Posts tagged Boston
Exactly 100 years ago — January 15, 1910 – the following article appeared in the Boston Globe:
GREEKS OBSERVE NEW YEAR.
Services Held in City Churches and Gifts are Exchanged.
The members of the Orthodox Greek church celebrated their new year yesterday. The observation of the day included prayers in the two churches in the city, the exchange of gifts among the members of the faith and jollifications in the evening.
Among the people of the Orthodox Greek faith in Boston are Russians, Syrians and a few Armenians. Services were held at the church of the Annunciation on Winchester st and the Syrian mission on Edinboro st. In the former edifice Rev Nestor Souslides officiated, while Rev P.S. Sailer conducted the services for the Syrians.
When I read that article, I was confused, because I knew that Fr. George Maloof was the priest of Boston’s Syrian church (St. George) from 1900 to 1920. Who, then, was Rev. P.S. Sailer? A bit of digging revealed that this Rev. Sailer was not Orthodox at all, but Protestant. He’s listed in the 1911 Quadrenniel Book and Christian Annual, published by the “Christian Church (American Christian Convention),” which I think is the same thing as (or a predecessor to) the “Disciples of Christ” denomination.
These particular Protestants seem to have been proselytizing among the Syrian Orthodox of Boston. I found this in the September 8, 1910 issue of Herald of Gospel Liberty, a “Christian Church” publication:
The work among the Syrians is a little more than one year old. It began with seven little girls and now has an enrollment of seventy-five. The scarcity of teachers for this work is the greatest handicap.
There is great need of the influence of a Christian home, a Christian family to live in the Syrian belt, the wife to visit in the homes, have classes for women and children and teach home making.
This need has been recently met. Dr. White, a practicing physician among the Syrians, has been associated with our Chinese mission in Boston for some years. She will give at least three hours a day to our work, more if possible, working mainly among the Syrians during the week. She will hold mothers’ meetings on week days, lecturing on hygiene and sanitation, teaching the mothers how to prepare wholesome food for their children, warning them of the dangers of the “little mother” evil, call at their homes to teach them personal home making. She will teach in both the Syrian and Chinese Sunday-school. Her acquaintance with the needs, customs and habits of this portion of the foreign population will make her an invaluable assistant. This will slightly increase the cost of the Boston work.
Two nights each week are devoted to teaching Syrian men to read and write. Twenty-five men attend these classes. Rev. P.S. Sailer, the devoted pastor, is meeting their great needs as fast as it is possible with the care of two churches.
Were these Protestants holding special services for the Julian Calendar New Year? It sure looks that way. Initially, I was confused by the Boston Globe‘s statement that Sailer will be serving at “the Syrian mission on Edinboro st.” This confused me, because the actual Syrian Orthodox church was located at 38 Edinboro. (See the parish history.) Most likely, these Protestants set up their “Syrian mission” in the heart of the Syrian neighborhood, right down the street from the Orthodox church.
On the face of it, these Protestant efforts seem noble — helping immigrants get established in America, teaching them English, etc. But they were usually part of a broader agenda to convert the Orthodox immigrants to Protestantism. After all, Sailer wasn’t just teaching English; he was conducting church services for the Syrians. By setting up shop on Edinboro Street, these particular Protestants were just doors away from their Orthodox “competition.” And you’ll notice that the Syrian Orthodox New Year’s services aren’t mentioned by the Boston Globe — only Sailer’s “Syrian” services are brought up. This little nugget provides a tiny glimpse into one of the many the challenges facing Orthodoxy in America a century ago.
Not too long ago, I wrote about Fr. Christopher Jabara, an Antiochian priest who visited America in 1893-94. Jabara preceded St. Raphael Hawaweeny, but he wasn’t the first Antiochian priest to come to the United States. That title, I believe, belongs to Fr. Constantine Tarazy.
Tarazy was a celibate priest (possibly an archimandrite) from Damascus, and he arrived in America in 1892. He doesn’t appear to have been sent by the Patriarchate of Antioch, or anything — he seems to have come on his own initiative. In June of 1893, he celebrated what appears to be the first Orthodox liturgy in Boston. From the Boston Globe (6/27/1893):
Rev. Constantin Terzis of Damascus, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, celebrated mass in the parish rooms connected with St. Paul’s Episcopal church, Tremont st., Sunday morning. This is perhaps the first time such an event has been witnessed in Boston. The ritual is like that of the “high church” Episcopal service. Dr. Terzis is an Arabian, and has been a professor in theology at Athens, Greece. He is quite an elderly man and unmarried.
Tarazy tried to start a church in New York, but the Syrian community was too small to support it. He eventually returned to Syria, where he later became a bishop.
Fr. Christopher Jabara paid a visit to Boston in 1894, but he was speaking with Unitarians about his strange religious ideas, not ministering to the local Orthodox population. I’m not sure when the next Orthodox liturgy in Boston took place, but I suspect it was celebrated by a visiting Greek priest in 1895 or so.
In the Resources section of our website, we have links to the histories of a lot of parishes. (I’ve honestly lost count; it must be around 150 now, or perhaps more.) One of those histories is of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Boston. When I first read that essay, this passage immediately caught my eye:
In 1935, Kenneth Conant, an internationally known medieval architectural historian and archeologist at Harvard was commissioned to do the stained glass windows. Conant had converted to Orthodoxy and became involved with the Cathedral Community. He worked with Cathedral Dean Fr. Efthimiou to develop proper symbols for the windows. Connant [sic] then enlisted the assistance of Charles J. Connick, another medieval architect, to complete the sanctuary windows. Lack of funds delayed work on the dome stain glass windows until 1937.
I’m not an architectural historian by any stretch of the imagination, so I’d never heard of Kenneth Conant. But it didn’t take long for me to learn that Conant was a rather significant scholar. His main claim to fame was as one of the world’s leading experts on the architecture of the great monastery at Cluny, in France. But that wasn’t his only speciality: according to his biography at the online Dictionary of Art Historians, “Conant’s second interest was in eastern church architecture. He participated in the Kiev excavations of 1936-38 and converted to Orthodox Christianity.”
Conant enjoyed an extremely long life, dying in 1984 at the age of 90. He had spent 35 years at Harvard, from 1920 to 1955, teaching generations of students. I know we have both Bostonians and architectural historians among our readers; perhaps some of you can shed some light on Conant’s story?