Posts tagged early unity
Continuing with the theme from Wednesday…
This photo depicts the burial of Archimandrite Theoclitos Triantafilides, the great priest of Galveston, TX, on October 27, 1916. We actually have several photos of this event — all courtesy of Ss. Constantine and Helen parish — but this one particularly interests me because of the individuals standing on the stairs on the right side of the photo. Look closely, and you’ll see that they are black — possibly Copts or Ethiopians. These Oriental Orthodox Christians were members of Fr. Theoclitos’ flock. In fact, this is the earliest evidence I’ve seen for Copts or Ethiopians attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in America.
In this way, as in so many others, Fr. Theoclitos was decades ahead of his time — today, it’s quite common to meet Copts, Ethiopians, and Eritreans at an Eastern Orthodox church, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Recently, I’ve been working with a group of researchers to document the life of Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the remarkable priest of Galveston, Texas. Fr. Theoclitos was from Greece — his father had fought in the Greek Revolution — and as a young man, Fr. Theoclitos lived on Mount Athos and later studied in Russia. He tutored the children of King George of Greece, and later the children of Tsar Alexander III (including the future Tsar Nicholas II). He was apparently quite close to Nicholas II, and when, in 1895, the Orthodox of Galveston requested a priest, the Tsar sent to them his former tutor. Fr. Theoclitos was already in his mid-60s — quite old for his era — but he served in America for a full two decades before his death in 1916.
The American ministry of Fr. Theoclitos was utterly unique. He was, as I said, an ethnic Greek, but he served under the auspices of the Russian Mission in America. His parish was composed of Greeks, Serbs, Syrians, and even Copts, and today, that parish is a part of the Serbian Church. Fr. Theoclitos was also one of the first Orthodox priests in America (and perhaps the first) to actively proselytize Americans. His parish was truly pan-Orthodox, and he was uniquely capable of ministering to the needs of such a diverse flock.
Until recently, we knew a fair number of facts about Fr. Theoclitos, but nobody, as far as I know, had found any surviving sermons or writings. Just the other day, though, the lead researcher — Mimo Milosevich, from Galveston — discovered the full text of Fr. Theoclitos’ Christmas sermon, given on January 7, 1914 and published in the next day’s issue of the Galveston Daily News.
It’s a short sermon, but it reveals much about the character and vision of the great archimandrite. According to the newspaper, Fr. Theoclitos began by recounting the story of the star, the wise men, their gifts, and King Herod. Then, said the paper, “Father Theoclitos took off his spectacles and used them to gesticulate with, as he preached a fatherly sermon on charity and its relation to happiness.”
My children: Before Jesus came into our world the earth lacked the attributes of sympathetic understanding, which we find necessary to our happiness in this era. The Lord gave us his son, Jesus, to soften us, to give us understanding of human wants, to give us a sense of forgiveness, to teach us that to forgive is our duty, and to teach us charity.
My children, be charitable, open your hearts, for only in charity is there happiness. Make life brighter for your brother and your sister and the candle you light for them will make your light brighter.
God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gave us his all, even his life. We can do no more than emulate him, and in doing that we do all.
Think today of the poor whom he loved, lighten their burdens, even as he did. Open your hearts, oh, my children, even as did Jesus of Bethlehem.
My children, when he came among us he did not ask, “Of what nationality art thou? What is thy belief?” No! He came down among us and was one of us and he ministered to us. Open thy hearts, likewise, my children, and go among the poor and succor them; all the poor, for they are thy brothers and sisters, my children, and they are his people.
My children, many of you are not native to this land and it is well to treasure memories of thine own country, but think that this is a good land, and its people are good to thy people, and you all are his people. Learn to love, be honest, tolerant, forgiving, and charitable.
I pray you Merry Christmas, my children, and many, many years of happiness.
After the sermon, Fr. Theoclitos passed a plate to collect alms for the poor. “The plate was heaped high with bills and coins,” reported the Daily News, “the merry chink-clink-chink of the contributions accenting like tiny cymbals the smooth melody of a beautiful hymn.”
In the life of St. Raphael Hawaweeny published by Antakya Press (page 24, to be precise), there’s a reference to an early Syrian/Antiochian chapel in New York, dating to 1893. The story goes that a visiting Antiochian priest, Archimandrite Christopher Jabara, established the chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets in New York City. Unbeknownst to the local Syrians, however, Jabara espoused a radical, heretical theology, rejecting the Holy Trinity and calling for the unification of all religions — and especially a merger of Orthodoxy with Islam. Jabara was a speaker at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and his talks were reported in the New York newspapers. Jabara was “compelled to leave the country” and eventually died in Egypt. To read more about Jabara, check out this article I wrote two years ago.
I haven’t been able to find much of anything about that original Syrian chapel, but I did recently stumble upon the following note in the June 12, 1893 issue of the New York Sun:
The members of the Syrian Orthodox Greek Church who have been worshipping in the Greek chapel in Fifty-third street have now a chapel of their own on the top floor of the building at the northeast corner of Cedar and West streets. The chapel was dedicated yesterday morning at 10 o’clock. The service, which was in Greek, Arabic, and Russian, was conducted by Archimandrite Christophoros Jebarah, assisted by two priests from the Russian war ships now in the harbor. The Russian Vice-Admiral and a party of Russian sailors attended the service.
Jabara’s own weirdness aside, this is a really fine example of early inter-Orthodox cooperation. At the time, the only Orthodox church in New York was Greek, so that’s where all the Orthodox went — regardless of ethnicity. (Other sources tell us that the local Russians also attended the Greek church.) And when the Syrians opened their own chapel, the visiting Russian clergy and sailors came out for the dedication. Orthodoxy was small and new in early 1890s America, and the Orthodox, of necessity, had to work together. Of course, once the necessity passed, the Orthodox were content to break up into their respective ethnic groups.
Anyway, the Syrian chapel failed pretty quickly. It’s clear that Jabara wasn’t the right man to lead the church, but two years later, the right man, Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, arrived on the scene, leading the Syrians until his death two decades later.
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’re publishing excerpts of that article here at OrthodoxHistory.org. To purchase your own copy of the Atlas (for $19.95), click here.
4. In 1888, the Orthodox of Chicago tried – but failed – to establish a multiethnic Orthodox parish.
By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in Chicago. Most of them were Greeks and Serbs, and despite the fact that they weren’t Russian, they petitioned the nearest bishop – who was Russian – to send them a priest. In 1888, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to gauge there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. George Brown, who emigrated from Greece as a young man, had fought in the American Civil War. He gave a short speech, saying, “Union is the strength… If our language is two, our religion is one… We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.”
Everyone at the meeting agreed to start a parish, with services in both Greek and Slavonic. Bishop Vladimir visited later that year, but unfortunately, he soon became embroiled in a series of scandals in San Francisco. One of his strongest opponents was a Montenegrin whose brother was a leader in the Chicago community. Hearing reports of the crisis, the Chicago Orthodox decided they wanted nothing more to do with the bishop, and instead contacted the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, and Serbia.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest. He established Chicago’s first Orthodox parish in 1892, specifically for Greek people. One month later, a Russian church was founded. For the first time in American Orthodox history, two churches answering to different ecclesiastical authorities coexisted in the same U.S. city. But despite their separation based on language and ethnicity, the two churches still got along well. In 1894, the Greek and Russian priests served together at the Russian church to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar died the following month, both priests held a memorial at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas Ziorov, visited Chicago, the local Greek priest participated in the hierarchical services. Later on, in 1902, Russian church bell was stolen, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the parishioners for help. The two churches, held a joint meeting in an effort to find the bell. Chicago thus represents both an early manifestation of “jurisdictional pluralism” and a wonderful example of inter-ethnic Orthodox cooperation.
In March, I gave a lecture at Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Westchester, Illinois, on the subject of Chicago’s Orthodox history. Since then, I’ve begun to probe deeper into the early history of Orthodoxy in Chicago. Many people have asked about one man in particular — George Brown, an early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community.
At a landmark meeting of the Chicago Orthodox in 1888, Brown was elected president of the fledgling multiethnic proto-parish. He offered this speech (reported in the Chicago Tribune the following day, 5/14/1888):
Gentlemans, union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. I have no jealousy. I am married to a Catholic woman but I hold my own. Let us stick like brothers. If our language is two, our religion is one. The priest he make the performance in both language. We have our flags built. It is the first Greek flags raised in Chicago. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.
The Tribune also reported that Brown was a veteran of the American Civil War. Three years later, the community was still trying to start a full-fledged parish, and Brown was still in a leadership role. From the Chicago Inter Ocean, we learn that “Mr. George M. Braun, a Greek, who is one of the leaders in the movement for a church in this city, says that they have been promised a priest of the orthodox faith as soon as they have erected a church.” Ultimately, no multiethnic parish was founded; instead, separate Greek and Russian churches were established in 1893.
Four years later, Greece was on the brink of war with Turkey, and thousands of Greek Chicagoans prepared to return and fight for their home country. The Tribune (2/15/1897) reported,
George M. Brown, a barber, No. 32 Wells street, and, in spite of his English name, of pure Greek blood, was seen last night at his home in North Market street, between Kinzie and Michigan. He rubbed his hands gleefully when told of the latest cable news.
“I am glad to hear this,” he said. “There are 2,000 of my fellow-countrymen in Chicago who will return to their native land to fight against the hated Turks. I hope it will end in driving the Musselmans [Muslims] out of Europe. We have been holding meetings for some time and almost without exception the Greek residents are anxious to fight. I do not know positively, but understand the resident Consul favors the movement and has promised its support. As soon as war is declared, and I guess the news of today is a practical declaration of war, we shall write to the Consul at New York and offer our services. Many of us can and will willingly pay our way back, but the majority will require assistance, which I have no doubt will be furnished by the proper authorities. The Greek colony numbers 3,000 and there are few women and children. If passage money is assured, it is probable 2,000 would embark for Greece without delay.”
Recently, I searched the US Census records to see if I could find Brown. And I did: the 1880 Census lists George Brown, a 40-year-old barber who was born in Greece and living in Chicago. He is listed along with his 26-year-old wife, Louisa, who was born in Italy (which is consistent with his statement in 1888 that he was “married to a Catholic woman”).
The couple also appears in the 1900 Census, along with their children. (The 1890 Census records are unavailable.) Here’s the family:
- George, born in Greece in May 1840, immigrated to America in 1855. He and Louisa had been married for 28 years as of the 1900 Census. This puts their wedding sometime around 1872. George still ran a barbershop in 1900.
- Louisa, born in Italy in June 1855, immigrated to America in 1870. She must have met George not long afterwards, since they were married by 1872 at the latest. The Census reports that Louisa could neither read nor write, although she could speak English.
- Son Leo was born in Illinois in March 1883. His occupation is listed as “Laborer in Grocery.”
- Son Lycurgos (clearly George picked this name) was born in Illinois in June 1884, and in 1900 he worked as an “Errand [boy] in Office.” Incidentally, the early Greek organization in Chicago was known as the “Society of Lycurgos.”
- Daughter Asphasia (or Aspasia) was born in Illinois in May 1890. She’s listed as being “At school.”
- Daughter Consulata was born in Illinois in September 1895.
I can’t find George Brown in the 1910 Census; in fact, I can’t find anyone who even possibly is a match — that is, (1) named George, (2) born in Greece sometime around 1840, and (3) living in Illinois. It’s entirely possible that Brown died between 1900 and 1910. Even in 1900, at age 60, he had surpassed the average lifespan of Americans in his day.
In trying to track down the Brown children, I started with son Lycurgos, for the obvious reason that there can’t be more than one Lycurgos Brown — right? Wrong, actually: In the 1920 Census alone, there were no fewer than six men named Lycurgos (or Lycurgus) Brown. Only one was reasonably close in age to our Lycurgos (who would have been 36 in 1920), but that man, aged 38, was born in Texas, as were his parents. I haven’t been able to find any of the other Brown children in later Censuses, either. However, I found possible matches for daughter Aspasia in the Social Security Death Index. We know that she was born in May 1890, and according to the SSDI, Aspasia Pantek and Aspasia Constantinou were both born in that month. If anyone wants to take the baton and try to track down George Brown’s descendants, go for it — it would be great to see what, if anything, they know about their ancestor.
Finally, further digging turned up the fact that our George Brown’s actual surname was Kotakis. He seems to have dropped it after coming to America. So, here is what we know:
- George Kotakis was born in Greece around 1840.
- He came to America in 1855, took the surname “Brown,” and fought in the Civil War.
- He married an Italian woman named Louisa around 1872.
- He was living in Chicago by at least 1880, and he worked as a barber.
- He was a leader in Chicago’s early Orthodox proto-parish, becoming the community’s president in 1888.
- He had at least four children — two sons and two daughters.
- He may have died between 1900 and 1910.
If anyone out there has any information that can add to our knowledge of George Brown, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
UPDATE: I may have found Lycurgos Brown, George’s second son. On November 16, 1917, a girl named Elizabeth Veronica Brown was born in Cook County, IL (i.e., Chicago). Her birth certificate lists her mother as the former Clara Scanlan, and her father as George Lycurgus Brown, age 33, born in Chicago. Doing the math (1917 minus 33), this man would have been born in 1884 — the same year as our Lycurgos Brown. It’s entirely possible that our Lycurgos actually had the first name of George (after his father), but went by his middle name as a child.
We can verify this hypothesis by revisiting the Census records. In 1910, George L. Brown, a 25-year-old shipping clerk, was living in Chicago with his wife Clara, 3-year-old son George E., and 7-month-old son Daniel P. And according to the Census, George L. Brown’s father was born in Greece, and his mother was from Italy. This is our guy.
I can’t find George Lycurgos Brown in the 1920 Census, but in 1930, he’s still in Chicago. Here is the family:
- George, age 46
- Clara, age 42
- Daniel, age 21
- Gordon, age 17
- Elizabeth, age 12
- Robert, age 5
- Clara G., age 3
- Thomas M., newborn
George Lycurgos Brown’s youngest children would thus be in their eighties today, and it is entirely possible that one or more is still alive. I wonder how much they know about their grandfather, the original George Brown?
UPDATE 2: Sorry for all the updates, but I’ve now traced George Brown’s line down to the present day. Son George Lycurgos Brown’s daughter Elizabeth married a man named Russell Garrett. Elizabeth died in Chicago in 2004, and according to her obituary, her descendants include daughter Elizabeth Balfanz and grandchildren Michael and Rebecca Balfanz.
I’m sure George Brown has dozens of other surviving descendants, through his various other children and grandchildren.