Posts tagged primary sources
Those of us in the Academy are (our should be!) quite aware of the limitations of Wikipedia. Of course, some of the weaknesses are the same as they have been for any encyclopedia. Students too often think research begins and ends with them (alas, even in college). Too many citizens share that approach. Also, encyclopedia entries cannot take the time to be as nuanced as perhaps they should. In the case of Wikipedia, this can become a real problem. Recently, Timothy Messer-Kruse wrote from personal experience about how this is so (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Undue-Weight-of-Truth-on/130704/). I’d recommend reading the article, but in a nutshell, Dr. Messer-Kruse edited a Wikipedia entry on the Haymarket trial of 1886 based upon primary source research he had done through the Library of Congress. Wikipedia reacted by deleting his comments and noting he had to cite reliable sources! He tried again, again citing the court documents and also his own published work. It didn’t matter.
Now, on the one hand, one might argue that such is all an encyclopedia can do. It must simply add up the number of secondary sources making a particular point (that no evidence was presented by the prosecution at the trial–yeah, that was the point). Anyone stating otherwise, even if supported by primary sources, won’t be given a say. To some degree, that is what encyclopedias have always done–tried to present the general consensus on a given topic. Furthermore, Wikipedia is not a peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps it shouldn’t be expected to prioritize primary source scholarship.
On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a platform that is supposed to be open to editing can dismiss the actual primary sources (say letters or diaries or court documents) in favor of historiographical ignorance (which happens for various reasons–no judgment intended at all toward other scholars of the Haymarket riot and trial).
Furthermore, this is a perennial problem within American Orthodox history. Both Matthew Namee and I have encountered it on more than one occasion, especially when discussing what we’ve called “the myth of unity”–the idea that all Orthodox in America were always under the Russians until 1917 and/or that the Russians always worked hard to demonstrate that they always clearly had jurisdiction everywhere and anywhere on the North American continent (or perhaps Americas more generally). Often those screaming the loudest were used to doing “history” work by collecting a bunch of secondary sources together. Similarly, when discussing Archbishop Arseny of Canada, those who seemed most upset with what I found in the court documents were not those who had actually read the court documents (we at SOCHA read them and made them available). Sometimes, people simply like the “conventional mendacity” (to quote Lord Acton) built up over the ages.
One of the long-term goals of SOCHA is to provide a platform that highlights primary sources and their importance. Exactly how this will be done is still coming into view, but certainly this blog is a beginning. We have posts by the four of us directors as well as by others who are knowledgeable in particular primary sources. We will continue to provide informative articles based on primary source work. More than that, once we are able to move forward with our future digitization project, readers will have access to primary sources themselves. We even envision a platform in which readers will be able to submit primary documents to the database. This will make it similar to Wikipedia, in that people will be able to add to the knowledge base and influence what is known and learned. Yet, it will differ in that it will be source material that is added, not conventional mendacity nor even a well documented interpretation. There will be limitations, of course, as readers won’t be spoon fed interpretations but would have to read, say, Bjerring’s writings themselves to determine what he tended to emphasize in his extant sermons, but I think this is actually better. Encyclopedias can be nice starting points, but a platform that forces people to think critically and rely on primary sources is better.
Of course, scholars and researchers are seriously questioning the degree to which people are prepared to think critically (you could follow the trail starting with this: http://chronicle.com/article/Academically-Adrift-The/130743/) but that’s a different discussion for another time.
St. Nicholas Kasatkin, the missionary bishop of Japan, died 100 years ago today. He was remarkably well known in America, where both secular periodicals and Russian Church publications chronicled his ministry. The official newsletter of the Russian Mission was the Vestnik, known in English as the Russian Orthodox American Messenger and edited by Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky. When Bishop Nicholas died in 1912, the Vestnik ran a two-part article on Orthodoxy in Japan, beginning on March 14. They also published a brief eulogy, which we’ve reprinted below. While no author is credited for the eulogy, it was almost certainly written by Hotovitzky, who was not only the Vestnik editor but a sometime poet.
An irreparable loss! The Orthodox Church is mourning. Her most worthy son, the apostle of her teaching, has departed from earthly life. Before the news of the decease of the Most Reverend Nikolai, the glorious light-bringer of Japan, all the small struggles and discords which are vexing the organism of the Russian Orthodox Church shrink into insignificance. “Nikolai of Japan”: you have before you the most glorious page of the missionary work of the Orthodox Church, an Orthodox pastor’s service of more than fifty years in a foreign land, and what service! He gave himself up wholly to his sacred task, and wedding his bride, the Japanese Church, he kept those sacred ties unbroken until his latest breath. A unique example! While he lived, there was no need to prove to enquirers and questioners of the vitality of the Orthodox Church, and its missionary tendencies: it was enough to say “Nikolai of Japan”, and the whole world of other creeds and other faiths became silent in adoration: for all the powers of other creeds and other faiths could not show his equal among the ranks of their warriors!
Let us prostrate ourselves before thy sacred tomb, O light-bringer of Japan, true servant of Christ! And let us pray: — Be thou the representative, in the heavenly habitations, of thy beloved Orthodox Church, and may God save her from all injuries and obstacles, and may He send forth other light-bringers, even in part like to thee to illumine the world with the light of the Gospel of Christ!
Recently, I’ve been working with a group of researchers to document the life of Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides, the remarkable priest of Galveston, Texas. Fr. Theoclitos was from Greece — his father had fought in the Greek Revolution — and as a young man, Fr. Theoclitos lived on Mount Athos and later studied in Russia. He tutored the children of King George of Greece, and later the children of Tsar Alexander III (including the future Tsar Nicholas II). He was apparently quite close to Nicholas II, and when, in 1895, the Orthodox of Galveston requested a priest, the Tsar sent to them his former tutor. Fr. Theoclitos was already in his mid-60s — quite old for his era — but he served in America for a full two decades before his death in 1916.
The American ministry of Fr. Theoclitos was utterly unique. He was, as I said, an ethnic Greek, but he served under the auspices of the Russian Mission in America. His parish was composed of Greeks, Serbs, Syrians, and even Copts, and today, that parish is a part of the Serbian Church. Fr. Theoclitos was also one of the first Orthodox priests in America (and perhaps the first) to actively proselytize Americans. His parish was truly pan-Orthodox, and he was uniquely capable of ministering to the needs of such a diverse flock.
Until recently, we knew a fair number of facts about Fr. Theoclitos, but nobody, as far as I know, had found any surviving sermons or writings. Just the other day, though, the lead researcher — Mimo Milosevich, from Galveston — discovered the full text of Fr. Theoclitos’ Christmas sermon, given on January 7, 1914 and published in the next day’s issue of the Galveston Daily News.
It’s a short sermon, but it reveals much about the character and vision of the great archimandrite. According to the newspaper, Fr. Theoclitos began by recounting the story of the star, the wise men, their gifts, and King Herod. Then, said the paper, “Father Theoclitos took off his spectacles and used them to gesticulate with, as he preached a fatherly sermon on charity and its relation to happiness.”
My children: Before Jesus came into our world the earth lacked the attributes of sympathetic understanding, which we find necessary to our happiness in this era. The Lord gave us his son, Jesus, to soften us, to give us understanding of human wants, to give us a sense of forgiveness, to teach us that to forgive is our duty, and to teach us charity.
My children, be charitable, open your hearts, for only in charity is there happiness. Make life brighter for your brother and your sister and the candle you light for them will make your light brighter.
God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gave us his all, even his life. We can do no more than emulate him, and in doing that we do all.
Think today of the poor whom he loved, lighten their burdens, even as he did. Open your hearts, oh, my children, even as did Jesus of Bethlehem.
My children, when he came among us he did not ask, “Of what nationality art thou? What is thy belief?” No! He came down among us and was one of us and he ministered to us. Open thy hearts, likewise, my children, and go among the poor and succor them; all the poor, for they are thy brothers and sisters, my children, and they are his people.
My children, many of you are not native to this land and it is well to treasure memories of thine own country, but think that this is a good land, and its people are good to thy people, and you all are his people. Learn to love, be honest, tolerant, forgiving, and charitable.
I pray you Merry Christmas, my children, and many, many years of happiness.
After the sermon, Fr. Theoclitos passed a plate to collect alms for the poor. “The plate was heaped high with bills and coins,” reported the Daily News, “the merry chink-clink-chink of the contributions accenting like tiny cymbals the smooth melody of a beautiful hymn.”
Starting up another potentially regular feature here at OrthodoxHistory.org…
This photo, dated 1905, shows Fr. John Kochurov preaching from the pulpit in the newly-constructed Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago. It’s one of several great shots of Holy Trinity to be found in the Chicago Daily News photo collection, available online via the Library of Congress website. We’ll post more of these Chicago photos in the future.
Bishop Sophronios/Sophronius (Beshara) was a bishop for the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America (HEOCACNA), an enterprise started by Bishop Aftimios. For all intents and purposes, the jurisdictional unity attempt died in 1933. Bishop Sophronius, however, was the last bishop. The date of his death has been given as 1934 by Archimandrite Seraphim (Surrency) in his book The Quest for Orthodox Unity in America. Others have often followed that. Yet, his grave marker states 1940, a date noted here as well:
This begs the question of which is correct and if 1940 is correct, what was he doing during those intervening years?
Well, 1940 is correct and what he was doing was ordaining people to his American Orthodox Catholic Church (an alternative name for HEOCACNA).
Here are two examples of newspaper articles referring to him ordaining men to the priesthood:
For those interested in the beginning of his episcopal career, these might be of interest: