St Raphael’s Consecration


Only known surviving photo from St Raphael's consecration service, published in the Syracuse Telegram on March 17, 1904.

Only known surviving photo from St Raphael's consecration service, published in the Syracuse Telegram on March 17, 1904.


St Raphael was consecrated Bishop of Brooklyn on March 13, 1904, by St Tikhon and Bishop Innocent of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St Innocent). What follows is a little article I wrote on the consecration. My plan is to include the article in a book I hope to publish on the early history of American Orthodoxy.

The first thing to know about Bishop Raphael’s consecration is the crowd – the enormous, crushing crowd. Two thousand people – some worshippers, some sightseers – were crammed like sardines into the cathedral on Brooklyn’s Pacific Street. Throw in a generous portion of incense and hundreds of burning candles, and the place was one hot, dense mass of humanity. “There were half-smothered cries of women and children,” one newspaper reported.[i] As you might expect, at least three women fainted and had to be carried out of the building.[ii]

Adding to the chaos were the newspaper photographers, one of whom chose to take a picture at the moment of consecration. From the New York Sun: “[T]he photograph fiend, who apparently respects religion no more than any other material for a subject, startled the congregation and the clergy by exploding a flashlight cartridge. The building was soon filled with smoke, making the rest of the ceremony very indistinct for some time.”[iii]

Anyway, it was quite a ceremony. No less than four canonized saints participated – Raphael, Tikhon, Alexis Toth, and Alexander Hotovitzky. Afterwards, there was a big dinner, attended by a lot of people (between 150 and 500; the newspapers don’t agree, though I’m inclined to believe the smaller figure). It was a fast day, but that didn’t stop the feasters from having an impressive menu. From the New York Tribune: “The menu was vegetables, oysters and lobsters, Damascus artichokes, fried fish, lettuce salad, peas a la Syriene, cabbages a la Turque; desserts, mishabbak, cornstarch; fruits, apples and oranges; Turkish coffee.”[iv] Presumably no one left hungry.

As far as the general public was concerned, the consecration was a decidedly Russian affair. The newspapers referred to it as being at the Tsar’s orders, and at the celebratory dinner, the Tsar was toasted and the Russian national anthem was sung. One of the first public acts of the new Bishop Raphael was to visit the Russian ambassador in Washington.[v]

These facts did not please the local Greeks one bit. They saw it as an act of Russian imperial expansion, and it contributed to the growing Greek fear that Russian Church aimed to spread its influence across Orthodoxy worldwide. The Greek consul in New York chose not to attend the consecration, and his absence itself made headlines.[vi] A few weeks later, on Holy Friday, Bishop Tikhon tried to visit Holy Trinity, one of the Greek churches in New York. Fr. John Erickson writes, “He was barred from entering by its angry trustees, who feared a Russian takeover of their parish properties.”[vii]

The Greeks may not have been happy with the consecration, but the Episcopalians certainly were. Bishop Tikhon invited his good friend, the Episcopal Bishop Charles Grafton of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin to attend. That fact alone means little; non-Orthodox religious leaders are often invited to witness such events. But Grafton’s invitation was different, at least in the eyes of the Episcopalians themselves. Supposedly, Bishop Tikhon’s invitation included a request that Grafton actually participate in the ceremony as the third consecrator, along with Tikhon and Innocent![viii] In reality, it is highly unlikely that Tikhon actually intended for Grafton to be one of the consecrators. Such an act would require full communion between the Orthodox and the Episcopalians, and, as later events would prove, Tikhon was unwilling to unilaterally declare such a union. He had great respect for the Episcopalians and Grafton in particular, and he may even have privately believed in the legitimacy of their holy orders, but he by no means would have permitted Grafton to actually participate in the service.

In any case, Grafton proved unable to come due to illness, but a delegation of other Episcopalians came in his stead. Some of Grafton’s representatives were allowed to stand in the altar itself during the ceremony, just as was Bishop Tikhon and his delegation at the “Fond-du-Lac Circus” a few years earlier.

Of course, Raphael’s consecration meant the most to his own Syrian flock. They now had a bishop, and officially, they were now a vicariate of the Russian Diocese. Unofficially, though, things were much less clear. While making clear that Raphael was a bishop of the Russian Church, Patriarch Meletios of Antioch felt it his “most important duty” to bestow his blessing on the consecration, and he said that he and the rest of the Antiochian Holy Synod “still consider him as a member of our body.”[ix] For his part, Bishop Tikhon, while also affirming Raphael’s membership in the Russian Church, stated his “certitude” that Raphael “would never break the most intimate spiritual ties with his mother Church of Antioch,” and he asked the Patriarch to guide and advise the new bishop.[x]

Bishop Raphael himself was rather ambiguous when he spoke to his flock about his jurisdictional allegiance. He said that his consecration was “by the order and permission of Melatois [sic], the Patriarch of Antioch”[xi] and that “Patriarch Melatois [sic] counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” He went on to say that Patriarch Meletios declared that he “had instituted the new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.”[xii]

After Raphael’s death, such ambiguities would become points of serious contention among his orphaned flock. But in 1904, they were of little significance; the important fact was that the Syro-Arabs now had their own bishop, who would prove to be among the greatest American Orthodoxy has yet seen.

[i] “Crowd Uncontrollable,” Boston Globe (March 14, 1904), 5.

[ii] “New Bishop of Greek Church Consecrated,” New York Times (March 14, 1904), 9.  Also cf. “Third Russian Bishop,” Washington Post (March 14, 1904), 1.

[iii] “New Bishop Consecrated,” New York Sun (March 14, 1904), 10. Also cf. “Ordain Raphael Bishop,” New York Tribune (March 14, 1904), 3.

[iv] New York Tribune (March 14, 1904).

[v] Cf. “Social and Personal,” Washington Post (March 17, 1904), 7 and “In Society,” Washington Times (March 17, 1904), 6.

[vi] Cf. “Greeks Angry at the Czar,” New York Sun (March 15, 1904), 12 and “Fear Russian Rule of Church,” New York Tribune (March 15, 1904), 6.

[vii] Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, 73.

[viii] C. Lewis Leicester, “What Might Have Been,” The Christian East 13:2 (Summer 1932), 79-80. Quoted in Andre G. Issa, The Life of Raphael Hawaweeny, Bishop of Brooklyn: 1860-1915 (unpublished M.Div. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, May 1991), 46.

[ix] Patriarch Meletios to Bishop Tikhon (March 11/24, 1904), translated from the Russian by Fr. John Meyendorff in “Notes and Comments: The Patriarch of Antioch and North America in 1904,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 33:1 (1989), 83-86.

[x] Bishop Tikhon to Patriarch Meletios (April 1904), reprinted in Issa, 49-50.

[xi] Al-Kalimat (The Word) 1, 2, reprinted in “Hanna et al v. Malick et al, 223 Mich. 100, 193 N.W. 798 (June 4, 1923), Northwestern Reporter 193, 802.

[xii] Al-Kalimat 3, 95-96, reprinted in “Hanna v. Malick.” An alternate translation renders this statement, “And so it is indeed, though in name it belongs to the Russian Holy Synod.” Issa, 62.

12 Replies to “St Raphael’s Consecration”

  1. Just as a meta-note for Matthew: I cleaned up the HTML in this so that the notes and references work correctly.

    If you want to use this same format in the future, you’ll need to add some sort of unique ID to the reference names (e.g., “RaphCons-ed1” or the like) so that multiple posts on the same page won’t interfere with each other.

  2. Meaning what? I mean, we have the writings of St. Raphael and St. Tikhon, and they clearly place an emphasis on Antioch. I would never argue that St. Raphael wasn’t a bishop of the Russian Church — he was, quite clearly — but it’s just as clear that Antioch had a special role.

    I’m as big a user of newspaper archives as anyone, but when you have the writings of the principal figures themselves, written contemporaneous with the events in question, those clearly have to take precedence.

  3. I would say his jurisdiction wasn’t ambiguous but overlapping. The message of the Holy Synod on his original appointment mention the blessing of the patriarchate of Antioch, whose metochion in Russia St. Raphael was attached. Such an experience, and his earlier experience of being a russophile (as most Arabs) at a time when the people of his patriarchate were in a struggle with the Greeks of the Phanar would foster an attempt to be “both.” Can one choose between a mother and a father?

    There are also other facts he would be confronting: large numbers of immigrants went back to the old country (though the Orthodox Arabs seem, for a variety of reasons such as not having an Orthodox state of their own, seem to have had greater staying rates) and I believe he would be the first bishop to die in the New World: all others eventually went back to the Old World.

    But pressed for a “legal/canonical” answer, St. Raphael would no doubt list his jurisdiction as “Russian.” Whose Synod did he commemorate in the diptychs?

  4. I can’t now recall where I read it, but there were reports that St. Raphael would actually commemorate the Patriarch of Antioch.

  5. That would be a canonical problem unless by economia of the Russian Holy Synod (cf. the dual commemoration of two autocephalous primates in the patriarchal parishes in the US).

    The website for his see (and the NY Times account of his arrival, the consecration of the Church and Cathedral and him as bishop) are quite clear that St. Raphael was under Russian jurisdiction, by canonical transfer from Antioch. The Cathedral’s website is clear that it was under the Russians until chaos overtook that jurisdiction (the picture of the original cathedral shows a Russian, not Antiochian, style Church). It also states that it was the OCA, not Antioch, who canonized St. Raphael.

  6. Isa, I don’t think the website of St. Nicholas Cathedral, a century after the fact, is in any way definitive. The NY Times article is a more pertinent piece of evidence, but it is only one piece, and St. Raphael’s own words at the time must be taken at least as seriously as an article written by a secular publication.

    St. Raphael himself wrote the following in Al Kalimat (vol. 1, page 2): “That he [Raphael] was consecrated bishop by the order and permission of Meletios, Patriarch of Antioch.”

    And again (vol. 2, page 95): “And the territorial jurisdiction of the See of Antioch became much more extensive during the time of his beatitude, for Syrians who emigrated to many other countries still retained their spiritual relations with and continued to yield allegiance to their mother church, the Holy Church of Antioch, and kept firm in the Orthodox faith. His beatitude manifested the most perfect evidence of his interest in and care for them to the best of his means and ability. In substantiation of this, when the Russian Holy Synod infomred him that the lot of presiding in this diocese had fallen upon our humble self, his beatitude hastened to write to the Holy Synod, to His Eminence Tikhon, then Archbishop, and to our humble self, sanctioning the choice and declaring that he had instituted the new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch, and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.”

    And again (vol. 2, page 18): “Whereas, we, the Syrian Orthodox residents of Greater New York and all other parts of North America constituting our new diocese (may God keep it) are considered a vigorous branch of our mother tree, the Church of Antioch; and whereas, this branch has flourished luxuriantly during the days of the administration of our father, may his name be ever blessed, the thrice illustrious Patriarch Meletios; and whereas, his beatitude was the first to sanction and bless the establishment of this new Syrian diocese in this new world…”

    Furthermore, in August 1910, St. Raphael published in Al Kalimat an order from the Patriarch of Antioch concerning marriages of Syrian Orthodox in America.

    None of this means that St. Raphael was not a bishop of the Russian Church; he was, most certainly. But he was ALSO a bishop of the Church of Antioch. Given his own words and actions, I don’t see how anyone can deny this.

  7. Like I said, overlapping.

    That St. Raphael and his flock might have “dual loyalties” should perhaps be expected. I don’t know if he expected, for instance, to die in America or to return, as did all the Russian bishops and many of his flock, to his homeland. I expect St. Raphael would retain feelings for his homeland. Technically speaking, however, Pat. Meletios and Antioch had no say in the matter: Fr. Raphael had been translated to the Russian Synod from Antioch in 1895, his Cathedral was consecrated by the Russian bishop, his ordination was by the Russian Holy Synod. The Brooklyn Cathedral was not a metochion.

    However, taking a cue from Mark 10:42, the RM thought less about their own power and glory, and more about their flock, and thus they, as was right and proper (but, going strictly by the canons, not required) involved Antioch in on the formation of the Syrian Mission here. The extreme of this is the Albanians, where the RM Albanian mission actually gave birth to its own mother Church.

    There are those who think ethnic dioceses should be only temporary and then die out (something like those who think the WRO is good only as a stepping stone to the Eastern Rite). I don’t share that view. The idea of constituent ethnic dioceses connected with sees in a united North American Holy Synod makes sense for the circumstances in this part of the New World. Btw, that is not only a thing of the New World: Alexandria has an Arab vicarate attached to the Bishop of Mansurah.

    I should expect that the bishop of such a diocese for the Arabs/Antiochians would have his see in Brookline.

  8. Isa, I think we’re on the same page. The Russian Church faced an unprecedented situation in America, and in many respects they responded creatively, if not canonically. I’m not sure that I completely agree with you about permanent ethnic dioceses in a united American Orthodox Church, but I do respect your own creative thinking on the matter. New situations call for new solutions.

  9. I was just reminded about canon 8 of Ephesus:

    Canon VIII.

    Our brother bishop Rheginus, the beloved of God, and his fellow beloved of God bishops, Zeno and Evagrius, of the Province of Cyprus, have reported to us an innovation which has been introduced contrary to the ecclesiastical constitutions and the Canons of the Holy Apostles, and which touches the liberties of all. Wherefore, since injuries affecting all require the more attention, as they cause the greater damage, and particularly when they are transgressions of an ancient custom; and since those excellent men, who have petitioned the Synod, have told us in writing and by word of mouth 235that the Bishop of Antioch has in this way held ordinations in Cyprus; therefore the Rulers of the holy churches in Cyprus shall enjoy, without dispute or injury, according to the Canons of the blessed Fathers and ancient custom, the right of performing for themselves the ordination of their excellent Bishops. The same rule shall be observed in the other dioceses and provinces everywhere, so that none of the God beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors. But if any one has violently taken and subjected [a Province], he shall give it up; lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed; or the vanities of worldly honour be brought in under pretext of sacred office; or we lose, without knowing it, little by little, the liberty which Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer of all men, hath given us by his own Blood.

    Wherefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod has decreed that in every province the rights which heretofore, from the beginning, have belonged to it, shall be preserved to it, according to the old prevailing custom, unchanged and uninjured: every Metropolitan having permission to take, for his own security, a copy of these acts. And if any one shall bring forward a rule contrary to what is here determined, this holy and ecumenical Synod unanimously decrees that it shall be of no effect.

    Consecrateion of a bishop is a profound jurisdictional act, one that made the Greeks nervous: at the time, neither the CoG nor the EP had made any claims to jurisdiction in the New World, nor done any jurisdictional act in the New World except some of their priests coming here. Since the priests came (and went) at the will and mercy of the congregations here, not by the jurisdiction of the bishops in Greece or Constantinople (who both were sending, contrary to Apostolic canon 34 of one jurisdiction per territory), and were not organized into any diocese (again, an uncanonical situation), the Greeks were in a very bad situation under the canons vis-a-vis the now fully functioning Russian Diocese, whose primate had assumed control of the province which had heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand and that of his predecessors.

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