Posts tagged AFR
In 1905, the Holy Synod of Russia was preparing for an All-Russian Council. In advance of this, the Synod asked all the diocesan hierarchs of the Russian Church to send in their opinions on various church reform issues. St. Tikhon was among the respondents, and a portion of his reply has become rather famous among American Orthodox Christians. There are a couple of translations of this section of Tikhon’s response; I’ll print one of them here:
The diocese of North America must be reorganized into an Exarchate of the Russian Church in North America. The diocese is not only multi-national; it is composed of several orthodox Churches, which keep the unity of faith, but preserve their peculiarities in canonical structure, in liturgical rules, in parish life. These particularities are dear to them and can perfectly be tolerated on the pan-orthodox scene. We do not consider that we have the right to suppress the national character of the churches here; on the contrary, we try to preserve this character and we confer on them the latitude to be guided by leaders of their own nationality. Thus, the Syrian Church here received a bishop of its own (the Most Rev. Raphael of Brooklyn), who is the second auxiliary to the diocesan bishop of the Aleutian Islands, but is almost independent in his own sphere (the bishop of Alaska having the same position). The Serbian parishes are now organized under one immediate head, who for the time beign is an archimandrite, but who can be elevated to the episcopacy in the nearest future. The Greeks also desire to have their own bishop and are trying to settle the matter with the Synod of Athens. In other words, in North America a whole Exarchate can easily be established, uniting all orthodox national Churches, which would have their own bishops under one Exarch, the Russian Archbishop. Each one of them is independent in his own sphere, but the common affairs of the American Church are decided in a Synod, presided by the Russian Archbishop. Through him a link is preserved between the American Church and the Church of Russia and a certain dependence of the former on the latter. It should be remembered however that life in the New World is different from that of the old; our Church must take this into consideration; a greater autonomy (and possibly autocephaly) should therefore be granted to the Church of America, as compared with the other Metropolitan sees of the Russian Church. The North American Exarchate would comprise: (1) the archdiocese of New York, with jurisdiction over all Russian Churches in the United States and Canada. (2) the diocese of Alaska, for the orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleutians, Indians, Eskimos). (3) The diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian). (4) the diocese of Chicago (Serbian). (5) a Greek diocese.
That translation comes from St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, in 1975. There was, however, an earlier translation, commissioned by St. Tikhon himself. This earlier version appeared in the Vestnik (the official periodical of the Russian Mission), in March of 1906. There are some notable differences between the two translations. Among them:
- The 1906 version includes St. Tikhon’s full (and fascinating) response to the Holy Synod, which runs 22 pages. The 1975 version consists only of the section quoted above, thus lacking the context of St. Tikhon’s proposal.
- The 1906 version says that St. Raphael is “nominally the second vicar”; the 1975 version does not include the word “nominally.”
- The 1906 version does not include the parenthetical “(autocephaly)”, which the 1975 version has. On this point, the 1975 version appears to be more accurate; I am told by those who can read Russian that the original Russian text does include that parenthetical.
- The 1906 version, when it mentions a diocese (bishopric) for the Greeks, includes a question mark: “The bishopric (?) of the Greeks.” The 1975 version omits this question mark, which does in fact appear in the original Russian.
Otherwise, the two versions basically agree with each other, aside from the obvious differences in word choice in translation. I don’t know who translated either version — neither the 1906 nor the 1975 version credited anyone.
Needless to say, St. Tikhon’s vision was never fully realized. Fr. Sebastian Dabovich never became bishop for the Serbs, and the Greeks weren’t about to submit to Russian authority. And, as pragmatic as it might have been, St. Tikhon’s proposal was also completely uncanonical, predicated as it was upon overlapping episcopal territories that were a total violation of Orthodox ecclesiology. But St. Tikhon’s vision would inspire two later efforts to form a single American Orthodox jurisdiction — the “American Orthodox Catholic Church” in the 1920s/30s, and, in 1970, the OCA — and it is still hailed by many today as a viable solution to our present jurisdictional situation.
PODCAST NOTE: Today on the American Orthodox History podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, we’re airing Part 2 of my interview with Fr. John Erickson, on the subject of the Russian Mission. In this two-part interview, Fr. John gives us, among other things, the context to understand St. Tikhon’s vision.
In 1905, the Roman Catholic religious writer Andrew Shipman wrote an article on the Russian Church in America. It’s an enlightening piece, a snapshot of the Russian Mission taken by an intelligent outsider. Given that the Russian Mission is the subject of my latest podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I thought this would be a good time to reprint part of Shipman’s article.
Much of the article isn’t actually Shipman; it’s Fr. John Nedzelnitsky, a Russian priest from Pittsburgh. Shipman translated an article by Nedzenitzky into English — an appeal to the Russian Holy Synod to elevate the North American Diocese to the status of an Exarchate. Given that the Russian Mission is the subject of my latest podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I thought this would be a good time to reprint much of Shipman’s (and Nedzelnitsky’s) article here. (By the way, the article comes from the June 1905 issue of The Messenger, a Roman Catholic monthly.)
In the United States the Russian Orthodox Church has been established for a hundred years. At first it was confined to Alaska, — then known as Russian America, — then it came to San Francisco and along the Pacific coast. Then it flourished along the Atlantic coast and the adjoining States, and now has its chief and most splendid temple in the City of New York. The episcopal title has varied as the fortunes of the Church have waxed. First, it was “Bishop of the Kodiaks,” afterwards “Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands,” (Bishop Innocent), then “Bishop of New Archangel” (Bishop Paul), then “Bishop of Aleutia and Alaska” (Bishops John, Nestor, Vladimir and Nicholas), and finally now it is “Bishop of Aleutia and North America” (Bishop Tikhon). The latter bishop has been provided with two vicar-bishops or auxiliary bishops, Bishop Innocent, “Bishop of Alaska,” and Bishop Raphael, “Bishop of Brooklyn.”
It is now proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church to form the United States into an Exarchate or at least an Archiepiscopal province. This is to be an ecclesiastical organization, the head of which will be subject directly to the Holy Governing Synod, but which in other respects will be completely autonomous, the bishops and clergy of which will be ruled by the Exarch.
To appreciate the significance of this, let us consider a moment the latest official figures of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States. They are as follows for 1905:
- Russians from Russia – 1,706
- Russians (Ruthenians) from Galicia — 7,747
- Russians (Ruthenians) from Hungary — 4,676
- Bukovinians and Wallachians — 3,653
- Servians and other Slavs — 6,386
- Greeks — 731
- Syro-Arabians — 5,484
- Half-breeds — 2,124
- Indians — 2,281
- Aleutians — 2,272
- Esquimaux — 3,210
- Americans and others — 71
- TOTAL — 38,341
These figures show a slight increase over those for the preceding year. Among themre 772 persons who were formerly Uniate Greek Catholics.
I cannot better explain the purpose and scope of this movement to erect an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church than by translating an article on that subject by the Reverend Archpriest John Nedzelnitzky, of the Russian Church of St. Michael, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After giving a short history of the Russian mission in America, he says:
“The American Orthodox diocese, after a century of its existence, has grown in the number of its members, both clergy and lay, and has become exalted in its significance in the eyes of those of other faiths, — such as the Episcopalians and the old Catholics of America, and it has so important a missionary purpose in spreading orthodoxy among the Uniates, the Slavs and other peoples of the new world, that in justice, both by reason of its purpose and by the merits of its bishops, it ought to have for its visible head in America an Exarch or at least one with the title of Archbishop. For this the following facts will speak:
“In the past year, 1903, the Holy Synod in Russia established in America a vicariate with the cathedral see at Sitka, and on February 24, 1904, the first vicar-bishop arrived in America. He was the Right Reverend Innocent, with the title of ‘Bishop of Alaska.’ On the first of February, 1904, the Holy Synod established a second vicariate for the Syro-Arabian missions, with the cathedral see in the city of Brooklyn, and on February 29th there was celebrated in New York the first Orthodox consecration of a bishop in America, when the Archimandrite Raphael was made Bishop of Brooklyn. There are therefore now America two vicariates and the ruling bishop, who continues to bear the title of ‘Bishop,’ the same as for a century past. There is nothing in the title to distinguish him from his vicars, and he is only differentiated from them by the powers exercised by him, although in reality it follows that a ruling bishop should be distinguished from assistant bishops even in title. For the effectiveness of an archbishop and two vicar-bishops in America, the Diocese of Aleutia ought to be placed first in rank of Orthodox dioceses, not only by the alphabet, but in reality. It ought to be an Exarchate like the Exarchate of Georgia, or at least an Archbishopric. If in Russia there is not a diocese where the ruling bishop with two vicars bears only the title of ‘Bishop,’ but is called ‘Archbishop,’ so it should be in the American Exarchate or Diocese of Aleutia and North America.”
Fr. Nedzelnitsky goes on for another paragraph, comparing the American Orthodox situation to that of the Roman Catholics, who had an Apostolic Delegate, 16 archbishops, and 85 bishops. He then asks,
“If the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in America are ruled by archbishops, why then does not our Orthodox Church in America have even one archbishop, especially now, when the Holy Synod, having established two vicariates in America, has thereby extended the importance of the diocese of Aleutia and its head? And of course it will soon establish also a third vicariate, for the Servians in America, since the Servians, having erected their churches and parishes, wish to have a bishop of their own nationality.”
Nedzelnitsky then notes that the Episcopalian bishops oversee a relatively small number of parishioners — an average of 7,825 per bishop. He continues,
“Our Orthodox diocese in America is comparatively great in the number of its members, only there are now regular statistics, in view of the huge territory in America, of those scattered in towns and villages, where the Orthodox may live, the majority of them leading a nomadic form of life, such as factory hands (Russians, Servians and Ruthenians), and a few tradesmen (Syro-Arabians and Greeks) and the like.
“The official publications of the American government and of our diocesan organization in regard to the number of the Orthodox differ widely in view of the causes we point out. Dr. H.K. Carroll, late special agent of the United States Census Office, informs us that up to 1905 there were in the United States of America 40,000 Russian Orthodox (including probably also Ruthenians), 21,230 Greek Orthodox and 15,000 Syrian Orthodox. Therefore, according to the information of this government official, there are 76,230 Orthodox souls in the United States, but from his statistics there does not appear the quantity of Orthodox Servians, Bulgarians, Macedonians and Roumanians, who altogether amount to more than 10,000. Nor does this official reckon in the half-breeds, Indians Aleutian and Esquimaux, who comprise the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska and its islands. And there are not a few of these last-named races! In Canada there dwell more than 5,000 Bukovinians and Wallachians. An official of the United States of course cannot count them in, for Canada belongs to England. Our missions, for instance, count only those Greeks who go to confession to Russian priests, and in America there are many purely Greek parishes which do not give us their statistical results, but all these really have common ground with us and our bishops, as they are one in faith with us. And in the eys of the Greeks the presence in America of an Orthodox Metropolitan or Archbishop-Exarch would have tremendous importance, as they, as well as the Syro-Arabians and Servians of Austrian territory are accustomed in Europe and in Asia to have many metropolitans, archbishops and bishops of their own.
Nedzelnitsky makes more arguments — that an exarchate would help combat imposter clergy, and that it is essential in drawing Uniates to Orthodoxy. Shipman then concludes his piece:
Thus far the archpriest. But other articles have appeared in the Russian Orthodox papers, showing the proposed foundation of an ecclesiastical seminary in Cleveland, Ohio, the laying out of an extensive school plan and other signs of progressive church work. The latest news in a statement in the daily papers that Bishop Tikhon, with his entire cathedral staff, is about to remove from San Francisco to New York, which latter will hereafter be his chief see city. The change is expected to be made in the month of May of this year, and if San Francisco thus becomes a vicariate with a new bishop, the American Exarchate may be an accomplished fact within a very short time.
St. Tikhon did move from San Francisco to New York City, and a seminary was indeed established (but in Minneapolis, rather than Cleveland). No bishop was assigned to San Francisco, though, and the dream of a full-fledged American Orthodox exarchate never really came to fruition.
Another interesting thing to note is the demographics of the Russian Mission, which I believe Shipman got from the Diocese itself. There were only 721 Greeks in the Russian Diocese, but according to Nedzelnitzky, there were over 21,000 in the country (and the next year’s Census of Religious Bodies would put the figure at more than 90,000).
Also, there were very few actual Russians in the Diocese — just 1,706, or less than 5% of the reported total. The biggest groups in the Diocese were actually the Ruthenians / Bukovinians / Wallachians (16,076 / 42%) and various types of Alaskan natives (9,887 / 26%).
I thought I’d let all the readers of this website know that I’ve launched a bit of a miniseries on my Ancient Faith Radio podcast. For the next five or six episodes, I’ll be interviewing experts (and SOCHA members) Fr. John Erickson, Fr. Andrew Damick, and Fr. Oliver Herbel. In each interview, we’ll be talking about a different historical attempt at American Orthodox administrative unity. The first episode, which went live late this afternoon, is Part 1 of an interview with Fr. John on the subject of the Russian Mission in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Here’s the plan for the miniseries:
- Fr. John Erickson on the Russian Mission (1890s-1910s) (2 parts)
- Fr. Andrew Damick on Abp Aftimios Ofiesh’s American Orthodox Catholic Church (1920s/1930s)
- Fr. Oliver Herbel on the Federated Greek Orthodox Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America (1940s)
- Fr. John Erickson on SCOBA (1960s-present)
- Fr. John Erickson on the OCA (1970-present)
Every single one of those efforts tried, in different ways and with different specific goals, to bring together Orthodox Americans of various ethnic backgrounds. And while each of those groups accomplished some significant things, none of them has resulted in a single, unified, canonically-regular American Orthodox Church. In unpacking their stories, we will, in part, be unpacking the story of American Orthodoxy. By the end, I hope we’ll all (myself included) have a much fuller understanding of just how we got where we are today.
All of this, of course, is done with a present elephant in the room — IV Chambesy, and the upcoming first meeting of the North American Episcopal Assembly in late May 2010. Can Chambesy succeed where others have failed? And how exactly is Chambesy any different than these past efforts? By the end of this miniseries, I hope we’ll all have a better understanding of all that.
A few days ago, there was a conference called, “In the Footsteps of Tikhon and Grafton,” held at Nashotah House, the famous Episcopalian seminary in Wisconsin. The conference included a number of well-known Orthodox figures, among them the OCA’s Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Melchizedek, and St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Fr. Chad Hatfield and Mrs. Anne Glynn-Mackoul. Recordings of the whole conference are available at Ancient Faith Radio.
I point this out mainly because of the first recording on the list — “The History of Anglican/Orthodox Relations,” which is actually a pair of talks given, respectively, by Fr. Chad Hatfield and the Episcopal priest Arnold Klukas. Fr. Chad’s talk focuses primarily on the relationship between St. Tikhon and Bishop Grafton at the turn of the last century. Klukas speaks about the broader history of Anglican-Orthodox relations.
Given the relevance of this subject to American Orthodox history, I thought I would mention it here. Of course, we’ve published a good deal of relevant material here at OrthodoxHistory.org, which you can read by clicking here. For a lot of good primary sources, check out this page on the AnglicanHistory.org website.
On today’s American Orthodox History podcast, I discuss the first two convert American Orthodox priests, James Chrystal and Nicholas Bjerring. You can listen to the podcast for the whole story, but I thought I’d give a brief summary here.
Chrystal and Bjerring were exact contemporaries, both born in 1831. Chrystal lived in the New York area, and died in Jersey City. Bjerring was an immigrant from Denmark, but in 1870 he established the first Orthodox chapel in New York City, and he lived there the rest of his life.
Both Chrystal and Bjerring converted to Orthodoxy for ideological reasons. Chrystal was an Episcopalian intellectual, and he was obsessed with the history of baptism. He even wrote a book on the subject, and he came to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church alone had preserved the correct method of baptism (by triune immersion, in the name of the Trinity). Bjerring was a Roman Catholic intellectual, and he became scandalized by Rome’s declaration of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council. He, too, came to believe that only the Orthodox Church had preserved the truth.
Both men wanted to be “correct,” and they both came to Orthodoxy without having actually attended an Orthodox church. There were, of course, very few Orthodox churches in America in that period — just two outside of Alaska, in San Francisco and New Orleans — and neither Chrystal nor Bjerring had any connection with those. Both men traveled to Orthodox countries to seek reception into the Church and ordination to the priesthood. Chrystal went to Greece, were he impressed church leaders with his vast theological knowledge. Bjerring went to Russia, where he impressed church leaders with his zeal. Both men were quickly received into the Church — Chrystal by baptism, of course, and Bjerring by chrismation. Both were quickly ordained priests, and both were quickly elevated (Chrystal to archimandrite; Bjerring, being married, to archpriest). Both were sent back to America — specifically, to New York City.
Chrystal was the first to leave. Almost immediately upon his return to the United States, he repudiated the Orthodox faith, declaring that he could not accept the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the veneration of icons. He started his own sect, and he spent the rest of his life — the next 35-plus years — railing against “creature worship” and trying to convince the Orthodox to abandon icons.
Bjerring lasted a good bit longer. He was priest of the New York chapel for 13 years, and he was a visible figure in New York society. But he had a lot of problems. He didn’t have sufficient training for the priesthood, and he made what might be called “rookie mistakes” — errors that any seminary student learns to avoid. But what’s worse, he didn’t speak Russian or Greek (the languages of most of his small congregation), and, being a native of Denmark, he spoke English with a thick accent. He actively discouraged conversions, viewing himself not as a missionary but as a sort of religious ambassador to America, promoting goodwill between the Orthodox and the Protestants (especially the Episcopalians).
Bjerring’s parish never grew; in fact, it stagnated. Attendance was always low. By 1883, the Russian authorities had seen enough. They pulled the plug on the chapel, and they offered Bjerring a teaching position in St. Petersburg, where he wouldn’t have to deal with parishioners or church services. But Bjerring wasn’t interested; instead, disgruntled, he abandoned Orthodoxy and became a Presbyterian minister. By the end of his life, he became dissatisfied with Presbyterianism as well, and, coming full circle, returned to the Roman Catholic Church as a layman.
In the cases of both Chrystal and Bjerring, you had men who were obviously intelligent, well-read, and serious. But in both cases, those impressive characteristics blinded church authorities (Greek for Chrystal, Russian for Bjerring) to the obvious deficiencies of both men. One should never become Orthodox to be “right,” as did Chrystal. And one should never become Orthodox in a state of disillusionment, as did Bjerring. Both men joined the Orthodox Church principally because of their brains, but they lacked an experience of the life of the Church, which is necessary for a healthy conversion. The Greek and Russian Churches, in their excitement over these American converts, failed to realize that they were inexperienced and idealistic, and that their interest in Orthodoxy needed to be nurtured for at least a year or two before conversion.
And then there were the ordinations. It’s a frustrating thing, if you study American Orthodox history — time and again, converts are received and then immediately ordained to the priesthood. This became a big problem in the Russian Archdiocese in the late teens and early twenties, and it’s certainly still a problem today. And if you read St. Paul, it’s been a problem since the beginning of the Church. He writes that an episcopos should be “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6); of deacons, he writes, “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless” (3:10).
It’s funny; to become an OCMC missionary, one must have been Orthodox for at least three years. (There are other requirements as well; for instance, one must provide a written history, and must be approved by the OCMC Board.) In some respects, it’s harder to become a lay missionary than it is to become a priest — and yet, are not all priests missionaries themselves, to their flocks and their communities?
Chrystal and Bjerring had barely set foot in an Orthodox church before they were chrismated, and the chrism was not yet dry before they were ordained to shepherd souls. Neither had been initiated into the mind of Orthodoxy; neither had been properly trained to be both priests and pastors; neither had been given the opportunity to truly know the life of the Church and to submit his reason to the wisdom of the Church. And so it’s little wonder that both men, driven to Orthodoxy by their minds and emotions, were driven out of Orthodoxy by the same.
I know that plenty of good priests have been ordained immediately after chrismation. Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who has been discussed at length on this website, is one of them. I’m not trying to make a sweeping generalization, or argue for a hard-and-fast rule. But it’s been 140 years since the Greek and Russian Churches rushed to ordain these neophytes, and we still haven’t learned the lesson. It’s high time we did.