Posts tagged Barbara MacGahan
March 2, 1865: Fr. Agapius Honcharenko served the first public Orthodox Divine Liturgy in New York. Way back in 2009, I wrote a pair of articles about that liturgy; click here and here to read them. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that Honcharenko had celebrated the Divine Liturgy at least once in New York prior to March 2 — on January 6, which was Christmas (December 25) according to the Orthodox calendar in the 19th century. But the March 2 liturgy was the first public liturgy. Rev. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church and one of the most prominent Episcopalian clergymen of his day, wrote of the liturgy in his journal, “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.”
February 28, 1904: Barbara MacGahan died in New York. A native of Russia, MacGahan was the widow of a famous American war correspondent, and she became a renowned journalist in her own right. She was the principal founder of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) in New York City, and she played an important role in the Russian Mission until her death. In MacGahan’s day, a disproportionate number of the Orthodox in America were men. And the status of women in turn-of-the-century America was certainly far more restricted than it is today. I mean, today, we don’t bat an eyelash at the thought of a woman chairing a parish council, but such a thing was probably inconceivable more than a century ago. It was in that world that MacGahan became a major player in the Russian Mission, right at the time when it was expanding beyond its original focus of Alaska. Barbara MacGahan may have been the most influential woman in the early history of American Orthodoxy.
February 28, 1914: The choir of New York’s St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral performed at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson. Some of the robes worn by the choir members at this event have survived, and are held at the OCA archives in Syosset, NY.
February 27, 1915: St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the Syrian Bishop of Brooklyn, died. What can be said of St. Raphael that has not already been said? How about this quotation from Rev. T.J. Lacey, a notable Episcopalian priest who had a strong affinity for the Orthodox Church:
Bishop Raphael was a master-builder. He laid strong enduring foundations, gathering a large constituency and acquiring valuable property for the congregation. He was a man of wide education and keen intelligence, a master of many languages. He possessed rare gifts of administration, and was unselfishly devoted to the spiritual and material welfare of his people. His death, in 1915, deprived the Syrian Church of a strong leader.
February 28, 1937: The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop Bohdan Spylka was consecrated by the Greek Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou.
UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I said that Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky returned to Russia on February 27, 1914 (so, the day before his cathedral choir performed at the White House). But my fellow SOCHA director Aram Sarkisian informed me that this was incorrect — actually, Hotovitzky was present at the White House concert, and he left for Russia on March 12. The reason for the error is that March 12 is February 27 according to the Old Calendar. We’ll make note of Hotovitzky’s departure in a couple of weeks, when we get to the actual anniversary.
Also, I originally said that the choir concert was on February 29 (the date reported by other sources), but as Aram points out, 1914 was not a leap year. The concert actually took place on February 28.
As his name suggests, Valerian Gribayedoff was from Russia. He was born in Kronstadt in 1858, the son of a colonel in the Tsarist army. He studied in St. Petersburg and then went to England, where he appears to have been acquainted with the exiled French Emperor Napoleon III (aka Louis Napoleon). I’ll let the Wisconsin State Journal (8/21/1885) pick up his story:
Valerian wearied of home life and ran away to South America, where he entered the Chilian [sic] army as a drummer boy. At the close of the war with Peru he went to Russia and soon identified himself with certain political societies, which brought him under the notice of the government and compelled him to seek other climes. After a prolonged residence in Paris, Berlin and other European cities, he came to this country and engaged in journalism, which profession he followed until the craze for pictorial papers induced him to turn his artistic talents to account.
Gribayedoff did all this by the age of 25. He quickly became famous as an illustrator, renowned for his “keen insight into character” (New York Times, 2/17/1908) and his ability to convey that insight in black and white. When photography became more common, Gribayedoff learned how to use a camera, took photos, and then copied them as sketches. His works led directly to the rise of Sunday newspaper supplements, full of photos and illustrations.
He wasn’t just an illustrator, though. Gribayedoff continued his journalistic writing, tackling all manner of subjects. In 1895, he published his first and only full-length book, The French Invasion of Ireland. By this time, he was well-established as the leader of a growing group of New York-based illustrators.
Gribayedoff was tall, handsome, and charming. He made friends easily, and was a popular raconteur in late 19th century New York. He spoke many languages, and, having traveled throughout the world, he was as cultured as they come. His subjects didn’t even mind his camera; according to the Times, “his natural tact enabled him to take his pictures without the audacity of those who have taken his place.”
Coming from the Russian nobility, it is likely that Gribayedoff was baptized in the Orthodox Church, but it’s not clear whether he maintained his Orthodox faith into adulthood. Certainly, his period of youthful rebellion suggests that he probably abandoned Orthodoxy at some point; whether he rejoined the Church remains an open question.
That said, he made his own contribution to American Orthodox history, authoring (and illustrating) numerous articles on Orthodoxy for different US publications. In an 1892 article on the Russian Orthodox Church, Gribayedoff called it “that wonderful branch of organized Christianity.” After briefly recounting the history of Orthodoxy, he concluded, “It has a great mission to perform, and, on the whole, it is doing its work nobly.” (Christian Union, 12/10/1892)
Elsewhere, writing about Orthodox services aboard a Russian naval vessel, Gribayedoff said, “I cannot imagine a more grateful subject for the artist’s brush than these morning and evening devotions on board a Russian war-vessel, the rugged outlines of the worshipers softened by the dim half-light of early dawn or the twilight of evening; the plash of a distant oar, the cadence of flowing waters beyond the taffrail, lend an added charm to the scene, the poetry of which can be fully realized only by those who have witnessed it.” He went on: “A glance around at the earnest throngs will convince the most skeptical that he is indeed in a house of prayer!” (Christian Union, 6/10/1893)
Gribayedoff wrote several articles on Orthodoxy in the United States, which, of course, was a rather new thing in those days. He told his readers of the 1894 centennial of Orthodoxy in Alaska, and reported on the early conversions of Uniates to the Russian Church. In 1895, he reported on the creation of a Russian parish in New York; indeed, Gribayedoff’s account is one of our main sources for this landmark event. He must have known Barbara MacGahan, the Russian-born war correspondent who was largely responsible for founding the New York church. Of MacGahan, Gribayedoff wrote, “Without her efforts but little would have been attained.”
In 1897, Gribayedoff began to feel that America was becoming “too hurried and crowded.” He moved to Paris on very short notice, and he quickly gained renown there for his photos of the Dreyfus trial. During the Russo-Japanese War, Gribayedoff worked in Siberia as a correspondent for an American newspaper.
Valerian Gribayedoff died in Paris in 1908. He was just 50, but had lived a life fuller than most men twice his age. He left a wife and a 25-year-old son; the son, apparently as much a traveler as his father, was working as a surgeon in the Philippines.
From his writings, it’s clear that Gribayedoff knew a great deal about Orthodoxy. He had a good grasp of Orthodox history and theology, and he was well acquainted with many of the leading Orthodox figures of his own day. In many places, he spoke very highly of the Church, and while I have no evidence that he was a member, it would certainly not surprise me. Even if he was not Orthodox himself, his writings on Orthodoxy are valuable sources.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Since the closing of Fr. Nicholas Bjerring’s chapel in 1883, New York City had been without a Russian Orthodox place of worship. Greek churches were founded in the city in 1892 and ’94, and by 1895, there were Russian parishes in Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Finally, in April of 1895, the Russian Mission returned to New York with the founding of St. Nicholas Church.
St. Nicholas began in the former home of one of the parish trustees, at 207 East 18th Street. The main floor housed the chapel; the priest, Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch, lived upstairs with his family; and a Sunday School and reading room occupied the basement. (Before long, the parish moved around the corner, to 233 2nd Ave.)
But despite these modest beginnings, from the start, the parish had some impressive characteristics. Its iconostasis had previously been owned by the Russian army, and was used in the field during battles in the Balkans. A 12-person choir was led by Eugenie Lineff, a former opera singer.
The church trustees included some famous people — the Russian ambassador and consul general, and, most significantly, Barbara MacGahan, a famous journalist. Despite her surname, Mrs. MacGahan was actually a native Russian, and it was her strong desire for a Russian church in New York that ultimately led to the creation of the parish. These founders had been part of a New York Slavonic organization called the Virgin Mary Brotherhood, and they were the ones who petitioned the Holy Synod to establish a church.
Another impetus that led to the founding of St. Nicholas was the presence, in Brooklyn, of a sizeable number of Uniates, who, presumably, would be attracted to a nearby Orthodox church. It’s not clear whether these Uniates did, in fact, join the new parish.
The first priest of St. Nicholas was the aforementioned Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch. He was apparently from Austria, and only in recent years became associated with the Russian Church. (In fact, in one place he’s referred to as a “recent convert,” which makes me wonder if he wasn’t originally a Uniate.) The New York Times describes him in this way:
[He] is a man of striking appearance. Of immense frame, clear complexion, and with locks hanging far down his back, he had the appearance of a prophet of old.
Balanovitch was an educated man, with a Doctorate of Divinity from the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg. He must not have been terribly practical, though, as he quickly made enemies with the founder of the parish, Barbara MacGahan.
From the New York Times (1/11/1896), we learn that, during a meeting of the church trustees on November 17, 1895, Balanovitch called MacGahan (a journalist) some sort of name — a name which, according to the Times, “meant that Mrs. MacGahan’s pen is at the disposal of the highest bidder, and that consequently no value could be placed on her statements as a newspaper correspondent and magazine writer.” St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the newly-arrived Syrian priest, was present at the meeting, and didn’t know what the word meant. Confused, he asked somebody, and that person told MacGahan, and MacGahan promptly filed a lawsuit against Balanovitch.
MacGahan soon dropped the suit. On December 1, Balanovitch had agreed to resign as pastor and leave the country. MacGahan determined that Balanovitch himself wasn’t entirely to blame — “the whole trouble had been brought on him by outside parties,” MacGahan’s lawyer said, explaining that others within the new parish had incited the priest to make enemies with MacGahan. Mrs. MacGahan herself told the Times that, while Balanovitch “is a man of good intentions, he is easily led by others.”
These unfortunate events would have a happy ending, at least for the parish of St. Nicholas. Later in 1896, Balanovitch’s replacement — St. Alexander Hotovitzky — arrived in New York.