Posts tagged Nicholas Ziorov
Not long ago, I wrote a pair of articles on the visit of the Greek archbishop Dionysius Latas to the United States. The archbishop came to America in 1893 to attend the ”World’s Parliament of Religions,” which was held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. When we last left Abp Dionysius, he had visited New York and Washington and was on his way to the main event in Chicago. We’ll continue his story today.
Abp Dionysius and his deacon, Homer Paratis, arrived in Chicago in August or early September. The archbishop gave two addresses at the Parliament. His main talk focused on the history of religion in Greece, from the pre-Christian philosophers through the arrival of Christianity. He closed with this prayer:
Almighty King, most High Omnipotent God, look upon human kind; enlighten us that we may know Thy will, Thy ways, Thy holy truths; bless Thy holy truths; bless Thy holy Church. Bless this country. Magnify the renowned peoples of the United States of America, which in its greatness and happiness invited us to this place from the remotest parts of the earth, and gave us a place of honor in this Columbian year to witness with them the evidences of their great progress, and the wonderful achievements of the human mind.
The Parliament itself was a typically overambitious 19th century ecumenical gathering, and some of the participants had unrealistic goals of inter-religious union. In fact, one of those unduly optimistic compromisers was the Antiochian archimandrite Christopher Jabara, whom we’ve discussed in the past.
There were other Orthodox people there, too. Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, pastor of Chicago’s new Greek church, gave a speech of his own, and in many ways, it was more interesting than either of Abp Dionysius’ addresses. He was certainly not of one mind with Fr. Christopher Jabara. At the outset of his talk, Phiambolis said, “Believing is not the question — believing rightly is the question.” After referring to Rome’s schism from Orthodoxy, Phiambolis attacked Islam:
This division resulted in the prevention of Christianism and the progress of Mohammedanism, whose motto is, “Kill the Infidels,” because every one who is not a Mohammedan, according to the Koran of the prophet, is an infidel, is a dog. [...] The people of the orient suffered, and still suffer; the Christian virgins are dishonored by the followers of the moral prophet, and the life of a Christian is not considered as precious as that of a dog.
Phiambolis then spoke of the Orthodox Church:
Regarding the church, the orthodox church, we are true to the examples of the apostles and the paradigma of the synods, we follow the same road in religious questions, and after discussion do not accept new dogma without the agreement of the whole ecumenical council; neither do we adopt any dogma other than that of the one united and undivided church whose doctrine has been followed until to-day. The orthodox Apostolic Catholic church contains many different nations, and every one of them uses its own language in the mass and litany and governs its church independently, but all these nations have the same faith.
The Russian bishop of Alaska, Nicholas Ziorov, was at the Parliament on its opening day, but was conspicuously absent from the meetings themselves. According to the 1893 book The World’s Parliament of Religions, Bp Nicholas “met with the delegates and deeply regretted that his church duties called him from the city.” I’m not sure what those “church duties” were, and while I’m just speculating here, it’s possible that Bp Nicholas (or his superiors in Russia) did not want high-ranking Russian Orthodox churchman to participate in such a potentially questionable gathering. Of course, it could have been much simpler — Bp Nicholas simply could have had prior commitments.
The Parliament was more of a spectacle than anything else, and Fr. Christopher Jabara’s hopes for a single world religion were left unfulfilled. Abp Dionysius continued his tour of the United States, and we’ll pick up the rest of his journey in a future article.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
The Russian Orthodoxy course I am teaching at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, is drawing to a close. Since I am the instructor, we devoted part of that course to an introduction to the Russian Mission in North America and another part to Orthodoxy in America more generally. So, to break up the posts on +Arseny a bit, I thought I’d share with you all some things we discussed, with a couple of questions I had in mind as I went through the material during the years immediately following 1885. There are no footnotes, here, and what I have typed is not everything we discussed, so please don’t assume it is. Hopefully this will be of mild interest to some of you nonetheless. I will say that one source I have found helpful, and you can read the influence here, is Sergei Kan’s Memory Eternal. I liked the book when I first read a couple years back and like it still.
What was the response of the Orthodox Church in Alaska to the (mostly) Protestant missionaries from the lower 48 states after 1885? Who were the more important figures and what were some of the more significant events?
In order to get at these questions properly, two things should be noted. First, the response was a bit more of a mixed bag than some would care to admit. Not every missionary served the Native Americans equally. Second, there were tensions prior to 1885, which resulted after the 1867 sale of Alaska to America. For example, in 1873 an Aleut man was arrested for refusing to send his son to the “American school.” He and his son were locked up separately and fed bread and water for four days (at which point the father consented). Additionally, the initial American presence had been a rowdy contingency of soldiers under General Davis, a group that looted Sitka quite heavily, at one point looting St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral itself (though this was so egregious that even Davis agreed to mete out some punishment for this act). The soldiers left in 1877 to fight Native Americans in Idaho. What changed in 1885, was the installment of a Protestant missionary, Sheldon Jackson, as the U.S. Agent for Education. Late nineteenth-century Alaska saw a situation as close to Protestant Erastianism as could probably exist in the United States. In fact, the primary times of tension existed during the services of Sheldon Jackson (1884-1905) and the Governor John Brady (1897-1906).
The major figures on the part of the Orthodox who took part in these conflicts are Fr. Nikolai Mitropolskii, Fr. Vladimir Vechtomov, Fr. Vladimir Donskoi, Fr. Anatolii Kamenskii, Fr. Iosif Levin, Fr. Ioann Sobolev, Bishop Nicholai, and Fr. Alexander Kedrofskii.
Mitropolskii was the resident priest at Sitka. Prior to 1885, during the “Indian Scare” of 1877-8, Mitropolskii had been just as distrusting of the Native Americans as every other citizen, fearing that large gatherings of the Native Americans placed the residents’ lives at risk. In 1885, Mitropolskii found himself reaping the benefits of the Tlingit reaction to the boarding schools of the Presbyterians and Sheldon Jackson. Also, the presence of a Presbyterian boarding school inspired Mitropolskii to revive the Orthodox parish school (which seems to have been in a decline from about 1879-1884). By the mid 1880’s, he had already complained to the Russian ambassador in Washington, D.C. His central concern was that the Orthodox students at the boarding school were very limited in the ir freedom to attend Orthodox services. For his part, Rev. Austin, the director of the school, seems to have also been unhappy with having students, who remained Orthodox, attend the school. He allowed the students to attend Vespers on Saturday evenings, but not the communion service of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings (or on most feast days). Austin became very upset, when he learned that Mitropolskii was telling the Tlingit that the teachers at the boarding school might, in many ways, be their mothers, he was their “father.” A court ruling at the time, found Jackson’s five-year contracts legal. The Presbyterians won the battle, but the Tlingits began to look more to the Orthodox Church. However, the cathedral was nearly seized by the Northwest Trading Company because of a large debt of Mitropolskii and eventually the priest was moved.
In 1886, Fr. Vladimir Vechtomov stayed for a month in Sitka as an interim pastor. While his tenure was short, he helped move along the conversion of many Tlingits. His tenure is noted by three things. First, after learning of the involvement of Mitropolskii in local politics, Vechtomov suggested to the bishop that the next priest not speak English, so that he would concentrate on parish life. Second, he showed respect for the Tlingits by visiting their homes and speaking with them (visitations and hospitality was and is a very important part of Tlingit culture). This seems to have been something that Mitropolskii did not do. The result was the baptizing of 52 Tlingits, two of whom were heads of major clans. This began a trickle effect, such that by 1889, the majority of Sitka’s Tlingit population had become Orthodox.
The task of baptizing and catechizing them fell upon the next priest, Fr. Vladimir Donskoi. From the moment of his arrival, Donskoi made it clear that his focus was upon the Tlingits (a fact that angered the local Creole population). Donskoi refused to allow any sort of segregation akin to that of the Presbyterians (there were two separate worship spaces at the Presbyterian school, which eventually became two separate parishes). In 1887, when some Creole parishioners wanted a separate burial ground, he flatly denied the proposal.
Within two weeks, he had baptized 57 converts. By the end of 1886, the 300 Natives outnumbered the 216 Russians and Creoles and by 1887, the number of Orthodox Natives increased to 623 (though this includes some residents of other villiages). One of the things Donskoi did to encourage Tlingit participation is to maintain elaborate funeral processions and emphasize the 40 day memorials, all of which were important to the Tlingit and their sense of honoring their ancestors. Additionally, healing the sick involved not just “White Man’s medicine,” but an entire sacramental approach. He also used Tlingit to some extent in the services, translated much of the Bible (with helped), spoke against drunkenness, blessed the fishing fleet each year, and strove to be sensitive to Tlingit cultural mores (such as the Tlingit emphasis on medals/awards). He also worked to secure some medication for the sick (as sometimes Natives would be turned away from the Presbyterian hospital unless they became Presbyterians). If the parish lacked the funds, he would spend of his own (and he had a wife and children!). At one point, he even took on six orphans.
Donskoi was not without his faults (he seems to have used corporal punishment in his school and after being transferred to Juneau, he argued for the inclusion of a Tlingit into a local brotherhood, because she was only half Tlingit—though it could be that he simply used the Creole’s prejudice against themselves). However, he sympathized with the Native Americans and at one point, fought to remove Protestantism from the local public school’ curriculum (different from the Presbyterian boarding school).
If Vochtomov got the ball rolling and Donskoi increased its momentum with his clear sympathy toward the Tlingits vis-à-vis both the Presbyterians and the Russians/Creoles, then Fr. Anatolii Kamenskii fought the battles such momentum necessitated. While Kamenskii’s own version contains some melodrama, the tensions and events themselves did occur.
The most highly-documented event may be the battle over a deceased Tlingit woman in 1897. She had desired an Orthodox burial. Her husband and her two younger children concurred. However, the two sons at the Presbyterian boarding school objected. The woman was placed into a “Presbyterian” coffin (large enough to contain the “Orthodox” one. This went against Tlingit protocol, which would have said that the two sons, being of the same moiety were not to be involved in making a coffin and one should never get an outside enforcer, but should go to the other side/clan anyhow. Whether Kamenskii, who was less tolerant of Tlingit “paganism” than Donskoi had been, realized this is difficult to say. Regardless, Kamenskii had a fight on his hands. For not long thereafter, a procession including the marshal (Louis L. Williams) and the Governor (Sheakley) were carrying the dual-coffin setup from the house in order to be buried according to Presbyterian practice. Soon, a grave was dug and just prior to the burial, a judge’s order prevented the disgrace from completing. Immediately following this, the headmistress of the school attempted to forcibly admit the other two children, but by taking the husband to the judge, Kamenskii was able to prevent this as well.
Another event involved Kamenskii getting a young lady removed from jail, after she had asked Austin to let her marry a young Orthodox man, he had refused, and she had fled the boarding school. Kamenskii baptized the young lady upon her release.
Kamenskii also reinvigorated the local school, hoping it would eventually train future priests and iconographers, not to mention cantors (a minor, almost “lay” office that conducts services when other clergy are not available). Additionally, he traveled extensively, going beyond Sitka in order to increase the number of Orthodox Tlingits.
Perhaps his relationship with the Natives can be expressed best in another 1897 event. A group of Tlingits, both Orthodox and Presbyterian, went to him about petitioning for the removal of liquor sales and shady American new comers who were “corrupting” their wives and daughters.
This petition specifically mentions three errors: 1) that Mr. Brady was constructing personal buildings on burial grounds, using the bones as part of the banking for those buildings or tossing them into the water 2) that the local fishing company was throwing traps across streams, preventing spawning from occurring in the lakes and depleting the bays’ fish population 3) the removal of the saloons.
Eventually, a Tlingit villiage (Killisnoo) received its own priest so that it no longer needed to attend the Cathedral in Sitka. While the first priest had missioned successfully, the next priest, Fr. Iosif Levin, presents a case of an Orthodox clergyman who behaved exactly like the Presbyterians the Orthodox confronted. Levin often yelled at the Natives during the services, in which he’d wave his arms and call them names. He publicly humiliated the women, calling them prostitutes. Public confrontations is a major insult in Tlingit culture, something that served only to compound the problem. He even feared contracting venereal disease, to the point that he would often refuse to visit the sick or to bury the dead! What’s more, he refused to give awards or monetary donations or to act as a peacemaker when disputes arose. When he was finally removed, the lack of a permanent priest helped the local Protestant missionary, Rev. Jones. Levin is an example of an Orthodox missionary who not only refused to aid the Tlingits, but made their situation worse and refused to an arbitrator amongst them or for them. He may have been an exception that proved the rule, but it’s important to note that there were exceptions.
Fr. Ioann Sobolev eventually filled the spot in Killisnoo. Sobolev had a much different approach than the zealous Donskoi or Kamenskii. Sobolev was an intellectual romantic. After spending time in the famous Slavianskii Choir, he settled in San Francisco and became a cantor, married a German-American, and eventually was ordained and sent to Killisnoo in 1893. He spent much time in solitude, writing the necessary reports to his superiors as well as romantic poetry. His quiet personality and his tolerance for the Tlingit customs served him well. By the time he arrived, Rev. Jones had established the practice of chopping up icons to “prove” the falsehood of Orthodoxy. Avoid all direct confrontation, Sobolev responded by conducting frequent services, administering the sacraments as often as needed, running religious/educational meetings, and distributing medicine. He even acted according to Tlingit custom, at one point proclaiming that he himself would hold a “potlatch feast” if they would help build a road. When he did need to affect moral changes, he refused to call the police or navy (as would Jones and other Protestants) and determined only to use persuasion.
Bishop Nikolai, who served from 1891-8 wrote to President McKinley concerning the Alaskan situation in which he raises some of the same concerns the Tlingits themselves had raised in their earlier petition. He asks why the Orthodox Church is being driven out since it has already established the “light of truth” in Alaska and he wonders how America can do this, when she declared war on Spain, ostensibly for similar abuses. He also cites articles 2 and 3 of the Declaration of 1867, which clearly provides protection to the Aleuts and Orthodoxy.
In Unalaska in 1900, an event eerily similar to the coffin fiasco encountered by Kamenskii occurred. In that case, the Jesse Lee Home, a Methodist missionary endeavor, met opposition from Fr. Alexander Kedrofskii. In this case, the deceased was a young girl. The Presbyterians simply buried the girl in the Orthodox cemetery on their own, without consulting Kedrofskii. A letter-exchange with the headmistress ensued, in which Kedrofskii argued there was no such thing as an “American” religion or a “Russian” one. His second letter reads as a short treatise, wherein he argues against her deceit and the establishing of the Methodist root in an Orthodox Orchard, where the people who come to her already possess the true faith. He also defends the natives against her exaggerated claims regarding their sinfulness, noting that even with regard to the sins they do commit, she neglects to note their penitence and she fails to understand the rite of confession itself. At one point he tells her that the Natives are not engaging in habitual ritual and suggests that she try making a habit of standing for two hours and longer at a time.
Eventually, Bishop Tikhon and Sheldon Jackson have a relatively positive exchange of letters and the tensions die down, although Jackson’s monolingual, mono-religio approach would come to rule the day and the Orthodox Church would suffer difficulties after the Russian Revolution and the cessation of Russian funds.
Fr. Oliver Herbel, executive director
[This article was also posted at http://frontierorthodoxy.wordpress.com]
A couple of weeks ago, I introduced Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas, one of the first ethnic Greek priests to serve in America. At the time, I mentioned that Paul Manolis had published a letter — in Greek — written by Kanellas to then-Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis in 1918. I asked for help in translating it, and several people offered their assistance. I ended up getting a translation from Ioannis Fortomas, who has offered to help with other translations from the Greek as well.
Kanellas’ letter, which runs over 900 words, gives a lot of details on his life and ministry. We already know that he was born in 1837. In 1880, while probably just a monk, he was invited to become the priest of the Greek church in Calcutta, India. Bishop Dionysios of Gefthia quickly moved Kanellas through the ranks of the clergy, all the way up to archimandrite.
Apparently, the Calcutta parish had their priests on five-year terms. After his first term ended, Kanellas re-upped for another five years, and the community gave him a raise of 50 British pounds. Kanellas explains (translation by Fortomas):
But unfortunately, becoming sick before the first year ended, I resigned and traveled to Europe for one year for my therapy. Then I went to the United States, not for work, but to visit. Unfortunately, here another illness was made manifest to me, on which I spent my money, and because of this need, I took refuge in being the rector and teacher of the in California Russian Church, with a very small wage, because I was not a member of the Russian Church.
After some years, Hierarch Vladimir was called back, and his replacement, Hierarch Nicholas, came with his entourage, and new staff consisting of six priests and deacons. He let the old staff go, especially me not being Russian.
I then went towards the east, to my friends and countrymen. Then, the Birmingham Association “Lord Byron” invited me to be the regular rector, under the appointment of the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece, with a wage, which you can see in the letter of invitation, and so I continued for eight whole years, having as my main concern the establishment and advancement of the Church.
Bp Nicholas Ziorov took over the Russian Diocese in 1892, and Kanellas didn’t move to Birmingham until 1902 or 1903, so he must have spent a whole decade roaming around the Eastern US. He served in Birmingham until 1911, and he goes on to note that, at the time, he was one of the only Orthodox priests in the entire American South. In addition to his duties in Alabama, he visited the Greek churches in Atlanta and Memphis (among other places).
Health problems seem to have plagued Kanellas — they drove him out of Calcutta, and, in 1911, he began to have issues with a cataract in his right eye. He resigned his post in Birmingham and had surgery. The Holy Synod of Greece then appointed him to St. Nicholas Church in Tarpon Springs, Florida, but within a year, Kanellas became ill and had to resign yet again. He moved to Arkansas, hoping that the thermal springs would cure his ailment. In Little Rock, he happened to meet a handful of Greeks. He continues:
There I came into religious contacts with a few from the community so that I could be invited to serve here, finally being hired as the regular rector. But unfortunately, right away in the beginning and in the first meeting of the few that I called, it was forbidden for me to take an active part in the establishment and advancement of the Church. Certain members said that the Community would take care of the Church as a whole: I was to only liturgize not as I should have wanted to liturgize, but as they wanted me to, that is at a quick speed because their occupations did not allow them time to allot for prayers and churches.
Take note of this: the Community so far is comprised of 17 families and 150 people, from 4 regions (of Greece). They are Kravarites, Argirites, Maniates, and Peloponisians, who are from different cities. Instead of something happening, it does not happen without much noise.
The Church did not advance from then until today – there is a committee for the collection of funds for the preservation of the so called Church (because I liturgize in some sort of hall, and after the end of the liturgy, I need to quickly transfer the holy vessels, because another organization rents the hall).
By 1918 — when he wrote this letter to Metaxakis – Kanellas had had enough. He was over eighty, and he was tired of dealing with all the drama in Little Rock. He put out the word that he was going to leave, and began to search for a replacement. As it happened, several priests wrote to him about the job, and Kanellas passed these contacts on to the parish trustees. But the trustees didn’t bother to respond, and Kanellas, frustrated, told Metaxakis that he was considering a return to Birmingham. Of the Little Rock parish, he said to the archbishop, “From this Community, do not wait for any show of response, or any written acts.”
And yet, in the end, Kanellas did not leave. He stayed in Little Rock for another three years, dying there in 1921. He had lived through a turbulent period of American Orthodox history, from the scandalous era of Bp Vladimir in San Francisco, through the conversion of the Uniates and the mass immigration of the Greeks, all the way up to the founding of the Greek Archdiocese. He may not have been the very first Greek priest in America, but he was the first important one, and, by all accounts, he was a good man.
According to some sources, Archimandrite Kallinikos Kanellas was the first ethnic Greek priest to serve in America. And those sources may be right, depending on your definition of “Greek.” The only other candidates would be from the Greek church in New Orleans. Fr. Stephen Andreades was the priest in the late 1860s, and Fr. Gregory Yayas served there from 1872-74; considering their names, both were almost certainly Greeks of one sort or another. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Kalitski) was the priest from 1881-1901, but he was reportedly from Bulgaria. In any event, Kanellas was one of the very first Greek priests in America.
I don’t know anything about Kanellas’ early life. I do know that, before he came to the United States, Kanellas had spent some time in India. From 1880 to 1886, he was the rector of the Greek church in Calcutta (the origins of which dated to the 1700s; see this fascinating history for more information). He first shows up in the US in 1889, as one of the priests of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco. He seems to be the first of several non-Russian priests brought over to America to serve in the Russian Diocese — “client clergy,” as Fr. John Erickson has called them. Soon, he would be followed by people like Fr. Ambrose Vretta, Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny, and Fr. Michael Andreades. But Kanellas seems to have been the original.
I’m not sure what Kanellas was doing from 1886 to 1889, but I suspect he might have been in Russia. This would explain his connection to the Russian Diocese in America.
Kanellas appears to have been trusted by Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky, who appointed him to serve on the Alaskan Spiritual Consistory, the group of clergy which ran many of the day-to-day affairs of the diocese. He was particularly useful in ministering to ethnic Greeks. In 1891, he made a cross-country missionary trip. He stopped in Savannah, Georgia, and baptized a Greek child. The Columbus Enquirer-Sun (6/24/1891) reported that the child’s father spent $650, which presumably included transportation and lodging costs. The paper said that the amount “includes a handsome fee.” $650 seems outrageous, though. I checked an online inflation calculator, and it estimated that $650 in 1891 is equivalent to over $15,000 in 2008.
From Savannah, Kanellas went to New York City, where he baptized the daughter of Anthony Ralli (who was possibly connected with the well-known Ralli Brothers merchant firm). The New York Sun (6/26/1891) said that Kanellas had a “patriarchal beard and jewelled gown.” According to one account, he actually had to bring his own baptismal font — can you imagine taking one of those on a train?
I’ve seen some references to Kanellas having served in Chicago. That’s a bit of a puzzler… In July 1891, the Chicago Inter Ocean (7/11/1891) reported that a certain Archimandrite Lininas, “who presides over a temple in San Francisco,” was visiting Chicago and holding services for the Orthodox there. I haven’t been able to find evidence of this Fr. Lininas being in San Francisco, and it’s very possible that this was actually Kanellas, on his way back from New York to California. However, the Inter Ocean says that Fr. Lininas “is a finely educated gentleman, speaking German, Russian, and French fluently, but his English is best understood through an interpreter.” So according to the paper, he didn’t speak Greek (which, if true, means he wasn’t Kanellas).
In 1892, amid much turmoil and scandal, Bp Vladimir was recalled to Russia and replaced with Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. On July 1 (June 19 Old Style), the members of the Spiritual Consistory (of which Kanellas was apparently no longer a member) wrote to the new bishop,
Today, the Archimandrite Kallinikos was informed that he has to leave the Mission as of July 1. He replied that he has nowhere to go. In accordance with Your Grace’s will, we deemed it was better to say nothing in reply: Your Grace has ordered not to drive him out.
Obviously, something was up, but I don’t know what. The 1893 San Francisco city directory doesn’t list Kanellas among the cathedral clergy, so he didn’t stick around much longer. And for the next 18 years, I can’t figure out he was. I’m pretty sure he stayed in America, and by at least 1911 (and probably earlier), he was pastor of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama. In the 1913 book Greeks in America, Thomas Burgess, writing about the Birmingham church, said,
Of its former pastor, says the “Greek-American Guide,” “The Rev. Arch. Kallinikos Kanellas is a very sympathetic and reverend old man of whom it is possible to say that of the Greek clergy in America he is the most—shall we say ‘disinterested’? The Greek word is a dandy, (literally, ‘not loving of riches’). Plutarch used to use that word.
In 1913, Kanellas moved to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spent the rest of his life there. This is from Annunciation’s parish history:
Father Kallinikos Kanellas was brought to Little Rock on a permanent basis in 1913, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall near 9th and Main Streets for the next eight years. This hall included a small chapel for Liturgies and Sacraments such as weddings, baptisms, etc., as well as a place for social gatherings. Incidentally, research indicates that Father Kanellas probably was the first Orthodox priest of Greek ancestry to come to the United States. When Father Kanellas became seriously ill, young Theo Polychron visited him daily, bringing soup from his little café. Father died in 1921 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery where most of the early Greek immigrants were also interred.
As you can see, Kanellas’ story has a lot of missing pieces. I suspect a lot of the gaps could be closed by a letter Kanellas wrote to Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis on March 16, 1918, in which he gave an account of his career in both the Russian Diocese and the Greek communities in America. That letter appears on page 333 of Paul Manolis’ History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents… unfortunately, though, I can’t read Greek, so for now, I don’t know what the letter says. If any of you out there can read Greek and are interested in Kanellas, email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
Orthodoxy has been in Portland, Oregon for well over a century, and its history is of particular interest to me, as my in-laws live in the city, and I have visited there many times. Today, we’re going to look at the beginnings of organized parish life in Portland.
According to Brigit Farley, there are records of some sort of Orthodox religious activity in Portland dating to at least 1881. That year, Fr. Vladimir Vechtomov, the rector of the San Francisco cathedral, visited Portland to bury a Russian woman. That said, organized church life didn’t begin until the 1890s. In November of 1892, 29-year-old Fr. Sebastian Dabovich baptized two Greek children, in what the Oregonian (11/7/1892) called “the first ceremony of the kind that ever took place in this city.” The service was held in the St. Charles Hotel, the first brick hotel in all of Portland. The paper went on,
The Greek colony in this city only comprises about 20 members, but they are very active in church matters. They are at present contemplating the building of a church on the East side, and have purchased half a block of land at Twentieth and East Morrison streets. The structure will cost $5000, of which $1000 has already been raised. The Russian government contributes about $400,000 annually to the support of the Greek church in North America, and part of this fund will be available for the construction of a church in Portland. The bishop, of San Francisco, will furnish the chancel, pictures and other fixtures for the church, and will be present at the laying of the cornerstone.
I’m not sure how many actual Orthodox Christians were in Portland. The article says that the city’s Greek colony had only 20 people, but there were surely Orthodox of other nationalities, and there were also Greeks in neighboring communities. In fact, I’ve found evidence that at least one member of the Dabovich family was living in Portland at the time. In any event, Fr. Sebastian was convinced that Portland was the right place for an Orthodox chapel.
In March of 1894, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, accompanied by Dabovich and Fr. Alexander Pustynsky, paid a visit to Portland. It was his first stop in the city, but he actually wasn’t the first Orthodox bishop to set foot in Portland. In 1890, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky had spent a night in Portland while en route from Alaska to San Francisco, but there’s no evidence that he interacted with the small Orthodox population of the city.
Anyway, Bp Nicholas made another visit in June, on his way to Seattle. Then, in July and August, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich spent three weeks in Portland, raising money for the chapel. Instrumental in this was an Alaskan Creole named Chernov, who was living in the city and apparently had some means. By August 15, construction had begun at East 20th and Morrison. The chapel’s name would be “Holy Trinity Greek Russian Mission.” Dabovich was telling the locals not just that it was an Orthodox chapel, but that it was a part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
With things going smoothly in Portland, Dabovich then left for Seattle, where he hoped to replicate his success. The pattern repeated itself the following spring: Dabovich visited Portland to dedicate the new chapel in March, and then traveled to Seattle to perform the same service. The two communities, Portland and Seattle, would be closely linked years to come. The Russian diocese never assigned a priest to the Portland chapel, so it operated as a sort of dependency of St. Spiridon Church in Seattle.
It’s often said that the current OCA parish in Portland, St. Nicholas, is identical with this original Holy Trinity chapel, which was founded in the 1890s. This isn’t really accurate… By the early 1900s, the original chapel had fallen into disrepair, and the Greeks organized their own parish in 1908. There wouldn’t be a Russian church in the city until 1927, when St. Nicholas Church was founded.