Posts tagged Antony Bashir
I haven’t done a great deal of research on Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and as a result, I’ve written very little about him on this website. That said, he is a hugely important figure in American Orthodox history. Today, February 15, marks the 44th anniversary of his death, in 1966.
Bashir arrived in America in 1922, as a 24-year-old archdeacon. He and Archimandrite Victor Abo-Assaley were accompanying the Antiochian Metropolitan Gerasimos Messara, who was ostensibly coming to the US to attend a convention of the Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. Soon, however, another agenda emerged: the establishment of an Antiochian Archdiocese in America. At that point, there were two factions of Arab Orthodox in America — the Russy, who were loyal to the Russian-backed Abp Aftimios Ofiesh; and the Antacky, who followed the rogue Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi. Although he was from the Patriarchate of Antioch, Met Germanos was not supported that Church.
Into this chaos came Met Gerasimos Messara and his two lieutenants. It’s a long story which we’ll tell another day, but suffice it to say that, by 1924, Fr. Victor Abo-Assaley was consecrated as the first official Antiochian bishop for America. Bashir had been ordained shortly after his arrival in the US, in 1922. He spent two years in Mexico; I’m not sure why. I know he did translation work, but why would a young priest disappear to Mexico? Anyway, he ended up back in America, serving as a parish priest in Indiana.
In 1933-34, a remarkable thing happened: all of the many Arab Orthodox episcopal claimants suddenly vanished. Well, not exactly vanished, but, as a friend once put it, “God wiped the slate clean.” The first to go was Bp Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, the leader of the Russy faction, who died in May of 1933 (ironically, Met Germanos Shehadi officiated at his funeral). Abp Aftimios Ofiesh, who had previously led the Russy group and then sort of drifted off into his own little world, effectively ended his episcopate by marrying a young girl a couple of months after Abo-Hatab’s death. The same year, Met Germanos Shehadi finally left the country, returning to Syria, where he soon died. Abp Victor Abo-Assaley hung on the longest, dying in September 1934. And just to make things complete, Bp Sophronios Beshara, who said that he had inherited Ofiesh’s (already dubious) claims, also died in ’34.
So suddenly, what had been an incredibly complex ecclesiastical quagmire morphed into a claim-free simplicity. In 1935, the now-leaderless (and thus at least nominally “united”) Antiochians held elections for a new hierarch. The top two vote-getters were the still-young (37-year-old) Archimandrite Antony Bashir, and a Toledo archimandrite named Samuel David. Bashir got the most votes, but a strong minority favored Samuel David.
To put it plainly, both men were consecrated as bishops on the very same day in 1936, Bashir in New York, David in Toledo. The story is so complicated that I won’t even try to explain it. Bottom line, the American Antiochians were still hopelessly divided, with the result being the establishment of two overlapping Antiochian Archdioceses, one based out of New York, the other Toledo. This “Toledo-New York schism” would last until the 1970s.
As for Bashir, he was a fascinating man. Intellectually brilliant, he was an accomplished translator and scholar. He was a strong proponent of Orthodox unity in America, and was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the short-lived Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America (or, more palatably, “the Federation). As we’ve discussed here already, the Federation was essentially a proto-SCOBA body. When it collapsed in 1944, Bashir kept it alive on life support. Into the 1950s, he was still listed as the head of the Federation, even though it did not, as a practical matter, exist at all. When SCOBA was formed in the early 1960s, Bashir was again a central player.
He also advocated the use of English in church services. Under Bashir, the convert priest Fr. Michael Gelsinger gained a great deal of influence, and numerous converts joined the Antiochian Archdiocese. Bashir founded the modern-day Word Magazine (the original Al-Kalimat having ceased publication long before; in reality, the two publications are totally distinct aside from their names). He started SOYO, the Archdiocesan youth group, as well as the Western Rite Vicariate. Many of the most distinct features of the Antiochian Archdiocese today can be traced to Bashir.
Bashir died in Boston on February 16, 1966, a month shy of his 68th birthday.
I don’t think Metropolitan Antony Bashir was a saint, by any means. But if there is ever a Hall of Fame for American Orthodoxy, he would certainly belong in it.
On today’s episode of the American Orthodox History podcast, I interviewed SOCHA executive director Fr. Oliver Herbel on the subject of the “Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions,” a 1943 attempt to create a national, pan-Orthodox organization.
The Federation is to SCOBA what the League of Nations was to the United Nations. Both the Federation and the League of Nations were missing a crucial player: the Federation lacked the involvement of the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA), while the League of Nations didn’t include the United States. Both SCOBA and the UN were essentially trying to do the same things as their predecessor organizations, but they were obviously more successful and long-lasting.
Metropolitan Antony Bashir was the head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York, and he was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Federation. Even after it was basically defunct in 1944, Bashir tried to keep it going, at least on paper. In the 1955 and 1956 Yearbooks of American Churches, for instance, Bashir is listed as the President of the Federation, even though it has been non-functioning for more than a decade. In a 1961 publication commemorating Bashir’s 25th anniversary as Metropolitan, we find this sentence: “In March of 1960, he spearheaded the reorganization of the Federation into the much stronger Conference of Orthodox Bishops of the Americas, which he now serves as Vice-President.”
In a way, then, the Federation was SCOBA.
UPDATE (12/3/09): Fr. James Early sent an email asking if I could identify the people in the above photo; in particular, he asked whether the “right-most suit-wearing hierarch” was Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Here is my reply:
Metropolitan Antony is indeed the right-most suit-wearing hierarch, standing near the center of the picture. However, I don’t know who most of the other men are. Certainly, the bishop in the white hat is Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich, and I assume the bishop in between Antony and Leonty is Archbishop Michael Konstantinides of the Greek Archdiocese. Abp Michael died on July 13, 1958, so if he’s in the photo, we can be sure it was taken before that date. His successor, Abp Iakovos, is not in the photo, which further suggests a date of 1958 or earlier.
I doubt that all of the individuals in the photo are bishops. In fact, it may be that Bashir is the left-most bishop in the photo, as all the men to the left of him look like priests.
UPDATE (12/23/09): According to Fr. Alexander Lebedeff in the comments (below), the second man from the left is Fr. George Grabbe, Chancellor of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops. Fr. Alexander writes, “The ROCOR had been very involved in the precursor of SCOBA, and participated in the organizational meetings of SCOBA, as well. The ROCOR withdrew when informed that the Bishop in charge of the Moscow Patriarchal parishes in America would be invited to join SCOBA. That did not occur, but the ROCOR never returned to the table.”
UPDATE: (2/23/10): I have just received an email from Fr. Demetrius T. Dogias, in which he identifies several other individuals in this photo. According to Fr. Demetrius, the man standing at the far left is Bishop (later Metropolitan) Germanos Polyzoides. The fifth man from the left (that is, the man standing to the left of Met Antony Bashir) is Bp Demetrios of Olympus, who, at the time, was Chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese. The fourth man from the right (that is, the man with his head down, next to Met Leonty Turkevich) is Bp Bohdan, of the Ukrainian Archdiocese associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Fr. Demetrius also offered this background information on the Greek Archbishop Michael, who is in the center of the photo (in between Bashir and Turkevich):
It may interest you to know that Archbishop Michael, also in the Dec. 2 picture, had studied in Kiev and that one of his teachers was the later Metropolitan Anastassy of the Russian Chuch Outside Russia. Michael went to London as the priest at the St. Sophia Cathedral, and was granted the extremely rare title of Great (or “Grand”) Archimandrite. He then was elected Metropolitan of Corinth in Greece, from which position he was elected Archbishop of North and South America.
Many thanks to Fr. Demetrius for providing all this information. We can now identify quite a few of the individuals in the photo. Here it is again, with numbers to make the identification easier:
Click on the photo to see a larger image. Here are the people we’ve identified so far:
1. Bp Germanos Polyzoides of Nyssa, Greek Archdiocese
2. Fr. George Grabbe, ROCOR Chancellor
5. Bp Demetrios of Olympus, Greek Archdiocese Chancellor
6. Met Antony Bashir, Antiochian Archdiocese
7. Abp Michael Konstantinides, Greek Archdiocese
8. Met Leonty Turkevich, Russian Metropolia
9. Bp Bohdan, Ukrainian Archdiocese
As more identifications come in, I’ll continue to update this article. And once again, thanks to all those who have sent in identifications so far.
In conjunction with the recent podcast concerning the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America, I thought I would publish a special, extra entry for Frontier Orthodoxy. I still plan on writing two additional columns this month. For this entry, however, I wish to provide a basic timeline of the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America (FOGCPJA). This timeline may be useful when listening to the recent podcast on American Orthodox History over at Ancient Faith Radio.
I also wish to note that I failed to make an important connection within the interview itself. Near the beginning of the podcast, I mentioned the difficulties Fr. Boris Burden had with Metropolitan Platon. I meant to return to this later to note that the tense relationship between the two may have also been a factor that excluded the Metropolia from membership. It was not the only factor, as I mentioned the FOGCPJA’s requirement that each jurisdiction be under a Mother Church/Patriarch, but it may well have played a role. Metropolitan Benjamin (Moscow Patriarchate) relied quite heavily on Fr. Boris Burden.
I should further note that Phillies’s membership in the Masons may not have been as ill received since Archbishop Athenagoras and Metropolitan Antony were also Masons. Although Masonic membership would have likely concerned Fr. Boris Burden, it is possible that Metropolitan Benjamin showed some restraint in this regard.
Fall of 1942 (September or October): The Selective Service attempted to draft Fr. John Gelsinger. When that happened, Fr. John Gelsinger, and his father, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, contacted George E. Phillies, a family friend and local attorney in Buffalo, New York.
October 9, 1942: Phillies appealed to the federal authorities, via General Lewis B. Hershey, having gone before the local and state selective service boards. The response from Washington D.C. was that they needed to see proof of an organized Orthodox Church in America. In response to this, the hierarchs of the four primary jurisdictions met.
Fr. Michael Gelsinger (New York Syrian) and Fr. Boris Burden (Moscow Patriarchate) were the instrumental people behind the movement. Fr. Michael received commitments from Archbishop Antony Bashir and Archbishop Athenagoras and Fr. Boris Burden convinced Metropolitan Benjamin and the Bishop Dionisije, the Serbian bishop.
At the subsequent hearing at the Pentagon, Bishop Germanos, an auxiliary bishop of Constantinople, was the only testifying witness. U.S. Senator James Mead (NY, hometown of Buffalo) and Representative James Wadsworth (NY) also appealed on behalf of the Orthodox Church.
December 8, 1942: Major Simon P. Dunkle signed the paperwork instructing the selective service of New York to recognize Fr. John Gelsinger as a priest and providing Orthodox the Opportunity to enlist as Orthodox. Orthodox priests were granted the opportunity to serve as chaplains.
Phillies hailed this as the first time the four primary jurisdictions had provided a united front in America. He quickly built upon this momentum to pursue another venture: amending New York state law for religious corporations. He did this because his reading of the laws of New York convinced him that it was possible the Roman Catholic Church might claim sole legal right to the terms Greek, Catholic, and Orthodox. He also had found no legal incorporation of an Orthodox Church (jurisdiction) that would mitigate this. Individual parishes had incorporated, but the only large scale incorporations were Roman Catholic, such as the Greek Catholic incorporation in Pennsylvania.
February 10, 1943: George E. Phillies wrote to Gov. Dewey, recommending that the hierarchs visit and Dewey replies by stating they should do so after the signing.
February 19, 1943: Charles J. Tobin, secretary of the New York State Catholic Welfare Committee, wrote to State Senator Charles Burney, objecting to the proposed legislation, claiming that only Rome could use the terms Catholic or Greek Catholic.
February 25, 1943: Rev. Philemon Tarnavsky (chancellor of the diocese of Philadelphia) also wrote to Gov. Dewey and agreed with Tobin. He objected to the use of the word Catholic, which he said was linked to the Holy See in Rome. He even noted that the word Orthodox is also used by Greek Catholics, questioning whether Orthodox should use it as a self designation. Rev. Turnavsky was a Greek Catholic himself.
March 5, 1943: Episcopal diocese of Western New York wrote to support the bill (Rt. Rev. Bp Cameron J. Davis)
March 8, 1943: Phillies asked “Charlie” [Burney] for a moving picture crew and claimed there were five million Orthodox in America.
March 10, 1943: Tobin wrote to consul of the governor to object again. He included the assessment of Monsignor Tarnavsky.
March 15, 1943: Memorandum by Phillies stated the purpose(s), excluded the Metropolia, responded to Roman Catholic critics, and noted that the FOGCPJA was set up to parallel the federal/state division in the United States of America.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey signed the bill.
August 2, 1943: The Buffalo Evening News called Phillies the “lay head,” noted that he had dual membership in the GOC and the PEC, and was a Mason.
August 8, 1943: Concelebration.
August 22, 1943: Divine Liturgy in Kleinhans Hall (GOC too small). Archbishop Athenagoras presided, with Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Bogdan assisting (Ukrainian). By this time, the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Russians who were under Constantinople were participating in the FOGCPJA. A small internal disagreement ensued, because Frs. Boris Burden and Michael Gelsinger thought the service should have been in a larger non-Orthodox church building rather than one that was strictly secular.
Bishop Dionisije was bothered by the fact that the Carpatho-Russians and Ukrainians were under Constantinople and had other unnamed concerns. He soon quit participating.
October 3, 1943: At a meeting in Bayonne, NJ, the officers of the FOGCPJA passed the “Bayonne Resolution.” This resolution stated all officers of the Federation must be Orthodox, with no sacramental participation in non-Orthodox churches. Another problem that arose was that the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America had received a letter (likely sent by Phillies) asking for membership.
October 7, 1943: Articles signed by the bishops and the Federation is legally incorporated. Archbishop Athenagoras had been chosen as the presiding hierarch. Fr. Peter Horton-Billard was chosen as secretary, replacing Fr. Boris Burden. Phillies remained the elected chancellor.
October 8, 1943: Burden called the elections “conditional.”
November 1, 1943: Russians threatened to leave over concerns with Phillies.
December 18, 1943: Marriage served jointly by Fr. E Wolkodoff, a Metropolia priest, and PE priest J. Coseby. Metropolitan Benjamin suspended the priest. At this point, the Federation was suspended.
February 2, 1944: Meeting: 1) no “lay head” 2) hierarchs are the leaders 3) Orthodox cannot be communicants elsewhere 4) “chancellor” means “legal advisor” and nothing more. Metropolitan Benjamin also said he had the support of Patriarch Sergius.
Around this same time, Patriarch Sergius wrote to Metropolitan Benjamin, offering permission to be active in the Federation, but Metropolitan Benjamin and Fr. Boris Burden were preparing to renege on the FOGCPJA.
Early October 1944: Metropolitan Benjamin said Phillies was no longer the chancellor. Phillies claimed he was.
November, 1944: Russians officially pulled out. By early 1945, the FOGCPJA was basically dead, though Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it alive on paper.