Posts tagged Russian
This week’s installment of our “This week” series is unusually brief, because I’m in the middle of final exams for law school. I hope you’ll understand, and I should be back next week with a full-length piece.
May 9, 1870: The newly chrismated convert Nicholas Bjerring was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in St. Petersburg, Russia.
May 13, 1888: The Orthodox of Chicago — mostly Greeks and Serbs — held a meeting to organize a multiethnic parish. I did one of my first podcast episodes on this meeting.
May 7, 1890: Andrij Chahovtsov — the future Archbishop Arseny of Winnipeg – was ordained to the priesthood in Russia.
May 7, 1909: Fr. Alexis Toth died in Wilkes-Barre, PA. From the local newspaper, the Times Leader, later that day:
Father Toth was of princely bearing, not much in sympathy with democratic institutions, but yet very deferential to the customs of the people here. He was a rigid disciplinarian but very popular among the members of his congregation here. His death will be a great surprise. He was ill about five months, but because of his somewhat secluded position few outside the members of his congregation knew of his indisposition.
Toth, of course, had converted to Orthodoxy from Greek (or “Eastern Rite,” or “Uniate”) Catholicism, way back in 1891. He became the leading advocate of the so-called “return of the Unia,” which utterly changed the face of the Russian Mission in North America. The OCA canonized Toth several years ago because of his historical role.
May 13, 1917: Fr. Aftimios Ofiesh was consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Evdokim Meschersky and Bishop Alexander Nemolovsky. Aftimios was given the title “Bishop of Brooklyn,” and, as the Russian-backed successor to St. Raphael Hawaweeny, he was placed in charge of the Syro-Arab Mission in America.
This took place just three weeks after the first Syrian church, St. George of Worcester, MA, declared its loyalty to the visiting Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi, rather than to the soon-to-be-consecrated Aftimios. We covered this a few weeks ago; there were now two rival Arab bishops in America, and the Russy-Antacky schism was underway.
May 10, 1966: Bishop Stefan Lastavica, head of what is today known as the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America, died.
The original version of this article had the diocese’s name wrong. When it was created by the Holy Assembly of Serbia in 1963, it was called the “Middle-Eastern American and Canadian Diocese.” By the time of Bishop Stefan’s death three years later, the name had been changed to the “Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America and Canada.” In the mid-1980s, the Serbian Diocese of Canada was established, and Bishop Stefan’s old diocese dropped the “and Canada” part of its name. Many thanks to Andy Muha for this information.
May 13, 2006: Jaroslav Pelikan, the great church historian and convert to Orthodoxy, died. Pelikan had joined the Orthodox Church back in 1998, after which he served on the board of trustees for St. Vladimir’s Seminary. For more on Pelikan, see this 2003 article by Fr. John Erickson, which includes this great quote from Pelikan himself: “Everybody else is an expert on the present. I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.”
May 12, 2008: Archbishop Hilarian Kapral was elected First Hierarch of ROCOR.
May 8, 2010: Fr. Michael Dahulich, formerly the dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, was consecrated OCA Bishop of New York.
May 4, 1793: Empress Catherine the Great of Russia granted the Holy Synod permission to establish an Orthodox mission in “Russian America” (Alaska). The following year, the first eight missionaries, including St. Herman, arrived on Kodiak Island.
May 3, 1870: Nicholas Bjerring, a convert from Roman Catholicism, was received into Orthodoxy by chrismation in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was then ordained a priest and sent to New York, where he established a Russian Orthodox embassy chapel in the city. Bjerring, the first significant Orthodox convert in the United States, served the chapel for 13 years, acting as a kind of religious ambassador to America. But by 1883, the Russian government decided to cease funding the chapel, and Bjerring was offered a teaching position in St. Petersburg. He declined and instead became a Presbyterian minister. At the end of his life, he re-converted to Roman Catholicism.
May 5, 1892: St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church was established in Chicago. This came just weeks after Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was founded in Chicago, and it marked the first instance of “overlapping jurisdictions” in the same city — a trend that became ubiquitous in the decades that followed. A few years after this, a young priest named John Kochurov was assigned to the church; in Kochurov’s tenure, the parish name was changed to Holy Trinity, and a magnificent new cathedral (designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan) was constructed. Kochurov eventually returned to Russia and was martyred by the Bolsheviks, and has since been canonized. As for his old parish, it survives today as the seat of the OCA Bishop of Chicago, and is one of the oldest continuously functioning Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere.
May 5, 1902: This was the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Chicago Russian parish, but nobody was celebrating that day, because the church’s quarter-ton bell was stolen. The whole Orthodox community of Chicago — including the Greek parish — searched for the bell, but as best I can tell, it was never recovered. Two years ago, I wrote an article about the bell’s theft; CLICK HERE to read it.
April 30, 1905: Pascha, gunshots, a New York cop, and a mob of Greeks. The short version is that, on Pascha in New York, a Greek man fired a gun in celebration — not exactly a unique occurrence. But a police officer arrested the man and started taking him away, whereupon 500 or so Greeks, who had been in the middle of a Paschal procession, diverted course and followed the officer. The mostly peaceable (but assuredly frightening) mob threw the cop to the ground, freed the prisoner, and then apparently went back to celebrating Pascha. It’s kind of a bizarre story, and I covered it in more detail two years ago. CLICK HERE to read more.
May 2, 1914: Bishop John Mitropolsky, former Russian Bishop of the Aleutian Islands, died. Bishop John was the man responsible for moving the diocesan headquarters from Alaska to San Francisco. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this move. I don’t know for sure, but it may be the first time that the official seat of an Orthodox diocese was located outside of the formal diocesan boundaries.
Bishop John learned to speak English and even preached homilies in the language. These were at least partly intended to inform non-Orthodox about the Orthodox Church. Bishop John was also a rather prolific author, writing a five volume account of religious sects in America and a 450-page history of the Ecumenical Councils. He seems to have view his role as twofold — to continue the Alaskan mission, but also to act as a religious ambassador to America. In November 1871, the journal Christian Union ran this note:
Bishop Johannes, of the Russo-Greek Church on the Pacific coast, has ordered the prayer for the President of the United States, contained in the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church, to be used by the Greek Priests. The Russo-Greek Calendar has also been modified so as to make it conform to that of Western Christendom in several essential important points.
I’m not sure what those calendar changes were, but these changes were an obvious attempt to find common ground with the West — particularly the Episcopal Church.
According to Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, who was an adolescent in San Francisco during Bishop John’s tenure, later explained that Bishop John was particularly proud of the Orthodox school he established. The school was for the cathedral parishioners and met on Saturdays. In addition to catechesis and Russian, the Saturday school and other weekday classes taught Scripture, music, mathematics, Greek, and English. Bishop John himself taught seven classes per week. Dabovich was one of the school’s most successful alumni, and he later wrote, “The Right Reverend John loved his school, one might say, with a singular love.”
Bishop John was reassigned to a post in Russia in 1877, and he died in 1914, at the age of 77.
May 5, 1916: Agapius Honcharenko, one of the strangest men in American Orthodox history, died in Hayward, CA. We’ve talked about Honcharenko quite a bit on this site, and I did a podcast on him a few years ago.
May 4, 1945: On Holy Friday, St. Vasily Martysz was brutally murdered in Poland. As a young priest, he had served in America from 1901 to 1912. The Orthodox Church of Poland canonized St. Vasily in 2003. To learn more, read this life of St. Vasily, written by Fr. Michael Oleksa.
May 6, 1967: Theodosius Lazor was consecrated Bishop of Alaska in the Russian Metropolia. A few years later, the young bishop represented the Metropolia in Moscow, where he formally received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate. This created the “Orthodox Church in America,” and in 1977, Theodosius was elected the jurisdiction’s primate. He served as Metropolitan until 2002.
May 6, 2006: A landmark All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia opened. This council went on to formally approve the reconciliation between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, which had been estranged for decades.
It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the earliest descriptions of Orthodox worship in Alaska comes not from the pen of a Russian missionary or fur trader, but from that of a young Anglo-American explorer who visited the “Great Land” in 1778, sixteen years before the first missionaries arrived in Kodiak. His name was John Ledyard, born in the small town of Groton, Connecticut, in 1751.
Having dropped out of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, he embarked upon a life of travel. After a brief visit to the British colony of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, he made his way to England and joined the British navy. One month before his fellow countrymen were to declare their independence from Great Britain, Ledyard set sail from London in June 1776 in the service of Captain Cook, bound for the Pacific as a member of the Royal marines.
By the summer of 1778 the expedition had reached southwest Alaska and in October of that year they came to Unalaska in the Aleutian islands of southeast Alaska. At the recommendation of John Gore, the first lieutenant of his ship The Resolution, Ledyard went on shore and traveled for several days. Ledyard describes Gore as his intimate friend and a native of America as well as myself. Gore was most likely a Virginian.
During the second evening on shore Ledyard met Russians for the first time, in the company of the native Aleutians. After enjoying a feast of whale meat, salmon and halibut he went to rest for the night. He writes:
After I had lain down, the Russians assembled the Indians in a very silent manner, and said prayers after the manner of the Greek Church, which is much like the Roman.
I could not but observe with what particular satisfaction the Indians performed their devoirs to God, through the medium of their little crucifixes, and with what pleasure they went through the multitude of ceremonies attendant on that sort of worship. I think it is a religion the best calculated in the world to gain proselytes, when the people are either unwilling or unable to speculate, or when they cannot be made acquainted with the history and principles of Christianity without a former education.
This was not to be Ledyard’s only encounter with Orthodox Christianity. After escaping the service of the British in Long Island in 1782 he remained on the east coast of the newly independent United States for barely two years, before heading to Paris in 1784. There, in June 1786 he met Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister to the French court. Jefferson later recounted:
Ledyard had come to Paris in the hope of forming a company to engage in the fur trade of the Western coast of America. He was disappointed in this, and being out of business and of a roaming, restless character, I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent, by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamchatka, and procuring a passage there in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to America; and I undertook to have the permission of the Empress of Russia solicited.
Had Ledyard succeeded in making the journey Jefferson outlined his place in history would probably rival, if not exceed that of Lewis and Clark who were to follow a similar mandate from Jefferson some twenty years later. Ledyard set out on his monumental journey and made it as far a Yakutsk in eastern Siberia, a journey of some 7500 miles overland and within several hundred miles of the Russian Pacific coast. There he was arrested as a spy and forced to return via St. Petersburg to London!
Whilst on this trip Ledyard had several meetings with Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk, Siberia. At this point Shelikhov had returned to Siberia after founding the Russian settlement of Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in 1784. It was the Shelikhov-Golikov company that would later sponsor sending the future St Herman and other Russian Orthodox missionaries to Kodiak in 1794. (Although it should be noted that Shelikhov asked for only one priest to be sent to the fledgling settlement at Three Saints Bay.) Ledyard’s interest in the Pacific north-west fur trade was most probably what led to his expulsion from Russia. Catherine the Great was eager to integrate Russian America into her empire in the face of emerging competition from the Americans, British and Spanish. It is in this context the Orthodox mission six years later arises. Ledyard also records meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop in Irkutsk and visiting the village of St. Nicholas, with its church of that dedication on the shores of nearby Lake Baikal.
After his return to London the ever-restless Ledyard set out to visit Egypt, traveling there via Paris, where he met again with Jefferson and also Lafayette. He subsequently wrote to Jefferson from Cairo:
The city of Cairo is about half as large in size as Paris, and is said to contain several hundred thousand inhabitants. You will therefore anticipate the fact of its narrow streets and high houses. In this number are contained one hundred thousand Copts, or descendents of the ancient Egyptians. These are likewise Christians, and those of different sects, from Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo and other parts of Syria.
After extensive travels throughout Egypt Ledyard wrote the last letter of his life (still extant) to Jefferson on November 15, 1788. Shortly after this he died of a fever in his thirty-eighth year and was buried in Cairo. The account of his travels with Captain Cook was published in Connecticut in 1783. This is the first work ever published in America to be subject to copyright law.
As a publisher myself, who was born in the British crown colony of Gibraltar and spent a portion of childhood in Ledyard’s home town of Groton, Connecticut, it is hard not to identify with him. Even more so after having made three trips to Alaska, visited the grave of Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk and celebrated the feast of Pentecost 1988 in the church of St. Nicholas, on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, April 9, 2012
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
April 17, 1907: Fr. Demetrios Petrides arrived in America from Greece. He went immediately to Philadelphia, taking charge of Evangelismos (Annunciation) Greek Orthodox Church in the city. One of his first acts was to write a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate recommending that a catechumen, Robert Morgan, be received into the Church and ordained a priest. This took place in August, and Morgan became the first black Orthodox priest in America. Petrides went on to have a distinguished, eventful, and admirable career in Philadelphia and, later, Atlanta, before dying of diabetes in 1917.
April 19, 1934: Archbishop Victor Abo-Assaly, the first primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, died. Abp Victor, then an archimandrite, had come to America ten years earlier, as part of a delegation from the Patriarchate of Antioch. The delegation’s task was to organize the divided Arab Orthodox in America into a single jurisdiction. This led to the founding of the Antiochian Archdiocese, but it failed to produce unity. In addition to Abp Victor, the following hierarchs claimed a piece of the Antiochian pie in America:
- Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi, erstwhile leader of the “Antacky” faction. He had come to America on a fundraising trip back in 1914, but when St. Raphael died the next year, Germanos decided to stick around and try to lead Raphael’s flock. Only a strong minority faction followed him, and this support virtually evaporated in 1924, when the Patriarchate authorized Victor’s consecration and the creation of a legitimate Antiochian Archdiocese.
- Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, former head of the “Russy” faction of Arab Orthodox who pledged loyalty to the Russians. Originally, the battle was Germanos v. Aftimios, but in the late 1920s, Aftimios created his own “autocephalous church” and fell out of favor with the Russian bishops. A handful of parishes seem to have remained loyal to Aftimios, but most switched over to:
- Bishop Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, Aftimos’ former auxiliary and, before that, the archdeacon to St. Raphael. When the Russian Metropolia pulled its support for Aftimios, Emmanuel jumped to the Metropolia himself, taking over Aftimios’ title as bishop for the Syro-Arabs.
Anyway, in the span of about a year, three of the four claimants were dead, and the fourth (Aftimios) married a young girl, which removed the last shreds of legitimacy he had in the eyes of mainstream Orthodox people. The Antiochians in America were finally in a position to unite… but of course, it wasn’t that simple, and in 1936, they re-divided into “New York” and “Toledo” factions. About which, wait just a moment…
April 20, 1934: The early 1930s witnessed a lot of deaths of prominent Orthodox churchmen in America. Just one day after Abp Victor died, Metropolitan Platon Rozhdestvensky, the longtime primate of the Russian Metropolia, himself died. Platon had first come to America way back in 1907, as the successor to St. Tikhon as head of the Russian Archdiocese. He returned to Russia in 1914, but after the Bolshevik Revolution, Platon just kind of showed up in America again, this time as a refugee. The Russian Archdiocese already had a primate — Abp Alexander Nemolovsky — but Platon hung around for a while, until the embattled Alexander moved to Europe. Platon was Alexander’s natural successor, and it was under Platon that the Archdiocese morphed into what became known as the “Metropolia” — a de facto independent jurisdiction.
Platon’s second American tenure was filled with endless legal battles with John Kedrovsky, an “archbishop” of the Soviet-backed Living Church. The Metropolia lost its cathedral, and ultimately had to accept the charity of the Episcopalians, who offered worship space in one of their churches. By the end of Platon’s life, any notion of the Russian Church as the platform for Orthodox unity in America was a faint memory.
April 19, 1936: Exactly two years to the day after Abp Victor died, his successor was consecrated. Or rather successors, plural. On the very same day, two men, representing two Antiochian factions, were consecrated in different cities. Metropolitan Antony Bashir was consecrated in New York and took charge of the largest portion of the Antiochians. Meanwhile, in Toledo, Ohio, several Russian Metropolia bishops consecrated Metropolitan Samuel David. So now, instead of the “Russy” and “Antacky” factions, you had the “New York” and “Toledo” Archdioceses. This division persisted for almost 40 more years.
April 3, 1904: On Palm Sunday, Fr. Nicola Yanney was ordained to the priesthood by St. Raphael Hawaweeny. Fr. Nicola was a young widower living in Kearney, Nebraska. His wife had died during childbirth in 1902, just days before her husband’s 29th birthday, leaving behind three other children. In August of 1903, the Syrian Orthodox of Kearney decided that they wanted a priest, and they asked the 30-year-old Nicola to take the position. The next year, he went to Brooklyn and studied under the soon-to-be Bishop Raphael. In March 1904, Raphael was consecrated, and a few weeks later, he ordained Fr. Nicola — the first ordination ever performed by St. Raphael. Fr. Nicola was given responsibility for a vast territory; in addition to his regular pastoral duties in Kearney, he visited seven other states in his first eight months on the job. His life was difficult and inspiring — far too much to summarize here. I highly recommend reading the biographical article on Fr. Nicola written by Fr. Paul Hodge and published here at OrthodoxHistory.org.
April 2, 1922: St. Raphael’s remains were interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Brooklyn. After his 1915 death, St. Raphael’s body had been placed in a crypt in his Brooklyn cathedral, but a few years later, his successor Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh decided to move the cathedral to a new building, and Raphael’s body was moved to the cemetery. Decades later, it was transferred to the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA.
April 2-4, 1924: [The following was written by Aram Sarkisian] The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America convened in Detroit for the 4th All-American Sobor. The Sobor opened with a Presanctified Liturgy and Molieben at All Saints Russian Orthodox Church on the city’s east side, but for lack of space moved downtown to the parish house of St. John Episcopal Church for its plenary sessions.
The 4th All-American Sobor was convened for several reasons, much of it having to do with the general turmoil the Archdiocese had experienced in the wake of the Russian Revolutions of 1917. The most notable of its decisions is the oft-cited “Declaration of Autonomy,” in which the Archdiocese invoked Patriarchal Ukaz #362 of November 1920, in which Patriarch Tikhon gave leeway to dioceses to temporarily govern themselves when communication and regular contact with the authorities in war-torn Russia became insurmountable for normal church life, until such time as normal relations could be established.
In an April 12th telegram to Patriarch Tikhon announcing the decision, it was stated that this action was taken “as a way of self-preservation,” a somewhat imperfect solution to an intensely difficult set of questions facing the church in North America. And, thus, the jurisdictional body which would become known as the Metropolia was formed, which would in turn receive its autocephaly from Moscow in 1970 and rename itself the Orthodox Church in America.
April 7, 1934: Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi died in Beirut. Met Germanos had come to America twenty years earlier as a visitor, raising funds for an agricultural school in his archdiocese in what is today Lebanon. But then St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop in America, fell ill and died, and the popular Germanos decided to remain in America. The Syrians splintered, and one faction — the “Antacky” — recognized the authority of Germanos. The other group — the “Russy” — favored Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who served under the Russian Church. Germanos’ position was pretty shaky, because his own Patriarchate of Antioch refused to bless his work in America and instead ordered him to return to his archdiocese. Germanos held out, but then in 1924, the Patriarchate sent an official delegation to America and established the modern Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. This seriously undermined Germanos’ position, and most of his “Antacky” parishes naturally switched over to the official Antiochian jurisdiction. Germanos hung around in America for another nine years before finally returning to Syria in late 1933. The 62-year-old Germanos soon fell ill and died several months later. In addition to his role in the Russy-Antacky schism, he is most remembered for two things: (1) he briefly oversaw a Ukrainian jurisdiction in Canada, and (2) he was renowned for his beautiful singing voice.
April 7, 1947: Fr. Georges Florovsky arrived in New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Later this week, we’ll be publishing an article by Matthew Baker on this event.