Posts tagged Patrick Mythen
For a while now, I’ve been meaning to introduce Fr. Kyrill Johnson, another of the many fascinating early American converts to Orthodoxy. He was born Arthur Warren Johnson in Roxbury, Massachsetts in 1897. I don’t know what happened to his parents, but Johnson was adopted by an unmarried aunt, who raised him in Ipswich. He went to college at William and Mary in Virginia, which is probably where he first encountered the Orthodox Church. One of his classmates was a fellow named Royce Burden, and both were almost certainly students of young Professor Michael Gelsinger.
Arthur Johnson graduated in 1921. The next year, both Burden and Gelsinger were ordained Orthodox priests and assigned to serve in the “English-speaking department” of the Russian Archdiocese. This “department” had its origins in 1905, when Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine converted to Orthodoxy and was charged by St. Tikhon to do “English work.” Irvine died in early 1921, by which point another convert priest, Fr. Patrick Mythen, had taken over the English-speaking department. Mythen brought numerous Americans into the Orthodox Church, but he was wayward and immature, and many of his converts (along with Mythen himself) ultimately left the Church.
I don’t know what role Mythen played in the conversions of Burden, Gelsinger, and Arthur Johnson, but that trio, unlike so many of their fellow 1920s converts, remained in the Church for the rest of their lives. I don’t know exactly when Johnson was ordained, but he was definitely a priest by 1924. The next year, he earned a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.
Johnson — by now Fr. Kyrill — was a celibate priest, and he doesn’t seem to have had a parish in the 1920s. He may have been under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who oversaw the English-speaking department (and the American Orthodox Catholic Church, into which the English department morphed), but Johnson’s focus, in those years, seems to have been scholarly pursuits. In the mid-’20s, he was a key part of Harvard expeditions to Mount Athos and Mount Sinai, searching for ancient Biblical manuscripts. He also spent time in Syria, where he discovered rare proto-Semitic inscriptions.
In the early 1930s, Johnson was back in Ipswich, where he published several books on local history. In 1938, he became pastor of St. George Antiochian church in nearby Lawrence, Mass. — as far as I can tell, this was his first parish assignment in at least 14 years as an Orthodox priest. In 1940, he took on another job, becoming the head of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, which today has the more palatable name “Historic New England,” owns and preserves historic homes and other buildings in New England. The next year, 1941, Metropolitan Antony Bashir elevated Johnson to archimandrite. Johnson lived only six more years, dying in 1947, at the age of just 50.
So far, I’ve basically given you a dry biography of Fr. Kyrill Johnson. What sort of person was he, though? Pat Tyler of the Ipswich Historical Society happened to know Johnson when she was young. A few years ago, she told me, “He lived across the street from me — to the Yankees in town, he was just ‘strange,’ in that black robe.” Later, she added, “I knew him in the 30′s just as the guy across the street – I was just a child. My mother, of course, knew him. She and her friend, Helen, actually spent the night at the beach (Crane’s) with Arthur. I picture the scene as teenagers spouting Shakespeare. And Platonic to the max.”
Here’s another account of Johnson, from the book Becoming What One Is, by Austin Warren: “Friends brought acquaintances; and I remember […] Arthur Johnson of Ipswich, a swarthy, lean, Byzantine-looking bachelor, who, a pure Yankee and reared a Methodist, had become (after an Anglican interlude) an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.”
Back in college, Johnson’s class elected him “most eccentric man.” He was extremely involved in his school activities — class historian, student council secretary, associate editor of the student newspaper, editor-in-chief of the college literary magazine. He was in a drama club, manager of the debate council… I could go on, but I think you get the point. He never married, of course, and I get the sense that nobody who knew him was surprised by this fact. He was odd, friendly, bookish. As we’ll see in the future, he was a pretty talented writer himself.
Of the three William and Mary converts — Johnson, Burden, and Gelsinger — Johnson was clearly the least well-known, and probably the least influential. But he lived a fascinating life, and stands out as one of the few convert priests of the 1920s who remained in the Orthodox Church until the day he died.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
After a week’s worth of articles on the Archbishop Arseny criminal libel case, I thought I’d break things up a bit by looking at something completely different — the story of Fr. Antony Hill, the second black Orthodox priest in America.
By now, a lot of people know that Fr. Raphael Morgan was the first black Orthodox priest in America, ordained in 1907 and based out of Philadelphia’s Greek church. But the second black priest in America, and the first under the Russian Archdiocese, is still virtually unknown. And, while Morgan’s life is full of mystery, the man who followed him — Fr. Antony Hill — is even more of an enigma.
We don’t know when Hill was born, where he was born, or how he came to join the Orthodox Church. His given name was Robert F. Hill, and the first traces I’ve found of him are from a New York Times article dated January 3, 1921. Orthodox and Episcopalian clergy had gathered together for a prayer service, asking God to restore the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to the Orthodox. The Orthodox included Russians, Greeks, Serbs, and Syrians, and among the Russian contingent was “the Very Rev. Anthony R.F. Hill, a canon of the Russian Cathedral.” Also in the group was another recent American convert, Fr. Stephen (Geoffrey) Lang.
Several months later, in September 1921, Hill and Fr. Patrick Mythen attended the First General Synod of the brand-new “African Orthodox Church.” As we’ve discussed before, this noncanonical body was headed by “Patriarch” George Alexander McGuire, who had been consecrated by the vagante Old Catholic bishop Joseph Rene Vilatte. McGuire was an associate of Marcus Garvey, and he most likely had known Fr. Raphael Morgan.
In the 1956 book The History of the African Orthodox Church, A.C. Terry-Thompson writes extensively about the AOC’s initial General Synod. From Terry-Thompson, we know that Fr. Patrick Mythen gave a rousing speech on the Synod’s first day, comparing the AOC’s organizers to Christ’s apostles in the upper room on Pentecost, and expressing the hope that all of Orthodoxy would accept the AOC as a legitimate Church. Hill then offered a few words, “recording his earnest desire to see us launch out successfully.”
Shortly after this, Hill decided to leave the Russian Archdiocese and throw his lot in with the African Orthodox Church. He became rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, which had been McGuire’s parish before he became a bishop. It was Hill who, on September 15, seconded the motion that the new ecclesiastical body be known as the “African Orthodox Church.” The next day, he was appointed dean of the AOC’s seminary. In other words, he was a major player in the new organization.
In his book Words Like Freedom: Essays on African American Culture and History (1996), Richard Newman writes that Hill “was released by the Russians to work with McGuire and the fledgling AOC.” Further on, though, Newman says that Hill “was excommunicated by the Russians.” I find it hard to believe that the Russian Archdiocese would actually release Hill to a noncanonical body. However, in 1921, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky was primate of the Russian Archdiocese. He was a highly ineffective hierarch, and he delegated an unusual amount of authority to Fr. Patrick Mythen. Given Mythen’s own affinity for the AOC, it’s very possible that Mythen himself granted Hill a “release,” but that later Russian leaders recognized this as irregular and went on to defrock Hill.
Hill lasted about 13 years in the AOC. According to Terry-Thompson, “Due to some difference of policy Father Anthony resigned his post late in 1934.” It’s worth noting that 1934 is the same year that Patriarch McGuire died, and it’s possible that Hill’s resignation was part of the fallout from McGuire’s death. Richard Newman writes, “When he left the AOC he founded an independent church in Harlem.” Newman adds, “This story needs to be told.” Alas, Newman died in 2003, so we can’t ask him for more information.
Hill’s career in the Russian Archdiocese must have been extremely brief. He most likely joined the Russians in mid-to-late 1920, when Fr. Patrick Mythen’s short-lived, English-speaking Church of the Transfiguration was in operation in New York City. We know that he left Orthodoxy in September 1921, when he joined the AOC. But beyond the scant details I’ve presented in this article, we know next to nothing else about Fr. Antony Hill.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine has probably had more of his letters published in the New York Times than any other Orthodox clergyman. Just in the period from 1907-1918, the Times published no fewer than six Irvine letters. One of them appeared in their March 17, 1916 issue — that is, exactly 94 years ago:
To the Editor of The New York Times:
It is with no desire for controversy or of a lack of tender feelings toward my fellow-countrymen of Irish birth or their descendants of every religious persuasion that I write to you on the subject of some Hibernian fallacies.
While St. Patrick’s Day has passed beyond the vulgar ridicule of former years, yet it still remains a day of questionable sincerity toward unqualified American citizenship. It is still observed in a too sectarian spirit and with hatred of Great Britain.
I may remark, however, and I am not a Protestant Irishman, but a Russo-Greek Catholic, that nothing touched me more respectfully than to have seen a great United States flag hanging between the two spires of the Roman Catholic Cathedral on last St. Patrick’s Day. There was no other emblem there. That flag was an object lesson to Irishmen in the parade, viz., that the Stars and Stripes recognized no other authority or prejudice, either ecclesiastical or national, but those which could live in peace and toleration beneath its sway. That flag welcomed the sons of Irish birth and blood to the full and free use of Fifth Avenue. But, on the other hand, it frowned upon any man in the St. Patrick’s Day procession who dared to carry the Irish flag merely to dictate to our Government or disturb our neutrality.
I am convinced that after this terrific European strife is over we shall be apt to see fewer foreign flags borne in processions. Hyphenism in nationality will be so abhorred in the United States that those who carry an emblem to proclaim it will meet with the same welcome (?) as those who bear the red flag of anarchy.
St. Patrick was the great Celtic missionary to Ireland. In this broad and yet strictly orthodox Catholic way there is no sect, party, or, if the title “Church” is more desirable, which does not own St. Patrick and which ought not here in America and elsewhere honor his name and keep his natal day as one of the greatest sub-apostolic missionaries of Christian civilization.
Every Irishman and every person benefited by what Irishmen have done to advance morals, Christianity, and good government in the world can and ought to celebrate. But if the keeping of the day as sacred means hyphenated nationality or anything un-American, then let the sons of Ireland remember that they have no place in the respect or love of this great Republic, and especially in these trying times for our Government. We want no flag but the Stars and Stripes. No “Irish-Americans,” but American citizens.
INGRAM N.W. IRVINE.
St. Mary’s College, Brooklyn, N.Y., March 13, 1916.
I should note that Irvine himself was from Ireland. He immigrated to America with his mother and siblings when he was a teenager. His comments should not be taken as anti-immigrant or nativist; indeed, he worked closely with immigrants from Syria and Russia. Irvine grew up Anglican, not Roman Catholic, so his position that no Church “owns” St. Patrick is understandable. That said, from his other writings, it is clear that he viewed the Orthodox Church as the Church, so he wasn’t espousing some sort of relativist ecclesiology.
It’s interesting to note that Fr. Patrick Mythen, who joined the Russian Archdiocese a few years later (in 1920), was a leading proponent of Irish independence from Great Britain. That is, Mythen (who at the time was an Episcopal priest) was one of those people Irvine decried as trying “to dictate to our Government or disturb our neutrality.” Both Irvine and Mythen were outspoken Irish Episcopalians who converted to Orthodoxy, but they were as different as night and day.
As we’ve discussed previously, in July of 1920, an all-convert, all-English Orthodox parish was founded in New York City. Called the Church of the Transfiguration, the parish was led by the newly-converted Fr. Patrick Mythen. But it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream of the elderly Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who served as the assistant priest.
The church held its first services on Sunday, July 18, 1920. Six days later, the New York Times ran an article on the parish under the headline, “Americanizing a Church.” The Church of the Transfiguration was, according to the article, part of a broader initiative, supported by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky, to “Americanize” the Russian Archdiocese. He had apparently commissioned a fresh English translation of the Divine Liturgy. English was the primary language of instruction in the Russian seminary in Tenafly, New Jersey, and Orthodox Christians in America were encouraged to obtain US citizenship.
On Saturday, July 31, someone reportedly broke into the church. Mythen told the Times (8/16/1920) that, oddly enough, nothing at all was taken. This was surprising — the burglars could have stolen the holy vessels made of gold and silver, and expensive clergy vestments, but they didn’t. From the Times:
The priests were puzzled by the objectless burglary, but on the following day, when he drank the sacramental wine from the chalice at the end of the service, Canon Ingram N.W. Irvine became conscious of an agonizing pain in his mouth, throat and stomach. Believing that in some manner the chalice had been filled with acid instead of wine, he acted immediately to save his own life. By his promptness he escaped without serious injury, though he was very sick for a day or more. Canon Irvine is 70 years old.
Immediately after this incident an investigation was made of the receptacle containing the wine intended for sacramental purposes, but not yet consecrated. The wine there was found to be perfectly pure and fresh.
The priests then considered they had found the explanation of the burglary. One or more persons, who hated the Orthodox Church, had forced an entrance into the church in order to put poison in the chalice in the hope of killing a priest.
Fr. Patrick Mythen connected this alleged poisoning to other recent incidents. He told the Times, “In addition to this certain other churches have been attacked and broken into within the last few weeks, and other priests assaulted. One Roman Catholic priest of Greek nationality was bound and beaten. An Orthodox priest in Bayonne was also attacked by three men, but the priest being of very powerful physique, seized the man with the revolver so quickly that when the weapon was discharged, the assassin shot himself. The man was taken into custody by the United States Secret Service and found to be an anarchist.”
The Orthodox leaders, and the Times, thought that all this was connected to the Americanization program that the Russian Archdiocese was instituting. Bolshevik sympathizers, who hated both America and Orthodoxy, supposedly found the mingling of the two to be intolerable. The Times article from which I’ve been quoting is actually all about another incident, which took place on August 15 (and which I’ll discuss in another post).
Now, about the Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine poisoning — They checked the container that held the unconsecrated wine, and it was clean. So, the poison was presumably put in the chalice itself. But if that were the case, wouldn’t someone else have gotten sick, too? Then again, it was pretty common then for people to take communion only a few times a year. Combine that with the fact that the Church of the Transfiguration was a tiny, new place, and it’s entirely possible that there were no lay communicants that day. On the other hand, the church had several attached priests who probably would have partaken. Why would Irvine have been the only one affected? There are two possibilities: one, Irvine may have been the only celebrant that day, and thus the only one to partake of the Eucharist. Two, it’s possible that the poison would only cause problems if consumed in large quantities. If the other priests only took a few sips, and Irvine finished the whole chalice, it may well have only affected Irvine.
So, was Irvine really poisoned? We will probably never know for sure. I’m confident that he wasn’t a liar, but I’m just as confident that he could be a bit melodramatic at times. I’m inclined to believe him when he says he was poisoned, but the circumstances are rather odd. It would be great to see the police report of the incident, but I don’t know if one has survived.
Another thing — note the statement that Irvine “acted immediately to save his own life.” It sure sounds like he forced himself to expel — vomit — what he had just consumed. That is, he intentionally threw up the Eucharist. I realize that he thought it was filled with acid, and that he was protecting his life. And he probably took measures to ensure that what he had just expelled was disposed of in a proper manner. But still, while I fully understand his actions, I find them rather shocking as well.
Irvine was back in church on August 19, preaching a sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration. He died the following January — 5 1/2 months after being poisoned. That said, I don’t think there was any connection between the poisoning and his death. He regained his health pretty quickly after the poisoning incident, and, according to his obituary, he died of heart disease.
Back in July, Fr. Andrew wrote about the above photo, which depicts a gathering of American Orthodox bishops in the early 1920s: Greeks Meletios and Alexander, Russians Platon and Alexander, and Syrian Aftimios. At the time of Fr. Andrew’s original post, no one knew exactly when this photo was taken, or what occasion brought all these hierarchs together. Fr. Andrew wrote,
This photograph was found in the archives of the Library of Congress. As yet, there have been no official documents that have surfaced detailing what this 1921 meeting must have entailed. It might have been only a courtesy call, with a photo op at the end.
Fr. Andrew went on to observe that, based on the photo, the other bishops appear to have regarded Metaxakis as “first in seniority among them.” To read the rest of Fr. Andrew’s post, click here.
Why am I bringing all this up again? Becasue I believe I now know when and where this photo was taken, and why all these bishops were in the same place. On December 9, 1921, Abp Meletios Metaxakis was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He was in New York at the time, having been deposed from his previous position as Archbishop of Athens. With Bp Alexander Demoglou, Metaxakis had come to the US to organize the Greek-American churches into a unified archdiocese. The New York Times (12/10/1921) announced that one of Metaxakis’ first acts as Patriarch would be to appoint Alexander as bishop of North and South America.
The Times also reported, “This morning at 10 o’clock the Most Rev. Alexander, Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America for the Russian Church, will formally call upon the Patriarch-elect and officially present the felicitations of the 100,000 Russians who are in the Western Hemisphere, who are his spiritual subjects.”
The Russian goodwill towards Metaxakis’ election was not limited to Abp Alexander Nemolovsky. Archimandrite Patrick Mythen, the powerful convert priest, hastily organized a special ceremony. December 19 was the St. Nicholas day, the patronal feast of the Russian cathedral in New York. Invitations were sent out, in the names of both Met Platon and Abp Alexander. Besides the two Russian and two Greek bishops, the guest list included the Syrian Bp Aftimios and four Episcopalian hierarchs. Representatives of the new African Orthodox Church were also present, as well as the “Hungarian prelate [...] Bishop Stephan of Pittsburgh.” I think this was Bp Stephen Dzubay, a former Uniate who converted to Orthodoxy in 1916 and became the Russian Archdiocese’s Bishop of Pittsburgh. (Dzubay returned to Roman Catholicism in 1924.)
After the Divine Liturgy, there was a buffet luncheon for the clergy at the neighboring parish house. The above photo must have been taken during or after this luncheon. Here is another, nearly identical photo, which appeared in the New York Evening Telegram on December 20, 1921:
Comparing the two photos, it’s quite clear that they were taken at the same event, probably within moments of one another. The Evening Telegram photo doesn’t include the non-bishops, Polyzoides and Andronoff, but it’s possible that they were just cropped out before publication.
The event itself, the pan-Orthodox liturgy, is evidence of the rather friendly (or at least cordial) relations between the Greek and Russian hierarchy in 1921. Speaking to the Evening Telegram (12/19/1921), Fr. Patrick Mythen expressed what must have been on the minds of the Russian bishops as well: that Metaxakis’ election as Ecumenical Patriarch marked the first time since the fall of Constantinople that the Patriarch was elected without the consent of the Turkish sultan. He would thus be “politically free and will rule the Church as a priest and not as a politician.” Mythen meant that Metaxakis would not be bound to the Turkish state, but I’m sure many today would find his words ironic, Metaxakis being the controversial Church politican that he was.