Posts tagged Saints
In January 2010, I published an article about Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, who is being considered for canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church. Fr. Jacob spent many years as a priest in the United States and Canada (as well as Mexico and Australia, among other places) before ending his life as a martyr under the Soviets. What follows is that original 2010 article, with some minor revisions.
Here is an account of Fr. Jacob Korchinsky’s first five decades, from Michael Protopopov’s fascinating 2005 dissertation, The Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia:
Jakov Kosmich Korchinsky was born into a family of landed gentry in 1861, he attended the Elizavetgrad Secondary School and then a four year course to become a teacher. In 1886, Jakov married Varvara Yakovlev. Whilst working in diocesan schools, Jakov was recognized as an excellent teacher by the Ruling Bishop of the diocese, Archbishop Nicandor of Kherson and Odessa, and ordained a deacon on 8 November 1887. Whilst a deacon and still teaching, Fr Jakov enrolled at the Odessa Theological Seminary which he completed in 1895. Fr Jakov was then invited to teach in the missions in Alaska by Bishop Nikolai of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and the young deacon and his wife set off for the Americas. On 25 March 1896 Fr Jakov was ordained priest and began his missionary work in Alaska. Within two years Fr Jakov had been awarded his first ecclesiastical distinction for “converting to Orthodoxy more than 250 savages.” In 1901, he was again recognised for building a church whilst doing missionary work in Canada. By 1902 the Korchinskys returned to Kherson because of Varvara Korchinsky’s failing health and Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the Resurrection church in Bereznegova on the Black Sea. In 1906 he was appointed rector [of] the Protection church in the Kherson prison.
After two years in the prison church, Fr Jakov reapplied to return to America and was appointed to the St Michael parish in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Whilst in Pennsylvania Fr Jakov was awarded the gold pectoral cross by an Imperial Decree. On 25 March 1911, the Korchinskys were relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the St Michael church and visiting priest to parishes in Erie, Carnegie and Youngstown. In the years immediately prior to his appointment as missionary to the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines, Korchinsky was also Dean of Pennsylvania, a trustee of the Orthodox Orphanage of North America, Vice President of the Russian Emigre Society of North America and a member of the Imperial Russian Palestine Society.
And he still had another 30 years to go. Korchinsky was one of the jewels of the Russian Mission in America, one of those super-priests who covered vast territories and founded numerous churches. In 1900, he was sent to Edmonton, Alberta to become the first permanent parish priest in Canada. The same year, he visited Shandro, Alberta, and baptized 33 children in a single day. You get the sense, from reading about Korchinsky’s life, that this sort of event was rather commonplace for him. In his November 26, 1906 report to the Holy Synod, St. Tikhon wrote of Korchinsky, “He did much to convert the heathens to the Christian Faith and returned many Uniates to the Orthodox Church. He set the foundation for parish life in many places, built churches and assisted the unfortunate with his acquied medical knowledge.”
He founded churches in the United States, too. At the very least, I know that he was the founding priest of the Nativity of Christ Church in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1915. The same year, Korchinsky was elevated to Archpriest, and he relocated to Hawaii. From Orthodox Wiki’s excellent article on Hawaiian Orthodox history:
In 1915, an official request by the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii and the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, Henry B. Restarick to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; a priest was dispatched that same year to Hawaii (with the blessing of Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) of the Aleutians) to pastor the large population of Orthodox Russian faithful. He establishsed permanent liturgical services in Hawaii and on Christmas December 25 (O.S.) / January 7 (N.S.) 1916, Protopresbyter Jacob Korchinsky celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu. Thus Orthodoxy was re-established in Hawaii.
While in Honolulu, writes Protopopov, Korchinsky happened to meet a group of Russian Latvians who were sailing from Australia to Egypt via Honolulu and the brand-new Panama Canal. They told him that there were Russians in Australia; not long afterwards, Korchinsky read this in the Vestnik (the official publication of the Russian Mission in America, January 1916):
[I]n Australia, there live thousands of Russian people, who are spiritually ministered to by a Greek priest who visits once a year. His services are conducted unwillingly and without a sense of piety, even though he receives a large amount of money for his services. It has also been reported that a self-styled “priest” has arrived in Australia from North America who has exploited the unsuspecting Russians with excessive fees for baptisms and weddings, so much so, that they complained to the police and the “priest” was arrested.
Korchinsky had heard enough. He wrote to the Russian Consul-General in Melbourne, who asked Korchinsky to come to Australia immediately. He arrived in March of 1916. In the months that followed, he visited 750 families and 500 isolated individuals, baptizing 16 children along the way (all these numbers are from Protopopov). But he contracted malaria due to the excessive heat, and in July, he returned to Russia. He wrote this to his bishop, Archbishop Evdokim Meschersky:
We have elected a committee to oversee church life, but my illness brought on by the excessive heat, has caused me to take to my bed and has deprived me of being of any further use… I most respectfully plead that Your Grace does not forsake the Russian Orthodox in Australia and especially their next generation of youngsters. I beg that Your Grace may raise the question of the Church in Australia at the forthcoming All Russian General Council and if it be appropriate to appoint me as the permanent priest for Australia.
The Holy Synod ended up placing Australia under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Tokyo. Korchinsky, meanwhile, needed money. He had spent all his own funds on his missionary work. All the while, his wife and three-year-old daughter had remained in America, and Korchinsky wanted to go to them. He was given permission, and money, but then World War I intervened. Korchinsky was assigned to be a chaplain at the military hospital in Odessa, serving there from December 1916 to August 1917. From Protopopov:
Upon being demobilised from military service, Korchinsky was again faced with the problem of having nothing to live on. On 29 August 1917, he again wrote to the Holy Synod asking that he be assigned a pension, as he was so poor that he needed to live in a rural village where the folk fed him out of compassion. A second resolution was made by the Holy Synod for a pension to be granted to Korchinsky, but no documentary evidence is available to confirm a pension ever having been paid. Nor is it known if he returned to his family in Pennsylvania.
One way or another, Korchinsky’s family made it back to Russia. About his family… At some point amidst his travels, probably in 1913 or 1914, Korchinsky spent some time in Mexico City. While there, he adopted an orphaned infant named Dominica. Here is the story, told by the girl’s daughter in Faith, a Russian religious periodical, dated May 2006. The original in Russian, which I can’t read, so I used Google Translator:
Jacob Korchinsky was not the actual father of my mother, he was her adoptive father. In 1912-1916. He was the rector of the Orthodox Church in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. There he gave the girl in foster homes, from a poor family of Spanish origin. In 1916-1917 grandfather returned to his home in Odessa, along with a girl (my mother was then year 3-4).
The translation obviously isn’t great, and the dates aren’t precise, but the gist is clear enough. (And there are more details if you follow the above link and can read Russian. Google Translator has some issues with Russian, unfortunately. To our Russian-speaking readers: if you have a moment and can do a quick translation, please let me know.)
Korchinsky stayed in Russia through the Revolution and the terror that followed. He was arrested on June 23, 1941. Two months later, like so many of his fellow priests, he was executed. He was 80 years old.
Based on all this, it seems to me that Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was indeed a saint, just like his fellow American priests and Russian hieromartyrs Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov, and Seraphim Samuilovich. Korchinsky’s is a remarkable, multicontinental story which has not yet been told. If any of you have more information on Korchinsky, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: Raymond A Bucko, S.J. is a Jesuit Catholic priest, professor of anthropology, chair of the social work, sociology and anthropology department at Creighton University, Omaha Nebraska. He completed his doctoral work in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1992. His dissertation was “Inipi: Historic Transformation and Contemporary Significance of the Sweat Lodge in Lakota Ritual Practice.” He entered the Jesuit order in 1973, earned an masters of divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 1983, was ordained that year and completed a Masters in Sacred Theology the next year at Regis College Toronto. He first worked with Native Americans in 1974 and later served as a consultant for the National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Ministry from 1994 to 2007. He continues to work in this field.
Father Bucko’s original research on Saint Peter the Aleut was for a conference on religion and violence on November 14, 2005. He subsequently published his presentation as “Peter the Aleut: Sacred Icons and the Iconography of Violence” Boletín: The Journal of the California Mission Studies Association. Robert Senkewicz Editor. Volume 23 no.1 Pp. 22-45. Spring 2006. Reprinted in: The Contexts of Religion and Violence. Journal of Religion & Society. Supplement Series 2. Edited by Ronald A. Simkins. The Kripke Center, 2007; Pp 31-48. http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2007/2007-3.html (PDF version – http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/pdf/2007-3.pdf).
Following a reference from a colleague in Finland he found the initial disposition of Ivan Kiglay in the library of congress card catalogue as: Istomin, A. A., James R. Gibson, Valeri i Aleksandrovich Tishkov, and Institut *etnologii i antropologii im. N.N. Miklukho-Makla*i*a. 2005. Rossi*i*a v Kalifornii : russkie dokumenty o kolonii Ross i rossi*isko-kaliforni*iskikh sv*i*az*i*akh 1803-1850 : v dvukh tomakh. 2 vols. Moskva: Nauka. The actual volume was borrowed from the Georgetown University library. To download the original deposition document in Russian, click on this link:
To be entirely clear: This is the source from which all other accounts of St. Peter’s martyrdom are derived. But until now, it has been virtually unknown to Orthodox Christians, who have relied on much later, secondhand versions of the story. We at SOCHA have had a copy of this document for some months, but we (and Fr. Oliver in particular, who can read Russian) haven’t had time to get a translation done. We are grateful to Fr. Bucko for providing one. This initial translation was done by Mr. Gleb Coca, a Moldovian Muskee Fellow at the Creighton University school of business in September 2010. Please note that this is an initial translation only: it needs to be checked and revised by others familiar with the Russian language. But rather than wait for a more polished translation, I (Matthew) thought it best to publish this initial version, along with the original Russian account, with the hope that some of our readers would be inspired to offer their own expertise to produce an authoritative translation.
The bracketed small Roman numerals in the text indicate endnotes.
Testimony of Ivan Kiglay, port worker from Kadiak, regarding the capture by Spanish of a trading unit of RAK [Russian-American company] in 1815, [regarding] death of a dweller of Kadiak Chukagnak (St. Peter Aleut), and regarding his escape to the island Ilimena. Ross, May 1819.
In 1819 year, May, to the castle of Ross, of Kadiak Region, village Kashkatskovo, Ivan Kiglay was brought from the Ilimena Island on the small ship with the similar name, who was interrogated with a translators from Kadiak – Ivan Samoilov and Jacob Shelekhov, testimonies as follows: he was delegated by Tarakanov from Saint-Kentina, with others from the trading unit from Kadiak on 15 kayaks, to come to the service of Company of Tarasov, and were delivered on English small ship, named “Foresta” to the Ilimena Island, where they were trading beavers. The manager of this branch of the Company – Tarasov – was not perceiving the trade as profitable and was not hoping for recovery in that island, so he decided to use his kayaks to move on other islands: Saint Rose and Ekaterina and later to the land shore of California. Because of the fact that in the Tarasov’s kayak it happened to be a hole and his Kayak started to fill with water, and because the weather was pretty fresh [cool], we landed at Cape Bay Saint Peter, were we have been kept by the weather.
On the next day a soldier came from the mission in Saint-Pedro, and told to Tarasov, the recently, on the island of Climant, 2 Kadiak dwellers ran away from Tarakanov. An award was declared for bringing them back. Later, although the weather was proper to departure for the island of Ekaterina, Tarasov decided to stay and to wait for those 2 Kadiak dwellers. On the fourth day of staying, about 20 soldiers on horses approached in silence and arrested Tarasov and all the other members of the crew [.] They treated them inhumanly, tortured a lot of people using hatchets, and to one of the Kadiak dweller from village Kaguiatskovo , named Chukagnak, they have hacked his head. After they have stolen all the beavers and their personal belonging, they were transferred to Sankt-Pedro Mission, where those 2 Kadiak Dwellers, who escaped from Climant, had been caught. Missioners and the leader of the named above mission (who’s name he does not remember), made a request to all the Kadiak dwellers to convert to catholic religion, for what they have replied that they have already converted to a Christian religion on Kadiak, and they do not want to convert to any other religion. In a short time, Tarasov and other Kadiak dwellers [crew members] were transferred to Saint Barbara. Though he (Kiglay Ivan) and wounded Chukagnak, were left in the mentioned mission, were kept with Indian criminals in the prison for several days, without food and water.
On that night the chief of the mission brought the order to convert to religion, although they did not do that, despite the critical situation that they faced. On the sunrise of the next day a religious clerk[i] came to the prison, accompanied by betrayed[ii] Indians, and called them out of the prison; Indians surrounded them, and by order started to cut (chop) Chukagnak’s fingers by articulations, from both hands and [after that] arms, and in the end cut his stomach (abdomen) [revealed his intestines], by that time, he was already dead.[iii] That should have happened also to Kiglay, but at that time to the priest was brought a paper (he does not know from where and from whom). After reading that, [the priest] ordered to bury the body of the dead Chukagnak from Kasguiatskovo in the same place, and he [Kiglay] was send back to prison, and in a short time after that he was send to Saint-Barbara, where he have not found anybody from his crew nor Tarasov, who had already been sent to Monterey.
Later on that autumn and winter (which will be in 1815), those of port workers from Kadiak, who run away from Tarasov in different places were found and brought to Saint-Barbara, and some of them with kayaks, and those 2 who were in the mission in Saint-Pedro, all together 10 people including Kurbatov. They were assigned to work as well as other Indians, kept for crimes[iv] in handcuffs; the agreement among all of those from Kadiak was to escape from Saint-Barbara and to get to Francis port in their way away from the land, and [to head] to Ross, but it was unclear if it will happen.[v]
He, Kiglay Ivan, agreed to escape with Kaguiak dwellers Atash’sha Filip, decided to use other means to escape, what they managed to do, they has stolen a kayak and ran away using that, got to the same cape bay Saint Peter, where they were captured, moved to Ekaterina Island, from there to the island Barbara, and from there to the island Ilimena, that happened in a short time because of the good weather. While their arrival to Ilimena, and while they lived there, the local inhabitants were glad to accept them. They trained themselves in catching birds, called Urillas, they used to eat their meat, and their skin they used for clothes for them and for Indians. His friend [Kiglay’s friend] Attash’sha Filip from Kaguiatsk, in one year after arrival to Ilimena, has died. In the autumn of 1818 near Ilimena island appeared 2 Spanish 3-masted [big] ships, stayed 3 days and on easy wind, were coming to the land on small boats, Indians were collecting herbs and berries with good taste for them, while ship was staying, when [other] ship were approaching, or people were coming, they were hiding themselves, helped by Indians. Later a 2-masted ship came, they [Spanish] let Kiglay know that he could join them on the ship, but none of them could speak Russian or Kadiak, so he refused.
While interrogating Kadiak Dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Misakovskii, Ivan Samoilov, by his will his son put his hand.[vi]
While interrogating Kadiak dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Chiniatsk, Jacob Shelekhov, who signed by himself.
Fr. Bucko wishes to note that this is an initial translation only. Corrections or insights into this translation are gratefully accepted; please send them to: email@example.com. Once again, to download the original deposition document in Russian, click below:
[i] Ad Litteram, he calls that person a “spiritual person”. It is an old Russian. I don’t know how they were calling it in old Russian, but today they would call a priest differently. Also consider the fact that Kiglay testimony originally was translated form Kadiak language into Russian, and this is the second translation.
They refer to the spiritual clerks twice in the text, once as “Spiritual person” (which I translated as spiritual clerk), and second time as “spiritual Father”. For “Priest” it is usually used another word, and “Father” (spiritual or saint Father) is closer to a way how a priest is being called in Russia. A person is way too broad and general. I understood it as a reference to person who has something to do with a religion, and formally involved in it, by wearing some sort of clothes which make it distinct.
I would say that they were trying to show the appurtenance to some other religion of that person in charge of the execution, but it is not necessary to be a priest. And because Kiglay did not know details of other religions, he might have used a broader or a more general term, for people related to spirituality or church, but it might not be necessary a priest.
As we read before that, it is said that MISSIONERS and the leadership of the Mission asked them first to take the catholic religion. So it might be that by “spiritual person” he referred to a missioner, or something higher in rank than missioners (otherwise he could have repeated the word missioners). To keep it short - Spiritual person is related to the church or religion (I would say in a formal visible way, like wearing clothes or have the attitude of others). For “priest” it is used another word. “Spiritual person” can also refer to a priest, it is just a broader term. Also later referrals to this text which I have found online, translate this word as a “priest” to the modern language.
[ii] The word “betrayed” was written on above the line of the regular testimony. Also the word “betrayed” may be interpreted from Russian as “converted”
[iii] In the text I cannot see clearly that it was by order of the religious clerk. It is stated that it is by order, and in that sentence only clerk is mentioned above.
[iv] The word “for crimes” was written on above the line of the regular testimony
[v] The note in the book says that according to Tihmenev, part of Kadiaks managed to escape and after staying for 4 days without water and food in the water , they found themselves in Ross.
[vi] In the original text it is being put in square brackets to be deleted
Prior to Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny’s death in 1915, pretty much all the Syrian (Antiochian) Orthodox in America recognized his authority. This included St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was incorporated in 1910. The parish was under St. Raphael, and all seemed to be well. But in February 1915, St. Raphael died, and his flock split: some recognized the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch, and others the authority of the Russian Holy Synod and its North American Archbishop. This marks the beginning of the “Russy-Antacky” schism, which divided Antiochian Americans for many years.
This split not only divided St. Raphael’s diocese, but individual parishes as well. At St. George in Grand Rapids, the priest came back from St. Raphael’s funeral and told his congregation to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Russian archbishop. Not everyone complied, and pro-Antioch parishioners insisted that their priest commemorate the Patriarch of Antioch in the Divine Liturgy. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian group tried to amend the parish articles of association to place church property under the control of the Russian Holy Synod. The factions went to court, culminating in Hanna v. Malick, a 1923 Michigan Supreme Court case.
The key question in the case is which faction — Russy or Antacky — should have control of the church property. To figure this out, the court had to determine which hierarchy — Russian or Antiochian — was recognized by the parish when it formed in 1910. The Antacky members “claim that they organized under and are subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of Antioch, “whose representative in America was Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn.” The Russy members “claim that this local church was organized under and has always been subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of the Russian Church.
The original parish documents are somewhat ambiguous. Article 2 of the original articles of association describes the purpose of incorporation as follows: “To teach and promulgate the Christian religion in accordance with the tenets and doctrines and creed of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Syria, and the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, as expounded by the bishop thereof resident at Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.”
According to the trial court judge, the articles were prepared by a local Grand Rapids attorney “after he had asked these men under what jurisdiction this contemplated church was claimed by them to be.” Similar language appears in the parish bylaws:
All persons believing in the divinity of Christ, in God the Father and the Holy Ghost, the sacrament of baptism and marriage in accordance with the articles of faith established by the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria, shall be entitled to membership. Members are admitted by baptism and by confession of faith under the rules and tenets of the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria. They may be suspended or expelled for violation of the teaching and precept of the church as laid down and expounded by the bishop of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, resident at Brooklyn, New York.
Now, to a casual reader, these documents seem to recognize Antioch. There’s not a word to be found about the Russian Church. But there are references to the Bishop of Brooklyn, and the Russy party used this fact to argue for Russian jurisdiction. According to the Russy group, all the Orthodox in America were under the Russian hierarchy. In fact, they expounded what is, as best I can tell, the earliest coherent example of the “flag-planting theory” for Russian jurisdiction. Here’s how the trial court explained it: “By virtue of having established in the Western Hemisphere a Russian church, and the territory wherein the church was established having been purchased by the United States, the Russian Church now claims the right to rule over and assumes jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox churches within the United States, regardless of the nationality of the congregation or the membership of the local church.”
But the court wasn’t interested in the jurisdictional claims themselves. It’s not a dispute between Russia and Antioch, but between members of the local parish, for control over a piece of real estate. Because of this, the paramount question is the intention of the original incorporators. “If this were a lawsuit between the Patriarch of Antioch, on the one hand, and the Holy Russian Synod, on the other hand [...] it is possible that a different question might be raised.”
The case, then, boils down to St. Raphael himself. If he was under Antioch, as the Antacky claimed, then their side would win. If he was under Russia, the case for the Russy would be greatly strengthened. So the court looked at St. Raphael’s own writings: what did the man himself say about his jurisdictional position? The following quotations are from St. Raphael’s periodical Al Kalimat, and were translated for the court (brackets in original):
- “That he [Raphael] was consecrated bishop by the order and permission of Melatois, the Patriarch of Antioch.” (vol. 1, page 2)
- “Those who were consecrated bishops through his [Patriarch of Antioch] consent were his grace, Basileus Dibs, the Metropolite of Akkar, Syria, one of the Antiochian dioceses, and the owner of this magazine, the Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.” (vol. 2, page 95)
- “Patriarch Melatois counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” (vol. 3, pages 95-96)
- “And during his [Melatois'] administration [as patriarch] many unusual things many unusual things took place, such as the demise of several lamented archbishops. For this reason a conclave was had of archbishops, his beatitude presiding, during which conclave there were clected bishops for the seats vacated by such deaths. … Those who received the benediction of ordination into the high priesthood by the sanction of his beatitude are two, to wit, his eminence, Basileus Dibs, archbishop of Akkar, and the editor of this magazine (Bishop Raphael), Bishop of Brooklyn, North America.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “And the territorial jurisdiction of the See of Antioch became much more extensive during the time of his beatitude, for Syrians who emigrated to many other countries still retained their spiritual relations with and continued to acknowledge and yield allegiance to their mother church, the Holy Church of Antioch, and kept firm in the Orthodox faith. His beatitude manifested the most perfect evidence of his interest in and care for them to the best of his means and ability. In substantiation of this, when the Russian Holy Synod informed him that the lot of presiding in this diocese [the diocese of Brooklyn] had fallen upon our humble self [Raphael], his beatitude hastened to write to the Holy Synod, to His Eminence Tikon, then Archbishop, and to our humble self, sanctioning the choice and declaring that he [his beatitude] had instituted this new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “Whereas, we, the Syrian Orthodox residents of Greater New York and all other parts of North America constituting our new diocese (may God keep it) are considered a vigorous branch of our mother tree, the Church of Antioch; and whereas, this branch has flourished luxuriantly during the days of the administration of our father, may his name be ever blessed, the thrice illustrious Patriarch Melatios; and whereas, his beatitude was the first to sanction and bless the establishment of this new Syrian diocese in this new world.” (vol. 2, page 18)
The trial judge observed that “at first the writings of Bishop Raphael gave to the Patriarch of Antioch jurisdiction over the Syrian branch of the Orthodox Church in the United States, and later gave expression to language indicating that all the branches, including the Syrian branch, of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, were under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of Russia.” Without a clear-cut answer from St. Raphael’s own writings, the judge looked at two non-Orthodox sources: Funk & Wagnalls’ Religious Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. The former reported that “the Patriarch of Antioch elevated Raphael to the rank of bishop” (but that Raphael was consecrated by Russian hierarchs), while the latter noted that the Russian archbishop in America “is assisted by two bishops, one for Alaska [...] and one for Orthodox Syrians, residing in Brooklyn.” The secular sources don’t seem to settle things, either.
Texts being insufficient, the judge moved on to consider actions. He observed that “the record shows but one instance where he [Raphael] was directed by any church authority.” That instance was in August 1910, when St. Raphael announced in Al Kalimat an order he had received from the Patriarch of Antioch regarding marriages of Syrian Orthodox in America. In addition, in 1901, St. Raphael wrote that he had received a telegram from the Patriarch informing him of his election as Metropolitan of Salefkias. St. Raphael declined, but the judge saw this as evidence of a relationship between Raphael and Antioch. Furthermore, according to the judge, “It is not shown in this case that during the life of Raphael the authorities of the Russian Church in any manner gave any orders to the Syrian branch of the church, or attempted in any way to direct the actions or utterances of Raphael in his relations with the Syrian Church.”
There are some flaws in this reasoning. Yes, we can establish that there was a close relationship between Raphael and Antioch, but there was also a close relationship between Raphael and the Russian hierarchy in America. It was St. Raphael who, as an archimandrite, welcomed St. Tikhon to America in 1898, and Tikhon and his auxiliary Bishop Innocent were the ones who actually consecrated Raphael in 1904. It was St. Raphael who blessed the land on which St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Monastery was built, and there are countless examples of Raphael working with the Russian Archdiocese in America. The Russians themselves clearly understood Raphael to be one of theirs, and in his 1905 plan for Orthodoxy in America, St. Tikhon includes the Syrian bishop as a crucial part — while at the same time recognizing that Raphael was “almost independent in his own sphere.”
Both parties have a legitimate argument in this case, but as the judge consistently reiterated, this case is ultimately about the intent of the original incorporators of the Grand Rapids church — not about the relative claims of Russia and Antioch in America. Those claims are relevant only insofar as they help us better understand the incorporators’ intent.
In the end, the trial court sides ruled in favor of the Antacky group — that is, as best as the court could determine, the original parish incorporators intended to be under Antiochian jurisdiction. The court based its decision largely on the references to Antioch in the parish documents. Yes, those documents also refer to the bishop of Brooklyn, but the judge saw insufficient evidence to conclude that Raphael was under Russia rather than Antioch. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld the judgment (and, indeed, hardly added a word, mostly quoting directly from the district judge). The Michigan Supreme Court did note that, in light of the chaos that followed the Russian Revolution, “the precautions taken in organizing this Syrian church seem to have justified themselves.”
This is a terribly fascinating case from a historical perspective, and tells us a lot about how the early Antiochians in America thought about themselves. But what are the legal lessons we can learn? The district court judge — affirmed by the state supreme court — could not have employed “deference to higher church authorities” if he had wanted to, since the entire dispute was over which was the correct higher church authority. The judge was forced to employ something along the lines of a neutral principles analysis. Did he get the right answer? Well, it depends on the question. The judge was trying to figure out the intent of the original incorporators, and based on the language of the official documents, it does seem like they intended to be under Antioch. Were they really, in fact, under Antioch? What would the outcome be if the claim was between Antioch and Russia themselves, and actual jurisdiction had to be determined? That is a much, much more complicated question, to which there isn’t a single, clear-cut answer.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: The late Dr. Richard A. Pierce was among the foremost historians on Russian Alaska, and his many books remain standards in the field. In 1990, he published Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary (Kingston, Ont., Canada: Limestone Press). Among the many entries in the book is one on St. Peter the Aleut (pages 397-398). I’ve reprinted that excerpt below. While Pierce himself regards St. Peter’s martyrdom as “probably a fabrication,” he points to some very intriguing sources and other incidents that warrant further study.
Petr the Aleut, Saint. (d. 1815?), in June1815 the RAC [Russian-American Company] brig Il’mena took on supplies at San Francisco and then sailed south to poach sea otters along the California coast. In August, 8 baidarkas under the Russian fur hunter Boris Tarasov came ashore at San Pedro, but the Spanish authorities ordered them off. On 17 September, Tarasov landed again, and he and 24 Aleuts were seized. In 1817, Governor Sola delivered 15 prisoners to the Russians, and promised to get others who were being held at the southern missions. Those who had married California women and accepted Catholicism would be allowed to stay.
In March 1819, the Il’mena, under Benzeman, visited “Il’mena Island” (evidently one of the Santa Barbara Channel islands, probably named by the Russians after the vessel), and rescued a Kad’iak Island Aleut, Ivan Keglii (or Kykhliaia or Kychlai) and took him to Fort Ross, where the commandant, I.A. Kuskov, interrogated him. Said to be “not a type who could think up things,” Keglii said that he was among those captured by the Spanish in 1815. The Spanish priests, he claimed, had tried to persuade him and one of his comrades, named Petr (or Chungangnaq), to become converts to Catholicism. Keglii and his friend refused, so the priest returned the following morning accompanied by Indians, had the pair brought out and “then he commanded that Chungangnaq’s fingers should be cut off at the joints, and then his arms at both joints. Finally, not satisfied by this act of tyranny, he commanded that his intestines be opened up. At this last torture, Chungangnaq, thus a martyr, expired.” The same fate awaited Keglii, but was deferred and Keglii, who had watched his friend’s torture and death, later escaped with another Kad’iak man to “Il’mena Island” (perhaps Santa Cruz Island, the closest to Santa Barbara). His companion died, but Keglii lived with the Indians on the island until rescued in 1819.
On hearing of the “barbarous deed,” the Emperor Alexander I at once asked that his charge d’affaires in Madrid be instructed to make inquiries, which was done (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, 29 August 1821:4254, Nesselrode to Pozzo di Borgo). Nesselrode, I.A. Kuskov, Chief Manager S.N. Ianovskii, the venerable Father German [St. Herman], Father Ioann Veniaminov [St. Innocent], and the company historian P.A. Tikhmenev all believed Keglii’s gruesome tale, and the martyred Chungangnaq became revered as St. Petr the Aleut. However since Keglii’s story is unconfirmed by other sources, features a degree of compulsion uncharacteristic of the mission fathers, and resembles no other case reported among Aleut hunters captured by the Spanish and later delivered to the Russians, it was probably a fabrication. The priests at Santa Barbara and most of the other California missions were Dominicans, but in later versions of the story the culprits are said to have been Jesuits. Since the extermination of Indians on “Il’mena Island” by Aleut hunters led by the Russian Iakov Babin, there with the RAC brig Il’mena, occurred at about the same time as the alleged martyrdom of Petr the Aleut, discovery of additional facts on the one may help explain the other.
Here are a few thoughts on the discussion about the historicity of the martyrdom account of St. Peter the Aleut kicked off by Fr. Oliver Herbel and continued by Matthew Namee on the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas’s OrthodoxHistory.org blog. These thoughts are borrowed (adapted and expanded) from comments to “Rebooted: Why I Currently Do Not Accept the Martyrdom Account for Peter the Aleut” on Fr. Oliver’s Frontier Orthodoxy blog.
We should understand more about how the cult of St. Peter the Aleut developed in the 1970s, i.e., in the lead up to his 1980 canonization by both ROCOR and the OCA’s Alaskan Diocese. It hasn’t been discussed, but there seem to be questions regarding the motives behind the canonizations. There have been whispers for years that “St. Peter the Aleut didn’t really exist” and about why he was canonized since “he didn’t exist” and ROCOR and the OCA were at each other’s throats in 1980. The process leading up to his local canonizations should be explored.
Specifically, was there perhaps a highly localized cult of St. Peter already that most are unaware of, e.g., in San Francisco, in Alaska, on Kodiak Island? Did The Orthodox Word [possibly Vol. III, No. 3 or Issue #14, June-July] or another publication simply stumble upon primary or secondary documents and unquestioningly publish them as true? Or, was an already established local tradition concerning St. Peter made public along with these supporting documents? If there was a local veneration of St. Peter why was it so unknown prior to the 1970s (and today)? Fr. Oliver says he knows “someone who went up [to Alaska] to document [the oral history surrounding St. Peter] and found none at all and was shocked.” Was the inclusion of Peter’s name in the service for St. Herman of Alaska (canonized in 1970) the primary introduction most Orthodox had to the story of Peter’s martyrdom? What sources were used to write this service? Were all of the primary sources assessed for reliability prior to his canonization (and the inclusion of Peter’s martyrdom story in St. Herman’s service) or were they taken simply, at face value? Was only the most ‘hagiographical’ account given credence to support an a priori decision to canonize? Did the RCC’s beatification of the “Mohawk Saint” Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980 play a part in St. Peter’s canonization on September 24, 1980? Were there political or ecumenical factors at play within the Alaskan Diocese, the OCA and/or ROCOR at the time that the canonization was meant to address? Were there cultural factors at play in Alaska between Natives and those from the lower 48? between Alaska and New York/Syosset?
I highly recommend looking at the various posts (and comments) on this topic available on Frontier Orthodoxy and at OrthodoxHistory.org:
- St. Peter the Aleut Did Not Exist
- Fr. Oliver Herbel on St. Peter the Aleut
- Monday Morning Priest: Continuing the Discussion Concerning the “Martyr-Peter”
- Fr. Oliver “reboots” the St. Peter discussion
- Rebooting the St. Peter the Aleut Discussion
- Rebooted: Why I Currently Do Not Accept the Martyrdom Account for Peter the Aleut
- Is the St. Peter the Aleut story true?
- Primary sources on St. Peter the Aleut
When thinking through these issues, I think it’s also worth noting a couple of things about historical inquiry and the canonization process in the Orthodox Church, in no particular order:
- The Orthodox Church should not canonize people she knows or legitimately suspects were either immoral or fictionalized.
- Prelest, ignorance and error must be guarded against through prayerful, sober, deliberative discernment and competent, reasonable due diligence
- Local veneration can be founded on error, the same is true of purported miracles, sweet scents, visions, etc. as many a story in the Paterika tell us.
- Conciliar discernment of sanctity by the Church is required, which includes the bishops in Synod, the clergy, monastics and people.
- ROCOR and the OCA were in canonically “irregular” positions in 1980 when St. Peter was canonized.
- As has been shown in the recent Act of Canonical Communion between the MP and the ROCOR, ROCOR was always only a part of the single local Church of Russia. ROCOR cannot and could not speak for the whole local Church of Russia, definitively. Similarly, it is only the OCA’s Diocese of Alaska that has canonized St. Peter the Aleut, and a single diocese alone cannot speak for the whole OCA, definitively.
- Questioning and assessing local veneration and canonization is part of the ‘reception’ process in Orthodox ecclesiology, cf. the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, ‘to the Easterns’.
- Questioning the wisdom of local canonizations is a very different thing than questioning the reality of a St. Christopher, for instance, as the Roman Catholics have done; questioning the canonization of St. Peter the Aleut is not like questioning the canonization of a modern, well-attested to saint such as St. Tikhon of Moscow or of an ancient, universally venerated saint such as St. George.
- A lack of historical documentation does not mean a person did not exist or that an event did not take place.
- It is possible that the Church knows, for a fact, that a person is a saint while not knowing anything for sure about his/her life.
- It is possible there are less than historically factual stories circulating about a saint. Whether the person is a saint or not is a different issue than whether stories about him are literally factual.
- Lack of documentary evidence from centuries ago, from illiterate peoples, from frontiers, from climates that poorly preserve documents, etc. are different than a lack of documentary evidence closer to our age, in places and times with a profusion of surviving documentation, from literate peoples, etc.
- While St. Peter’s world may have butted up against highly literate, documentary cultures (Russian, Spanish) in 19th century California, it can also be said that the Mission country of Alta California and its Channel Islands up through Russian Alaska should be treated more like a centuries-past, wild frontier when assessing available evidence.
- When assessing the canonization of a 19th-century, frontier saint such as St. Peter the Aleut, we should keep in mind the same criteria we use when assessing ancient hagiographical writings surrounding St. George and the dragon, St. Mary of Egypt, non-Biblical Marian Feasts, etc.
- Poetic license is a facet of Orthodox hymnography. For instance, there are innumerable hymns that tell us (“literally”) that Mary said X and the Gabriel said Y and then, etc. Literally speaking, these conversations did not happen; however, iconically and poetically, they tell us something important – especially from the perspective of the Eternal Now, “Today”. (See pp. vii, x-xii in The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos [Holy Apostles Convent, 2006].)
- We should not be too quick to dismiss such stories as untrue ‘legends’, ‘fables’ and ‘myths’. We must be careful not to assume that pre-modern ways of viewing the world, speaking of the world, etc. are inherently inferior and unreliable when compared to modern/post-modern, materialistic ways of thinking and speaking. There is a paucity of non-literal, non-scientific language in our day; this was not the case in centuries and millenia past in more aural and oral, less literate cultures.
- Hagiography is not simply myth and legend, neither is historical fact the most true portraiture of sanctity; similarly, icons show us not simply historical characters and events as they were on earth in the flesh, but as they are now, transformed by God’s glory – as they were then, too, spiritually. Spiritual time and space are in the eternal Present, the Now, the “Today” of iconography, hymnography, liturgy and prophecy; and this can truthfully elide historical events with events from intervening centuries (as well as ‘interpolated’ theology, e.g., Nicene, Chalcedonian or Palamite formulae), together with present and future events. We are told something more than bare , historical facts in hagiography, which is why less than literal historical events remain in Orthodox hagiography, hymnography, etc. unlike in the RCC post-Vatican II.
- All the historian can do in the case of a poorly attested to event or person is make a case for the likelihood (or not) of existence and veracity. That is, the historian assigns probability regarding the facts surrounding a person or event.
- Probability is not the proper, primary determiner in deciding whether to canonize or not.
- However, evidence and its lack must be given serious consideration prior to canonization due to the ever present danger in sinful humanity of prelest, ignorance, error and overreach.
- Matthew Namee identifies a number of different areas of research in the St. Peter story: the historical (what really happened?), the historiographical (how has he been viewed by people over time?) and the ecclesiastical (how do/should canonizations work?).
- I would underline the importance of the historical question (what really happened?) to the past-tense ecclesiastical question (how and why did this particular canonization take place when it did? in both OCA Alaska and ROCOR?)
What I appreciate about the historical investigation and assessment of both Archbishop Arseny (Chagovtsov) of Winnipeg and St. Peter the Aleut for universal veneration is the enunciation, enumeration and assessment of reasons we may want to consider not formally canonizing these candidates sainthood. We shouldn’t simply decide someone should be canonized and then develop a case for their canonization – especially if this includes ignoring evidence that contradicts their sanctity (or existence). While I think some have overstated the case to be made against St. Peter’s existence based on the evidence available, I expect historians to grant significant weight to the tools of their academic discipline. As stated above, probability is often the best historical inquiry can do, and academic probability alone must not be given precedent over established Tradition. Since Archbishop Arseny and St. Peter the Aleut have only been canonized or venerated locally, as stated above, it is the Church’s duty to conduct appropriate, competent and reasonable due diligence into whether two new saints should be put forward for universal veneration. The Church is in need of those who will play “devil’s advocate”; She is in need of those who will raise potential concerns that could come back to embarrass the Church. Concerns about St. Peter have been whispered for years, and a modest inquiry into Archbishop Arseny quickly raised questions that should have been addressed far earlier in the canonization process. The informal, almost ad hoc nature of the Orthodox canonization process with its lack of formal criteria and procedure is perhaps too easily prone to misuse and/or prelest – or the perception of such. If a friendly “devil’s advocate” doesn’t raise all of the questions that can be raised, I assure you other, less friendly critics will. “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither [any thing] hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” (Luke 8:17)
“Sober, deliberative discernment is required” – which includes historical investigation and assessment – so the Orthodox Church does “not canonize people she knows or legitimately suspects were either immoral or fictionalized.” Our saints are canonized because they were and are living canons – literally “rules” – for us to live by. The Church should do all it can to ensure Her “canonized” measures are true.
A DECREE OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF ROCOR to the diocesan bishops and pastors of churches directly subject to the President of the Synod of Bishops
0n 15/28 October, 1980, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR] heard the appeal of a number of the faithful for the canonization of the martyrs Peter the Aleut and Hieromonk Juvenalius.
Resolved: In as much as the martyrdom of Peter the Aleut and Hieromonk Juvenalius is not in doubt, and that in accordance with a resolution of the Higher Ecclesiastical Authority their names were listed in the service to St. Herman of Alaska as holy martyrs, a new decision on their canonization is not required. Their memory should be celebrated on the same day as that of the Venerable Herman of Alaska.
[Resolved also:] To send an encyclical ukase for information and guidance to all the diocesan bishops and to the pastors of churches subject directly to the President of the Synod of Bishops.†Metropolitan Philaret, President†Bishop Gregory, Secretary
31 0ct./13 Nov. 1980
(Source; emphasis mine)
This article was written by Christopher Orr.