Posts tagged Vladimir Sokolovsky
In the comments section of an old article I wrote on the first Orthodox parishes in each US state, Isa Almisry and I have recently had an interesting exchange about an Old Catholic parish in Wisconsin which discussed joining (and possibly did briefly join) the Russian Orthodox Church in 1891-92. This story involves Joseph Rene Vilatte, a former Roman Catholic priest who went on to become a prolific vagante bishop and who would reappear in American Orthodox history over the coming decades.
I don’t really have the expertise to outline the history of the Old Catholic movement, but suffice it to say that, in the latter half of the 19th century (and especially after the first Vatican Council in 1870, which promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility), a number of Roman Catholics broke away from their church.
Joseph Rene Vilatte was born in Paris in 1854. Originally, he was a Roman Catholic, but he became the quintessential religious chameleon as an adult. In the 1880s he came to the United States, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary in a Belgian Old Catholic community in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While there, he made contact with local Episcopal Bishop John Brown of Fond du Lac, who in turn recommended to the Old Catholic Bishop Edward Herzog of Bern, Switzerland that Vilatte be ordained a priest. This took place in 1886.
Soon, Bishop Brown died, and the new Episcopal bishop of Fond du Lac, Charles Grafton (the future friend of St. Tikhon), did not see eye to eye with Vilatte. Forced to make a choice between Episcopalianism and Old Catholicism, Vilatte chose the latter, and he tried to have himself consecrated a bishop in the Old Catholic Church. The church authorities in Europe declined. This is where our story begins. [Incidentally, this preliminary information on Vilatte comes from Theodore Natsoulas, "Patriarch McGuire and the Spread of the African Orthodox Church to Africa, Journal of Religion in Africa 12:2 (1981), 81-104. This is one of the only scholarly sources which discusses Vilatte at any length.]
Vilatte wanted to be consecrated a bishop, and he wanted as much autonomy as possible. That is the first thing to understand. In the paper cited above, Theodore Natsoulas says that the Old Catholics turned down Vilatte because he was “unpredictable,” and they did not want him to be their sole representative in America. Here is how Natsoulas describes what happened next:
[Vilatte's] attempts to be raised to the episcopate included approaches to the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Green Bay. Both turned him down, although Vladimir, the Russian Bishop, in order to incorporate the Old Catholics within his fold, did extend some form of recognition and protection to Vilatte and the Old Catholic Church. Vladimir and Vilatte, however, could not arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.
It all began when Vilatte traveled to San Francisco to meet with Bishop Vladimir, sometime in 1890 or early 1891. Interestingly, this coincided almost precisely with the visit of a delegation of Uniates from St. Alexis Toth’s parish in Minneapolis. It must have been amazing for Bishop Vladimir, sitting there in San Francisco, to receive near-simultaneous unsolicited visits from two Upper Midwest groups connected to Roman Catholicism and seeking reception into the Orthodox Church.
Bishop Vladimir traveled to Minneapolis in March of 1891 and formally received the Minneapolis parish into Orthodoxy. After that historic visit, Vladimir passed through Chicago, which had a sizeable Orthodox community which was determined to remain independent of the controversial Bishop Vladimir. He left Chicago on April 10, and by April 11 he was in Green Bay. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the next day that Vladimir came for the purpose of visiting Vilatte and his Old Catholic parish in nearby Dyckesville. The Russian bishop “expressed great sympathy with [Vilatte's] work, and it is stated that he was agreeably surprised to find that the doctrinal basis of the Old Catholics at this place, and that of his own large church of 100,000,000 souls were precisely identical.”
But what, exactly, was the relationship between the Russian Diocese and the Old Catholics in Wisconsin? According to a web-published biography of Vilatte by Bertil Persson (the reliability of which is unclear), Vilatte had originally visited Bishop Vladimir in San Francisco in January 1891, at which time Vladimir “approached The Holy Synod of The Russian Orthodox Church suggesting that Vilatte should be consecrated.” I don’t doubt that Bishop Vladimir notified the Holy Synod of Vilatte’s visit, but I cannot believe that he actually suggested that the Russian Church consecrate the man.
Also according to the Persson biography, after visiting Vilatte’s parish in April, Bishop Vladimir issued the following certificate:
CERTIFICATE. The Russian Ecclesiastical Consistory of Alaska, San Francisco, Cal: May 9, 1891. By the Grace of God and the Authority bestowed on me by the Apostolic Succession, I, VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church, announce to all clergymen of the different Christian denominations and to all Old Catholics that The Reverend Joseph René Vilatte, Superior of the Old Catholic Parish in Dyckesville, Wisc:, is now a true Old Catholic Orthodox Christian, under the patronage of our Church, and no Bishop or Priest of any denomination has the right to interdict him or to suspend his religious duties, except the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, and myself. Any action contrary to this declaration, is null and void on the basis of liberty of conscience and the law of this country. ‡VLADIMIR, Bishop of the Greco-Russian Orthodox Ch.
I have no idea whether this document is authentic or not, and unfortunately, Persson only reprinted the text, so we can’t examine the letterhead or Bishop Vladimir’s signature.
Anyway, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia soon after all this, in the wake of a series of scandals in his San Francisco cathedral. His replacement, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, visited the Wisconsin Old Catholics in May 1892. According to Dom Augustine de Angelis in the Fond Du Lac Reporter (quoted in the Milwaukee Sentinel, 5/16/1892), “Bishop Nicholas, head of the Greek church in America, visited the Old Catholic mission at Dyckesville, last Monday. He has been in America only a month and a half, but has already made his episcopal visitation of the Orthodox and Old Catholic churches, preparatory to his annual visitation of the vast region of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. [...] His first impressions of America and Americans are very favorable, and he sympathizes with us in our hopes of seeing an Orthodox American church, in which mass shall be said in English, French, German, etc., until all have become so American that English shall be the common tongue of all…”
But the parish priest, Vilatte, wasn’t there. He was in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), awaiting his long-sought consecration to the episcopate. He had found a taker in the ancient Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the non-Chalcedonian church in India. Vilatte never seems to have considered himself to be a Malankara Syrian Orthodox; he was interested in their apostolic succession, not their actual Church. (As Theodore Natsoulas puts it, “Vilatte’s commitment to the [Malankara] Church of Antioch, or, in fact, to any other religious organization, never was very deep.”) He returned to Dyckesville in August, and on September 11, the New York Times reported that Vilatte had created the American Catholic Church. Needless to say, any connection he might have had with the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands was dead by this point.
Vilatte went on to an exceedingly colorful career as a vagante bishop, and many little Old Catholic and pseudo-Orthodox groups have websites claiming “apostolic succession” through him. More importantly for our purposes, Vilatte remained in occasional contact with Orthodoxy. Robert Josias Morgan — soon to become Fr. Raphael, the first black Orthodox priest in America — was briefly a deacon in Vilatte’s church in the early 1900s. And many years later, in 1921, Vilatte consecrated George Alexander McGuire, who immediately formed the “African Orthodox Church.”
Was Vilatte’s Old Catholic parish once a part of the Russian Orthodox Church? Even if we assume that the purported certificate from Bishop Vladimir is authentic, I’m really not sure. Bishop Vladimir may have viewed St. Alexis Toth and Joseph Rene Vilatte as parallel church leaders, and he may have imagined that, just as Toth began a flood of Uniate conversions to Orthodoxy, so too Vilatte would be the first of thousands of Old Catholics to join the Russian Mission. But from Vilatte’s perspective, this whole idea would have been laughable. He was, it seems, utterly committed to becoming a vagante bishop. He wanted a mechanical, legalistic “apostolic succession,” and then he wanted to be left to his own devices. There is simply no way that he, or his Wisconsin parish, could have been effectively incorporated into the Russian Mission.
Much of this story remains a mystery, but at this juncture, I am most struck by the contrast between Toth and Vilatte, both of whom, in their own very different ways, made substantial impacts on the religious life of the United States in the decades that followed.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Editor’s note: For quite a while now, I have been corresponding with Ales Simakou of Gomel, Belarus. Ales describes himself as “a researcher of Belarusian-American (especially Indian) contacts,” and he has been researching the life of Fr. Nikolai Grinkevich, a Belarusian priest who was ordained in San Francisco and served in America in the 1890s. What follows is a translation of an article on Grinkevich, written by Ales. It was originally titled “From Repki to the Distant World” and was published in Golas Radzimy (Minsk) on February 4, 2010, No 4 (3172). Ales himself has translated the article into English, and we are very pleased to present it here.
Working out the theme “Belarus and the Indians”, we Belarusian Indianists, accidentally have come upon the trace of our compatriot, Nikolai Grinkevich, the son of Stepan Fedorovich Grinkevich, an Orthodox priest from the Rogachev uezd of the Mogilev province, a possible relative of the mother of the well-known writer Uladzimir Karatkevich. By the way, the bulletin Vesnik BIT that reflects the life of the Belarusian-Indian Society is published in Gomel.
Recently, the list of Belarusians connected with the history of Alaska was updated essentially due to the reference book Who’s Who in the History of Russian America by Andrei Grinev that was issued last year. Definitions from this biographic dictionary impress: “a native of the Vitebsk province”, “a Polotsk petty bourgeous”, “a Mogilev petty bourgeois”, “an appanage peasant of the Vitebsk province”, “was baptized in Polotsk” and so on. And do the surnames Bobrovskii, Bobchenko, Dudarev, Ivanov, Kovanskii, Kumachev, Pogurskii, Pushkarevich, Torkulov, Timofeev, Shapiro, Evstifeev tell you of anything?.. I suppose it will be interesting for present-day creators of genealogical trees in Belarus to search for their own ancestors among them. But the list of “Belarusian Alaskans” continues to be updated.
In North America of those times there were a lot of working people, hunters, sailors, merchants in stores… Among them was the priest Nikolai Grinkevich, a teacher of a spiritual school, where Indian children were also taught. By the level of education and the real scale of personality, N. Grinkevich is perhaps second among the Belarusians of America “in the diocese” after the famous doctor Russel (Nikolai Sudzilovskii) [...*]. From the accumulated material emerges an interesting figure of the “eternal traveller”, whose first significant trip was, probably, the arrival at the Gomel Theological School for training. The Grinkevich brothers, Dmitrii and Nikolai, were born at the village of Repki in 1862 and 1864, respectively, and were taught together at the Mogilev Theological Seminary and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. When Nikolai was in his fourth year, Vladimir, the new Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, was recruiting students at the Academy to participate in his mission. The Academy’s governing body satisfied the desire of the “true student” Grinkevich “to devote himself to serving the Orthodox church in the remote Diocese of the Aleutians”, having released from the final oral exam and having postponed the awarding of a scholarly degree of candidate of theology until Grinkevich could complete his dissertation.
In the spring of 1888, the group headed by Bishop Vladimir sailed to New York. From there it reached San Francisco, the diocesan center, by train. And here Alaska has drawn nearer to priest Nikolai in the form of Native boys, other Alaskans. Our compatriot was a clerk, treasurer of the Ecclesiastical Consistory, and church rector. A photograph from the M. Vinokouroff Collection in the Alaska State Library shows the milieu in which Belarusian N. Grinkevich in 1888-92 was known also as a teacher of the “theological school”. In the photo, we see pupils with sextons, priests and other persons, who took care of them, all surrounding the bishop. The school was experimental. Both Russians, Ukrainians, Anglo-Saxons, Jews and other “whites” and the indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere – Indians (Athapaskans and Tlingits), Eskimos, Aleuts, as well as mixed-bloods – met in it as pupils and teachers. The parish also included those coming from Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece; Macedonians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Orthodox Arabs also appeared in the enormous territory of the diocese.
Grinkevich has made the acquaintance with many notable people representing these ethnic groups. He ”often called on” the revolutionary Doctor Russel. While not so obviously and sensationally as his countryman and namesake, Grinkevich has left his name in “social history”, concerning both public charitable activities and ones of a clerk-organizer close to archival science. In 1893, he was sent for three months to Chicago to the World Exhibition on the occasion of 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, where he collected donations and served, as one of the first priests, in a local church. And before that he actively participated in relief to the victims of the bad harvest of 1891-1892 in Russia.
In 1896, Nikolai Grinkevich, already in the rank of archpriest, returned to Russia. At the same time he was approved in the degree of candidate of theology for the work “The Laws of the North American United States on the conclusion and termination of marriage in comparison with Russian church-civil legislation on marriage and divorce”, which received a positive review at the Academy. At the turn of the century he supervised the Orenburg Theological School, and afterwards he served in the Tula province.
The last known position of Father Nikolai is a religious teacher of the Tashkent Cadet School. What happened to him, his wife (the daughter of an Alaskan missionary), and children after the revolution, remains a mystery. After the events of October 1917, the School had to be evacuated to Irkutsk. Did the “Repki wanderer” try to reach his brother, who worked as a teacher of arithmetic and geography at the Blagoveschensk Spiritual School on the Amur?
I think if Uladzimir Karatkevich knew of the life path of his more then possible, but “forgotten” relative, it is possible that he would have written a story about him.
Ales Simakou, Gomel
The Golas Radzimy editorial staff’s caption for the photo:
Perhaps, one of the priests in the photo is our compatriot Nikolai Grinkevich.
The Belarusian original was published in the weekly Golas Radzimy (Minsk) on February 4, 2010, No 4 (3172). Click here to view the original.
*THE AUTHOR’S NOTE *[who was the first president of the Republic of Hawaii in 1893-1902"] This phrase that blatantly misinterprets the role of Nicholas Russel in the political history of Hawaii is an “insertion” of someone from the newspaper’s staff. The Republic of Hawaii’s period was from 1894 to 1898. This widely-spread mistake can be found even in some Belarusian encyclopedias, including the national universal Belaruskaia entsyklapedyia in 18 vols.
Link for the photo (Michael Z. Vinokouroff Photograph Collection,
Alaska State Library – Historical Collections, P.O. Box 110571, Juneau, Alaska).
Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Greek Archdiocese Clergy-Laity Congress in Atlanta. I gave the same talk on two days, July 5 and 6. Below, we’ve published the text of my lecture. A couple of things, up front: first, I didn’t include footnotes, because this was just the text I personally used in delivering the talk. And second, I make several references to Atlanta and Georgia, because that’s where I was speaking. Also, please forgive any typos or other errors; I know that there are a few, and I haven’t fixed all of them.
I’ve been asked to speak about Orthodoxy in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of course, this was the Ellis Island era, the time when hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It’s when many of your ancestors came here; it’s also when my own ancestors came here, from what was then the Ottoman Empire and what is today Lebanon. Of course, besides the Greeks and the Syrians and Lebanese, there were also lots of Serbs, Romanians, Carpatho-Rusyns, and Bulgarians. These were largely Orthodox people, coming to the United States from all over the Orthodox world, and bringing with them their ancestral faith. And while these people spoke different languages and had different local traditions, they all shared that Orthodox faith. Because they came here and preserved their faith – because of that, we have Orthodoxy in America today. My goal here today is to give you a sense of what it was like back then – what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in late 19th/early 20th century America.
In 1890, only two Orthodox parishes existed in the entire United States of America: a Russian cathedral in San Francisco and a semi-independent Greek church in New Orleans. Of course, there was a significant Russian Orthodox presence in Alaska, but at that time Alaska was just a territory, not a state, and it was both geographically and culturally disconnected from the US mainland.
The church in New Orleans was founded in 1865 by a group of Orthodox people led by a Greek cotton merchant named Nicolas Benachi. This was a multi-ethnic parish, and besides Greeks, it included Antiochians and Slavs among its members. The U.S. Census of 1890 describes it as a part of the Church of Greece, “in connection with the consulate of Greece in New Orleans.” The first priest to visit New Orleans – he wasn’t the parish priest, but he visited and served the first liturgy there – he was a strange character named Fr. Agapius Honcharenko. This man was an itinerant Ukrainian of questionable credentials who was visiting New York in 1865 when he was contacted by the New Orleans parish. He certainly was not connected to the Russian Church; he actually claimed that the Tsarist government had put a price on his head for his involvement in revolutionary activities. Honcharenko had some sort of connection with the Church of Greece, but not long after his visit to New Orleans, he left Orthodoxy altogether and tried to start his own Protestant sect in California.
The New Orleans parish itself was a really interesting community. Before they had actually organized themselves as a parish, they raised their own Orthodox militia regiment to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Later on, from 1881 to 1901, the community had a priest from Bulgaria. Until 1906, most of the church records were kept in English. It was only later that Greek became the dominant language.
After I finished preparing this talk, I learned of some very exciting developments happening with the New Orleans parish. After Hurricane Katrina, the parishioners were cleaning out the church, and someone stumbled onto bunch of old documents, tucked away in some long-forgotten cupboard or closet. As it turns out, these were the sacramental records kept by the parish priests in New Orleans, dating back to the earliest years of the parish. The papers were soaking wet, and right now, the parish is having them restored. They show that the parish had members of all different ethnic groups, and in particular, a lot of Antiochians. And these people weren’t just concentrated in the city of New Orleans – they were in small towns all over Louisiana, and probably beyond. We’re just now beginning to get a glimpse of what life was like in the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. There are plans to digitize the documents, and there’s even talk of building an Orthodox museum in New Orleans, to house the hundreds of documents and artifacts the community has accumulated over the past century and a half. Anyone interested in Orthodox history or Greek history will want to keep an eye on what’s going on in New Orleans.
The other really old parish, the San Francisco cathedral, was founded in 1868 under Russian authority. Just like New Orleans, San Francisco had a multi-ethnic Orthodox community. That community largely consisted of Greeks and Serbs, and in 1867, they formally requested that the Russian bishop in Alaska send them a priest. Soon after this, the Russian bishop moved his own residence down to San Francisco.
The San Francisco parish seemed almost cursed with turmoil. In 1879, the dean of the cathedral was apparently murdered, and one of the prime suspects was his assistant priest. A few years later, the Russian bishop drowned at sea; this appears to have been a suicide brought on by a physical ailment. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the cathedral community was rocked by scandal. The new bishop, Vladimir, was accused of all kinds of horrific crimes. The cathedral itself burned to the ground, and many people suspected arson. Eventually, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia, and by the end of the decade – by the end of the 1890s – the bishop in San Francisco was an outstanding man, Tikhon Bellavin, who was respected by all the different ethnic groups in the community. Bishop Tikhon went on to become Patriarch of Moscow. He suffered under the Communists, and in 1988, he was canonized a saint.
Now, as I mentioned, the New Orleans and San Francisco parishes were the only churches in the United States in 1890. They were outposts, really; there wasn’t much in the way of established Orthodoxy in America, outside of the Russians and Orthodox natives in Alaska. But after 1890, things began to change really rapidly. On the one hand, as I said before, thousands of Orthodox immigrants were arriving in the United States. And at the same time, entire parishes of Eastern Rite Catholics were converting, en masse, to Orthodoxy.
These Eastern Catholics were from the Austro-Hungarian Empires, and their ancestors had been Orthodox, but in the preceding centuries, they had left the Orthodox Church and joined the Roman Catholics. When they came to the United States, they were not very well-received by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America. The big moment came in 1889. An Eastern Catholic priest named Alexis Toth had just arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take over pastoral care of the Eastern Catholics in the area. And as was the standard procedure, when he got to Minneapolis, he presented himself to the local Roman Catholic archbishop, a man named John Ireland.
Archbishop Ireland was absolutely livid that Toth had come to Minneapolis. Ireland shouted at Toth, “I have already written to Rome protesting against this kind of priest being sent to me.” Toth said, “What kind of priest do you mean?” And Ireland said, “Your kind.” And then he continued, “I do not consider either you or this bishop of yours Catholic. […] I shall grant you no permission to work there.” Later on, Toth said, “The Archbishop lost his temper, I lost mine just as much.”
Unwelcomed by the Roman Catholics, Toth began to look into other options. At this point – and here, we’re talking right around 1890 – there wasn’t much in the way of Orthodoxy in America, as we’ve seen. Toth eventually contacted the Russian bishop in San Francisco, and his entire Eastern Catholic parish in Minneapolis converted to Orthodoxy. Toth himself became a leading proponent of Eastern Catholic conversions to Orthodoxy. Tens of thousands of Eastern Catholics joined the Russian Orthodox Church in America over the next several decades. The core of the growing Russian Archdiocese – and the core of what we know today as the OCA – consisted of these former Eastern Catholic parishes. The significance of the Eastern Catholic conversions cannot be overstated – this was a major, major development.
Of course, at the same time that this was happening – literally, at exactly the same time – thousands of people who were already Orthodox were coming to the United States from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. And these people were also starting their own Orthodox churches.
One of the most interesting of these early communities was in Chicago. In the 1880s – so, even before the big immigration started – Chicago had a growing Orthodox population. By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in the city. Most of them were Greeks and Serbs, and despite the fact that they weren’t Russian, they petitioned the nearest bishop – who was Russian – to send them a priest. In 1888, the Russian bishop responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to figure out if there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. The Greek man was George Brown, who had come to America as a young man, and had fought in the American Civil War. George Brown gave a short speech, and it’s short enough that I’ll read most of it to you now, exactly as the Chicago Tribune reported it the next day:
“Gentlemans,” he said, “Union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. I have no jealousy. I am married to a Catholic woman but I hold my own. Let us stick like brothers. If our language is two, our religion is one. The priest he make the performance in both language. We have our flags built. It is the first Greek flags raised in Chicago. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.”
The meeting ended with everybody wanting to start an Orthodox church, and they agreed that the services could be done in both Greek and Slavonic. The Russian Bishop Vladimir traveled east from San Francisco for a visit later that year, but unfortunately, this was the same Bishop Vladimir who became embroiled in a series of horrible scandals. One of Vladimir’s strongest opponents in San Francisco was a Montenegrin who happened to be the brother of one of the leaders of the Chicago community. So the Chicago Orthodox were hearing all these horrible things about Bishop Vladimir, and they decided they wanted nothing more to do with the man. They put out feelers to numerous other Orthodox churches – the Serbian Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Church of Greece.
Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest named Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, and in 1892 Phiambolis established the first Orthodox parish of any kind in Chicago. But this was not a multi-ethnic parish, like San Francisco and New Orleans. This parish was specifically for Greek people. The Chicago Tribune reported that the new Greek church “wants no one but those of Hellenic blood among its members” Almost exactly one month after the Greek church began in Chicago, the Russians established their own church. By now, I should note, Bishop Vladimir had been recalled to Russia, and was replaced by Bishop Nicholas.
So now in 1892, there were two Orthodox parishes in the city of Chicago – one Greek, one Russian. This was the first time in our history that two Orthodox churches, answering to different ecclesiastical authorities, coexisted in the same US city. But there’s a flip side to all of this. Despite the fact that they had separated based on language and ethnicity, they still got along with each other. In 1894, the Chicago Greek and Russian priests concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar Alexander III died the following month, a memorial was served by both the Greek and Russian priests at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas, visited Chicago in later that year, the local Greek priest, Phiambolis, participated in the hierarchical Liturgy at the Russian church. Later on, in 1902, the church bell was stolen from the Russian parish, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the Greek parishioners for help. The two churches, Greek and Russian, then held a joint meeting of both parishes, to organize an effort to find the bell.
On the Pacific Coast, Orthodox communities began to organize themselves in places like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. In both Portland and Seattle, there was a lot of diversity among the Orthodox, with Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, and Russians all in the same community. And in both Portland and Seattle, these diverse Orthodox populations affiliated themselves with the Russian Church. Seattle is a really interesting story, because, while it was under the Russian Church, the parish itself was named after St. Spyridon, who of course is a Greek saint. How did that happen? Well, the land for the church was donated by a Greek family, and because of that, they got to choose the name. Church services were in Greek, Slavonic, and English, and one of the prerequisites for being the pastor in Seattle was an ability to work in multiple languages.
Seattle’s multi-ethnic community didn’t last forever. By 1917, there were over two thousand Greeks in Seattle, and they decided they needed their own Greek church. But there weren’t any hard feelings. People said that they were just happy that there were enough Orthodox in Seattle for two churches.
Fr. Michael Andreades was of the early priests of that original multi-ethnic Seattle parish. Andreades was Greek, but he had been educated in Russia, and he was under the Russian bishop in San Francisco. He was one of several ethnic Greek priests who served under the Russian diocese. This was certainly not the norm for Greek clergy in America, but it definitely was not unheard of.
Another of these Greek priests was Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides. His father was an Athenian who fought in the Greek War for Independence, and then afterwards moved to the Peloponnese. That’s where Triantafilides himself was born. As a young man, Triantafilides went to Mount Athos and was tonsured a monk. He became affiliated with the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon, on Mount Athos, and from there, he went to Russia itself, where he studied at the Moscow Theological Academy. This is where things get really interesting. Triantafilides was asked by King George I of Greece to come to Greece and tutor the king’s young son, Prince George. Then the Russian Tsar, Alexander III, asked Triantafilides to return to Russia and tutor his children, including the future Tsar Nicholas II. Triantafilides was actually one of the priests who served at the wedding of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra.
So how did Triantafilides go from the royal courts of Greece and Russia to the United States? Well, in Galveston, Texas – which was a major seaport in the 19th century – there was another one of those multi-ethnic Orthodox communities. The Greeks and Serbs of Galveston got together and petitioned the Russian Church to send them a priest. Tsar Nicholas II himself answered their petition by sending them his old tutor, Triantafilides, who by this time was in his early sixties.
Triantafilides was the priest in Galveston for over 20 years, until his death in 1916. But he didn’t just take care of the Galveston parish. He took responsibility for the Orthodox people living throughout the Gulf Coast, traveling thousands of miles by horse and by train. His parish, which was named Ss. Constantine and Helen, eventually came to be predominantly Serbian, and many years after his death, the church switched from the Russian to the Serbian jurisdiction. But to this day, they continue to venerate their original Greek priest, sent by the Russian Tsar.
But Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides was not the first prominent Greek priest in America. That title belongs to Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas, who arrived in San Francisco in the early 1890s. Kanellas came to the US from India, where he had been the priest of the Greek Orthodox church in Calcutta. He initially came to America just for a visit, but he was a sickly man, and he became ill, which forced him to stay for awhile. He became affiliated with the multiethnic Russian cathedral in San Francisco. Of course, with so many Greeks there, having a Greek priest would have been particularly helpful. Like so many of his fellow priests, Kanellas traveled all over the country. He actually seems to have been the first Orthodox priest to visit this state – Georgia – when he baptized a Greek child in Savannah in 1891.
In 1892, a new Russian bishop took over in San Francisco, and he released Kanellas, who then traveled to the eastern part of the United States. Around 1902 or 1903, Kanellas was asked to become the priest of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was under the Church of Greece. He spent the next eight years there. The Greek-American Guide described him as “a very sympathetic and reverend old man.” He was one of the only Orthodox priests in the entire American South, so like Triantafilides, he traveled quite a bit. One of the places he visited was Atlanta. Kanellas eventually became the first priest of the Greek church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he remained there until his death in 1921.
Priests like Andreades, Triantafilides, and Kanellas were not Russian, but they all spent time serving in the Russian diocese. The reverse didn’t happen – Russian priests didn’t serve under the Church of Greece. But there is a fascinating story that I must tell you – because not all of the Greek priests were, in fact, Greek.
Just after the turn of the twentieth century, a man named Robert Morgan began to attend the Greek church in Philadelphia. The curious thing about Robert Morgan is that he was a black Episcopalian deacon from Jamaica. In 1907, he traveled to Constantinople, and was ordained an Orthodox priest. He was sent back to Philadelphia, and I’ll quote directly here, “to carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.” Morgan took the name “Fr. Raphael,” but unfortunately, he wasn’t very successful in his missionary work. Aside from his own family, there’s no clear evidence that he converted anyone else to Orthodoxy. But the startling fact remains that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate initiated a mission to convert black Americans to Orthodoxy.
Now, as I said, Fr. Raphael Morgan was attached to the Greek church in Philadelphia. When he went to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be ordained, he had two letters in his possession. One was from the Greek community of Philadelphia, which supported Morgan’s ordination, and said that if he failed to establish a black Orthodox church, he was welcome to be the assistant priest at their parish. The other letter was from the parish priest in Philadelphia, a remarkable man named Fr. Demetrios Petrides.
Petrides was born on Samos in the mid-1860s. He was a married priest, with children, but his wife died before he came to America. Back in Greece, Petrides’ daughter fell in love with a young man, John Janoulis, and they wanted to get married. Petrides approved, but the Janoulis’ father wanted his son to get an education, rather than get married. So Janoulis was disowned by his father, and Petrides took the couple under his wing. The young Janoulis left for America to earn money, which of course was common practice at the time, and then Fr. Demetrios was asked by the Church of Greece to become the new priest in Philadelphia. He arrived in 1907, and brought along his daughter, reuniting her with her husband. Just a couple of months after he arrived in America, Petrides wrote his letter, recommending that Robert Morgan be ordained a priest. For a while, Morgan actually lived in the Petrides family home.
Like so many of his fellow priests, Petrides traveled throughout his region of the country, ministering to the Orthodox people he found who didn’t have a priest. One time, he went to Ithaca, New York, to do a baptism. After the service, unbeknownst to Petrides, a 16-year-old Greek girl had advertised that she would go into a “spirit trance.” Greeks had traveled from all over to witness the spectacle. Petrides caught wind of what was going on, and he burst into the room, stopped the girl’s trance, and told the people that spiritualism is against the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This was the sort of man he was – completely unafraid to stand up for what was right, no matter what.
It was this gumption that got Petrides run out of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia church was dominated by a rich layman, Constantine Stephano, who was a millionaire cigarette manufacturer. Stephano and Petrides did not get along. Things came to a head in 1912, when Stephano sent the following message to Petrides – this is almost unbelievable. It said,
“Constantine Stephano commands you to appear at his office every evening at sunset and salaam low upon entering his presence. Then you are to stand erect, with folded arms, with your eyes cast downward, awaiting a word from Stephano before sitting down or otherwise changing your position. If you are not asked to be seated you are to remain in this position until Stephano leaves his office, and when he passes through the door you are to salaam low again and depart with bowed head.”
Stephano was obviously trying to humiliate Petrides, and Petrides would have none of it. He responded, “I will not thus humiliate myself before this maker of cigarettes.” Now, in the early twentieth century, Greek parishes in America had only a loose connection to the church authorities in Athens or Constantinople. As a practical matter, the parishes were run by lay boards of trustees, which would hire and fire priests at will. Constantine Stephano arranged for Petrides to be ousted from the Philadelphia church, by the slim margin of seven votes.
But, characteristically, Petrides left with his head held high. In September of 1912, newspapers in Georgia began reporting that a daring Greek priest was coming to Atlanta. One newspaper called Petrides “the stormy petrel of the cloth.” Another paper said that he was famous for his “lambasting of the rich Greeks who loved money for the sake of power.” He was warmly welcomed by the Greeks in Atlanta, who seemed to have a good idea of the sort of priest they were getting.
But Petrides was not simply focused on his fellow Greeks. At the turn of the twentieth century, there was a very active dialogue taking place between the Orthodox and the Episcopalians. This led to the creation of a group called the “Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union.” The Orthodox members of the group included clergy from various ethnic backgrounds, including Antiochians, Russians, and Greeks. For several years in the teens, Fr. Demetrios Petrides was the organization’s Greek representative. He thus was engaged in this national inter-Christian dialogue, and he was also cooperating with his fellow Orthodox of different ethnicities.
As the teens wore on, Petrides developed diabetes, and in the days before insulin, that was a death sentence. He died in September of 1917. Annunciation Cathedral here in Atlanta should be very proud to claim Fr. Demetrios Petrides as one of its first priests. He was a significant historical figure, and an outstanding pastor.
We’re nearly at the end of this talk, and I’ve basically just told you a series of stories. So what’s the point – are there any common threads, or lessons to be learned, from this admittedly limited look at early Greek Orthodox history in America? I think there are, and I’ll just touch on them very briefly here at the end.
First and foremost, it should be clear that Greek Orthodoxy in America did not develop in a vacuum, somehow separated from the rest of Orthodoxy in America. Most of the earliest communities of Orthodox Christians here were multi-ethnic. This was largely a matter of practicality: there simply weren’t enough people in each individual group to start forming separate ethnic parishes. In many places – San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, Galveston – there was a clear sense that, for Orthodox Christians to survive in America, they needed each other. They needed – we still need – to work together to build up Orthodoxy in our local communities. No matter what we’d like to think, we’re simply too small, too weak, to thrive on our own, without each other. And just as in those early parishes, cooperation and a unified effort does not imply the abolishment of our individual identities. I will always be Lebanese, just as so many of you will always be Greek. Working together, on a practical level, does not have to mean a compromise of our heritage. It didn’t a hundred years ago, and it does not now.
I’d like to close with the words of that Greek veteran of the Civil War, George Brown, the early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community: “Union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. Our religion is one. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.” Thank you.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
In its early years, the Russian cathedral in San Francisco had a number of homes, including:
- 3241 Mission St. (the home of a parishioner named Mr. Seculovich)
- 509 Greenwich St.
- 911 Jackson St.
- 1108 Pierce St.
- 829 Greenwich St. (owned by a German Lutheran church)
- 1713 Powell St.
Most of those buildings were occupied for only a few years each, but in the Powell St. location, the cathedral found a long-term home. They took up residence there in 1881, and remained at that address until the 1906 earthquake. The present cathedral was built on Green St., in 1909.
In 1889, the Powell St. cathedral was seriously damaged in a fire, and had to be completely renovated. There were all kinds of conspiracy theories about the cause of the blaze, and many parishioners suspected arson. This took place in the middle of the Bishop Vladimir scandals. I’ll talk about those scandals, and the fire itself, another time. Today, I want to present a rather exciting new discovery — photos of the Powell St. cathedral both before the fire, and after the 1889 renovation.
Here is the “before” shot, taken sometime in the 1880s:
And here is a photo of the cathedral after the renovation. This latter image is from sometime in the 1890s:
The latter photo appears in the 1975 OCA book Orthodox America: 1794-1976, but I don’t know if any Orthodox are aware of the existence of the earlier image. Taken together, these two photos clearly show how dramatic the 1889 renovation was.
UPDATE: I had erroneously said that the Powell Street cathedral was occupied until 1909. In fact, it was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I’ve corrected the above text to indicate this.
In the comments, Fr. Andrew Damick posted a link to another photo of the post-1889 Powell St. cathedral. It appears to be from the back of the church, and it’s such a great shot that I have to post it here:
On today’s episode of my American Orthodox History podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I tell the story of Fr. Paul Kedrolivansky’s suspicious death. For the whole story, you’ll want to listen to the podcast. There are quite a few characters involved, and I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief introduction to each of them here:
Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky: Dean of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in San Francisco from 1870 to 1878. There was no Russian bishop in America from 1877 to 1879, so at the time of his death, Kedrolivansky was the highest-ranking Orthodox clergyman in the Alaskan Diocese.
Priest Nicholas Kovrigin: Assistant priest of the Cathedral. Kovrigin was actually the founding pastor of the church, back in 1868, but Kedrolivansky was soon assigned to be dean. In what must have been an awkward arrangement, Kovrigin was made his assistant. Kovrigin was repeatedly accused of being a corrupt philanderer, and in 1879, Bishop Nestor basically kicked him out of the Alaskan Diocese.
Mindeleff: Kedrolivansky’s roommate, with whom he went drinking on the night of his fatal injury.
Mr. Rosenthal: Owner of a tobacco shop, one of the places Kedrolivansky visited on his last night. Rosenthal said that Kedrolivansky had exhibited an official-looking document, and claimed that Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin “would give $10,000 to have it from him.”
Dr. Stivers: The police surgeon. He tried to save Kedrolivansky’s life, but it was too late. He also said that Kedrolivansky was almost certainly the victim of murder, and not an accident. On the basis of Dr. Stivers’ testimony, the coroner’s jury declared the death to be murder by person or persons unknown.
Vladimir Welitsky: The Russian consul in San Francisco. From the very beginning, Welitsky insisted that Kedrolivansky’s death was just an accident, not murder. He also downplayed the importance of the “$10,000 document,” which he claimed to have translated.
Gustave Niebaum: Head of the Alaska Commercial Company. Niebaum’s company had previously accused Kedrolivansky of transporting contraband. After Welitsky returned to Russia, Niebaum became the acting Russian consul. He accused Kedrolivansky’s widow of having an extramarital affair, thereby driving her husband to drink and thus to his (accidental) death. Alexandra Kedrolivansky sued Niebaum for defamation of character; the case went to the California Supreme Court, and Mrs. Kedrolivansky won.
Elizabeth Kedrolivansky: Widow of Fr. Paul. As I said above, Gustave Niebaum accused Mrs. Kedrolivansky of having an affair and driving her husband to drink. She later won a defamation lawsuit against Niebaum.
Detective Jehu: San Francisco police detective. He was investigating the Kedrolivansky case, and found three witnesses who claimed to have seen Kedrolivansky fall and hit his head on the ground. On the basis of this testimony, the police declared the death to be an accident, and they closed the case.
Chief John Kirkpatrick: Chief of the San Francisco police. Kirkpatrick wrote a letter to Consul Welitsky, explaining the conclusions of the police.
Bishop Nestor Zass: Bishop of the Alaskan Diocese from 1879 to 1882. Upon arriving in America, Bp Nestor immediately expelled Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin from his diocese. In 1882, Bp Nestor died at sea.
Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky: Bishop of the Alaskan Diocese from 1888 to 1891. Bp Vladimir’s tenure was occupied by almost constant scandal. While he was nowhere near America when Kedrolivansky died, Bp Vladimir accused the Alaska Commercial Company and a man named Amosov of killing Kedrolivansky.
Amosov: A mysterious man who some later claimed had murdered Kedrolivansky. It’s not clear whether Amosov even existed in reality, much less whether he was guilty of murder.
Also, for the record, I am going to reprint the description of Kedrolivansky’s wound. This was printed in the San Francisco Examiner on May 23, 1889. It is all that survives of the original autopsy report.
The autopsy disclosed the fact that the scalp of deceased was very thick and strongly adherent, and on the whole of the left side there was a large amount of suffused blood. On the left side was found a fracture of the skull, commencing in the temporal bone, running upward and slightly backward into the parietal bone, being three inches in length; thence at right angles backward half an inch; thence downward and slightly backward two inches; thence at right angles forward one and three-fourth inches intersecting the first line described, leaving a detached piece pressing upon the brain. This portion of the skull was quite thin. From the point of intersection there was a fracture running across the temporal bone and ending in the median line of the frontal bone at a distance of about four and a half inches. There was also a fracture from the lower corner of the detached piece running backward across the parietal bone a distance of about half an inch. The brain directly under the fracture was lacerated and a brain clot weighing four ounces was found. The brain was in a healthy condition.
Kedrolivansky’s death remains an unsolved mystery. Was it an accident, or murder? If murder, then, by whom, and why? We may never know.