Posts tagged Theophan Noli
March 25, 1886: The future Greek Archbishop and later Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras Spyrou was born. Athenagoras led the Greek Archdiocese from 1930 to 1948, when he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He served in that position for nearly a quarter-century, until his death in 1972.
March 25, 1891: St. Alexis Toth and his Greek Catholic parish in Minneapolis joined the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
March 22, 1892: The French Orthodox convert priest Fr. Vladimir Guettee died. Guettee had been a respected Roman Catholic historian and Jesuit priest, but through his study of history, he came to believe that the Orthodox Church alone had preserved the true faith. He joined the Russian Church, taking the name “Vladimir,” and published a widely read journal on Orthodoxy which reported on American Orthodox events. He also wrote a lengthy refutation of papal claims, which can be read here.
March 25, 1896: The future hieromartyr Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. Korchinsky’s travels make his fellow circuit-riding priests look wimpy by comparison — Alaska, Canada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Mexico, Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, and finally back in his native Odessa (modern Ukraine). At 80, he was executed by the Soviets, and he is now being considered for glorification as a saint. To read more about Korchinsky, check out this article I wrote in 2010.
March 24, 1907: Russian Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin concelebrated his last Divine Liturgy in America, with Bishops Raphael Hawaweeny and Innocent Pustynsky.
March 22, 1908: In Boston, Fr. Theophan Noli celebrated the first-ever liturgy in the Albanian language, anywhere in the world. The service took place in Boston, where Noli was a student at Harvard. To read about that first liturgy in 1908, check out my article from 2010.
March 24, 1918: Almost exactly a decade later, Fr. Theophan Noli was appointed as the administrator of the Albanian Mission under the Russian Archdiocese of North America. Not long afterward, he returned to Albania, became the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, and finally was elected Prime Minister of Albania. He held that post for five months before he was exiled to America, where he led an Albanian jurisdiction for decades.
March 22, 1925: The former Archimandrite Patrick Mythen died in New York. Two years ago, I wrote about Mythen’s life prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, and I never got around to telling the rest of the story. So here’s the rest of the story, very briefly: Mythen, an Episcopal priest and former Roman Catholic, converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. Within months, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite and put in charge of a brand-new project called the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. This was supposed to be an English-speaking parish for American converts. It didn’t last more than a handful of months, but it included several convert priests, most of whom appear to have been Mythen’s friends. When chaos broke out in the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky relied more and more heavily on Mythen. According to Mythen’s own claims — the accuracy of which is uncertain — he (Mythen) was given power of attorney for the whole Archdiocese. I’ve heard that he even signed clergy ordination certificates. Within a few years, though, Mythen re-converted to Roman Catholicism. He was found dead in 1925, at the age of just 42.
March 25, 1925: Three days later, a man who could not be more different than Mythen — St. Tikhon, by now the Patriarch of Moscow — died in Russia.
March 24, 1935: Bishop Polycarp Morusca was consecrated in Romania to lead the Romanian Diocese in America. He was enthroned in Detroit a few months later, and over the next several years, he did a lot to organize the Romanian Orthodox of America. In 1939, he returned to Romania to attend a session of the Holy Synod, but World War II broke out, and Bishop Polycarp wasn’t able to return to the United States. In 1947, he notified the American diocese that it had been eliminated from the church budget. He was forced to retire, and future heads of the diocese would have to be approved by Romania’s Communist government. In 1951, the American diocese elected the exiled Bishop Valerian Trifa to be the nominal auxiliary to Bishop Polycarp, but given that Bishop Polycarp hadn’t set foot in America in more than a decade, for all intents and purposes Bishop Valerian was the new head of the diocese. Bishop Polycarp died in Romania in 1958.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey of New York signed into law a bill incorporating the Federated Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions of America. The Federation was sort of a primitive version of SCOBA. It included most of the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America, but there were notable exceptions, including the Russian Metropolia, ROCOR, and the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo. In the Federation’s short life — only about a year or so — it achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. The Federation managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. It also led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. The Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by the legislation, from way back in the 1940s. As far as I know, the last meeting of the Federation took place in February 1944, but the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it going on paper for another 15 or so years, when the dream of the Federation was revived as SCOBA.
March 25, 1998: The renowned church historian Jaroslav Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy. Pelikan was an intellectual giant, a longtime professor at Yale and a prolific writer. He had been well acquainted with Orthodoxy for decades before his conversion, which Fr. John Erickson has described in this way: “In a conversation shortly after his entrance into the Orthodox Church, Jary likened his path to Orthodoxy to that of a pilot who kept circling the airport, looking for a way to land. Orthodox Christians can be thankful that he landed before running out of fuel.” In his later years, Pelikan served as a key member of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Board of Trustees. He died in 2006. For more on Pelikan, read this 2003 article by Fr. John Erickson. I particularly liked this quote from Pelikan, on being a historian: “Everybody else is an expert on the present. I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.”
March 20, 2003: The Orthodox Church of Poland formally glorified St. Vasily Martysz, who had once served in America. To read more about St. Vasily, click here.
March 22, 2009: Archbishop Dmitri Royster of Dallas retired as head of the OCA Diocese of the South.
February 6, 1993: Bishop Job Osacky was enthroned as the new OCA Bishop of Chicago, almost exactly ten years after his consecration to the episcopate. Bishop (and later Archbishop) Job went on to become a key advocate for transparency in the recent OCA crisis before his untimely death in 2009.
February 8, 1973: St. Vladimir’s Seminary professor Basil Bensin died in North Carolina. Bensin lived an eventful life. Born in Russia in 1881, he met St. Tikhon (then the Bishop of North America) in 1903, when Tikhon was on a visit to St. Petersburg. Tikhon recruited Bensin to come to America, taking a position as professor at the first Russian seminary in Minneapolis from 1905-1912. In 1912, he earned a degree in agricultural sciences from the University of Minnesota — a credential which would come in handy later. The seminary moved to Tenafly, NJ, and Bensin continued to teach until the turmoil following the Bolshevik Revolution made seminary life impossible. Bensin moved to Czechoslovakia for a decade before returning to America to work as an agricultural engineer in Alaska. When St. Vladimir’s Seminary was established in 1938, Bensin was one of the original professors, and he remained at SVS until his retirement in 1952. In retirement, Bensin continued his scholarly work, devoting a lot of time to researching the history of Orthodoxy in America. He produced only a few articles on the subject, but there must be valuable material in his notes (which are kept at SVS). (My sources for this information are Bensin’s obituary in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly and a short biography at the Hoover Institution website.)
February 9, 1908: Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny ordained Theophan Noli, an Albanian student at Harvard, to the priesthood, on behalf of Russian Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvensky. Two years ago, I wrote about Noli’s first Albanian liturgy, but I erroneously said that Archbishop Platon had performed Noli’s ordination. But apart from that mistake, that old article is still pretty decent, and if you want to know more about Noli, you might check it out.
February 11, 1962: In Damascus, Fr. Michael Shaheen was consecrated as the Antiochian Bishop of Toledo, Ohio. This is a complicated story, and I don’t have time to tell it all here, but the gist of it is this: Since the mid-1930s, the Antiochians in America had been divided into two overlapping jurisdictions — the Archdiocese of New York (led by Metropolitan Antony Bashir) and the Archdiocese of Toledo (led by Metropolitan Samuel David). Met Samuel had died in 1958, and after a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations, the Antiochian Holy Synod chose Archimandrite Michael Shaheen to replace him. But Shaheen was a priest of the New York — not Toledo — Archdiocese, and although he was consecrated with the title “Bishop of Toledo,” in reality he was to serve merely as an auxiliary to Met Antony. In this way, it was hoped, the two Antiochian jurisdictions would be united at last. But it didn’t work: the Toledo parishes refused to accept Bp Michael unless he denounced Met Antony. In response to the impasse, the Holy Synod changed course, recognizing Toledo as an independent diocese and raising Bp Michael to the rank of Metropolitan. In this way, the Antiochian schism persisted for another 13 years, until Metropolitan Michael accepted a demotion of sorts, recognizing the authority of Bashir’s successor Metropolitan Philip Saliba for the sake of unity.
February 12, 1907: Bishop Platon Rozhdestvensky was elected to the Second State Duma (equivalent to a parliament) in Russia. Within months, he would replace Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin as primate of the Russian Archdiocese in North America.
As far as Albanian Orthodox history in America goes, there’s no bigger figure than Metropolitan Theophan — or “Fan” — Noli. He’s best known for his three-plus decades as bishop of the Albanian jurisdiction which ultimately joined the Russian Metropolia (and which is now the Albanian Archdiocese of the OCA). Before that, he was the head of the Orthodox Church in Albania. And for five months in 1924, Metropolitan Theophan served as the Prime Minister of Albania. While he was the primate of an Orthodox Church. It was a crazy time.
Anyway, before all of that, Noli was in the United States. He arrived in 1906, when he was 24 years old. He made his way to Boston, where he enrolled at Harvard University. At the time, the Albanians in Boston attended the city’s Greek parish. According to the 1975 OCA book Orthodox America: 1794-1976, “After a series of problems with the local Greek priest, these Albanian immigrants wanted to have their own Albanian priest and for this task selected Fan Noli.”
In March of 1908, the Russian Archbishop Platon ordained Noli to the priesthood. Just days later, Noli used his own translation of the Divine Liturgy to serve the first-ever Orthodox Liturgy in the Albanian language. Not just the first in America — the first ever, period. In fact, it was Noli who later brought the Albanian-language Divine Liturgy to Albania itself; before that, all the services were in Greek. This landmark Liturgy took place on March 22, 1908 — so, 102 years ago today. Here is the report that appeared in the Boston Globe two days later:
Rev Fan S. Noli, pastor of the Albanian Orthodox diocese of the United States and Canada, conducted the first service ever held in the Albanian tongue in Boston at Knights of Honor hall, 730 Washington st, Sunday evening. More than 500 Albanians were present, and Rev Mr Noli delivered an interesting address in which he explained the aims and progress of the movement in this country.
Rev Mr Noli was born in Adrianople, Turkey, and educated in the Greek high school and the French college in that city. In the two years following his graduation, he was in business in Asia Minor, and this was followed by five years’ newspaper work in Greece and Egypt. He then put in two years as a professor of French and Greek in a school in Egypt. His school work palled on him and he determined to sail for this country.
Shortly after his arrival in Boston, which was his objective point, he became assistant editor of the Albanian weekly newspaper, the Kombi. He found time to study for the priesthood and was ordained March 8, in the Russian cathedral, East 97th st, New York. He is the master of a number of languages, among which are Greek, French, English, Italian, Arabic, Turkish and some German, in addition to his native speech.
Rev Mr Noli said that there are about 30,000 of his countrymen in the United States, and that most of them are communicants of the Greek Orthodox church. Speaking of Albania, a province in Macedonia, he said that its 3,000,000 inhabitants are divided among three religious faiths, Roman Catholicism, the Greek church and Mahometanism. The country has been under Turkish domination since the death of its last king, George Castriot, in 1463. There has never been any religious strife in Albania, but the Turkish government forbids the use of the Albanian language in the schools, and every book and pamphet [sic] written in that tongue is confiscated.
The Greek patriarch anathematized the Albanian translations of the Bible, which were purchased from the Bible society of London, and all these copies were confiscated. In the face of such difficulties it was impossible for national unity, as the leaders were persecuted and condemned to exile or death.
Fr Noli intends to establish churches wherever he finds his countrymen, in this country, Roumania, Russia and Egypt. He has translated the service book into his native tongue, and he intends to render other religious works into Albanian for his people.
I’m a tad skeptical of Noli’s claim that there were 30,000 Albanians in America in 1908. The 1916 Census of Religious Bodies reports 410 Albanian Orthodox in two churches. By 1926, there were 1,993 parishioners in nine parishes, and in 1936, those numbers had grown to 3,137 people in 13 congregations.
Noli traveled to Albania in 1913, where he served the first Albanian-language church service in Albania itself. With the onset of World War I, he returned to the US, eventually becoming the official administrator of the Albanian parishes under the Russian Archdiocese. When the war ended, Noli again went to Albania, where he became deeply involved in politics. In 1923, he was consecrated a bishop, the new head of the Albanian Orthodox Church. He became Prime Minister of Albania the next year, but was soon expelled from the country. In 1932, he returned to the US and headed the Albanian Archdiocese until his death on March 13, 1965.
One of my odd hobbies in historical research is wandering the strange hinterlands of episcopi vagantes on the Internet. I think I first became interested in the phenomenon as I studied Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh (as previously mentioned, the subject of my M.Div. thesis). When I first encountered Aftimios’s name, it was in some offhand remark about his being an episcopus vagans himself. I later discovered that not to be true, that he had effectively retired when he got married in 1933. But right near the end of his ministry, he consecrated one William Albert Nichols as Bp. Ignatius, who almost immediately went vagans and started consecrating people left and right. It is Ignatius who is the real culprit in the ever-stretching family tree of episcopi vagantes. He does, however, have the fascinating distinction of being the first convert consecrated an Orthodox bishop in America (though he left the Church soon after). (And he also started the group that in 1959 found its way into the Antiochian Archdiocese as the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.)
Aftimios also consecrated Sophronios Beshara (who, incidentally, is buried in the same grave as St. Raphael, though the stone gets his death year wrong—it’s actually 1934). Sophronius, it turns out, was one of the consecrators (along with Theophan Noli) of Christopher Contogeorge, who gave the Greek Archdiocese many headaches around the middle of the 20th century, and may have had some sort of status as an exarch for the Patriarchate of Alexandria. (That, my friends, is a story for another day.) Contogeorge went into communion with the Living Church for a bit (as had Ignatius some time before), consecrating Nicholas Kedrovsky (son of John Kedrovsky) to the episcopacy.
Kedrovsky eventually consecrated a man named Joachim Souris, who himself consecrated a Ukrainian immigrant named Walter Myron Propheta (regarding whom I have a number of notes-to-self to look into). Propheta was a powerhouse when it came to consecrations and is looked upon as something of a saint by many in the episcopi vagantes world. He eventually consecrated a gent named John Christian, who consecrated a fellow named Richard Morrill. (Don’t get too confused here—these sort of consecration lists account for nearly 90% of the information on the websites of episcopi vagantes.)
Now, all of this would probably be of little real interest to serious Orthodox Christians interested in historical research, except perhaps (as it is for me) as a hobby. But perhaps there is some whimsical weirdness deep within you which might find it fascinating that Morrill (who was rather flamboyant in his consecrating habits and went by “Patriarch Mar Apriam I”) in 1977 married a couple named Mike and Carolyn. In 1982, he consecrated Mike to the episcopacy. Mike’s last name? Warnke. In 1982, Warnke founded a religious body known as the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Kentucky, Inc.
Former Evangelicals like me probably instantly recognize the name Mike Warnke, renowned 1980s Evangelical comedian who claimed to have been a Satanist high priest and made a lot of money making that claim. His celebrity empire came crashing down around his ears after a major exposé was published on him by Cornerstone magazine in 1992. Before that happened, he had quite a lucrative career doing comedy tours, books (including his most famous, The Satan Seller), and tape recordings of his comedy. My family traveled a lot when I was a kid (my parents are missionaries), and we would listen to his tapes in the car. He’s still going strong, it seems, though with a drastically diminished audience and a festive new title (“Bishop Abbot”) and snazzy outfit.
And that’s how the tape deck from my ’80s childhood roadtrips linked up with my Orthodox M.Div. thesis.