Posts tagged Alexander Nemolovsky
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Isabel Hapgood and appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. It is the most complete surviving description of the funeral of St. Raphael, who died on February 27, 1915. Hapgood herself had known St. Raphael for nearly two decades, from the time that he first arrived in America.
The first Syro-Arabian Bishop in America was buried yesterday in a tomb beneath the Syro-Arabian Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Brooklyn, which forms his monument.
Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny was born in Damascus, a pure Arab. [In fact, St. Raphael's family was from Damascus, but he was born in Beirut. - Ed.] From the Patriarchal Theological School, at Khalki, he went to Russia and became so identified with the spirit of the country that he was wont to say, “In soul I am a Russian.” He went in a monastery at Kiev for six years, and then was professor of Arabic at the University of Kazan. A desire for active work brought him to America.
In Russia he was ordained, and it was under the auspices of the Holy Synod that he labored here. On several occasions the Patriarch of Antioch offered him the rank of Metropolitan in his native Syria. It is probable that had he returned he would have become Patriarch, but he felt that his work was among the 25,000 Syro-Arabians here, whom he had organized into thirty parishes.
He came to this country in 1895. His first church was on the second floor of a house in Washington Street, Manhattan. How the floor bore up under the masses of worshippers, especially when the Russian Bishop held services there on his infrequent visits from San Francisco (then the seat of the Russian diocese), I never understood. Another dispensation of Providence was required to avert a catastrophe when we adjourned to the floor above and enjoyed a genuine Arab feast, ending with Arab coffee flavored with rosewater from Syria. All the partitions and supports below had been removed to make space in the church.
Bishop Nicholas, now Archbishop of Warsaw, remarked to me on one occasion: “I know now exactly how Louis XIV felt when he had to eat in public!”
After the feast a couple of handsome young fellows (ladies’ tailors by their American profession) in Albanian costume performed the famous sword play over the oilclothed floor, upon which dressy lengths of ingrain carpet had been loosely laid, with such vigor that they literally cut the gas jets, partly smashed the fixtures and had to be separated by the umpire, who interposed with a dagger — more Providence!
One day a pistol flew from one of the swordsmen’s sashes across the room and landed at my feet — that illustrates the vigor of the proceedings. I captured it and refused to return it until the end of the session — and thereafter, instead of sitting at the side of the room, I took a safe seat by the side of the Russian Bishop.
A few years passed and Father Raphael was able to move his church to a building on Pacific Street, near Hoyt Street, which later on became a cathedral. That was in 1904. Early that year he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite, and in May of that year he was consecrated Bishop, and became the second Vicar of the Russian Archbishop.
Ordinarily three bishops are required for consecration. In this case, owing to its exigencies, only two officiated, the Most Revered Tikhon, Archbishop of Aleutia and North America, now Archbishop of Vilna, and the Right Rev. Innokentz, first Vicar, later Bishop of Yakutsk and Viluisk, and now Archbishop of Tashkent, in Turkestan. That is, I am sure, the only ocasion [sic] when a Bishop of the Orthodox Eastern Church has been consecrated in America, and a wonderful service it was.
The Russian Ambassador, not being able to come, sent his representative, who sat at the right hand of the new Bishop at the banquet which followed. As the only representative of America and the Episcopal Church, I was placed at his left hand, opposite the consecrating prelates, and was called on for a speech after the Ambassador’s representative had conveyed his formal message.
In course of time Bishop Raphael came to know many of the Episcopal clergy, and was highly respected by them. His later alienation from them is regarded as having arisen under misapprehension. By his own people he was cherished as the man to whom they owed their beneficent organizations. The Young Turk element quarrelled with him for reciting the formal prayer for the Sultan, as the ruler of Syria, in the services, and several attempts were made on his life. At times he was obliged to go about with a guard, and I met him in the Syrian restaurants dining with a guard on duty. But he lived down their enmity.
Bishop Raphael died, after an illness of three weeks, from dropsy, kidney trouble and heart disease, worn and gray as a man of seventy with his toils and sufferings.
For a week he lay in state in his cathedral, and morning and evening requiem services were held by the Right Rev. Alexander, Bishop of Alaska, assisted by Russian and Syrian clergy. A wonderful service, picturesque in setting.
Across the foot of the open coffin was draped the purple episcopal mantle, with its crimson velvet “tables of the law.” Over the face lay a sacramental veil of white and silver brocade, embroidered with a gold cross. At the head of the coffin stood pontifical candles, but no longer lighted, as during pontifical service. They were tied with black ribbons, so that their tips spread abroad, reversed and unlighted. Between them, leaning against the head of the catafalque and the coffin rose the crozier. Behind, on a folding lectern, lay a purple velvet cushion, on which were placed the orders and decorations which the Bishop had received, many from Russia. The holy doors in the centre of the ikonostasis, with its many ikoni, were closed and draped in black and gold, purple and silver. All about the walls were more ikoni, and huge floral pieces surrounded the coffin. One of the set pieces was an armchair, of white artificial flowers, with sprays of lavender flowers and surmounted by a canopy or arched gateway of palms, violet tulle and white flowers.
At the evening requiems the church was always filled. Many women waited for hours to secure front seats in the little gallery. More women thronged every step of the stairs. The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand, after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.
The gospels were read night and day, instead of Psalms, as with a layman, by relays of clergy. The Syrians relieved one another at frequent intervals, and showed the finest, most varied forms of intoning.
Bishop Alexander who, by command of the Holy Synod, has charge of the vast Russian Diocese of North America until the newly appointed Archbishop shall arrive, stood at the services motionless (“like a candle” is the Russian term.)
Thursday evening, at the close of the services, a picture was taken of the dead Bishop and the circle of celebrating clergy. After the clergy had retired, representatives of all the Syrian societies, including women, made addresses from the chancel platform about the great work which Bishop Raphael had accomplished for his people in America.
Saturday morning, after the liturgy had been celebrated in Old Church Slavonic and Greek by Bishop Alexander and his clergy, and in Syrian by the Syrians, while the choir of the Russian Theological Seminary from Tenafly, N.J., sang their part in Slavonic, two requiem services were held, the first by the Metropolitan Hermanos Shehadah, of Selveskia Mount Lebanon [should be Baalbek - ed.], Syria (his black, waist-long hair concealed beneath his black cassock and cloth of silver pall) and the Syrian clergy; and the second by Bishop Alexander and a few Russian priests, the seminary choir singing. The Syrian clergy no longer kissed the dead Bishop’s right hand. That lay at rest forevermore. The raised left hand supported a large cross, and this alone was saluted.
Yesterday morning, at 10 o’clock, the liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Alexander, standing at the right of Metropolitan Hermanos, on their eagle rugs upon the dais at the head of Bishop Raphael’s coffin. As was customary, Bishop Alexander was vested on the dais in magnificent vestments of silver brocade. Metropolitan Hermanos wore gold brocade and the tall Metropolitan’s mitre of crimson velvet and gold, from whose crest rose a diamond cross. The choir of the Russian St. Nicholas Cathedral sang, except during the brief intervals when the Syrians chanted.
At a layman’s funeral the clergy wear black velvet and silver; at the funeral of a priest or bishop, no mourning is worn and the flowerlike vestments of the priests, mingling with the magnificent floral pieces, produce a very brilliant effect. The Syrian deacon wore pink brocade with a stole of blue and gold. As only 500 people were allowed by the authorities inside the cathedral, there was space for the ceremony of processions to and from the altar. At 12 o’clock the liturgy ended. At 1:30 the funeral began.
The singing was now done for the Syrians by the boys’ and girls’ choir of the Sunday school, wearing white vestments with lavender crosses, the girls, with mortarboard caps, occasionally assisting the clergy. The Russian singing was done by the clergy, assisted by the adult members of the choir. In all there were about forty priests, Russian and Syrian, who chanted, the Russians led by Archdeacon Vsevolod, of the Russian Cathedral, with his magnificent voice.
Among the hymns, which show the spirit of the service, were:
“Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of thy servant and establish him in Paradise. Where the choirs of the saints, O Lord, and of the just, shine like the stars of heaven, give rest to thy servant, who hath fallen asleep, regarding not all his transgressions.”
“Forasmuch as we all are constrained to that same dread abode, and shall hide ourselves beneath a gravestone like to this, and shall ourselves shortly turn to dust, let us implore of Christ rest for him who hath been translated hence.”
In the Eastern Church there are several orders of burial. One is for a child under seven years old, in which no mention is made of sin, because a child’s soul “is not grown,” as the Russians say, until he is seven. Another is for adult laymen; a third, for those who die in Easter week, in which there are almost no songs of mourning, but all are songs of the joy of the Resurrection; the fourth, for dead priests, has five epistles and five gospels. These were read by the Syrians and the Russians alternately, as were the many hymns, most of which were written by St. John of Damascus.
Then at last the clergy made addresses, Father Basil Kerbawy, dean of the cathedral, Father Sergius Snegyeroff and others, in praise of the Bishop. Father Kerbawy reduced the congregations to tears. Bishop Alexander made the last speech, directly addressing the dead as he stood by the coffin.
After “Memory Eternal” had been proclaimed in Syrian and in Old Church Slavonic, with the addition of the Bishop’s title and name, the procession formed. It is customary to carry the body of a Bishop around the outside of the church and to hold a brief service on each of the four sides before going to the graveyard. This constituted the funeral procession in the present case, as its route was along Pacific Street to Henry Street, thence to State Street, then to Nevins Street and back along Pacific Street to the cathedral.
The procession formed in the following order: Cronin, political leader of the district; squad of mounted police; twenty to thirty small boys in white tunics, with lilac crosses and flowers; the Cathedral committee (honorary pall-bearers); girls, singing hymns; Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society; the Homsian Fraternity; the Syro-American Political Club; members of the various Syrian diocesan parishes; the United Syrian Societies; cathedral Sunday school pupils, carrying crosses, candles and church banners; coaches with floral offerings; Archimandrite [Aftimios] Aphaish of Montreal, carrying the cushion with the late Bishop’s orders; finally, St. Joseph’s Society of Boston.
The dead prelate was borne in an open coffin by the priests, the snowflakes drifting down upon his splendid mantle of purple, crimson and white, his golden mitre, and the white brocade sacramental veil which covered his face. The body was followed by the Orthodox clergy, both Syrian and Russian; last came Bishop Alexander of Alaska. The family of the deceased, parishioners and friends followed, women joining, although it is not the custom to do so abroad.
Directly beneath the altar the Bishop had built for himself a vault. On the return of the procession masses of the flowers were carried into the crypt, and the clergy surrounded the bronze coffin into which the mahogany casket was lowered. The Metropolitan Hermanos made the final address before the coffin was closed, and a most distressing scene of grief ensued. Not only the clergy, but many parishioners, cast earth upon the body of their beloved Bishop.
“[I]n 1921 … without the knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Greek Archdiocese was founded in America.” (Patriarch Alexy I of Moscow to Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, March 17, 1970.)
Patriarch Alexy’s position has been shared by many people, particularly since the OCA was granted autocephaly by Moscow in 1970. But is it true? Was the Greek Archdiocese really established against the wishes of the Russian Orthodox Church? I had always assumed so, until I stumbed upon a letter from Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky — the Russian Archbishop of North America — to his Greek counterpart, Bishop (later Archbishop) Alexander Demoglou, dated November 11, 1921. The letter is included in Paul Manolis’ The History of the Greek Church of America in Acts and Documents, and I have reprinted it in full below:
Most Reverend and Dear Brother in Christ:
After taking counsel and acting accordance with our knowledge and understanding of the Canon Law, we herewith inform you that our interpretation of the duty confronting us in relation to the established intercommunion of our Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Communion, we look to you and your Canonical Superiors as the head in America, North and South, of the interests of the Hellenic members of our Holy Faith.
By this, you will therefore understand that until further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople, the Russian Mission established in America with jurisdiction known as the Archdiocese of the Aleutian Isles and North America, as well as our local American work known as “The American Orthodox Catholic Church” under the immediate direction of the Right Reverend Archimandrite Patrick [Mythen], who is under obedience to us as Archbishop, are in full fellowship and communion with you, as the only valid and canonical head of the Hellenic Mission (for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece).
We beg you to take note of this, our official communication and pray that together under God’s direction, we may work in fraternal harmony in the Apostolic responsibilities resting upon us.
Prayin[g] God’s blessing on you and your work, I am
Archbishop of the Aleutian Isles and North America
Abp Alexander’s letter proves that the leadership of the Russian Archdiocese of North America welcomed the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921. Contrary to Patriarch Alexy I and so many others, the Greek Archdiocese was founded with the “knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Now, Abp Alexander Nemolovsky may well have been wrong to have written that letter. His understanding of canon law certainly seems peculiar, since he simultaneously claims to be Archbishop of North America and acknowledges another bishop as having the same jurisdiction. Later Russian Church leaders were free to disagree with Abp Alexander’s original position, but we cannot deny that the head of the Russian Archdiocese welcomed the creation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921.
What does it mean? It means that we should be honest when we’re debating the sticky questions of territorial rights and so forth. Yes, the Russian Church had the original Orthodox presence on the North American continent. The Russian Church was the first to formally claim North America as its ecclesiastical territory, and it was the first to engage in large-scale missionary work on that territory (among Alaskan natives and Eastern Rite Catholics). But it is wrong to say that the Greek Archdiocese was founded contrary to the wishes of the Russian Church. In fact, I would turn the question around — and I’m very open to new information on this: can anyone point to a specific document, from the 1918-1922 period, in which a Russian Church leader declared the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese to be uncanonical?
And, just to pre-empt any questions about it — I point all this out not to argue for (or against) the agenda of this or that group in the Church, but only to correct the historical record. The Russian Archbishop of America welcomed the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese. This is a fact.
This past Saturday was February 27, the 95th anniversary of the death of St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the great Syrian Bishop of Brooklyn. His death set off more than a week of commemorations in the Syrian Orthodox community. Telegrams immediately went out to Syrian parishes all over the country. In fact, the news spread so quickly that the Kearney Daily Hub was able to run a notice in time for its evening publication, the very day of St. Raphael’s death. “Rev. [Nicola] Yanney was in receipt of a telegram this afternoon announcing the death of Bishop Raphael, head of the Syrian church,” the paper reported.
Yanney and his fellow Syrian clergy had to make hasty arrangements to travel to Brooklyn for the funeral, and the visiting Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi rushed back from Montreal. The Russian Bishop Alexander Nemolovsky hurried to Brooklyn to serve a Divine Liturgy. A solemn procession escorted St. Raphael’s body from his home to the cathedral, where it would lay in state until the funeral on March 7. In the meantime, clergy began a round-the-clock reading of the Bible, never leaving the saint’s body unattended. The community sprung into action, convincing the Board of Health to grant them special permission to bury their bishop in a crypt within his cathedral.
It must have been a painful and poignant time and place to be an Orthodox Christian. Bishop Raphael’s orphaned flock would splinter in the years to come, but at the beginning of March, 1915, they were completely united by the death of their beloved bishop.
As we’ve discussed previously, in July of 1920, an all-convert, all-English Orthodox parish was founded in New York City. Called the Church of the Transfiguration, the parish was led by the newly-converted Fr. Patrick Mythen. But it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream of the elderly Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who served as the assistant priest.
The church held its first services on Sunday, July 18, 1920. Six days later, the New York Times ran an article on the parish under the headline, “Americanizing a Church.” The Church of the Transfiguration was, according to the article, part of a broader initiative, supported by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky, to “Americanize” the Russian Archdiocese. He had apparently commissioned a fresh English translation of the Divine Liturgy. English was the primary language of instruction in the Russian seminary in Tenafly, New Jersey, and Orthodox Christians in America were encouraged to obtain US citizenship.
On Saturday, July 31, someone reportedly broke into the church. Mythen told the Times (8/16/1920) that, oddly enough, nothing at all was taken. This was surprising — the burglars could have stolen the holy vessels made of gold and silver, and expensive clergy vestments, but they didn’t. From the Times:
The priests were puzzled by the objectless burglary, but on the following day, when he drank the sacramental wine from the chalice at the end of the service, Canon Ingram N.W. Irvine became conscious of an agonizing pain in his mouth, throat and stomach. Believing that in some manner the chalice had been filled with acid instead of wine, he acted immediately to save his own life. By his promptness he escaped without serious injury, though he was very sick for a day or more. Canon Irvine is 70 years old.
Immediately after this incident an investigation was made of the receptacle containing the wine intended for sacramental purposes, but not yet consecrated. The wine there was found to be perfectly pure and fresh.
The priests then considered they had found the explanation of the burglary. One or more persons, who hated the Orthodox Church, had forced an entrance into the church in order to put poison in the chalice in the hope of killing a priest.
Fr. Patrick Mythen connected this alleged poisoning to other recent incidents. He told the Times, “In addition to this certain other churches have been attacked and broken into within the last few weeks, and other priests assaulted. One Roman Catholic priest of Greek nationality was bound and beaten. An Orthodox priest in Bayonne was also attacked by three men, but the priest being of very powerful physique, seized the man with the revolver so quickly that when the weapon was discharged, the assassin shot himself. The man was taken into custody by the United States Secret Service and found to be an anarchist.”
The Orthodox leaders, and the Times, thought that all this was connected to the Americanization program that the Russian Archdiocese was instituting. Bolshevik sympathizers, who hated both America and Orthodoxy, supposedly found the mingling of the two to be intolerable. The Times article from which I’ve been quoting is actually all about another incident, which took place on August 15 (and which I’ll discuss in another post).
Now, about the Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine poisoning — They checked the container that held the unconsecrated wine, and it was clean. So, the poison was presumably put in the chalice itself. But if that were the case, wouldn’t someone else have gotten sick, too? Then again, it was pretty common then for people to take communion only a few times a year. Combine that with the fact that the Church of the Transfiguration was a tiny, new place, and it’s entirely possible that there were no lay communicants that day. On the other hand, the church had several attached priests who probably would have partaken. Why would Irvine have been the only one affected? There are two possibilities: one, Irvine may have been the only celebrant that day, and thus the only one to partake of the Eucharist. Two, it’s possible that the poison would only cause problems if consumed in large quantities. If the other priests only took a few sips, and Irvine finished the whole chalice, it may well have only affected Irvine.
So, was Irvine really poisoned? We will probably never know for sure. I’m confident that he wasn’t a liar, but I’m just as confident that he could be a bit melodramatic at times. I’m inclined to believe him when he says he was poisoned, but the circumstances are rather odd. It would be great to see the police report of the incident, but I don’t know if one has survived.
Another thing — note the statement that Irvine “acted immediately to save his own life.” It sure sounds like he forced himself to expel — vomit — what he had just consumed. That is, he intentionally threw up the Eucharist. I realize that he thought it was filled with acid, and that he was protecting his life. And he probably took measures to ensure that what he had just expelled was disposed of in a proper manner. But still, while I fully understand his actions, I find them rather shocking as well.
Irvine was back in church on August 19, preaching a sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration. He died the following January — 5 1/2 months after being poisoned. That said, I don’t think there was any connection between the poisoning and his death. He regained his health pretty quickly after the poisoning incident, and, according to his obituary, he died of heart disease.
Back in July, Fr. Andrew wrote about the above photo, which depicts a gathering of American Orthodox bishops in the early 1920s: Greeks Meletios and Alexander, Russians Platon and Alexander, and Syrian Aftimios. At the time of Fr. Andrew’s original post, no one knew exactly when this photo was taken, or what occasion brought all these hierarchs together. Fr. Andrew wrote,
This photograph was found in the archives of the Library of Congress. As yet, there have been no official documents that have surfaced detailing what this 1921 meeting must have entailed. It might have been only a courtesy call, with a photo op at the end.
Fr. Andrew went on to observe that, based on the photo, the other bishops appear to have regarded Metaxakis as “first in seniority among them.” To read the rest of Fr. Andrew’s post, click here.
Why am I bringing all this up again? Becasue I believe I now know when and where this photo was taken, and why all these bishops were in the same place. On December 9, 1921, Abp Meletios Metaxakis was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He was in New York at the time, having been deposed from his previous position as Archbishop of Athens. With Bp Alexander Demoglou, Metaxakis had come to the US to organize the Greek-American churches into a unified archdiocese. The New York Times (12/10/1921) announced that one of Metaxakis’ first acts as Patriarch would be to appoint Alexander as bishop of North and South America.
The Times also reported, “This morning at 10 o’clock the Most Rev. Alexander, Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America for the Russian Church, will formally call upon the Patriarch-elect and officially present the felicitations of the 100,000 Russians who are in the Western Hemisphere, who are his spiritual subjects.”
The Russian goodwill towards Metaxakis’ election was not limited to Abp Alexander Nemolovsky. Archimandrite Patrick Mythen, the powerful convert priest, hastily organized a special ceremony. December 19 was the St. Nicholas day, the patronal feast of the Russian cathedral in New York. Invitations were sent out, in the names of both Met Platon and Abp Alexander. Besides the two Russian and two Greek bishops, the guest list included the Syrian Bp Aftimios and four Episcopalian hierarchs. Representatives of the new African Orthodox Church were also present, as well as the “Hungarian prelate [...] Bishop Stephan of Pittsburgh.” I think this was Bp Stephen Dzubay, a former Uniate who converted to Orthodoxy in 1916 and became the Russian Archdiocese’s Bishop of Pittsburgh. (Dzubay returned to Roman Catholicism in 1924.)
After the Divine Liturgy, there was a buffet luncheon for the clergy at the neighboring parish house. The above photo must have been taken during or after this luncheon. Here is another, nearly identical photo, which appeared in the New York Evening Telegram on December 20, 1921:
Comparing the two photos, it’s quite clear that they were taken at the same event, probably within moments of one another. The Evening Telegram photo doesn’t include the non-bishops, Polyzoides and Andronoff, but it’s possible that they were just cropped out before publication.
The event itself, the pan-Orthodox liturgy, is evidence of the rather friendly (or at least cordial) relations between the Greek and Russian hierarchy in 1921. Speaking to the Evening Telegram (12/19/1921), Fr. Patrick Mythen expressed what must have been on the minds of the Russian bishops as well: that Metaxakis’ election as Ecumenical Patriarch marked the first time since the fall of Constantinople that the Patriarch was elected without the consent of the Turkish sultan. He would thus be “politically free and will rule the Church as a priest and not as a politician.” Mythen meant that Metaxakis would not be bound to the Turkish state, but I’m sure many today would find his words ironic, Metaxakis being the controversial Church politican that he was.