Posts tagged newspapers
I’ve got several new articles in the works, but law school has been brutal lately, so I haven’t been able to finish any of them. In the meantime, I thought I’d republish one of my old articles. This one was originally published on June 1, 2010.
Fr. Philip Sredanovich is one of the odder characters in American Orthodox history. Perhaps not as odd as the embellishing Agapius Honcharenko or the wandering Bulgarian Monk, but in all my studies, I’ve run across few parish priests stranger than Sredanovich.
Sredanovich was born in Montenegro in 1881. I read somewhere that he was educated in Russia, although I can’t seem to track down the precise source at the moment. (This is supported by the 1920 US Census, which says that Sredanovich’s wife was born in Russia.) He came to the US just after the turn of the 20th century; by 1906, he was pastor of St. Nicholas Serbian Church in Wilmerding, PA. A couple of years later, while serving in Butler, PA, he made his first newspaper headlines. From the Washington Post (12/11/1908):
The Rev. Philip Sredanovitch, pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church and editor of Justness, today announced a discovery, which, if it works out, will put Newton, Franklin, and Edison in the amateur class. The pastor-editor declares that he has invented a means by which the rotation of the earth on its axis may be taken advantage of in travel, and that by standing still one may go around the world in 24 hours.
He says he has found a way by which men may lift themselves above the earth to a point where they will stand still while the earth, rotating from west to east, will do their traveling for them. The secret is jealously guarded by the pastor and his wife, whom he credits with suggesting the idea. He asks $100,000 for the invention.
Sredanovich says: “We will hoist ourselves above the earth and await the coming of the desired place, then we will lower ourselves where we desire to be. In this way we may go from America to Europe in less than eighteen hours. My secret is how to stand above the earth and not be affected by the earth’s attraction.”
He says his invention makes it possible to get away from gravitation and still not be lose [sic] in space.
He does not say how one may get away from the swirling earth and take his stand in the ethereal world, but any one with $100,000 may find out. So far as is known, the pastor has invented no airships nor announced any scheme for climbing a sunbeam.
This has to be a joke, right? An educated clergyman couldn’t seriously think that you could circle the globe simply by “hoisting” yourself above the earth — could he?
Moving on… Sredanovich bounced around a lot. Here is an incomplete list of the places he served:
- Wilmerding, PA
- Butler, PA
- Kansas City, MO
- South Bend, IN
- Gary, IN
- Kansas City, MO (again)
- Butte, MT
- Milwaukee, WI
- Steelton, PA
- Johnstown, PA
- Butte, MT (again)
Of course, in Sredanovich’s day, it was quite common for priests to spend just a couple of years (or less) at one parish before moving on to the next. But Sredanovich’s travels seem to have been caused as much by his own personality as by the era in which he lived. In November 1920, he was “fired” from his post in Kansas City, responded with four successive lawsuits in the span of three months. In one suit, he asked for $25,000, charging that “church officials were instrumental in causing slanderous remarks to be printed against him” in a Serbian newspaper. A few days later, he filed another lawsuit, this time merely seeking $120 in back pay. (I don’t know the outcomes of these cases; my only source is the Kansas City Times, 1/25/1921.)
After leaving Kansas City, Sredanovich went to Butte, Montana, where he took over Holy Trinity Serbian Church. One day, in November of 1922, he was walking down the street when a group of teenage boys started to bother him. One picked up a rock, at which point Sredanovich took off for his house. He went inside, got his pistol, and returned to the street. The youths continued to taunt Sredanovich, who responded by shooting one of the boys in the foot. The injured 18-year-old was taken to the hospital, and Sredanovich was arrested and charged with second-degree assault. (Idaho Daily Statesman, 11/30/1922)
Sredanovich soon left Butte, but he returned to the parish in 1949, spending the last three years of his life there. He died in 1952, and is buried at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
From the New York Times, November 25, 1952, page 31:
U.S. COURT VOIDS ACT ON RUSSIAN CHURCH
State Law to End Communist Sway in Orthodox Cathedral Here Is Upset by Ruling
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CITED
8-to-1 Decision Holds Action Violated 14th Amendment — Jackson Lone Dissenter
BY CLAYTON KNOWLES
WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that a New York law, seeking to eliminate Communist influence in Russian Orthodox churches chartered in the state, fell into the realm of religious control barred by the Constitution of the United States.
Under the state law, the Rev. Benjamin Fedchenkoff, Archbishop of the church in North America by appointment of the Patriarch of Moscow, was removed from his pulpit at St. Nicholas Cathedral, 15 East Ninety-seventh Street, New York.
The Court of Appeals, highest tribunal of the state, upheld the validity of the state law under which the ouster was undertaken but the Supreme Court, reversing this finding in an eight-to-one decision, held that such a law violates the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion in this country.
The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Stanley F. Reed, said a state Legislature “cannot validate action which the Constitution prohibits.”
Argument by Jackson
Registering his lone dissent, Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson held that the argument that the state law violated the Fourteenth Amendment safeguards of religious freedom was “so insubstantial that I would dismiss the appeal.”
“To me, whatever the canon law is found to be and whoever is the rightful head of the Moscow Patriarchate,” he wrote, “I do not think that New York law must yield to the authority of a foreign and unfriendly state masquerading as a spiritual institution.”
A bitter factional fight has raged at St. Nicholas Cathedral since 1917, when the Russian revolution brought changes in the central church. A faction, headed by the late Archbishop John S. Kedrovsky, got control of the cathedral in 1926 and kept it up to 1945, when a legal battle was begun over it.
Joined with Archbishop Fedchenkoff as an appellant in the present case has been the Rev. John Kedroff, a son of the late Archbishop. The basic fight has been between those supporting the mother church at Moscow and adherents of the Russian Church in America, recognized under New York law as having the authority over Russian Orthodox churches within the state. This latter group was set up in 1924.
It was on the basis of this law that officials of the cathedral sued to remove Archbishop Fedchenkoff, whose Moscow-bestowed title was Archbishop of the Archdiocese of North America and the Aleutian Islands.
The prevailing court opinion held that the New York law undertook to transfer control of the New York church from the central governing hierarchy and thereby “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by prohibiting in this country the free exercise of religion.”
Majority Opinion Stated
The Reed opinion took cognizance of the fact that the Court of Appeals felt that, since the Russian Government exercised control over the central church authorities, the state legislature had been reasonably justified “in enacting a law to free the American group from infiltration of such atheistic or subversive influences.”
“This legislation, in view of the Court of Appeals,” wrote Justice Reed, “gave the use of the church to the Russian church in America on the theory that this carry out the purposes of the religious trust. Thus, dangers of political use of church pulpits would be minimized.
“Legislative power to punish subversive action cannot be doubted. If such action should be actually attempted by a cleric neither his robe nor his pulpit would be a defense. But in this case, no probation of law arises. There is no 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.”
In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter stated that St. Nicholas Cathedral was “not just a piece of real estate . . . no more than is St. Patrick’s Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.” The cathedral, he maintained, was “an archiepiscopal see of one of the great religious organizations” in stating that the essence of the controversy was “the power to exercise religious authority.”
Finding Called “Sound”
Philip Adler, attorney for St. Nicholas Cathedral [actually, the attorney for the Moscow group], said last night that the position of the Supreme Court was “sound,” regardless of one’s attitude toward Soviet Russia. He emphasized that while he was uncompromisingly opposed to communism, “the church must be preserved.”
Ralph Montgomery Arkush, the opposing counsel [for the Metropolia group], said that he preferred not to comment until he had an opportunity to study the court’s opinion. He added, however, that there “still may be a remedy at common law.”
Editor’s note: That last line by Arkush, the Metropolia’s attorney, is important: that there “still may be a remedy at common law.” The Supreme Court struck down an act of the New York legislature, but the Metropolia didn’t give up. They went back to court, this time arguing that even if the legislature couldn’t decide the property dispute in the Metropolia’s favor, the New York courts could.
New York’s highest court agreed. It found, as a factual matter, that the Patriarch of Moscow was dominated by the secular authority of the USSR, and because of this, his appointed Archbishop could not, under New York common law, take possession of the Cathedral. It was a blatantly anti-Communist rationale, and the case made it all the way back to the Supreme Court in 1960, under the title Kreshik v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral. In an opinion far shorter than the 1952 case, the Supreme Court struck down the New York ruling, reasoning that it doesn’t matter whether the state violates religious freedom through the legislature or the judiciary — either way, you’ve got the state violating religious freedom, and that’s unconstitutional. “[O]ur ruling in Kedroff is controlling here,” reads the opinion, and once again Moscow won.
St. Nicholas Cathedral remains the property of the Moscow Patriarchate to this day. Any future dispute over the ownership of the Cathedral was put to rest by Moscow’s 1970 Tomos of Autocephaly, granted to the OCA, which stipulated that the Cathedral (among other properties) is “excluded from autocephaly on the territory of North America.” Today, the Cathedral is the official representation church of the Moscow Patriarchate in America.
The following article appeared in the New York Times on March 23, 1880, detailing an early communication between Nestor Zass, the Russian Bishop of Alaska and the Rutherford B. Hayes, the President of the United States.
WASHINGTON, March 22. — On Saturday last the President received a letter from Bishop Nestor, of the Greek Church, who was appointed a year ago to the Diocese of Alaska. The document contained a request to permit the bearer of the letter, Mr. Ivan Petroff, to say a few words in behalf of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Alaska. The interview was granted, and Mr. Petroff, who is one of our citizens acquired by the purchase, explained briefly the reasons that had induced Bishop Nestor to take this step.
The membership of the Russian church in the Territory is between 8,000 and 9,000, by far the largest single element of population in Alaska, and as such ought not to be overlooked in the event of legislation for the Territory. The bulk of this population is in the west, far away from the mining region now attracting immigration, entirely secluded from the outside world. These people have remained very much in their former condition, and, being deprived of all school facilities since the purchase, have even, in many instances, descended in the scale of civilization, and are to-day less fitted to hold their own among their new countrymen than they were 13 years ago. Should a full Territorial Government be bestowed upon Alaska this element of population would be in danger of suffering neglect, because they are not fitted to take part in a representative Government until some educational facilities are extended to them, and the English language is introduced among them.
The President listened with interest to this demonstration of an important feature in the Alaska question, ascertaining the location of the parishes of the Russian Church on the map, and measuring the distance separating them from what may be called the American settlements. At the close of the interview he begged Mr. Petroff to assure Bishop Nestor that due attention should be paid to his representations, if Congress places it in the power of the President to do so, by making appointments with a view of guarding the interests of the people in whose behalf the Bishop makes his appeal.
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.
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.