Posts tagged Michael Gelsinger
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.
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. Today, we’re presenting the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. We’ll run this mini-series on each of the next four Thursdays.
It is impossible to operate a Sunday School without spending money. Some Parishes can afford to spend more than others can, but every Parish must be willing to provide for its Sunday School as generously as its resources permit. Afte the first year of operation a Sunday School can usually finance itself, especially if the Parish provides adequate equipment at the beginning so that the School can do its work effectively.
The first requirement is that a Sunday School must have a suitable place in which to meet. There should be a room or hall large enough to accomodate the whole Sunday School when it meets for Assembly; and there should be smaller rooms in sufficient number to provide each class with a room of its own, so that when classes are in session they cannot see or hear each other.
In many Parishes, however, it will be impossible to provide a separate room for each class. If several classes must be taught in one large room, they may be separated from each other by screens. Satisfactory screens can be easily and inexpensively contrived by nailing wallboard to wooden frames which have been hinged in pairs. When not in use the screens can be folded up and put away. Screens, of course, will not prevent classes from hearing one another, and a certain amount of noise and confusion is unavoidable when they must be used; but noise and confusion are deadly enemies to the effeciency of the School, and every effort must be made to conduct classes as quietly as possible.
Since the majority of the members of a Sunday School are young children, the accomodations provided must be both safe and pleasant as well as sufficiently spacious. There must be good light, good ventilation, adequate heating, spotlessly clean floors and walls, and spotlessly clean toilets to which no persons except members of the Sunday School are allowed to go while the School is in session. If the hall provided for the Assembly has a concrete floor, it is absolutely necessary that a good wooden floor be built in; for a concrete floor is a menace to the health of the children. The walls should be painted, not in some ugly utilitarian color, but in some pleasant tint; and on them should be hung some appropriate pictures. It will not matter if a child of wealthy parents finds that the Sunday School lacks luxurious appointments; but we are disgraced if we give any child the least reason to think that the place where the Sunday School meets is dirty and cheerless.
Every class needs a table and a supply of chairs. Strongly built card tables, two or more to a class, will serve very well; and an advantage in using them is that they can be folded up and put away when not in use. The chairs should be folding chairs, preferably metal ones that cannot easily be damaged. There should be at least twice as many chairs provided as there are members of the School, so that it will never be necessary to move chairs from one place to another during the session. Money saved by buying fewer chairs will be lost over and over again in damage to the School’s efficiency, for chairs cannot be moved without noise and confusion and loss of valuable time. In providing chairs as in providing other necessities for the Sunday School, stinginess does not save money but throws money away.
The Syrian Archdiocese is preparing lesson materials to meet every need of Orthodox Catholic Sunday Schools conducted in the English language. Music will also be provided. It is surely unnecessary to remind our people that only Orthodox books and Orthodox music should ever be used in teaching our children.
Roll Books and record books, of course, and other supplies of that kind, must be purchased from Sunday School supply companies. No supplies should ever come from any other religious organization, not even if they are offered as gifts; for we are disloyal to our Orthodox Catholic Religion whenever we give anyone even the least reason to believe that the Orthodox Church is dependent upon any other religious organization or in alliance with it. Supplies should always be purchased from a company which is not connected with any particular religious organization. One of the best companies of the kind is the David C. Cook Publishing Company, of Elgin, Illinois, whose catalogue lists an immense variety of supplies for Sunday Schools.
For a while now, I’ve been meaning to introduce Fr. Kyrill Johnson, another of the many fascinating early American converts to Orthodoxy. He was born Arthur Warren Johnson in Roxbury, Massachsetts in 1897. I don’t know what happened to his parents, but Johnson was adopted by an unmarried aunt, who raised him in Ipswich. He went to college at William and Mary in Virginia, which is probably where he first encountered the Orthodox Church. One of his classmates was a fellow named Royce Burden, and both were almost certainly students of young Professor Michael Gelsinger.
Arthur Johnson graduated in 1921. The next year, both Burden and Gelsinger were ordained Orthodox priests and assigned to serve in the “English-speaking department” of the Russian Archdiocese. This “department” had its origins in 1905, when Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine converted to Orthodoxy and was charged by St. Tikhon to do “English work.” Irvine died in early 1921, by which point another convert priest, Fr. Patrick Mythen, had taken over the English-speaking department. Mythen brought numerous Americans into the Orthodox Church, but he was wayward and immature, and many of his converts (along with Mythen himself) ultimately left the Church.
I don’t know what role Mythen played in the conversions of Burden, Gelsinger, and Arthur Johnson, but that trio, unlike so many of their fellow 1920s converts, remained in the Church for the rest of their lives. I don’t know exactly when Johnson was ordained, but he was definitely a priest by 1924. The next year, he earned a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.
Johnson — by now Fr. Kyrill — was a celibate priest, and he doesn’t seem to have had a parish in the 1920s. He may have been under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who oversaw the English-speaking department (and the American Orthodox Catholic Church, into which the English department morphed), but Johnson’s focus, in those years, seems to have been scholarly pursuits. In the mid-’20s, he was a key part of Harvard expeditions to Mount Athos and Mount Sinai, searching for ancient Biblical manuscripts. He also spent time in Syria, where he discovered rare proto-Semitic inscriptions.
In the early 1930s, Johnson was back in Ipswich, where he published several books on local history. In 1938, he became pastor of St. George Antiochian church in nearby Lawrence, Mass. — as far as I can tell, this was his first parish assignment in at least 14 years as an Orthodox priest. In 1940, he took on another job, becoming the head of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, which today has the more palatable name “Historic New England,” owns and preserves historic homes and other buildings in New England. The next year, 1941, Metropolitan Antony Bashir elevated Johnson to archimandrite. Johnson lived only six more years, dying in 1947, at the age of just 50.
So far, I’ve basically given you a dry biography of Fr. Kyrill Johnson. What sort of person was he, though? Pat Tyler of the Ipswich Historical Society happened to know Johnson when she was young. A few years ago, she told me, “He lived across the street from me — to the Yankees in town, he was just ‘strange,’ in that black robe.” Later, she added, “I knew him in the 30′s just as the guy across the street – I was just a child. My mother, of course, knew him. She and her friend, Helen, actually spent the night at the beach (Crane’s) with Arthur. I picture the scene as teenagers spouting Shakespeare. And Platonic to the max.”
Here’s another account of Johnson, from the book Becoming What One Is, by Austin Warren: “Friends brought acquaintances; and I remember […] Arthur Johnson of Ipswich, a swarthy, lean, Byzantine-looking bachelor, who, a pure Yankee and reared a Methodist, had become (after an Anglican interlude) an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.”
Back in college, Johnson’s class elected him “most eccentric man.” He was extremely involved in his school activities — class historian, student council secretary, associate editor of the student newspaper, editor-in-chief of the college literary magazine. He was in a drama club, manager of the debate council… I could go on, but I think you get the point. He never married, of course, and I get the sense that nobody who knew him was surprised by this fact. He was odd, friendly, bookish. As we’ll see in the future, he was a pretty talented writer himself.
Of the three William and Mary converts — Johnson, Burden, and Gelsinger — Johnson was clearly the least well-known, and probably the least influential. But he lived a fascinating life, and stands out as one of the few convert priests of the 1920s who remained in the Orthodox Church until the day he died.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
We’ve tried this before. Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity. Next week, from May 26-28, we embark upon a sixth effort — an effort which, compared to its predecessors, seems remarkably promising.
First, of course, there were the Russians. In the early 20th century, the Russian Archdiocese envisioned itself as the platform for Orthodox unity in America. Its sainted archbishop, Tikhon Bellavin, articulated an innovative vision to deal with the unprecedented diversity of ethnic Orthodox Christians in the New World. He proposed that the Russian Archdiocese be organized, not along territorial lines, but according to ethnicity — a bishop for the Russians, another for the Syrians, another for the Serbs, still another for the Greeks. St. Tikhon realized that the different ethnic groups needed their own ethnic hierarchs, and his first step in implementing this plan was to consecrate St. Raphael Hawaweeny as bishop for the Syrians. Separate, overlapping administrative units were created for the Serbs, and later for other groups (e.g. the Albanians), but St. Tikhon’s overall plan was never fully enacted. The tenuous unity that existed among the Russians, Serbs, and Syrians soon fell apart, and by 1920, any notion of American Orthodox unity under the Russians was dead.
Dead, but not forgotten. When St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop, died in 1915, he left no obvious successor. His flock divided into warring camps, one party favoring continued subordination to the Church of Russia, the other submission to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Eventually, the Russian Archdiocese consecrated Aftimios Ofiesh to be St. Raphael’s replacement. And, whatever else one might say of Archbishop Aftimios, he was nothing if not a visionary. In 1926, he proposed the idea of an autocephalous jurisdiction, the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” which would transcend ethnicity and embrace all the Orthodox in America. The Russian Metropolia — successor to the Russian Archdiocese, and predecessor to the OCA — granted Archbishop Aftimios his wish in 1927. Archbishop Aftimios went around acting like he was the head of an autocephalous Church, but few paid any attention to him, and even the Russian Metropolia soon withdrew its support. As hopeful an idea as the AOCC might have been, it never had any real chance of uniting all the Orthodox in America.
Archbishop Aftimios effectively destroyed his already fringe jurisdiction in 1933, when he married a girl young enough to be his daughter. But two of his top assistants, the convert priests Michael Gelsinger and Boris Burden, continued to dream of a united American Orthodox Church. They spearheaded a 1943 effort that resulted in the “Federation,” which was to SCOBA what the League of Nations was to the UN. The Federation included the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America (Greek, New York Antiochian, and Moscow Patriarchal, along with Serbian, Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Russian), with the glaring exceptions of the Russian Metropolia and ROCOR. In its short life — measured in months, as opposed to years — the Federation achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. It managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. Just as significantly, the Federation led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. My own Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by that legislation, from the 1940s.
In the end, though, the Federation fell apart. There were probably dozens of reasons for the failure, but, in my view, the biggest was simply that the bishops involved in the Federation weren’t committed enough to its success. Well, most of them. One man who was deeply committed to the vision of the Federation was the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He kept the Federation going, on paper only, through the whole of the 1950s. In 1960, the Federation was reborn as SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. The “big three” jurisdictions — Greek, Antiochian, and Russian Metropolia — were led by three larger-than-life figures, Archbishop Iakovos Koukouzis, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. Among many, the unification of all the American Orthodox jurisdictions seemed imminent.
A decade later, though, there was still no administrative unity. The Russian Metropolia had entered into talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, and in April of 1970, Moscow issued a Tomos, granting autocephaly to its formerly estranged American daughter. The Metropolia became the “Orthodox Church in America” — the OCA, and in the words of an official brochure published at the time, “invite[d] all of the national Orthodox church ‘jurisdictions’ in America to join with it in unity.” This marked the fifth major attempt to unify the various jurisdictions.
Today, of course, there is still no administrative unity. Five decades have passed since SCOBA was created, and four since the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to the OCA. SCOBA has been useful — it has fostered cooperation, if not actual administrative unity, and its many agencies are doing great work. For its part, the OCA did bring in Romanian, Albanian, and Bulgarian jurisdictions, although in every case the OCA group has a non-OCA counterpart jurisdiction. I think it’s safe to say that, despite the best efforts of many great people, neither SCOBA nor the OCA will be the platform for future administrative unity.
Before we get to Attempt No. 6, we should ask — why did all five past attempts at unity fail? Why could neither the Russian Archdiocese, nor the American Orthodox Catholic Church, nor the Federation, nor SCOBA, nor the OCA, succeed in bringing all the jurisdictions together into a single ecclesiastical entity? The answers, of course, are many and complex, but several common threads are apparent. The Russian Archdiocese, the AOCC, and the OCA were all unilateral efforts, led by a single group which tried to get the others to join it. The Federation and SCOBA were “pan-Orthodox” endeavors, but the leaders lacked a common vision, and, worse, the support of their “Mother Churches.” Yes, the Mother Churches may have granted permission for their American jurisdictions to join SCOBA, but they certainly didn’t share a vision of administrative unity in America.
There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.
Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which holds its first meeting this coming week, includes every single Orthodox bishop in America — every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.
There is no guarantee that the Episcopal Assembly will succeed, and if it does, it’s not clear whether that will be in 5 years or 15. But one thing, to me, is certain: all of us — all who share a desire for canonical unity in America — should throw our support and prayers behind the Assembly, and beg the Holy Spirit to guide its work, just as he guided the work of the Ecumenical Councils themselves. Because, make no mistake — this is the best chance we’ve ever had, or may likely have for many decades to come. May it be blessed by God.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
I’ve been looking through a borrowed copy of Fr. Michael Gelsinger’s Orthodox Hymns in English, published by the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1939. This is a significant work, and Gelsinger’s hymns are still used to this day. I’ll write more about this book in the future, but I found the following paragraph, from the Introduction, to be especially interesting:
Other religions in America have hymnbooks containing six hundred or more melodies; Orthodoxy in English, though rightfully heir to the grandest and richest score of music in existence, would only with difficulty command as many as fifty melodies. Our lack of Orthodox hymns that can be sung in English has already encouraged the use of substitutes: rumor tells of Parishes that use Protestant hymnbooks, — in one case, at least, the Billy Sunday collection; and in another a book of “Pentecostal Hymns.” Can we calmly face a future which might add “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere” to the treasures of Orthodox devotion?
No, Gelsinger answers: “It is, of course, as unthinkable as it is unnecessary that we should permit any such development.” His answer? Translate Orthodox music from all the traditions — Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc. — into the English language.
Every tradition of our Orthodox music should find a home in every Parish in America; for American Orthodoxy inherits the music of every national Orthodox Church abroad. It is usual to say that our children will all be Americans together; but that is only one face of the truth. It is equally true that each of our children as an Orthodox Christian is as much Russian as he is Greek, as much Greek as he is Syrian, as much Syrian as he is Bulgarian or Rumanian: for he is the rightful heir of everything Orthodox that has ever entered this country.
Here, Gelsinger sounds a lot like Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Fr. Leonid Turkevich before him, and like countless people today. But back in 1939, Gelsinger’s views were pretty cutting-edge. They had a substantial influence on the development of American Orthodoxy in the decades that followed.