. As Christians we have but one Heavenly Ally, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all power has been given in Heaven and on earth, even in this perplexed and rebellious world of ours. For this very reason, Christians can and should never admit any other authority, even in secular affairs. Christ is the Lord and Master of history, not only of our souls. Again this gives ultimate priority to the theological issue. For our practical disagreements inevitably bring us back to the diversity of our interpretations of the Divine message and the Divine solution of our human tragedy and fall. (Florovsky, “Determinations and Distinctions: Ecumenical Aims and Doubts,” Sobornost, No. 4, Series 3, Winter 1948, 126-132, at 132)
It is dangerous to posit simple causes in the complex chain of historical events. Yet the marked wane in the cultural authority of theology and of churches themselves that became apparent only two decades or so after the Amsterdam Assembly did coincide with a certain “failure of nerve” on the part of theologians and pastors—a hesitance to address the culture at large with such robust evangel. Many preferred instead to adjust the content of their message in the attempt to be “relevant” to ever more radical forces of secularization.
Already at the meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC at Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, in April 1947, Dr. J. Hutchinson Cockburn, former moderator of the Church of Scotland, had noted how “anti-Christian forces” had become so strong that the Christian tradition “no longer dominates the European scene.” “If Christ is to be enthroned over the lives of men in Europe,” he added, “it will only be by the reviving of the Church by the Grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Of this revival the churches are the appointed instruments. It is Christian civilization that is at stake, not merely in Europe but also in Britain and in the United States” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7). Cockburn’s diagnosis remains even more true today. Yet it is a sad fact how many professed theologians and Christian leaders, even among the Orthodox, respond to it with sophisticated cynicism, chameleon-like compromise and defeat.
Images of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, Holy Monday—a day when many Orthodox in America celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, and all were preparing to follow after Christ to his sacred Passion in the city—show the Russian priest-theologian flanked by Cockburn and Visser’t Hooft aboard the deck of the Queen Elizabeth dressed in his riassa, cigarette visible between his fingertips, his long uncut hair blowing crazily in the wind, the expression on his face so confident as almost to radiate joy. It was precisely his spirit of confidence—confidence in the truth of Christ and his Church, and in the legacy and task of Orthodox theology—combined with magnanimity towards divided brethren, in hope of their eventual recovery, that made Florovsky’s example so singularly important for his time and context. Much depends upon the revival of that same spirit in our own.
(In addition to the articles cited and several unpublished sources, this essay relies upon Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” in Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual—Orthodox Churchman, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993, pp. 73-91.)
Last week, Alexei Krindatch released his landmark 2010 census of Orthodox churches in the United States. (Also last week, Krindatch was interviewed by Kevin Allen on Ancient Faith Radio. Click here to listen.) Sifting through the census data, I naturally got to thinking about historical censuses. Every ten years, from 1906 to 1936, the US Census Bureau conducted a thorough census of all religious bodies in the country. And they did a good job of it: like Krindatch so many generations later, the Census Bureau gathered lists of individual congregations and then contacted each local congregation directly. They didn’t just ask the various denominations, “How many members do you have?” By working with each parish, they were able to obtain very reliable results. (For details on how these censuses were conducted, see the journals of the American Statistical Association from December 1920 and September 1927.)
In addition to the 1906-1936 censuses, a less rigorous study was conducted by the Christian Herald in 1947. It’s in this latter census that we begin to see the inflated numbers that would become the hallmark of Orthodox population data until Krindatch did his work over the last decade.
Today, I’m going to focus solely on raw population data from the historical censuses. For starters, here is what American Orthodoxy looked like in the 1906 census. Keep in mind that these numbers don’t include Alaska:
- 90,751 Greeks
- 19,111 Russians
- 15,742 Serbs
- 4,002 Antiochians
That’s a total of 129,606 Orthodox in the United States of America. A decade later, the Orthodox population had nearly doubled, to 249,840. Much of this growth was from the Russians, who grew by more than 80,000 members. I assume that most of these new members were former Uniates.
- 119,871 Greeks
- 99,681 Russians
- 14,301 Serbs
- 11,591 Antiochians
- 1,994 Romanians
- 1,992 Bulgarians
- 410 Albanians
You know, I’ve always had it in my mind that the big growth of the Russian Church in the continguous United States came during the era of St. Tikhon (1898-1907) and St. Alexis Toth (1891-1909). But this data shows that the really big increase didn’t happen until 1906-1916. I find this fact especially ironic in that this period coincides almost precisely with the episcopate of Archbishop Platon, who ruled (and I mean ruled, with an iron fist) from 1907 to 1914. Abp Platon did encourage Uniate conversions to Orthodoxy, but he also wanted the ex-Uniates to become “real Russians” — to give up their distinctive ethnic languages and traditions and fully embrace Russian-ness, in all of its meanings. It’s all rather contrary to the traditional Orthodox missionary outlook espoused by people like St. Innocent; nevertheless, Abp Platon oversaw a period of massive growth in the Russian Archdiocese.
Moving ahead another ten years, to 1926, we find that the population has leveled off. At 259,394, American Orthodoxy had grown by less than four percent in the preceding decade. However, I strongly suspect that the actual numbers were higher than this. Remember that 1926 was right in the middle of a period of schism, with competing jurisdictions for almost every Orthodox ethnic group. Do the 1926 census numbers include, for instance, both the Russy and Antacky factions of Antiochians? The same sort of question could be asked of the Russians, Greeks, and others. It’s just a hunch, but I’d wager that a sizeable number of Orthodox Americans fell through the cracks in this census. Anyway, here’s the breakdown for 1926:
- 119,495 Greeks
- 95,134 Russians
- 18,853 Romanians
- 13,775 Serbs
- 9,207 Antiochians
- 1,993 Albanians
- 937 Bulgarians
It’s especially striking to see the Romanians jump to the #3 spot on the list. Realistically, I think the Antiochians may well have been as populous as the Romanians, but by 1926 there were three strong claimants to leadership of the group — Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (Russy), Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi (the original Antacky), and newcomer Archbishop Victor Abo-Assaley (leader of the newly-founded Antiochian Archdiocese). As I said above, it’s likely that the Census Bureau didn’t get data from all three factions, the result being an apparent decline in the Antiochian population.
Anyway, growth had resumed by 1936. The Orthodox population (counting mainstream jurisdictions only — that is, excluding the Ofiesh spinoff groups and such) was 348,025 — a 34% increase over the 1926 figure. Most of that growth was fueled by the Greeks, whose numbers rose by 58%:
- 189,368 Greeks
- 89,510 Russians
- 20,020 Serbs
- 18,451 Antiochians
- 15,090 Romanians
- 11,480 Ukrainians
- 3,137 Albanians
- 969 Bulgarians
This was the second decade in a row that the Russian Orthodox population had declined. Keep in mind, though, that the Russian data has much the same problem that the 1926 Antiochian data had — the Russians were split into three groups (Metropolia, ROCOR, and Moscow Patriarchate), and I think that only the Metropolia was counted in the census.
The 1936 census was the last one conducted by the Census Bureau, but as I said earlier, the Christian Herald did its own census in 1947. The numbers aren’t quite as reliable. I don’t know what their methodology was, but… well, take a look at their data, and then I’ll offer some thoughts:
- 300,000 Russians
- 275,000 Greeks
- 42,000 Serbs
- 39,500 Ukrainians
- 21,000 Romanians
- 20,300 Antiochians
- 3,137 Albanians
- 1,336 Bulgarians
It seems that the Christian Herald‘s numbers came directly from the jurisdictions themselves, rather than from the individual congregations. And look at the growth: the Christian Herald reported 702,273 Orthodox in 1947, almost exactly double the population in the 1936 census. Are we really to believe that America’s Orthodox population experienced 100% growth from 1936-1947? Looking at the jurisdictions, some of the numbers are more believable than others. The Antiochian, Romanian, and Bulgarian figures are reasonably in line with their 1936 populations. And notice that the 3,137 number for the Albianians is exactly the same as it was in 1936 (meaning, obviously, that it was taken directly from the ’36 census, without additional research).
Could the Greeks have grown from 189,368 to 275,000 in just 11 years? Absolutely. That would be a 45% increase for the Greeks, after a 58% jump from 1926-1936. It might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s well within the realm of possibility. Even being conservative, the Greek Archdiocese must have had well over 200,000 members in 1947. But I simply don’t buy that there were 300,000 Russian Orthodox in 1947, when there were fewer than 90,000 in 1936. Here, I think we see the beginnings of a process that culminated with the OCA officially reporting a nice, round, 1,000,000 members until recently. Reducing the Russian data to a more reasonable level — say, 150,000 rather than 300,000 — we’re left with somewhere around 550,000 Orthodox in America in 1947. If we accept that as roughly accurate, here are the approximate increases in population from 1906-1947:
- 1906-16: 93%
- 1916-26: 4%
- 1926-36: 34%
- 1936-47: ~58% ?
According to Krindatch’s 2010 census, there are 799,400 members of the mainstream Chalcedonian jurisdictions. If we take the 1947 data at face value — that is, if we accept that there were 702,273 Orthodox Americans in 1947 — then the US Orthodox population has grown by just 14 percent in the past 63 years. Even if we halve the 1947 Russian figure, the growth since 1947 has been 45%, which is pretty modest considering over six decades have passed. While the 1947 data isn’t precise, I think it’s safe to say that we grew more in the 11 years from 1936-1947 than we have in the 63 years since.
Finally, note the exponential growth of the Serbs and Ukrainians from ’36 to ’47 — 110% and 244% (!), respectively. The Ukrainian figure, while very high, is definitely plausible, as the Ukrainians were a fledgling jurisdiction in 1936 and grew through the conversion of Uniates in the years that followed. I don’t know enough about the Serbs to say whether their number is accurate, but I know that many Serbs came to America during World War II (including St. Nicholai Velimirovich in 1946). I’m inclined to believe that there were roughly 42,000 Serbian Orthodox by 1947.
As far as I can tell, this 1947 Christian Herald census, while obviously flawed, was the last reasonably accurate census of American Orthodoxy to be conducted in the 20th century. From 1947 until Alexei Krindatch began his work in the early 21st century, American Orthodox jurisdictions (and, in some cases, politicians) began to come up with their own statistics, and the results were way out of line with reality. Yes, there might be four or even eight million US citizens who are descended from an Orthodox Christian. And there may well be several million Americans who were baptized into the Orthodox Church as infants. But it’s incredible — literally, not credible — to count them all as Orthodox parishioners. Future historians will be indebted to Alexei Krindatch for his meticulous work, just as we, today, can be grateful for the accurate censuses conducted in the first half of the 20th century.
UPDATE (10/11/10): I happened to have lunch with Alexei Krindatch just yesterday, and he pointed out that a much higher proportion of Americans were religious in the 1906-1947 period than today. To get a real sense of the relative growth of American Orthodoxy from 1947-2010, we need to take into account the overall population of religious Americans. I don’t have the data right now, but suffice it to say that it isn’t quite so simple to compare the raw 1947 population to the raw 2010 population.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]