Posts tagged St Vladimir's Seminary
In my post last month, I had mentioned that I’d discuss evangelism in this month’s post. What I would like to do is share with everyone an article that is, admittedly, now a month beyond its “anniversary” month, but a helpful reminder nonetheless–a snapshot to when SVS was granted new facilities.
Next month, I’ll continue with this educational theme. One of the reasons I am doing this is because of a book that will be published eventually through Holy Cross, edited by Dr. Bezzerides and Shevzov. It consists of chapters concerning Orthodoxy and the academy (university/collegiate education) in America. Some contributors discuss specific projects and others some pre-American background. I am also contributing.
Orthodox engagement with the university system here in North America is a lively topic in some Orthodox circles these days and there is now St. Katherine’s college in San Diego. Our history is not one of establishing and maintaining colleges, however. Frankly, we don’t know how that will go for us Orthodox (and a look across to other groups doing it might look a little foreboding at times). What we can do is become familiar with the history of Orthodox education in America that we do have.
So, this post is but one brief reminder. Next month, I’ll mention one or two others, which might not be nearly as familiar to us.
This article was written by Fr. Oliver Herbel.
Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS), has interviewed Romanian doctoral candidate Fr. Ilie Toader, pursuing his doctorate through the Bucharest Faculty of Theology. This is definitely something to be noted and anticipated. I have not seen the Bucharest institution, though I did briefly visit the seminary in Cluj back in 2000. Please note Fr. Ilie’s comments concerning frequent participation in the Eucharist, the connection between history and doctrine, and the unitive function of chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Of interest are the names mentioned by him: Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Meyendorff, and Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Florovsky served as dean from 1949-1955. Schmemann was dean from 1962 until his death in 1983. Meyendorff served as dean from 1984 until he retired in 1992. All three men also taught at SVS and their writings remain influential to this day.
The interview may be found here:
By way of disclosure, perhaps I should add that as a student I took courses from Dr. Bouteneff and he will be speaking at our second annual St. Nicholas Retreat (held the first Saturday of each December).
[This article was written by Fr. Oliver Herbel.]
One year ago, I delivered a paper at St. Vladimir’s Seminary entitled, “The Myth of Unity and the Origins of Jurisdictional Pluralism in American Orthodoxy.” (Click here for the audio.) My thesis was that, contrary to a widely-held belief, American Orthodoxy was not administratively united prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Rather, from a very early stage, Orthodox parishes in the United States answered to multiple ecclesiastical authorities. The events of 1917 exacerbated the problem, and served as a breaking point in cases where cracks already existed (e.g. with the Serbs and Antiochians), but our jurisdictional multiplicity did not originate in 1917 or some date thereafter.
At the time that I gave my talk last June, many people still believed the “myth of unity” — the idea that all Orthodox parishes and people in America recognized Russian authority until 1917. In the year that has followed, the rigid old myth has faded considerably. I’m not trying to boast, or take full credit, or anything like that. I’m just one of many people who has challenged the old myth. The important point is that the old story is just no longer tenable.
Quite understandably, some people were disappointed to have their perception of the past challenged. In some quarters, a modified form of the myth has emerged, and with it, a subtle but very substantial shift in emphasis. Whereas my paper was focused on how things were, some have begun to emphasize how they think things should have been. Whereas I examined questions relating to unity, some are now focusing on questions of legitimacy.
I must admit, while I am quite confident about my conclusions regarding the reality of the past, I am much less confident when talking about how things should have happened. Should the early Greek parishes have joined the Russian Mission and submitted to the Russian bishop? To be completely honest, I think the answer is yes. Ideally, the Greek (and Romanian and Bulgarian) parishes being founded at the turn of the last century would have looked to the local Russian hierarch as their natural leader.
This didn’t happen, of course. Political commentators tend to immediately jump from “it didn’t happen” to “it should have happened” and then straight to “the Greeks were illegitimate.” I don’t follow that line of thinking. I’m an historian, so I am naturally inclined to ask, “Why didn’t it happen?” Why did the Greeks, with few exceptions, reject Russian authority? Why did the Serbs seem to chafe under that authority, and why did St. Raphael send conflicting messages to his Syrian flock (telling them both that they were under the Russian Church and were simultaneously a diocese of Antioch)? To me, these are much more interesting questions.
But then, I suppose I’ve wandered back into the area of “what happened,” and not “what should have happened.” So, to satisfy some of my critics — yes, in a perfect world, everyone would have been united under the Russian Archbishop. Of course, it would have helped a lot if the Russians had followed St. Innocent’s advice and initiated a continent-wide missionary program after the sale of Alaska in 1867. It would have also helped if the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska had changed its name to include “North America” prior to 1900, by which point Greek parishes were already proliferating. It would have helped if the brilliant St. Tikhon was the rule, rather than the exception, for Russian bishops in America. Consider the roster of Russian bishops in America around the turn of the century:
- Bishop Nestor (1879-1882) committed suicide during a fit of neuralgia.
- From 1882-1888, the episcopal see was vacant.
- Bishop Vladimir (1888-1891) was constantly embroiled in scandals and may have been a pedophile.
- Bishop Nicholas (1891-1898) was a good man, but was also a Russian nationalist whose primary focus was (quite understandably) on the conversion of Uniates to Orthodoxy and their subsequent Russification.
- St. Tikhon (1898-1907) was an outstanding bishop.
- Archbishop Platon (1907-1914) was heavy-handed, temperamental, and extremely nationalistic.
- Archbishop Evdokim (1915-1917) was rather flaky and eventually joined the Soviet Living Church.
- Archbishop Alexander (1919-1922) was utterly incompetent and possibly corrupt.
Had someone the caliber of St. Tikhon been in charge beginning in the 1880s, it is entirely possible that the jurisdictional chaos could have been avoided. Then again, it’s likely that that chaos was inevitable. The Greeks had a perfectly understandable fear of Russian hegemony. (Maybe you don’t agree with their fear, but it was understandable.) The Russian Empire had tried for centuries to capture the city of Constantinople. The Russian Church was buying up church properties on Mount Athos and in the Holy Land, and exerting its influence in other autocephalous Churches, such as the Patriarchate of Antioch. I’m not saying this influence was negative, but Greek fears of a Russian takeover of global Orthodoxy were, at least, reasonable. The Russian Church was rich and powerful, backed by one of the great empires of the world, and had already suppressed the independence of at least one autocephalous church (Georgia in 1811). Russian ecclesiastical imperialism was a very real concern for Greeks a century ago.
And it wasn’t just the Greeks. The Romanians and Bulgarians tended to reject Russian authority as well. Some Serbs accepted it, but a lot of them did not, and were reluctant (and nominal) members of the Russian Mission. The Syrians did have a close relationship with the Russian hierarchy, but even that relationship was ambiguous enough to confuse the laity. It is one thing to affirm the vision of the Russian Mission (or, rather, the vision of St. Tikhon), but the reality of the Mission was different. Apart from the great Tikhon (and, to a lesser extent, the capable Bishop Nicholas), the Russian bishops were rather disappointing. And even St. Tikhon was only one man, with a continent-sized diocese and one of the most diverse flocks in Church history.
Anyway, I’m not trying to justify anything; I’m trying to understand it. Again, I have crept over from “what should have been” to “why it was.” That’s what history is — literally, inquiry. All we can do is acknowledge our own ignorance, ask questions, find the best answers we can, and then ask more questions. Truly, the more you know about American Orthodox history, the more you realize that you don’t really know much at all.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
It’s the end of another year, and I thought I’d do what so many others are doing, and take a look back at the year that has passed. But I won’t be revisiting all the significant events that took place in 2009; rather, I want to consider the progress of American Orthodox historical studies in the past year.
Early this year, the “myth of unity” was still widely believed. It was pretty common to hear church leaders make the claim that all Orthodox Christians in America were united under the Russian Archdiocese until 1917 or 1921. Now, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone saying that. Most everyone seems to generally acknowledge the reality that the Russian Archdiocese did not, in fact, include every American Orthodox Christian. That claim has been replaced by another: that everyone should have been in the Russian Archdiocese — that the Russian Archdiocese was the rightful, canonical authority in America, regardless of whether everyone recognized it at the time.
This shift, from “what was” to “what should have been,” has accompanied a greater reliance on evidence. There seems to have been a general realization that we can no longer simply make bald statements, not based on facts. People still make claims for their favorite jurisdictions, but those claims seem to be more grounded in evidence than they were a year ago. The more we can get away from cherry-picking our facts, or ignoring evidence altogether, the better off we’ll be.
It has been a year of transition in other respects, as well. This year witnessed the retirement of Fr. John Erickson, the longtime church history professor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and arguably the leading authority on American Orthodox history. (Although Fr. John has by no means disappeared, and we hope to see even more of his work now that he is no longer in the classroom.) Also in 2009, our own executive director, Fr. Oliver Herbel, was awarded a PhD in Historical Theology from Saint Louis University. I point this out not only because of Fr. Oliver’s position with SOCHA, but also because he is one of only a handful of academics with an expertise in American Orthodox history.
This year, of course, saw the arrival of SOCHA, our website, and my own podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. The summer’s conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary paid considerable attention to the question of our history in America. The pan-Orthodox mandate of regional Episcopal Assemblies has also led to a heightened interest in our history — it seems that forward-thinking developments often inspire a reevaluation of the past. That reevaluation is made all the more exciting by new discoveries, such as story of Orthodoxy in colonial Virginia.
In many respects, 2009 has been a year of great tumult and change in American Orthodoxy in general. In terms of our historical thinking, I daresay there has never been a year quite like 2009. I cannot possibly convey my amazement at the sheer numbers of people who want to learn about American Orthodox history. When we started this website, we expected a few dozen, or perhaps a hundred people to follow our work. Instead, it has been thousands.
On behalf of everyone here at SOCHA, I’d like to thank all of you for reading and listening and commenting. We’ve got some big plans for 2010, so stay tuned.
A few days ago, there was a conference called, “In the Footsteps of Tikhon and Grafton,” held at Nashotah House, the famous Episcopalian seminary in Wisconsin. The conference included a number of well-known Orthodox figures, among them the OCA’s Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Melchizedek, and St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Fr. Chad Hatfield and Mrs. Anne Glynn-Mackoul. Recordings of the whole conference are available at Ancient Faith Radio.
I point this out mainly because of the first recording on the list — “The History of Anglican/Orthodox Relations,” which is actually a pair of talks given, respectively, by Fr. Chad Hatfield and the Episcopal priest Arnold Klukas. Fr. Chad’s talk focuses primarily on the relationship between St. Tikhon and Bishop Grafton at the turn of the last century. Klukas speaks about the broader history of Anglican-Orthodox relations.
Given the relevance of this subject to American Orthodox history, I thought I would mention it here. Of course, we’ve published a good deal of relevant material here at OrthodoxHistory.org, which you can read by clicking here. For a lot of good primary sources, check out this page on the AnglicanHistory.org website.