Posts tagged Galveston
Yesterday, I published a brief article on Fr. Stephen Andreades, the first resident priest of the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States — Holy Trinity in New Orleans. The entire early history of that parish is something of a mystery. We know who the early priests were — Andreades, Fr. Gregory Yiayias, Fr. Misael Karydis — but we don’t know much about them, and we don’t have a clear understanding of the early life of that parish. The hints that we do have are tantalizing. For instance, Holy Trinity used an organ decades before any other American Orthodox church is known to have added one. But we don’t know the story behind it.
Anyway, all this got me to thinking about some of the toughest cases to crack in my research into American Orthodox history. I’ll run through some of them today.
The Ludwell-Paradise story
This is really Nicholas Chapman’s turf, and it’s just loaded with great mysteries. Among them:
- How exactly did a young Philip Ludwell III decide to convert to Orthodoxy?
- What was his family’s connection to the Orthodox Church prior to his conversion?
- Were there any other Orthodox converts in colonial Virginia, aside from the Ludwell family?
- How long did Ludwell’s descendants remain Orthodox?
- What — if any — connection existed between the Ludwell-Paradise family, the New Smyrna colony, and the Russian mission to Alaska?
St. Peter the Aleut
Did he exist? If so, was he martyred? If not, how and why did the story of his martyrdom develop? We’re making progress on this front, but the critical questions remain unanswered. The frustrating thing is that I know that the Russian government contacted the Spanish government about this at the time, and the Spanish did an investigation, and there are records of this investigation in Madrid. But I can’t get anyone there to get back to me.
The aborted New York church of 1850
The January 1850 issue of the Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America reported this:
Efforts are now making in New York to form a congregation of Greek Christians. We observe an announcement that a priest of that denomination, with an interpreter, is now in New York, and will doubtless take charge of the movement.
But the first documented Orthodox congregation in New York wasn’t organized until Fr. Nicholas Bjerring arrived in 1870 — 20 years later. So what was going on in 1850? I haven’t found any other traces of this story.
The phantom Galveston parish of the 1860s
Lots and lots of secondary sources refer to a very early Orthodox parish in Galveston, Texas. This parish was supposedly formed in the 1860s and used the name “Ss. Constantine and Helen.” But the earliest traces I’ve found of organized Orthodoxy in Galveston are from the mid-1890s, when Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides founded a parish of the same name, which still exists. In fact, according to Triantafilides’ biography by Milivoy Jovan Milosevich, Triantafilides intentionally revived the old parish name. From the bio:
It is known that with the outset of the American Civil War, a group of multi-ethnic Orthodox Christians were having regular prayer meetings in Galveston, as early as 1861, and they called themselves “the Parish of S.S. Constantine and Helen.” [...] [I]t was Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision to use the name S. S. Constantine and Helen Church, because the congregation that started on its own should be remembered.
But was this “congregation” a full-fledged parish, as some have suggested? Was it simply a group of Orthodox laypeople gathering for reader’s services? Was it somehow connected to the New Orleans parish — perhaps the earliest “mission” community (as we now commonly use the term) in the contiguous United States? We just don’t know.
Another tantalizing piece of information: at exactly the time when this congregation was supposedly formed, the descendants of Philip Ludwell III were living in Galveston. Were they still Orthodox? And were they connected to this “parish”?
The mysterious death of Fr. Paul Kedrolivansky
We’ve covered this one before: Kedrolivansky, the dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco, died under suspicious circumstances in 1878. I’m pretty sure that Kedrolivansky was murdered, but I don’t know by whom. Was it his rival priest, Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin? Gustave Niebaum and the powerful Alaska Commercial Company? A “nihilist,” as some later speculated? We don’t know, and this is a mystery that will probably never be solved.
The Kodiak Bell
The bell from the first Orthodox church in the New World — Holy Resurrection in Kodiak, AK — currently hangs in a Roman Catholic church in California. And nobody really knows how it got there.
Fr. Raphael Morgan
For a long time, all we knew for sure was that the first black Orthodox priest in America was alive in 1916, and disappeared from the historical record afterwards. Now, we can say with confidence that he was dead by 1924. But 1916-1924 is a pretty big range, and we still don’t know how and where he died, where he’s buried, and whether he remained Orthodox until the end.
This little run-down is just the tip of the iceberg as far as American Orthodox historical mysteries go. If you have any insight into these conundrums, shoot me an email at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Way back in the summer of 2009, we went down to Houston to visit family, and while there, we made a special trip to the nearby city of Galveston. Really, my family was indulging me — I wanted to visit Saints Constantine and Helen Serbian Orthodox Church, the first Orthodox parish in Texas and one of the oldest Orthodox church buildings still in use in America. I took a bunch of photos, and I’ve been meaning to publish them here, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Until now:
I took a lot more photos, and I may post more in the future. To learn more about the fascinating history of Ss. Constantine and Helen parish, and their legendary priest Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, check out this article, posted on OH.org last January.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
In September of 1896, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov made his first archpastoral visit to the brand-new parish of Ss. Constantine and Helen in Galveston, Texas. This multiethnic church was founded just a few months earlier by Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the great Greek archimandrite who served in the Russian Mission.
Just after the bishop’s arrival on September 19, a reporter from the Galveston Daily News paid him a visit (see Galveston Daily News, 9/20/1896). The reporter was told that Bishop Nicholas had fasted all day in preparation for the next day’s Divine Liturgy, and ”was about to retire into the room for the purpose of self communion and prayer.” On his way out, though, the reporter ran into Bishop Nicholas in the hall. The reporter wrote,
Bishop Nicholas is a typical Russian in appearance. He is large of frame, with a full, round face, somewhat thin beard and long, heavy, black hair. Though somewhat heavy, the features are those of a man with a strong mentality. From those who are in a position to know, it was understood that he is a man of great culture and scholarly attainments. He speaks very little English, but French and German fluently. He was attired in a long, black gown, similar to the ones used by the priests of the Roman church. From around his neck a gold chain was suspended, with a crucifix pendant.
Through a translator, Bishop Nicholas explained, “I am the only bishop on the American continents, and the head of the church in North and South America.” This is one of the earliest explicit assertions of Russian jurisdiction throughout the New World. The bishop continued, “My headquarters are in San Francisco, and I came here direct from that city. From what I have seen of Galveston, I think you have a beautiful city, and I like it very much.”
The reporter asked, “How many churches of the orthodox Russian-Greek faith are there in America?”
“There are about twenty-five churches and about sixty chapels scattered throughout the country,” the bishop said. “The largest are in Alaska, where the members are chiefly Russians, and therefore conform to the orthodox church. There are quite a number in Pennsylvania, but many of them do not belong to the orthodox church.” Of course, Bishop Nicholas was referring to the Uniate parishes, which began to join the Russian Mission in earnest during Bishiop Nicholas’ episcopate.
The reporter continued, “What is the difference between the orthodox and the unorthodox church?”
“The members of the orthodox church in America believe that God is the head of the chruch and the czar the first son of the church,” explained Bishop Nicholas, “while upon the other hand, owing to the political conditions of Russia, the people there have to believe that the head of the church is the pope. That is why the Russian people like America. They are free here to follow the dictates of their conscience, which they can not in Russia.”
I suspect that something got lost in the translation, because Bishop Nicholas was pretty obviously referring to the Carpatho-Rusyns living in Roman Catholic lands (particularly the Austro-Hungarian Empire), who retained many Orthodox traditions but acknowledged the authority of the Pope of Rome. The bishop certainly didn’t mean to say that otherwise-Orthodox people in Russia recognized the Pope and couldn’t “follow the dictates of their conscience” in Russia.
In any event, the interview concluded as follows:
“Is the church growing much in America?”
“Yes, it is growing steadily.”
“Do you expect to return or be recalled to Russia?”
“I may return, but not to work there. My field will be in America.”
The next day, Bishop Nicholas celebrated a hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Galveston church (Daily News, 9/21). A few interesting notes about that service:
- The service commemorated “the bi-centenary of the independence of the church under Prince Nicholas of Montenegro.”
- The congregation was mostly composed of Greeks and “Slavonians” (mainly Serbs and Montenegrins). Bishop Nicholas may well have been the only Russian in the building.
- Prayers were offered for the Prince of Montenegro, the Tsar of Russia, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the clergy, and the President of the United States. The newspaper doesn’t mention it, but I assume that the Holy Synod of Russia was also commemorated.
- Bishop Nicholas gave his sermon, on the doctrines of the Church, in Slavonic, but Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides translated it into Greek.
- After the service, in addition to receiving holy bread, the parishioners were given “a religious book in Greek or Slavonic and a small metal cross,” both gifts from the bishop.
- Also after the service, Bishop Nicholas appointed the trustees and officers of the church. I don’t know if the parish held elections which were merely ratified by the bishop, or if Bishop Nicholas actually made all the choices himself.
Bishop Nicholas left Galveston for New Orleans the following day, September 21. Just before he left, a Galveston Daily News reporter (probably the same one mentioned above) caught up with him for a final interview. Here is the resulting article, in full (Daily News, 9/22):
Bishop Nicholas, the head of the Russian Greek orthodox church on the continent of America, left Galveston yesterday afternoon at 4.30 for New Orleans, en route to Chicago and the larger cities of the east.
A News reporter called upon the reverend gentleman a few hours prior to his reparture and found him just about to partake of some tea with a dash of lemon in it, a la Russian. He courteously invited the reporter to join him in a cup, which invitation was promptly accepted.
In response to the quesiton if he had enjoyed his stay here, the bishop replied in the affirmative with considerable emphasis.
“I like Galveston very much,” he said by way of continuation. “It is a beautiful city, but a little too warm just now. I shall try to come here and make a long stay — say about two months.”
“You did not dedicate the new church yesterday?”
“No; the report in The Galveston News of this morning was correct about that. The people of the church here are going to try to build a residence for the pastor, a school house and make other improvements. I shall try to come back again in December next. I will dedicate the church then.”
The bishop here rose and, going to a desk at the other end of the room, took from it a small book and, handing it to the reporter, said with a smile:
“If you will study that you will be able to give the service in full when I come again.”
The book contained the liturgies of the Russian Greek church, printed in Greek on one side and English on the other. The paper was of fine quality and the book was neatly bound.
“Where are you going from here?” inquired the scribe after he had returned due thanks for the gift.
“I go to New Orleans from Galveston, then to Chicago, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, New York and other large places,” replied the bishop.
“In what condition did you find the affairs of the church here?”
“O, very good; very satisfactory. When I come back I will tell you all you want to know about the church, but I must now prepare to take the train,” and the bishop rose as an indication that the interview was ended.
It’s not known whether Bishop Nicholas visited the Orthodox church in New Orleans when he passed through the city. There is no evidence that the parish was a part of his diocese, but given Bishop Nicholas’ own view that he had jurisdiction over the entire Western Hemisphere, he may well have considered the New Orleans parish to be under his authority. It would be very interesting to know what, if any, contacts the New Orleans Orthodox community had with the Russian bishop.
In any case, Bishop Nicholas can’t have been in New Orleans for very long. He arrived in New York on September 25, in time to celebrate the Elevation of the Cross with two of his newest priests, St. Raphael Hawaweeny and St. Alexander Hotovitzky (New York Times, 9/26/1896).
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
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Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Greek Archdiocese Clergy-Laity Congress in Atlanta. I gave the same talk on two days, July 5 and 6. Below, we’ve published the text of my lecture. A couple of things, up front: first, I didn’t include footnotes, because this was just the text I personally used in delivering the talk. And second, I make several references to Atlanta and Georgia, because that’s where I was speaking. Also, please forgive any typos or other errors; I know that there are a few, and I haven’t fixed all of them.
I’ve been asked to speak about Orthodoxy in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of course, this was the Ellis Island era, the time when hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It’s when many of your ancestors came here; it’s also when my own ancestors came here, from what was then the Ottoman Empire and what is today Lebanon. Of course, besides the Greeks and the Syrians and Lebanese, there were also lots of Serbs, Romanians, Carpatho-Rusyns, and Bulgarians. These were largely Orthodox people, coming to the United States from all over the Orthodox world, and bringing with them their ancestral faith. And while these people spoke different languages and had different local traditions, they all shared that Orthodox faith. Because they came here and preserved their faith – because of that, we have Orthodoxy in America today. My goal here today is to give you a sense of what it was like back then – what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in late 19th/early 20th century America.
In 1890, only two Orthodox parishes existed in the entire United States of America: a Russian cathedral in San Francisco and a semi-independent Greek church in New Orleans. Of course, there was a significant Russian Orthodox presence in Alaska, but at that time Alaska was just a territory, not a state, and it was both geographically and culturally disconnected from the US mainland.
The church in New Orleans was founded in 1865 by a group of Orthodox people led by a Greek cotton merchant named Nicolas Benachi. This was a multi-ethnic parish, and besides Greeks, it included Antiochians and Slavs among its members. The U.S. Census of 1890 describes it as a part of the Church of Greece, “in connection with the consulate of Greece in New Orleans.” The first priest to visit New Orleans – he wasn’t the parish priest, but he visited and served the first liturgy there – he was a strange character named Fr. Agapius Honcharenko. This man was an itinerant Ukrainian of questionable credentials who was visiting New York in 1865 when he was contacted by the New Orleans parish. He certainly was not connected to the Russian Church; he actually claimed that the Tsarist government had put a price on his head for his involvement in revolutionary activities. Honcharenko had some sort of connection with the Church of Greece, but not long after his visit to New Orleans, he left Orthodoxy altogether and tried to start his own Protestant sect in California.
The New Orleans parish itself was a really interesting community. Before they had actually organized themselves as a parish, they raised their own Orthodox militia regiment to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Later on, from 1881 to 1901, the community had a priest from Bulgaria. Until 1906, most of the church records were kept in English. It was only later that Greek became the dominant language.
After I finished preparing this talk, I learned of some very exciting developments happening with the New Orleans parish. After Hurricane Katrina, the parishioners were cleaning out the church, and someone stumbled onto bunch of old documents, tucked away in some long-forgotten cupboard or closet. As it turns out, these were the sacramental records kept by the parish priests in New Orleans, dating back to the earliest years of the parish. The papers were soaking wet, and right now, the parish is having them restored. They show that the parish had members of all different ethnic groups, and in particular, a lot of Antiochians. And these people weren’t just concentrated in the city of New Orleans – they were in small towns all over Louisiana, and probably beyond. We’re just now beginning to get a glimpse of what life was like in the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. There are plans to digitize the documents, and there’s even talk of building an Orthodox museum in New Orleans, to house the hundreds of documents and artifacts the community has accumulated over the past century and a half. Anyone interested in Orthodox history or Greek history will want to keep an eye on what’s going on in New Orleans.
The other really old parish, the San Francisco cathedral, was founded in 1868 under Russian authority. Just like New Orleans, San Francisco had a multi-ethnic Orthodox community. That community largely consisted of Greeks and Serbs, and in 1867, they formally requested that the Russian bishop in Alaska send them a priest. Soon after this, the Russian bishop moved his own residence down to San Francisco.
The San Francisco parish seemed almost cursed with turmoil. In 1879, the dean of the cathedral was apparently murdered, and one of the prime suspects was his assistant priest. A few years later, the Russian bishop drowned at sea; this appears to have been a suicide brought on by a physical ailment. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the cathedral community was rocked by scandal. The new bishop, Vladimir, was accused of all kinds of horrific crimes. The cathedral itself burned to the ground, and many people suspected arson. Eventually, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia, and by the end of the decade – by the end of the 1890s – the bishop in San Francisco was an outstanding man, Tikhon Bellavin, who was respected by all the different ethnic groups in the community. Bishop Tikhon went on to become Patriarch of Moscow. He suffered under the Communists, and in 1988, he was canonized a saint.
Now, as I mentioned, the New Orleans and San Francisco parishes were the only churches in the United States in 1890. They were outposts, really; there wasn’t much in the way of established Orthodoxy in America, outside of the Russians and Orthodox natives in Alaska. But after 1890, things began to change really rapidly. On the one hand, as I said before, thousands of Orthodox immigrants were arriving in the United States. And at the same time, entire parishes of Eastern Rite Catholics were converting, en masse, to Orthodoxy.
These Eastern Catholics were from the Austro-Hungarian Empires, and their ancestors had been Orthodox, but in the preceding centuries, they had left the Orthodox Church and joined the Roman Catholics. When they came to the United States, they were not very well-received by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America. The big moment came in 1889. An Eastern Catholic priest named Alexis Toth had just arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take over pastoral care of the Eastern Catholics in the area. And as was the standard procedure, when he got to Minneapolis, he presented himself to the local Roman Catholic archbishop, a man named John Ireland.
Archbishop Ireland was absolutely livid that Toth had come to Minneapolis. Ireland shouted at Toth, “I have already written to Rome protesting against this kind of priest being sent to me.” Toth said, “What kind of priest do you mean?” And Ireland said, “Your kind.” And then he continued, “I do not consider either you or this bishop of yours Catholic. […] I shall grant you no permission to work there.” Later on, Toth said, “The Archbishop lost his temper, I lost mine just as much.”
Unwelcomed by the Roman Catholics, Toth began to look into other options. At this point – and here, we’re talking right around 1890 – there wasn’t much in the way of Orthodoxy in America, as we’ve seen. Toth eventually contacted the Russian bishop in San Francisco, and his entire Eastern Catholic parish in Minneapolis converted to Orthodoxy. Toth himself became a leading proponent of Eastern Catholic conversions to Orthodoxy. Tens of thousands of Eastern Catholics joined the Russian Orthodox Church in America over the next several decades. The core of the growing Russian Archdiocese – and the core of what we know today as the OCA – consisted of these former Eastern Catholic parishes. The significance of the Eastern Catholic conversions cannot be overstated – this was a major, major development.
Of course, at the same time that this was happening – literally, at exactly the same time – thousands of people who were already Orthodox were coming to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. And these people were also starting their own Orthodox churches.
One of the most interesting of these early communities was in Chicago. In the 1880s – so, even before the big immigration started – Chicago had a growing Orthodox population. By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in the city. 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, the Russian bishop responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to figure out if there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. The Greek man was George Brown, who had come to America as a young man, and had fought in the American Civil War. George Brown gave a short speech, and it’s short enough that I’ll read most of it to you now, exactly as the Chicago Tribune reported it the next day:
“Gentlemans,” he said, “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 meeting ended with everybody wanting to start an Orthodox church, and they agreed that the services could be done in both Greek and Slavonic. The Russian Bishop Vladimir traveled east from San Francisco for a visit later that year, but unfortunately, this was the same Bishop Vladimir who became embroiled in a series of horrible scandals. One of Vladimir’s strongest opponents in San Francisco was a Montenegrin who happened to be the brother of one of the leaders of the Chicago community. So the Chicago Orthodox were hearing all these horrible things about Bishop Vladimir, and they decided they wanted nothing more to do with the man. They put out feelers to numerous other Orthodox churches – the Serbian Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Church of Greece.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest named Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, and in 1892 Phiambolis established the first Orthodox parish of any kind in Chicago. But this was not a multi-ethnic parish, like San Francisco and New Orleans. This parish was specifically for Greek people. The Chicago Tribune reported that the new Greek church “wants no one but those of Hellenic blood among its members” Almost exactly one month after the Greek church began in Chicago, the Russians established their own church. By now, I should note, Bishop Vladimir had been recalled to Russia, and was replaced by Bishop Nicholas.
So now in 1892, there were two Orthodox parishes in the city of Chicago – one Greek, one Russian. This was the first time in our history that two Orthodox churches, answering to different ecclesiastical authorities, coexisted in the same US city. But there’s a flip side to all of this. Despite the fact that they had separated based on language and ethnicity, they still got along with each other. In 1894, the Chicago Greek and Russian priests concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar Alexander III died the following month, a memorial was served by both the Greek and Russian priests at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas, visited Chicago in later that year, the local Greek priest, Phiambolis, participated in the hierarchical Liturgy at the Russian church. Later on, in 1902, the church bell was stolen from the Russian parish, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the Greek parishioners for help. The two churches, Greek and Russian, then held a joint meeting of both parishes, to organize an effort to find the bell.
On the Pacific Coast, Orthodox communities began to organize themselves in places like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. In both Portland and Seattle, there was a lot of diversity among the Orthodox, with Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, and Russians all in the same community. And in both Portland and Seattle, these diverse Orthodox populations affiliated themselves with the Russian Church. Seattle is a really interesting story, because, while it was under the Russian Church, the parish itself was named after St. Spyridon, who of course is a Greek saint. How did that happen? Well, the land for the church was donated by a Greek family, and because of that, they got to choose the name. Church services were in Greek, Slavonic, and English, and one of the prerequisites for being the pastor in Seattle was an ability to work in multiple languages.
Seattle’s multi-ethnic community didn’t last forever. By 1917, there were over two thousand Greeks in Seattle, and they decided they needed their own Greek church. But there weren’t any hard feelings. People said that they were just happy that there were enough Orthodox in Seattle for two churches.
Fr. Michael Andreades was of the early priests of that original multi-ethnic Seattle parish. Andreades was Greek, but he had been educated in Russia, and he was under the Russian bishop in San Francisco. He was one of several ethnic Greek priests who served under the Russian diocese. This was certainly not the norm for Greek clergy in America, but it definitely was not unheard of.
Another of these Greek priests was Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides. His father was an Athenian who fought in the Greek War for Independence, and then afterwards moved to the Peloponnese. That’s where Triantafilides himself was born. As a young man, Triantafilides went to Mount Athos and was tonsured a monk. He became affiliated with the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon, on Mount Athos, and from there, he went to Russia itself, where he studied at the Moscow Theological Academy. This is where things get really interesting. Triantafilides was asked by King George I of Greece to come to Greece and tutor the king’s young son, Prince George. Then the Russian Tsar, Alexander III, asked Triantafilides to return to Russia and tutor his children, including the future Tsar Nicholas II. Triantafilides was actually one of the priests who served at the wedding of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra.
So how did Triantafilides go from the royal courts of Greece and Russia to the United States? Well, in Galveston, Texas – which was a major seaport in the 19th century – there was another one of those multi-ethnic Orthodox communities. The Greeks and Serbs of Galveston got together and petitioned the Russian Church to send them a priest. Tsar Nicholas II himself answered their petition by sending them his old tutor, Triantafilides, who by this time was in his early sixties.
Triantafilides was the priest in Galveston for over 20 years, until his death in 1916. But he didn’t just take care of the Galveston parish. He took responsibility for the Orthodox people living throughout the Gulf Coast, traveling thousands of miles by horse and by train. His parish, which was named Ss. Constantine and Helen, eventually came to be predominantly Serbian, and many years after his death, the church switched from the Russian to the Serbian jurisdiction. But to this day, they continue to venerate their original Greek priest, sent by the Russian Tsar.
But Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides was not the first prominent Greek priest in America. That title belongs to Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas, who arrived in San Francisco in the early 1890s. Kanellas came to the US from India, where he had been the priest of the Greek Orthodox church in Calcutta. He initially came to America just for a visit, but he was a sickly man, and he became ill, which forced him to stay for awhile. He became affiliated with the multiethnic Russian cathedral in San Francisco. Of course, with so many Greeks there, having a Greek priest would have been particularly helpful. Like so many of his fellow priests, Kanellas traveled all over the country. He actually seems to have been the first Orthodox priest to visit this state – Georgia – when he baptized a Greek child in Savannah in 1891.
In 1892, a new Russian bishop took over in San Francisco, and he released Kanellas, who then traveled to the eastern part of the United States. Around 1902 or 1903, Kanellas was asked to become the priest of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was under the Church of Greece. He spent the next eight years there. The Greek-American Guide described him as “a very sympathetic and reverend old man.” He was one of the only Orthodox priests in the entire American South, so like Triantafilides, he traveled quite a bit. One of the places he visited was Atlanta. Kanellas eventually became the first priest of the Greek church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he remained there until his death in 1921.
Priests like Andreades, Triantafilides, and Kanellas were not Russian, but they all spent time serving in the Russian diocese. The reverse didn’t happen – Russian priests didn’t serve under the Church of Greece. But there is a fascinating story that I must tell you – because not all of the Greek priests were, in fact, Greek.
Just after the turn of the twentieth century, a man named Robert Morgan began to attend the Greek church in Philadelphia. The curious thing about Robert Morgan is that he was a black Episcopalian deacon from Jamaica. In 1907, he traveled to Constantinople, and was ordained an Orthodox priest. He was sent back to Philadelphia, and I’ll quote directly here, “to carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.” Morgan took the name “Fr. Raphael,” but unfortunately, he wasn’t very successful in his missionary work. Aside from his own family, there’s no clear evidence that he converted anyone else to Orthodoxy. But the startling fact remains that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate initiated a mission to convert black Americans to Orthodoxy.
Now, as I said, Fr. Raphael Morgan was attached to the Greek church in Philadelphia. When he went to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be ordained, he had two letters in his possession. One was from the Greek community of Philadelphia, which supported Morgan’s ordination, and said that if he failed to establish a black Orthodox church, he was welcome to be the assistant priest at their parish. The other letter was from the parish priest in Philadelphia, a remarkable man named Fr. Demetrios Petrides.
Petrides was born on Samos in the mid-1860s. He was a married priest, with children, but his wife died before he came to America. Back in Greece, Petrides’ daughter fell in love with a young man, John Janoulis, and they wanted to get married. Petrides approved, but the Janoulis’ father wanted his son to get an education, rather than get married. So Janoulis was disowned by his father, and Petrides took the couple under his wing. The young Janoulis left for America to earn money, which of course was common practice at the time, and then Fr. Demetrios was asked by the Church of Greece to become the new priest in Philadelphia. He arrived in 1907, and brought along his daughter, reuniting her with her husband. Just a couple of months after he arrived in America, Petrides wrote his letter, recommending that Robert Morgan be ordained a priest. For a while, Morgan actually lived in the Petrides family home.
Like so many of his fellow priests, Petrides traveled throughout his region of the country, ministering to the Orthodox people he found who didn’t have a priest. One time, he went to Ithaca, New York, to do a baptism. After the service, unbeknownst to Petrides, a 16-year-old Greek girl had advertised that she would go into a “spirit trance.” Greeks had traveled from all over to witness the spectacle. Petrides caught wind of what was going on, and he burst into the room, stopped the girl’s trance, and told the people that spiritualism is against the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This was the sort of man he was – completely unafraid to stand up for what was right, no matter what.
It was this gumption that got Petrides run out of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia church was dominated by a rich layman, Constantine Stephano, who was a millionaire cigarette manufacturer. Stephano and Petrides did not get along. Things came to a head in 1912, when Stephano sent the following message to Petrides – this is almost unbelievable. It said,
“Constantine Stephano commands you to appear at his office every evening at sunset and salaam low upon entering his presence. Then you are to stand erect, with folded arms, with your eyes cast downward, awaiting a word from Stephano before sitting down or otherwise changing your position. If you are not asked to be seated you are to remain in this position until Stephano leaves his office, and when he passes through the door you are to salaam low again and depart with bowed head.”
Stephano was obviously trying to humiliate Petrides, and Petrides would have none of it. He responded, “I will not thus humiliate myself before this maker of cigarettes.” Now, in the early twentieth century, Greek parishes in America had only a loose connection to the church authorities in Athens or Constantinople. As a practical matter, the parishes were run by lay boards of trustees, which would hire and fire priests at will. Constantine Stephano arranged for Petrides to be ousted from the Philadelphia church, by the slim margin of seven votes.
But, characteristically, Petrides left with his head held high. In September of 1912, newspapers in Georgia began reporting that a daring Greek priest was coming to Atlanta. One newspaper called Petrides “the stormy petrel of the cloth.” Another paper said that he was famous for his “lambasting of the rich Greeks who loved money for the sake of power.” He was warmly welcomed by the Greeks in Atlanta, who seemed to have a good idea of the sort of priest they were getting.
But Petrides was not simply focused on his fellow Greeks. At the turn of the twentieth century, there was a very active dialogue taking place between the Orthodox and the Episcopalians. This led to the creation of a group called the “Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union.” The Orthodox members of the group included clergy from various ethnic backgrounds, including Antiochians, Russians, and Greeks. For several years in the teens, Fr. Demetrios Petrides was the organization’s Greek representative. He thus was engaged in this national inter-Christian dialogue, and he was also cooperating with his fellow Orthodox of different ethnicities.
As the teens wore on, Petrides developed diabetes, and in the days before insulin, that was a death sentence. He died in September of 1917. Annunciation Cathedral here in Atlanta should be very proud to claim Fr. Demetrios Petrides as one of its first priests. He was a significant historical figure, and an outstanding pastor.
We’re nearly at the end of this talk, and I’ve basically just told you a series of stories. So what’s the point – are there any common threads, or lessons to be learned, from this admittedly limited look at early Greek Orthodox history in America? I think there are, and I’ll just touch on them very briefly here at the end.
First and foremost, it should be clear that Greek Orthodoxy in America did not develop in a vacuum, somehow separated from the rest of Orthodoxy in America. Most of the earliest communities of Orthodox Christians here were multi-ethnic. This was largely a matter of practicality: there simply weren’t enough people in each individual group to start forming separate ethnic parishes. In many places – San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, Galveston – there was a clear sense that, for Orthodox Christians to survive in America, they needed each other. They needed – we still need – to work together to build up Orthodoxy in our local communities. No matter what we’d like to think, we’re simply too small, too weak, to thrive on our own, without each other. And just as in those early parishes, cooperation and a unified effort does not imply the abolishment of our individual identities. I will always be Lebanese, just as so many of you will always be Greek. Working together, on a practical level, does not have to mean a compromise of our heritage. It didn’t a hundred years ago, and it does not now.
I’d like to close with the words of that Greek veteran of the Civil War, George Brown, the early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community: “Union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. Our religion is one. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.” Thank you.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Archimandrite Theoclitos Triantafilides is one of the most remarkable figures in American Orthodox history. An ethnic Greek, he served as tutor to the future Tsar Nicholas II and went on to establish the multiethnic parish of Ss. Constantine and Helen in Galveston, Texas, under the Russian Mission. His story has been mostly untold, until now. The following article, by Milivoy Jovan Milosevich, is the fullest and best work yet done on the life of Fr. Theoclitos and the history of Ss. Constantine and Helen Church. It originally appeared on the Galveston Orthodox Community website, which is run by Fr. Serge Veselinovich, the current pastor of Ss. Constantine and Helen. SOCHA has received permission to reprint the article here at OrthodoxHistory.org.
This picture of the Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite, Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides is the only one I am aware of. He was the first Orthodox Priest in Texas. The picture did hang with Honor in the Church Congregation Hall of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Galveston, Texas. It has been saved from “Hurricane IKE’s Destruction” (September 12, 2008), and will hang there again when the new hall is constructed soon. I live in Galveston, and I have been a part of the Church congregation since Baptism. My Mother was baptized by Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and was very proud to tell people of that fact until her death in 2001. I have studied everything I can find on this wonderful Priest over the years, including his Last Will, the Galveston Daily News archives, Immigration Records, the Rosenberg Public Library of Galveston, the Church records (Slavonic, long-hand written in Cyrillic), the Internet and greatly on the local “folklore” stories told of him.
IT’S HAS BEEN SAID….
His father was an Athenian Greek. When the first outbreaks of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire started on the Peloponnese Peninsula, his father, a fisherman crossed onto the peninsula to join the forces of famed Greek General Theodoros Kolokotronis, also an Athenian. Eight years later, when Independence was achieved (with great help from the Allied Russian, English and French Forces); he settled in Egio (one of the oldest cities in the Balkans), Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece.
Born in November of 1833, young Theodoros was named for the famed Greek General. They called him “Theos” and he celebrated his Name Day each September 22nd (Julian Calendar in the 1800′s), on the Feast Day of St. Hierotheos, the Student of Saint Paul, the Apostle, who in 53 A.D. became the First Bishop of Athens. Theodorus grew up fishing with his father, and spending time around the port; while his mother (a native of the Peloponnese Peninsula) pushed him to the Church. The era after Greek Independence was wrought with economic problems and the Armenians and Bulgarians had replaced the Ottomans as bankers and merchants, allowing our young Theos to become ever more acquainted with other cultures. Two-thirds of the population had vanished and the land was devastated.
His early schooling was in the Church of Panagia Trypiti that is built inside a cavity of the cliff just 150 stair steps above the Port of Egio and he helped the Priests with all their duties, occasionally traveling into the local mountains to visit Agia Lavras Monastery, about 20 miles south and up in the mountains. Greek Independence had started there with Bishop Germanos Declaring Independence with his blessing of the troops. Later the Ottomans burned the Monastery, but it was reconstructed with help from the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of the Icons there were gifts from the Russian Monastery Panteleimon on Holy Mt Athos and the Be-jeweled Gospel in the Monastery was printed, signed and given by Catherine the Great of Russia. History and multi-ethnic cultures literally surrounded him. As a young adult, he was Tonsured a Monk and was given the name Theoclitos. He soon traveled to Mt Athos where he was accepted as a resident of the Panteleimon Monastery, where he became fluent in Slavonic and studied Russian language and customs; and made regular visits to the Serbian Monastery Hilandar learning the Serbian language and customs. He had become fascinated with languages.
He was invited to complete a formal education and become a teacher at the Slavic Greek Latin Academy and Theological Seminary at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery, better known today as the Moscow Theological Academy, just outside Moscow, Russia. After under-graduate, a Graduate Degrees in Theology and a few years of teaching; he was called upon by the new Danish born King of Greece, George I, to tutor his son Prince George. Later, the King’s brother-in-law, Tsar Alexander III of Russia called upon him to tutor the Royal Family’s 6 children specifically in other Orthodox cultures including the Greek language. So, he became a Greek cultural teacher to the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. It is also said, Fr. Theoclitos was one of the 30 or so clergyman serving at the wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000. The Parishioners of Galveston would later call him, “The Priest of Three Kings.”
It is known that with the outset of the American Civil War, a group of multi-ethnic Orthodox Christians were having regular prayer meetings in Galveston, as early as 1861, and they called themselves “the Parish of S.S. Constantine and Helen.” Galveston is a seaport, and its citizens were accustomed to our Eastern European and Mediterranean People. Our Eastern Orthodox Christians were always around the port. There were those that came, returned home and came back again. The first known Serbian in America lived in Galveston for a long time; his name was Djordje Sagic (aka: Djordje Ribar and/or George Fisher). He came to Texas in the late 1820’s after “jumping ship” (because of indentured servitude) in Philadelphia, and became the first Port Director of the Port of Galveston under the Mexican Government. He then became a Major in the Texas Revolutionary Army under General Sam Houston. He served in public office as City Councilman in Houston, Texas and Justice of the Peace in Harris County after the Texas Revolution. Sagic had studied for the Priesthood in Karlovci Serbia, but left the seminary to join the last efforts of the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1813, lead by Serbian leader, Karageorge Petrovitch. He left the area in 1850 to ultimately retire in San Francisco, California as a Justice of the Peace and retained the status of the Official Greek Government Consul there until his death, in 1873. He knew 13 languages.
The First known Greek in Galveston participated in the Parish Church group. He called himself only by the name of Captain Nicholas. Captain Nicholas joined the notorious Privateer Jean Lafitte in New Orleans, when Lafitte sailed for Galveston, as Capitan of Lafitte’s prize schooner the Mirabella. Captain Nicholas sailed away from Galveston with Lafitte after burning everything they left behind. Captain Nicholas returned to Galveston after Lafitte’s death, becoming a farmer on west Galveston Island and recounting old pirate stories at the waterfront. He lived more than 100 years and is believed to have died in the Hurricane of 1900. Some have said that with Lafitte came the first of many nationalities to Galveston, but I am unable to corroborate any other Orthodox Christians. During the late 1880′s and early 1890′s these Orthodox Christian Serbian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Arab (Lebanese) immigrants to Galveston had organized and started gathering moneies for a church. Aside from the religious group, they each started several individual nationalistic groups. Each had separately written many petitions to their former Bishops back home for a Parish Priest and had received only denials; justified by the facts of distance and costs, but these denials were in some cases including the suggestion that they petition the Russian Orthodox Mission Diocese in North America. So the culture in Galveston was ripe for the addition of an Eastern European & Mediterranean Priest of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ stature.
Nicholas II became Tsar of Russia on November 26, 1894. The Romanov Royal Family had created and supported the Russian Orthodox Mission into North America through Alaska since 1794. At that time, because of the Romanov family’s truly un-matched wealth, the Russian Mission into America was the only Orthodox jurisdiction on the continent prior to 1922.
So, the Slavs, headed by Risto Vukovich; and the Greeks headed by Athurs Menutis gathered and decided to petition the Russian Mission Diocese. They sent three telegrams written in Cyrillic and signed by Vukovich, Christo Chuk, and Milosh Porobich which explained the diversity of the parishioners to; (1) the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, (2) Tsar Nicholas II personally, and (3) His Grace Bishop Nicholas in Sitka, Alaska. A short time later the parish board received a telegram personally from Tsar Nicholas II, stating his acceptance of their plea. The Tsar had a large Gospel Printed, all the Vestments and Liturgical necessities including a signed Antimins, and all the Icons for an Iconostas painted and assembled including the icon to be used for the name day of the future Church (His own Namesake, Saint Nicholas); and he chose his teacher Fr. Theoclitos to go to Galveston, telling him “Let there be an Orthodox Church in Galveston.”
By this time, Fr. Theoclitos was 61 years of age, and was a well traveled man and spoke more than a dozen languages: Greek, Russian, Serbian, Slavonic, Latin, Bulgarian, Arabic, Hebrew, Danish; and some Spanish, English, French, German, and Romanian. The Ambassador of Russia to the United States acquired US Citizenship for him even before he left Russia. Prior to leaving Russia, Fr. Theoclitos was given the heavy cross he always wore by Tsar Nicholas II and he was elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Archimandrite, because he would soon be the Priestly leader of a flock of Christians so far away with little known chance of a visiting Bishop anytime soon. His journey to the far off land of Galveston, Texas began with six companions. With him were; the Very Reverend Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny (Glorified a Saint in March of 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America) and his three Deacons Constantine Abu-Adal, Istvan Moldowanyi and John Shamie (later Shamie was a Priest in Galveston); and Archimandrite Fr. Theoclitos’ two Russian Deacons, Theodore Pashkowsky and Joakim Zubkowsky, and his Romanian Deacon Pavel Grepashewsky; and Fr. Peter I. Popoff. The first leg of the trip was by train to Berlin, serving liturgy there at the Russia Embassy Church; then on to the Port of Bremen. Next leg was by passenger ship to Southampton for a change of ships, then on to New York aboard the passenger ship, S.S Havel out of South Hampton, as a United States Citizen. Only 82 passengers sailed that day. Although a group of Priests were at the port of New York to greet them on the Morning of November 14, 1895, they were required by customs to spend one night in Quarantine. The next morning, they were joined in New York by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov of the Russian Orthodox Mission in America to consecrate the First Arab-Syrian Orthodox Church in America under the Russian Mission’s jurisdiction, and to install Archimandrite Raphael as Pastor, with his three deacons. A few days later, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, his three Deacons; and Fr. Popoff traveled with Bishop Nicholas by train to Washington D.C., then to western Pennsylvania, where Fr. Popoff was to serve and then on to Kansas City. At this point, it was decided that only the Romanian Deacon Grepashewsky would travel to Galveston with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos; and Bishop Nicholas and the other two Deacons would go on to San Francisco. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos stopped in Hartshorne, American Indian Territory, Oklahoma to have Liturgy for a group of Russian Miners, just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma before reaching Galveston.
The distances from Galveston to either San Francisco or New York are about 1600 miles. Although his rightful rank was high, which gave him the right to consecrate his own chapel including the right to wear a Mitre (Crown, but with a flat, not standing Cross on top) and carry a Pastoral Staff (Bishop’s Staff); he lived his life in Galveston as a meager Monk, teacher, and Pastoral Priest. The Church Congregation never paid Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, because he received his pay directly from the Tsar (1500 rubels a month and 500 rubels as expenses; about $120 total, at that time) until Arch. Fr. Theoclitos passed away in 1916, a year and a half before Tsar Nicholas II and his Family were murdered.
The Trustees of The Existing Congregation Board (Chris Vucovich, Chris Chuoke, Athurs Menutis and Mitchael Mihaloudski) formally received their State Corporation Papers on January 13, 1895 and subsequently purchased a 43’ wide x 120’ deep property that is at 4107 Avenue L, Galveston, Texas on December 15, 1895. They started to build a rectangular wood frame Orthodox styled Church, and when Arch. Fr. Theoclitos arrived, in January of 1896, he directed the finishing of the Church. The congregation was astonished to be blessed with an Archimandrite and a Deacon, not just a Priest, and best of all he was somewhat of a linguist.
In Galveston, all properties faced either North-west or South-east, so they had chosen property that leaves our Church unusually facing South-east. And, although the Icon of Saint Nicholas was placed in the Iconostas to Honor Tsar Nicholas II as the Patron of the Church; it was Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision to use the name S. S. Constantine and Helen Church, because the congregation that started on its own should be remembered. Bishop Nicholas was invited and he accepted; and the Consecration of our church occurred on June 3rd 1896, the feast day of Sts Constantine and Helen. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision on the name of the Church, was not unusual with him. He was known to have baptized children with names other than their parents had asked for. My mother’s name was to be Ruza, Serbian for Rose, but he baptized her as Sophia which her parents accepted without question, and gave my mother and others an unusual lifelong connection to their Archimandrite. But then, his guidance and decisions were always accepted by his congregation. There have never been any questions of his guidance that were ever passed down through the years even though we Eastern Europeans have always loved a good argument. He had services in the Slavonic, Greek and Arabic languages. It was as though his congregation was standing with a Saint.
In 1897, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos purchased a 36 plot track in the Lake View Cemetery as a gift to his Congregation. He buried his flock in the next consecutive plot, without regard to couples or children or any Relationship, because he saw them as one congregational family.
In early 1897, Bishop Nicholas replaced Deacon Grepashewsky with a young Russian Monk, Fr. Mikhail Kurdinovski to allow Arch. Fr. Theoclitos time to travel and invited Arch. Fr. Theoclitos to San Francisco to speak in the Greek language on the mounting losses of the Cretan insurgents in their revolution against Ottoman rule. Bishop Nicholas had to be acutely aware that his Archimandrite was the highest ranking Greek born Clergyman in America. While in route, we know that he also served Liturgy again in Oklahoma; and in Denver, Colorado. After his sermon in San Francisco he was asked to traveled with Fr. (later, Archimandrite) Sebastian Dabovich (currently being considered for Canonization as a Saint), to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where they served Liturgy in Slavonic, Greek and Arabic in both cities. He again traveled to San Francisco in 1898, to participate in the installation of Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, as the new Bishop, replacing Bishop Nicholas of the Aleutians and Alaska (Diocesan name was changed in 1900 to Diocese of the Aleutians and North America). Although little is known about it, Bishop Tikhon visited our parish in 1899, for the first of two visits.
It’s known that Arch. Fr. Theoclitos traveled extensively on the Gulf Coast going as far east as Mobile, Alabama, as far south as Corpus Christi, Texas, and into the interior north to Ft. Worth, San Antonio, San Angelo and Austin Texas, performing Marriages and Baptisms and serving Liturgy where ever he found our Orthodox Christians. In 1897, The Wiemar, Texas newspaper had an article about him; where he borrowed the local Catholic Church in LaGrange, Texas to perform the wedding of a Greek Couple. The writer (obviously Protestant) posted the short article that follows.
Weimar Mercury, 29 Jan 1898: “LaGrange, Tex., Jan. 25, –Married today, Mr, Abraham John to Miss Zeche Nemer, both Greek, at the Catholic Church by Rev. Theoclitos (Archimandrite of the Orthodox Church), Galveston, Tex. A very large crowd attended the ceremonies, which were ‘somewhat of a novelty,’ no such ceremonies having ever been performed here.”
Our Church Board additionally purchased a like adjoining property west of the Church doubling the size of the property in early 1900. But, in his 66th year, on September 8th 1900, Galveston Island was hit by the greatest natural disaster in United States history when the massive Hurricane of 1900 came ashore. The Island was almost totally destroyed (est. of 8,000 to 12,000 deaths of a population of 30,000, which included 24 members of the congregation. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and Fr. Mikhail spent 30 hrs in the church praying and giving refuge to parishioners and neighbors that sought safety in the church. After the storm had passed, the Church structure was still standing although it had floated to the west about 10 feet partially onto the additional property just purchased. Those that were with him in the church believed Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his church had truly saved their lives. The congregation gathered and raised the Church, repaired the damage and early in 1902 petitioned Bishop Tikhon, who had since moved the headquarters of the Diocese to New York, to visit and Re-consecrate their repaired Church. Bishop Tikhon accepted and arrived shortly before services on June 3rd 1903. This event made Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his congregation’s church not only patronized by, but also consecrated by future Saints of Orthodoxy. By order of Tsar Nicholas II, Bishop Tikhon bestowed on Arch. Fr. Theoclitos the Royal Honors of (1) the Order Of St. Vladimir and (2) the Order of St. Anne (in his picture, the ribbon and cross like medallion around the neck to his right side is the order of St. Vladimir, the ribbon and medallion around the neck to his left side is the Order of St. Anne and the necklet with the large medallion was awarded him upon attaining his Graduate Degree in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy.
While in Galveston, Bishop Tikhon visited the cemetery, and became aware that it was filling fast. As a gift to the Congregation, Bishop Tikhon,who was later made Patriarch of Moscow, purchased 27 additional plots next to the original cemetery track. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and the Church continued with a new influx of immigrants coming to Galveston each year, even purchasing another 21’ to the west of the Church. Although he did keep constant communications with the Diocese, it is not clear whether he ever met with Archbishop Platon of New York, who replaced Bishop Tikhon.
He was known to include the Romanov Royal Family each week in the Liturgy, as: (1) word of Tsar Nicholas II’s son, Alexander’s affliction with hemophilia began to spread, (2) World War I was building and (3) talk of revolution against the Tsar was in the news from time to time. Also, because of our multi-ethnic culture in Galveston, the shot by Serbian Gavrilo Princip that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, (believed to be the shot that started World War I, was heard loudly in our Church making the War and the assassination more than an important issue.
On weekly trips to the business district, the neighborhood children would gather on the church steps and wait for his return. He would always have a large bag full of fruit and the latest sweets for them, saving a large portion for his parish children. He became acquainted with many people during his years in Galveston and was thought of respectfully, while they became somewhat enchanted with his customary meager but stoic Orthodox Monastic ways. He was a constant visitor to St. Mary’s Infirmary (the local Catholic Hospital) and John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Following his heart, as the Apostle St. Paul guided him through his Name Day St. Hierotheos, he was known to give Confession, Baptizism and Communion to anyone who professed to be Christian. He truly became a friend to many families, who felt his visits to their loved ones in the hospital made those loved ones better. He converted to Orthodoxy many of these families: the Dambido family, the Matthews family and the Lelirra family to name a few.
In 1911, the Galveston-Houston Inter-Urban Train was instituted, allowing many of our Orthodox Christians in Houston (50 miles north and largely Greek and Lebanese) an ease of access to Galveston for Sunday Liturgy. The trains were one or multiple electric cars that ran from downtown Houston to downtown Galveston, and you could get on or off at any time. So, our members could get off, then on again, less than 800 feet north of the Church on the main road into Galveston. It was still a 75 minute trip, one way, but it was an inexpensive way for our Houston parishioners to get to church from time to time. It was later discontinued in 1936.
And then, in his 81st year, the Island was hit by another devastating Hurricane in August of 1915. Again, Arch. Fr Theoclitos and others prayed in the Church. This storm was even more tenuous for them, but never was anyone in the church lost in any storm. The Church floated to the north about 50 feet into the street, and the front wall was torn open and the Gospel given by Tsar Nicholas II was found by parishioner George Mandich another 200 feet away in the city cemetery across from the Church, miraculously with very little water damage. The congregation repaired the Church and moved it back into place with mule and muscle.
The parish again, needed more future graves. This time, as a religious benevolent society, they purchased their own private Cemetery in the western part of the city, about a quarter mile from the other cemetery. The land was far larger (would easily accommodate about 300 graves) and would meet their needs for long years into the future. But they also divided it into two sections, the Greeks to one side, and the Serbians and other Slavs on the other.
Later in the following year, the Church was hit by the loss of their 21 year life with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, just short of his 83rd year, on October 22nd 1916. He had become gravely ill six weeks before. He somehow knew his time was near, and had the Diocese notified of his illness, and he asked parish leaders to find a way for them to bury him under the Altar of the Church. It was his belief that his grave would, by its nature, cause the Church to continue at the location for centuries into the future. He passed to his Creator at 8:15 in the evening, in St. Mary’s Infirmary Hospital. With the help of Church leaders, his body was prepared by Malloy & Sons Funeral Home, but the parishioners then took the body to the church and stood vigil over his remains continually, until his Funeral. The New Archbishop Evdokim of New York ordered his Diocesan Secretary, Archpriest Fr. Peter I. Popoff (who had been one of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ companions on the trip from Russia), and two others of his Diocesan Council members; Fr. Louniky Kraskoff of Denver, Colorado (whom he had visited with on trips to San Francisco) and Hieromonk Fr. Paul Chubaroff of Hartshorne, Oklahoma to immediately travel to Galveston so that Our Beloved Archimandrite would be religiously cared for. They finally arrived in Galveston six days later, on the morning of October 28th. Hierarchical Funeral Services were held that afternoon at 2:00 P.M. During the six week wait, the Parish Board had received permission from the County Judge to place his remains under the Church’s Altar and workers prepared the Concrete Vault that was required by the Judge for his casket to be encased, where it remains today. As Arch. Fr. Theoclitos requested in his will, his Cross and Medals were all taken to Archbishop Evdokim by Archpriest Popoff.
In the following years our Church was served by numerous short-term or as they were called in those days, traveling Priests. In 1929, the parishioners, spear-headed by Petar B. Kovacevich, built a wood frame Hall (32’ X 75’) with a parish home above, in hopes of having a Priest and his family, stay in Galveston. It helped, but, in 1933, our Greek brethren gathered and purchased their own Church, The Assumption of The Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. Our parishes have helped each other thru the years, whenever either was without a Priest or there was a time of need, as our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos would expect of us.
The Hierarchs of the Church in those years were Archbishop Alexander, Metropolitan Platon, and Metropolitan Theophilus.
In 1934, Fr. Alexis Revera and his family arrived in Galveston and stayed for 27 years. In 1948, the parish decided it was time for the Church to receive some upgrades, mainly in the form of cosmetics. Wing additions were added to the elevated Altar area, the interior was totally painted, Stain Glass windows were added, hard wood flooring, a new roof coving, and the old siding was covered with a light brown brick; work was completed in 1949. The parish petitioned the Diocese, and in 1950, the newly elected Metropolitan Leonty, traveled to our fare city to re-consecrate the Church. Air-conditioning was added in the 1960.
In 1962, it had become apparent that the community was almost totally made up of Serbians. Metropolitan Leonty and Bishop Dionisije (right) of the Serbian Diocese met and sealed an agreement that put our beloved Church under the Serbian Diocese, while the Russian Diocese would receive under its control the Church in Billings, Montana, which was started by Serbian Bishop Nikolai (Canonized a Saint by the Serbian Orthodox Synod in 2003,) and Archimandrite Fr. Sabatian Dabovich; but had over the years become almost totally Russian. They further agreed to guide these two parishes to remain multi-ethic and services were to be in both English and Slavonic and should include a litany of any other languages when needed for other ethnic parishioners.
In 1964, the Texas Highway Department was working on plans to expand the street next to the cemetery into a 6 lane highway. They were intending to put an over-pass over the Serbian Section. Two parish leaders, Ilija P. Kovacevich and John N. Milosevich went to the highway department with their plan to move the Serbian Section at the Highway Department’s expense. The Highway Department agreed. So, it became the work of parishioners; lead by local Constable and parishioner Sam Popovich to get every relative of a loved one in the Serbian section to sign the necessary papers. The highway department would provide 6 times the land they were taking and would bare all expenses of exhumation and reburial; where a solid caskets or a vault was not found, the earthen material would be placed in a vault to be transported; and the Priest would attend and be paid for a service of exhumation and re-burial for each grave. The new cemetery is much like a Church with a center aisle and rows of graves to each side; with small side-walks between the rows and an Alter table at the front.
In 1978 our Parish came under the Jurisdiction of one of its own, Serbian Bishop Christopher. The First American Born Bishop to serve an American Diocese. He was born and raised in Galveston and had been ordained a Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1949. With his leadership, the congregation has prospered through the past 30 years, with him becoming Metropolitan in 1991.
Now we have been hit by another devastating Hurricane “IKE,” which came ashore on September 12, 2008. Our Church sustained minor damage with only a few inches of water inside and some wind damage (no doubt that our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos mystically was riding out the storm in his Sanctuary). But our Hall was in 3 feet of water. The old wood frame structure was left structurally unsound. The Parish decided to fix the Church first. We then had the old hall destroyed, and are planning to break ground on a new hall in early 2010. Our Greek Brothers and Sisters didn’t fare as well; their beautiful Church was inundated with 8 feet of sea water. The masonry of the Church and hall structurally survived, but the interiors didn’t make it. They are without a Priest, but have managed to somewhat re-do their Church and are working to completion. During this time, they have attended Liturgy on Sundays with us, and now that their Church is presentable, our priest Fr. Srdjan Veselinovich has liturgy on Saturdays for them.
In 2009 our parish was placed under the jurisdiction of His Grace, Serbian Bishop Longin, ending an over 40 year schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. Interestingly, His Grace Bishop Longin and Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, both received Graduate Degrees in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery (name changed to Zagorsk Monastery in 1930).
And so, 168 years after the first parish meeting in Galveston, Texas, we beseech Our Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides; his friends Archimandrite Saint Raphael Hawaweeny and Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich; Our Patrons Saints Tsar Nicholas II and Saint Trazistza Alexandra, Our First Metropolitan and Patriarch Saint Tikhon Bellavin, our first Serbian American Bishop Saint Nikolai Velimirovich and all those who with the Saints have guided our Parish in their goodness, to intercede on our behalf for yet another Century of existence.
From 1895 -2010, the Church-School Congregation of SS. Constantine and Helen was served by the following priests:
Archimandrite Theoclitos (Greek) 1895-1916
Father Michael Andreades (Greek) 1916-1918
Father John Shamie (Lebanese) 1918-1920
Father George Palamarchuk (Serbian) 1920-1925
Father Marko Dimitrieff (Greek) 1925-1926
Father Pavel Markovich (Serbian) 1927-1928
Father George Milosavljevich (Serbian) 1928-1929
Father Joakim Tkoch (Russian) 1929-1934
Father Alexis Revera (Russian) 1934-1961
Father Damaskin Susjnar (Serbian) 1961-1965
Iguman Mitrofan Kresejovich (Serbian) 1965-1968
Father Jovan Trisich (Serbian) 1968-1969
Father, Dr. Tihomir Pantich (Serbian) 1969-1971
Father Constantine Pazalos (Serbian), (Greek Born) 1971-1982
Father Svetozar Veselinovich (Serbian) 1982-1985
Father Zarko Mirkovich (Serbian) 1985-1987
Father Dragan K. Veleusic (Serbian) 1987-1992
Father Oleg Vifliantsev (Serbian), (Russian Born) 1992-1994
Father Dane Popovich (Serbian) 1994-1994
Father Dejan Tiosavljevich (Serbian) 1994-1995
Father Srdjan Veselinovich (Serbian) 1995-Present
Fr. Theoclitos performed Marriages and Baptisms, and Celebrated Liturgies in the following locations in America:
City/Town and Approx. Distance from Galveston
New York, New York 1416 miles
Washington, D.C. 1213 miles
Hartsborne, Oklahoma 380 miles
Dallas, Texas 269 miles
Ft. Worth, Texas 281 miles
San Angelo, Texas 363 miles
New Braunfels, Texas 199 miles
La Grange, Texas 132 miles
Galveston, Texas 0 miles
Houston, Texas 50 miles
Beaumont, Texas 90 miles
Eagle Lake, Texas 93 miles
Seattle, Washington 1937 miles
Portland, Oregon 1881 miles
San Francisco, California 1686 miles
Denver, Colorado 928 miles
New Orleans, Louisiana 287 miles
Lake Charles, Louisiana 117 miles
Mobile, Alabama 414 miles
Biloxi, Mississippi 362 miles
Port Lavaca, Texas 122 miles
Polacios, Texas 86 miles
Corpus Christi, Texas 181 miles
San Antonio, Texas 216 miles
Waco, Texas 209 miles
Austin, Texas 191 miles
Cameron, Louisana 81 miles
Rockport, Texas 154 miles
Indianola, Texas 35 miles
Brazos, Texas 60 miles
Sabine, Texas 75 miles
Approximate total missionary miles of work: over 25,000 by train or horse and buggy. 31 locations in 11 States in 21 Years.
Extreme Post Script:
In retrospect, this writer remains in awe, that The Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides may truly be “The Forgotten” First Greek-American saint. He was the answer to our predecessors’ every prayer. He traveled extensively on a global basis to serve the religious needs of many. He provided the “Connecting Link” for our multi-ethnic American lives, and through the teachings of Orthodoxy and his God-Given Art of Language, he lead us on the path of Saint Paul, the Apostle, past the ever separating ethnic divide.