Posts tagged Sebastian Dabovich
It’s been a while since we talked about Robert Josias Morgan, the black Episcopal deacon who became an Orthodox priest in 1907, taking the name “Fr. Raphael.” In the past, I’ve mentioned that, prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, Morgan visited Russia in 1904. Upon his departure, he wrote a letter, which was reprinted in the October/November 1904 English supplement to the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger), the official publication of the Russian Archdiocese in America. Here is the text of that letter:
I, Robert Josias Morgan, a legally consecrated cleric of the American Episcopal Church, find it necessary to make it publicly known, that I am not a Bishop, as it was announced in some magazines and daily papers…
… I am not a Bishop, but a legally consecrated deacon. I came to Russia in no way to represent anything, and I was not sent by anybody. I came as a simple tourist, chiefly with the object to see the churches and the monasteries of this country, to enjoy the ritual and the service of the holy Orthodox Church, about which I heard so much abroad. And I am perfectly satisfied with everything I saw and witnessed.
The piety and the fear of God amongst the Russian clergy, both superior and lower, and of the lay people in general are too great to be spoken of. I like Russia, and as to the people I have simply grown to love them for their gentleness, their politeness, their amiability and kindness. It would seem as if the Christian religion penetrated the whole life of the people. This can be observed both in the private home life and the social life. You have but to go to Church in this country, and you immediately see, that there is nothing too valuable for the people to be offered to God. Note how they pray, how patiently they stand through the long Church services…
Now, having spent here about a month, I leave your country with a feeling of profound gratitude and take back to North America all the good impressions I received here. And when there I shall speak boldly and loudly about the brotherly feelings entertained here in the bosom of the holy Orthodox Church towards its Anglican sister of North America, and about the prayers which are offered here daily for the union of all the Catholic Christendom.
My constant humble prayer is for the union of all Churches, and especially the union of the Anglican faith with the Orthodox Church of Russia. I solicited the Metropolitans and the Bishops to grant me their blessing in regard to this prayer and obtained it. Now I pray daily and eagerly for a better mutual understanding between the character and their union. God grant a blessing to this cause and a hearing to our prayers and supplications. Let us solicit the prayers of the Saints. Let us seek the intercession of the holy Mother of God. Virgin Mary, pray for us!
In conclusion I must say, that my stay in Russia did me personally much good: I feel now firmer and stronger spiritually than I did before I came.
God bless the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of this country! God bless the Emperor and all the reigning family! God grant them a long life, peace and prosperity!
I am sincerely yours in God and in the name of Mary,
Robert Josias Morgan.
Years later, he told the Kingston Gleaner (7/22/1913) that he had visited Russia on two occasions, and both times was “received and entertained at the Great Monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church in Odessa, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kieff. He was also present at the anniversary service of the Coronation of the present Czar [Nicholas II] and at the Requiem High Mass said for the repose of the soul of the late Emperor [Alexander III], at which time, as special guest at the Kremlin Palace, his photographs appeared in the leading journals and magazines of Russia, Europe and other countries.”
As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s odd that Morgan didn’t join the Russian Church in America, but instead traveled all the way to Constantinople for ordination, and affiliated himself with the Greek churches. In Morgan’s day, the Greeks had no resident bishop in America, whereas the Russians had three. The Russians had a multiethnic diocese with seminary and a monastery, and very close relations with the Episcopalians. They also had just received Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, who began promoting the use of English in church services. The Greeks, meanwhile, were much less organized, had no national structure or institutions, and were almost exclusively focused on Greek immigrants. In Philadelphia, where Morgan was based, the Russians had a parish, and one of the priests there was Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, an American-born Serb who spoke perfect English and was friends with Fr. Irvine. And yet, Morgan went with the Greeks and not the Russians.
Originally, I had thought that perhaps Morgan had developed a good relationship with the Greek priest in Philadelphia, Fr. Demetrios Petrides, who wrote a letter of recommendation to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Morgan’s behalf in 1907. Petrides was an outstanding priest and was very involved in dialogue with the Episcopalians, which might have drawn Morgan to him. But Morgan started attending the Philadelphia Greek church before Petrides even came to America, so that can’t have been the reason.
There must have been some reason why Morgan joined the Greeks and not the Russians, but I can’t come up with it. It’s one of the many mysteries of Morgan’s life.
In 1899, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich published a book of homilies, called Preaching in the Russian Church. One of those sermons, “On the Condition of Society,” is especially interesting, because it gives us Dabovich’s perspective on life at the turn of the last century. As you can see, despite all that has changed in the past 110 years, much has remained the same.
How long will it thus go on! When will the baptized become active Christians, so that the pastors may give their attention to the conversion of the heathen? What a terrible battle we must fight. Already the fire of hell is in the world. Great cities are multiplying throughout the land. The farmer, as the word is defined in our dictionaries, is a thing of the past. It is now the land-owner with a mansion in the city, a yacht on the sea, and with a private train across the continent. There are comparatively but a few laborers in the fields – too poor to support families. The quiet country homes are becoming few, shall I say precious? I fear not so, because people are fast losing their ability to rightly estimate the value of things. Most of the cities in all the world are overcrowded. The female portion of the population is most conspicuous. A stupid craze after unwholesome fashions is the one all-absorbing passion of the majority of women. There is no room for gardens and yards; most of the children in San Francisco are actually brought up in the streets. Oh, how few of them feel the blessed influence of a Christian home! Young men and young women are continually “on the go,” as they say. And this “go” is a nervous, unsteady rush to “keep up with the times.” And after all their hurry nothing is left but steam and vapor, for they are empty, as empty as the changing and vanishing world can be. Yet they fret and inquire: “Where shall we go to and what shall we see? What shall we do? Oh! what can we do?” If you promenade along the broad avenue or pass through the narrow lane, if you visit the meeting halls in the city or look into the factories, everywhere you see that same all-devouring gaze of the bold young woman, who stares with a kind of artificial movement of the eyes. And sometimes you hear even so-called Christians say that it is a weakness of character in one who has the downcast eyes of modesty, the blush of innocence. Such people do not know the live sense and fine impulse of a pure conscience. When a young man puffs tobacco smoke or shows his teeth with a disapproving smile in the presence of and at the conversation of older people, then society is wrong; something is the matter with his family.
In view of all this, beloved, the preacher of the Word of God is obliged by a terrible oath he has given before he received the gift in Apostolic succession at his ordination, to present to you the whole of the Truth, not a part of it.
The number of unmarried people is increasing. And there are some married people who say: “We do not want children, because we want to have as much pleasure as possible.” This is a false position, for in a Christian marriage one kind of pleasure is not allowed continually. Christians marry for the sake of God and His law as much as they do for themselves. But Christians who remain single renounce marriage and live holy for the sake of God and Him alone. Thus we find that the family tie is abused, as well as the single state. Courtship of young people just out of school is not to be advised, because it often leads to debauchery. A courtship running through long years also gives occasion to sin and a species of wrongdoing to God, for the heart and its love are stolen from God and thrown away on a man.
Throughout all the long centuries of Christianity there have been in the Church heroic members, young people of both sexes, who by the grace of God have kept their souls pure and intact, and have dedicated to the honor of God the noblest attribute of their human life, namely, an untarnished purity of soul and body. Such persons have had the courage and such unbounded confidence in God’s assistance that, although living in the world and its dangers, though threatened by the cravings of their own individual passions and by the temptations of the devil, yet they have succeeded bravely in preserving this treasure even in a frail earthen vessel, have carried it uninjured through life’s long journey here below, and have finally presented it to their Lord.
Christian heroes and heroines, you who have imitated or who still do imitate the sublime example of the Most Blessed Virgin, the Church admires your spirit of sacrifice as she does that of the holy martyrs, who in a few hours finished their contest and proved their fidelity to God and their faith; because you have to combat, to suffer, and to sacrifice your whole life through. With joy and veneration do the angels look down upon you, for you resemble themselves. With motherly affection and with mighty power does the Holy Virgin Mary when you earnestly pray throw her sheltering omophorion around you, for you are her pupils and imitators. With the sweetness of divine love the heavenly Bridegroom will fill your heart and more than compensate you for the fleeting, transient, worldly love that you have laid down at His feet. The eternal Judge will find you waiting like the wise and prudent virgins who all through life carry in their hands the pure oblation of love and the burning light of good example. Therefore, faithful to the end, He will invite you to the eternal wedding feast in heaven. Amen.