Posts tagged Episcopalians
Regular readers of this website have no doubt noticed that I am really interested in early American converts to Orthodoxy. There weren’t too many, but the handfuls of people who did join the Church in the late 19th and early 20th century almost always present fascinating stories. The most notable converts, in terms of visibility, tend to be clergymen from other Christian groups, e.g. Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine or Fr. Raphael Morgan. But I would guess — and I don’t have any hard data on this, but I think it’s a reasonable theory — that most of the American converts to Orthodoxy at the turn of the last century were women.
The vast majority of Orthodox Christians in America in 1906 were male. In fact, we’ve got some solid numbers on that — according to the Census of Religious Bodies conducted that year, only 14.8% of American Orthodox parishioners were female. Among the Greeks — by far the largest group — that number was 6.1%. As you might expect, a lot of those Greek men were single, and many of those Hellenic bachelors found American brides. And while those American wives didn’t always join the Orthodox Church, many of them did. I would guess that the majority (and perhaps the overwhelming majority) of early converts were American women marrying ethnic Orthodox men.
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Washington, DC was founded in 1904. By 1906, its priest was Fr. Joachim Alexopoulos, who later became one of the first bishops in the Greek Archdiocese. In June 1906, one of the DC Greeks, Nicholas Pappajohn (who had Anglicized his name to “Davis”) married a German-American girl named Helen Mohr in an dual Lutheran-Orthodox ceremony.
The whole thing took place in a local hall, rather than a church. An improvised altar was set up, and a local Lutheran pastor married the couple in a standard Lutheran ceremony. At the close of the service, the pastor left, and Fr. Joachim Alexopoulos entered, and celebrated the Orthodox wedding service from beginning to end. He certainly didn’t concelebrate with a Lutheran minister, but this compromise was apparently deemed acceptable to all parties. (Details from the Washington Post, 6/25/1906.)
Another, more complex, scenario played out the same year. In January, Nicholas Pappajohn/Davis’ good friend, a Mr. Anagost, married a German-American woman named Mollie Dietz. Although Ms. Dietz was of German ancestry, she was an Episcopalian, and the couple was married in an Episcopal church. But they didn’t turn around and celebrate an Orthodox ceremony, as did the Davis couple in June. Instead, the new bride spent the next nine months studying the Orthodox faith, preparing to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. The Washington Post (9/17/1906) reports, “Although it is not required, it is considered desirable that all who receive the Greek sacrament of marriage should be baptized according to Greek rites, so Mrs. Anagost, after study and preparation, decided to give up her old church affiliations and cast her lot with her husband’s church.”
Mollie Anagost was thus baptized in September, and she and her husband were then wed in an Orthodox ceremony. Her godfather was the aforementioned Nicholas Davis. The godmother, according to the Post, was Helen Davis, the newlywed Lutheran. It’s not clear whether Mrs. Davis converted to Orthodoxy shortly after her marriage and thus was actually the godmother, or whether she was merely on hand to provide assistance.
The whole Greek congregation was present at the beginning of the baptism. Mr. Anagost translated the priest’s words into English for his wife, and she swore that she was joining the Orthodox Church not out of compulsion, but by free choice and out of a sincere belief in the teachings of the Church. It was up to the godfather, Nicholas Davis, to decide the baptismal name of Mollie Anagost, and he chose “Sophia.”
The Post reports that, when the time came for Mollie to be immersed, “the congregation moved toward the kitchen, leaving Mrs. Anagost with her mother, husband, and priest. The real baptismal service was not performed in public, for only a night robe is worn, and the body is entirely dipped in the consecrated water.”
Once Mrs. Anagost was initiated into the Church, she joined the rest of the congregation, who crowded around her and congratulated her. The Post reporter, Elizabeth Ellicott Poe, writes, “The Post reporter was called back and a silver quarter presented to her in observance of the ancient Grecian custom of giving coins to the witnesses, especially those who left first… With hearty congratulations, these friendly Old World people prepared for an evenign of festal enjoyment.” The following Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. Anagost were married in an Orthodox ceremony.
I am interested in the contrast between the two couples, the Davises and the Anagosts. As I said, the Anagosts were married in the Episcopal Church back in January, but waited to have an Orthodox ceremony until after Mrs. Anagost was baptized in September. The Davises, on the other hand, had back-to-back Lutheran and Orthodox services, one right after the other. I can’t tell whether Mrs. Davis became Orthodox or not, but if she did, it wasn’t until after her wedding(s). Thus, in one parish, we see two very different approaches to “mixed marriage.”
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.
At Frontier Orthodoxy, Fr. Oliver has published another article on Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine’s career as an Episcopal priest. This time, he addresses a controversy involving Irvine, his Episcopalian bishop, and allegations of sexual misconduct. Irvine was tried by an ecclesiastical court, which found him not guilty of the charges. To read Fr. Oliver’s whole article, click here.
Over on Frontier Orthodoxy, Fr. Oliver Herbel has just published a post about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and his feud with the Episcopalian Bishop Ethelbert Talbot — a feud which ultimately led Irvine to leave the Episcopal Church and convert to Orthodoxy. To read Fr. Oliver’s post, click here.
Last August, I discussed the Irvine-Talbot controversy in some detail in a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. Click here to listen to it.
Yesterday, May 19, was the 126th anniversary of the arrival in America of Protopresbyter Stephen Hatherly, a convert priest from England. Hatherly served under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and spent several months in the US, attempting to establish an Orthodox parish in New York. Last July, I wrote an article on Hatherly’s brief American tenure, but back then, this website had far fewer readers than it does today. For that reason, I’m reprinting my original article.
From 1870 to 1883, Fr Nicholas Bjerring was pastor of a Russian Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring was a convert from Roman Catholicism, and he basically operated an “embassy chapel.” He held services for Russian and Greek officials stationed in America, he ministered to the few Orthodox Christians living in New York, and he strongly discouraged inquirers.
In 1883, the Russian government informed Bjerring that they intended to close his chapel, apparently to save money. They offered Bjerring a comfortable teaching position in St Petersburg. Bjerring, upset and disheartened, turned down the offer and instead became a Presbyterian.
Word of Bjerring’s apostasy eventually reached the ears of one Fr Stephen G. Hatherly, an archpriest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hatherly was a convert himself. An Englishman, he had joined the Orthodox Church way back in 1856, and he was ordained a priest in 1871. He was based in England, but in May of 1884, he arrived in America. His plan was to band together the handfuls of Orthodox on the East Coast (mainly New York and Philadelphia) and establish a new church to replace the defunct Russian chapel.
Hatherly spent three months in America, and his mission was a resounding failure. There was simply not enough interest from America’s meager Orthodox population. At the close of his stay in the US, the New York Sun ran the following story (August 18, 1884):
S.G. Hatherly, the Greek arch priest who came to New York from Constantinople and established a chapel in St. John’s School in Varick street two months ago, conducted service yesterday for the last time, and the chapel will be closed. About a score of the Greek colony in attendance and as many curious minded spectators. Athanasius Athos, the son of a Greek priest, was reader. Father Hatherly did not deliver an address, but said briefly to the worshippers that it was because of their want of faith that the effort to establish a Greek chapel had failed.
In conversation Father Hatherly, who is an Englishman by birth, said that he wrote from Constantinople to the authorities in Russia to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York. The official reply was that no effort to establish a Greek Church chapel in New York would be undertaken after their “cruel experience” with N. Bjerring, who is now a Presbyterian. The Russian colony, Father Hatherly said, has kept away from this chapel in Varick street. Two or three Russians, he said, had said that they wanted something grander than Father Hatherly’s chapel.
“The collection to-day,” he added, “is $4.32. You can see that the chapel would not be self-supporting. However, that is not the only reason why the chapel is given up. The people do not attend as they should. I had hoped when I came on my mission of inquiry to be able to hold services alternately in New York and Philadelphia. It’s all over now, and I go to Constantinople in a few days.”
That’s an interesting article for a variety of reasons, but one in particular jumps out — the statement that Hatherly wrote to the Russian authorities “to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York,” and the Russian reply that it indeed was.
Up to now [July 2009], I’ve felt that the Russian closure of the New York chapel was an implicit abandonment of the city, and that the Greeks who, seven years later, formed their own church, were under no obligation to contact the Russian bishop on the other side of the continent. But Hatherly’s story drives that point home even further. The Russians didn’t implicitly abandon New York; if this report is correct, they explicitly did so.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee. After I originally published it in July 2009, I contacted the Ecumenical Patriarchate to see if they still had, in their archives, the letter from the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Alas, they couldn't find anything. It's possible that the letter is there somewhere, and it's also possible that something remains in St. Petersburg. Of course, a century and a quarter after the fact, it's just as likely that we'll never find the original document.]