“Sometimes make a claim…”

Ss. Tikhon of Moscow, John Kochurov and Fr. Sebastian Dabovich at the consecration of Episcopal bishop R.H. Weller

Ss. Tikhon of Moscow (right) & John Kochurov (3rd from right), with Fr. Sebastian Dabovich (2nd from right) at the consecration of Episcopal bishop R.H. Weller, 1900

One of the topics which has drawn together the founding members of SOCHA has been the question of the nature of Orthodox administrative unity in late 19th and early 20th century America.  This is perhaps one of the most fascinating questions being asked in the study of Orthodox history in America.  Is it really the case that all Orthodox in America looked to the Russian archdiocese for leadership prior to the revolution in 1917 (or, alternately, prior to the founding of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921-22)?  The evidence most often seems to point away from the affirmative.

Here’s a bit I discovered recently from the 1919 Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church:

The first of the Orthodox Churches to establish its work with full organization of Bishop, Priests and Deacons was the Russian. They therefore sometimes make a claim of jurisdiction over the other Orthodox churches in this country which the various Orthodox bodies do not seem willing to grant. Of course with such matters we have very little to do. We might claim that we are the original Orthodox body in this country holding jurisdiction, and that all the others who come are simply our welcome guests whom we are pleased to befriend and aid in ministering to people of their own church, race and language with co-ordinate jurisdiction.

The Episcopalians were much interested in Orthodoxy at the time and maintained fairly close relations with all the jurisdictions in America, including inviting their clergy to Episcopal conventions, giving monetary aid, lending church buildings, etc., mainly in hopes of receiving recognition for their sacerdotal orders.  This quote is interesting in that it not only includes the comment from the Episcopalians suggesting themselves as the original American Orthodox body, but it also quite fascinatingly notes that the Russians “sometimes make a claim of jurisdiction over the other Orthodox churches in this country which the various Orthodox bodies do not seem willing to grant.”

Of particular amusement is the offhand remark in the wit common even in official writing of the early 20th century: “Of course with such matters we have very little to do.”

One Reply to ““Sometimes make a claim…””

  1. They do protest too much.

    The 1912 work, “The people of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the separated churches of the east, and other Slavs; report of the commission appointed by the missionary department of New England to consider the work of co-operating with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the seperated churches of the East, and other Slavs”
    “The Greek clergy in America — about half married and half monastic unmarried priests — are under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of Athens. They greatly need a bishop. Some are well educated, some are not. The parishes are far too large, and many of the priests seem to lack true missionary zeal, and have become imbued with the spirit of commercialism. The absence of any bishop and the complete control of parishes by the community committees have made possible unfortunate divisions in some places, as at present in Boston. There are also some Greek priests in America who have come without the authority of their bishops, who, underbidding the priests of rightful authority, breed disturbances. There are probably enough Greek priests in New England for emergency calls, as baptisms, marriages, and funerals; but certainly not enough to minister to the sick and dying, nor for anything like proper pastoral care of the well. Especially is this true in the many towns where there are but handfuls of Greeks.

    The Greeks are fairly faithful in church attendance, and their fasts and confessions and communions are not neglected; especially do they flock to church on the great feast days. The younger immigrants, however, are learning the American non-churchgoing habit. The Greek clergy are friendly to our clergy, and all Greeks look with a certain favor on our American Church, and generally understand her catholic and non-proselytizing position. Protestant proselytizing they have learned in Greece to abhor. When they do attend Protestant churches, and our churches too, for that matter, it is usually for the sake of familiarizing themselves with the English language. Of the Church of Rome they will have naught, nor will they in any way affiliate with the Orthodox churches under the Russian hierarchy of New York, for the sad antagonism of Pan-Slavism and Pan-Hellenism is as rife in America as it is in the East….”
    which contrasts with their summary on the other “jurisdictions” (and perhaps reveal while the Episcopalians sourced on the RM, in contrast to Meletios who warmed up tp them):
    “The Orthodox there and elsewhere have been told to attend our services but not to communicate. Last year, however, the attitude of the present Syrian Orthodox bishop in America changed, and he no longer wishes his people to attend our services. He has withdrawn his request that our clergy minister to Orthodox Syrians in emergencies…The next largest division is the Eastern Orthodox. These Orthodox, about 33 per cent of the Syrians in New
    England, are all apparently under Bishop Raphael. This Syrian Bishop derives his authority from the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, but is closely connected with the Russian Archbishop in New York. The Syrian Cathedral is at 320 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, N. Y…”
    “The Church of Russia is essentially a missionary church. A great amount of Christian work has been done among the tribes of her Asiatic empire. Self-denying missionaries have brought the gospel to the Eskimos and Indians of Alaska, and a large number of the Japanese have been Christianized, so that there is in Japan a vigorous branch of the Russian Church. The Church also supports Christian work among the Russian immigrants in America, aiding in the support of the clergy and contributions toward the building of churches….The best way at present to estimate the number of Little Russians who have come from Russia to this country is to get at tlic numljcr of members reported by the Russian Orthotlox Church. In the religious census of 1900 the Russian Church reported a membership of 20,000, including converts from the Uniat Ruthenians in America. There are probably a good many thousand scattered Russian Orthodox, either too few to form a congregation in any locality or else only temporarily in this country. Those who have studied the matter making estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000, the majority of which number are Little Russians….

    The first Ruthenian Uniat priest who came with his wife to the United States was met with the suspicion of his brother priests of the Roman CathoHc Church, and had great difficulty in being recognized by the Roman bishops to whom he brought his credentials. Even to-day with more than 80 churches,
    some of them costing between S50,000 and $100,000 and often the finest church in the town, the Uniats are nevertheless regarded with distrust by the majority of the Roman Catholic laity, who have been taught the celibacy of the clergy almost as a matter of faith. Especially do the ardent Irish find it hard to reconcile the existing conditions, for to them the married clergy with their wives and families are a great scandal. The Uniats, with their Easter weeks later, with their strange churches, the great iconostas hiding the altar, the icons. Mass in the Slavic language, and the bearded priests, present so unfamiliar a sight to the ordinary Romanist, even to a priest, that the natural result is almost a feeling of antipathy. An Irish American bishop is confronted with the difficult problem of reconciling his Irish, Polish, German, and French Canadian celibate clergy with his Ruthenian married clergy. In the religious census report for 1906 the Russian Orthodox Church converts from the Uniat Church are explained in this way: “The members of these [Uniat] churches on coming to America found themselves compelled to use the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, and be under the jurisdiction of local bishops who in general either knew nothing about the Unia or did not take it into account. In seeking relief from this position one of the Uniat parishes in Minneapolis became aware of the existence in the United States of a see of the Russian Orthodox, and in 1891, under the leadership of the Rev. Alexis G. Toth, petitioned the Russian Bishop Vladimir to take them all under his jurisdiction within the pale of the Russian Church. Bishop Vladimir willingly complied with the request, and during the time of Bishop Nicholas, who succeeded him, the example of the parish in Minneapolis was followed by a number of Uniat parishes.” A large part of the Russian churches in America at present are built up of converted Ruthenian Uniats to the number of about 40,000, and the priests of the Russian hierarchy in this country are mostly Little Russians. ”
    “The missionary work of the Russian Church among the Slavic immigrants in this country is most commendable. There is an Archbishop in New York assisted by a Bishop, and the Pravoslav or Eastern Orthodox of the Slavic Rite are ministered to by over 150 Russian, Albanian, Bulgarian, and Servian priests, besides 15 missions in Alaska. ”
    “There are about 150,000 Serbs in America at the highest estimate, and of these 10,000 are not in the United States. It is impossible to tell from the immigration reports from what countries the Serbs have come. Most, however, are probably from the Hungarian provinces. They have settled principally in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and in Kansas, Montana, and California. A very interesting development came about in Alaska. Formerly there were a number of Russians in Alaska, and the Russian Church carried on a successful mission work among the Indians and Eskimos. After the annexation to the United States many of the Russians returned to Russia, and the see of the Russian Bishop in America was removed from Sitka to San Francisco. In 1905 the see was again removed to New York City, as the great bulk of the Russians in this country were now in the eastern states. In that very year Serbs from Montenegro and Servia were immigrating to Alaska, and there were now more Serbs in California and Montana than there were Russians in all the states west of Pennsylvania. Consequently the center of the Servian Church was placed in California with an archimandrite as special administrator, and the orthodox work in Alaska was transferred from the Russian Church to the Servian. The Servian Church in America is under the protection and supervision of the American Archbishop of the Russian Church…”

    with an interesting report on the Albanian Autocephalous Church being born out of its “daughter” in Boston, being delievered by the RM:

    “The use of the Albanian language in the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy has been prohibited by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and those priests who presume to use it are excommunicated. Albanians declare that the Patriarch’s object is to “Hellenize.” An Orthodox League was formed a few years ago whose objects are to resist Greek aggression and force the Patriarch to allow at least a part of the Liturgy to he celebrated in Albanian.

    What the outcome of this ecclesiastical tangle, or what the result of the Balkan war of 1912, will be upon the future of Albania is a grave and complex question.

    About twenty-five years ago two Albanians came to America, and settled in Cambridge, Mass. Ten years ago a few more began to come. But it was not until five or six years ago that immigration proper of the race began.

    There are to-day about 50,000 Albanians in America from Albania, and the United States immigration authorities have not yet learned to call them by name; they are not designated as Albanians in our immigration reports.

    About 15,000 are in New England; and the rest in New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, and the three Pacific States, and in Canada. The large majority are Eastern Orthodox Tosks. Only some 2,000 are Mohammedans, concentrated for the most part in three cities, St. Louis, Biddeford, Me. (800), and New Bedford, Mass. In Chicago, Indiana, and New York there are also some Roman Catholic Ghegs.

    The Pan-Albanian federalion of America, called “The Hearth”” (Vatra), incorporated, has its headquarters in a neatly fitted office at 10 Ferdinand Street, Boston. The executive, the general secretary, Faik Bey Konitza, one of the apostles of Nationalism, is a graduate of a French University, an M.A. of Harvard, and an accomplished philologist and historical scholar. He publlishes a paper in Albanian, ”The Sun’ (Dielli). There are eighteen branches of the Federation in America. Its objects are educational, to give lectures, teach Albanian and English, publish inexpensive literature, and above all to foster the national traditions. There are two Eastern Orthodox Albanian priests in America, with headquarters in Boston, the Rev. Fan 8. Nolli and the Rev. Naum Cere. Father Nolli is a graduate of Harvard. He has published in Boston, in the Albanian language and adopted latin alphabet, The Liturgy, etc., “The Book of the Epistles and CJospels,” and a three-act drama, “Israel and the Philistines.” These may be found in the Boston Library, and on their last pages the names of Albanian subscribers from all over the United States and southeast Europe. These two priests travel over our country ministering to their people in their native tongue. They were ordained under Russian auspices and are under the jurisdiction of the Russian Archbishop Platon in New York. ”

    This contrasts with the report:
    “In the 14th century some thousands of Albanians descended into Greece, and others were moved there later by the Turks. At the present time there are some 200,000 descendants of these in Boeotia, Attica, and elsewhere, and on a number of the islands. They have become Greek in their aspirations and all are of the Greek Church; yet they have largely maintained their distinction of race and their language, — some at the present day in sight of Athens are unable to speak Greek. There are doubtless a number of these Greek Albanians among the immigrants in America, but they consider themselves Greeks, and are so considered by the Albanians from Albania. “

Comments are closed.