Posts tagged Agapius Honcharenko
Editor’s note: Over the past several weeks, we have been publishing some historical documents which Nicholas Chapman recently discovered in London. Here are the relevant links:
- Nicholas’ introduction to the documents
- A letter by St. Philaret of Moscow on Orthodoxy in America in 1865
- A letter by Agapius Honcharenko in defense of himself
Today, we’re publishing the final document in this series — a report detailing the case against Honcharenko. We don’t know who wrote this report, but it provides previously unknown details on Honcharenko’s life prior to his arrival in America. This document was translated from Russian by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.
From 1857 to 1860 at the church of our mission in Athens there served the Hierodeacon Agafy. He was the son of a priest. Agafy had completed a course of studies at the Seminary in Kiev in 1853.
He entered the Kievo-Pechersk Lavra. In 1856 he was ordained to the hiero-deaconate. In 1857, according to the testimony of the deceased Metropolitan of Kiev, Philaret, Agafy was sent by the Holy Synod to the post which had opened of Hierodeacon at our church in Athens.
From the beginning of his arrival in Athens, Agafy (as was reported in 1860 by the previous rector of the Church in Athens, Archimandrite Antonin) showed a tendency against the fulfilment of the rules of the life of a monk. He lacked friendliness towards the persons who formed his parish and had an especially negative attitude towards the rector. In January 1860 a boy of around 16 declared to Archimandrite Antonin that Agafy, for a long time, had hounded him with impolite words and at last made an improper proposition. When confronted with the accuser, Agafy agreed and said that he did it with the aim to learn if the rector himself did not have a similar relationship with the named person. After that it was declared to Agafy that he should find another place of work, This is why he was given a position that removed him from the church in Athens. Soon after that was found, glued to the wall of the tower adjacent to the church of the embassy a slander against Archimandrite Antonin. When it was found that a similar slander was written also in the bell; Agafy was sent to Russia. He left on February 2, 1860.
In that same year, 1860, the former ambassador to Greece wrote in a secret letter [?], to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that the basic idea directing Agafy’s life was that all in the world is a convention and that everything can be understood whatever way one wants to. As a result of this, Agafy had a secret opposition to everything legal and generally accepted. He rejected all order and was repulsed by every constraint. This attitude brought him to the deepest and dirtiest amorality. He showed a noticeable pleasure in the degrading of the motherland, of spiritual knowledge, and of everything in general which is respected. He showed a sympathy to the …….; he presented ideas for the independence of “Little Russia” [Left bank Ukraine]; he expressed a clear dissatisfaction with Orthodoxy; and he rejected the need for confession. In the last period,[xx?] he displayed an unorthodox conviction toward a rapprochement with the American proselytiser of Lutherism in Greece, Ioan Kinlom. With his help, Agafy was supplied at his arrival from Athens with many letters of recommendation.
On his trip to Russia from Constantinople, he xx Malta and from there he removed his diaconal clothing and left for London. In August 1861 the Holy Synod took into consideration this above described action of the former hierodeacon Agafy (the fact that from February 1860 he was in a self decided absence) and decided to consider the designated hierodeacon Agafy as being defrocked and excluded from the clergy.
About the information received in 1864 that Agafy having returned to Athens in the Spring of 1863 continued, by anonymous letters, to bring shame on Archimandrite Antonin, there was a contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting Agafy be sent from Athens to Russia. The decision was transmitted to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in April 28, 1861 No. 4899.
The ministry responded that they do not have the possibility to forcibly return Agafy to Russia. It asked our Ambassador in Athens to look for ways to remove Agafy from Greece.
In Athens our representative informed us that Agafy (who was living then in Athens in the Greek monastery of Tendely) forcefully denies the anonymous letters about which Fr Antonin complained.
Editor’s note: Today, we present the second of three historical documents recently discovered by Nicholas Chapman. On August 24, we published Nicholas’ introduction to the documents, and last week, we published a letter by St. Philaret of Moscow on the subject of Orthodoxy in America in 1865. Today’s document is an 1865 letter from Agapius Honcharenko to a priest. While the recipient is not identified by name, Nicholas notes that the priest was “most likely the Rev. Eugene Popov, the Russian Priest in London, England.” The initial translation of this letter has been provided by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.
The letter isn’t dated, but we can get a good idea of when it was written from this sentence: “I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.” On March 26, 1865, the New York Times reported that Honcharenko was to depart for New Orleans “in a few days.” It is thus probable that the letter was written shortly before that date.
Very Reverend Father,
I have always regretted and wondered why in the new world there is no Catholic Orthodox faith and because of this having prepared myself with the necessary objects for a church service: of course icons, vestments etc. Last fall on October 1 I embarked from Smyrna on an American ship and left for America having received the ordination to the priesthood, the holy antimens and the holy myrrh with a letter from the Great Church. I arrived on Dec 21 and on Dec 25, the day of the birth of Christ, in our Orthodox dogma, among the Greeks, was performed the first liturgy on this continent since the time of Columbus.
In the Republic I find in the official documents seven thousand Orthodox Slavs, (Illyrian Dalmatians of Montenegro) , three thousand Russians and three thousand Greeks. These sheep live from birth without a Pastor. The Slavs and Russians, although they are citizens of the Republic…….. But they ask with all the soul addressing themselves to Russia, asking that the Russian Synod send a blessing for their church meetings and they ask to have the petition at the litany to commemorate the Emperor Alexander II and the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia as a symbol of the unity with the Russian Church. As I am a citizen of Greece, during my services I commemorate the Greek King and Synod and the Slavs do not wish this. During the several days of my stay in New York I baptized a few friendly …. (eight) and two Russians. I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.
By birth I am a Russian and I served at the Russian Church in Athens as a deacon. My unfortunate fate…….. (March 15, 1860) Unfairness of people …… made me become a Greek citizen. I am also with my soul and body dedicated to the Russian people…. The Russian government . Prince Gorchokov is convinced of this. But why does not the Russian Holy Synod recognise the truth of what I say?!!!
I am addressing you the deepest request very very Reverend Father. I have heard a lot about the goodness of your soul. Please pay attention to me and to the goodwill of the Orthodox Church and ask the petition for me that I would receive the blessing upon my sheep, both Slavs and Russians, from the Holy Synod, because I am the only and first Pastor of the Orthodox Church on this continent and the Pastor for all the Orthodox sheep of the flock of Christ.
I remain with the deepest respect ,
Priest Agapius Honcharenko
47 Exchange Place, Room 19, New York
Editor’s note: Last week, Nicholas Chapman introduced three documents he found in the National Archives in London, under the heading “The Russian Orthodox Church in America and Its Clergy in 1865.” Today, we present the first of these documents — a letter from His Holiness Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, to the Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod of Russia, February 26, 1865. Nicholas Chapman explains, “The author of this document was Metropolitan Filaret (Drozdov) who served as Metropolitan of Moscow for from 1826-1867. Metropolitan Innocent, since canonized as the ‘Apostle to America,’ succeeded him.” This draft translation has been provided by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.
One final note: St. Philaret makes reference to a Christmas liturgy celebrated by Honcharenko in New York. This appears to have been the first Orthodox liturgy in the history of New York City (or, for that matter, the first known liturgy in the eastern United States). It is earlier than the better-known liturgy celebrated by Honcharenko a couple of months later (and discussed here and here).
When the American spiritual leaders first showed the desire to have an Orthodox Church in America it seemed necessary for California but not for New York. Now a new outlook appears.
Already a priest has received from the Holy Church of Constantinople the antimens and the Holy Chrism. He has arrived in America and on the day of the birth of Christ performed there the first Orthodox liturgy from the time of the discovery of America. Then he performed the baptism of eight Slavs and two Russians. He writes, “I found there seven thousand Slavs, three thousand Greeks and three thousand Russians, without a Pastor.” If this is true, it is a strong reason to have in America a Russian Orthodox Church.
We are attaching to this a copy of the letter of Agapius Honcharenko written to the Editor of the newspaper “Orthodox Overview.” Won’t you take the decision if something should be done about this situation?
A Brief Commentary on Documents Found in the National Archives in London under the Heading “The Russian Orthodox Church in America and Its Clergy 1865”
Editor’s note: We are once again privileged to present the work of the remarkable Nicholas Chapman. Several months ago, we published two articles by Nicholas on the presence of Orthodoxy in Colonial Virginia (to read those, click here and here). Today, Nicholas introduces us to some of his most recent discoveries. On the next three Tuesdays, we’ll publish the three documents Nicholas discusses below.
At the end of July this year I was able to spend an afternoon at the National Archives in London, UK. I was aware that certain documents pertaining to the history of the Russian Orthodox Community in London were held there and I was hoping to find more information with regard to the early presence of Orthodoxy in British America before the American Revolution. Whilst my original goal was achieved I also discovered a wealth of other documents relating to the history of Orthodoxy in America between 1865 -1945. There is much more to translate and to write. I am grateful to Matushka Marie Meyendorff for her initial draft translation of the documents that follow. Not every part is immediately readable, but God willing a more complete and refined translation can be made in due course.
It would perhaps be helpful to briefly set a little historical background. There are three documents collectively filed under the heading of “The Russian Orthodox Church in America and Its Clergy 1865” They consist of a covering letter written by the venerable and very elderly Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow to the “Ober Procurator” of the Holy Synod of Russia – effectively the Minister of Religion. The Metropolitan encloses two further documents: a detailed and generally negative overview of the case against Agapius Honcharenko with an explanation as to why he was defrocked as a deacon by the Russian Synod in 1861. The second is a letter to an unknown priest (most likely the Rev. Eugene Popov the Russian Orthodox priest in London) from Agapius Honcharenko pleading his side of the story and essentially petitioning to be taken back by the Russian Church. Since his defrocking as a deacon, he appears to have been made a priest, either by the Church of Constantinople or the Church of Greece.
It is interesting that Metropolitan Filaret does not simply dismiss Honcharenko’s claims but appears to treat them seriously enough to suggest to the Ober-Procurator that they provide sufficient grounds to lead the Russian Church to establish a full ecclesial presence in the United States. It should be remembered that these documents predate the US purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire in March 1867. It should also be noted that the American Civil War was still underway when these documents were written and that the Russian Empire was an active supporter of the Northern States during the conflict. Many in fact credit Metropolitan Filaret as being one of the driving forces behind the abolition of serfdom in Russian Empire (1861) and Agapius Honcharenko was also known as an advocate of that cause. This may partly explain Filaret’s somewhat sympathetic stance to his case.
The reference of Filaret to “American spiritual leaders” in California is also of interest and is most probably related to the overtures being made at that time by leaders of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA to the Russian Orthodox Church and efforts which had already begun toward the formation of a Russian Orthodox Parish in San Francisco.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, August 21 2010
From the Congregationalist and Boston Recorder, January 16, 1868:
Many will remember that, some two years ago, a famous service was held in Trinity Chapel, New York city, in which, with a great flourish of trumpets, one “Father Agapius,” who purported to be a Priest of the Greek church, celebrated “the Sacrifice of the Mass” in the Greek tongue; to the great delectation of the High Churchmen, who enjoyed the show intensely, and who feld that they were coming very near, in this performance, to the real thing. Great was the glorification which was made over this manifestation of the “Orthodox Catholic Church.” Father Agapius had the genuine Apostolical succession, and it was a blessed symbol that he should condescend to hold his gorgeous Greek service in an American Episcopal church! Father Agapius, however, soon after mysteriously disappeared. It was darkly hinted, after a time, that he was — tell it not in Gath — a swindler and a cheat; and, most mournful of all, a mere mechanic and prosaic printer. Father Agapius has turned up again, however — this time in the Methodist connection. The Pacific Churchman of San Francisco, Cal., of 28th Nov. last, contains the following advertisement:
“Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Agapius Honcharenko, Pastor. Preaching every Sabbath morning at 9 o’clock in the Vestry of the Howard Street M.E. Church. Services conducted in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages. All are invited.”
We hope there is no irreverence in the suggestion; but wouldn’t it be well to have Trinity Chapel disinfected?
And here is the original article in the Pacific Churchman, to which the above article refers:
FATHER AGAPIUS – Some of our readers may recall the name of this individual, who, about two years ago, appeared in New York, claiming to be a priest of the Greek Church. At first his pretensions were received by some of the clergy, and a Greek service was arranged for him. Immediately afterwards, however, he disappeared, and, we believe, subsided into his original employment, which was that of a printer. Since then nothing has been heard of him, until about a fortnight since, when he appeared in this city [San Francisco] as – to copy his card – a member of the “Orthodox Catholic Church.” We find, however, from the following advertisement that he has now transferred his valuable talents to our Methodist brethren:
“Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Agapius Honcharenko, Pastor. Preaching every Sabbath morning at 9 o’clock in the Vestry of the Howard street M.E. Church. Services conducted in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages. All are invited.”
As the members of the Greek Church (if there are any here) cannot recognize him, and American Methodists cannot understand “Services in the Slavonian, Russian and Greek languages,” we think his chance is a small one of founding a sect with the “stunning” name of the “Russo-Greek Methodist Episcopal Church.”
As it happened, there were indeed Orthodox Christians living in San Francisco in 1867. They were grouped into two societies — the Russian Slavonian Benevolent Society and the Greek-Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society. Just a couple weeks after the above article ran, the two societies merged, and the Russian and Pan-Slavonic Benevolent Society was incorporated. The Orthodox in San Francisco had initially attended some of Honcharenko’s church services. In a letter in 1868, Prince Dimitry Makutsov (acting director of the Russian American Company) wrote, “Last year Agapius Honcharenko arrived in S.-Francisco, who escaped from a certain monastery. At the beginning, he was conducting divine services here, but, since he is not following the precise rules of our Church, all those who share our faith left him and renounced him as a schismatic.” The realization that Honcharenko was a fraud appears to have been part of the impetus for the San Francisco Orthodox community to form a parish.
One of the immediate goals of the society was to build an Orthodox church. In March of 1868, they sent a petition to Bishop Paul in Alaska, asking that he send Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin to San Francisco. The bishop granted the society’s request, and Kovrigin was in San Francisco in time for Holy Week. This was the first formal Russian parish in the contiguous United States, and Kovrigin was the first resident parish priest.
 The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder (January 16, 1868), 20.
 “Father Agapius,” San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (reprinted from the Pacific Churchman, November 30, 1867).
 “Russian Benevolent Society,” San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (December 27, 1867).
 Prince D. Makutsov to Bishop Paul (March 1868). Published at Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA), http://www.holy-trinity.org/history/1868/03.00.Maksutov-Paul.html.