Posts tagged Agapius Honcharenko
Benachi was born in 1812 on the Greek island of Chios, and he was living in New Orleans at least as early as 1852, when he purchased a large piece of choice real estate in the city. (He went on to build a mansion, known as the “Benachi House,” on some of the highest ground in New Orleans. It still stands, and is now an upscale bed and breakfast.) Benachi himself was a formidable figure. Here’s one description:
Benachi was a Greek businessman who worked in the New Orleans cotton trade for the Greek firm of Ralli Bros. They were international cotton brokers with offices in London, Cairo, Athens and India. [...] He was Consul of Greece in New Orleans, a speculator in real estate and slaves, a hunter, horseman and founder of the first Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere
Being the most prominent figure in the Greek (and Orthodox) community in New Orleans, as well as being a slaveowner, Benachi was probably involved in the organization of the Greek militia regiment during the Civil War. His daughter went on to marry Demetrius Botassi, the Greek Consul in New York City, and Botassi became a major figure in New York’s Orthodox community.
Benachi lived for another two decades. He died in New Orleans in 1886, at the age of 74.
And as we’ve also discussed, there were Greeks and other Orthodox Christians living in New Orleans in the 1860s. In fact, they had been there for several decades already. The city was a major port, and it became an early center for Greek cotton merchants and sailors. A few weeks after Honcharenko’s liturgy in New York, the New York Times reported:
Father Agapius, the Russo-Greek priest, now residing in this city, will leave in a few days for New-Orleans, where there are about 300 Sclavonians [sic] and others who belong to the communion of his church. The Father will make a short stay in New-Orleans for the purpose of baptizing those who desire it.
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Honcharenko wrote a letter to the city’s Orthodox Christians. This letter appeared in the New Orleans Times on April 11:
Beloved Children of the Orthodox Oriental Church in New Orleans:
Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, is pleased not to leave the members of our branch of the Holy Apostolic Church to remain any longer without the enjoyment of their own ecclesiastical services.
The Divine Mind has sent my humility — His Evangelist — to this New World, to gather together the scattered sheep and invite them again in the privileges of the Church.
I therefore come that I may show you how to so walk in the church militant, and to receive the Holy Sacraments, that you may be the better prepared for the church triumphant.
After spending some time in the Northern States of this great Republic I have just arrived in your city. I intend to remain here only until the 22nd of April — through Passion and Easter weeks.
I earnestly recommend you to prepare yourselves by fasting and prayer for confession and holy communion — yourselves and your dear children.
The divine liturgy, according to the Orthodox Oriental Church, will be celebrated by divine permission on Saturday next, April 15th, at 10 1/2 A.M., in St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Camp street, corner of Gaiennie. Those desiring to attend will please call at my present residence, No. 7 St. Ann street, Jackson Square, where I may be found every morning, excepting on Saturday next, until 12 o’clock M.
Your affectionate brother in Christ and Missionary to America,
Priest of the Orthodox Oriental Church
Honcharenko is widely reported to have been the first pastor of the New Orleans parish (for instance, the website of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral refers to him as “the first priest of the Community”). But really, Honcharenko was only in New Orleans for a visit (cf. his above statement, “I intend to remain here only until the 22nd of April”), and he returned to New York soon thereafter. He soon moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he continued his colorful and controversial career (about which, more to come).
Incidentally, about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the site of the first Orthodox liturgy in the American South — the church of Honcharenko’s day was built in the mid-1850s, replacing an earlier structure. But New Orleans surrendered to the North early in the Civil War, and from 1862 to 1865, St. Paul’s was closed and the church was used to stable Union horses. The Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865, and Honcharenko served liturgy on April 15 — in other words, that Orthodox liturgy must have been one of the first services in the newly-restored St. Paul’s. Unfortunately, the structure no longer exists; it burned in a fire in 1891.
The New Orleans Orthodox parish went on to build a church of its own, named for the Holy Trinity. Their first full-time pastor was a Fr. Stephen Andreades, who was apparently “invited from Greece” to come to New Orleans. We know that Andreades was in New Orleans by at least December of 1867, which makes him the first Orthodox parish priest in the contiguous United States. In future posts, we’ll discuss both the life of Fr. Agapius Honcharenko and the early history of the New Orleans parish.
 “General City News,” New York Times (March 26, 1865), 8.
 “The Orthodox Oriental Church,” New Orleans Times (April 11, 1865), 8.
 “History,” St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
 Fr. Alexander Doumouras, “Greek Orthodox Communities in America Before World War I,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 11:4 (1967), 179.
Honcharenko appears to have arrived in New York in January 1865. The following is part of the January 18, 1865 entry in the diary of Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City:
The Revd Mr. Young called in the evening to see me, on important business, connected with the arrival of a Russian priest in this city, who came out to minister to the Greek and Slavonic people here. I promised him a room for their services in one of our buildings. We had much conversation on the Russo-Greek movement wh[ich] is going on favourably to all appearance here & in England.
On March 2 of the same year, Honcharenko served the landmark Orthodox liturgy in Trinity Chapel. Here is Dix’s diary entry from that day:
This 2nd. day of Lent was a memorable one, because the Liturgy of the Eastern Church was sung in Trinity Chapel, at 11 A.M. This never occurred before so far as I have heard, in any Anglican Church. Bishop Potter was to have been there, but backed out, and went down to S. Paul’s instead, to the noon day communion. A full account of this delightful service, will be found at the end of this diary; I cut it out from the Evening Post.
Dix went on to note that the service “took just 1 hr. & 15 m.,” and he included multiple newspaper clippings which reported on the event.
I am indebted to Gwynedd Cannan, archivist of Trinity Church in New York, for providing the excerpts from the Dix diary.
A couple days ago, I wrote a piece on the first Orthodox liturgy in New York City, celebrated by Fr Agapius Honcharenko in 1865. The site of the liturgy was Trinity Chapel, which belonged to the Episcopal Church. In my post, I included a photo of Trinity Church… Which, as it turns out, is different than Trinity Chapel.
I learned of this from the archivist of Trinity Church, who informed me that what was Trinity Chapel is now St Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral.
Trinity Chapel originally belonged to Trinity Church. It was built in the 1850s, and despite being called a “chapel,” it had a considerable congregation. By the 1940s, though, demographics had changed, and church leaders decided to sell the building. New York City’s first full-blown Serbian parish had begun in the late 1930s, and as soon as they heard that the chapel was on the market, they were interested. With help from St Nicholai Velimirovich, Serbs from across the country, and the Episcopalians themselves, the modest Serbian parish was able to purchase Trinity Chapel in 1942. I’m getting all of this information from the website of St Sava Cathedral, and I would encourage you to take a look at the whole story, which can be found here.
On March 2, 1865, New York City witnessed its first-ever Orthodox liturgy. The service was held in Trinity Chapel, which belonged to the Episcopal Church. The priest, Fr Agapius Honcharenko, was originally from what is now Ukraine and what was then a part of the Russian Empire. But he came, apparently, from the Church of Greece: he had been sent, or perhaps volunteered, to serve as a priest for the handful of scattered Orthodox Christians in America.
As I will discuss in depth later, Honcharenko was a bizarre character, and we have to regard his ecclesiastical credentials as suspect at best. At the time, though, he was welcomed in New York by the Episcopalians, who offered their chapel and provided a choir. The occasion for the service was the anniversary of Tsar Alexander II’s coronation; this appears to have been suggested not by Honcharenko but by Dr Morgan Dix, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church.
The following day, the New York Times reported, “The church, both aisles and galleries, was crowded with ladies and gentlemen to its utmost extent, although there had been no advertisement in the papers regarding the celebration. There were present upward of fifty clergymen of the city and neighborhood. The music (only vocal) was very fine. The ceremonies were impressive, solemn, and, to almost everyone present, novel, but exceedingly interesting, and, it might be said, beautiful. We ought to say that there were some sixty Greeks and about twenty Scalvonians [sic] or Russians present, who occupied seats in front of the altar.”
The Times actually reprinted several sections of the liturgy itself. The Protestants present were especially struck by the absence of the filioque from the Creed. The music, sung by a small group of Episcopalians, was provided by a certain Dr Young. This man was a member of the Russo-Greek Committee of the Episcopal Church – the group charged with fostering relations with the Orthodox Churches. Dr Young had brought texts and music back from a visit to Russia, and he put the Slavic words into English phonetics for the occasion.
Not everyone was excited about the service. The magazine Evangelical Christendom commented, “Some of the religious papers find in it an unbecoming complicity with mischievous superstition and error; since the filioque was omitted from the creed by the Episcopal choir, and the ‘sacrifice’ ‘received’ by the priest is claimed to include all the enormities of transubstantiation and the Mass.”
News of the event quickly traveled around the world. It was reported in Orthodox publications in Russia and France. The French Orthodox journal Union Chretienne soon broke the news that Honcharenko had been involved with the exiled Russian radical Alexander Herzen, and had written several articles criticizing the Russian Church.
This revelation led the Orthodox of New York to cut off contact with Honcharenko, who went on to have many more strange adventures over the next several decades.
 “Novel Religious Service,” New York Times (March 3, 1865), 8.
 “America,” Evangelical Christendom (April 1, 1865), 190.
 “The Anglican and Greek Churches,” Catholic World 2:7 (October 1865), 67-68.