Posts tagged parishes
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Christopher Tripoulas of The National Herald, the leading Greek-American newspaper. It was originally published on The National Herald‘s blog on October 27. (Click here to view the original.) Many thanks to Mr. Tripoulas for allowing us to reprint the article.
During an age when the “what have you done for me lately” mentality reigns supreme, the Annunciation Cathedral of New England is undertaking a very auspicious project that pays tribute to one of its greatest ever memorable benefactors and stands as a very positive example within the Greek-American community. The Cathedral’s decision to adopt a proposal by its dean, V. Rev. Cleopas Strongylis, to: a) compile its history during Archbishop Iakovos’ deanship, b) create a digital archive of the Cathedral’s historical files, and c) establish a Research Center in the Cathedral Mansion for the promotion and preservation of the Cathedral’s history, is an initiative that definitely deserves to be commended. Like the old Greek saying goes, if you don’t praise your home, it will fall and crash down upon you… and what better way to praise and celebrate the history of this 100-year-plus-old community than to commemorate its most celebrated period: Iakovos’ tenure – then known by most as Archimandrite James A. Coucouzes – as its dean.
This historical study is particularly poignant today, and not just because it coincides with the 70th anniversary of Iakovos’ appointment to the Cathedral or his centennial of birth, but also because it comes at a time when there is an apparent leadership crisis plaguing society in general. The late archbishop has sometimes been characterized as “larger than life.” His decisions, like those of every great leader, sometimes sparked controversy and remained under the historical microscope for years to come. But whether you agree with of all his decisions or not, there’s no debating Iakovos’ leadership qualities and ability to inspire.
What makes this particular work all the more interesting is that it provides a closer look at one of the most significant ecclesiastical figures of the Twentieth Century, before he put on the Archbishop’s miter. It will provide information that will help to reveal the qualities, passion, and mentality that played a key part in transforming this dynamic Boston area priest, Archimandrite James Coucouzes, into national Church and ethnic leader: Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America.
The early years and priestly ministry of the man who went on to lead the Church in America for four decades naturally never gets as much attention as does his high-profile career as archbishop and particularly his storied trips to the White House. But the humble confines of his office on Parker & Ruggles Streets in Boston have just as much to do with the making of this legendary leader, because it was there that he first laid the foundations for his later work and came of age.
There is a real potential for this study to provide a wonderful inspiration and serve as a great resource for clergymen and laypersons alike, possibly even encouraging them to explore the histories of their own communities or organizations. By researching precisely what it was about Coucouzes’ tenure that helped to lay the groundwork for the Boston Cathedral’s “Golden Era” and its dean’s subsequent astronomic rise in the Church’s ranks, it might be possible to redefine our own expectations for what we envision our future “golden era” to be.
Coucouzes’ deanship simply was prolific. He worked endless hours dedicating his attention to every aspect of the community life – spiritual, educational, and social. In addition, he showed particular interest in Hellenic national issues and care for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Those are just some of the aspects that the study promises to bring to the forefront, thus better acquainting us with the iconic figure that would go on to leave an indelible mark in the Greek Diaspora.
But the Cathedral’s initiative is also important because in addition to enriching history, it will use this work to enhance and beautify its facilities and services in a rather ingenious way. This project hopefully will speak to the minds and hearts of prospective donors to relive history while renovating the community as well. And in doing so, it will provide readers with a look at how some of the pioneering Greeks and their ever-memorable spiritual leader chased progress, while helping inspire today’s generation of church and lay leaders to recapture some of that all important ingenuity.
This work was made possible thanks to the commendable efforts of Nikie Calles, Director of Archives at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Anyone who has ever visited the Archives can plainly see what a superb job Calles has done capturing and organizing the history of not just the Church, but of the entire Greek-American community. In addition, the generous support of noble contributors like Stephen and Catherine Pappas and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation should also be recognized, as their financial assistance was essential in helping Calles to apply her many talents and compile this tremendous didactic and informational resource.
And so, whether based on donations from philanthropists like the Pappases or the Foundation, Calles’ invaluable work, or the “philotimo” shown by the Boston Cathedral, the encouraging sign is that the Greek-American Community still loves its history, and as long as there is genuine love for the past, there is all the reason to hope for a brighter tomorrow. Because in a true community of persons, the dreams of the previous generation are perpetually being realized by its successors.
This article was written by Christopher Tripoulas of The National Herald and has been reprinted with permission from the author. To view the original article, click here.
If you’ve read the last two issues of our SOCHA newsletter, you know that Holy Protection OCA Cathedral in New York City is in the middle of a fight with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Here’s how I described the situation in the most recent newsletter:
In last month’s newsletter, I mentioned the plight of Holy Protection OCA Cathedral in New York City. The cathedral community is in a fight with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is trying to have the cathedral declared a historic landmark against the wishes of the cathedral itself and its diocesan bishop. If the Commission is successful, the cathedral will be forced to get government approval for any changes to the church exterior. They may also be forced to make “improvements” deemed appropriate by the city. This is an unacceptable infringement on the religious freedom of the cathedral community in the name of “historic preservation.” As I said last month, I’m (obviously) a huge supporter of preserving history, but we don’t need the government telling us how to do it. Here is an update from Fr. Christopher Calin, dean of the cathedral: “The Community Board #3 voted 32 to 9 to endorse the Landmark District which would include our Cathedral and other houses of worship in the EV [East Village]. We are currently working with a Local Faith Communities group to find alternatives to the forced landmarking of our buildings and have a meeting scheduled for 9/12 with the Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Tierney. There is support to NOT designate religious institutions as individual landmarks, but the well-funded and staffed preservationists are lobbying the LPC and city council members very hard.” We at SOCHA strongly and officially support the cathedral in its efforts to resist the coerced landmarking. In a future article, we’ll let you know how you can help.
As I indicated, Bishop Michael Dahulich has already voiced his disapproval of the forced designation of his own cathedral. In a letter to the chairman of Community Board 3, Bishop Michael wrote,
We are not against preservation or even an historic district designation for the East Village, but the forced individual landmark status of our cathedral and other houses of worship and will place time-consuming and costly demands on parishes to make application and receive permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission every time the parishioners need to change a window, put in an air conditioner, paint a gate, install a new sign, or replace doors, roofs or steps.
But it’s actually even worse than that. The cathedral was originally a Protestant church. Fr. Christopher Calin told me that back when the then-Russian Metropolia acquired the building in the 1940s, it drew up plans for a complete redesign of the exterior. The plan called for a much more traditional Orthodox appearance, with cupolas and so forth. The plans have never been enacted, in part because of funding issues, but there’s still hope that the community will eventually raise the money for it. If the landmark designation is imposed, though, the cathedral would have to get government approval of the design before they could move forward. As I understand the process, that would involve a public hearing at which any citizen could come in and argue against the cathedral’s plans. So you could have the City of New York blocking the addition of Orthodox architectural elements (such as domes and icons) because they would alter the historic (Protestant) exterior of the building. In that case, “preserving history” would amount to preserving Protestant architecture and suppressing the Orthodox owners’ right to freely exercise their religion via Orthodox architectural expression.
In Orthodoxy, and indeed in nearly all religions, religious architecture is a religious matter. Domes, icons, crosses, the shape of the building; it’s impossible to separate these elements from our Orthodox faith itself. When I attended St. George Cathedral in Wichita, they added gorgeous mosaics to the exterior of the building. Had the cathedral been a historic landmark, the church would have needed government approval for those icons — and if the government thought that the icons unacceptably changed the original look of the church, then the church would have been prohibited from adding them. This is a blatant violation of religious freedom.
But it goes beyond the simple fact that church architecture is intrinsically religious. Take, for instance, the addition of an air conditioner. Should the church be prevented from adding the air conditioner of its choice, simply because it happens to be in an old building? Should it be forced to make a case to the government, and undergo a public hearing, simply to replace a broken window? This is what Historic Preservation does: it puts decision-making power over churches into the hands of government bureaucrats.
To those who say that one’s choice of air conditioning unit is not really an ecclesiastical matter, I ask this: who gets to decide whether an issue is ecclesiastical or not? Who is qualified to make that decision? As I’ve argued in the past, the question of whether something is ecclesiastical is, itself, ecclesiastical. And we absolutely, constitutionally, cannot have the civil government making those decisions.
Forced preservation has another problem: it violates the authority of the bishop. Ultimately, the proper authority over Holy Protection Cathedral is the OCA Bishop of New York, Michael Dahulich. Above him is the Holy Synod of the OCA. As long as the church architecture doesn’t present a safety problem, how on earth can the civil government justify usurping the bishop’s authority and dictating to a church what design elements are acceptable and what are not?
We’re not talking about the type of government justifications that most people accept — things like fire code, building code, etc. The government’s interest isn’t safety — it’s the nebulous concept of “history.” Why, exactly, is the City of New York the proper judge of what constitutes proper preservation of Orthodox Church history? As an Orthodox Christian historian, I would argue that the work of church history, including its preservation, is an inherently religious exercise. To compartmentalize it, and to divorce it from the life of the church, is contrary to Orthodoxy. But that is what the historic preservationists of New York are attempting to do: they’re attempting to place the final decision over church architectural design into the hands of the civil government. That, my friends, is both unconstitutional and just plain wrong.
And if you think this is just a minor issue for one community, think again. How old is your church? If it’s more than, say, 50 or 70 years old, it’s at risk of the same problem. We all have an interest in preserving history, but we have a greater interest in preserving religious freedom. We have an interest in preserving our freedom to preserve our religious history as we, as Orthodox, see fit. We do not need the government to tell us how to preserve our history, against our will. That does violence to the First Amendment and, indeed, to the actual preservation of history itself.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Recently, Holy Cross Orthodox Press published the Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, edited by Alexei D. Krindatch. I contributed several pieces to the Atlas, including the article “Ten Interesting Facts About the History of Orthodox Christianity in the USA.” With Alexei’s permission, we’re publishing excerpts of that article here at OrthodoxHistory.org. To purchase your own copy of the Atlas (for $19.95), click here.
4. In 1888, the Orthodox of Chicago tried – but failed – to establish a multiethnic Orthodox parish.
By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in Chicago. Most of them were Greeks and Serbs, and despite the fact that they weren’t Russian, they petitioned the nearest bishop – who was Russian – to send them a priest. In 1888, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to gauge there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. George Brown, who emigrated from Greece as a young man, had fought in the American Civil War. He gave a short speech, saying, “Union is the strength… If our language is two, our religion is one… We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.”
Everyone at the meeting agreed to start a parish, with services in both Greek and Slavonic. Bishop Vladimir visited later that year, but unfortunately, he soon became embroiled in a series of scandals in San Francisco. One of his strongest opponents was a Montenegrin whose brother was a leader in the Chicago community. Hearing reports of the crisis, the Chicago Orthodox decided they wanted nothing more to do with the bishop, and instead contacted the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, and Serbia.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest. He established Chicago’s first Orthodox parish in 1892, specifically for Greek people. One month later, a Russian church was founded. For the first time in American Orthodox history, two churches answering to different ecclesiastical authorities coexisted in the same U.S. city. But despite their separation based on language and ethnicity, the two churches still got along well. In 1894, the Greek and Russian priests served together at the Russian church to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar died the following month, both priests held a memorial at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas Ziorov, visited Chicago, the local Greek priest participated in the hierarchical services. Later on, in 1902, Russian church bell was stolen, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the parishioners for help. The two churches, held a joint meeting in an effort to find the bell. Chicago thus represents both an early manifestation of “jurisdictional pluralism” and a wonderful example of inter-ethnic Orthodox cooperation.
Matthew Namee’s somewhat recent post concerning what constitutes a parish caught me by surprise, as I was preparing a very similar article of my own to illustrate a problem I’ve been having in continuing to tell the story of the Armenian Orthodox Church for SOCHA. When I agreed to assist SOCHA in covering Armenian topics, I envisioned my first posting to be a quick narrative about the Armenian Church (which it was, you can read that here), and my second to follow soon thereafter, containing a listing of the first parish in each of the twenty-four states where the Armenian Church is found. Matthew Namee, of course, did the same thing for the growth of Eastern Orthodox parishes, and I thought it might be helpful to our readers if I did, too.
I quickly found that writing such an entry was difficult, precisely out of the primary question Matthew posed in his entry: What truly constitutes a parish? I was consulting parish and diocesan websites, several books published by the church (dating back as early as the 1940’s), newspapers, and couldn’t find a set standard anywhere. Some parishes gauged their founding from the building of their first sanctuary. Others dated it from the first vestiges of a board of trustees, or the first time there was really any appreciable, united Armenian community. Even more confusing are the so-called “Mission Parishes,” which ordinarily do not have (and probably never have had) either a permanent sanctuary or a priest, often both. These communities tend to date their founding by the year in which they were formally recognized as a Mission Parish, which doesn’t seem to have been general practice until the 1970’s, even if an Armenian presence and some modicum of organized church life existed long before.
My home parish (when I’m not in Chicago), St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, Michigan, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. That’s all well and fine, except the first evidence of a parish organization apparently dates to 1909, and first priest assigned to Detroit arrived in 1913. There was no sanctuary, so the community met in a number of borrowed spaces, especially St. John Episcopal Church in downtown Detroit (which, interestingly, also housed the plenary sessions of the 4th All-American Sobor in 1924, for those interested in Metropolia/OCA history), until they could afford to purchase land and build a church of their own. The movement to build the first church began in 1928, and it was ready for consecration in 1931.
So there’s three possible anniversary dates here if we look at when the community came together, when the first priest came, and when the first church was built: 1909, 1913, and 1931. To give you an idea of what standard the parish ended up using, in 2006, we celebrated our 75th anniversary, and this year we celebrate the 80th.
Then there’s the situation of the Armenian community in Chicago, which seems to truly defy explanation, and gets at the root of the incredibly strange arrangements that combined to form the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America in 1898 (which I hope to cover later on). The previous year, the entire country was separated into four “ecclesiastical districts:” Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Fresno (California), and Chicago, and the scant amount of Armenian clergy distributed amongst them. This could be considered an odd choice, considering an 1898 list of the seven largest Armenian communities in the United States prepared by Bishop Hovsep Saradjian ranked Chicago dead last, numbering just 400 people. Yet this was the biggest Armenian community in the Midwest at the time. Fr. Khat Markarian was assigned to travel to Chicago, but a disagreement over his reassignment from his parish in Boston resulted in Markarian instead going to New York. No replacement was named, and Chicago languished.
While other communities around the country rapidly grew, taking advantage of massive waves of immigration to build churches and the infrastructures of parish life, Chicago was a comparative non-starter. Though he visited nearly every corner of the country, Bp. Saradjian never visited the city. In 1901, he sent Fr. Vahan Messirlian to Chicago to organize a slate of trustees to establish a parish, and while he may have been marginally successful in the short-term, there were no representatives from Chicago at the 1902 Diocesan Assembly. There were loose associations of parish life over the next decade, but there would not be a permanent priest assigned to Chicago until 1915. St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church formally dates its establishment to that year, and was the culmination of all that had happened in Chicago since 1898. Since St. Gregory is the oldest Armenian parish in Illinois, is 1915 really the right year to pick for its establishment?
So, like Matthew, I’m struggling a bit with how one gauges the intricacies of parish formation, especially looking at situations that were anomalous both in geographical dispersal as well as the highly irregular way in which the Armenian Church in America constituted its hierarchical administration in its earliest years. Long story short, I guess, that list I mentioned at the opening is forthcoming, once I can determine some kind of standard, and wade through the evidence enough to come to a consensus.
Until then, SOCHA readers, are there any particular issues you want me to cover about the Armenian Church?
This article was written by Aram Sarkisian.