Posts tagged Episcopalians
Today being the ninety-eighth anniversary of the repose of St. Raphael of Brooklyn (+1915), here is a pastoral letter he sent out in 1912 regarding relations with the Episcopal Church, mostly likely written on his behalf by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Thanks to Fr. Joseph Huneycutt of Houston for posting it today.
To My Beloved Clergy and Laity of the Syrian Greek-Orthodox Catholic Church in North America:
Greetings in Christ Jesus, Our Incarnate Lord and God.
My Beloved Brethren:
Two years ago, while I was a Vice-President and member of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union, being moved with compassion for my children in the Holy Orthodox faith “once and for all delivered to the Saints” (St Jude ver. 3), scattered throughout the whole of North America and deprived of the ministrations of the Church; and especially in places far removed from Orthodox centres; and being equally moved with a feeling that the Protestant Episcopal (Anglican) Church possessed largely the Orthodox faith, as many prominent clergy professed the same to me before I studied deeply their doctrinal authorities and their liturgy — the “Book of Common Prayer” — I wrote a letter as the Bishop and Head of the Syrian Catholic Mission in North America, giving permission, in which I said that in extreme cases, where no Orthodox priest could be called upon at short notice, the ministrations of the Protestant Episcopal (Anglican) clergy might be kindly asked. However, I was most explicit in defining when and how the ministrations should be accepted, and also what exceptions should be made. In writing that letter I hoped, on the one hand, to help my people spiritually, and, on the other hand, to open the way toward bringing the Anglicans into the communion of the Holy Orthodox faith.
On hearing and in reading that my letter, perhaps unintentionally, was misconstrued by some of the Episcopalian (Anglican) Clergy, I wrote a second letter in which I pointed out that my instructions and exceptions had been either overlooked or ignored by many, to wit:
(a) They (the Episcopalians) informed the Orthodox people that I recognized the Anglican Communion (Protestant Episcopal Church) as being united with the Holy Orthodox Church and their ministry, that is holy orders, as valid.
(b) The Episcopal (Anglican) Clergy offered their ministrations even when my Orthodox clergy were residing in the same towns and parishes, as pastors. And,
(c) Protestant Episcopal clergy said there was no need of Orthodox people seeking the ministrations of their own Orthodox priests, for their (the Anglican) ministrations were all that were necessary.
I, therefore, felt bound by all the circumstances to make a thorough study of the Anglican Church’s faith and orders as well as of her discipline and ritual. After serious consideration I realized that it was my honest duty, as a member of the College of Bishops of the Holy Orthodox Greek Apostolic Church, and Head of the Syrian Mission in North America, to resign from the vice-presidency of and membership in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union. At the same time, I set forth, in my letter of resignation, my reason for so doing.
I am convinced that the doctrinal teaching and practices as well as the discipline of the whole Anglican Church are unacceptable to the Holy Orthodox Church. I make this apology for the Anglicans whom as Christian gentlemen I greatly revere, that the loose teaching of a great many of the prominent Anglican theologians are so hazy in their definition of truths, and so inclined toward pet heresies that it is hard to tell what they believe. The Anglican Church as a whole has not spoken authoritatively on her doctrine. Her Catholic minded members can call out her doctrines from many views, but so nebulistic is her pathway in the doctrinal world that those who would extend a hand of both Christian and ecclesiastical fellowship dare not, without distrust, grasp the hand of her theologians, for while many are orthodox on some points, they are quite heterodox on others. I speak, of course, from the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic point of view. The Holy Orthodox Church has never perceptibly changed from Apostolic times, and, therefore, no one can go astray in finding out what she teaches. Like her Lord and Master, though at times surrounded with human malaria — which He in mercy pardons — she is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 8:8) … the mother and safe deposit of “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph.4:21).
The Orthodox Church differs absolutely with the Anglican Communion in reference to the number of Sacraments and in reference to the doctrinal explanation of the same. The Anglicans say in their Catechism concerning the Sacraments that there are “two only as generally necessary to salvation, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.” I am well aware that, in their two books of homilies (which are not of a binding authority, for the books were prepared only in the reign of Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth for priests who were not permitted to preach their own sermons in England during times both politically and ecclesiastically perilous), it says that there are “five others commonly called Sacraments” (see homily in each book on the Sacraments), but long since they have repudiated in different portions of their Communion this very teaching and absolutely disavow such definitions in their “Articles of Religion” which are bound up in their Book of Common Prayer or Liturgy as one of their authorities.
The Orthodox Church has ever taught that there are seven Sacraments. She plainly points out the fact that each of the seven has an outward and visible sign and an inward and spiritual Grace, and that they are of gospel and apostolic origin.
Again, the Orthodox Church has certain rites and practices associated and necessary in the administration of
the Sacraments which neither time nor circumstances must set aside where churches are organized. Yet the Anglicans entirely neglect these, though they once taught and practiced the same in more catholic days.
In the case of the administration of Holy Baptism it is the absolute rule of the Orthodox Church that
the candidate must be immersed three times (once in the name of each Person of the Holy Trinity). Immersion is only permissory in the Anglican Communion, and pouring or sprinkling is the general custom. The Anglicans do not use holy oil in the administration, etc., and even in doctrinal teaching in reference to this Sacrament they differ.
As to the doctrine concerning Holy Communion the Anglican Communion has no settled view. The Orthodox Church teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation without going into any scientific or Roman Catholic explanation. The technical word which She uses for the sublime act of the priest by Christ’s authority to consecrate is “transmuting” (Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom). She, as I have said, offers no explanation, but She believes and confesses that Christ, the Son of the living God Who came into the world to save sinners, is of a truth in His “all-pure Body” and “precious Blood” (Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom) objectively present, and to be worshiped in that Sacrament as He was on earth and is now in risen and glorified majesty in Heaven; and that “the precious and holy and life-giving Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ are imparted” (to each soul that comes to that blessed Sacrament) “Unto the
remission of sins, and unto life everlasting” (Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom).
Confirmation or the laying on of hands, which the Orthodox Church calls a sacrament—”Chrismation”—in the Anglican Church is merely the laying on of hands of the Bishop accompanied by a set form of prayers, without the use of Holy Chrism, which has come down from Apostolic days as necessary.
Holy Matrimony is regarded by the Anglican Communion as only a sacred rite which, even if performed by a
Justice of the Peace, is regarded as sufficient in the sight of God and man.
Penance is practiced but rarely in the Anglican Communion, and Confession before the reception of Holy Communion is not compulsory. They have altogether set aside the Sacrament of Holy Unction, that is anointing the sick as commanded by Saint James (see James 5:14). In their priesthood they do not teach the
true doctrine of the Grace of the Holy Orders. Indeed they have two forms of words for ordination, namely, one which gives the power of absolution to the priest, and the alternative form without the words of Our Lord, whosoever sins ye remit, etc. (John 20: 23). Thus they leave every bishop to choose intention or non-intention in the act of ordination as to the power and Grace of their priesthood (“Ordination of Priests,” Book of Common Prayer).
But, besides all of this, the Anglican Communion ignores the Orthodox Church’s dogmas and teachings, such as the invocation of saints, prayers for the dead, special honor to the blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of God, and reverence for sacred relics, holy pictures and icons. They say of such teaching that it is “a foul thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God” (Article of Religion, XXII).
There is a striking variance between their wording of the Nicene Creed and that of the Holy Orthodox Church;
but sadder still, it contains the heresy of the “filioque.”
I do not deem it necessary to mention all the striking differences between the Holy Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion in reference to the authority of holy tradition, the number of the General Councils, etc. Sufficient has already been said and pointed out to show that the Anglican Communion differs but little from all other Protestant bodies, and, therefore, there cannot be any intercommunion until she returns to the ancient holy Orthodox Faith and practices, and rejects Protestant omissions and commissions.
Therefore, as the official head of the Syrian Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church in North America and as one who must “give an account” (Hebrews 13:17) before the judgment throne of the “Shepherd and Bishop of Souls” (1 Peter 2:25), that I have fed the “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2), as I have been commissioned by the Holy Orthodox Church, and inasmuch as the Anglican Communion (Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States) does not differ in things vital to the well being of the Holy Orthodox Church from some of the most arrant Protestant sects, I direct all Orthodox people residing in any community not to seek or to accept the ministrations of the Sacraments and rites from any clergy excepting those of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, for the Apostolic command, that the Orthodox should not commune in ecclesiastical matters with those who are not of “the same household of Faith” (Galatians 6:10), is clear: “Any Bishop; or presbyter or deacon who will pray with heretics, let him be anathematized; and if he allows them as clergymen to perform any service, let him be deposed” (Apostolic Canon 45). “Any bishop, or presbyter, who accepts baptism or the Holy Sacrifice from heretics, we order such to be deposed, for ‘what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?’” (Apostolic Canon 46).
As to members of the Holy Orthodox Church living in districts beyond the reach of Orthodox Catholic clergy, I direct that the ancient custom of our Holy Church be observed, namely, in cases of extreme necessity, that is, danger of death, children may be baptized by some pious Orthodox layman, or even by the parent of the child, by immersion three times in the names of the (persons of the) Blessed Trinity, and in case of death such baptism is valid: — but, if the child should live, it must be brought to an Orthodox priest for the Sacrament of Chrismation.
In the case of the death of an Orthodox person where no priest of the Holy Orthodox Church can be had, a pious layman may read over the corpse, for the comfort of the relatives and the instruction of the persons present, Psalm 91 and Psalm 118, and add thereto the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy Strong One,” etc). But be it noted that so soon as possible the relative must notify some Orthodox bishop or priest and request him to say the Liturgy and Requiem for the repose of the soul of the departed in his Cathedral or parish Church.
As to Holy Matrimony, if there be any parties united in wedlock outside the pale of the holy Orthodox Church because of the remoteness of Orthodox centers from their home, I direct that as soon as possible they either invite an Orthodox priest or go to where he resides and receive from his hands the holy Sacrament of Matrimony; otherwise they will be considered excommunicated until they submit unto the Orthodox Church’s rule.
I further direct that Orthodox Christians should not make it a practice to attend the services of other religious bodies, so that there be no confusion as to the teaching or doctrines. Instead, I order that the head of each household, or a member, may read the special prayers which can be found in the hours of the Holy Orthodox Service Book, and such other devotional books as have been set forth by the authority of the Holy Orthodox Church.
Commending our clergy and laity unto the safe-keeping of Jesus Christ, and praying that the Holy Spirit may keep us all in the truth and extend the Borders of the Holy Orthodox Faith, I remain.
Your affectionate Servant in Christ,
Bishop of Brooklyn, Head of the Syrian
Greek Orthodox Catholic Mission in America
Issued late in the year 1912; from The Most Useful KNOWLEDGE for the Orthodox Russian-American Young People, compiled by the Very Rev’d Peter G. Kohanik, 1932-1934 (pp. 297-303).
I’ve written more words about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine than about any other historical figure. Irvine was an Episcopal priest who converted to Orthodoxy in 1905, was ordained by St. Tikhon, and played a major role in American Orthodoxy until his death in January 1921. He was a trusted assistant to St. Raphael Hawaweeny, and he was the chief advocate of the use of English in Orthodox worship. Irvine’s significance to American Orthodox history is difficult to overstate.
I’m now working on a book about Irvine. No specifics yet, but I plan to finish it by the time I graduate from law school in a year. I’ve slowly begun to review my sources on Irvine, and I stumbled onto a really, really strange bit of information.
Irvine died in Brooklyn on January 23, 1921. The first obituary was published the next day, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This obituary seems to have been the main source for the obituaries that appeared in numerous other papers in the following days. Here’s the weird part:
The Rev. Dr. Ingram N.W. Irvine, 71 years old, in charge of the English division of the Eastern Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of America, died on Sunday, of heart trouble, at his residence, 677 Sterling pl. The funeral services will be held tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock, at Dr. Irvine’s late home, the Rev. A.L. Charles, rector of St. Mark’s P.E. Church, officiating, and the internment will follow in Greenwood Cemetery. Dr. Irvine is survived by his wife, Mrs. Emmalena Wilson Irvine, and a daughter, Mrs. Annie Chapin.
There’s not really any question that Irvine remained Orthodox to the end of his life. Even this obituary speaks of him as being the head of the “English division” up to his death. And if you know anything about Irvine, you know that he was a stubborn mule who wouldn’t just cut and run from a church at the first hint of discomfort. I’m 99.9% certain that Irvine did not revert to Episcopalianism in the month before he died.
So why was Irvine’s funeral in his home and not in a church — and why did an Episcopal priest officiate? Apart from the almost impossible prospect of a deathbed apostasy, here are the most likely scenarios I can come up with (with help from Aram Sarkisian and Fr. Oliver Herbel):
1. Irvine’s widow and/or daughter arranged for an Episcopalian funeral. This, in my view, is the most likely scenario. We don’t know much of anything about Emmalena, Irvine’s wife. Yes, she helped Irvine with his teaching ministry, but we don’t even know if she formally converted to Orthodoxy. For all we know, she remained Episcopalian even after her husband’s conversion. As for daughter Annie, she was a very dysfunctional person. It’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say that Annie stole from a lot of people, probably was a con artist, and left her children to be primarily raised by their grandparents (the Irvines). I doubt she’d demand an Episcopalian funeral, but her motives are difficult to follow. In any case, Emmalena and/or Annie may have asked Rev. A.L. Charles of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to officiate.
2. Irvine himself asked for an Episcopalian funeral, but remained Orthodox. This is less crazy than it sounds. According to Aram Sarkisian’s research, Irvine’s bishop, Abp Alexander Nemolovsky, was in Canada when Irvine died. And Irvine had just been through a bad experience with a failed convert parish led by the erratic Archimandrite Patrick Mythen (who, incidentally, was probably in Canada with Abp Alexander when Irvine died). The nearest Orthodox bishop was the Syrian Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh of Brooklyn — a man Irvine hated. Irvine may have been so upset with the nearby Orthodox authorities that he preferred to be buried in a quiet ceremony officiated (perhaps) by an Episcopal priest that Irvine respected.
3. Irvine had an Orthodox funeral and an Episcopalian memorial service. This theory, suggested by Fr. Oliver, assumes that the newspapers just didn’t know about the Orthodox service. Along similar lines, Fr. Oliver points out that the Orthodox and Episcopalians may have officiated at the same funeral service. After all, in that era, it wasn’t unheard of for Orthodox and Episcopalian priests to officiate at the same marriage ceremony. I find this suggestion somewhat less likely than the possibility of dual funerals, simply because the Episcopalian funeral reported in the Eagle took place at Irvine’s home, rather than a church. Which suggests that it was something less than an “official” event. If Orthodox clergy were involved, why not do it at a church?
Anyway, at this point, we don’t know what was going on with Irvine’s funeral. But the three of us — Fr. Oliver, Aram, and I — are trying to track down what happened.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Isabel Florence Hapgood were the two people most responsible for the spread of English in early 20th century American Orthodoxy. Hapgood, a lifelong Episcopalian, was a renowned translator, honored by the Tsar, and she is still remembered today for her landmark 1906 English translation of the Orthodox Service Book. Less than a year earlier, in November 1905, Irvine, a defrocked Episcopal priest, was received into Orthodoxy and ordained by St. Tikhon. Irvine made it his life’s work to promote the use of English in American Orthodox parishes.
Yet despite their common advocacy English-language Orthodoxy, Irvine and Hapgood were like oil and water. Hapgood’s feelings towards Irvine are not well documented, but Irvine made his disdain for Hapgood clear, both in public and in private. In a 1915 letter published in the official magazine of the Russian Archdiocese (and reprinted on this site), Hapgood publicly begged the Archbishop to invest in a first-rate show choir, arguing that a great choir is “immensely more important” than “twenty little new parishes.” Irvine’s response was swift and strong, lambasting Hapgood for her “musical heresy.” Two years later, in a letter to Archbishop Evdokim (and preserved in the OCA archives), Irvine called her “that vixen Miss Hapgood,” and said that she had “damned the Church for years.”
It appears that the hostility between Irvine and Hapgood dates at least to the time of Irvine’s conversion to Orthodoxy, in late 1905. Not long ago, I happened to read Stuart H. Hoke’s outstanding paper, “A Generally Obscure Calling: A Character Sketch of Isabel Florence Hapgood” (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 45:1, 2001). This is, by far, the most complete and well-researched biography of Hapgood I have ever seen. Hoke points out that, in his 1906 book A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims, Irvine committed a “major slight” against Hapgood, erroneously identifying Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky as the person chiefly responsible for Hapgood’s brand-new English Service Book. Irvine wrote that the book had been “under the watchful eye of the Very Rev. A.A. Hotovitzky and its real merits as a valuable Liturgical work as well as a witness in the English language to ‘the faith once for all delivered unto the Saints’ must be ascribed to his painstaking and interest, both as a Liturgical Scholar and Theologian.”
This was all sorts of wrong, and Hotovitzky immediately moved to correct the problem. In a letter to The Living Church (a major Episcopalian periodical), published on December 15, 1906, St. Alexander wrote,
Such an assertion, which attaches my name to the publication, and imputes to me qualities and services to which I have made no claim in connection with that publication, unhappily and unjustly omits the name of the real author of the work, to whom, incontestably, all its merits, all praises and gratitude should be attributed. The Service Book was compiled by Miss Isabel F. Hapgood, on her own initiative. To her belongs the original idea of this work; hers are the plan and execution of it, which have required arduous labor and expenditure of strength for the space of several years, as she was compelled to study our Liturgical books, and the Church Slavonic and Greek languages, and so forth. Any one who has the slightest conception of the complicated structure of the Orthodox religious services, in their entire extent, will make no mistake if he applies to this labor the epithet “gigantic,” both as to its design and its importance; and the merits of Miss Hapgood’s liturgical English in this work are confirmed by learned ecclesiastical authorities of the Episcopal Church.
Further on, Hotovitzky instructed Irvine to insert a copy of this letter into his book:
In comparison with this enormous mass of labor — in truth a most precious and unselfish gift from Miss Hapgood to our Church — my share in it, (as an orthodox priest, who has rendered, so far as occasion required, only what aid was indispensable,) is merely of secondary importance; and, especially when her name is omitted, does not deserve to be mentioned. And therefore, being profoundly distressed that this statement, so unfortunately phraseed [sic], has found a place in your book, I most earnestly ask you to place the matter in its true and complete light by inserting my letter in the text of your book, so that no reader would be misled by that paragraph.
Hoke writes that Irvine obeyed Hotovitzky’s order, and I’m sure that did, but I’ve seen two copies of the book, and neither have such an insert.
Stuart Hoke refers to A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims as “Irvine’s spurious book.” This is way off base; Irvine’s book is a perfectly worthwhile piece of work. The “letter” referred to in the title was originally written by Irvine to St. Tikhon, explaining the ecclesiastical position of the Church of England. In addition to the letter, Irvine pulled together articles from prominent Episcopalian scholars and ecclesiastics, each one explaining a different aspect of Anglicanism. While Irvine’s statement about the Service Book was indeed wrong, it doesn’t mean that his whole book is “spurious.”
While all this provides helpful background on the Irvine-Hapgood dynamics, what is most interesting is the insight it provides into the relationship between Irvine and Hotovitzky. You may recall that Hotovitzky was actually Irvine’s priestly sponsor when he was ordained in November 1905. In fact, Hotovitzky had to defend Irvine’s ordination in the face of criticisms from, among others, The Living Church. A year later, though, Hotovitzky wrote to the same Living Church journal, strongly critiquing Irvine and instead defending the Episcopalian Hapgood. While both were important and admirable figures, Irvine and Hotovitzky were polar opposites in many ways — Hotovitzky more reserved and politically-savvy, Irvine a bull in a china shop. Hotovitzky takes a rather standoffish tone in his letter announcing Irvine of Irvine’s transfer from the Russian Mission to the Syrian Mission. It may very well be Hotovitzky did not really care for Irvine, and that some of that distaste originated in Irvine’s “slight” of Hapgood in 1906.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
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.]
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Isabel Hapgood and appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. It is the most complete surviving description of the funeral of St. Raphael, who died on February 27, 1915. Hapgood herself had known St. Raphael for nearly two decades, from the time that he first arrived in America.
The first Syro-Arabian Bishop in America was buried yesterday in a tomb beneath the Syro-Arabian Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Brooklyn, which forms his monument.
Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny was born in Damascus, a pure Arab. [In fact, St. Raphael's family was from Damascus, but he was born in Beirut. - Ed.] From the Patriarchal Theological School, at Khalki, he went to Russia and became so identified with the spirit of the country that he was wont to say, “In soul I am a Russian.” He went in a monastery at Kiev for six years, and then was professor of Arabic at the University of Kazan. A desire for active work brought him to America.
In Russia he was ordained, and it was under the auspices of the Holy Synod that he labored here. On several occasions the Patriarch of Antioch offered him the rank of Metropolitan in his native Syria. It is probable that had he returned he would have become Patriarch, but he felt that his work was among the 25,000 Syro-Arabians here, whom he had organized into thirty parishes.
He came to this country in 1895. His first church was on the second floor of a house in Washington Street, Manhattan. How the floor bore up under the masses of worshippers, especially when the Russian Bishop held services there on his infrequent visits from San Francisco (then the seat of the Russian diocese), I never understood. Another dispensation of Providence was required to avert a catastrophe when we adjourned to the floor above and enjoyed a genuine Arab feast, ending with Arab coffee flavored with rosewater from Syria. All the partitions and supports below had been removed to make space in the church.
Bishop Nicholas, now Archbishop of Warsaw, remarked to me on one occasion: “I know now exactly how Louis XIV felt when he had to eat in public!”
After the feast a couple of handsome young fellows (ladies’ tailors by their American profession) in Albanian costume performed the famous sword play over the oilclothed floor, upon which dressy lengths of ingrain carpet had been loosely laid, with such vigor that they literally cut the gas jets, partly smashed the fixtures and had to be separated by the umpire, who interposed with a dagger — more Providence!
One day a pistol flew from one of the swordsmen’s sashes across the room and landed at my feet — that illustrates the vigor of the proceedings. I captured it and refused to return it until the end of the session — and thereafter, instead of sitting at the side of the room, I took a safe seat by the side of the Russian Bishop.
A few years passed and Father Raphael was able to move his church to a building on Pacific Street, near Hoyt Street, which later on became a cathedral. That was in 1904. Early that year he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite, and in May of that year he was consecrated Bishop, and became the second Vicar of the Russian Archbishop.
Ordinarily three bishops are required for consecration. In this case, owing to its exigencies, only two officiated, the Most Revered Tikhon, Archbishop of Aleutia and North America, now Archbishop of Vilna, and the Right Rev. Innokentz, first Vicar, later Bishop of Yakutsk and Viluisk, and now Archbishop of Tashkent, in Turkestan. That is, I am sure, the only ocasion [sic] when a Bishop of the Orthodox Eastern Church has been consecrated in America, and a wonderful service it was.
The Russian Ambassador, not being able to come, sent his representative, who sat at the right hand of the new Bishop at the banquet which followed. As the only representative of America and the Episcopal Church, I was placed at his left hand, opposite the consecrating prelates, and was called on for a speech after the Ambassador’s representative had conveyed his formal message.
In course of time Bishop Raphael came to know many of the Episcopal clergy, and was highly respected by them. His later alienation from them is regarded as having arisen under misapprehension. By his own people he was cherished as the man to whom they owed their beneficent organizations. The Young Turk element quarrelled with him for reciting the formal prayer for the Sultan, as the ruler of Syria, in the services, and several attempts were made on his life. At times he was obliged to go about with a guard, and I met him in the Syrian restaurants dining with a guard on duty. But he lived down their enmity.
Bishop Raphael died, after an illness of three weeks, from dropsy, kidney trouble and heart disease, worn and gray as a man of seventy with his toils and sufferings.
For a week he lay in state in his cathedral, and morning and evening requiem services were held by the Right Rev. Alexander, Bishop of Alaska, assisted by Russian and Syrian clergy. A wonderful service, picturesque in setting.
Across the foot of the open coffin was draped the purple episcopal mantle, with its crimson velvet “tables of the law.” Over the face lay a sacramental veil of white and silver brocade, embroidered with a gold cross. At the head of the coffin stood pontifical candles, but no longer lighted, as during pontifical service. They were tied with black ribbons, so that their tips spread abroad, reversed and unlighted. Between them, leaning against the head of the catafalque and the coffin rose the crozier. Behind, on a folding lectern, lay a purple velvet cushion, on which were placed the orders and decorations which the Bishop had received, many from Russia. The holy doors in the centre of the ikonostasis, with its many ikoni, were closed and draped in black and gold, purple and silver. All about the walls were more ikoni, and huge floral pieces surrounded the coffin. One of the set pieces was an armchair, of white artificial flowers, with sprays of lavender flowers and surmounted by a canopy or arched gateway of palms, violet tulle and white flowers.
At the evening requiems the church was always filled. Many women waited for hours to secure front seats in the little gallery. More women thronged every step of the stairs. The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand, after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.
The gospels were read night and day, instead of Psalms, as with a layman, by relays of clergy. The Syrians relieved one another at frequent intervals, and showed the finest, most varied forms of intoning.
Bishop Alexander who, by command of the Holy Synod, has charge of the vast Russian Diocese of North America until the newly appointed Archbishop shall arrive, stood at the services motionless (“like a candle” is the Russian term.)
Thursday evening, at the close of the services, a picture was taken of the dead Bishop and the circle of celebrating clergy. After the clergy had retired, representatives of all the Syrian societies, including women, made addresses from the chancel platform about the great work which Bishop Raphael had accomplished for his people in America.
Saturday morning, after the liturgy had been celebrated in Old Church Slavonic and Greek by Bishop Alexander and his clergy, and in Syrian by the Syrians, while the choir of the Russian Theological Seminary from Tenafly, N.J., sang their part in Slavonic, two requiem services were held, the first by the Metropolitan Hermanos Shehadah, of Selveskia Mount Lebanon [should be Baalbek - ed.], Syria (his black, waist-long hair concealed beneath his black cassock and cloth of silver pall) and the Syrian clergy; and the second by Bishop Alexander and a few Russian priests, the seminary choir singing. The Syrian clergy no longer kissed the dead Bishop’s right hand. That lay at rest forevermore. The raised left hand supported a large cross, and this alone was saluted.
Yesterday morning, at 10 o’clock, the liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Alexander, standing at the right of Metropolitan Hermanos, on their eagle rugs upon the dais at the head of Bishop Raphael’s coffin. As was customary, Bishop Alexander was vested on the dais in magnificent vestments of silver brocade. Metropolitan Hermanos wore gold brocade and the tall Metropolitan’s mitre of crimson velvet and gold, from whose crest rose a diamond cross. The choir of the Russian St. Nicholas Cathedral sang, except during the brief intervals when the Syrians chanted.
At a layman’s funeral the clergy wear black velvet and silver; at the funeral of a priest or bishop, no mourning is worn and the flowerlike vestments of the priests, mingling with the magnificent floral pieces, produce a very brilliant effect. The Syrian deacon wore pink brocade with a stole of blue and gold. As only 500 people were allowed by the authorities inside the cathedral, there was space for the ceremony of processions to and from the altar. At 12 o’clock the liturgy ended. At 1:30 the funeral began.
The singing was now done for the Syrians by the boys’ and girls’ choir of the Sunday school, wearing white vestments with lavender crosses, the girls, with mortarboard caps, occasionally assisting the clergy. The Russian singing was done by the clergy, assisted by the adult members of the choir. In all there were about forty priests, Russian and Syrian, who chanted, the Russians led by Archdeacon Vsevolod, of the Russian Cathedral, with his magnificent voice.
Among the hymns, which show the spirit of the service, were:
“Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of thy servant and establish him in Paradise. Where the choirs of the saints, O Lord, and of the just, shine like the stars of heaven, give rest to thy servant, who hath fallen asleep, regarding not all his transgressions.”
“Forasmuch as we all are constrained to that same dread abode, and shall hide ourselves beneath a gravestone like to this, and shall ourselves shortly turn to dust, let us implore of Christ rest for him who hath been translated hence.”
In the Eastern Church there are several orders of burial. One is for a child under seven years old, in which no mention is made of sin, because a child’s soul “is not grown,” as the Russians say, until he is seven. Another is for adult laymen; a third, for those who die in Easter week, in which there are almost no songs of mourning, but all are songs of the joy of the Resurrection; the fourth, for dead priests, has five epistles and five gospels. These were read by the Syrians and the Russians alternately, as were the many hymns, most of which were written by St. John of Damascus.
Then at last the clergy made addresses, Father Basil Kerbawy, dean of the cathedral, Father Sergius Snegyeroff and others, in praise of the Bishop. Father Kerbawy reduced the congregations to tears. Bishop Alexander made the last speech, directly addressing the dead as he stood by the coffin.
After “Memory Eternal” had been proclaimed in Syrian and in Old Church Slavonic, with the addition of the Bishop’s title and name, the procession formed. It is customary to carry the body of a Bishop around the outside of the church and to hold a brief service on each of the four sides before going to the graveyard. This constituted the funeral procession in the present case, as its route was along Pacific Street to Henry Street, thence to State Street, then to Nevins Street and back along Pacific Street to the cathedral.
The procession formed in the following order: Cronin, political leader of the district; squad of mounted police; twenty to thirty small boys in white tunics, with lilac crosses and flowers; the Cathedral committee (honorary pall-bearers); girls, singing hymns; Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society; the Homsian Fraternity; the Syro-American Political Club; members of the various Syrian diocesan parishes; the United Syrian Societies; cathedral Sunday school pupils, carrying crosses, candles and church banners; coaches with floral offerings; Archimandrite [Aftimios] Aphaish of Montreal, carrying the cushion with the late Bishop’s orders; finally, St. Joseph’s Society of Boston.
The dead prelate was borne in an open coffin by the priests, the snowflakes drifting down upon his splendid mantle of purple, crimson and white, his golden mitre, and the white brocade sacramental veil which covered his face. The body was followed by the Orthodox clergy, both Syrian and Russian; last came Bishop Alexander of Alaska. The family of the deceased, parishioners and friends followed, women joining, although it is not the custom to do so abroad.
Directly beneath the altar the Bishop had built for himself a vault. On the return of the procession masses of the flowers were carried into the crypt, and the clergy surrounded the bronze coffin into which the mahogany casket was lowered. The Metropolitan Hermanos made the final address before the coffin was closed, and a most distressing scene of grief ensued. Not only the clergy, but many parishioners, cast earth upon the body of their beloved Bishop.