Posts tagged converts
Editor’s note: We’re extremely pleased to present another article by Nicholas Chapman, who continues to excavate the very earliest origins of Orthodoxy in America. To read more about Nicholas and his exciting research, check out the upcoming edition of the journal Road to Emmaus, which features a lengthy interview with Nicholas. Also, if you’re coming to our SOCHA symposium at Princeton later this month, you’ll have an opportunity to hear Nicholas present a 20-minute lecture on his work.
In my first article on Orthodoxy in Colonial Virginia published on this web site nearly two years ago, I mentioned in passing that the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia had retrospectively approved of Colonel Philip Ludwell III’s translation of the Orthodox Confession of Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev. At that time I was not aware that this translation was in fact published and distributed.
I cannot presently be certain at what exact time Ludwell made this translation, but it must have been some time between his conversion to Orthodoxy at the end of 1738 and his move to London in the summer of 1760. In any event the first edition was published in London, England in 1762 and during a visit to the British Library this past spring I was able to handle and read a copy of the original edition. Aside from the translation of the catechism itself it contains a preface by the translator (Ludwell) as well as a few other inserted details, all of which have much to tell us about the mind and intention of the man who may be America’s first convert to the Orthodox Faith.
The book is slim brown leather bound volume of some 209 pages, printed in black ink. It has on the spine Greek Church Orthodox Confession and London 1762. The front cover is marked only with a beautiful gold embossed crown. The title page contains the following (I was unable to make a digital copy so what follows is my copy typing of the original, leaving the mid eighteenth century English unchanged. If you remember to change that the letter f can be read, as s the meaning should be clear.) :
The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church; Faithfully Translated from the Originals
Meditate upon thefe Things, give thyself wholly to them; ———-
Take heed unto thyfelf, and unto thy Doctrine; continue in them: For in fo doing thou fhalt fave thyfelf.——
1 Tim. Iv. 15. & 16.
Printed in A.D. MDCC LXII
As Moghila’s work seems to have originally been published in both Latin and Greek, the title page information seems to suggest that Ludwell had access to both texts in making his translation. The biblical quotations chosen by Ludwell seem to indicate that the purpose of the catechism is the salvation of the individual reader. The translator’s preface that follows on the next page reveals more fully Ludwell’s purpose and mission:
Devout Chriftian Reader.
Be pleafed to accept this Labour of Love, of thine unworthy Fellow-Servant; who mindful of the Command, “When thou art converted, ftrenghten “thy Brethren,” prefenteth, with all Humility, thefe his Endeavours, for thine Attainment of the Truth, and everlafting Salvation: And, in return, affift him with thy Prayers, to the Throne of Grace and Mercy; that, whilft he offereth Inftruction to others, he may fo take Heed unto himfelf, that he become not a Caft-away.
Thus faith the Lord, Stand ye in the Ways, and fee, and afk for the old Paths, where is the good Way, and walk therein, and ye fhall find Reft for your Souls.
Jerem. Vi. 16.
Unto you that fear my Name, fhall the Sun of Righteoufnefs arife with healing in his Wings. Mal. Iv. 2.
These words and quotations, although brief, clearly indicate an apostolic intention on the part of Ludwell, to reveal the fullness of the Orthodox Faith to his fellow British and British American countryman. At the same time he does not see them as being radically “other” but as fellow believers whose present understanding of the Faith needs to be strengthen by a return to the “old paths” which he understood to be found in the Orthodox Faith. As such he stands within the best tradition of Orthodox mission that seeks to recognize all that is good and of God in a culture and then to show how it may be completed within the Orthodox tradition.
I have not been able to ascertain how many copies of this original edition were published and how widely they were circulated. Clearly it did circulate. There is a fascinating article in the Scottish Review published in Paisley, Scotland in January 1892. The article is entitled Translated Greek Office Books. The author of this extensive article turns out to be no less than the Rev. Fr. Stephen Hatherly the late nineteenth century English convert to Orthodoxy who briefly attempted to start an Orthodox mission in New York in the 1880’s. (Click here for more information.) Hatherly writes as follows of Ludwell’s (aka Lodvel’s) work:
Another English writer on the subject of the Greek Church who preceded Dr. King is Col. Lodvel. The work attributed to him is one of the most important in the ample oriental ecclesiastical library. Dr. King alludes to the original of the work, and to three translation, though it publication had a ten years’ start of his book.
Here Hatherly is saying that Dr. King did not know of Ludwell/Lodvel’s translation. Dr. King was Dr. John Glen King D.D. who in 1764 had been appointed Chaplain of the English Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1772, he published in London his opus magnum The Rites and Ceremonies of the Greek Church in Russia; containing an account of its Doctrine,Worship and Discipline. Hatherly says of this work that it is now a scarce book and is likely to become scarcer, being bought up on every opportunity at American account. (Emphasis mine.)
Having pointed out that King did not seem to know of Ludwell/Lodvel’s translation, Hatherly then reveals that he has in front of him a personally inscribed copy. He writes:
After the word ‘originals’ in the title page, there is, in a clear old fashioned handwriting, the addition, ‘of Nectarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem; Parthenius, Patriarch of Constantinople; and the catechism of Petr Mogilaw, Archbishop of Kiow. And afterwards, with a coarser pen, and inferior ink, ‘By Col. Lodvel, father to Mrs. Paradise.’
Did Hatherly make use of Ludwell’s work during his abortive Orthodox mission in the USA and how many copies had already crossed the Atlantic in the 120+ years preceding it? A quick search suggests that no original physical copies are held in any US library, but given the sturdy, handsomely bound volume I held in my hands this past April, I find it difficult to believe that more copies have not survived.
Copyright – Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, NY, September 11, 2011
We’ve devoted a fair amount of attention here at OrthodoxHistory.org to Fr. Raphael Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America. Very briefly: Morgan was born in Jamaica, traveled widely, and eventually became an Episcopalian deacon in the United States. In 1907, after many years of study, he traveled to Constantinople and was received into the Orthodox Church and ordained a priest. He was commissioned to establish an Orthodox mission for black Americans in Philadelphia. We know that he remained Orthodox through at least 1916, but we’ve found no traces of him after that.
In 1909, Morgan and his wife Charlotte divorced. Fr. Raphael retained custody of their 13-year-old daughter, Roberta Viola Morgan, while their 9-year-old son Cyril Ignatius lived with his mother. Charlotte later remarried, and I think Cyril went on to become some sort of Protestant minister in New York. The April 6, 1933 issue of the Philadelphia Tribune reported that “Rev. Cyril Morgan of New York was the weekend guest of his mother, Mrs. Charlotte Baylis[s]” in Wayne, PA. This is as far as I’ve been able to trace Cyril’s whereabouts, although I have found references to a Rev. Cyril T. Morgan of New York — who may or may not be our man – into the late 1940s.
Roberta Viola Morgan has proven more difficult to find — until now. The website Ancestry.com recently opened their travel and immigration records to the public, for an extremely short period of time. I took advantage of the opportunity to search for Morgan, and I quickly struck gold. I found an Emergency Passport Application for Roberta dated April 5, 1924. It turns out that she had been living in Greece from 1912 to 1924 (so, roughly ages 15-27). Here are some highlights:
- Roberta said that her father was “Rafael Morgan,” and that he was deceased.
- There are a bunch of question marks in the fields for Fr. Raphael’s US citizenship information, suggesting that Roberta didn’t know whether her father was a US citizen.
- She said that her permanent residence was “Waine” (Wayne), PA (where her mother lived).
- Roberta left the US in 1910, lived in England for two years, and then moved to Athens for the purpose of “education.”
- The application said that Roberta “knows no American citizen in Athens.”
There’s other good stuff, too — a photo of Roberta, a rather detailed description of her physical characteristics, etc. And it looks like Roberta’s passport application was approved: I also found a passenger manifest showing that Roberta arrived in New York on May 3, 1924. She listed her US address as 241 Island Ave. in Wayne, PA, which I assume was her mother’s home.
We can glean a lot from all this information. For one, we now know that Fr. Raphael Morgan died sometime between 1916 and 1924. We know that, almost immediately after his 1909 divorce, Morgan sent his daughter to live in Europe. And it’s not like it was a brief stay — the woman spent most of her teenage and young adult life in Greece. She probably didn’t see her mother in all that time, either.
We already have a passenger manifest for Fr. Raphael from 1911: he arrived back in the US from Greece in October of that year. Now that we have Roberta’s passport application, we can say rather confidently that Fr. Raphael was returning after leaving his daughter overseas. Also, this helps clear up an ambiguity: in his 1981 article on Morgan, the Greek Orthodox historian Paul Manolis wrote that an elderly Philadelphia Greek parishioner said that Morgan’s daughter was “a graduate of Oxford.” That seems highly unlikely — she was only in her mid-teens during her stay in England — but the parishioner correctly remembered that she was educated in the UK.
What could have motivated Fr. Raphael Morgan to send his teenage daughter across an ocean, and leave her there for the rest of his life? Why not just let her live with her mother, brother, and stepfather in Pennsylvania? My guess is that it’s because Morgan’s divorce was so hostile that he simply did not want his daughter anywhere near her mother.
And what was she doing all those years in Greece? Can you imagine a black American girl living in Greece for a decade? She may very well have remained Orthodox, given where she was. This new document answers some important questions, but it raises even more.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Last week, we introduced the first issue of the Journal of American Orthodox Church History (JAOCH), which is available from Prairie Parish Press (PPP). In addition to publishing JAOCH, PPP has begun producing a “Collected Works Series,” featuring the writings of important Eastern Christian figures, with a special emphasis on American authors. The first book in the series is a collection of Nicholas Bjerring’s writings (appropriately titled Nicholas Bjerring: The Collected Works). The e-book is edited by Fr. Oliver Herbel, who has spent years researching Bjerring.
Regular OrthodoxHistory.org readers are probably familiar with Bjerring, a Roman Catholic who converted to Orthodoxy in 1870, was ordained a priest in Russia, and established the first Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring published an English-language Orthodox journal and acted as a sort of embassy priest until 1883, when the Russian government closed the chapel. Rather than accept a teaching position in St. Petersburg, the discouraged Bjerring converted to Presbyterianism before ultimately returning to Roman Catholicism shortly before his death.
Nicholas Bjerring: The Collected Works opens with an introduction by Fr. Oliver, who provides an 11-page biographical sketch of the man. This is followed by two letters by Bjerring in 1870 — one to Pope Pius IX in which Bjerring denounces the dogma of papal infallibility and informs the Pope that he will become Orthodox, and the other to the Russian Holy Synod in which he requests reception into the Orthodox Church. Next come four of Bjerring’s best sermons, all from his days as an Orthodox priest. My favorite, I think, is his 1873 Sermon on Unbelief and Indifference. The last two pieces were written at the end of Bjerring’s life, when he was a Roman Catholic layman, and they are essential in understanding how the once anti-papal Bjerring came to be convinced that Rome was, in fact, his true home.
All told, if you have any interest in Bjerring, 19th century Orthodoxy, or early American Orthodox converts, this book is a must-have. The introductory price is a mere $1.00, and is available until September 1. After that, the price will go up a bit, although it will remain very affordable. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy.
And in case you missed it, here’s a link.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Recently, Holy Cross Orthodox Press published the Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, edited by Alexei D. Krindatch. I contributed several pieces to the Atlas, including the article “Ten Interesting Facts About the History of Orthodox Christianity in the USA.” With Alexei’s permission, we’ll publish excerpts from that article over the next couple of months. To purchase your own copy of the Atlas(for $19.95), click here.
3. The first two American Orthodox convert priests went to Orthodox countries, were ordained very quickly, and ultimately left the Church.
James Chrystal and Nicholas Bjerring were exact contemporaries, both born in 1831. Chrystal lived in the New York area, and died in Jersey City. Bjerring was an immigrant from Denmark, but in 1870 he established the first Orthodox chapel in New York, and he lived there the rest of his life.
Both men became Orthodox for ideological reasons. Chrystal was an Episcopalian intellectual obsessed with the history of baptism, and he concluded that Orthodoxy alone had preserved the correct method of baptism. Bjerring was a Roman Catholic intellectual who was scandalized by Rome’s recent declaration of papal infallibility. He, too, came to believe that only the Orthodox Church had preserved the truth.
Both men came to Orthodoxy without having actually attended an Orthodox church, and both traveled to Orthodox countries to seek ordination. Chrystal went to Greece and impressed church leaders with his vast theological knowledge. Bjerring went to Russia and impressed church leaders with his zeal. Both were immediately received into the Church, quickly ordained priests, and sent back to America — specifically, to New York City.
Chrystal was the first to leave. As soon as he returned to America, he repudiated the Orthodoxy, declaring that he could not accept the veneration of icons. He started his own sect, and spent the rest of his life railing against “creature worship.” Bjerring lasted a good bit longer. He was priest of the New York chapel for 13 years, but he didn’t have sufficient training for the priesthood and made errors that any seminary student learns to avoid. Even worse, he didn’t speak Russian or Greek (the primary languages of his small congregation), and he reportedly spoke English with a thick Danish accent. He actively discouraged conversions, viewing himself not as a missionary but as a religious ambassador to America, promoting goodwill between Orthodoxy and Protestantism (especially the Episcopal Church).
Bjerring’s chapel community never grew; in fact, it stagnated. By 1883, the Russian authorities had seen enough, and they closed the chapel. Bjerring was offered a teaching position in Russia, but he wasn’t interested; instead, disgruntled, Bjerring abandoned Orthodoxy and became a Presbyterian minister. By the end of his life, he came full circle, rejoining the Roman Catholic Church as a layman.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the passing of Bob Marley, who finished his life as a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (his baptism was just six months before his death), we’re reposting this piece we posted last year featuring the program from his funeral in Jamaica. Memory eternal!
Journey To Orthodoxy yesterday ran a piece about the conversion of reggae artist Bob Marley to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (a non-Chalcedonian church very similar to but not currently in communion with the [Eastern] Orthodox Church). It’s worth a read. We thought it might also be of interest to see this primary source document pictured above which also witnesses to his 1980 baptism—at which he took the name Berhane Selassie (“Light of the Trinity”)—and subsequent burial in 1981 by the Ethiopian Orthodox in Jamaica.
The image we found is a little small, so here’s the full text for those whose eyes (zoom capability) might not be quite up to the task:
HON. ROBERT NESTA MARLEY, O.M.
(BOB MARLEY – BERHANE SELASSIE)
(Light of the Trinity)
THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
89 MAXFIELD AVENUE, KINGSTON, JAMAICA
THE NATIONAL ARENA
THURSDAY, MAY 21, 1981
HIS EMINENCE, ABOUNA YESSEHAQ
ARCHBISHOP OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
Assisted by Priests and Deacons of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica
SERVICE WILL BE PERFORMED IN GEEZ, AMHAIRIC AND ENGLISH
Addition for the 30th anniversary: Below is some footage from his funeral and the events surrounding it. Ethiopian Orthodox clergy are visible at several points.