Posts tagged Isabel Hapgood
A couple of weeks ago, we reprinted St. Alexander Hotovitzky’s 1904 account of his meeting with St. John of Kronstadt. Nearly a decade earlier, the famous translator Isabel Hapgood wrote her own profile of St. John — then known as Fr. John Sergieff, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Kronstadt. The article appeared in The Independent on August 8, 1895. I’m reprinting it here in full:
Father John, of Kronstadt, who prayed with the late Emperor of Russia on his deathbed and comforted his sorrowing family, is one of the most famous men in Russia, in a quiet and peculiar way. So famous is he that Olelz Joann — Father Joann, is no more likely to be mistaken for indicating any other Priest John out of the multitudes who bear that name, than is the man himself, after one sight of him, to be mistaken for any other priest. For the last ten years, at least, he has held a unique place in Russian society and Russian hearts. I had something of an experience with him precisely in one of the directions which have rendered him famous and beloved. I confess that I do not yet quite know what to make of it. One day, in an Imperial summer resort about sixteen miles from St. Petersburg, I saw a large crowd assembled in front of a house and gazing with rapt eagerness at the door and at a carriage drawn up before it. Crowds thus gazing are not usual in Russia, except when royalty is expected. But I knew that that house belonged to a merchant, and that royalty would hardly be calling there; moreover, the private equipage, the handsome, did not bear the stamp of even the plainest imperial turnout. On inquiry, I found that “Father Joann, of Kronstadt,” was visiting a sick person in the house, and that the people were patiently waiting for a glimpse of him. They were too eager to tell me more, and I was too busy to lie in wait for “an ordinary priest,” as I put it to myself. However, I began to ask questions. I heard a very great deal, but was puzzled by the attempt to make even a small part of it fit in with the photographs of the man which I saw everywhere, and to which hitherto I had paid no attention. The pictures represented a man apparently about forty years of age, with long, smooth hair, and none of the waving locks, graceful beard or picturesqueness possessed by many Russian priests. His eyes arrested my attention; they seemed to be light in color, and peculiar in expression. That was all.
What did I hear of him? What did I not hear! And from people of every rank and degree of intelligence. Princesses and countesses assured me that he performed miracles of healing, by a mere touch, that he read one’s past at a glance, and foretold the future. Princes and counts — I mention titles by way of labeling ranks and prejudices broadly — declared that he had a way of picking out skeptical and hardened young men in a large company, which he saw for the first time, and not only winning their hearts with a few gentle words, but sending them home repentant and reformed. People in the artistic and literary class hesitated to condemn him, even when they believed in little else. Sisters of Charity, semi-religious, servants, peasants, all devoutly believed in any power which might be ascribed to the man; and many members of all these classes had personal experiences with him to relate in confirmation of their beliefs, or cures, partial or complete, which they had witnessed, to allege in proof. It was regarded as an immense honor to be singled out in a company and addressed by Father Joann; and a friend of mine told me, in open triumph, that he had once walked up to her and kissed her with a holy kiss. It meant some sort of blessing, but precisely what she had not decided. Not another priest in Russia could have kissed a woman of the highest society in company like that and escaped the natural consequences, much less have been thanked for such a flagrant breach of propriety in general, and in particular, of the propriety which regards the whole priestly class as inferior, a thing apart, not to be invited to dinner with one’s first-class friends and the like.
The plain facts, as I eventually sifted them out, were these: Father Joann is a man about twenty years older than he looks. He is a parish priest in Kronstadt, the fortified island about twenty miles from St. Petersburg, where the river Neva enters the Gulf of Finland, and almost opposite the Imperial summer resort, Peterhoff. Whether his wife (all parish priests must be married before they are ordained), weary of his eccentricities and carelessness of material interests, really separated from him, as rumor declared, I do not know. His ways with money were — and probably are still — enough to vex a saint. Whatever any one gives him “in Christ’s name, for the poor,” he takes, and thrusts into his pocket without looking at it. Equally without looking at it, he hands over the whole, be it a fat roll of bankbills, or a few bits of silver, to the next person who begs of him; and his own little stipend goes in the same way. Result — an undeserving, plausible scamp may get a thousand rubles from Father Joann, and a worthy sufferer may get next to nothing. This is regarded by Father Joann’s admirers as saintly; but a little mathematics and discrimination would not interfere with the essential quality of his nimbus, as I ventured to remark occasionally, getting plenty of frowns for my hardness of heart.
Several weeks after my first knowledge of Father Joann had prompted my interest, as I have described, I was driving from Oranienbaum palace to the wharf to take the steamer for Kronstadt, when I met a very ordinary looking merchant’s wife in a carriage with a priest, also ordinary, I thought — until he looked at me. I was startled — why, I could not tell. I asked, on the steamer, if Father Joann had just come over, and found that the strange priest was really the man in search of whom my trip to Kronstadt in great part had been undertaken, as the forts are inaccessible to visitors, the docks are soon seen, and the town itself is uninteresting. His absence was short, however, and I went to early mass to see him officiate. That is considered a rare sight and a privilege, and always attracts great crowds. He was very quiet, very impressive, very “intense.” His peculiar eyes, and manner of floating about rather than walking, would have riveted my attention had I never heard about him. The throngs which were waiting for a word with him, and his habit of slipping away to avoid people, suggested to me the advisability of seeking him at his hospital. It is due to Father Joann to say, that his Faith Cure hospital was established by his admirers, not by him, as he lays no claim to miraculous powers. At the hospital I was received by a young priest, who declared that there were no patients on hand; that Father Joann never came there unless someone needed him; but that he might happen to come in at any minute if I were ill, and that he was going to St. Petersburg by the next boat. I have omitted to state that, altho nominally attached to the parish in Kronstadt, Father Joann is in such great demand that he is, on the whole, more rarely to be found there than elsewhere; and that when his coming is expected he can take his choice from among the aristocratic carriages whose owners throng to the wharf, in the hope that they might be thus honored.
The young priest was decidedly uppish, and I was retreating in great doubt and displeasure when a nun entered to beg for her convent. She was one of the lay sisters, with “reform” petticoats nearly on a level with her knees, and stout, masculine boots meeting them, who swarm all about churches, shops, markets and places where money abounds. The young priest made short work with her persuasive whine, and gave me a delicious glimpse of his character.
“See here, you,” said he; “didn’t you come here begging before? I know your face. Get out!”
She whined on; but he, cleaning his finger nails the while, raised his brows superciliously, and repeated:
“Get out of here this moment, I tell you.”
“And won’t you even give me your blessing?”
He fairly flung a blessing at her, pushed his hand against her lips for the regulation kiss of gratitude, jerked it away, and went on with his nails. His behavior convinced me that Father Joann really was not in the house, or immediately expected, to witness such proceedings; and I departed without reluctance, tho greatly disappointed.
I sought Father Joann no more. It seemed hopeless. But many months later, I met him in a railway carriage quite unexpectedly, and recognized him at once. His clear, brilliant blue eyes were very searching, but gentle, and in nowise alarming seen thus at short range. He looked through me for a moment, then grasped one of my hands firmly in his, and softly patted me on the shoulder with the other, in an unconventional manner which must have aroused the envy of all the Russians who beheld the scene. After standing thus for what seemed to me a long time under the scrutiny of those eyes, he tightened his clasp on my hand and said: “You will have strength; yes, you will have strength!” Then he blessed me — a voluntary blessing from him is regarded as an honor and prophetic of good fortune — gently refused the handkiss due him, and clasped both my hands instead. That is a fair and characteristic specimen of a favorable interview with Father Joann, and of his prophecies. Like the prophecies of the Delphic oracle, one has to live through the fate before it is possible to interpret it. Now, so far as my own case is concerned, I can believe that his prophecy has come true, if I choose so to believe. Events have taken place since in which I have required much strength, and in which I have, most unquestionably, had all that Father Joann or the Delphic oracle could have demanded. But, to tell the truth, before guaranteeing the prophetic powers of Father Joann, I should require some sort of proof that he foresaw precisely that complicated set of circumstances, and foretold the strength precisely in that connection and in no other. Of course, that is just the point which never can be proved; but I am content with having had such a sight of this singular individual.
You might wonder, why am I reprinting these articles about St. John of Kronstadt — who, after all, never left Russia — on a website devoted to the history of Orthodoxy in the Americas?
It is difficult, a century later, to understand the fame of St. John. He was the most famous Orthodox priest in the world, and in the West, he might have been the most famous Orthodox clergyman, period — patriarchs included. How to illustrate this… Of course, he was covered by all the big papers – the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post. But it went beyond that. In 1891, the Idaho Avalanche devoted nearly a full column on its front page to a description of St. John. Papers in Wisconsin, Oregon, Ohio, and Georgia wrote about his miracles. The Iowa City Citizen reported that a blind man received his sight at St. John’s funeral. The Boston Globe called him Russia’s “uncrowned pope.” His diary, My Life in Christ, was translated into English and distributed in America. For many Americans, Father Ioann, or Ivan, or John, simply was Orthodoxy. No comparable figure exists today; probably, no comparable figure could exist. The American press reported on St. John like you would expect them to report on a superhero. We will never see the like again.
And then, of course, there are the obvious connections between St. John and American Orthodoxy. St. Alexander Hotovitzky, the leading priest in the Russian Mission, had a personal audience with him. And before she had ever laid eyes on St. Tikhon, Isabel Hapgood had shaken hands with St. John. The great priest was a regular subject in the official magazine of the Russian Mission. And St. John himself took a personal interest in American Orthodoxy, sending money to support the building of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. (If you visit there, they have a great icon of the saints of the cathedral — founders Tikhon and Alexander; those who served there: Raphael, John of Chicago, and Alexis Toth; and their financial benefactors Tsar Nicholas II and St. John of Kronstadt.)
Although he never set foot on American soil, one might reasonably number St. John among the saints of North America. And because of his importance, we’ll have much more to come on his life, from an American perspective.
“Self righteousness. Self assuredness. Emphasising unity of administration. Not understanding the importance of Church music. The Freemason Conspiracy Theory. Aggressiveness…..”
The other day, I happened upon an online discussion of Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and his dislike of Isabel Hapgood. One commentator, whom I would credit if I knew his/her real name, said, “I understand that Fr. Nathaniel Irvine is called the ‘Prophet of American Orthodoxy’. Reading his quotes, all I can say is mores the pity for American Orthodoxy.” When asked to clarify, the commentator offered the above list of criticisms: “Self righteousness. Self assuredness. Emphasising unity of administration. Not understanding the importance of Church music. The Freemason Conspiracy Theory. Aggressiveness…..”
I found this response to be intriguing, in that it largely parallels the critiques that many of Irvine’s contemporaries would have offered against him. Was he self-righteous and self-assured? Having read a huge number of his writings (both private and public), I would certainly call him “confident,” but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say he was those other things. He did stake out a position and fight for it; what’s striking is that he usually turned out to be right.
Take the “emphasizing unity of administration” critique. Nowadays, more and more American Orthodox Christians realize that unity of church administration is extremely important. Shoot, it’s not just American Orthodox Christians — the recent Chambesy decision indicates that the Mother Churches agree, and, frankly, “unity of administration” is enshrined in the ancient canons themselves. Back in Irvine’s day, many (and probably most) American Orthodox Christians would have said that unity of administration was not really important. Ethnic and nationlistic interests were just too strong then, and only a few (such as Irvine and St. Tikhon) really got the picture. I find it odd that someone today would criticize Irvine for emphasizing administrative unity, but it would have been an unsurprising critique a hundred years ago.
“Not understanding the importance of Church music”? Isabel Hapgood certainly would have agreed with that one, but Irvine’s own response to Hapgood shows that his position was rather nuanced. He did, in fact, understand and appreciate the importance of music in the Church, but he didn’t think it should take precedence over missionary and pastoral efforts.
“The Freemason Conspiracy Theory”? I have yet to print Irvine’s entire letter against Aftimios Ofiesh’s consecration, but I can tell you that Irvine speaks from experience, having had problems with a Freemason bishop’s divided loyalties when he was an Episcopal priest. Come to think of it, that’s why Orthodox priests (and laity) are not allowed to be members of secret societies — such societies divide one’s loyalty, which should be to God and the Church.
I particularly like the “aggressiveness” critique, because, of course, Irvine was aggressive. Aren’t all prophets? Prophets speak the hard but necessary word to the people of God, and to people in power. They do so without regard for their personal well-being. This is why I referred to Irvine as a “prophet.” I didn’t mean to equate him with the Biblical prophets, but rather to illustrate (perhaps too dramatically) that he was one of those rare individuals who could see what was wrong and what needed to happen, say what needed to be said, and care not a bit about the negative consequences to himself. Irvine was “loud,” as he himself admitted; at the same time, he spoke “lovingly,” with the aim not simply to attack but to correct. He pushed for the use of English. He rebuked Syrian parents for keeping their children out of church on Sundays, and for letting them attend Protestant and Roman Catholic services rather than Orthodox ones. He spoke out against the beloved Isabel Hapgood when she claimed that a good choir was worth more than twenty “little new parishes,” and he argued against the consecration of Aftimios Ofiesh, who would indeed prove to be unworthy of the episcopate. Irvine may not have been right one hundred percent of the time, but he was right pretty darned often, and you can bet that if he were alive today, he’d be just as vocal and just as polarizing.
Last week, I posted Isabel Hapgood’s 1915 article in which she begged Archbishop Evdokim, “Please let us have a splendid choir!” She said, in part, “The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.”
The whole article is well worth reading, as it gives a fascinating insight into Hapgood’s personality. And it was a personality that Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine could not stand one bit. Irvine, who was always ready to defend Orthodoxy against any and all threats, responded forcefully in a lengthy reply to the editor in the next issue of the Vestnik (Messenger, September 23, 1915). I’m reprinting that letter — entitled, “The Choir and the Church” — and afterwards, I’ll offer some comments.
I am sure I would be untrue to both my priesthood and citizenship if I were to remain silent and not respectfully protest against the unchurchly and unpatriotic letter written by Miss Isabella F. Hapgood and published in our official magazine — the Russian Orthodox American Messenger of August 20th (Sept. 2d) of this year.
Miss Hapgood says, “The Cathedral Choir, properly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your (the Archbishop’s) Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.” This statement is a gross insult both to the Archbishop and to the whole Orthodox Priesthood in the United States. I refrain from speaking my full mind in reference to the blasphemous insult to the Holy Ghost whose voice is heard in every “little new” parish through the Right Hand of the Incarnation, namely, the Priesthood.
Such a letter, my beloved and learned friend, has already done harm. I noticed this insult to the priesthood myself last Sunday, but since then others have called my attention to the fact, — men outside the Orthodox Church.
Our Archbishop was not called by the Holy Ghost to consecrate Choir Leaders for roving Singing-Bands to help and please new Orthodox churchgoers — “Episcopalians” and Protestants in general to whom Miss Hapgood refers. The thoughtful of such respectable Bodies believe that, he came to America for a different purpose, viz; to oversee and represent the Mother Church of Christendom and perpetuate her Priesthood as well as see that, Houses of Worship were erected all over the land in which the Doctrines of Jesus Christ were preached.
Music is a luxury, but the “Bread of Life,” distributed through “twenty little new parishes,” is a necessity.
Christ and His Holy Apostles went forth, and sent forth their representatives, without Singing Bands to tickle “itching ears,” or please the sensual — Eternal Truths were the Themes then: — “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” — Salvation alone through the Blood of Jesus Csrist [sic]. — Repent and believe the Gospel. Except ye are Baptized, and eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Son of God ye shall not have Eternal Life. Today, the Themes are as necessary as ever.
Music is a grand expression of the feelings of the heart, — but it can, even in sacred art, be the generator of sensuality. Every cord [sic] whether minor or otherwise falling upon unconverted ears can suggest to the unsanctified souls the evil passions of this fallen nature. Who dares to deny this? Is our beloved Archbishop to be used as a medium of this world — devised, secular or sensual plans just for the sake of commercialists? I doubt it. He is too true and noble an Ecclesiastic to be misguided by Miss Hapgood in such an important matter. He is too loving a Chief Pastor to “let the falsehood spread that one good choir is worth twenty little new parishes.” Why, Oh, why, was such a letter as that of Miss Hapgood’s published? It is easier to spread an error than to correct it. The evil is done. The Orthodox are made a laughing stock to the pious Christians of both Protestant and Roman bodies. We have elevated Music above the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, – Miss Hapgood’s Musical heresy; — we have done it to the extent, at least, of publishing her letter.
Besides, please remember, Miss Hapgood is a Protestant. We do not desire to be ungracious, but there is not an Orthodox in America who would presume to dictate to Bishop Greer or any of the Protestant Episcopal Hierarchy that they should retard the growth of the parochial system and substitute a Musical propaganda instead.
We have in the United States, and especially connected with St. Nicholas Cathedral, Orthodox ladies capable of doing any thing, that is of any practical use, for the advancement of the Church. It would be ungallant to mention, in print their names, — but I can compare them with the ladies of any other portion of the Church in Christendom. Let us give them a chance to show what they can do. Let no overestimated wings of the outside world lower down upon their talents and over-cloud them. They are extremely modest for the reason that they are not in their native land. Yet I may assure them, as an American citizen, their adopted home needs such lov[e]liness and depth as well as lady-like sensativeness [sic] as are manifested in both them and their daughters who are being raised up in our midst.
But there is another point against, which I am solemnly protesting — Miss Hapgood’s unwarrantable statement as follows: — ["]For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia.” This, indeed, is not so. Why suggest that, so serious, of which we are doubtful?
America, as a Government “by the people and for the people” has always listened to “favorable remarks about Russia”; — has always looked upon Russia as her sincere friend, and has ever felt grateful to that great Empire for it’s [sic] silent yet impressive influence, in her behalf, at the most crucial times of our national history. Any learned reader of political history will recall what Russia did with her ships and guns, long ago, in solemn silence, in our waters when nations, more akin to us in blood, were only too anxious to see our Union disrupted.
We must draw a vast distinction between jingoists and Americans, between a Judaically subsidized press which has often mis-represented Russia to us and us to Russia, and that of the real thought and writings of intellectual and broadminded citizens. We too, must learn that, when a Unitarian President of the United States signed the abrogation of the Treaty between Russia and this country at the instance of the Judaically-influenced Congressman who was Chairman of the “Committee on Foreign Relations” that that President and that Congressman, as well as that whole Administration, were wiped out politically. And if, today, that Treaty were in existance [sic] the abrogation of it would be voted down in Congress like if it were the suggestion of an evil genius. We Americans love the Slavs. The revelations of despotic acts in their great Empire are no darker pages in history than what is goign on in the United States at this moment under mob law and grafters. We have nothing to boast over Russia. That great and mighty Empire consecrated to the service of the Blessed Trinity may not have stamped on her coins “In God We Trust” yet her sons and daughters have engraved upon their hearts the love of Jesus Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom which, alas, cannot be said of us as a Nation. When our star is waning Russia’s will be high in its meridian.
A few words more. I love music. But I may add, — never can any church choir equal a great organization such as the “Boston Symphony” or any other body so constituted of thoroughly trained Artists and Professionalists. A church choir is made up of members of mixed ages to lead in devotional exercises. A musical organization, such as Miss Hapgood requests, is for a wholly different matter — purely commercial purposes, however otherwise it may advance the Art of Music. They can neither be compared nor interchanged.
I dare not express my opinion of Miss Hapgood’s egotistical sentence — “I am going to be frank. There is no one else who can tell you (Archbishop) about the American public and the conditions connected with concerts as well as I can.”
I am afraid that our beloved Archbishop will be tempted after we have begun to revere him, to make preparations to leave us. Who would like to stay in a country where there was but one (lady) out of 100,000,000 souls that knows all? Shame, shame, shame on America! Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar. This time it must not be a trifling gold watch and chain but a diadem of gold beset with most precious jewels. By this time, I take it, — several copies of the Messenger are on their road to Russia to prepare the way for the presentation. I beg of the Orthodox ladies not to grow jealous. It is their own fault and in fact the fault of all of us that we are still ignoramuses. Why have we not had a few talents given to us, — one at least?
I remain, my Very Rev. Brother,
Faithfully and Lovingly Yours,
Ingram N.W. Irvine
A couple of comments. In this letter, Irvine juxtaposes a woman he obviously views as snobbish and prideful with the quiet, modest women from the Cathedral. I have no reason to think that Irvine was a misogynist, but he did apparently feel that Hapgood was being quite un-ladylike in her bold approach to the Russian Archbishop. Furthermore, Hapgood bears at least some resemblance to Emma Elliott, Irvine’s former Episcopalian parishioner who used her connections to have Irvine defrocked by his Episcopal bishop in 1900.
There may also have been a touch of jealousy. “Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar,” Irvine sarcastically remarks. He, after all, had given his life to Orthodoxy and was doing thankless work among immigrants, while Hapgood was receiving international acclaim and living comfortably. And it has remained so to this day: Hapgood is practically a household name among American Orthodox Christians, despite not being Orthodox herself, while Irvine, whose work was at least equal in significance, has been almost completely forgotten.
On Wednesday, I posted a collection of quotations from Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Among them was this, on the famous translator Isabel Hapgood: “That vixen Miss Hapgood. What a liar — she has damned the Church for years.” Over on our Facebook page, Michael Beck asked the very reasonable question, “What was his deal with Isabel Hapgood? I’ve never heard anyone mention her with anything less than praise.”
Today, Isabel Hapgood is remembered by Orthodox Christians for her groundbreaking translation of the Service Book. But she did more than that — she was a prolific translator and writer, with multiple books and countless articles to her credit. She was trusted by some of the leading Orthodox churchmen of her day — St. Tikhon, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, Constantine Pobedonostsev (the Ober Procurator of the Russian Holy Synod). And yet, she was loathed by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, which is especially ironic given that Hapgood and Irvine were the foremost advocates of the use of English in the Orthodox Church.
Or maybe it isn’t so ironic. Very often, the leaders of a given movement will be rivals. In England a generation earlier, the two great leaders of Anglo-Orthodoxy, J.J. Overbeck and Fr. Stephen Hatherly, opposed one another and had very different views about what Western Orthodoxy should look like. It’s likely that the same sort of rivalry existed between Hapgood and Irvine. It probably didn’t help that Hapgood was a well-to-do Episcopalian (exactly the sort of person Irvine tended to clash with), while Irvine had converted to Orthodoxy and was working in the trenches, teaching Sunday School and so forth.
We can get a sense of that rivalry by reading public letters written by Hapgood and Irvine on the subject of the St. Nicholas Cathedral choir. Today, I’ll print Hapgood’s letter, which appeared in the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) on September 2, 1915. Next week, I’ll publish Irvine’s reply.
I said a little to you yesterday about the Choir and the Concert. I did not say all that was requisite to give you a thorough understanding of the situation.
I am going to be very frank. There is no one else who can tell you about the American public and the conditions connected with Concerts as well as I can.
I paid the $50 you gave me to the Management of Aeolian Hall, to bind the contract for the hall on the evening of Dec. 21 next, for a Concert by the Choir. I have the contract, signed and binding.
The first concert which the Choir gave, Feb. 1, 1912, was successful, although there were only six men. The two concerts of the following season (the pay concerts), November 1912 and March 1913, were greater artistic successes, and finally established the reputation of the choir as the most unique and remarkable organization in America. There were eight men on these last occasions — the precize [sic] number indispensible to counterbalance the twenty-one boys. Twenty-one boys and eight men constitute the very smallest choir which can appear, successfully, before the American public; and they must all be perfect.
A newcomer to America does not realize what a musical centre New York is. The very best musicians in the world come here: the wealthiest, most widely-travelled, most musical, most cultivated people from all over this Continent come here, to attend the Opera and the great Concerts. Our public know what is the very best, and insists on having it. Now that there is little or no occupation for musicians in Europe, our choice here is unlimited.
If an organization, like a Symphony Orchestra or a Choir, can win the approval of the public, it can count upon a full well-paid audience year after year. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, for instance, gives a series of concerts here every winter. The same subscribers buy the same seats every year. No seat can ever be bought by anyone else — unless perhaps, when death, illness or absence throws one or two on the market. In that case, there are a dozen applicants, who are only too happy to pay ten or fifteen times as much for one seat, at a sigle [sic] concert as the subscriber paid for the entire series! Those concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra are considered the greatest events of the musical season in New York.
Of course, the popularity of the Conductor has an immense amount to do with this. The public realized that the perfection of execution and interpretation are due to his brains and training.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has existed for many years. Your Cathedral Choir has existed a very short time. Nevertheless, the Choir has made immense progress along the road to the same sort of fame, popularity and prosperity as the Boston Orchestra enjoys. Last winter it could not give a concert, as you know. If it now gives a concert less good than those of two years ago — its career is ended, so far as the musical critics and the best public are concerned. “That Choir is the most wonderful thing in all wonderful musical New York!” one musician said to me. “And it is all due to that wonderful Leader — it is his wonderful brain,” said another (the Secretary for over thirty years of a famous New York Chorus). As you see, we have the elements of a neat public future — a Choir and a Regent beloved by musicians, critics and public. If we ruin that magnificent foundation, it will take years to re-build it; and it may prove impossible to re-build it at all.
So much for that side of the question.
I now wish to repeat to you, with great emphasis:
The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes. It is particularly important at the present grave crisis in World affairs. For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia. Everything which can strengthen that favourable inclination is very precious. There is nothing which can exert so great an influence on the best, most influential part of the public here as can a splendid Cathedral Choir. There is nothing which can win more friends for your Church. The Roman Catholics are very powerful here, and the Orthodox Catholic Church needs every favorable influence it can secure, to combat prejudices in that quarter, and among the so-called “Protestants”. A prejudiced person who hears the Cathedral Choir will (if it is really fine), wish to know about the services of your Church which have inspired such music, such singing, such interpretation of spiritual emotion. They will become helpful friends of Russia and of your Church. Look it what the Choir has done for you already among the Episcopalians!
If we can give only one Concert in a season (and, in view of the fact that the Church songs cannot be diversified with solos by famous foreign singers, by piano concertos, or anything else, one good concert is all we can confidently plan, w[e] ought to be able to ask somewhat higher prices. We have never actually sold all the tickets, so far, it is true. But we have secured some of the wealthiest and most musical people in town for our friends, as well as the musicians and the critics, as I have already said. On that foundation we ought to grow more successful.
Please let us have a splendid choir!
Next week, we’ll print Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine’s reply.
Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, the great convert priest who was ordained by St. Tikhon in 1905, may well be the most quotable figure in American Orthodox history. You can expect lots of Irvine-related material on this website well into the future, but I thought that today, I might offer some particularly great quotations from the man who was once nicknamed, “The Spurgeon of Brookhaven,” and who, in my opinion, might justifiably be called, “The Prophet of American Orthodoxy.”
On the modern world (1895): “People have to-day lost sight of Scriptural facts and become afraid of the old ritual. [...] I do not care who may criticise me when I say that there cannot be found a more idolatrous age, full of Satanic cunning; an age governed more by loud talk, gold and allurement than by pure Christianity.”
On the Episcopal Church: “The Anglican Church is not the true platform of unity. She is too political and diplomatic, always compromising for expediency and shading like a chameleon to attract each Protestant Sect. [...] She allows her Bishops in some respects to be more papal than the Pope of Rome and she gives to her laymen the casting vote in Doctrine, Discipline and Worship.”
On the Orthodox Church: “It may without controversy be truly said that she is the parent Church of all Christian Churches, whether they be Roman or Anglican or Protestant, and that as such she ought to take her place in every land, in every city, in every hamlet, so that those Churches which have either added to or taken from the Faith of the first seven General Councils [...] may correct their creeds, articles and charts by her original and scriptural standard of ‘the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints.’”
On the teachings of Orthodoxy: “The Holy Eastern Church says just what she means; and means what she says.”
On his conversion the Orthodox Church: “God the Holy Ghost, on the morning of Whitsunday [Pentecost], 1905, in St. Mary’s Church, Philadelphia, in response to the inquiry of my soul, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ commanded me in an irresistible way, ‘Go and work for the Holy Eastern Church.’ And I was obedient unto the voice.”
On prayer: “Heaven, is nearer to us than Boston is to New York. I can speak from New York through a telephone to a friend in Boston. Why not through prayer – God’s own ancient telephone, never out of order – speak with a friend in a nearer place? Heaven is where Christ is present. The spiritual law of Religion surely is as great as the physical law of Science. To doubt it would be folly.”
On St. Tikhon: “To see the Archbishop celebrate at the Liturgy was an inspiration. In every word, act and posture he was perfect, yet unconscious of self because of his reverent and natural spirit.”
On St. Raphael’s death: “We see him now in his true light, great and good, learned, and, yet humble as a little child, a brave champion for the Orthodox Faith, yet filled with love for all mankind.”
On Orthodox unity in America: “Let it be hoped that, at least here in the United States, where children of parents unfriendly to each other in the old world intermarry and love each other, the sons and daughters of all the Orthodox Confederated Churches of Europe, Asia and Africa may realize that in unity of organization there is strength.”
To negligent Syrian parents: “Oh, foolish parent, who hath bewitched you! What demon is it which has blinded your eyes, dulled your understanding and filled you with unnatural love for your children? Do you think that love only means the satisfying of the eye, the ear, the palate and the body? Alas, these are the last to be thought of.”
On translator Isabel Hapgood: “That vixen Miss Hapgood. What a liar – she has damned the Church for years.”
In response to an article by Hapgood: “Our Archbishop was not called by the Holy Ghost to consecrate our Choir Leaders for roving Singing-Bands to help and please new Orthodox churchgoers. Music is a luxury, but the ‘Bread of Life,’ distributed through ‘twenty little new parishes,’ is a necessity.”
On the Old Calendar: “It is a standing protest against the encroachments of Rome on the rights of Christendom and suggests investigation on the part of seekers after Ancient ways and truths amongst Protestants.”
On Freemasonry: “If a Bishop of the Church is a Freemason then every priest had better be a Mason in his Diocese, for otherwise it may follow that a Jew, an Infidel, an Atheist etc. or the lowest saloon keeper, or house of ill fame manager, as a member, would have more influence as a Mason with the Masonic Bishop than the priest who was not a member of the Order.”
On Fr. (later Archbishop) Aftimios Ofiesh: “I will never recognize him as a Bishop. I can not serve God and Mammon in the Episcopate.”
In defense of the use of English: “Here are our thousands of young Orthodox of the parentage of every nationality who are being educated in our public schools and entering into our Mercantile and Professional life. They look upon the language of their parents as only an accomplishment, but not as a medium of either religion, politics or business. Are you and I, as Orthodox going to starve them both soul, mind and body simply because we love too well but not wisely, our mother tongue? I am not fighting for the English language as a tongue. My words would fit any other country with its mother tongue as well as that of North America. I am fighting for a principle and Orthodoxy.”
More on English in the services: “I am convinced that the Russian Holy Orthodox Church in America and every part of the Orthodox Church under her jurisdiction cannot prosper as she and they should unless we use English more freely in her and their services. I venture to say that in the recital of every Liturgy, we ought to have one or more Ektenias, etc. in English and until this is carried into effect we will be losing hundreds of youth as we are now irrespect of claims to the contrary.”
On himself: “From without and within, there may be some who would like to have me brushed aside. Yet be it so, still clearly, fearlessly, loudly but lovingly and respectfully, I proclaim, we need Aggressive Orthodox Catholicity for the Truth’s Sake.”