Posts tagged New York
Lately, I’ve been analyzing the Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, a landmark 1952 Supreme Court case. For all the articles I’ve written on the case, click here. In this article, I am focusing on Justice Jackson’s dissenting opinion. (A brief note: in the past articles, I erroneously referred to Justice Jackson as Justice Black. I have no idea why I confused the two men. Justice Black actually agreed with the majority. Sorry for the mistake.)
Justice Jackson lets us know how he feels from the very beginning of his opinion: “New York courts have decided an ordinary ejectment action involving possession of New York real estate in favor of the plaintiff, a corporation organized under the Religious Corporations Law of New York under the name ‘Saint Nicholas Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America.’ Admittedly, it holds, and since 1925 has held, legal title to the Cathedral property. The New York Court of Appeals decided that it also has the legal right to its possession and control.”
This is something we haven’t heard before — that the Metropolia party (i.e., “Saint Nicholas Cathedral”) actually held legal title to the property. All the New York courts tried to do, in Justice Jackson’s view, is uphold that legal title. Justice Jackson continues:
The appellant [Archbishop] Benjamin’s defense against this owner’s demand for possession and the basis of his claimed right to enjoy possession of property he admittedly does not own is set forth in his answer to the ejectment suit in these words: ‘Said premises pursuant to the above rules of the Russian Orthodox Church are held in trust for the benefit of the accredited Archbishop of said Archdiocese, to be possessed, occupied and used by said Archbishop as his residence, as a place for holding religious services, and other purposes related to his office and as the seat and headquarters for the administration, by him, of the affairs of the Archdiocese both temporal and spiritual.’ And, says the appellant Benjamin, he is that Archbishop.
Again, this is information that wasn’t clear from the majority and concurring opinions we’ve already seen. On the one hand, the Metropolia group has legal title to the property. On the other hand, the Moscow group points to a claim that, by way of Russian Church rules, the property is held in trust for the Archbishop.
Justice Jackson goes on to offer his own perspective on the history leading up to the case:
I greatly oversimplify the history of this controversy to indicate its nature rather than to prove its merits. This Cathedral was incorporated and built in the era of the Czar, under the regime of a state-ridden church in a church-ridden state. The Bolshevik Revolution may have freed the state from the grip of the church, but it did not free the church from the grip of the state. It only brought to the top a new master for a captive and submissive ecclesiastical establishment. By 1945, the Moscow patriarchy had been reformed and manned under the Soviet regime and it sought to re-establish in other countries its prerevolutionary control of church property and its sway over the minds of the religious. As the Court’s opinion points out, it demanded of the Russian Church in America, among other things, that it abstain “from political activities against the U.S.S.R.” The American Cathedral group, along with others, refused submission to the representative of the Moscow Patriarch, whom it regarded as an arm of the Soviet Government. Thus, we have an ostensible religious schism with decided political overtones.
Justice Jackson argues that this case concerns “the ownership and possession of real estate” in New York, and “the vexing technical questions pertaining to the creation, interpretation, termination, and enforcement of uses and trusts.” These are matters for the states, not the United States Supreme Court. Justice Jackson writes, “This controversy, I believe, is [...] not within the proper province of this Court.”
Justice Jackson continues, “As I read the prevailing opinions, the Court assumes that some transfer of control has been accomplished by legislation which results in a denial of due process. This, of course, would raise a question of deprivation of property, not of liberty, while only the latter issue is raised by the parties.” In other words, everyone here is talking about freedom of religion and the First Amendment, but really, this is about property, plain and simple. The fact that the parties involved are religious groups is not really relevant.
In point of fact, says Justice Jackson, no religious freedom has been violated.
It is important to observe what New York has not done in this case. It has not held that Benjamin may not act as Archbishop or be revered as such by all who will follow him. It has not held that he may not have a Cathedral. Indeed, I think New York would agree that no one is more in need of spiritual guidance than the Soviet faction. It has only held that this cleric may not have a particular Cathedral which, under New York law, belongs to others. It has not interfered with his or anyone’s exercise of his religion. New York has not outlawed the Soviet-controlled sect nor forbidden it to exercise its authority or teach its dogma in any place whatsoever except on this piece of property owend and rightfully possessed by the Cathedral Corporation.
The above paragraph stands in direct opposition to Justice Frankfurter’s opinion (discussed in my previous article), which equated possession of the Cathedral with spiritual authority itself. In Justice Frankfurter’s view, the State of New York all but deposed Benjamin as Archbishop of North America when it awarded St. Nicholas Cathedral to the Metropolia. In Justice Jackson’s view, all New York did was uphold the Metropolia’s legal ownership of the Cathedral, while doing nothing to interfere with Benjamin’s position as Archbishop.
According to Justice Jackson, just because property is “dedicated to a religious use” does not make the property dispute into a deprivation of religious liberty. “I assume no one would pretend that the State cannot decide a claim of trespass, larceny, conversion, bailment or contract, where the property involved is that of a religious corporation or is put to religious use, without invading the principle of religious liberty.”
And furthermore, aren’t both sides in this controversy religious groups? “But if both claimants are religious corporations or personalities, can not the State decide the issues that arise over ownership and possession without invading the religious freedom of one or the other of the parties?”
Referring to Archbishop Benjamin as “the Soviet Ecclesiast,” Justice Jackson writes that the Archbishop’s claim, “denial of which is said to be constitutional error,” is that the Cathedral property is “impressed with a trust by virtue of the rules of the Russian Orthodox Church” — not by virtue of New York law. “To me, whatever the canon law is found to be and whoever is the rightful head of the Moscow patriarchate, I do not think New York law must yield to the authority of a foreign and unfriendly state masquerading as a spiritual institution.”
This, then, is the dichotomy: New York property law and a New York title, versus Russian Church law and a purported trust under that law. And in Justice Jackson’s mind, when New York property law conflicts with Russian Church property law, New York law wins.
I will offer my own intitial, tentative impressions in the next article.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
In my previous two articles (available here), I discussed the majority opinion in the 1952 Supreme Court case Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral. Today, I’ll discuss the concurring opinion of Justice Frankfurter. And just to be clear — “concurring opinion” means that Justice Frankfurter agreed with the ultimate outcome of the case (a victory for the Moscow Patriarchal jurisdiction), but differed to some extent in his reasoning.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Reed, relied on the idea that the Russian Orthodox Church had undisputed jurisdiction over its North American Archdiocese until 1917, never relinquished that jurisdiction after 1917, and therefore still had jurisdiction in 1952. Thus the whole issue was an internal church dispute, and Moscow, as the higher church authority, had priority over the Metropolia.
Justice Frankfurter, concurring, begins by simply stating the problem. “[T]his proceeding,” he writes, “rests on a claim which cannot be determined without intervention by the State in a religious conflict. [...] St. Nicholas Cathedral is an archiepiscopal see of one of the great religious organizations. What is at stake here is the power to exercise religious authority. That is the essence of this controversy.” According to Justice Frankfurter, St. Nicholas Cathedral is not merely a piece of property — it is “the outward symbol of a religious faith.” Control of the Cathedral is a physical manifestation of religious authority; thus, determining who owns the Cathedral is tantamount to determining who has religious authority.
I find this logic questionable. Nobody was going to shift their loyalties from Metropolitan Leonty to Archbishop Benjamin, or vice versa, on the basis of who physically possessed the Cathedral building. I’m no theologian, but my understanding is that Justice Frankfurter’s logic has things somewhat backwards: it is the bishop who makes the cathedral, not the cathedral the bishop. After all, “cathedral” simply refers to the “cathedra” — the bishop’s throne, or seat. Metropolitan Leonty could — and did — make a different building his cathedral, and to this day, Holy Protection (not St. Nicholas) is the OCA cathedral for New York.
Citing Watson v. Jones (discussed in my previous post), Justice Frankfurter points out that, even in property disputes where secular courts must get involved, “the authority of courts is in strict subordination to the ecclesiastical law of a particular church prior to a schism.” So the courts can get involved to some limited degree, sometimes. On the other hand, “Legislatures have no such obligation to adjudicate and no power.” It would be one thing, says Justice Frankfurter, for the New York courts to deal with a dispute over ownership of St. Nicholas Cathedral. But that isn’t what happened; instead, the New York state legislature stepped in and passed a law, transferring property rights from Moscow to the Metropolia.
If this principle is allowed to stand, reasons Justice Frankfurter, it “would give each State the right to assess the circumstances, in the foreign political entanglements of its religious bodies that make for danger to the State,” and the power to “divest such bodies of spiritual authority and of the temporal property which symbolizes it.” Again, Justice Frankfurter returns to this notion that the cathedral makes the bishop — a notion which I consider theologically and ecclesiologically (not to mention legally) suspect.
However, Justice Frankfurter’s broader point is spot on. He writes, “Memory is short but it cannot be forgotten that in the State of New York there was a strong feeling against the Tsarist regime at a time when the Russian Church was governed by a Procurator of the Tsar. And when Mussolini executed the Lateran Agreement, argument was not wanting by those friendly to her claims that the Church of Rome was subjecting herself to political authority.” It is entirely possible that foreign governments could influence American citizens via religious institutions such as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. But the state cannot be driven by these fears. Justice Frankfurter continues, “Such fear readily leads to persecution of religious beliefs deemed dangerous to ruling political authority. [...] The long, unedifying history of the contest between the secular state and the church is replete with instances of attempts by civil government to exert pressure upon religious authorities.” Thus, while states have a legitimate interest in combating Soviet ideology, and while the Soviets may exert an influence over the Russian Orthodox Church, “under our Constitution it is not open to the governments of this Union to reinforce the loyalty of their citizens by deciding who is the true exponent of their religion.”
But according to the Metropolia, “the present Moscow Patriarchate is not the true superior church of the American communicants. The vicissitudes of war and revolution which have beset the Moscow Patriarchate since 1917 are said to have resulted in a discontinuity which divests the present Patriarch of his authority over the American church.” Problematically, though, the Metropolia does recognize Patriarch Alexy as the “legitimately chosen holder of his office.” So do Alexy’s “co-equals,” the other Orthodox patriarchs (and even, adds Justice Frankfurter, “the present Archbishop of York”). The New York legislature can’t just step in and declare Alexy illegitimate.
Justice Frankfurter concludes that the New York legislature, in enacting a law in favor of the Metropolia over Moscow, “enter[ed] the domain of religious control barred to the States” by the Constitution.
This concurring opinion isn’t long, but it incorporates several arguments. In summary (as best I can figure):
- The Cathedral is the symbol of spiritual authority, so to decide its owner is essentially to decide a religious question reserved for the church.
- The New York state legislature doesn’t have the power to adjudicate church property disputes; that is a matter for the courts, and even those courts cannot override church law.
- It’s extremely dangerous to let governments restrict churches based on fears of foreign political influence.
- Everybody agrees that Patriarch Alexy is the legitimate head of the Russian Church, and as such, he has authority over the Russian Church in America.
Next time, we’ll unpack Justice Jackson’s very different dissenting opinion.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Yesterday, I discussed Justice Reed’s majority opinion in Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, a landmark 1952 Supreme Court case pitting the Moscow Patriarchate’s North American jurisdiction against the Metropolia (today’s OCA). The dispute was about which group — Moscow or the Metropolia — was the rightful owner of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. The majority of the Court ruled in favor of Moscow.
Before moving on to the concurring and dissenting opinions, I wanted to touch on an aspect of Justice Reed’s opinion that I neglected yesterday. Justice Reed devoted a great deal of attention to Watson v. Jones, an 1871 case which served (and still serves) as important precedent in church-state relations. Here are the basics of Watson:
In 1865, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States denounced slavery and required its members to do the same. In Louisville, Kentucky, the Presbyterians were divided on whether to comply, and the Walnut Street Church ended up in the hands of proslavery members. The parish then joined the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States. The US General Assembly condemned the proslavery party and, for all intents and purposes, excommunicated them from the Church.
In 1866, some antislavery members of the Walnut Street Church sued for control of parish property. According to Justice Reed’s summary, “The suit was to decide [...] which one of the two bodies should be recognized as entitled to the use of the Walnut Street Presbyterian Church.” The Court in Watson held that, “whenever questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law have been decided by the highest of these church authorities to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunals must accept such decisions as binding on them.” In this case, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church had already recognized the antislavery group as the legitimate owners of Walnut Street Church. The Supreme Court refused to override the decision.
The Court reasoned, in Watson, that if you unite yourself to a hierarchical church, you do so “with an implied consent” to the government of that church, “and are bound to submit to it.” You cannot, said the Court, appeal to secular courts when you don’t agree with a decision of your church. If you could, this “would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies.”
Justice Reed found obvious parallels between Watson and the present case, Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral. According to Justice Reed, “This controversy concerning the right to use St. Nicholas Cathedral is strictly a matter of ecclesiastical government, the power of the Supreme Church Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church to appoint a ruling hierarch of the archdiocese of North America. No one disputes that such power did lie in that Authority prior to the Russian Revolution.”
In the end, this all seems to boil down to historical interpretation. As I discussed yesterday, the majority’s logic goes like this:
- The Russian Orthodox Church had undisputed authority over the North American Archdiocese prior to 1917.
- The Russian Orthodox Church never relinquished that authority.
- Therefore, the Russian Orthodox Church still has that authority, and its decisions are binding upon the North American Archdiocese (that is, the Metropolia).
Now, it’s true that Patriarch St. Tikhon granted some measure of temporary self-government to the North American Archdiocese. But this grant was not at all clear. Justice Reed doesn’t get into it, but St. Tikhon issued multiple and contradictory decisions during that tumultuous period. And even the strongest, most pro-Metropolia of those decisions was subject to “confirmation later to the Central Church Authority when it is reestablished.” Whatever you think of the Central Church Authority between 1917 and 1945, certainly by 1945 the Metropolia recognized that a legitimate Central Church Authority existed in Moscow. And that authority refused to confirm St. Tikhon’s grant of temporary autonomy for America. Legally speaking, the Metropolia’s position was weak.
As promised, next time, I’ll focus on Justice Frankfurter’s concurring opinion.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
It’s been forever since I wrote an article here at OH.org. I’ve been incredibly busy, with my family, my local parish, and law school classes taking up all of my time. I’m in summer classes, as well, so there won’t be much reprieve over the next couple of months. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to mix law school and American Orthodox history. This summer, I am writing, for credit, a paper on Orthodoxy in the American courts. As best I can tell, there has been very little published on the subject, although awhile back one reader (a recent law school graduate) sent me a paper he had written on the very subject. I hope to publish my own paper at some point.
Right now, I’m up to my neck in case law, reading judges’ opinions from throughout the 20th century. There are two major US Supreme Court cases dealing with Orthodoxy — Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral (1952) and Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich (1976). Today, I’m going to share some thoughts on Kedroff. For the full text of the Supreme Court opinions, click here.
Kedroff deals with a dispute between the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA) on the one hand, and the Moscow Patriarchate’s North American Archdiocese on the other. At issue is which group — the Metropolia or Moscow — should have possession of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City.
The basic history is as follows. Until 1917, all Russian Orthodox churches in America were under the authority of the Orthodox Church of Russia, which was governed by a Holy Synod. In 1917… well, a lot happened in 1917. First there was the February Revolution, which dethroned the Tsar. An All-Russian Sobor was then held, and St. Tikhon (formerly of America) was elected Patriarch of Moscow — the first such election since Peter the Great abolished the office of Patriarch. Just as this happened, the Bolsheviks swept into power and began to persecute the Orthodox Church.
On November 20, 1920, Patriarch Tikhon issued a document granting to the North American Archdiocese what Justice Reed (writing for the majority) refers to as “a large measure of autonomy, when the Russian ruling authority was unable to function, subject to ‘confirmation later to the Central Church Authority when it is reestablished.’” In 1924, the North American Archdiocese held an All-American Sobor in Detroit. American Orthodox historians typically view the 1924 Detroit Sobor to be the moment when the North American Archdiocese was transformed into the autonomous Russian Metropolia. Justice Reed writes, “This was followed by [...] a spate of litigation concerning control of the various churches and occupancy of ecclesiastical positions [...]”
Patriarch Tikhon died in 1925. In 1933, Metropolitan Sergius, locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, appointed Archbishop Benjamin Fedchenkov to head a new Russian Archdiocese in North America. A decade later, Sergius was elected Patriarch, but he died soon thereafter. Justice Reed: “After Sergius’ death a new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexi, was chosen Patriarch in 1945 at Moscow at a sobor recognized by all parties to this litigation as a true sobor held in accordance with church canons.” I hadn’t realized this — that the Metropolia recognized the election of Patriarch Alexy I as canonical.
Representatives from the American Metropolia were supposed to participate in that 1945 Sobor that elected Alexy, but they were prevented. I don’t know what the story is there (Justice Reed doesn’t know, and he’s who I’m relying on right now), but I seem to recall reading something about that in an OCA history book somewhere… I’ll have to look. Anyway, when the Metropolia reps finally made it to Moscow, they presented to the Patriarch and Holy Synod a report on the Metropolia and a request for formal autonomy. A few days later (February 14 or 16, 1945), Moscow responded with an ukase, stipulating that, for Moscow and the Metropolia to reunite, the Metropolia must:
- Promptly hold an All-American Sobor,
- Express the decision of the American dioceses to reunite with Moscow,
- Declare the agreement of the Metropolia to abstain “from political activities against the USSR,” and
- Elect a Metropolitan subject to confirmation by Moscow.
The ukase stopped short of promising autonomy, instead suggesting only that the American Metropolitan “may be given some extended powers.”
At an All-American Sobor in Cleveland in 1946, the Metropolia rejected Moscow’s offer. Thus began the events which led to this 1952 Supreme Court case. The Metropolia was headquartered in New York, and in New York state, religious corporations are incorporated by acts of the state legislature. In fact, at about this time, the other major American Orthodox jurisdictions (e.g. the Greeks and Antiochians) incorporated in New York. So too was the Metropolia incorporated by a legislative act. Justice Reed explains the act thusly:
The purpose of the article was to bring all the New York churches, formerly subject to the administrative jurisdiction of the Most Sacred Governing Synod in Moscow or the Patriarch of Moscow, into an administratively autonomous metropolitan district. That district was North American in area, created pursuant to resolutions adopted at a sobor held in Detroit in 1924. This declared autonomy was made effective by a further legislative requirement that all the churches formerly subject to the Moscow synod and patriarchate should for the future be governed by the ecclesiastical body and hierarchy of the American metropolitan district.
The majority of the Supreme Court found this act to be unconstitutional. Justice Reed: “We conclude that Article 5-C undertook by its terms to transfer the control of the New York churches of the Russian Orthodox religion from the central governing hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow and the Holy Synod, to the governing authorities of the Russian Church in America, a church organization limited to the diocese of North America and the Aleutian Islands. [...] Such a law violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It prohibits in this country the free exercise of religion.” In other words, the New York legislature can’t do that! They can’t modify or cut off Moscow’s jurisdiction — and, as Justice Reed explains, “Nothing indicates that [Moscow] relinquished that authority [over Russian Church in America] or recognized the autonomy of the American church.”
Furthermore, the legislative act requires the New York churches to conform to Orthodox doctrine, etc. This sounds fine and good, but, says Justice Reed, “their conformity is by legislative fiat and subject to legislative will. Should the state assert power to change the statute requiring conformity to ancient faith and doctrine to one establishing a different doctrine, the invalidity would be unmistakable.”
Of course, all this legislation was taking place at a tension-filled time in American history. This was the McCarthy Era, the Red Scare, when even a hint of Communist sympathies could ruin your life. Justice Reed agrees with the need to curtail Communist sentiments, saying, “Legislative power to punish subversive action cannot be doubted. If such action should actually be attempted by a cleric, neither his robe nor his pulpit would be a defense. But in this case no problem of punishment for violation of the law arises. There is no charge of subversive or hostile action by any ecclesiastic. Here there is a transfer by statute of control over churches. This violates our rule of separation between church and state.”
The rationale of the majority is pretty straightforward: this is an internal church dispute in which the government may not interfere. In the view of the majority, Moscow never surrendered its authority in America. Of Article 5-C, Justice Reed concludes, “By fiat it displaces one church administrator with another. It passes the control of matters strictly ecclesiastical from one church authority to another. It thus intrudes for the benefit of one segment of a church the power of the state into a forbidden area of religious freedom contrary to the principles of the First Amendment. [...] Article 5-C directly prohibits the free exercise of an ecclesiastical right, the Church’s choice of its hierarchy.”
It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that in 1952, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a case against a local American church and in favor of a church widely regarded as under Soviet influence? But, in the majority’s eyes, they had no choice. Next time, we’ll look at Justice Frankfurther’s concurring opinion, which takes a somewhat different approach but reaches the same ultimate conclusion (that is, that Moscow wins and the Metropolia loses). After that, we’ll discuss Justice Jackson’s dissenting opinion.
I should say (and probably should have said at the beginning) that this analysis of mine is a work in progress. I’m definitely not an expert on this stuff, and I’m learning as I go. It’s entirely possible that I’ve butchered the analysis, and I’ll be revisiting everything many times before I complete my paper. I would appreciate any feedback my readers might have, and I’d especially love to hear what the lawyers out there think of the Kedroff case. These articles I’m writing are really just my own notes and impressions, but I thought readers might find the case interesting. I hope you’ll all forgive me for the inadequacies of my initial analysis. Consider yourself forewarned.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
This article was originally published on October 30, 2009.
On July 19, 1870, a Philadelphia newspaper called the North American and United States Gazette published the following report:
The Russian Ambassador has received instructions from his government that three bishoprics of the Greek Church are to be established forthwith in this country – one at New York, one at New Orleans, and one at San Francisco, in each of which last named places there is already a Greek church and a Russo-Greek priest.
A few days later, the journal Christian Union (7/23/1870) reported on the move of the Russian bishop from Alaska to San Francisco, and on the founding of Bjerring’s chapel in New York City. Citing the Pacific Churchman as its source, the article then stated the following:
New York is expected to be, in time, the seat of a Greek Orthodox Eastern Church arch-diocesan, and of the cathedral church of that hierarchy on the American continent, while New Orleans and San Francisco are to be episcopal seats. It is further stated that Mr. N.L. BJERRING, of Baltimore, a recent convert from the Roman Church, has been selected as one of the Orthodox bishops for this country, and that he has been invited by telegraph, from St. Petersburg, to proceed thither, to be baptized, ordained into the ministry, and be consecrated a bishop.
It’s interesting to read about a plan calling for New York to be the headquarters of an archdiocese; it would be more than three decades before this would actually happen. Also, Bjerring, being married, could not have become a bishop. It’s possible that the Russian Church wasn’t initially aware of this, and did at some early stage consider him a candidate for the episcopacy. It’s also possible that the newspaper reporter misunderstood something.
Anyway, within a few more days, the New York Sun had run a piece on all this. I don’t have the original Sun account, but it was picked up by various papers, including the Cleveland Herald (7/30/1870), the Chicago Tribune (8/1), and Flake’s Bulletin of Galveston, Texas (8/20). This is from the Cleveland Herald‘s version:
The Russian Government has decided to establish a Bishopric of the Greek Church in New York. The fact was made known to a number of Episcopal clergymen by Count Catacazy, the Russian Minister, and the Count recently offered the position of Prelate of the proposed See to the Rev. Samos [the other versions say "James"] Christal, an Episcopal minister, who is understood to have favored the plan of Dr. (now Bishop) Young of uniting the Episcopal and Greek churches. Mr. Christal has, however, declined to accept the office, on the ground that he could not subscribe to the articles of the Seventh Synod of the Greek church, relating to the images and creature worship, and the new Bishopric has not yet been filled.
Two other Bishoprics are to be established by the Russian Government, one in San Francisco and the other in New Orleans, but the candidates have not yet been named.
On August 27, Christian Union (which had already published a report on July 23 — see above) ran a similar story, but cited Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian Banner.
Finally, in October, a correction of sorts began to appear. From the Christian Advocate (10/10/1870; the same appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin on October 29):
The Russian Government does not contemplate sending Bishops of the Greek Church to form dioceses in this country. Greek Church communicants are too few to require them, and these few, it seems, do not desire foreign Bishops.
That is the last thing I’ve found on the plan.
All of these reports were coming during a time of transition for American Orthodoxy. During the same summer of 1870, Bishop John Mitropolsky was assigned to replace Bishop Paul Popov as the Russian hierarch in North America. The diocese itself was restructured, and the new Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was created. (Previously, Bishop Paul had been merely a vicar in the Diocese of Kamchatka.) Bishop John moved the hierarchical residence from Sitka (or New Archangel) to San Francisco. This move wouldn’t be officially recognized until 1872, but for all practical purposes, it took place with the change in bishops in 1870.
Also, in May of 1870, Nicholas Bjerring went to Russia and was ordained a priest. He returned to the US that summer, and news began to circulate that the Russian Church planned to establish a chapel in New York City.
Is it possible that the Russian Church (and the Russian government) was making initial efforts to implement St. Innocent’s recommendation from a few years earlier? Late in 1867, Innocent recommended, among other things, that
- The diocesan seat be moved from Sitka (New Archangel) to San Francisco,
- The American part of the Diocese of Kamchatka be separated from the Diocese (Innocent recommended that it be formed into a vicariate under St. Petersburg, so creating a separate diocese would have been an even bolder step),
- The former bishop be recalled to Russia, and a new bishop be appointed who is familiar with English, and
- The new bishop be allowed to ordain American converts to the priesthood for service in America.
It’s also interesting to note the apparent resistence of the few Orthodox living in America. The San Francisco community was probably not the source of the problem, since they were the one city that did receive a Russian bishop in 1870. The New Orleans parish may have taken issue with this proposal, though, since they were a mostly independent group connected with the Greek consulate and nominally affiliated with the Church of Greece. But, details being so scarce, it’s hard to know just what the real story is.
There are a couple of avenues one might pursue to get to the bottom of all this. Obviously, the Russian Orthodox Church may have records of this plan (and I would expect them to be in St. Petersburg). There also might be something in the records of the Russian embassy, since the Russian ambassador was the one who approached Chrystal about the proposal. It can’t have just been the imaginings of American newspapermen, and I for one would love to know rationale behind the plan — and the reasons why it was abandoned.
This article was written by Matthew Namee and was originally published on October 30, 2009.