Posts tagged language
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Last week, we published the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. Today, we’re running Part 2, on “The Sunday School Session.” Gelsinger begins by talking, in minute detail, about how a Sunday School session should take place. He then allows himself to meander into topics of more general interest — language and music. We’ll run Part 3 of this mini-series next Thursday.
The law of our Orthodox Church requires every Orthodox Christian to attend all the Services on Sundays and on other holy days. Therefore, the members of a Sunday School cannot be excused from attendance at the Divine Liturgy, the most important of all Services. And since the work of the Sunday School cannot be done well if the pupils are tired and restless, it is better to have the Sunday School meet before the Liturgy rather than after it.
There is still another reason why the Sunday School should meet before the Liturgy. The Service of the Orthros (Matins) is much neglected among us, in spite of the fact that in importance it ranks next to the Liturgy itself. It is in the Orthros that we find the special meaning of any Feast most fully and elaborately expressed; and it is in the Orthros that we find the greatest variety of hymns by the Church’s most inspired poets and musicians. This Service is neglected in America mainly because many of our people are so lazy and slack that they cannot endure to spend more time in Church than is required for the Liturgy; and some of them complain that even the Liturgy is too long. Under present conditions the only hope of bringing the Orthros back into use is for the Sunday Schools to take over the responsibility for singing it, — a responsibility that possibly could be shared with organizations of young people beyond Sunday School age, such as the Orthodox Frontier Club. But the chief responsibility for the Orthros should be laid upon the Sunday Schools; and as the Orthros precedes the Liturgy, it is highly desirable that all our Sunday Schools at once begin to have their sessions before the Liturgy if such is not their custom already.
The following Schedule is suggested as a guide in planning the Sunday School Session:
- 9:45 — Secretary of the School must be in his place.
- 9:45-9:50 — Teachers get their Class Roll Books and other supplies from the Secretary of the School.
- 9:50 — Teachers must be in their classrooms.
- 10:00 — Pupils must be in their classrooms.
- 10:05-10:10 – The Secretary of the School visits each class to collect the Class Roll Books and the offerings, and then returns to his place to make out his report for the whole School. At the First Warning Bell messengers from the classes will bring him the offerings and the names of pupils who came in after roll call; at that time he will change the Absence marks for those pupils in the Class Roll Books to Tardiness marks, correct the entries for offerings, and bring the report into final form.
- 10:05 — Instruction begins in each class.
- 10:35 — First Warning Bell. Instruction ends, and each Teacher sends a messenger to the Secretary of the School with the names and the offerings of the pupils who have come in since Roll Call. The messenger may go from the Secretary to the place reserved for his class in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:40 — Second Warning Bell. All classes march to Assembly, each class going quietly to the seats reserved for it in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:43-11:00 — Assenbly, directed by the Superintendent (or by the Priest).
- 11:00 — Procession of the whole School, class by class, into the Temple for the Liturgy.
The following program is suggested for the Assembly:
- The Trisagion Prayers, recited by some pupil appointed by the Superintendent. The School should join in for the Lord’s Prayer at the end.
- Recitation by members of different classes. (Memory Passages for which prizes are offered, summary of the Lesson taught in a class, quizzing of pupils by the Superintendent, or any other drill that is truly helpful and not contrived merely for display.)
- Secretary’s Report.
- Birthday Greetings. (Pupils who have had birthdays recently may drop into the Birthday Treasury as many pennies as they are years old. While they put in their pennies the School congratulates them by singing the Many Years for them.)
- Comments and announcements by the Superintendent.
- The Trisagion Prayers recited by the whole School in unison.
- Procession of the whole School, by classes, into the Temple for the Liturgy. Each class is led by its Teacher, and the Teachers are required to stay with their classes until after the dismissal of the Liturgy.
Whenever possible, the Sunday School should enter the Temple in time to sing the Great Doxology and its Troparion (“This day salvation for the world is come”); after which the Priest begins the Liturgy of the Catechumens).
The Trisagion Prayers and the Memory Passages referred to in the program suggested for the Assembly are printed in another part of this book. We are printing also a separate book of music so that our Sunday Schools may have something to sing; for the time has come when we must get rid of every book, every hymn, and every influence of any kind that is not Orthodox absolutely and exclusively.
Until a Service Book with music appears, the Parish Priest should teach the young people as many hymns as possible in the language of the Parish (Arabic, Greek, Slavic, or whatever the language may be). It is very bad indeed for the different Parishes to sing different English translations instead of waiting for a standard English text approved for permanent use. Anyone who has even a slight understanding of our Orthodox Church must know that our Church Services cannot go on without the original languages, and must realize that a Parish will surely die if its young people are not taught to sing in the language of their parents. A standard English translation, prepared at the University of Buffalo and accompanied by the necessary music, is ready for publication; but even when it appears many things will still need to be done in the original languages. To translate all our Service Books into English suitable for public worship, and suitable for singing, will take years of work. Meanwhile our young people must learn to sing in the original languages as well as in English. They should learn to sing in English only such things as have been approved by proper authority as suitable to remain in permanent use everywhere.
The program for Sunday School leaves little time for instruction in singing. Occasionally the Assembly period may be so used, but singing is so important in our Orthodox Church that it really deserves and requires to be developed in a program of its own entirely separate from that of the Sunday School. Accordingly, in every Parish at least one evening a week regularly should be set aside for instruction in music.
We must not forget that our Orthodox Tradition forbids the use of musical instruments in Church Services. This is a rule which we should be very glad to obey, for obedience to it brings rich reward. No Parish that uses an organ or any other musical instruments in its services can ever have good singing. The use of a piano or organ to help people learn to sing something that is new to them is often good, and sometimes is even necessary. But it is one thing to use the piano for teaching, and quite another thing to get people into the habit of depending upon the piano so much that they cannot sing without it. Far better to teach without a piano or organ at all than to develop a habit of dependence upon an accompanying instrument. One of the greatest glories of our Orthodox Church is our music, all of it composed for singing and none of it intended for any musical instrument. Our children inherit with their Orthodox Catholic religion the grandest music ever heard on earth; and they should begin to know the delights of that inheritance as early in life as possible.
In the early 1900s, a woman named Vera Johnston was involved with the Russian cathedral in New York and the seminary in Tenafly, New Jersey. With a name like Johnston, you might think that she was a convert, which is exactly what I thought when I first ran across her name. But Vera Johnston was actually a cradle-born Orthodox Christian. She was born in the Russian Empire, in what is now Ukraine, and her maiden name was Zhelihovsky. She was born in 1864, and her mother was also named Vera.
Before her marriage, the elder Vera, the mother, was named Vera Blavatsky. That last name, Blavatsky, might sound familiar to some of you. The elder Vera’s sister – so, our Vera’s aunt – was a lady by the name of Helen Blavatsky – also known as Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical movement.
Theosophy has been described by some as a modern version of Gnosticism. It has a lot of occult and pagan elements, drawing in particular on Hinduism. Helen Blavatsky herself spent time in India. Beliefs included reincarnation, ancient pagan deities, secret teachings. Essentially, we’re talking about neo-paganism. They certainly had a kind of syncretistic place for Christianity, as one of the many pieces of the “truth” that could lead you into true knowledge, but basically, this is a neo-pagan movement.
Helen Blavatsky had founded the Theosophical movement in the 1870s, and in 1886, her niece Vera – the future Vera Johnston – spent some time with her aunt, and read drafts of her book The Secret Doctrine. Vera was in her early twenties at this point, and her mother was a follower of Aunt Helen, so it was only a matter of time before young Vera herself became a Theosophist.
In 1889, Vera published an article called, “Modern Magic” in the Theosophist journal, and by this time she had apparently joined the movement. The year before this, in 1888, she had married Charles Johnston, an English follower of Blavatsky. Johnston himself was one of the leaders in the Theosophy movement, and was especially noted for his translations of Hindu scriptures from Sanskrit into English. Vera and Charles spent some time in India themselves, and both wrote and translated numerous Theosophical articles in the coming years. For example, in 1895, they coauthored an article called, “The Priestess of Isis and Her Accusers.” This was sort of par for the course with Vera and Charles.
Helen Blavatsky herself died in 1891, and in 1896, Charles and Vera Johnston moved to New York City. Vera was still a very visible figure on the Theosophical scene, speaking at conventions and translating articles.
Sometime after the turn of the century, the Johnstons became associated with the Russian Orthodox cathedral in New York. Now, the details on this are very sketchy. What I’m giving you is basically incomplete research. I just haven’t been able to find very many materials on Vera Johnston’s life after 1900 or so, and of course this period in which we’re most interested, because this is when she was associated with the Russian Mission.
So please understand, much of this is a mystery. But I’m going to give you what I have.
In 1912, the Russian Archdiocese moved its seminary to Tenafly, New Jersey. Both Vera and Charles Johnston were professors. I don’t know what subject Vera taught, but Charles is listed in 1918 as “Teacher of English Language.” During this period, Vera ran the seminary’s booth at a Russian bazaar in New York City (New York Times, 3/28/1915). Both Johnstons were deeply involved in the work of the Russian Mission.
Also in 1915, she wrote an article in the Constructive Quarterly called, “The Coming of Archbishop Evdokim,” talking about the arrival of the new Russian bishop. One passage in particular seems to reveal something of Vera’s own religous outlook:
In the principle thus simply and eloquently enunciated by Archbishop Evdokim, what vistas there are of reconciliation, of genuine peace and good-will among men and nations: the differences between nations, in their religious as well as their secular life, are not stumbling-blocks but revelations of the wisdom of God. The mind of Christ is so wide, so deep, so rich, that no one race, nothing less than all humanity, suffices to embody and reveal it. [Emphasis in original.]
The same year, also in the Constructive Quarterly, she translated an article called, “Byzantium the Preserver of Orthodoxy.”
So it seemed, when I learned these things, that Vera Johnston had converted – or, re-converted – to Orthodoxy. She was involved, almost on a day-to-day basis, with the life of the Russian Mission. The thing is, she doesn’t seem to have given up Theosophy. Her husband Charles, who was also involved in the Russian Mission, remained a major figure in the Theosophical movement.
In early 20th century New York, a splinter Theosphical group was formed, calling itself the “Order of the Living Christ.” While small, this group included some of the city’s elite — Wall Street executives, professors, Episcopal priests, etc. – as well as Charles and Vera Johnston, whose ties to Helen Blavatsky helped bring legitimacy to the Order. The Order was essentially an attempt to merge Christianity and Theosophy. The group believed in reincarnation, but adopted the externals of Anglo-Catholicism (traditional Anglicanism). They revered the works of Helen Blavatsky and her associates, but also had a deep fascination with early Christian mysticism. Members saw it as perfectly acceptable to be a part of the Order and still participate in the life of, for instance, the Episcopal Church. It is likely that Vera Johnston shared this philosophy, and she may well have considered herself an Orthodox Christian while simultaneously adhering to beliefs which Orthodoxy recognizes as patently heretical. All this, while teaching future priests at the official seminary of the Russian Archdiocese in America.
Vera Johnston died in 1923, just shy of 60. Charles passed away eight years later. It is likely that documents survive — perhaps the OCA archives — which can help us to better understand the Johnstons’ role in the Russian Mission, and the extent to which their Theosophical ideas were known by the Russian clergy who employed them. If any of our readers can shed more light on this odd episode in American Orthodox history, please let me know.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee. I am indebted to Jake Benson for his help in researching Vera and Charles Johnston.]
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.
Editor’s note: Today, we are pleased to present an article by Dr. John Yiannias, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Virginia. Dr. Yiannias holds a Ph.D. in Early Christian and Byzantine Art from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a leading expert on Orthodox iconography. At the 2008 conference of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, Dr. Yiannias gave a lecture on iconography, and at the end of his talk, he offered the following addendum. He has kindly granted permission for us to publish it here at OrthodoxHistory.org. While, on the face of it, the subject may appear only tangentially relevant to American Orthodox history, it is actually rather relevant, in that the term “icon writing” is peculiar to American (or, at least, English-speaking) Orthodoxy, and may very likely have originated here in North America.
[Author’s disclaimer: I can’t claim for sure that the argument I give below is original. A few years ago I saw reference to an article that seemed intended to make the same point that I'm making, but I lost the reference and never actually saw the article. I’d appreciate learning of its contents and place of publication from anyone who may have read it.]
We’ve all heard, and many of us have used, the currently popular phrase “icon writing.” Whoever invented this expression must have noticed that in the Greek word eikonographia and its Slavonic translation ikonopisanie the suffixes (graphí and pisánie) very often mean “writing.” Our inventor thereupon thought it a good idea to speak of “icon writing,” probably imagining that the sheer oddness of the phrase would attract more attention than the prosaic “icon painting”and also convey a greater sense of the sacredness of the act of producing an icon. Ever since, this tortured translation has stuck to the lips of just about every English-speaking Orthodox Christian who talks about icons.
However, the suffixes graphí and pisánie both mean depiction, as well as writing. The first–more to the point here than the Slavonic term, which was formed on the basis of the Greek–is related to the verb gráphein/grápho and means any representational delineation — such as when you write the letters of an alphabet, but also when you sketch, say, a portrait. The precise translation depends on the circumstances. For example, “geography” does not mean “earth writing,” but earth description, whether verbal or pictorial. “Scenography,” from the word skiní, meaning a shelter, by implication a tent, and by further implication one of canvas, means the painting or other illustration of a backdrop, on canvas or similar material, for a theatrical production (whence our words “scene”and “scenic”); it does not mean “scene writing.” Whether the delineation referred to is verbal or pictorial, graphí implies circumscription, as when the Church says that God the Father is aperigraptos. That does not mean, obviously, that God the Father is “unwritable.” It means He is uncircumscribable, unbounded, undepictable, incomprehensible, unsusceptible to containment within the boundaries that we must impose on anything before we can comprehend or speak of it.
The habit of describing icons as “written” should therefore be dropped. Not only does the expression do violence to English and sound just plain silly, but it can introduce notions without basis in the Greek texts — such as, that an icon is essentially a representation of words, as opposed to a representation of things that words represent.
The theologically important fact that icons, which are pictorial, and Scripture, which is verbal, are nearly equivalent can be conveyed in other ways than by torturing English. It’s worth noting that in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Greek word used for an icon painter is simply zográphos (in Slavonic, zhivopísets), meaning simply a depicter of life, or of forms taken from life: that the subjects depicted were religious was more or less assumed. It seems that when secular artists eventually gained higher social status than before, and zográphos could apply to them as well as to the makers of sacred representations, the term was superseded in Greek by the more specific agiográphos, or eikonográphos (in Slavonic, ikonopísets).
An icon is painted, pure and simple, or produced by some other technique, if made of enamel or ivory or whatever else. But it is not written, and never in the Church’s history until our day, no matter what the language used, has the Church said or implied that an icon is written. Let’s hope it isn’t too late to expunge the expression.
[This article was written by Dr. John Yiannias. Originally delivered as an addendum to a talk given at the Orthodox Theological Society in America meeting in Chicago, IL, June 13, 2008.]
Yesterday, May 19, was the 126th anniversary of the arrival in America of Protopresbyter Stephen Hatherly, a convert priest from England. Hatherly served under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and spent several months in the US, attempting to establish an Orthodox parish in New York. Last July, I wrote an article on Hatherly’s brief American tenure, but back then, this website had far fewer readers than it does today. For that reason, I’m reprinting my original article.
From 1870 to 1883, Fr Nicholas Bjerring was pastor of a Russian Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring was a convert from Roman Catholicism, and he basically operated an “embassy chapel.” He held services for Russian and Greek officials stationed in America, he ministered to the few Orthodox Christians living in New York, and he strongly discouraged inquirers.
In 1883, the Russian government informed Bjerring that they intended to close his chapel, apparently to save money. They offered Bjerring a comfortable teaching position in St Petersburg. Bjerring, upset and disheartened, turned down the offer and instead became a Presbyterian.
Word of Bjerring’s apostasy eventually reached the ears of one Fr Stephen G. Hatherly, an archpriest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hatherly was a convert himself. An Englishman, he had joined the Orthodox Church way back in 1856, and he was ordained a priest in 1871. He was based in England, but in May of 1884, he arrived in America. His plan was to band together the handfuls of Orthodox on the East Coast (mainly New York and Philadelphia) and establish a new church to replace the defunct Russian chapel.
Hatherly spent three months in America, and his mission was a resounding failure. There was simply not enough interest from America’s meager Orthodox population. At the close of his stay in the US, the New York Sun ran the following story (August 18, 1884):
S.G. Hatherly, the Greek arch priest who came to New York from Constantinople and established a chapel in St. John’s School in Varick street two months ago, conducted service yesterday for the last time, and the chapel will be closed. About a score of the Greek colony in attendance and as many curious minded spectators. Athanasius Athos, the son of a Greek priest, was reader. Father Hatherly did not deliver an address, but said briefly to the worshippers that it was because of their want of faith that the effort to establish a Greek chapel had failed.
In conversation Father Hatherly, who is an Englishman by birth, said that he wrote from Constantinople to the authorities in Russia to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York. The official reply was that no effort to establish a Greek Church chapel in New York would be undertaken after their “cruel experience” with N. Bjerring, who is now a Presbyterian. The Russian colony, Father Hatherly said, has kept away from this chapel in Varick street. Two or three Russians, he said, had said that they wanted something grander than Father Hatherly’s chapel.
“The collection to-day,” he added, “is $4.32. You can see that the chapel would not be self-supporting. However, that is not the only reason why the chapel is given up. The people do not attend as they should. I had hoped when I came on my mission of inquiry to be able to hold services alternately in New York and Philadelphia. It’s all over now, and I go to Constantinople in a few days.”
That’s an interesting article for a variety of reasons, but one in particular jumps out — the statement that Hatherly wrote to the Russian authorities “to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York,” and the Russian reply that it indeed was.
Up to now [July 2009], I’ve felt that the Russian closure of the New York chapel was an implicit abandonment of the city, and that the Greeks who, seven years later, formed their own church, were under no obligation to contact the Russian bishop on the other side of the continent. But Hatherly’s story drives that point home even further. The Russians didn’t implicitly abandon New York; if this report is correct, they explicitly did so.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee. After I originally published it in July 2009, I contacted the Ecumenical Patriarchate to see if they still had, in their archives, the letter from the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Alas, they couldn't find anything. It's possible that the letter is there somewhere, and it's also possible that something remains in St. Petersburg. Of course, a century and a quarter after the fact, it's just as likely that we'll never find the original document.]