Posts tagged Parliament of Religions
September 11, 1893: The World’s Parliament of Religions opened in Chicago. I’ve written quite a bit about the Parliament in past articles, and you can read all of them by clicking here. The super-short version: In conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair, representatives from every major world religion convened in Chicago for the mother of all ecumenical gatherings.
Among the most impressive figures at the event was a Greek Orthodox archbishop, Dionysius Latas of Zante, one of the best known hierarchs in the Church of Greece. Archbishop Dionysius attracted a lot of press, but the most interesting Orthodox figure at the Parliament was Fr. Christopher Jabara, an Antiochian archimandrite who rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and wanted to create a single world religion. To read more about Jabara, click here.
September 10, 1900: Nicholas Bjerring died in New York. Bjerring had converted from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy in 1870. He was immediately ordained a priest in Russia and sent back to America to establish the first Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring’s chapel was one of only three Orthodox houses of worship in the contiguous United States (the others being in San Francisco and New Orleans). And while there was a Russian bishop living in California, Bjerring and his chapel were directly under the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg.
Things didn’t work out all that well. After sputtering along for 13 years, the chapel was closed by the Russian government, and a disenchanted Bjerring converted to Presbyterianism. A few years before he died, Bjerring re-converted to Roman Catholicism, as a layman.
September 12, 1912: Fr. Demetrios Petrides arrived in Atlanta to become the priest of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Petrides had been in Philadelphia, where he clashed with a rich Greek tobacco magnate. It’s a crazy story — the millionaire layman wanted Petrides to bow to him and follow his every order, and Petrides flatly refused. The rich guy got Petrides fired from the parish (that was how things worked back then), and Petrides moved to Atlanta. One newspaper dubbed him the “stormy petrel of the cloth,” and he continued his distinguished career until his untimely death from diabetes in 1917.
Another interesting aspect of Petrides’ career is that he was the priest who recommended that the Ecumenical Patriarchate ordain Fr. Raphael Morgan, who became the first black Orthodox priest in America. For a time, Morgan — who had a troubled marriage that ended in divorce — actually lived in Petrides’ house.
September 13, 1921: Two big events on this day: the birth of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and the opening of the first Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Archdiocese.
The Clergy-Laity Congress accomplished the legal incorporation of the Archdiocese, and many date the beginning of the GOA to this date. It’s sort of arbitrary, though — you could pick any number of dates between 1918 and 1922. I think the Congress itself, rather than the act of legal incorporation, is ultimately more historically significant.
As for Fr. Alexander Schmemann, he was one of the most famous and important figures in late 20th century American Orthodoxy. What did he do? What didn’t he do? He’s probably best known for his writings — seminal works like For the Life of the World, The Eucharist, Great Lent, and many, many more. Or maybe he’s best known as a professor and longtime dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where he educated hundreds of future church leaders. Or perhaps it’s his role as a churchman: he played a key role in the establishment of the OCA, and the founding of SCOBA. He attended Vatican II as an observer, and he advised the Evangelical Orthodox Church on its path to conversion to Orthodoxy. After the death of Metropolitan Leonty in 1965, the Metropolia/OCA lacked a dominant hierarchical presence. Schmemann, a married priest, filled that role, and was for the OCA what Archbishop Iakovos was to the Greek Archdiocese, and Metropolitan Philip Saliba was for the Antiochians.
September 11, 1927: Fr. Emmanual Abo-Hatab, former archdeacon to St. Raphael Hawaweeny, was consecrated a bishop for the newly established American Orthodox Catholic Church. The AOCC was led by Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, and it was fringe from the beginning. Bishop Emmanuel eventually split from Aftimios and went to the Russian Metropolia, where he succeeded Aftimos as leader of the “Russy” (pro-Russian) faction of the Arab Orthodox in America.
September 14, 1931: Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt, attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York. The ceremony was performed by Archbishop Athenagoras, the new head of the Greek Archdiocese. From the following day’s New York Times:
Mrs. Roosevelt said that the members of the Greek congregations had expressed their worship of God by means of beautiful edifices erected in this city. She added the hope that their fine spirit would be carried on by the new members of these congregations.
Members of the Holy Trinity congregation, whose church was destroyed by fire several years ago, and those of the congregation of the Church Evangelismos [Annunciation] will be amalgamated into one congregation in the new edifice which is expected to be completed in April at a cost of $600,000.
$600 grand in 1931 is equivalent to roughly $8.5 million today — a decent chunk of change in any era, but particularly during the Great Depression.
September 10, 1933: Fr. Benjamin Basalyga was consecrated a bishop in Pittsburgh, for the Russian Metropolia. The 46-year-old bishop was born in a Pennsylvania coal town, and as a child, he was one of the first students at the Russian missionary school in Minneapolis and then at the Minneapolis seminary. Later, he became a hieromonk and served in parishes all over America and Canada, without spending much time in any particular community. For a while in the 1920s, he was the personal secretary to Metropolitan Platon, head of the Russian Metropolia.
After being consecrated, Benjamin served as Bishop of Pittsburgh for about a dozen years, after which he led the Orthodox Church of Japan from 1946 to 1953. He then returned to his see in Pittsburgh for another decade before his death in 1963.
September 11, 1948: Bishop Alexis Panteleyev (or Panteleev), the Russian Metropolia’s Bishop of Alaska, died. I know next to nothing about Bishop Alexis, but I can tell you that he was originally consecrated Bishop of San Francisco in 1927, and served in that post until 1931. In 1934, he became the Bishop of Alaska. Then, in 1945, he was sent by the Metropolia to attend the enthronement of Alexei I, the newly elected Patriarch of Moscow. In this period, there was some hope that Moscow and the Metropolia could reestablish communion. As it turned out, the Metropolia couldn’t accept Moscow’s terms, and reunion didn’t happen.
The next year, though, Bishop Alexis decided to join Moscow himself. He explained his reasoning in this way: “In order to be in unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is necessary for the Russian Orthodox clergy to be under the Patriarch of Moscow.” (New York Times, 4/20/1946) Bishop Alexis died two years later, in 1948.
September 16, 1949: St. John Maximovitch, then the ROCOR Bishop of Shanghai, spoke before the United States Congress. This article is getting a bit long, and St. John’s visit to Congress is really interesting, so I think I’ll save this one for another day.
September 14, 1951: Fr. Demetrios Makris was consecrated a bishop for the Greek Archdiocese, with the title “Bishop of Olympus” (yes, that Olympus). This was back when the GOA had a single Archdiocese composed of a series of “Archdiocesan Districts,” each overseen by a titular bishop but ultimately answerable to the Greek Archbishop. Later, those Districts became Dioceses (and their leaders diocesan bishops), and today they’re Metropolises with Metropolitans. Anyway, Bishop Demetrios was initially assigned to the massive First Archdiocesan District, which included New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and more. Later, he headed up the Districts based in San Francisco and then Boston.
To be honest, I know even less about Bishop Demetrios than I do about Bishop Alexis Panteleyev (above). I’m not even sure when he died, though I’d guess it was in the 1970s (his tenure in Boston ended in 1973). If anyone out there can fill us in, please do.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and for your patience during this period of irregular output here at SOCHA.
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.]
Last week, I introduced Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante, a Greek hierarch who visited America in 1893. When we left his story, he had arrived in New York City and was en route to Saratoga Springs, where the Episcopalian Bishop Henry Potter had invited him. We’ll pick up the story there.
Abp Dionysius arrived in Saratoga Springs just as another international visitor, a Sikh Maharajah, was leaving the resort town. “Since the Maharajah’s departure the reigning foreign favorite has been the Archbishop of Greece,” the New York Times reported (8/6/1893). The paper went on, “The distinguished prelate is as approachable as his recent predecessor in Saratoga, and all who meet him find him most companionable. He is a man of fine physique, with a strong, intellectual face. He speaks excellent English and fluent French, which latter language he likes to use.”
By all accounts, the 57-year-old archbishop had a great time. “He has a keen eye,” the Times said, “which twinkles with humor.” He gave the New York Mail and Express his initial impressions of America (quoted in the New Orleans Picayune, 8/7/1893):
My impression of your country? Well, I started long before the date of meeting in Chicago, because I was so anxious to see America, and the longer I stay here the more I congratulate myself on this resolve. There is just one way to sum up my ideas as impressed upon me by this great city [New York City], and that is you Americans travel along much quicker than we do in Europe. Your rate of progress has not only enabled you to catch up in the comparatively short existence that the United States has enjoyed, but you have outdistanced us.
Within a few days, Abp Dionysius had made his way to Washington, DC, where he hoped to meet President Grover Cleveland. As it turned out, Cleveland was out of town. A Washington Post reporter caught up with Abp Dionysius, and observed that he had “a jolly face, a hearty laugh, and although he cannot always understand questions in English, he is quite communicative” (8/12/1893). He had decided to write a book about his experiences in America, and aimed to publish it upon his return to Greece. The Post reporter watched as the archbishop’s “scribe” (presumably his deacon) copied his Greek text.
Here are some more of Abp Dionysius’ observations, courtesy of the Post:
“It is very hot here,” said the archbishop, as he mopped his perspiring forehead. It was hot enough for him in his native land, he added, but there he spent his time in the country. He thought the country the best place in America as well, and with evident delight told of his visit to the Catskills in company with Bishop Potter of New York.
The archbishop spoke in high terms of America and Americans, and he evidently meant what he said. He had been impressed by the hospitality and “good heart” of the people in this country.
“Americans and Englishmen are different,” he said. “The Englishman is like this,” and then he drew in his head and put on a stiff, gloomy, and morose expression, which was comical in the extreme. “But the American,” he continued, changing his mood, “is always this way,” and the archbishop burst into a hearty laugh to illustrate what he meant.
“How long will you be in America?” he was asked.
“Perhaps three months,” was the reply, and the perhaps possibly meant if he did not go broke before that time, for he added that it cost a great deal more to travel here than elsewhere, and explained that what took a franc across the ocean requires a dollar here.
From Washington, Abp Dionysius returned to New York and then departed for Chicago, to attend the World’s Parliament of Religions.
In 1893, the World’s Fair was held in Chicago. In conjunction with the Fair, something called the “World’s Parliament of Religions” was held from September 11-27. This was a remarkable gathering, which brought together not only Christian leaders of various denominations, but people of every religious stripe — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. It seems to have been more of a spectacle than anything substantive, although, as we’ve discussed previously, the crazy Antiochian archimandrite Christopher Jabara thought that perhaps the Parliament could come up with a brand-new, global religion. His hopes were unfulfilled.
Anyway, besides Jabara, at least two other Orthodox leaders gave speeches at the Parliament — Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis of Chicago’s new Greek church, and Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante (Zakynthos). Latas was by far the most significant Orthodox figure at the gathering, and from the time of his arrival in America, he was a media sensation. He also happens to have been the first non-Russian Orthodox hierarch to set foot in the New World. This is the first of several articles that will chronicle his visit to America.
Latas arrived in America at the end of July, and on August 1, the New York newspapers ran stories about him. Here’s a brief biography, from the New York Tribune:
Dionysius Latas was born in Zante in 1836. At an early age he attended the Greek Seminary in Jerusalem, where he remained for ten years, afterward spending four years at the University of Athens. Later he studied for a year in the University of Strasburg, before the annexation to Germany, and three years at the universities of Berlin, Leipsic and other German universities, and then spent some time in England. From 1870 to 1884 he was the eloquent preacher of Athens, when he became Archbishop.
Latas was thus about 57 when he came to the United States. He was accompanied by his deacon, Homer Peratis, and one of their first stops was the new Greek church in New York. “I preached yesterday in the little Greek church in this city,” Latas told the New York Times (8/1/1893), “and it reminded me of the little churches I preached in years ago when I was an Archimandriti.”
Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but Latas was a very, very popular preacher when he was an archimandrite in Athens. I have a letter from a Protestant visitor to Athens in 1870 — so, just at the outset of Latas’ preaching career. This letter, written by a certan Rev. Dr. Goodwin of First Congregational Church in Chicago, was published in the New York Evangelist (7/21/1870), and provides a glimpse into the sort of figure the young (34-year-old) Latas was:
The chief sensation of Athens just now is a priest named Dionysius Latos, and among the mummeries dinning the ear on every side during these festivities, it was refreshing to find one service that was an exception. This young priest was originally one of the candle-snuffers, a lad of no education, and with no apparent gifts, except a fine rich voice. Promoted because of this to assist in the chorals, he somehow obtained leave to talk or preach, and astonished every one, and greatly captivated the people by his eloquence. He speedily acquired a wide notoriety, and won many friends. Among them was a rich Athenian, who proposed to him to spend three years in the schools of Germany and France, at his expense. He accepted the offer, spent time in diligent application, and has just returned, and is creating the highest enthusiasm.
I went on Friday morning to hear him preach, and found the church literally packed. And the Greek churches having no seats, admit of such a crowding as is entirely unknown to American audiences. There was no getting near the main entrance, the throng extending into the street. I found a side door, however, to the women’s gallery, and there at last succeeded, by climbing upon a pile of boards, in getting a view of the preacher and his congregation. Below me was a sea of men’s faces, all upturned toward a man of fine intellectual features, and searching dark eyes, and who in the black gown and round brimless hat or high stiff fez of a Greek priest, stood in a pulpit projecting from one of the columns near the middle of the church.
I was impressed at once with the earnestness of the preacher’s face and manner. There was that in the kindling of the eye, the tone of the voice, and the sweep of the hand even, that witnessed unmistakably to the preacher’s deep conviction of the truth and importance of his words. One could not look and listen without a conscious sympathy in response It would have been no common privilege to hear the language of Socrates and Demosthenes spoken, and that in their own Athens, with the distinctness and grace and fervor which marked the speaker’s utterance. Certainly there was a rhythm and music and richness about it that I had never imagined, and that seemed to thrill and move the people somewhat as did the great orators in those earlier days.
But when in the course of a fervent passage my ears caught in Greek the words, “Ye men of Athens,” and then following the whole discourse of Paul from Mars Hill, in the very words he used, and under the very shadow of the spot where he stood, I felt as if centuries were suddenly rolled back, and not a Greek priest, but a greater than he, and a greater than Demosthenes or Plato were there before me, preaching in this wonderful language Christ and Him crucified. I could only now and then understand a word, but caught enough to divine that the theme of the discourse was the love of God as revealed in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The preacher continued for a full hour and a half, closing with many quotations of Scripture and with much impassioned eloquence, and the people stood eager to the end. It is believed here by those who know Latos intimately, that he is in every respect heartily in sympathy with evangelical religion. And the hope is warmly cherished that he will prove to the Greek Church in Athens far more than Pere Hyacinthe to the Latin Church in Paris — a fearless and mighty apostle of the truth, that cannot be cajoled from his purpose by flatteries, nor silenced by threats.
Latas was a genuine sensation, and as a bishop, he remained a prominent figure in the Church of Greece. He spoke out against anti-Semitism, advocated (as did so many in those days) dialogue with the Episcopalians, and was skeptical that any sort of union would happen with Rome. When he came to the United States, he was warmly welcomed by the various Episcopalian bishops that he encountered. Immediately upon his arrival, he was invited by Bishop Henry Potter to join him at Saratoga Springs. We’ll pick up the Latas story there.
I always laugh a little bit when I hear people complain about Orthodox involvement in things like the World Council of Churches. It’s not that I support such involvement — my position on modern ecumenical relations really isn’t relevant here — but I laugh because I can’t imagine what the present-day anti-ecumenists among us would say about what was going on at the turn of the last century.
For instance, can you imagine what would happen if the World Council of Churches was expanded to include Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? And if Orthodox bishops and priests were some of the main participants? That’s what happened at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where the “Parliament of Religions” tried to serve as a veritable United Nations for religion.
In the future, we’ll talk in detail about the Orthodox involvement in this event. For now, though, I’d like to focus on one of the Orthodox attendees in particular — the Antiochian archimandrite Fr. Christopher Jabara, who held the most extreme views of any of the Orthodox who were present.
For a number of years, Jabara had been the head of the Antiochian metochion (representation church) in Moscow. During this period, Jabara happened to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, and he helped arrange for an Antiochian student to attend the Patriarchal seminary at Halki. That student? A young monk named Raphael Hawaweeny.
A decade later, Jabara ran into problems in Russia. Apparently, he started talking about all religions being the same — particularly Christianity and Islam. This incurred the ire of the Metropolitan of Moscow, who ran him out of the country. His replacement as head of the metochion? Deacon Raphael Hawaweeny.
I’m not sure exactly where Jabara went after that, but by the end of 1892, he was in New York — one of the first Antiochian priests to come to America. He was carrying credentials from the Patriarch of Antioch (or at least, that’s what he said; unless we can inspect them, we can’t really be certain). The local Syro-Arab Orthodox, who were just glad to see an Antiochian priest, welcomed Jabara, and they set up a temporary chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets in New York City. At some point along the way, Jabara authored a book entitled, The Unity of Faith and the Harmony of Religions. The next year, the Parliament of Religions met in Chicago, and Jabara was there. Among other things, he said,
My brothers and sisters in the worship of God! All the religions now in this general and religious congress are parallel to each other in the sight of the whole world. Every one of these religions has supporters who prefer their own to other religions, and they might bring some arguments or reasons to convince others of the value and truth of their own form of religion.
Therefore, I think that a committee should be selected from the great religions to investigate the dogmas and to make a full and perfect comparison, and, approving the true one, to announce it to the people. This is easy to do in America, and especially in Chicago, as here the means for realization may be found.
First, there is full religious liberty; second, there is great progress in all branches of science; third, there is presence of great learning; fourth, wealth and benevolence; fifth, the piety of the American people in general and their energy in so many things useful to humanity, making this country a refuge to all nations.
Columbus discovered America for the whole world and discovered a home for the oppressed of all nations. As Columbus discovered America, so must Americans show the people of all nations a new religion in which all hearts may find rest.
That wasn’t all. Jabara told the Globe reporter,
I think and believe that when the gospels and the Koran, which are really one, are reconciled and the two great peoples, Christians and Mahometans, are also reconciled, the whole world will come into unity and all differences fade away.
All the human kind will become brethren in worshipping the true God and following Christ, the savior of the world, and I, as a servant of religion during all my life, have come from far away Damascus on my own account and in my poverty pray, in the name of God the omnipresent, that the people may consider my ideas on the unity of religion, especially between the sacred books.
Needless to say, the Syro-Arabs ran Jabara out of New York. There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that when Jabara returned to the chapel, his key didn’t work — somebody had already changed the locks. (This story is printed in the Antakya Press life of St. Raphael.)
Jabara stayed in America, and, as I said, he was in Boston in March of 1894. But he wasn’t there to minister to the Orthodox of the city; according to the Globe, he “came to Boston especially as a center of Unitarianism where the tenets of religion and the principles of his mission can be sifted and appreciated.”
Eventually, Jabara left the US, traveling to Egypt. An American Protestant named John Henry Barrows met him there in 1896-97, and wrote this account:
Two other men, who were present at the Parliament, I unexpectedly met at the Sunday services in the American Mission. One of them is Christophora Jibara, formerly Archimandrite of Damascus. He is still very active and earnest in what he deems his chief mission, persuading Christians to give up the doctrine of the Trinity, which prevents, as it seems to him, their coming into any union with Mohammedans and Jews. He believes that Christ is the Son of God and wrought a gospel of redemption. Jibara is a master of several languages, and I tried in vain to persuade him to employ his powers of speech in preaching a positive gospel, instead of smiting all his life at a dogma which has worn out many hammers.
I don’t know what happened to Jabara after 1897. The last traces I’ve found of him are from 1901, when Gerasimos Messara, the Metropolitan of Beirut, wrote a reply to an open letter by Jabara. (I don’t have copies of either Jabara’s letter or Met. Gerasimos’ reply; all I’ve found is this Google Books reference.)
With Jabara out of the picture, the Syro-Arabs in America still needed a priest. In 1895, they finally got one. His name? Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny.