Posts tagged Charles Grafton
In the comments section of an old article I wrote on the first Orthodox parishes in each US state, Isa Almisry and I have recently had an interesting exchange about an Old Catholic parish in Wisconsin which discussed joining (and possibly did briefly join) the Russian Orthodox Church in 1891-92. This story involves Joseph Rene Vilatte, a former Roman Catholic priest who went on to become a prolific vagante bishop and who would reappear in American Orthodox history over the coming decades.
I don’t really have the expertise to outline the history of the Old Catholic movement, but suffice it to say that, in the latter half of the 19th century (and especially after the first Vatican Council in 1870, which promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility), a number of Roman Catholics broke away from their church.
Joseph Rene Vilatte was born in Paris in 1854. Originally, he was a Roman Catholic, but he became the quintessential religious chameleon as an adult. In the 1880s he came to the United States, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary in a Belgian Old Catholic community in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While there, he made contact with local Episcopal Bishop John Brown of Fond du Lac, who in turn recommended to the Old Catholic Bishop Edward Herzog of Bern, Switzerland that Vilatte be ordained a priest. This took place in 1886.
Soon, Bishop Brown died, and the new Episcopal bishop of Fond du Lac, Charles Grafton (the future friend of St. Tikhon), did not see eye to eye with Vilatte. Forced to make a choice between Episcopalianism and Old Catholicism, Vilatte chose the latter, and he tried to have himself consecrated a bishop in the Old Catholic Church. The church authorities in Europe declined. This is where our story begins. [Incidentally, this preliminary information on Vilatte comes from Theodore Natsoulas, "Patriarch McGuire and the Spread of the African Orthodox Church to Africa, Journal of Religion in Africa 12:2 (1981), 81-104. This is one of the only scholarly sources which discusses Vilatte at any length.]
Vilatte wanted to be consecrated a bishop, and he wanted as much autonomy as possible. That is the first thing to understand. In the paper cited above, Theodore Natsoulas says that the Old Catholics turned down Vilatte because he was “unpredictable,” and they did not want him to be their sole representative in America. Here is how Natsoulas describes what happened next:
[Vilatte's] attempts to be raised to the episcopate included approaches to the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Green Bay. Both turned him down, although Vladimir, the Russian Bishop, in order to incorporate the Old Catholics within his fold, did extend some form of recognition and protection to Vilatte and the Old Catholic Church. Vladimir and Vilatte, however, could not arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.
It all began when Vilatte traveled to San Francisco to meet with Bishop Vladimir, sometime in 1890 or early 1891. Interestingly, this coincided almost precisely with the visit of a delegation of Uniates from St. Alexis Toth’s parish in Minneapolis. It must have been amazing for Bishop Vladimir, sitting there in San Francisco, to receive near-simultaneous unsolicited visits from two Upper Midwest groups connected to Roman Catholicism and seeking reception into the Orthodox Church.
Bishop Vladimir traveled to Minneapolis in March of 1891 and formally received the Minneapolis parish into Orthodoxy. After that historic visit, Vladimir passed through Chicago, which had a sizeable Orthodox community which was determined to remain independent of the controversial Bishop Vladimir. He left Chicago on April 10, and by April 11 he was in Green Bay. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the next day that Vladimir came for the purpose of visiting Vilatte and his Old Catholic parish in nearby Dyckesville. The Russian bishop “expressed great sympathy with [Vilatte's] work, and it is stated that he was agreeably surprised to find that the doctrinal basis of the Old Catholics at this place, and that of his own large church of 100,000,000 souls were precisely identical.”
But what, exactly, was the relationship between the Russian Diocese and the Old Catholics in Wisconsin? According to a web-published biography of Vilatte by Bertil Persson (the reliability of which is unclear), Vilatte had originally visited Bishop Vladimir in San Francisco in January 1891, at which time Vladimir “approached The Holy Synod of The Russian Orthodox Church suggesting that Vilatte should be consecrated.” I don’t doubt that Bishop Vladimir notified the Holy Synod of Vilatte’s visit, but I cannot believe that he actually suggested that the Russian Church consecrate the man.
Also according to the Persson biography, after visiting Vilatte’s parish in April, Bishop Vladimir issued the following certificate:
CERTIFICATE. The Russian Ecclesiastical Consistory of Alaska, San Francisco, Cal: May 9, 1891. By the Grace of God and the Authority bestowed on me by the Apostolic Succession, I, VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church, announce to all clergymen of the different Christian denominations and to all Old Catholics that The Reverend Joseph René Vilatte, Superior of the Old Catholic Parish in Dyckesville, Wisc:, is now a true Old Catholic Orthodox Christian, under the patronage of our Church, and no Bishop or Priest of any denomination has the right to interdict him or to suspend his religious duties, except the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, and myself. Any action contrary to this declaration, is null and void on the basis of liberty of conscience and the law of this country. ‡VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Greco-Russian Orthodox Ch.
I have no idea whether this document is authentic or not, and unfortunately, Persson only reprinted the text, so we can’t examine the letterhead or Bishop Vladimir’s signature.
Anyway, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia soon after all this, in the wake of a series of scandals in his San Francisco cathedral. His replacement, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, visited the Wisconsin Old Catholics in May 1892. According to Dom Augustine de Angelis in the Fond Du Lac Reporter (quoted in the Milwaukee Sentinel, 5/16/1892), “Bishop Nicholas, head of the Greek church in America, visited the Old Catholic mission at Dyckesville, last Monday. He has been in America only a month and a half, but has already made his episcopal visitation of the Orthodox and Old Catholic churches, preparatory to his annual visitation of the vast region of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. [...] His first impressions of America and Americans are very favorable, and he sympathizes with us in our hopes of seeing an Orthodox American church, in which mass shall be said in English, French, German, etc., until all have become so American that English shall be the common tongue of all…”
But the parish priest, Vilatte, wasn’t there. He was in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), awaiting his long-sought consecration to the episcopate. He had found a taker in the ancient Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the non-Chalcedonian church in India. Vilatte never seems to have considered himself to be a Malankara Syrian Orthodox; he was interested in their apostolic succession, not their actual Church. (As Theodore Natsoulas puts it, “Vilatte’s commitment to the [Malankara] Church of Antioch, or, in fact, to any other religious organization, never was very deep.”) He returned to Dyckesville in August, and on September 11, the New York Times reported that Vilatte had created the American Catholic Church. Needless to say, any connection he might have had with the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands was dead by this point.
Vilatte went on to an exceedingly colorful career as a vagante bishop, and many little Old Catholic and pseudo-Orthodox groups have websites claiming “apostolic succession” through him. More importantly for our purposes, Vilatte remained in occasional contact with Orthodoxy. Robert Josias Morgan — soon to become Fr. Raphael, the first black Orthodox priest in America — was briefly a deacon in Vilatte’s church in the early 1900s. And many years later, in 1921, Vilatte consecrated George Alexander McGuire, who immediately formed the “African Orthodox Church.”
Was Vilatte’s Old Catholic parish once a part of the Russian Orthodox Church? Even if we assume that the purported certificate from Bishop Vladimir is authentic, I’m really not sure. Bishop Vladimir may have viewed St. Alexis Toth and Joseph Rene Vilatte as parallel church leaders, and he may have imagined that, just as Toth began a flood of Uniate conversions to Orthodoxy, so too Vilatte would be the first of thousands of Old Catholics to join the Russian Mission. But from Vilatte’s perspective, this whole idea would have been laughable. He was, it seems, utterly committed to becoming a vagante bishop. He wanted a mechanical, legalistic “apostolic succession,” and then he wanted to be left to his own devices. There is simply no way that he, or his Wisconsin parish, could have been effectively incorporated into the Russian Mission.
Much of this story remains a mystery, but at this juncture, I am most struck by the contrast between Toth and Vilatte, both of whom, in their own very different ways, made substantial impacts on the religious life of the United States in the decades that followed.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
St Raphael was consecrated Bishop of Brooklyn on March 13, 1904, by St Tikhon and Bishop Innocent of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St Innocent). What follows is a little article I wrote on the consecration. My plan is to include the article in a book I hope to publish on the early history of American Orthodoxy.
The first thing to know about Bishop Raphael’s consecration is the crowd – the enormous, crushing crowd. Two thousand people – some worshippers, some sightseers – were crammed like sardines into the cathedral on Brooklyn’s Pacific Street. Throw in a generous portion of incense and hundreds of burning candles, and the place was one hot, dense mass of humanity. “There were half-smothered cries of women and children,” one newspaper reported.[i] As you might expect, at least three women fainted and had to be carried out of the building.[ii]
Adding to the chaos were the newspaper photographers, one of whom chose to take a picture at the moment of consecration. From the New York Sun: “[T]he photograph fiend, who apparently respects religion no more than any other material for a subject, startled the congregation and the clergy by exploding a flashlight cartridge. The building was soon filled with smoke, making the rest of the ceremony very indistinct for some time.”[iii]
Anyway, it was quite a ceremony. No less than four canonized saints participated – Raphael, Tikhon, Alexis Toth, and Alexander Hotovitzky. Afterwards, there was a big dinner, attended by a lot of people (between 150 and 500; the newspapers don’t agree, though I’m inclined to believe the smaller figure). It was a fast day, but that didn’t stop the feasters from having an impressive menu. From the New York Tribune: “The menu was vegetables, oysters and lobsters, Damascus artichokes, fried fish, lettuce salad, peas a la Syriene, cabbages a la Turque; desserts, mishabbak, cornstarch; fruits, apples and oranges; Turkish coffee.”[iv] Presumably no one left hungry.
As far as the general public was concerned, the consecration was a decidedly Russian affair. The newspapers referred to it as being at the Tsar’s orders, and at the celebratory dinner, the Tsar was toasted and the Russian national anthem was sung. One of the first public acts of the new Bishop Raphael was to visit the Russian ambassador in Washington.[v]
These facts did not please the local Greeks one bit. They saw it as an act of Russian imperial expansion, and it contributed to the growing Greek fear that Russian Church aimed to spread its influence across Orthodoxy worldwide. The Greek consul in New York chose not to attend the consecration, and his absence itself made headlines.[vi] A few weeks later, on Holy Friday, Bishop Tikhon tried to visit Holy Trinity, one of the Greek churches in New York. Fr. John Erickson writes, “He was barred from entering by its angry trustees, who feared a Russian takeover of their parish properties.”[vii]
The Greeks may not have been happy with the consecration, but the Episcopalians certainly were. Bishop Tikhon invited his good friend, the Episcopal Bishop Charles Grafton of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin to attend. That fact alone means little; non-Orthodox religious leaders are often invited to witness such events. But Grafton’s invitation was different, at least in the eyes of the Episcopalians themselves. Supposedly, Bishop Tikhon’s invitation included a request that Grafton actually participate in the ceremony as the third consecrator, along with Tikhon and Innocent![viii] In reality, it is highly unlikely that Tikhon actually intended for Grafton to be one of the consecrators. Such an act would require full communion between the Orthodox and the Episcopalians, and, as later events would prove, Tikhon was unwilling to unilaterally declare such a union. He had great respect for the Episcopalians and Grafton in particular, and he may even have privately believed in the legitimacy of their holy orders, but he by no means would have permitted Grafton to actually participate in the service.
In any case, Grafton proved unable to come due to illness, but a delegation of other Episcopalians came in his stead. Some of Grafton’s representatives were allowed to stand in the altar itself during the ceremony, just as was Bishop Tikhon and his delegation at the “Fond-du-Lac Circus” a few years earlier.
Of course, Raphael’s consecration meant the most to his own Syrian flock. They now had a bishop, and officially, they were now a vicariate of the Russian Diocese. Unofficially, though, things were much less clear. While making clear that Raphael was a bishop of the Russian Church, Patriarch Meletios of Antioch felt it his “most important duty” to bestow his blessing on the consecration, and he said that he and the rest of the Antiochian Holy Synod “still consider him as a member of our body.”[ix] For his part, Bishop Tikhon, while also affirming Raphael’s membership in the Russian Church, stated his “certitude” that Raphael “would never break the most intimate spiritual ties with his mother Church of Antioch,” and he asked the Patriarch to guide and advise the new bishop.[x]
Bishop Raphael himself was rather ambiguous when he spoke to his flock about his jurisdictional allegiance. He said that his consecration was “by the order and permission of Melatois [sic], the Patriarch of Antioch”[xi] and that “Patriarch Melatois [sic] counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” He went on to say that Patriarch Meletios declared that he “had instituted the new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.”[xii]
After Raphael’s death, such ambiguities would become points of serious contention among his orphaned flock. But in 1904, they were of little significance; the important fact was that the Syro-Arabs now had their own bishop, who would prove to be among the greatest American Orthodoxy has yet seen.
[i] “Crowd Uncontrollable,” Boston Globe (March 14, 1904), 5.
[ii] “New Bishop of Greek Church Consecrated,” New York Times (March 14, 1904), 9. Also cf. “Third Russian Bishop,” Washington Post (March 14, 1904), 1.
[iii] “New Bishop Consecrated,” New York Sun (March 14, 1904), 10. Also cf. “Ordain Raphael Bishop,” New York Tribune (March 14, 1904), 3.
[iv] New York Tribune (March 14, 1904).
[v] Cf. “Social and Personal,” Washington Post (March 17, 1904), 7 and “In Society,” Washington Times (March 17, 1904), 6.
[vi] Cf. “Greeks Angry at the Czar,” New York Sun (March 15, 1904), 12 and “Fear Russian Rule of Church,” New York Tribune (March 15, 1904), 6.
[vii] Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, 73.
[viii] C. Lewis Leicester, “What Might Have Been,” The Christian East 13:2 (Summer 1932), 79-80. Quoted in Andre G. Issa, The Life of Raphael Hawaweeny, Bishop of Brooklyn: 1860-1915 (unpublished M.Div. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, May 1991), 46.
[ix] Patriarch Meletios to Bishop Tikhon (March 11/24, 1904), translated from the Russian by Fr. John Meyendorff in “Notes and Comments: The Patriarch of Antioch and North America in 1904,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 33:1 (1989), 83-86.
[x] Bishop Tikhon to Patriarch Meletios (April 1904), reprinted in Issa, 49-50.
[xi] Al-Kalimat (The Word) 1, 2, reprinted in “Hanna et al v. Malick et al, 223 Mich. 100, 193 N.W. 798 (June 4, 1923), Northwestern Reporter 193, 802.
[xii] Al-Kalimat 3, 95-96, reprinted in “Hanna v. Malick.” An alternate translation renders this statement, “And so it is indeed, though in name it belongs to the Russian Holy Synod.” Issa, 62.
A few days ago, there was a conference called, “In the Footsteps of Tikhon and Grafton,” held at Nashotah House, the famous Episcopalian seminary in Wisconsin. The conference included a number of well-known Orthodox figures, among them the OCA’s Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Melchizedek, and St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Fr. Chad Hatfield and Mrs. Anne Glynn-Mackoul. Recordings of the whole conference are available at Ancient Faith Radio.
I point this out mainly because of the first recording on the list — “The History of Anglican/Orthodox Relations,” which is actually a pair of talks given, respectively, by Fr. Chad Hatfield and the Episcopal priest Arnold Klukas. Fr. Chad’s talk focuses primarily on the relationship between St. Tikhon and Bishop Grafton at the turn of the last century. Klukas speaks about the broader history of Anglican-Orthodox relations.
Given the relevance of this subject to American Orthodox history, I thought I would mention it here. Of course, we’ve published a good deal of relevant material here at OrthodoxHistory.org, which you can read by clicking here. For a lot of good primary sources, check out this page on the AnglicanHistory.org website.
On November 5, 1905, St. Tikhon ordained Ingram N.W. Irvine an Orthodox priest. It was a courageous action, and I cannot help but think that St. Tikhon’s feelings on the matter were bittersweet. He knew — he must have known — that he was indeed ushering in a new “epoch in Church history,” as Irvine put it. He knew Irvine’s baggage, and Irvine’s dreams. He knew that Irvine would work for a distinctly American Orthodoxy, one in which English would increase and Slavonic would decrease. But more than that, he knew that by ordaining Irvine, he would irreparably damage the close relations he had built up with leading Anglicans, most especially his dear friend, Bishop Charles Grafton.
Bishop Grafton was a great man. He was the Episcopal Bishop of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, but he was much more than that. He was the head of Nashotah House, one of the preeminent seminaries in the Anglican world (and in the very year of Irvine’s ordination, Nashotah House had awarded Tikhon an honorary doctorate). Grafton was also one of the leading lights of “Anglo-Catholicism,” that High Church part of Anglicanism which was most friendly towards Orthodoxy. In his long life — he was 75 when Irvine was ordained — Grafton had done as much as anyone to foster close ties with the Orthodox Churches, and virtually from the moment of St. Tikhon’s arrival in America in 1898, Grafton was a close friend and confidant. Grafton represented the very best that the Episcopal Church had to offer, and for Tikhon, his friendship was invaluable.
And Tikhon must have known that, in accepting Irvine, he would lose his friend. On November 4, 1905 – the day of Irvine’s chrismation and ordination to the diaconate – Grafton wrote in a letter, “I have been very busy this last week in the endeavor to stop Bishop Tikhon from ordaining Dr. Irvine to the priesthood on Sunday the 5th November.” He continued,
[Tikhon] is a good, gentle, pious Christian Bishop who has been imposed upon. For the sake of the Russian Church I am sorry it should take up with a man who rightly or wrongly has been deposed from the priesthood. There was no necessity for it, for Dr. Irvine could have appealed to the Court of Review lately established, or to the House of Bishops sitting, as they do, in Council. The action of Archbishop Tikhon can only be based on the view that we are no part of the Catholic Church and so all relations between us must terminate, or on the ground that he has received authority from the Holy Synod to receive appeals from our courts. In the latter case I said that we had received no notice of such authority being delegated, and if we had, and had accepted it according to the Canon of the Universal Church which he was bound to respect, he could only hear appeals from bishops and not from priests who were confined to appeals within their own nationality or province.
While well intentioned, Grafton was in error. Of course, his arguments display a fundamental ecclesiological misunderstanding: Grafton thought that the Orthodox and Anglican Churches were both parts of the “Catholic” (Universal) Church, and thus that the Orthodox had to respect the territorial rights and judicial decisions of the Anglicans. In Grafton’s (and the Anglicans’) view, St. Tikhon was roughly paralleled by the Russian Ambassador. Ordaining Irvine was equivalent to the Russian Ambassador declaring a convicted American criminal to be innocent, and then bestowing a Russian consulate on him. The Russian Ambassador had no such rights; he was in America for diplomatic purposes, but he had no jurisdiction here. The same basic restrictions applied to St. Tikhon, so thought the Anglicans.
Incidentally, Grafton also misunderstood his own Church’s appeals process. When Irvine was defrocked by his Episcopal bishop in 1900, the Episcopal Church had no mechanism by which he could appeal the punishment. They established a court of appeal in 1905, but that court was not able to make retroactive rulings. Irvine simply had no way of being reinstated in the Episcopal Church.
Grafton concluded his letter with strong words:
My telegrams will be published in next week’s Living Church; our presiding Bishop has protested. The Archbishop has made a big, bad blunder. I asked the Russian Ambassador to interfere with his influence. But I fear Tikhon will steer his craft on the rocks. My hope is that God will in some way overrule this to good, for it is Satan’s work.
Neither God nor the Russian Ambassador prevented Irvine’s ordination. Richard Hatfield — than an Episcopal priest, but now Fr. Chad Hatfield, the chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Seminary — wrote in 1992, “The friendship between Grafton and Tikhon ended with the ordination of [Irvine]. … The ordination of Father Irvine brought to an abrupt close the first phase of Orthodox-Anglican relations in the new world.”