Posts tagged Nicholas Bjerring
On the morning of Sunday, February 9, 1873 — that is, 137 years ago today — a crowd assembled in Holy Trinity Russo-Greek Chapel in New York City. The priest, Fr. Nicholas Bjerring, gave an address on “Unbelief and the Indifference in Religion.” The whole speech was printed in the next day’s New York Times. It is one of the few full Bjerring homilies that has survived, and it is reprinted below in full:
The subject about which, by the grace of God, I intend to speak to-day, is the perversion of this age in which the enemies of God and of man confuse the minds, corrupt the morals, undermine religion, and, rending asunder all bonds, seek to overthrow Divine and human order. It is the spiritual blindness of so many who attack Christianity, preach vice under the name of virtue, allow themselves everything with lawless audacity, proudly disregarding every authority, mislead the innocent, who poison the spirits and murder the souls. It is the deadly unbelief and the religious indifference which denies everything Divine and holy, the indifference, which is lukewarm and cold toward all that is good — this it is that troubles my heart and fills my soul with pain.
The greatest evil in the world is unbelief, the apostacy from God. This apostacy from God is the continual source of corruption. This is a law of the eternal justice. For the man who falls from God and recognizes infidelity is nothing more holy; for him ceases everything that religion highly esteems — family, property, father-land. A nation in which skepticism gains the dominion is sure to meet perdition. Unbelief undermines all foundations of society, till finally regarding neither divine nor human authority it seeks seeks to upset everything existing. Thus teaches the history of all times.
Was it not during the rule of the Commune in Paris, as if there the angel of the Apocalypse had opened the abyss from which ascends scorpions? Was it not the lot of the Prince of Darkness to plunder and murder; was it not a picture of unspeakable misery, which there unfolded itself under the red, blood-steeped banner? God permitted for a short time of t his unlimited rule, in order to remind the nations again into what abyss apostacy from God does lead, and how everywhere, at all times, the truth of the law of eternal justice does stand, that unbelief is the source of all evil, and the end of corruption. “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” This eternal truth appears very clearly, when one considers more closely the watchwords and phrases of unbelief, and compares with them the deeds which were seen as the last consequences of the same in the days of the Parisian Commune.
The devil is only the ape of God; he knows no other inducements to allure to his kingdom than the promises which the Lord has made to His believers, only that he explains them in his way, and thus turns the divine truth into a lie. Man was created in the image of God, and “ye shall be as God,” were the words of the first temptation of the serpent, but it led, through sin, to corruption. To the Son of God was promised dominion over the world, and the devil endeavored to seduce Him through the promise of “all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.” The same value have the promises of the Internationalists and the communists. They incite men to their service through all that which God has named as the prize in His service.
“Liberty” is the first watchword that resounds from the ranks of these enemies of order and government, and the glorious liberty of the children of God is also the reward of those who follow the Gospel. But the evangelical liberty is freedom from slavery of sin, from the power of death; it is the sonship of God. The liberty at which the Internationalists aim is the despising [of] the commandments of God, the self-willed separating from His ordinances upon earth, as Church authority, family — these all are instituted to bring man into the service of God, or to preserve him in the same.
“Equality” proclaims the Internationale to its adherents eager after unjust good and enjoyment, and agreeably falls the word upon the ear of the envious multitude. The equality of men is also the doctrine of Christianity. All men are equal before God; all were created alike in His image; to all has appeared the same salvation. The equality of the Commune is the claim alike to the enjoyments of the world, possession, power, and the gratification of the passions. The desire after this equality is the opposite of the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” The motives are envy, disloyalty, and indolence, and the way to satisfaction is the putting aside of every authoritative order, the plundering of those who hold possessions, and the emancipation of the flesh.
“Fraternity” is the third word upon the red flag — the beautiful battle-cry also of the Christian. The children of God are brethren, and are to be of one mind and soul, and to communicate among themselves that there be none among them that lacketh. The common love of man becomes among Christians brotherly love, and the standing salutation of the Apostle, “Beloved brethren,” is the language of every Christian heart. But what does the Commune understand by “fraternity”? The answer was given to the world in the howling of rage and murder, of petroleurs and petroleuses, even the names of which point to crime, because only the Commune had invented them.
The abuse of those words shows us that words in themselves are dead, and receive life only by the spirit that enters into them. “Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” Only Christianity gives us the true meaning of these words, and never have the greatest philosophers of the world so highly spoken about the relations of men to each other as Christ has taught and His Church proclaims. The Christian Church with her doctrines and sacraments is, in this respect, to become the leader. She is the medium whereby the Divine life is communicated to each human being, in order to complete the Divine image in him and to unite him most intimately with God. Continually must we cherish the desire to be more and more in unity with the eternal, infinite Deity; and this bond of men with God will then also unite mankind into one family, and make them beloved children of God. That is the meaning of liberty, equality, and fraternity, in the Christian sense.
If we look around us, we cannot fail at the same time to perceive how religious indifference in so many families has also disturbed the Christian life. That faithful, pious mind, that strong trust in God, that content, experienced in former times, have severally disappeared. Acquisition, gain, employment are often the first items in the home, but the last is religion. Prayer has disappeared — nothing more is known of a lifting up of the soul to God. The cares of the body reign over all — religious indifference rules the home. Business flourishes, the master of the house is esteemed, the lady of the house is courted by society, but are we not deceived? The good fortune of such a family is only in appearance, and treacherous, because it is without a foundation. How will it be there when the plays of misfortune and sadness appear? How will it be there when the blessings of this world forsake such a house, for God’s blessing was never sought? Even if the children are so educated as to understand how to acquire with skill the goods of this world, can they endure the trials which life imposes upon them? Will they approve themselves in the hour of temptation, when sin with her seductions approaches near; when the excitement of vice decked with flowers misguides them, when the advantage of chrime blinds them? Surely not.
On the contrary, the certain end of an education without religion and the fear of God, will be that they do not approve themselves. And suppose it were not so; suppose God suffered such a family and their children’s good fortune until the end in the full enjoyment of earthly goods, because their whole heart was attached to them, yet this end must be at the last. Then such a family shall know by experience that they have sowed to the earth, also reaped only from the earth, for heaven they have done nothing, and shall also receive nothing. How often one meets in families a lukewarmness which stifles all Christian life. The faith is dead, the will without power; cold and indolent is the exercise of religion, the life spirit is vanished away. But the exterior practice of religion is nothing without a union with the inner, spiritual. The spirit giveth life, but the flesh profiteth nothing.
However many lights may be burning here in this chapel, and however beautiful the robes of the clergy appear, that will be of no avail either to me or to those that are present, if we are not converted unto repentance. Let us above all not forget prayer, this bond which joins in a mystical manner mankind to God, and the Saviour, who for us all died on the cross, will, let us hope, have mercy on us. For we are all bought with the blood of Christ; we are all to attain to the possession and the vision of God, to drink of the well-spring of eternal love and bliss. May we not forget this final object, but when we celebrate upon our terrestrial pilgrimage the Christian mysteries may we, looking for that heavenly home and spirit, exclaim: “O God, grant us that we may yet be filled with the enjoyment of thy Divinity, whose presence we here celebrate in the reception of thy body and blood.” Amen.
I got a little tired of quoting long sections of primary sources, and thought I’d try something a little different for a change. Don’t worry, though; I’ll be back with my regular style tomorrow. And if you’re wondering about sources, just let me know — I didn’t make any of this up, or anything.
Walking along Second Avenue in New York City in the 1870s, we encounter #951, a private residence in a nondescript brownstone. The only odd thing about the place is a gilt Greek cross that hangs over the door. As it turns out, this place isn’t just a home; it’s the only Russian Orthodox place of worship east of San Francisco.
We enter on the parlor floor. Originally, this was two rooms, but it has been modified — now, one of the “parlors” is the sanctuary, while the other is the nave. Where there were once doors separating the two rooms, now there is an iconostasis, surmounted with a gorgeous icon of the Mystical Supper. The iconostasis has only the Royal Doors — no deacon’s doors — which makes for an odd-looking Great Entrance. Inside, the altar table is lavishly ornamented. The altar cloth alone is worth a king’s ransom, made of yellow satin and embroidered with gold and silver lace. The sacred objects in the chapel — marriage crowns, chalice, candelabras, censer, diskos, crosses, etc. — were all gifts from the Tsar, and they looked the part, made of pure gold and studded with gemstones. On the opposite end of the room, over the mantelpiece, is a large mosaic and a gold cross — gifts of the Russian government. On the four ends of the cross, there are medallion icons with scenes from Christ’s life. The rest of the walls are covered with more icons and banners, also depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
The room feels bigger than it is, with no pews and only a couple of chairs on the floor. An impressive chandelier hangs from the high ceiling. But really, the place is tiny, and it feels crowded with a couple dozen people inside. When the Grand Duke visited in 1871, throngs of American girls begged the priest to let them in, but, as one journal said, the chapel wouldn’t hold a tithe of them.
They talked for years about building a great Orthodox church in the city; the Russian government even bought land on Lexington Avenue, but it all came to naught. The Russians pulled their money, and the Danish priest joined the Presbytery. Makes me wonder what exactly happened to all those treasures in the chapel. Rumor has it that some of them turned up in a pawn shop, of all places! It’s quite a shame how things turned out, and one has to wonder if this is the end of Orthodoxy in New York.
Recently, there has been an interesting and lengthy discussion in the comments section on our website, regarding the extent of the territory of the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in the 19th century. Let me try to briefly outline my position in this debate.
Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867. However, under the terms of the treaty, the Russian Church retained its property in Alaska, and there continued to be an Orthodox presence. At the time of the sale, Alaska was a part of the “Diocese of Kamchatka and the Kurile and Aleutian Islands.” This included Siberia, where the diocesan bishop lived. An auxiliary bishop (at the time, Bp Paul Popov) was based in Sitka (then called “New Archangel”) and administered the Alaskan part of the diocese.
In the wake of the 1867 sale, several significant things happened. Bp Paul was recalled to Russia, and he was replaced with Bp John Mitropolsky. The diocesan structure itself was reorganized; the American part of the diocese was lopped off and turned into its own diocese, the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. This would remain the name of the diocese until the 20th century. Also, a church was established in San Francisco — the first Russian Orthodox church in the contiguous United States — and the bishop’s residence was moved there.
Another important development in this period was the establishment of the chapel in New York City, with Fr. Nicholas Bjerring assigned as priest. This chapel primarily served the Russian and Greek embassies and the few Orthodox in the city. It also functioned as a sort of showpiece, displaying Orthodox ritual to Americans. As we’ve discussed, many hoped that the Orthodox and Episcopal Churches would unite, and Bjerring’s chapel was very much like a metochion (representation church, or embassy church), aimed at fostering ecumenical dialogue.
Significantly, the New York chapel was not a part of the Aleutian Diocese. In the 1879 and 1880 reports on the state of the diocese, nine parishes are listed. Both lists include San Francisco, but neither include New York. Bjerring only dealt with the Aleutian Diocese bishops on rare occasions, when they happened to be passing through New York, traveling between Russia and San Francisco. Bjerring and his chapel appear to have been directly under the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and Bjerring made regular visits to the Russian capital during his career in the church.
From an official standpoint, the territory of the Aleutian Diocese included only the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, as the name suggested. This is what also appeared on the Bishop’s certification of Bp Nestor Zass (1879-82), and it actually caused problems when he tried to purchase property in California (see this letter).
Obviously, the diocese claimed some jurisdiction outside its official territory, since it had the cathedral in San Francisco. But it didn’t extend from sea to shining sea; if it did, the New York chapel probably would have been included. And even if you ignore the issue of the New York chapel, there’s the simple fact that the diocese included no parishes east of California until the 1890s.
When did things change? Officially, the diocese became the Archdiocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America in 1905, under St. Tikhon. But there’s evidence that the name change predates 1905. In his “Account of the State of the Diocese of the Aleutians for 1900,” St. Tikhon wrote that the name was changed in 1900, at his suggestion.
That was when the name changed, but I’ve seen references from the time of Bp Nicholas Ziorov (1891-98) which say that the diocese includes all of North America. According to the 1906 Census of Religious Bodies (page 261), the territory was extended sometime during Bp Nicholas’ tenure:
[...] Bishop Nicholas, whose stay was noted for [...] the enlarging of the eparchy to include the Eastern states of the United States, and Canada, opening thus a new period in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States.
Here is what I think happened. In 1867, or 1870, or even 1890, there were hardly any Orthodox Christians in North America, outside of Alaska, and there wasn’t any clear indication that this state of affairs was going to change in the future. The idea of American Orthodoxy, if it existed at all, was focused on union with the Episcopalians, which would make the Episcopal Church the “American Orthodox Church” (which is how lots of Episcopalians already viewed themselves). So the bishop of the Aleutian Diocese tended to his Orthodox flock in Alaska (with a few hundred in California), and didn’t much bother with the rest of the United States. The New York chapel naturally fell under the authority of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, the highest-ranking bishop in the Russian Church.
Then, in the 1890s, thanks in large part to the convert priest St. Alexis Toth, entire Uniate parishes began joining the Orthodox Church. St. Alexis, when he was in Minneapolis, had sought out the Bp Vladimir in San Francisco, and the bishop quite naturally took responsibility for these new converts. When Toth moved on to Pennsylvania, and then other Northeastern Uniate parishes began to convert, the Russian bishop (by now Bp Nicholas) suddenly had churches stretching across the continent. The New York chapel had long since been closed, so Bp Nicholas opened a new church in the city. Within only a few years, the center of the diocese began to shift from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Apparently, the Russian Holy Synod enlarged the diocese sometime during this period (1891-98), and they made it official in 1900, when St. Tikhon was bishop.
Were the Russians no longer concerned about what the Episcopalians thought? I don’t think it was that. After all, they weren’t inviting Episcopalians to join the Orthodox Church (at least, not until the conversion of Ingram Irvine in 1905). The Uniates were “theirs,” in a way; they were seen as “Russians” who should really be Orthodox, and as such, the Episcopalians would have had no problem with the Russian bishop taking responsibility for them. Until the Uniate conversions, the Russian bishop really had no justification, in the eyes of the Episcopalians, for claiming any sort of jurisdiction in America, but once the Uniates began to convert, he had obvious responsibilities.
Certainly, Bishops Nicholas and Tikhon saw themselves as having jurisdiction over all of America. But before that, America was a sort of Orthodox no-man’s land — say, like Antarctica. The Russian Church was most definitely the first Orthodox Church to stake an explicit claim to all of America, but they staked that claim in the 1890s at the very earliest.
Immediately upon Fr. Nicholas Bjerring’s arrival in New York City in 1870, news spread that the Russian Church planned to construct a great temple in the city, on the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue. This is from the Christian Advocate journal (6/29/1871):
A magnificent structure is about to be erected by the Russian government on Lexington Avenue for the devotions of the members of the Greek faith in this city and country. The designs will arrive here in a few days from St. Petersburg, when the work will at once be commenced. When finished the church will have cost between $500,000 and $600,000.
Half a million dollars in 1871 works out to something close to $9 million today. I’ve seen other references putting the figure at $200,000 to $300,000, but regardless, it was a pretty big chunk of change, and I have a little trouble believing that the Russian government was really going to foot that kind of bill for a representation church. In 1866, estimates out of Russia put the total cost of the proposed church at $20,000, or a little over $350,000 in modern terms, which sounds a lot more reasonable.
Already, the Russian ambassador, Konstantin Katakazi (or Catacazy), had spent $20,000 to purchase the necessary land. When Grand Duke Alexis arrived in America for his famous visit in the fall of 1871, he brought with him plans for the building.
Everything looked like it was going smoothly, until the next summer. From the New York Times (7/22/1872):
The site was purchased by him [Catacazy] for $17,000 in currency. When the deed came to be made out Catacazy desired that $20,000 should be inserted, instead of the amount actually to be paid. There was some difficulty experienced in getting this done, but the intriguing diplomat at last succeeded. By paying the increased cost of revenue-stamps, and possibly using some other inducements, the character of which are not stated. Then he drew on his Government for $20,000 in gold to pay for the site. These facts became known to or suspected by some of the Russians in New-York, who had an interest in the matter, and through them it was made known to the Russian Foreign office. When Catacazy was tried on his return, this was one of the charges which his own Government placed before the Commission for investigation, and it was fully proved.
It might just be a coincidence, but this report ran on exactly the same day that the same newspaper reported on Bjerring’s return to New York after a lengthy visit to Russia. Whether through Bjerring or some other channel, in the summer of 1872, the Russian government figured out that Ambassador Catacazy was skimming money. He had other issues as well (check out his Wikipedia entry), and he was soon exiled to a lowly post in Paris.
As you might expect, plans to build the New York church ground to a halt. But the Russian government still owned the land on Lexington Avenue, and two years later, the plans were revived. From the Baltimore Sun (9/17/1874):
The Russian chapel in New York being too small to accommodate the members of the Greek Church in that city, Russian subjects there have represented to the imperial government the need of a new church edifice for their use, and plans for a structure to cost $85,000 have been sent to St. Petersburg for approval. About $35,000 in aid of the project has already, it is understood, been obtained from various sources, Mr. Ross Winans, of Baltimore, having given $10,000. A plot of ground for such a church was purchased for the Russian government three years ago.
Who, you might be wondering, was Mr. Ross Winans? Well, from his Wikipedia entry, he was one of the first American multi-millionaires, an “inventor, mechanic, and builder of locomotives and railroad machinery.” Also, there’s this:
The Winans engine designs impressed a Russian delegation, and he was asked by the Czar to build the Imperial railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Winans sent his two sons, as well as engineer George W. Whistler to Russia for several years for that project. Winans may have sold as much or more equipment in Russia as he did in the United States. Winans’ son returned to build a Russian style estate in Baltimore, named Alexandrofsky.
So Ross Winans had some serious ties to Russia and the Russian government, and also some serious capital at his disposal. The New York Orthodox, for their part, had apparently scaled back their ambitious plans, reducing the proposed cost of the church from several hundred thousand dollars down to $85K (around $1.6 million today).
Despite that encouraging report, the church was never built. I’m not sure what happened. Even on the eve of the New York chapel’s dissolution in 1882, there were still reports that the Russian government planned to construct a great edifice in the city, but of course they never materialized.
Not everyone realized this. In their 1871 Annual Cyclopaedia, D. Appleton & Company said this:
The first building in the United States designed expressly for a Greek church was erected in the city of New York, during 1871. It is on Lexington Avenue, between Fifty-first and Fifty-second Streets. The cost, about $260,000, is defrayed by the Russian Treasury in St. Petersburg. The church is attached to the Russian legation in the United States, but is directly under the supervision of the Metropolitan at St. Petersburg, and is not in anyway connected with the diocese of the resident Greek bishop at San Francisco.
They were wrong, of course; when that statement was written, the New York church was only in its earliest planning stages. What’s especially interesting about this Appleton’s reference is the assertion that the New York chapel was under the direct authority of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, rather than the Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
In any event, it’s not clear precisely why the plans for the church never came to fruition. Perhaps the money just couldn’t be raised — after all, New York’s Orthodox community was small and generally not wealthy. Perhaps the Catacazy scandal made the Russian government think twice about investing in a New York church. Perhaps the Russian Church changed its mind about the need for a great building in New York. The answer is out there somewhere, probably in some church archive back in Russia.
Also, what happened to the Lexington Avenue property? By all accounts, the Russian government had already bought the land.
As with so many of the stories we recount here at OrthodoxHistory.org, this one ultimately leaves us with more questions than answers.
In 1870, the Russian Church founded a chapel in New York City, and the priest was Nicholas Bjerring, a new convert from Roman Catholicism. The chapel served the Russian and Greek officials in New York and Washington, as well as the small Orthodox population living in New York City. It also functioned as a sort of showpiece, a place where interested Americans (especially Episcopalians) could see what Orthodox worship looked like. One thing it did not do was encourage converts; Bjerring had little interest in bringing Americans to the Orthodox faith, saying that he did not want to “add a fresh element of discord” to American religious life.
What I didn’t know, until a few days ago, is that the idea of the New York chapel had its origins prior to Bjerring, and even prior to the sale of Alaska in 1867. From The Congregationalist, a Boston newspaper, August 24, 1866:
A curious article from the St. Petersburg Commercial Gazette of March 24 (April 5), 1866, has fallen into my hands. The writer begins with the remark that “in view of the recent tendencies of the Anglican and American Episcopal churches toward the Orthodox Oriental Greek Church,” it is obivously of the highest importance to give to the former the means of personal acquaintance with the latter, by establishing an Orthodox Greek Church at New York, “the center of social and religious life in the United States.”
This object has occupied the Russian government, and has been earnestly pursued by Mr. Stoeckl, its ambassador at Washington. This gentleman proposes to purchase a house in New York (to rent one would be inexpedient on account of the frequent changes of ownership) at a cost of $15,000 or $16,000, and expend $4,000 to $5,000 in making the necessary alterations, say $20,000 in all. More than $2,000 of this has been obtained by subscription from Greeks and Slavonians residing in New York, and more is hoped for from sympathetic Americans. The rich merchants of Moscow, (who it seems often send agents on business to this country) are next to be applied to, and any deficiency, as well as the salary of priest and choristers, will be supplied by the Russian government. Thus, continues the writer, “we may soon expect to learn the inauguration of a regular orthodox service on the American continent, among a people kindly disposed toward us, and toward the church of our fatherland.”
The article goes on to recommend that this church should be purely ecclesiastical, and not in any way official, or mixed up with political matters, that it may the better “serve as a uniting link of relation and connection between the Russian and the American Episcopal church.” Also that the service be performed not only in the Slavonian, but the Greek language, for the benefit of Greeks residing in New York, and also because that language is more accessible than the Slavonian to those Americans “whose sympathy for the connection of their own with the orthodox church is founded on an acquaintance with the original sources of the history and dogmas of orthodoxy.”
The chief and most difficult problem, however, concludes the writer, is to select, as officiating priest in the proposed ecclesiastical establishment at New York, a suitable “representative of orthodoxy, not only by the excellence of his life and character, but mentally capable, and properly educated and prepared to be a mediator in the closer connection of the churches.” Besides being strong in the faith, and clearly comprehending the truths of orthodoxy, he should, if possible, have a thorough knowledge of the English tongue and of the Episcopal church; while both his character and his convinctions should be such as to furnish a sufficient guarantee that when left to himself at a distance from the center of our church’s life and authority, he will still contend for the true spirit and interests of orthodoxy, and in his relations to those of other faiths, can keep alike distant from the extremes of Popish “non possumus” and of undue concession. Such a man, concludes the writer, will be hard to find.
Between the original Commercial Gazette article and this report in The Congregationalist, another, independent report circulated in the American papers, citing as its source the Berlin correspondent to the Times of London. Early in 1867, a third independent report, from the Atlantic Telegraph, appeared in some US newspapers.
So, a full year before the sale of Alaska to the United States, the Russian Church was planning to establish a chapel in New York City. And while the chapel would obviously serve the small Orthodox population living in the area, its main purpose was clearly what would today be called “ecumenism.” It would be, basically, a Russian Orthodox metochion — a representation church, or an embassy chapel. Normally, one autocephalous Orthodox Church will have such a metochion in the main city of sister Church. For instance, St. Raphael originally went to Russia to serve in the Antiochian metochion in Moscow. What we’re seeing here is a plan for a metochion in New York, connected with the hope that so many had at the time that the Orthodox and Anglican Churches would unite.
It’s easy to forget, when we talk about territorial rights and so forth, the role of the Episcopalians in all this. I’ve long wondered, why, after the sale of Alaska, did the Russian Church create the “Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” but move the bishop’s residence to San Francisco — that is, outside of the territory of the diocese? I mean, the move to San Francisco made lots of sense, but why not call the diocese, the “Diocese of Alaska and North America,” or something like that? Why limit its territory to Alaska?
The answer, at least in part, seems to be connected to the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Episcopalians had no claim on Alaska, and they were generally happy to recognize Russian authority there. But if the Russians were to have put a bishop over America, it would have (in the view of the Episcopalians) created an overlapping jurisdiction. Think about it: the Episcopalians saw themselves as the American Orthodox Church. There was a very real hope on both sides that the Orthodox would eventually recognize this. And since the actual Orthodox presence in America (outside of Alaska) was negligible, why bother ruffling the feathers of the Anglicans by claiming territory that (theoretically) belonged to the Episcopal Church?
Presumably, the Russians couldn’t find an adequate priest in 1866. So imagine their joy when, four years later, Nicholas Bjerring came to them seeking conversion! He was (so they thought) perfect — literate, cultured, zealous, and already living in the US. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as firm in his Orthodox faith as they obviously assumed, but it’s easy to see why they ordained him so quickly and sent him to start a chapel in New York. And it’s also easy to see why Bjerring would go on to discourage conversions. He wasn’t there to be a missionary; he was there to be an ecumenical representative, a religious amabassador.
This 1866 proposal also suggests that the Russian Church did not plan to “penetrate the United States,” as St. Innocent wanted. (Incidentally, it would be a year and a half before St. Innocent would write his letter to the Ober Procurator of the Holy Synod, outlining his advice for America.) The Russians were focused, it seems, on ecumenical relations, and on establishing communion with the Episcopal Church. They do not seem to have been thinking about converting Americans, and of course they couldn’t have foreseen the great immigration that would begin a quarter century later.