Posts tagged Nicholas Ziorov
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.
Yesterday, I wrote about St. John Kochurov’s arrival in Chicago, which followed on the heels of Fr. B.A. Bouroff’s expulsion by Bishop Nicholas, on the grounds that Bouroff had taken classes at the University of Chicago. But who was this Fr. Bouroff, and what was his story?
As it turns out, the September 2, 1895 issue of the Chicago Tribune — which is my main source of biographical information on Fr. Ambrose Vretta — also gives some valuable background on Fr. Bouroff. From the Tribune:
… In the meantime Bishop Nicolaus appointed the Rev. Ambrose Wretta, D.D., as pastor of the Russian colony in Chicago and the mission at Streator, Ill. He requested the Holy Synod at St. Petersburg to send an assistant to Dr. Wretta as teacher for the Russian children and Superintendent for the Sunday-schools to be established. The synod at once acted on his suggestion and the present Superintendent, Mr. Basil A. Beuroff, a graduate of the Imperial Theological Seminary of St. Petersburg, and for many years stationed in London at the Russian Church establishment there, was ordered to Chicago.
This article is recounting events that took place a few years earlier, so it’s not clear how long Bouroff was in Chicago, or when he became a priest. But just two months after this article was written, Bouroff was out, and Fr. John Kochurov was in.
Why was Fr. Basil Bouroff’s attendance at the University of Chicago such a problem? In the comments to yesterday’s article, Isa Almisry said,
For one thing, it could be the school’s Protestant connections: the Old University of Chicago had been founded as a Baptist College by Stephan A. Douglas. He had offered its facilities to the Presbyterian Church, but the Baptist were the ones who managed to raise the funds, and its board’s rules required a Baptist majority. Rockfeller, a Baptist, incorporated the new (present) University as a secular school, but the co-founder, William Rainey Harper, was another Baptist whose field was OT, in particular Hebrew studies. In 1895 the University was less than 4 years old, and had the Old University had failed less than a decade before. Given the prior failure and the Protestant connections, and how Fr. Bjerring ended, it could have been more of a gamble than Bishop Nicolai was willing to tolerate.
It’s also possible that Bouroff was simply becoming too immersed in academia to adequately fulfill his priestly duties. In 1900, he was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and he published a book called, The Impending Crisis: Conditions Resulting from a Concentration of Wealth in the United States. Here’s a contemporary summary of the book:
The book consists largely of compilations of facts concerning the distribution of wealth in America and as such will constitute a valuable book of reference. These are summarized and arranged in various forms to make them more vivid but there is little that is new either in matter or manner of presentation.
Bouroff seems to have been a Progressive. In a 1905 article, “Freedom of the Press in Russia,” he concluded,
Moreover, as a result of the recent rescript giving religious liberty to all, the freedom of the press is greatly extended. New dailies and periodicals are now rapidly established. It is quite natural that the clerical censorship has fallen of itself, and organs of publication for various non-orthodox religious communities are expected soon to take existence in Russia. Now Russia begins to live a natural life in the sense of progress which can never be smothered. But the great work of her progress is just beginning, and how great a role the Russian press must play in it can be easily imagined. The Russian press now is the most interesting press in the world.
Finally, I found a couple of tantalizing snippets on Google Books, from the 1924 book Greater Love Hath No Man, by Alexander Marshall. Unfortunately, Google won’t let you view the whole text, but I was able to make out a couple of sections:
BASIL BOUROFF was born and brought up in the city of Rostock [i.e. Rostov], on the river Don, Southern Russia. At the age of fifteen he was awakened by the Holy Spirit to an apprehension of his guilt and peril. [...]
When Basil Bouroff learned that salvation was not of works, and could not be procured by the observance of forms or ceremonies, he began to think that help might be obtained in the Scriptures. [...]
At this point, all we can do is make an educated guess based on bits and pieces of information. Fr. Basil Bouroff, the assistant priest of the Russian church in Chicago, apparently began attending the brand-new University of Chicago (which had Protestant connections), and also became involved in the Progressive political movement of the day. It seems quite likely that Bouroff eventually became a Protestant himself, especially given the language of the Greater Love Hath No Man snippets quoted above.
This past weekend, those of us on the New Calendar celebrated the feast day of St. John Kochurov, the Russian New Martyr and former priest of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. With that in mind, I thought I’d talk a bit about St. John’s arrival in Chicago.
John Kochurov was just 24 years old when he became a priest, in the summer of 1895. The ordination took place in Russia, but it was done by the visiting Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, the head of the Russian Mission in America, and Fr. John was to accompany Bishop Nicholas back to the United States. They arrived in November, just as Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny was getting settled in Brooklyn.
The young Fr. John was entering a bit of a sticky situation. From the Chicago Tribune (11/25/1895):
Nicholaei of St. Petersburg, Archbishop of All America, held solemn mass in the Greek [that is, Orthodox] Church, at No. 13 South Center avenue, yesterday morning for the installation of Father Kochureff as assistant priest of the parish. He was assisted by the local priest, Father Kazantsier, and assistant, and two pages from St. Petersburg. The vacancy of assistant priest was caused by a difference of opinion between Archbishop Nicholaei and R.A. Bouroff, late assistant pastor, who has come under the displeasure of his superiors by attendance at the University of Chicago.
Nearly 100 persons were crowded into the little room reserved for the congregation of the Greek Church in Chicago. It is the front room of a ground flat in a modest three-story building erected for a dwelling. The chancel occupies an adjoining front room. The service is more elaborate than that of the Roman Church, and differs radically in much of the ceremony, being conducted behind a high chancel screen, sometimes with the single entrance closed. All the appointments of the altar and chancel are different. The service is unique in many ways.
A pretty standard description of vestments, candles, etc. follows. Then, we read,
There is a division in the Greek congregation owing to the retirement of Assistant Priest Bouroff. It is said that a wing of the congregation is at outs with the authorities because of loyalty to the younger priest, who persists in carrying on his studies at President Harper’s institution. These members credit Archbishop Nicholaei with having caused the exile of more students to Siberia than any man in Russia. On this account it is easy to believe, they declare, that the Bishop of All America will never forgive the independence of ex-Assistant Pastor Bouroff.
About a dozen clergy from all over the country came to Chicago for Bishop Nicholas’ visit; these included Fr. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky of New York, Fr. Anatolii Kamenskii of Sitka (the future bishop and confessor), and Fr. Theodore Pashkovsky of Jackson, CA (the future Metropolitan Theophilus).
Several things, right off the bat: Bishop Nicholas was not actually an archbishop, and his title was “Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” not “Bishop of All America.” Other newspapers give various names for the other Chicago priest; the most accurate rendition is probably “Fr. Pavel Kazanski.” Also, the Chicago Inter Ocean says that the parish is called “St. Ivan.” Originally it was “St. Nicholas,” and this was soon changed to “St. Vladimir” and later “Holy Trinity.” I’m not sure if, at some point, “St. Ivan” was used, or if this was a reporter’s mistake.
In the Tribune article quoted above, Fr. John Kochurov is named as the assistant priest, with Fr. Pavel Kazanski as the parish rector (having apparently replaced Fr. Ambrose Vretta, who was transferred to Seattle). However, I’ve found several reports from 1896 which put it the other way round, with Kochurov as the rector and Kazanski as his assistant. It’s possible that the earlier Tribune article got it wrong; certainly, it would be odd to have a formal “installation” for an assistant priest. Most probably, Kazanski held down the fort until Kochurov arrived, at which point the former became the latter’s assitant.
In any event, the most interesting part of this story is the Fr. Bouroff, who was apparently removed from his post for daring to attend the University of Chicago. I know some of our readers here have connections to that institution; perhaps there is something in the school’s archives which could shed more light on this episode?
Of course, for the Chicago parish, everything worked out fine in the end. Kochurov would prove to be a dedicated and exemplary pastor, and he would lead the community for more than a decade. It’s interesting; recently, we discussed the fact that Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch, in New York, got into trouble and was replaced by a saint, Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky. Here, at exactly the same time, Fr. Bouroff got into trouble and was replaced by another saint, Fr. John Kochurov.
Back in June, I did one of my first podcasts on an attempt, in 1888, to form a multiethnic parish in Chicago. Here are the basics:
By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox Christians living in Chicago, most of them Greeks and Serbs / Montenegrins. A few years earlier, they had organized themselves into an Orthodox society and petitioned the Church of Russia to send a priest and form a parish. There actually was no Russian bishop in America for much of the 1880s, so it wasn’t until Bishop Vladimir’s arrival in 1888 that the Chicago community got some attention from the hierarchy. In May, Vladimir wrote to the lay leaders in Chicago and asked them to call a meeting to determine just how many people were interested in starting a church, and just how much money they might be able to contribute. One of the highlights of the meeting was a speech by Greek leader George Brown, who said, “We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like a brothers.” Bishop Vladimir himself came to Chicago in October, serving the first known Orthodox liturgy in the city, at No. 85 Fifth Avenue.
For some reason, despite the promise of the May 1888 meeting, no parish was formed. The reasons for this failure aren’t clear. A few years later, the Chicago Inter Ocean (7/11/1891) reported,
An effort was made some time ago to organize here to build a church or temple, as there are fully 2,000 of the faith residing here, but under the name of the Grecian Brotherhood Association it failed, as the Russians, Servians, and Slavonians would not come in under that title.
The Inter Ocean goes on to explain that, in June 1891 (so, three years after the initial meeting), a new organization was created, called the “Grecian, Slavonian, and Russian Orthodox Association.” This seems to have happened in conjunction with another visit by Bishop Vladimir to Chicago that spring. Hierarchical services were celebrated in Gazzolo’s Hall, at 82 West Madison Street. From the Chicago Tribune (6/1/1891):
Before the service a meeting had been held, at which it was decided to make application to the Holy Synod [...] for license to organize a church. The synod must consent to this before a church can organize. [...] There is little doubt that the license will be granted.
A nine-man committee was appointed to obtain the necessary signatures, and it wisely included three Russians, three Greeks, and three Serbs. Everyone hoped that the parish could be founded in time for the World’s Fair, which would be held in Chicago in 1893.
A couple months later, in July, an Archimandrite Lininas, from the Russian Cathedral in San Francisco, made a follow-up visit to Chicago. The aforementioned George Brown, one of the Greek leaders of the society, told a newspaper that the community had been promised a priest “as soon as they have erected a church.” I must say, it’s an odd approach, requiring the laity to construct a building before giving them a priest.
No building was erected, and no priest was sent. Throughout most of his episcopate in America, Bishop Vladimir was embroiled in a horrific scandal in San Francisco. Early on, his cathedral was burned to the ground (and some whispered that it was arson). Rumors swirled that funds had been embezzled. The accusations against Vladimir himself were the worst — he was charged by his detractors with sexually assaulting numerous young boys. To this day, it’s not clear whether these accusations were true or false.
More to the point of this story, the scandals in San Francisco had major ripple effects in Chicago. A Montenegrin named Gopchevich was one of the key players in the Chicago Orthodox community, and his brother happened to be one of Bishop Vladimir’s mortal enemies in San Francisco. In the fall of 1891, the Orthodox society met to discuss the crisis. From the Inter Ocean (11/2/1891):
Personal opinions vary. However, Bishop Vladimir had intended to establish the church here, but the local society has determined to remain entirely independent of Vladimir, and has sent a petition to the Russian Government and to the head of the Greek Church in Constantinople for a priest.
As it happened, Bishop Vladimir was on his way out, replaced by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. In March of 1892, the new bishop and his entourage passed through Chicago on their way to San Francisco. Some of the leading Chicago Orthodox figures met with the group, and there was again talk of forming a multiethnic parish. But the very next month, Fr. Panagiotis Peter Phiambolis came to Chicago under the authority of Athens, and he founded a Greek church. The next month, Fr. Ambrose Vretta was sent by the Russian authorities to establish a Russian church.
In the past, I’ve mentioned the Russian Mission’s practice of employing “client clergy” — non-Russian priests with ties to Russia, who served multiethnic or non-Russian parishes in America. St. Raphael and Fr. Sebastian Dabovich are perhaps the most famous examples, but there were many more. One of the earliest of these client clergy was Fr. Ambrose Vretta, who has the distinction of being the first pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago and St. Spiridon’s Cathedral in Seattle.
Vretta (or Wretta) was originally from Macedonia. He was born in 1859, attended the Imperial Medical College in Istanbul, and then toured Europe and studied in Rome. He then returned to his homeland, but, according to the Chicago Tribune (9/2/1895), “he found the systematic persecution to which he was subjected by the Turkish Government too much for comfort.” So he left for Orthodox Russia, where he was warmly received. It wasn’t long before he had developed close ties with the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg (probably Metropolitan Isidore). At some point along the way he was ordained a priest; I assume this happened in Russia, but I can’t be sure. Vretta may have encountered a young Jovan (later Fr. Sebastian) Dabovich, who studied in St. Petersburg in the late 1880s.
When the newly-consecrated Bishop Nicholas Ziorov was assigned to America in 1892, the 33-year-old Vretta came along with him. His first assignment was Chicago, where a significant Orthodox community existed. For several years, the Orthodox of the city had been trying to organize a parish, but for various reasons, they hadn’t been successful. (We’ve discussed that a bit in the past, and will talk about it in great detail in the near future.)
On May 17, 1892, the first Russian Orthodox church was founded in Chicago (although, it should be noted, there were hardly any actual Russians, with much of the congregation being Serbian). This came only weeks after the first Greek parish was organized in the city. Vretta was present at that initial meeting, and he remained at the parish for the next three years. During that time, he also assumed responsibility for a new Orthodox parish in Streator, Illinois.
One of the most notable aspects of Vretta’s tenure in Chicago was the warm relationship between the Russian and Greek churches: although the Orthodox community of the city had split into two parishes, there doesn’t seem to have been any rivalry. Vretta concelebrated with the Greek priest, Fr. Panagiotis Peter Phiambolis, on numerous occasions. When the Greek Archbishop Dionysius of Zante visited Chicago for the World’s Fair, the Vretta went over to the Greek church for services. When the Russian Bishop Nicholas came to town, it was Phiambolis’ turn to visit the Russian church. In 1894, a special service was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Orthodoxy in North America, and both Vretta and Phiambolis were present. Later that year, Tsar Alexander III died, and for the memorial, Vretta went over to the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building.
Vretta was transferred to Seattle shortly after that, in November 1895. Up to that point, the fledgling Orthodox community of Seattle had never had a resident priest. Fr. Sebastian Dabovich had been holding services on Saturdays, but Vretta was the first full-time pastor of the new St. Spiridon’s Church. He didn’t confine himself to working in Seattle, though. In the spring of 1896, Vretta and his young reader Vladimir Alexandrov traveled to Montana, where they celebrated the first-ever Orthodox services in the state. In her fascinating paper, “Circuit Riders to the Slavs and Greeks”, Brigit Farley tells this story:
[Vretta] began in Anaconda, where he administered the sacraments of marriage and chrismation to several Serbian Orthodox believers. The priest moved on to Butte, where he learned of an Orthodox miner named Mike Gamble, who wished to see a priest in order to receive Communion. Fr. Vretta finally located Gamble after a long climb up the side of a mountain, during which he had only the assistance of dogs and a sled for his baggage. After his meeting with the miner, he reported, he managed to convince two Uniates to accept union with the Orthodox church.
In December of 1896, Vretta was transferred from Seattle… And I’m not sure where he went. He was only 37 years old, so he presumably had a long career ahead of him, but I can’t find him on any later lists of clergy (and I’ve got lists for 1906, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, and 1918). He doesn’t seem like the type of priest — non-Russian, literate, mission-minded — who would be sent to Russia; in fact, he’s exactly the sort of priest that was being sent from Russia to America.
It’s possible, I suppose, that he remained with Bishop Nicholas. In 1898, Bishop Nicholas was transferred to a diocese in Russia; perhaps Vretta joined him (?). If anyone out there has more information about Vretta, particularly his whereabouts after 1896, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.