Posts tagged Missions
On April 27, MSNBC published photos of a medical train in Russia that includes a full-blown Orthodox chapel (thanks to the excellent Byzantine, TX blog for the link). The train/clinic, named after the great surgeon-bishop St. Luke of Simferopol, travels to the far reaches of Siberia and has “a carriage that operates as a mobile Orthodox church.”
This seems like a pretty innovative idea, but actually, it’s well over a hundred years old. Way back in 19th century Russia, Orthodox missionaries began using a pretty much identical arrangement on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. From Boston Globe, December 29, 1896:
Cathedral Car for Bleak Wastes of Siberia.
American Missionary Idea Adopted by Greek Church Priests.
The missionary railroad car, invented by an American clergyman, has been taken up by the Russian church authorities, and four of these peripatetic disseminators are now regularly used in Siberia.
The Scientific American illustrates the style of cars used by the Greek missionaries in the bleak plains of Siberia. The car is moved from station to station, and the Siberian peasants liberally take advantage of the chances thus offered for attending services.
The Russian cars are fitted up with much of the rich barbarity and splendor of oriental art. The interiors of the walls are covered with painted images, and the car is provided with an altar, a tabernacle, candelabra, and the trappings pertaining to the ritual of the Russian Greek service.
Access to this traveling church is had in the usual way. At one end of the car is a chime of bells, and the top is surmounted by Greek crosses.
The idea was first used in the United States in sparsely settled parts of the country, such as Montana. It was readily seized upon by English missionaries, who ordered a number of these cars built for India.
Greek priests at once saw the advantage derived from the missionary car, and the Russian government commissioned a number of them for use in Siberia, where settlements are far between and the people can seldom attend divine services.
Here’s the illustration that accompanied that 1896 Boston Globe article:
A year earlier, the New York Times had referred to these mobile Russian Orthodox chapels as “churches on wheels.” I’ve been able to trace them back to at least 1886, when the journal Christian Union ran a note about a plan for “church cars” on trains in Russia.
I’m curious to know more about the modern-day church cars. Is the St. Luke of Simferopol train the only one with a chapel, or do other Russian trains include special cars for Orthodox worship? Also, I assume that the church cars made in the 19th century fell out of use after the Bolshevik Revolution — so who is responsible for re-introducing the idea? If any of our readers have more information, please let me know, and I’ll publish an update to this article.
Mimo Milosevich has written on Archimandrite Theoklitos Triantafilides (who served in America from 1896 to 1916). Some of his reflections may be read here:
Indeed, I consulted Mimo when writing my paper on Greeks serving in the Russian Mission, which I presented at this past year’s SOCHA Symposium. He was very helpful in pointing me to sources and information.
Mimo has dedicated himself to sharing the story of Archimandrite Theoklitos and it’s easy to see why. In an age when missionaries for the Russian Mission were brought over for short stints and when missionaries of any Orthodox background typically moved about from parish to parish, Theoklitos is a sturdy rock. He still went to the “hinterlands,” mostly in Texas, but also in Colorado and spent time in San Francisco reaching out to the Greek community there. He (and others) were ultimately largely unsuccessful in that venture in San Fran, in that the Greeks formed their own parish eventually, but not entirely and his dedication was clear. He served God and God’s people through the Russian Mission. He was able to see his way through the difficult hectic life of a missionary priest at a time when not all could. Indeed, at a time when many laity could not. He accepted canonical order and he loved the people under his care. Barring some unbeknownst event in the Galveston Daily News, he should be included amongst those mentioned as possible Greek saints in America.
All that said, here is a recent talk given by Mimo:
Please be aware that during the introductory part, before Mimo himself begins speaking, there is a lot of background noise. If you can forebear, you’ll be glad because that quickly goes away and the talk is very nice. We at SOCHA are very glad that Mimo and Fr. John Whiteford (the talk was at his parish) were willing to allow us to share this with our readers.
In January 2010, I published an article about Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, who is being considered for canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church. Fr. Jacob spent many years as a priest in the United States and Canada (as well as Mexico and Australia, among other places) before ending his life as a martyr under the Soviets. What follows is that original 2010 article, with some minor revisions.
Here is an account of Fr. Jacob Korchinsky’s first five decades, from Michael Protopopov’s fascinating 2005 dissertation, The Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia:
Jakov Kosmich Korchinsky was born into a family of landed gentry in 1861, he attended the Elizavetgrad Secondary School and then a four year course to become a teacher. In 1886, Jakov married Varvara Yakovlev. Whilst working in diocesan schools, Jakov was recognized as an excellent teacher by the Ruling Bishop of the diocese, Archbishop Nicandor of Kherson and Odessa, and ordained a deacon on 8 November 1887. Whilst a deacon and still teaching, Fr Jakov enrolled at the Odessa Theological Seminary which he completed in 1895. Fr Jakov was then invited to teach in the missions in Alaska by Bishop Nikolai of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and the young deacon and his wife set off for the Americas. On 25 March 1896 Fr Jakov was ordained priest and began his missionary work in Alaska. Within two years Fr Jakov had been awarded his first ecclesiastical distinction for “converting to Orthodoxy more than 250 savages.” In 1901, he was again recognised for building a church whilst doing missionary work in Canada. By 1902 the Korchinskys returned to Kherson because of Varvara Korchinsky’s failing health and Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the Resurrection church in Bereznegova on the Black Sea. In 1906 he was appointed rector [of] the Protection church in the Kherson prison.
After two years in the prison church, Fr Jakov reapplied to return to America and was appointed to the St Michael parish in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Whilst in Pennsylvania Fr Jakov was awarded the gold pectoral cross by an Imperial Decree. On 25 March 1911, the Korchinskys were relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the St Michael church and visiting priest to parishes in Erie, Carnegie and Youngstown. In the years immediately prior to his appointment as missionary to the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines, Korchinsky was also Dean of Pennsylvania, a trustee of the Orthodox Orphanage of North America, Vice President of the Russian Emigre Society of North America and a member of the Imperial Russian Palestine Society.
And he still had another 30 years to go. Korchinsky was one of the jewels of the Russian Mission in America, one of those super-priests who covered vast territories and founded numerous churches. In 1900, he was sent to Edmonton, Alberta to become the first permanent parish priest in Canada. The same year, he visited Shandro, Alberta, and baptized 33 children in a single day. You get the sense, from reading about Korchinsky’s life, that this sort of event was rather commonplace for him. In his November 26, 1906 report to the Holy Synod, St. Tikhon wrote of Korchinsky, “He did much to convert the heathens to the Christian Faith and returned many Uniates to the Orthodox Church. He set the foundation for parish life in many places, built churches and assisted the unfortunate with his acquied medical knowledge.”
He founded churches in the United States, too. At the very least, I know that he was the founding priest of the Nativity of Christ Church in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1915. The same year, Korchinsky was elevated to Archpriest, and he relocated to Hawaii. From Orthodox Wiki’s excellent article on Hawaiian Orthodox history:
In 1915, an official request by the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii and the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, Henry B. Restarick to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; a priest was dispatched that same year to Hawaii (with the blessing of Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) of the Aleutians) to pastor the large population of Orthodox Russian faithful. He establishsed permanent liturgical services in Hawaii and on Christmas December 25 (O.S.) / January 7 (N.S.) 1916, Protopresbyter Jacob Korchinsky celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu. Thus Orthodoxy was re-established in Hawaii.
While in Honolulu, writes Protopopov, Korchinsky happened to meet a group of Russian Latvians who were sailing from Australia to Egypt via Honolulu and the brand-new Panama Canal. They told him that there were Russians in Australia; not long afterwards, Korchinsky read this in the Vestnik (the official publication of the Russian Mission in America, January 1916):
[I]n Australia, there live thousands of Russian people, who are spiritually ministered to by a Greek priest who visits once a year. His services are conducted unwillingly and without a sense of piety, even though he receives a large amount of money for his services. It has also been reported that a self-styled “priest” has arrived in Australia from North America who has exploited the unsuspecting Russians with excessive fees for baptisms and weddings, so much so, that they complained to the police and the “priest” was arrested.
Korchinsky had heard enough. He wrote to the Russian Consul-General in Melbourne, who asked Korchinsky to come to Australia immediately. He arrived in March of 1916. In the months that followed, he visited 750 families and 500 isolated individuals, baptizing 16 children along the way (all these numbers are from Protopopov). But he contracted malaria due to the excessive heat, and in July, he returned to Russia. He wrote this to his bishop, Archbishop Evdokim Meschersky:
We have elected a committee to oversee church life, but my illness brought on by the excessive heat, has caused me to take to my bed and has deprived me of being of any further use… I most respectfully plead that Your Grace does not forsake the Russian Orthodox in Australia and especially their next generation of youngsters. I beg that Your Grace may raise the question of the Church in Australia at the forthcoming All Russian General Council and if it be appropriate to appoint me as the permanent priest for Australia.
The Holy Synod ended up placing Australia under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Tokyo. Korchinsky, meanwhile, needed money. He had spent all his own funds on his missionary work. All the while, his wife and three-year-old daughter had remained in America, and Korchinsky wanted to go to them. He was given permission, and money, but then World War I intervened. Korchinsky was assigned to be a chaplain at the military hospital in Odessa, serving there from December 1916 to August 1917. From Protopopov:
Upon being demobilised from military service, Korchinsky was again faced with the problem of having nothing to live on. On 29 August 1917, he again wrote to the Holy Synod asking that he be assigned a pension, as he was so poor that he needed to live in a rural village where the folk fed him out of compassion. A second resolution was made by the Holy Synod for a pension to be granted to Korchinsky, but no documentary evidence is available to confirm a pension ever having been paid. Nor is it known if he returned to his family in Pennsylvania.
One way or another, Korchinsky’s family made it back to Russia. About his family… At some point amidst his travels, probably in 1913 or 1914, Korchinsky spent some time in Mexico City. While there, he adopted an orphaned infant named Dominica. Here is the story, told by the girl’s daughter in Faith, a Russian religious periodical, dated May 2006. The original in Russian, which I can’t read, so I used Google Translator:
Jacob Korchinsky was not the actual father of my mother, he was her adoptive father. In 1912-1916. He was the rector of the Orthodox Church in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. There he gave the girl in foster homes, from a poor family of Spanish origin. In 1916-1917 grandfather returned to his home in Odessa, along with a girl (my mother was then year 3-4).
The translation obviously isn’t great, and the dates aren’t precise, but the gist is clear enough. (And there are more details if you follow the above link and can read Russian. Google Translator has some issues with Russian, unfortunately. To our Russian-speaking readers: if you have a moment and can do a quick translation, please let me know.)
Korchinsky stayed in Russia through the Revolution and the terror that followed. He was arrested on June 23, 1941. Two months later, like so many of his fellow priests, he was executed. He was 80 years old.
Based on all this, it seems to me that Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was indeed a saint, just like his fellow American priests and Russian hieromartyrs Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov, and Seraphim Samuilovich. Korchinsky’s is a remarkable, multicontinental story which has not yet been told. If any of you have more information on Korchinsky, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 13, 1923, and was entitled, “Tolls Story of Old California.”
An old and battered bell, hanging in an orange grove where Ramona played in the days of her childhood, rang a new note in the song of California’s mission history yesterday.
After a silence of 127 years the ancient bell has spoken, and the tale it has told may alter certain chapters of the story of El Camino Real and prove facts of California’s history which in the past have existed only as theory. Further, it may refute one or two other phases of the King’s Highway chronicles which have always been accepted as a historical fact. It has been declared by several historians as one of the most important historical discoveries of a human interest nature ever made on the Pacific Coast.
Alice Harriman, noted campanologist and author, is accredited with uncovering the veiled past of the aged bell. Three years ago Mrs. Harriman first saw the bell as it swung in an orange grove at “Camulos,” where Ramona spent her girlhood days, and now the Del Valle ranch. Since then, she has devoted her time to tracing back the almost obliterated story of the bell. She announced yesterday the completion of her research work, in which she has been assisted by noted American and Russian authorities.
The bell is not of Spanish origin. Nor did it come to California from Mexico, Peru, Chili, Massachusetts or Russia — where almost all the famous bells of the world were cast. The Camulos bell was made on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, and presents the first glimpse into a phase of the earliest settlement of Russian America, now known as Alaska, which hitherto has been unknown to modern historians. The inscription on the Camulos bell, written in a forgotten language, betrays the secret. It reveals that it was cast at Kodiak in 1796 and that it was traded for food by Count Nicolai Resenov, one of the earliest settlers of Alaska, and that until sixty years ago it hung in the famed San Fernando Mission.
“I have found bells from Mexico, Spain, Peru, Chili, Belgium, Massachusetts, Sitka, and Russia,” said Mrs. Harriman yesterday, “but not until three years ago did I realize that I was to discover one of the most historical bells ever found.”
She told of a visit to Camulos when she first saw the bell in the orange grove. But the inscription was in Russian script. The Del Valle family knew little concerning the bell other than that it had been removed from the old San Fernando Mission to save it from vandals sixty-two years ago, and that ever since then it had been exposed to the ravages of the weather on Del Valle ranch.
A crude cross and a stenciled inscription “De Sn Ferno,” hammered on the bronze surface by the Franciscan fathers, proved it had once hung in San Fernando Mission.
Russian authorities could not translate the inscription around the lower rim. With the assistance of Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, noted historian, Mrs. Harriman learned that it was in the old Slavonic church language, now virtually extinct. She appealed to Rev. A.P. Kasheveroff, curator of the Alaskan Historical Society, and she learned portions of the inscription:
“Island of Kodiak — Alexander Baranoff — Month of January”
Two big gaps in the inscription could not be read from the photographs by Dr. Kasheveroff. She then sought the aid of Dr. Alexis Kall, of this city, a student of the forgotten language. The complete inscription read:
“1796 — In the Month of January, 1796, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak through the generosity of Arch-Mandrite Joasaph and elected church warden Alexander Baranoff”
Now, how did it get down into California, into an orange grove?” Mrs. Harriman asked. “Cast on a barely settled island with the wild, wide waters of the North Pacific pounding on the shores of the bay near where it was cast, by a Greek Orthodox arch-abbot for sponsor — how does it come that it was for years the bell for the Roman Catholic Franciscan Mission of San Fernando, in the lovely valley of the same name?
“The answer, almost certain and indorsed by historians and campanologists in California, Washington and Alaska, is that when Baranoff changed his headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka in 1805 he brough the bell with him.
“When Count Resenov visited Sitka and found the little settlement in such sore straights for food, he took the ‘Juno’ and came to California for food for starving Sitka. Knowing as the Russians did that the Spanish settlements of California had missions and that wherever there are missions bells are needed, Resenov brought this bell with other things that he thought he could exchange for the Southland’s grain and meat. When it was traded, the San Fernando inscription was stenciled on it.
“It may have been that the bell was brought by the Russians who hunted for otter on the Channel Islands; but bells are ungainly things to handle and it is doubted if there is any other explanation to be found than the one indorsed by those highest in authority on Pacific Coast history.
“The material in the bell also has an interesting history as research in Russian archives show. Baranoff wrote to Shelikoff, his superior in Russia and at whose instance the bell was first cast, that the copper he sent — meaning Shelikoff — had been received and that ‘that Englishman, Vancouver,’ had sent him some tin.
“Baranoff most fortunately, even wrote to Shelikoff revealing the name of the founder of this wonderful bell. It was Sapoknikoff.”
Mrs. Harriman stated that most of her positive information concerning the bell was found in Tekmeneft’s History.
Yesterday, Isa Almisry made a great comment full of fascinating links and references. One of the most intriguing is this one, on a Russian bell housed at the Mission of San Fernando el Rey de Espana, located 40 miles from San Pedro (where St. Peter the Aleut was reportedly captured):
A hundred-pound bell was unearthed in an orange grove near the Mission in 1920. It carried the following inscription (translated from Russian): “In the Year 1796, in the month of January, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak by the blessing of Archimandrite Joaseph, during the sojourn of Alexsandr Baranov.” It is not known how this Russian Orthodox artifact from Kodiak, Alaska made its way to a Catholic mission in Southern California.
Another reference presents a theory about how the bell made it to the Roman Catholic mission:
A bell hangs in the belfry of the church. Another bell, weighing 100 pounds and dated to 1796, bears inscriptions for both Mission San Fernando and a Russian Orthodox Church official of the island of Kodiak, Alaska. It is believed by some that the bell originated with Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov’s 1806 Russian trading expedition to Alta California.
I did some further digging, which turned up this note (and the accompanying photo) from the book Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana, by Jacqueline Ching: “A Russian count traded it for food in San Francisco, and from there it went to Mission San Fernando.” According to Ching, the bell went missing sometime before 1860, and wasn’t rediscovered until 1920. In addition to the Russian inscription, “DE Sn FERNO” was hammered into the surface.
So who was this “Russian count,” Nikolay Rezanov? According to his Wikipedia page, he lived quite a life. He was a statesman (serving as Russian ambassador to Japan), an explorer (circumnavigating the globe), and a scholar (member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences). But he is most famous for his role in founding the great Russian-American Company, the state-sponsored monopoly that ruled Alaska in the 19th century.
In 1806, he sailed from Sitka (then called New Archangel) to Spanish California. Apparently, the bell in question was on board his ship, although I can’t imagine why. Caught in a storm, he was forced to stop at San Francisco, where he fell in love with the daughter of a high-ranking Spanish official. In part because of this relationship, Rezanov negotiated a treaty between Russia and Spain regarding their claims in America, but on his way back to St. Petersburg to present it to the Tsar, Rezanov took ill and died in Siberia. Click here to see a website dedicated to preserving Rezanov’s memory.
None of this explains how a bell cast on Kodiak in 1796 made it onto a ship bound for California ten years later. The bell itself was probably the first Orthodox church bell made in the Western Hemisphere. For that matter, it may have been the first Orthodox bell in America, period, regardless of where it was originally made. It’s a rare artifact from the original Kodiak Mission, and it’s sitting in a Roman Catholic church in California, unknown (as far as I can tell) to virtually all Orthodox Christians despite its historical significance. I, for one, would love to visit that church and see the bell for myself. If anyone learns more about it, please let us know.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.