Posts tagged Roman Catholic Church
In the comments section of an old article I wrote on the first Orthodox parishes in each US state, Isa Almisry and I have recently had an interesting exchange about an Old Catholic parish in Wisconsin which discussed joining (and possibly did briefly join) the Russian Orthodox Church in 1891-92. This story involves Joseph Rene Vilatte, a former Roman Catholic priest who went on to become a prolific vagante bishop and who would reappear in American Orthodox history over the coming decades.
I don’t really have the expertise to outline the history of the Old Catholic movement, but suffice it to say that, in the latter half of the 19th century (and especially after the first Vatican Council in 1870, which promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility), a number of Roman Catholics broke away from their church.
Joseph Rene Vilatte was born in Paris in 1854. Originally, he was a Roman Catholic, but he became the quintessential religious chameleon as an adult. In the 1880s he came to the United States, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary in a Belgian Old Catholic community in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While there, he made contact with local Episcopal Bishop John Brown of Fond du Lac, who in turn recommended to the Old Catholic Bishop Edward Herzog of Bern, Switzerland that Vilatte be ordained a priest. This took place in 1886.
Soon, Bishop Brown died, and the new Episcopal bishop of Fond du Lac, Charles Grafton (the future friend of St. Tikhon), did not see eye to eye with Vilatte. Forced to make a choice between Episcopalianism and Old Catholicism, Vilatte chose the latter, and he tried to have himself consecrated a bishop in the Old Catholic Church. The church authorities in Europe declined. This is where our story begins. [Incidentally, this preliminary information on Vilatte comes from Theodore Natsoulas, "Patriarch McGuire and the Spread of the African Orthodox Church to Africa, Journal of Religion in Africa 12:2 (1981), 81-104. This is one of the only scholarly sources which discusses Vilatte at any length.]
Vilatte wanted to be consecrated a bishop, and he wanted as much autonomy as possible. That is the first thing to understand. In the paper cited above, Theodore Natsoulas says that the Old Catholics turned down Vilatte because he was “unpredictable,” and they did not want him to be their sole representative in America. Here is how Natsoulas describes what happened next:
[Vilatte's] attempts to be raised to the episcopate included approaches to the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Green Bay. Both turned him down, although Vladimir, the Russian Bishop, in order to incorporate the Old Catholics within his fold, did extend some form of recognition and protection to Vilatte and the Old Catholic Church. Vladimir and Vilatte, however, could not arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.
It all began when Vilatte traveled to San Francisco to meet with Bishop Vladimir, sometime in 1890 or early 1891. Interestingly, this coincided almost precisely with the visit of a delegation of Uniates from St. Alexis Toth’s parish in Minneapolis. It must have been amazing for Bishop Vladimir, sitting there in San Francisco, to receive near-simultaneous unsolicited visits from two Upper Midwest groups connected to Roman Catholicism and seeking reception into the Orthodox Church.
Bishop Vladimir traveled to Minneapolis in March of 1891 and formally received the Minneapolis parish into Orthodoxy. After that historic visit, Vladimir passed through Chicago, which had a sizeable Orthodox community which was determined to remain independent of the controversial Bishop Vladimir. He left Chicago on April 10, and by April 11 he was in Green Bay. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the next day that Vladimir came for the purpose of visiting Vilatte and his Old Catholic parish in nearby Dyckesville. The Russian bishop “expressed great sympathy with [Vilatte's] work, and it is stated that he was agreeably surprised to find that the doctrinal basis of the Old Catholics at this place, and that of his own large church of 100,000,000 souls were precisely identical.”
But what, exactly, was the relationship between the Russian Diocese and the Old Catholics in Wisconsin? According to a web-published biography of Vilatte by Bertil Persson (the reliability of which is unclear), Vilatte had originally visited Bishop Vladimir in San Francisco in January 1891, at which time Vladimir “approached The Holy Synod of The Russian Orthodox Church suggesting that Vilatte should be consecrated.” I don’t doubt that Bishop Vladimir notified the Holy Synod of Vilatte’s visit, but I cannot believe that he actually suggested that the Russian Church consecrate the man.
Also according to the Persson biography, after visiting Vilatte’s parish in April, Bishop Vladimir issued the following certificate:
CERTIFICATE. The Russian Ecclesiastical Consistory of Alaska, San Francisco, Cal: May 9, 1891. By the Grace of God and the Authority bestowed on me by the Apostolic Succession, I, VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church, announce to all clergymen of the different Christian denominations and to all Old Catholics that The Reverend Joseph René Vilatte, Superior of the Old Catholic Parish in Dyckesville, Wisc:, is now a true Old Catholic Orthodox Christian, under the patronage of our Church, and no Bishop or Priest of any denomination has the right to interdict him or to suspend his religious duties, except the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, and myself. Any action contrary to this declaration, is null and void on the basis of liberty of conscience and the law of this country. ‡VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Greco-Russian Orthodox Ch.
I have no idea whether this document is authentic or not, and unfortunately, Persson only reprinted the text, so we can’t examine the letterhead or Bishop Vladimir’s signature.
Anyway, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia soon after all this, in the wake of a series of scandals in his San Francisco cathedral. His replacement, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, visited the Wisconsin Old Catholics in May 1892. According to Dom Augustine de Angelis in the Fond Du Lac Reporter (quoted in the Milwaukee Sentinel, 5/16/1892), “Bishop Nicholas, head of the Greek church in America, visited the Old Catholic mission at Dyckesville, last Monday. He has been in America only a month and a half, but has already made his episcopal visitation of the Orthodox and Old Catholic churches, preparatory to his annual visitation of the vast region of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. [...] His first impressions of America and Americans are very favorable, and he sympathizes with us in our hopes of seeing an Orthodox American church, in which mass shall be said in English, French, German, etc., until all have become so American that English shall be the common tongue of all…”
But the parish priest, Vilatte, wasn’t there. He was in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), awaiting his long-sought consecration to the episcopate. He had found a taker in the ancient Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the non-Chalcedonian church in India. Vilatte never seems to have considered himself to be a Malankara Syrian Orthodox; he was interested in their apostolic succession, not their actual Church. (As Theodore Natsoulas puts it, “Vilatte’s commitment to the [Malankara] Church of Antioch, or, in fact, to any other religious organization, never was very deep.”) He returned to Dyckesville in August, and on September 11, the New York Times reported that Vilatte had created the American Catholic Church. Needless to say, any connection he might have had with the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands was dead by this point.
Vilatte went on to an exceedingly colorful career as a vagante bishop, and many little Old Catholic and pseudo-Orthodox groups have websites claiming “apostolic succession” through him. More importantly for our purposes, Vilatte remained in occasional contact with Orthodoxy. Robert Josias Morgan — soon to become Fr. Raphael, the first black Orthodox priest in America — was briefly a deacon in Vilatte’s church in the early 1900s. And many years later, in 1921, Vilatte consecrated George Alexander McGuire, who immediately formed the “African Orthodox Church.”
Was Vilatte’s Old Catholic parish once a part of the Russian Orthodox Church? Even if we assume that the purported certificate from Bishop Vladimir is authentic, I’m really not sure. Bishop Vladimir may have viewed St. Alexis Toth and Joseph Rene Vilatte as parallel church leaders, and he may have imagined that, just as Toth began a flood of Uniate conversions to Orthodoxy, so too Vilatte would be the first of thousands of Old Catholics to join the Russian Mission. But from Vilatte’s perspective, this whole idea would have been laughable. He was, it seems, utterly committed to becoming a vagante bishop. He wanted a mechanical, legalistic “apostolic succession,” and then he wanted to be left to his own devices. There is simply no way that he, or his Wisconsin parish, could have been effectively incorporated into the Russian Mission.
Much of this story remains a mystery, but at this juncture, I am most struck by the contrast between Toth and Vilatte, both of whom, in their own very different ways, made substantial impacts on the religious life of the United States in the decades that followed.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
As we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, in September 1905, New York’s Syrian community was on the brink of war. On one side were the Orthodox, who rallied around their bishop, St. Raphael Hawaweeny. The saint himself opposed violence — both violent acts and violent words — but his attempts to intervene only exacerbated the problem. On the other side were the Maronites — the Roman Catholic Syrians. These were led by a group known as the “Champagne Glass Club,” which included the influential Arabic newspaper editor and Lebanese nationalist Naoum Mokarzel.
The first acts of violence took place on Friday, August 15, when about a score of Syrian men scuffled in the colony’s business center. By Monday, tensions had reached a breaking point. That afternoon, three Syrians had a dust-up and were arrested. Then, at 7 o’clock that night, an Orthodox merchant named Nicolo Abousamra boarded a ferry boat. Two men attacked him with a stick, leaving a nasty lump on his head. Abousamra thought that they had a dagger, but he was able to escape to a more crowded part of the boat.
Abousamra made it home, where he told his business partner Sakir Nassar about the attack. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19/1905), “they decided that it might be as well to have the bishop call on them last night and talk the thing over. For they felt sure that there were assassins lurking about to kill the bishop and they wanted to warn him and plan some form of protection.” Though it was by now the dead of night, Nassar hurried off to find St. Raphael. As it turned out, the bishop already had a bodyguard with him: “for the bishop has been worrying about the shadows that lurk about him when he goes abroad, and it is his habit to take some of his parishioners along with him when he goes out at night” (Eagle). St. Raphael went at once to visit Abousamra, and at least some of his accompanying parishioners were armed.
St. Raphael and his entourage never made it to Abousamra’s. St. Raphael lived at 320 Pacific Street. Abousamra was at 114 Pacific. On the way, the St. Raphael’s party had to pass by 137 Pacific — the home of none other than Naoum Mokarzel. For his part, Mokarzel had conveniently invited a dozen friends over, and at least some of these friends were packing heat. (None of the sources say so, but I strongly suspect that Mokarzel’s friends were the other members of the Champagne Glass Club.)
Why did St. Raphael go to the home of his arch-enemy in the middle of the night? The New York Sun (9/19) reported that Raphael got the rather wild idea that, if only he could sit down with Mokarzel and talk face-to-face, they could make peace and end all the violence. Alternatively, the Orthodox parishioners may have taken the initiative to go to Mokarzel’s house, and St. Raphael may have joined them in an effort to prevent a fight. Another very plausible explanation is offered by St. Raphael himself, and appeared in the New York World (9/19):
I have enemies who are seeking to kill me. I have been warned time and again that I will be assassinated and for many weeks I have not dared to leave my home unaccompanied at night. Whenever I go out I get several of my parishioners to go with me and this was the case last night when I went out to visit a sick friend.
Neither I nor those with me had any part in the riot, nor did we make an attack upon the home of Mr. Makarzoe [sic]. We were passing peaceably through Pacific street when the shooting began. I am convinced that it was a feigned pistol duel, with the purpose of murdering me by hitting me with what would appear to be a stray bullet.
One reason it’s hard to get a handle on what happened is the fact that the newspapers don’t agree with each other. The Sun reports that St. Raphael and several parishioners went into Mokarzel’s house and spent about an hour there in a relatively peaceful meeting. Things eventually turned violent, the meeting broke up, and a shootout began. At least, that’s the Sun‘s story.
The New York Times‘ version of events basically follows St. Raphael’s story. According to the Times, “The minute the Hawaweeny party entered [Mokarzel's house] the fight began. It was rough and tumble in the parlor for a few minutes, and then the combatants went to the street and fought there.” No hour-long meeting in this version. Honestly, I think the Times, rather than the Sun, has it right. Consider the facts:
- It was nearly midnight.
- The Orthodox were on their way to visit an assault victim, Abousamra.
- St. Raphael and his followers believed that assassins were after him.
- There were a dozen Orthodox men, some of whom were armed.
- There were a dozen Maronite men, some of whom were armed.
- The two groups hated each other’s guts.
I say there’s no way in the world, under those circumstances, that a dozen Orthodox men could have approached Mokarzel’s house — full of armed Maronites — and not had an immediate fight. St. Raphael’s story sounds reasonable, and I’m inclined to believe him.
In any event, a moment or an hour after the Orthodox group passed by Mokarzel’s house, a gunfight broke out. Here is how the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19) describes the scene:
It was clearly a pitched battle, for the combatants were dancing about, here and there, taking refuge when they could and again take pot shots at each other. There were others on the street in addition to the combatants, some of hte men from the nearby house of the fire patrol, and Captain Cashman, the head of the fire patrol company. The men of the patrol were gingerly trying to stop the shooting, and when the uniformed policeman appeared ran in with him and put the shooters to flight.
The police officer — a fellow named Mallon – had heard the shots, and bravely rushed into the battle. Police reinforcements soon arrived, and the Battle of Pacific Street finally ended. About twenty shots had been fired, but fortunately, no one died and only two men were injured.
Officer Mallon (whose name has as many spellings as New York had newspapers) saw one of the Syrians “running for all he was worth” (Times) away from the fight, and he chased after the man. As it turns out, this was none other than St. Raphael himself.
Soon enough, Officer Mallon caught up to the bishop and arrested him. According to the officer, St. Raphael brandished a revolver and even tried to pull the trigger. St. Raphael vehemently denied this, and said that he had never even handled a gun in his life, and would never do such a thing. This issue — whether St. Raphael assaulted a policeman with a gun and whether he lied about it afterwards — is so serious and significant that I want to explore it in great detail in another article.
Most of the Syrian fighters escaped, but several were arrested and locked in jail. Some women tried to bail out St. Raphael, but the magistrate said that, for the time being, the bishop was safer behind bars than out in public. The physical battle was over, but St. Raphael’s fight for his reputation, and his freedom, had just begun.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Last week, we left the two New York Syrian camps — Orthodox and Maronite — on the brink of war. Each side’s partisan newspaper attacked the other, and the Maronites took particular aim at St. Raphael, the Orthodox bishop of Brooklyn, accusing him of all sorts of outlandish offenses. Various parties received anonymous threats, and things came to a head in late August, when a Maronite group known as the Champagne Glass Club (CGC) told the police that St. Raphael had called on his followers to use violence against their Maronite enemies.
For the next few weeks, the Syrian community was balanced on the edge of a knife. The war of words continued in the papers, to the point that many Syrian men tried to forbid their wives from reading them. (Whether the wives followed this command is an open question.) The police seemed to think that this was all rather harmless, and even amusing.
That is, until September 15. That afternoon, about 20 Syrian men, representing both the Orthodox and Maronite parties, came to blows in the business center of the Syrian enclave. They were armed with guns and knives, but, thankfully, only one shot was fired, and it missed its target. A policeman bravely rushed into the fracas, breaking up the fight and arresting three men. One of the arrested Syrians, Haiss Nahas, had a slight head wound — the day’s only injury, caused when he was knocked to the ground by Navis Harris. Harris, for his part, claimed that Nahas has fired a shot at him.
Nahas, Harris, and another man were hauled into police court. Harris appears to have been Orthodox, and he was represented by the prominent attorney Charles Le Barbier. Just as the case came up before the magistrate, the other party — Nahas, he of the head wound — was brought in. Le Barbier’s jaw dropped when he realized that he had represented Nahas in a previous case, and thus had an unavoidable conflict of interest. Both prisoners were locked up, with bail set at $500 apiece. When another Syrian tried to bail out Harris, the police recognized him as one of the men involved in the fight. He was arrested, but was soon set free by the merciful magistrate.
The street fight took place in broad daylight on Friday afternoon, August 15, in the heart of the Syrian colony. But this incident was more of a skirmish than an actual battle. The combatants apparently took the weekend off, although St. Raphael reportedly accused Naoum Mokarzel, editor of Al Hoda and leader of the Maronite Champagne Glass Club (CGC), of attacking him in print (New York Times, 9/19/1905). This would hardly have been the first time Al Hoda had gone after Raphael, and the Times reference isn’t terribly clear, but it’s possible (probable, even) that St. Raphael addressed the controversy in his Sunday homily.
Anyway, come Monday, the Syrian colony was a powder keg. In my next article in this series, I’ll discuss full-blown outbreak of war that took place on August 18. Before I do that, though, I want to point out a few other facts that I haven’t yet mentioned, which contributed to the hostility in the Syrian colony.
One of the richest Syrian merchants in New York was a man named John Abdulnour (in fact, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of August 19 describes him as “the wealthiest Syrian in America” and “the leader of the Syrians”). Abdulnour was apparently a Maronite, but his wife was Orthodox, and she would occasionally travel from their “palatial” home in Staten Island to attend St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn. Late in the summer of 1905, Mrs. Abdulnour filed for a divorce — with the apparent encouragement of St. Raphael (Tribune, 9/20).
Another issue, which I’ve briefly touched on already, is the fact that St. Raphael did not simply remain silent in the face of slander. No, he didn’t call for vengeance like the CGC claimed, but he also didn’t just take the attacks lying down. According to the Eagle, Raphael sued a Maronite editor named Maloof for libel. The amount? $23,000 — that is, over half a million dollars today. Now, I wouldn’t be too harsh on St. Raphael, as libel suits were exceedingly popular at the turn of the last century. In any event, St. Raphael agreed to accept an apology and drop the case, but that did nothing to quell the ever-increasing resentment that each side felt for the other.
Finally, there is the issue of Lebanese nationalism. Of course, back in 1905, there was no state called “Lebanon” — today’s Lebanon and Syria were, at that time, still a part of the Ottoman Empire. But Naoum Mokarzel aimed to change all that. He was as passionate a Lebanese nationalist as there ever has been, and according to an article in Arab Studies Quarterly, he was directly instrumental in the eventual establishment of the Lebanese state. But Lebanese nationalism was far more of a Maronite sentiment than an Orthodox one, and Mokarzel no doubt felt that St. Raphael’s relative tolerance of the Ottomans and out-and-out loyalty to the Russians was a betrayal of his heritage. To Mokarzel and his ilk, all things were subordinate to the ideal of Lebanon; to St. Raphael, fidelity to one’s faith always trumped the idea of national identity.
As I said, in my next article on this subject, I’ll finally get to the big event — what one newspaper called the “Battle of Pacific Street” — and the resulting arrest of one of the greatest saints in American Orthodox history.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Way back in January, I began what I intended to be a series on the 1905 arrest and trial of St. Raphael Hawaweeny. I wrote only one article on the subject, though, and even that article was more of a collection of quotations from contemporary newspapers than an actual piece of historical work. I confess to getting sidetracked, and also to not really knowing how to best present the material. You see, New York had numerous newspapers in 1905, and all of them seem to have found the whole affair to be really fascinating. The result is a great volume of fascinating, lively newspaper articles, all of which I wanted to share with my readers. I just couldn’t figure out what to cut, and when to paraphrase. So rather than deal with the problem, I just moved on to other things.
Today, though, I’m going to begin anew my admittedly meager attempt to summarize the crisis that afflicted Brooklyn’s Syrian community and its great Orthodox bishop. I’m going to go all the way back to the beginning, re-presenting material that I originally published on January 5. This time, though, I’m going to restrict myself to relatively brief quotations from the original sources. I will try, as best I can, to sift through the primary sources and give you the basic story, as best I can understand it.
New York’s Syrians were divided into two main camps — Orthodox and Maronite (often called “Greek Catholic”). Each group had a corresponding newspaper — Miraat Ul Gharb (The Mirror of the West) for the Orthodox, and Al Hoda for the Maronites. Miraat Ul Gharb was clearly the weaker of the two publications, appearing only once a week and having a smaller circulation than the daily Al Hoda. The papers were engaged in a war of words, and slanderous articles appeared in both. Finally, St. Raphael could stand no more of it, and he called for the editors to stop publishing such trash. The Al Hoda crowd, which called itself the “Champagne Glass Club,” told him to shut up — that “his place was in the church” (New York Sun, 8/27/1905). In speaking up, St. Raphael made himself a target, and Al Hoda‘s editor, Naoum Mokarzel, took direct aim at the bishop. He accused St. Raphael of numerous offenses, including trying to incite the Orthodox to violence against the Maronites. Miraat Ul Gharb responded, and the back-and-forth attacks continued. Rather than stopping the battle, St. Raphael’s intervention unwittingly made things worse.
In late August, the leaders of the Champagne Glass Club (we’ll call them the CGC from here on out) went to the police with a remarkable story. According to the CGC, on August 15, St. Raphael assembled his congregation and told them that they needed to defend his name with their lives — that, if one or two of them might have to die in defense of his honor, then so be it. On August 20 — again, according to the CGC — Raphael claimed that he was “as great as Grand Duke Sergius of Russia,” and needed to be defended accordingly (the Grand Duke had been assassinated earlier that year). I am convinced that both of these claims are utter fabrications, but if you’re in doubt, just listen to the next allegation of the CGC. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (8/28/1905):
Another speech was made on Wednesday, August 23, in which the bishop made a statement to the effect that he was wounded by the attack of certain Syrian papers which attempted to stain his morality, and that if such a fact be established and he were proved to be immoral, every marriage that he had performed during the last twelve years among the Syrians in New York and elsewhere would be annulled. Thereupon he called the younger element of his congregation to rise in his defense and several of them who were present provided with arms took such arms and deposited them on a table in the church, in accordance with an established Oriental custom, saying they would defend him with the last drop of their blood.
This is just plain absurd; the CGC overreached. It is unimaginable that St. Raphael, an extremely well-educated Orthodox theologian, would claim that sacraments administered by an immoral clergyman are invalid. We covered that ground back in the early third century, when the Church recognized Donatism to be heretical. No doubt the CGC would respond by saying that, even if Raphael didn’t believe it, he would have made such a claim to incite his flock to violence. But that’s even more absurd — the two Syrian camps already hated each other, and the Orthodox didn’t exactly need any encouragement to fight their Maronite counterparts. Even a hypothetically wicked bishop would have gained nothing for his cause with public pronouncements and actions like the ones Raphael was accused of.
Anyway, of course St. Raphael did nothing of the sort. Here is his version of what happened, as he told it to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
We held a meeting in the basement of the church so that I could calm and restrain my people. I wanted the members of my church to ignore the men who are abusing me. I wanted to advise them to keep their tempers and do nothing to any enemy of mine. I told them that I had forgiven Maluf and Markozel and that they must forgive them. I begged them to keep peace and to have nothing but brotherly love in their hearts.
Forgiving Mokarzel — shoot, even feigning forgiveness — would have been extremely difficult for most people. Listen to this lovely quote from the Al Hoda editor in the New York Times (8/28/1905):
He [Raphael] asserts that his morality has been attacked. I say nothing about his private life — his wine, his card playing. I have not put it in my paper. I respect his church and wish my church to be respected. I am a Roman Catholic. I have heard that the Bishop has said he would crush me, do me bodily and moral injury. He has called together his congregation and appointed a committee of six desperate men to take vengeance upon me and others. Well, I am willing to die for the truth.
Isn’t that great? I think it’s what they call “talking out of both sides of your mouth.” If Mokarzel is telling the truth, he’s doing a pretty lousy job of it. And apparently, in Al Hoda, he was much more slanderous than in the above quote, and his opposite number in Miraat Ul Gharb wasn’t exactly holding back, either. According to the New York Tribune (8/28/1905), it had gotten so bad that the Syrian men forbade their wives from reading the papers.
The police seem to have been more amused than anything else by all this intra-Arab bickering. From the Sun: “The big seargent behind the desk of the Church street police station last night smiled at the idea of bloodshed, and said that no extra police had been placed in the Syrian quarter, though the men on post had been told to exercise vigilance.” Unfortunately, the big seargent was wrong. Within three weeks, words gave way to violent actions, and the whole Syrian quarter was thrown into turmoil.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.