Posts tagged Patrick Mythen
Fr. Patrick Mythen was an Orthodox Christian for just four years, but in that time, he was one of the most powerful priests in the whole Russian Archdiocese. This period — 1920-1924 — was one of great tumult and trial for the Russian jurisdiction, as it shifted from an archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church to a de facto self-governing “Metropolia.” The early ’20s also witnessed the death of Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, the ordination of a slew of convert priests, the founding of the Greek Archdiocese, and the creation of a body called the “African Orthodox Church.” And Fr. Patrick Mythen was in the middle of all of it.
Mythen was born James Grattan Mythen, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1883. At least, I’m pretty sure it was Baltimore in 1883; I’ve also seen Boston in 1885, or New Orleans in 1886. I’m confident about the 1883 date, because that’s what Mythen gave, but I’m not 100% sure about the city.
As far as religion went, Mythen was… well, he was confused. His mother, a Roman Catholic, died while giving birth to him. His father was an agnostic Episcopalian, and after being widowed, he married a German Lutheran woman. But, according to Fr. Patrick, his father “lost his mind,” leaving young James to be raised by an uncle. He was brought up in the Episcopal Church, but when he was 14, he visited some of his mother’s relatives in Chicago, who acquainted Mythen with Roman Catholicism.
I think Mythen converted to Roman Catholicism at this point. He decided to become a priest, and at about 14, he entered the Roman Catholic Epiphany College in Baltimore. While he was there, the founder of the school became a Unitarian, of all things. At 17, Mythen moved to Villanova College (now University), where he was scandalized by a professor who focused a great deal of attention on the “bad popes” of history. So Mythen became an Episcopalian again — all while still a teenager.
Over the next decade or so, Mythen continued to bounce back and forth between Rome and Anglicanism. At 21, he enrolled at the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary in New York; when he graduated, he was ordained a deacon and was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But soon he went to Rome and was received back into the Roman Catholic Church… And, just as quickly, he returned to the Episcopal Church and was ordained a priest. For a little while, in his mid-20s, Mythen tried to become an Old Catholic Benedictine monk in the Episcopal diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (the diocese of Bishop Charles Grafton, who was old friends with St. Tikhon).
From 1912-1914, Mythen was very active in the women’s suffrage movement, participating in marches, speaking at conventions. Then the war came — World War I, of course — and Mythen joined the Navy. Later, he explained his reasoning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (8/30/1919):
On Easter Day I preached a sermon in favor of the war, and when the young men of my parish enlisted I felt that I, being unattached, economically responsible for no one, that it was unbecoming of me to be content merely to stand in the pulpit and urge other men to give their lives for the principles which I considered worthy of life giving. And so, with countless numbers of young men of the Nation I enlisted voluntarily, although I was exempt from the draft on account of my clerical profession, and also since I was beyond the draft age. I was content to serve in the ranks in the humblest capacity, feeling that the menial tasks which fell to my lot were noble because even in their small way they were aiding in achieving the high purport of the sacred mission to which our country had committed itself.
By the end of the war, Mythen had become a strong advocate of Irish independence. He pressed his cause with the Senate, saying, “The Irish issue might well be called the acid test of our international honesty.” He went on,
As a Protestant, sir, and a clergyman of the Protestant religion, I resent the implication that Protestantism requires the sustenance of British imperialism to maintain itself in Ireland or elsewhere. Were I convinced that this were a fact, that only through the power of British arms could my religion maintain itself in Ireland, then I would repudiate my religion at once. [...]
I want to say to you, sir, and gentlemen, that as a Protestant Irishman, whose family to-day in Ireland are representatives of the Protestant religion, that we would all gladly have Ireland free under any religious leadership rather than remain, as we are, the only white race still in slavery.
Mythen became the secretary of a group called the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom, and he toured the country, speaking on behalf of Irish independence. This understandably did not sit well with the Episcopalian hierarchy in America. After all, they were Anglicans, bishops of the Church of England. Pressured to quiet down, Mythen, of course, refused. Instead, he made yet another religious change — he decided to join the Orthodox Church.
I don’t know exactly when he converted to Orthodoxy, but it was sometime between February and July, 1920. In that period, he spent some time in Europe (perhaps Ireland, though he returned to America via England). He came back to America in April, and I would guess that he became Orthodox in May or June. As we discussed yesterday, by July, he was rector of the all-English Church of the Transfiguration in New York.
We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far, so I’m going to pause here, at the time of Mythen’s conversion to Orthodoxy, and pick up the rest of the story in another article.
For a while now, I have been meaning to write about the first all-English Orthodox parish in America, founded in New York City in 1920. Today, I’m going to give a brief introduction to that parish, and the main characters involved. This is hardly the whole story; it really is just an introduction.
To start — well, you know about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who converted to Orthodoxy in 1905. (If you don’t know about Irvine, you can read our earlier posts about him, or listen to two podcasts I did on Ancient Faith Radio.)
So Irvine converted in 1905, and he remained an Orthodox priest until his death, in January 1921. During that time, in both the Russian and Syrian Missions, he was a strong advocate of the use of English in American Orthodox worship. He felt that, for Orthodoxy to survive and thrive in America, it was imperative that it, to some extent, “Americanize.” (This is the term that was used at the time.)
For most of Irvine’s Orthodox career, there were not many converts. Irvine spent a lot of his time working with Orthodox young people, and interacting with Episcopalians, but he didn’t actually bring a lot of people into the Church. Late in his life, however, things started to change. An Episcopal priest named James Grattan Mythen converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. He was immediately ordained a priest by Abp Alexander Nemolovsky, and he took the name, “Fr. Patrick.”
Mythen would prove to be the first of a surprisingly large number of convert priests to enter the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s. Irvine was quite old by this point, in his early 70s at a time when most people didn’t live past 60. He was not really capable, physically, of running his own church. But Mythen was young — just 37 at the time of his conversion — and he became the leader of a group of convert clergy.
Within a very short period of time, Mythen was joined by the following men:
- Dr. Geoffrey A. Lang, ordained Fr. Stephen
- Robert F. Hill, ordained Fr. Antony
- Fr. Paul Ihmsen
- Dr. George Gelsinger, ordained Fr. Michael
- Royce M. Burden, ordained Fr. Boris
- Arthur W. Johnson, ordained Fr. Kyrill
- Sgt. William H. Schneider, ordained Fr. A. (not sure what it stood for)
Irvine didn’t know all of these men; several of them came along after he had already died. And Irvine doesn’t seem to have been the main person driving this enterprise; Mythen was. Abp Alexander put an enormous amount of trust in Mythen. For a while, in the early 1920s and before Metropolitan Platon took over the Russian Archdiocese, Mythen basically ran the whole Archdiocesan operation, even signing ordination certificates (a task properly done by a bishop). Needless to say, Mythen supplanted the aging (and then deceased) Irvine as the leader of the English Department of the Russian Archdiocese.
And in 1920, the newly-converted-and-ordained Mythen became the rector of the “American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration,” the first all-English, all-convert parish in history. The church was located at St. Vladimir’s Immigrant Home, 233 East 17th Street in New York City. The first services were held on July 18, 1920. This is part of an article from the New York Times (7/17/1920):
In the establishment of this English-speaking church by the Russian hierarchy the efforts of fifteen years of the Rev. Dr. Ingram N.W. Irvine, a canon of the local Russian Cathedral, have been realized.
Archbishop Tikhon, who was head of the Russian Church in America for several years, favored such a move, but he was recalled to Russia before he could organize such a branch. Appeal was then made to Archbishop Nemoloski, who agreed that an English mission would fill a need. Abbot Patrick (James Gratton Mithen), who came here from England three months ago, was designated as rector of the new branch. Dr. Irvine will be the associate rector. He and Abbot Patrick are major canons.
The other two members of the staff are minor canons. The first vicar is Canon Stephen, who came to America with Canon Patrick, and the second vicar is Canon Paul, who was ordained a priest of the Russian Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop Stephen of the Uno-Russian Diocese of Pittsburgh. He is a brother of Max Ihmsen, a newspaper editor. Dr. Irvine is Professor of the English Department in the Russian Seminary, Tenafly, N.J., and Canon Paul is his assistant.
A few things… One, I find the whole “canon,” “vicar,” language to be slightly amusing, borrowed as it is from the Episcopal Church. Is a “major canon” supposed to be an archpriest, in this context? I don’t know. I’m not aware of Irvine having ever been raised to archpriest, but it is possible.
Two, while Mythen did travel from England to the US, he was only in England for a few months. We’ll talk about his life in a separate post in the future, but he was born in Baltimore and was an American citizen. Like Irvine, Mythen was of Irish ancestry, but was an Anglican clergyman. He was very involved in politics and art — he was a vocal proponent of women’s suffrage and of Irish independence, and he moonlighted as a playwright. One of his allies in the Irish independence movement was Geoffrey Lang (aka Fr. Stephen), who, along with Mythen, helped run a group called Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom.
Fr. Paul Ihmsen — I’m not certain, but I think his given name was Charles. His brother Max, the newspaper editor, was a major figure in the newspaper industry of the early 20th century. He was a protégé of William Randolph Hearst, with titles ranging from “political manager” to “henchman.” He then went to California and ran the Los Angeles Examiner, and on the side, he became a pioneering apple farmer. The Ihmsens came from an old, prominent German family from Pittsburgh.
Another priest in these early years was Fr. Antony (Robert) Hill, who happens to be the second black priest in American Orthodox history, after Fr. Raphael Morgan. Hill was Orthodox for a very short time; he soon joined the upstart “African Orthodox Church,” about which, more in the future.
The other clergy I mentioned above — Gelsinger, Burden, etc. — came along later, after the Church of the Transfiguration had closed. And close it did, very soon — the New York Times has advertisements for the church through November 1920, but nothing afterwards. The church’s few months of existence were eventful, though. Two prominent literary figures, T. Everett Harre and Reginald Wright Kauffman (both, apparently, friends of Mythen), converted to Orthodoxy. In August, Irvine was apparently poisoned, allegedly by Bolshevik sympathizers. And in September, Abp Alexander raised Mythen (who was unmarried) to the rank of archimandrite. We will discuss all of these events, and the history of the broader English-speaking mission, in future articles.