Posts tagged Platon Rozhdestvensky
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.
If you were living in New York City exactly one hundred years ago, you could have read the following article in the Tribune, one of New York’s many newspapers:
Prayers Offered for Czar at Cathedral of St. Nicholas.
Christmas was celebrated in New York yesterday by ten thousand Russians, Greeks and Syrians, in accordance with the Julian calendar, which is thirteen days later than the Gregorian calendar. The observation of the day was almost purely religious, and services were held in two Orthodox Greek churches and two Greek Catholic churches in Manhattan.
As there are no seats in the Greek orthodox churches, one thousand Russians stood for two hours in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, in East 97th street, while the liturgy was chanted and a sermon delivered by the pastor, the Rev. A. Hotovitsky. The service closed with a prayer for the safety of Nicholas II, Czar of Russia.
For those who attended these services and those at the branch of the Cathedral at No. 347 East 14th street, where the pastor is the Rev. Peter J. Popoff, the day ended six weeks of fasting. The home celebrations, which began after the services, consisted of elaborate feasts. Among those who attended the branch church were twelve Russian immigrants, the members of two families, who left Ellis Island in the morning. Consequently it was their first Christmas Day in the new land. They will stay at the Russian Immigrants’ Home, which is under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Popoff, until employment is found for them.
Two hundred Syrians gathered in the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, in Pacific street, Brooklyn, at midnight, to begin the observation of the day. A low and a high mass were celebrated during the morning. In the Syrian quarter business was dropped for a day of devotion and festivity.
Rev. A. Hotovitsky is, of course, St. Alexander. He presided at the Russian cathedral because the archbishop, Platon, was visiting Russia at the time. I’m pretty sure St. Raphael was in Brooklyn at this point (as opposed to traveling), so he would have served at the Syrian cathedral. Oddly, especially given the title of the article (“Greek Christmas”), the Tribune makes no mention of the actual Greek churches in New York, which were also celebrating Christmas that day.
In conjunction with the recent podcast concerning the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America, I thought I would publish a special, extra entry for Frontier Orthodoxy. I still plan on writing two additional columns this month. For this entry, however, I wish to provide a basic timeline of the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America (FOGCPJA). This timeline may be useful when listening to the recent podcast on American Orthodox History over at Ancient Faith Radio.
I also wish to note that I failed to make an important connection within the interview itself. Near the beginning of the podcast, I mentioned the difficulties Fr. Boris Burden had with Metropolitan Platon. I meant to return to this later to note that the tense relationship between the two may have also been a factor that excluded the Metropolia from membership. It was not the only factor, as I mentioned the FOGCPJA’s requirement that each jurisdiction be under a Mother Church/Patriarch, but it may well have played a role. Metropolitan Benjamin (Moscow Patriarchate) relied quite heavily on Fr. Boris Burden.
I should further note that Phillies’s membership in the Masons may not have been as ill received since Archbishop Athenagoras and Metropolitan Antony were also Masons. Although Masonic membership would have likely concerned Fr. Boris Burden, it is possible that Metropolitan Benjamin showed some restraint in this regard.
Fall of 1942 (September or October): The Selective Service attempted to draft Fr. John Gelsinger. When that happened, Fr. John Gelsinger, and his father, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, contacted George E. Phillies, a family friend and local attorney in Buffalo, New York.
October 9, 1942: Phillies appealed to the federal authorities, via General Lewis B. Hershey, having gone before the local and state selective service boards. The response from Washington D.C. was that they needed to see proof of an organized Orthodox Church in America. In response to this, the hierarchs of the four primary jurisdictions met.
Fr. Michael Gelsinger (New York Syrian) and Fr. Boris Burden (Moscow Patriarchate) were the instrumental people behind the movement. Fr. Michael received commitments from Archbishop Antony Bashir and Archbishop Athenagoras and Fr. Boris Burden convinced Metropolitan Benjamin and the Bishop Dionisije, the Serbian bishop.
At the subsequent hearing at the Pentagon, Bishop Germanos, an auxiliary bishop of Constantinople, was the only testifying witness. U.S. Senator James Mead (NY, hometown of Buffalo) and Representative James Wadsworth (NY) also appealed on behalf of the Orthodox Church.
December 8, 1942: Major Simon P. Dunkle signed the paperwork instructing the selective service of New York to recognize Fr. John Gelsinger as a priest and providing Orthodox the Opportunity to enlist as Orthodox. Orthodox priests were granted the opportunity to serve as chaplains.
Phillies hailed this as the first time the four primary jurisdictions had provided a united front in America. He quickly built upon this momentum to pursue another venture: amending New York state law for religious corporations. He did this because his reading of the laws of New York convinced him that it was possible the Roman Catholic Church might claim sole legal right to the terms Greek, Catholic, and Orthodox. He also had found no legal incorporation of an Orthodox Church (jurisdiction) that would mitigate this. Individual parishes had incorporated, but the only large scale incorporations were Roman Catholic, such as the Greek Catholic incorporation in Pennsylvania.
February 10, 1943: George E. Phillies wrote to Gov. Dewey, recommending that the hierarchs visit and Dewey replies by stating they should do so after the signing.
February 19, 1943: Charles J. Tobin, secretary of the New York State Catholic Welfare Committee, wrote to State Senator Charles Burney, objecting to the proposed legislation, claiming that only Rome could use the terms Catholic or Greek Catholic.
February 25, 1943: Rev. Philemon Tarnavsky (chancellor of the diocese of Philadelphia) also wrote to Gov. Dewey and agreed with Tobin. He objected to the use of the word Catholic, which he said was linked to the Holy See in Rome. He even noted that the word Orthodox is also used by Greek Catholics, questioning whether Orthodox should use it as a self designation. Rev. Turnavsky was a Greek Catholic himself.
March 5, 1943: Episcopal diocese of Western New York wrote to support the bill (Rt. Rev. Bp Cameron J. Davis)
March 8, 1943: Phillies asked “Charlie” [Burney] for a moving picture crew and claimed there were five million Orthodox in America.
March 10, 1943: Tobin wrote to consul of the governor to object again. He included the assessment of Monsignor Tarnavsky.
March 15, 1943: Memorandum by Phillies stated the purpose(s), excluded the Metropolia, responded to Roman Catholic critics, and noted that the FOGCPJA was set up to parallel the federal/state division in the United States of America.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey signed the bill.
August 2, 1943: The Buffalo Evening News called Phillies the “lay head,” noted that he had dual membership in the GOC and the PEC, and was a Mason.
August 8, 1943: Concelebration.
August 22, 1943: Divine Liturgy in Kleinhans Hall (GOC too small). Archbishop Athenagoras presided, with Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Bogdan assisting (Ukrainian). By this time, the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Russians who were under Constantinople were participating in the FOGCPJA. A small internal disagreement ensued, because Frs. Boris Burden and Michael Gelsinger thought the service should have been in a larger non-Orthodox church building rather than one that was strictly secular.
Bishop Dionisije was bothered by the fact that the Carpatho-Russians and Ukrainians were under Constantinople and had other unnamed concerns. He soon quit participating.
October 3, 1943: At a meeting in Bayonne, NJ, the officers of the FOGCPJA passed the “Bayonne Resolution.” This resolution stated all officers of the Federation must be Orthodox, with no sacramental participation in non-Orthodox churches. Another problem that arose was that the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America had received a letter (likely sent by Phillies) asking for membership.
October 7, 1943: Articles signed by the bishops and the Federation is legally incorporated. Archbishop Athenagoras had been chosen as the presiding hierarch. Fr. Peter Horton-Billard was chosen as secretary, replacing Fr. Boris Burden. Phillies remained the elected chancellor.
October 8, 1943: Burden called the elections “conditional.”
November 1, 1943: Russians threatened to leave over concerns with Phillies.
December 18, 1943: Marriage served jointly by Fr. E Wolkodoff, a Metropolia priest, and PE priest J. Coseby. Metropolitan Benjamin suspended the priest. At this point, the Federation was suspended.
February 2, 1944: Meeting: 1) no “lay head” 2) hierarchs are the leaders 3) Orthodox cannot be communicants elsewhere 4) “chancellor” means “legal advisor” and nothing more. Metropolitan Benjamin also said he had the support of Patriarch Sergius.
Around this same time, Patriarch Sergius wrote to Metropolitan Benjamin, offering permission to be active in the Federation, but Metropolitan Benjamin and Fr. Boris Burden were preparing to renege on the FOGCPJA.
Early October 1944: Metropolitan Benjamin said Phillies was no longer the chancellor. Phillies claimed he was.
November, 1944: Russians officially pulled out. By early 1945, the FOGCPJA was basically dead, though Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it alive on paper.
On today’s podcast on AFR, we discuss the American Orthodox Catholic Church, an early attempt at multi-ethnic jurisdictional unity in the United States. One of the issues brought up was that, within about a year after the creation of the AOCC by Russian Metropolia authorities in February of 1927, the Metropolia’s head, Metr. Platon Rozhdestvensky, withdrew his support from the new jurisdiction. Indeed, even within just a few months, Platon wrote to Aftimios telling the latter to cease his “steppings out” against the Episcopalians—some of Aftimios’s priests were publishing excoriating comments against the Episcopalians, who had been providing the Russian Metropolia with financial support (hoping, most likely, eventual recognition of the validity of their holy orders). Platon wrote: “I must attest before Your Eminence that without their (American Episcopalian) entirely disinterested assistance our Church in America could not exist.”
On October 29, 1928, Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh wrote a letter complaining of the withdrawal of support, including Platon’s refusal to let Aftimios consecrate Fr. Leonid Turkevich as the first auxiliary for the AOCC. (Read the full letter here.) Here are some interesting excerpts, showing how distressed Aftimios was and the strong sense of the betrayal he felt at his treatment by Platon:
It is with the deepest grief and pain that I enclose a copy of a telegram which persistent reports have forced me to send to His Grace Bishop Theophilos [Pashkovsky] since I was unable to discover your address even by telephoning to the Archimandrite Benjamin in New York. I am most deeply and sadly disappointed in having to call to the attention of Your Eminence injurious reports which I had preferred to ignore. Even in the face of the fact that Your Eminence forbid Bishop-Elect Leonid Turkevich from accepting Consecration after Your Eminence had yourself proclaimed his election and given order for his Consecration. I have wished to believe it impossible that Your Eminence should secretly attempt to destroy the work of your own hands in the creation of an American Orthodox Catholic Church founded by your order and committed by Your Eminence and the other Russian Bishops into my charge and authority. As a son to his father, I turn to Your Eminence now asking an explanation of your attitude and a final setting at rest of the ugly rumors which are a disgrace to our mutual work for our Holy Orthodox Church and Faith.
Not only was Platon apparently working against Aftimios’s new jurisdiction, but it seemed that he may also have been interfering in the parishes under Aftimios which still remained under the Syrian Mission:
At all times I have defended Your Eminence loyally and labored without ceasing for the Church and for the position of Your Eminence as Head of the Russian Archdiocese in America. Yet I hear repeated rumors that Your Eminence is dissatisfied and I do not know why. Finally it comes to me that Your Eminence has received some unauthorized and rebellious letters and requests from a few with whom I have trouble in my Diocese of Brooklyn and Syrian Mission or in the new American Orthodox Church and that Your Eminence will answer favorably these irresponsible troublemakers and will take action interfering in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Syrian Mission. I can not believe that Your Eminence will do so or that it is your intention. But I am forced to ask that Your Eminence give me formal assurance in this matter and put a stop to the rumors and reports which interfere with the peace and unity of our work together for Holy Church.
No doubt the need for money and other kinds of material support from the Episcopalians was not the only reason for Platon’s reversal on his support for Aftimios, but whatever the case, it’s clear that Platon’s loyalty to his heterodox supporters and to his own agendas was greater than his investment in the new jurisdiction he had signed into being. Aftimios, as may be imagined, reacted quite badly.
Few photos from the early 20th century history of American Orthodoxy are so rich in significance as this one. This was taken during the 1921 visit of then-deposed Abp. Meletios (Metxakis) of Athens to America, beginning the process of founding the Greek Archdiocese. He came traveling with Bp. Alexander (Demoglou), who would become the first Greek Archbishop of America. Meletios and Alexander did a remarkable amount of work toward uniting the Greek parishes in America, which were numerous by this time and deeply divided along political lines, with factions supporting either the Greek monarchy or the Venizelist democratizers. Meletios was later elected as Ecumenical Patriarch in November of this same year.
1921 also saw the arrival in America of Metr. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), who had previously been the Russian primate in America but had returned to Russia and now subsequently fled back to America as a refugee. His see was in Odessa, but with the encroachment of the Red Army, he abandoned it and was later popularly acclaimed as primate again in America (a status later denied him by Patriarch St. Tikhon, though possibly under duress from the Soviets). He and Abp. Alexander Nemolovsky flank Meletios. Alexander was the Russian primate in America at the time, though he would later resign in 1922 and return to Europe. In 1923, Platon was acclaimed primate.
To the right of Alexander stand Bp. Aftimios (Ofiesh), the successor to St. Raphael Hawaweeny in the see of Brooklyn as head of the Syro-Arab diocese under the Russians. By this time, the Syrians were already deeply divided, with a rogue faction being led by Metr. Germanos (Shehadi), a renegade bishop who had abandoned his own archdiocese in Lebanon. In 1927, with the imprimatur of Platon, Aftimios founded the American Orthodox Catholic Church, the first attempt at an autocephalous church for America. When Platon eventually distanced himself from the project, Aftimios repudiated the former’s authority and declared that he had had no right to be acclaimed primate, since he was so without the patriarch’s sanction.
Next to Aftimios is Archdeacon Vsevelod (Andronoff), who was the cathedral deacon at the Russian cathedral in New York.
Who G. Polis is (far left) is not clear, but he appears in several photographs from Meletios’s time in New York. He may have been a prominent local layman accompanying the bishop in his travels.
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. Whatever it may have included, it’s at least clear who is regarded as the senior cleric among them (Meletios), despite his status at the time as having been deposed from the see of Athens. (Update: This last sentence should not be misconstrued to suggest that they regarded Meletios as having jurisdiction in America, just that they recognized him as canonical and, it would seem, as the first in seniority among them.)