Posts tagged converts
The Righteous Shall Be in Everlasting Remembrance: Further Reflections on Colonel Philip Ludwell III1
March 14/27 this year will mark the 266th anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Colonel Philip Ludwell III of Williamsburg, Virginia. As many readers of this web site will know he is the first documented convert to Orthodoxy in the Americas, following his reception into the Church in London in December 1738. Last year, Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of ROCOR and Ruling Bishop of its Eastern American Diocese blessed for panikhidas to be held in his memory on the anniversary of repose. Since this blessing was given more information has come to light that further enhances our picture of Colonel Ludwell and the relevance of his life to Orthodoxy in America today.
Philip Ludwell III was born in Virginia in 1716, some sixty years before the revolution that would give birth to the United States of America and the modern concept of the “nation state” founded on ideological ties rather than those of family, kinship and language. He travelled to London, England in 1738 and was received into Orthodoxy at one of the first parishes of the Russian Church established outside the boundaries of the Empire: But it should be clear that this was not a Russian church in any modern narrowly defined nationalistic setting. The priest of the parish who received him was Fr Bartholomew Cassanno, a half French, and half Alexandrian Greek who spent most of his adult life in England and had married an English women converted to Orthodoxy in the 1720’s. Following her repose he would become a hieromonk. Like the priest and his matushka most of the parish were either from the Greek speaking lands of the eastern Mediterranean or English converts to Orthodoxy.
From the Archives of the Holy Synod
Thanks to the tieless efforts of my dear friend Misha Sarni in London, I have recently obtained copies of documents regarding Colonel Ludwell from the archives of the Holy Synod in St Petersburg. As regards Ludwell’s arrival in London, Fr. Stephen Ivanovsky, the second ethnic Russian priest of the parish writes to the Holy Synod in St Petersburg in 1761:
In 1738, during the incumbency of the late Hieromonk Bartholomew Cassano at this holy Church, an English gentleman named Ludwell [transliterated as Лодвел – Lodvel – tr.], born in the American lands and living there in the province of Virginia, came to London seeking the True Faith, which he, with God’s help, has swiftly found in the Holy Graeco-Russian Church. And so on the 31st of December of the same year he was confirmed in the same with the holy Chrism. The next year, 1739, he returned to his native land, from whence he, having lived there for twenty years, came back to London last month of September, and brought with him his three daughters, two of whom are eleven years of age, and the third, twenty, who long time ago in America lost their mother, minding to have them united with the Holy Eastern Church here, gaining through this union the one Mother for them and himself.
Ivanovsky goes on to explain that during his years in America Ludwell had translated into English “The Orthodox Confession” of Metropolitan Peter Moghila of Kiev and now sought the Synod’s blessing to publish and distribute it to all sons of the Holy Eastern Church dwelling in London, without charge, for their spiritual nourishment.
The same man, filled with Orthodox piety, requested that I, unworthy, humbly petition the Most Holy Ruling Synod concerning the future condition of his soul. How should he conduct himself after returning to his home land with his family, what shall he and them do, keep the practice of prayer only at their home, or would they be permitted to go temporarily to an English church, having no church of their own? So that they could offer their Creator some due in public, even thrice a year, thus drawing away from themselves the anger of the local people, since there, and in the whole Province of Virginia, and in the whole of America, except nearby Pennsylvania, any other Religion except Protestant, is forbidden. Besides in his home country still nobody knows about his change of Religion, since he is a councilor in a high position in the King’s service.
Concerning the Holy Gifts, he humbly petitions the Most Holy Ruling Synod, whether it would consider it possible to send them from here once a year some Consecrated Holy Gifts, as was practiced by the Early Christians, so that they, having been deprived of this Spiritual Nourishment after their departure from here, should not fall into despair. Since he had no greater concern throughout his twenty years there than the absence of these Divine Gifts, which he oftentimes longed to partake for the strengthening of his faith. And this petition of the selfsame man who is full of pious zeal, which is stemming from his great love for the Holy Church, I, unworthy, make bold to bring for the Most Holy Ruling Synod’s compassionate consideration, and humbly beg for a decision that will bring him joy.
In response to Ivanovsky’s petition the Holy Synod very swiftly blessed the printing and distribution of the catechism and for Ludwell to dispense it freely to those who would like to own it for their benefit.
The Synod also responded:
That he, Priest Ivanovsky, having properly instructed and established the three daughters of the said gentleman Ludwell in the knowledge of our Orthodox faith, shall receive them into the Holy Eastern Church, of their own volition, through the appropriate Church service. As to ways to preserve their Orthodox faith after their departure, what order of prayer to follow in their native land, and other matters related to Church mysteries, you, priest Ivanovsky, shall, having diligently obtained from them the knowledge of all circumstances and customs observed there, and having carefully considered these, advise them with suitable caution.
Finally, as regards the Holy Gifts:
At the time of departure of said Ludwell and his family to their native land, in consideration of their needs and circumstances as reported by you, priest Ivanovsky, and also his, Ludwell’s, most fervent desire. If there is an unfailing hope in his perfect will to hold fast, now and henceforth, to our Orthodox faith, and in view of the above needs, the Most Holy Synod gives you, priest Stefan Ivanovsky, the blessing to provide him with the Holy Gifts, for himself and his children, in a proper Tabernacle, having given him appropriate instruction concerning their keeping.
Philip Ludwell and Benjamin Franklin
Last December I was able to visit the only extant house in the world of Benjamin Franklin, in Craven St, London. Colonel Ludwell also lived in Craven St during the last seven years of his life and the extent of his friendship with Franklin is gradually becoming clearer. In the mid 1760’s Franklin briefly returned to America and in February 1763 he wrote from there to Ludwell back in London:
I must shortly make a journey to your Country, which I should undertake with much greater Pleasure, if I could promise myself the happiness of meeting there with my dear Friend, (but this is not to be expected, for I hear you are to continue this year in England). I pray sincerely that every Blessing may attend you, wherever you are, and particularly that of Health. O that I could invent something to restore and establish yours! But we shall meet, I trust, in a better Country, and with better Constitutions, vigorous health and everlasting youth; and since t’will be an additional pleasure so great in itself and so easily afforded us, I am persuaded we shall know one another.
From this letter it is clear that Ludwell did not intend to remain in London, but rather to return to his native Virginia. God’s will was otherwise and he was to repose in London in 1767. Its seems highly probable that Benjamin Franklin may have been present at his funeral in the Russian Church at the end of March that year.
Franklin and Ludwell worked together in a number of important educational and charitable initiatives in early America. Franklin is credited with founding America’s first hospital, in his native Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751. Two years prior to this he began the educational establishment that was to grow into America’s first full University – the University of Pennsylvania. What is much less widely realized is that Ludwell was the founding donor for both these institutions. Ludwell and Franklin together along with others funded an organization known as “The Associates of Dr Bray” who in 1760 opened the first schoolhouse for African American children in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The Piety of Philip Ludwell
All these actions attest to Ludwell’s love for his fellow man. His love for God is equally demonstrated by his adherence to the Orthodox Faith he embraced in his youth, retained for over twenty years whilst cut off from outward Church life and then brought his family into. In those wilderness years he labored to translate the catechism into English and also the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. He penned a brief exhortation to piety entitled “How to Behave Before, In and After Divine Services in the Church.” In this he demonstrates the importance of reverence for God and awe in the presence of His holiness:
As then passest along to the Church present thy self before the King as the awfull majesty before whom thou art going to content thy self in the Courts of his house.
Enter the Church with gravity and composure and present thy self before the sanctuary and devoutly adore thrice; bless thy self with the sacred sign and say:
Surely the Lord is in this place!
How awfull is this place!
This is none other than the house of God and this is the Gate of Heaven!
How amiable is thy dwelling O Lord of Hosts!
My soul hath a desire a longing to enter the Courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh rejoice in the living-God.
Let the Words of my Mouth and the Meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy Sight O Lord my Strength and my Redeemer.
It is surely a remarkable thing that a man so connected to the early history of this Republic was also a devout Orthodox Christian who faithfully and diligently strove to live and witness to the Orthodox Faith, to love God and to care for the poor and disadvantaged. May his memory be eternal and may he be numbered among the blessed!
St Raphael Hawaweeny was a native of Lebanon, who in 1904 became the first Orthodox bishop ordained in the new world. As Bishop of Brooklyn he had oversight over the Syro-Lebanese communities that were beginning to appear in the Americas in the early twentieth century and he worked tirelessly for their growth and consolidation. It has been noted previously by Matthew Namee on this web site that during the years of St Raphael’s ministry until his repose in 1915 there was a dramatic increase in the extent and use of the English language in the liturgical life of these communities.
Last year, whilst I was researching in the National Archives in London, England, I discovered a document that shows that St Raphael’s missionary concerns extended beyond English to the Spanish language. The document I found was a letter (written in Russian) in 1912 from St Raphael to Fr. Eugene Smirnov, the priest of the Russian Embassy church in London. By way of background it should be mentioned that Fr. Eugene had briefly served as a reader at the Russian Orthodox parish in New York in the early 1870’s under Fr Nicholas Bjerring. Fr Eugene maintained an active interest in Orthodox missionary work throughout his life and in particular facilitated considerable support for the development of the church in America by way of both material and financial assistance.
The letter, which is translated in full below, is evidence of the expansive missionary vision of both St Raphael and Fr. Eugene. I am indebted to Dr. Karina Ross of St George Antiochian Orthodox George in Utica for its translation:
Esteemed Father Protopriest!
The box with five hundred copies of St. John’s Liturgy in the Spanish language that you promised to me in your letter from Feb. 13th / 26th of the current year was conveyed to me yesterday from the Russian Cathedral in New York.
I humbly request you to notify of this the deeply respected – apostles of Orthodoxy in the twentieth century in the heterodox West – splendid general V. Vich(?)-Perez and remarkable warrior of Christ G. A. K (can’t make out the surname), (the life and the conversion to Orthodoxy of the former through the latter, your spiritual son, I described in great detail from its account in “Church News” in my Arabic spiritual publication “Al-Khalimat” (“The Word”) last year), and also to let them know of my deepest gratitude and prayerful blessing.
I intend to send out these copies to our Orthodox Syrian Arabs who are living in Spanish language countries in Northern and Central America, in hope that this very beneficial book with (?) mercy will be of great use for the support of Orthodoxy and, quite likely, for its proliferation among Spanish speakers. Let the Lord of Hosts support all those who labour in Christ’s vineyard.
I sincerely thank you, esteemed Father Protopriest, for the love that you have shown me and for your trust in my unworthiness, with deep reverence and sincere gratitude, yours truly.
Perpetually praying for you to Lord Jesus, Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn.
To His Blessedness
32 Welbeck St., London
It is my hope that a reader of this article might be able to find and translate the article of St Raphael in Al-Khalimat” (“The Word”) referred to in the letter so that we might learn the identity of the two Spanish language apostles of Orthodoxy in the twentieth century and thus place this document within the wider context in which it obviously belongs. I am not certain to what extent Spanish is currently employed liturgically in any of the Antiochian Orthodox parishes in the USA and whether any evidence exists of its earlier use that St Raphael clearly intended to promote through the distribution of this translation of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, NY, August 26, 2012
A lot of us at SOCHA happen to be really busy right now (personally, I’m in the middle of law school exams), so rather than leave you without much to read this week, here’s an article we originally published back in August 2010.
Fr. Kyrill Johnson was one of many fascinating early American converts to Orthodoxy. He was born Arthur Warren Johnson in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1897. I don’t know what happened to his parents, but Johnson was adopted by an unmarried aunt, who raised him in Ipswich. He went to college at William and Mary in Virginia, which is probably where he first encountered the Orthodox Church. One of his classmates was a fellow named Royce Burden, and both were almost certainly students of young Professor Michael Gelsinger.
Arthur Johnson graduated in 1921. The next year, both Burden and Gelsinger were ordained Orthodox priests and assigned to serve in the “English-speaking department” of the Russian Archdiocese. This “department” had its origins in 1905, when Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine converted to Orthodoxy and was charged by St. Tikhon to do “English work.” Irvine died in early 1921, by which point another convert priest, Fr. Patrick Mythen, had taken over the English-speaking department. Mythen brought numerous Americans into the Orthodox Church, but he was wayward and immature, and many of his converts (along with Mythen himself) ultimately left the Church.
I don’t know what role Mythen played in the conversions of Burden, Gelsinger, and Arthur Johnson, but that trio, unlike so many of their fellow 1920s converts, remained in the Church for the rest of their lives. I don’t know exactly when Johnson was ordained, but he was definitely a priest by 1924. The next year, he earned a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.
Johnson — by now Fr. Kyrill — was a celibate priest, and he doesn’t seem to have had a parish in the 1920s. He may have been under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who oversaw the English-speaking department (and the American Orthodox Catholic Church, into which the English department morphed), but Johnson’s focus, in those years, seems to have been scholarly pursuits. In the mid-’20s, he was a key part of Harvard expeditions to Mount Athos and Mount Sinai, searching for ancient Biblical manuscripts. He also spent time in Syria, where he discovered rare proto-Semitic inscriptions.
In the early 1930s, Johnson was back in Ipswich, where he published several books on local history. In 1938, he became pastor of St. George Antiochian church in nearby Lawrence, Mass. — as far as I can tell, this was his first parish assignment in at least 14 years as an Orthodox priest. In 1940, he took on another job, becoming the head of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, which today has the more palatable name “Historic New England,” owns and preserves historic homes and other buildings in New England. The next year, 1941, Metropolitan Antony Bashir elevated Johnson to archimandrite. Johnson lived only six more years, dying in 1947, at the age of just 50.
So far, I’ve basically given you a dry biography of Fr. Kyrill Johnson. What sort of person was he, though? Pat Tyler of the Ipswich Historical Society happened to know Johnson when she was young. A few years ago, she told me, “He lived across the street from me — to the Yankees in town, he was just ‘strange,’ in that black robe.” Later, she added, “I knew him in the 30′s just as the guy across the street – I was just a child. My mother, of course, knew him. She and her friend, Helen, actually spent the night at the beach (Crane’s) with Arthur. I picture the scene as teenagers spouting Shakespeare. And Platonic to the max.”
Here’s another account of Johnson, from the book Becoming What One Is, by Austin Warren: “Friends brought acquaintances; and I remember […] Arthur Johnson of Ipswich, a swarthy, lean, Byzantine-looking bachelor, who, a pure Yankee and reared a Methodist, had become (after an Anglican interlude) an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.”
Back in college, Johnson’s class elected him “most eccentric man.” He was extremely involved in his school activities — class historian, student council secretary, associate editor of the student newspaper, editor-in-chief of the college literary magazine. He was in a drama club, manager of the debate council… I could go on, but I think you get the point. He never married, of course, and I get the sense that nobody who knew him was surprised by this fact. He was odd, friendly, bookish. He was also a talented writer.
Of the three William and Mary converts — Johnson, Burden, and Gelsinger — Johnson was clearly the least well-known, and probably the least influential. But he lived a fascinating life, and stands out as one of the few convert priests of the 1920s who remained in the Orthodox Church until the day he died.
On March 5, 1958, the New York Times ran the following article:
AUTHOR ADOPTS FAITH
Elliot Paul, in Hospital, Joins Greek Orthodox Church
PROVIDENCE, R.I., March 4 (AP) — Elliot Paul, author, became a member of the Greek Eastern Orthodox Church today in bedside ceremonies at the Veterans Administration Hospital here.
Mr. Paul is seriously ill with arteriosclerosis and heart disease. When he entered the hospital a few weeks ago, he listed his religion as “agnostic.” He was born in Malden, Mass., a member of a Congregational family.
The 68-year-old author said his desire for conversion came from his admiration for Greek Orthodox friends whose faith and warmth appealed to him.
Elliot Paul lived a fascinating life. He worked as a journalist, authored novels, and later wrote ten Hollywood screenplays, most notably Rhapsody in Blue. His friends included the famed novelists James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. He was a huge fan of jazz, moonlighting as a pianist and writing the screenplay for Billie Holliday’s only acting role. Paul was married (and divorced) five times, and, as the Times indicates, he identified as an agnostic until the very end of his life.
And it was the very end — just a month after joining the Church, Paul died of his ailments. His obituary in the Bridgeport Post offers a bit more detail on his conversion: “After his hospitalization, Paul mentioned his desire to enter the church to the hospital Protestant chaplain, Rev. Frank S. Hall. The chaplain notified the Very Rev. John A. Limberakis, pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.”
The obituary also re-emphasized that the biggest factor in Paul’s conversion was the faith and love of his Orthodox friends. It’s a reminder that quiet example and loyal friendship can be just as effective as overt evangelization.
March 25, 1886: The future Greek Archbishop and later Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras Spyrou was born. Athenagoras led the Greek Archdiocese from 1930 to 1948, when he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He served in that position for nearly a quarter-century, until his death in 1972.
March 25, 1891: St. Alexis Toth and his Greek Catholic parish in Minneapolis joined the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
March 22, 1892: The French Orthodox convert priest Fr. Vladimir Guettee died. Guettee had been a respected Roman Catholic historian and Jesuit priest, but through his study of history, he came to believe that the Orthodox Church alone had preserved the true faith. He joined the Russian Church, taking the name “Vladimir,” and published a widely read journal on Orthodoxy which reported on American Orthodox events. He also wrote a lengthy refutation of papal claims, which can be read here.
March 25, 1896: The future hieromartyr Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. Korchinsky’s travels make his fellow circuit-riding priests look wimpy by comparison — Alaska, Canada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Mexico, Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, and finally back in his native Odessa (modern Ukraine). At 80, he was executed by the Soviets, and he is now being considered for glorification as a saint. To read more about Korchinsky, check out this article I wrote in 2010.
March 24, 1907: Russian Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin concelebrated his last Divine Liturgy in America, with Bishops Raphael Hawaweeny and Innocent Pustynsky.
March 22, 1908: In Boston, Fr. Theophan Noli celebrated the first-ever liturgy in the Albanian language, anywhere in the world. The service took place in Boston, where Noli was a student at Harvard. To read about that first liturgy in 1908, check out my article from 2010.
March 24, 1918: Almost exactly a decade later, Fr. Theophan Noli was appointed as the administrator of the Albanian Mission under the Russian Archdiocese of North America. Not long afterward, he returned to Albania, became the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, and finally was elected Prime Minister of Albania. He held that post for five months before he was exiled to America, where he led an Albanian jurisdiction for decades.
March 22, 1925: The former Archimandrite Patrick Mythen died in New York. Two years ago, I wrote about Mythen’s life prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, and I never got around to telling the rest of the story. So here’s the rest of the story, very briefly: Mythen, an Episcopal priest and former Roman Catholic, converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. Within months, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite and put in charge of a brand-new project called the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. This was supposed to be an English-speaking parish for American converts. It didn’t last more than a handful of months, but it included several convert priests, most of whom appear to have been Mythen’s friends. When chaos broke out in the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky relied more and more heavily on Mythen. According to Mythen’s own claims — the accuracy of which is uncertain — he (Mythen) was given power of attorney for the whole Archdiocese. I’ve heard that he even signed clergy ordination certificates. Within a few years, though, Mythen re-converted to Roman Catholicism. He was found dead in 1925, at the age of just 42.
March 25, 1925: Three days later, a man who could not be more different than Mythen — St. Tikhon, by now the Patriarch of Moscow — died in Russia.
March 24, 1935: Bishop Polycarp Morusca was consecrated in Romania to lead the Romanian Diocese in America. He was enthroned in Detroit a few months later, and over the next several years, he did a lot to organize the Romanian Orthodox of America. In 1939, he returned to Romania to attend a session of the Holy Synod, but World War II broke out, and Bishop Polycarp wasn’t able to return to the United States. In 1947, he notified the American diocese that it had been eliminated from the church budget. He was forced to retire, and future heads of the diocese would have to be approved by Romania’s Communist government. In 1951, the American diocese elected the exiled Bishop Valerian Trifa to be the nominal auxiliary to Bishop Polycarp, but given that Bishop Polycarp hadn’t set foot in America in more than a decade, for all intents and purposes Bishop Valerian was the new head of the diocese. Bishop Polycarp died in Romania in 1958.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey of New York signed into law a bill incorporating the Federated Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions of America. The Federation was sort of a primitive version of SCOBA. It included most of the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America, but there were notable exceptions, including the Russian Metropolia, ROCOR, and the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo. In the Federation’s short life — only about a year or so — it achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. The Federation managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. It also led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. The Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by the legislation, from way back in the 1940s. As far as I know, the last meeting of the Federation took place in February 1944, but the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it going on paper for another 15 or so years, when the dream of the Federation was revived as SCOBA.
March 25, 1998: The renowned church historian Jaroslav Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy. Pelikan was an intellectual giant, a longtime professor at Yale and a prolific writer. He had been well acquainted with Orthodoxy for decades before his conversion, which Fr. John Erickson has described in this way: “In a conversation shortly after his entrance into the Orthodox Church, Jary likened his path to Orthodoxy to that of a pilot who kept circling the airport, looking for a way to land. Orthodox Christians can be thankful that he landed before running out of fuel.” In his later years, Pelikan served as a key member of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Board of Trustees. He died in 2006. For more on Pelikan, read this 2003 article by Fr. John Erickson. I particularly liked this quote from Pelikan, on being a historian: “Everybody else is an expert on the present. I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.”
March 20, 2003: The Orthodox Church of Poland formally glorified St. Vasily Martysz, who had once served in America. To read more about St. Vasily, click here.
March 22, 2009: Archbishop Dmitri Royster of Dallas retired as head of the OCA Diocese of the South.