The Ordination of the Rev. Ingram N.W. Irvine, D.D.

The following article appeared in the English-language supplement to the November 1905 issue of the Russian Orthodox American Messenger, the official publication of the Russian Mission:

The Rev. Ingram N.W. Irvine, D.D., was, on St. Mary’s Day, Nov. 4th, received into the Holy Orthodox Church by our beloved Archbishop the Most Rev. Tikhon, D.D. and on the same day advanced  through the Minor Orders and elevated to the Diaconate. On the following day, Sunday, he was ordained Priest and as[s]igned to his duties at St. Nicholas Cathedral viz; that of Priest in charge of the English work.

The Rev. Dr. Irvine, for over a quarter of a century, was a Priest of the Anglican Church, or as it is known in the U.S. “The Protestant Episcopal Church”. He is a graduate of The General Theological Seminary, Chelsea Square, N.Y. City, and was ordained both Deacon and Priest of the Episcopal Church by the first Bishop of Long Island — the Rt. Rev. Abram Newkirk Littlejohn, D.D., LL.D.

The Rev. Doctor for several years was Rector of St. James Church, Smithtown, Long Island. While as such he became acquainted with the widow of  the “Prince-merchant” and millionaire A.T. Stewart. It was at his suggestion, that Mrs. Stewart gave a building, then being erected for undenominational purposes, as a Cathedral for the Diocese of Long Island and richly endowed both it and several schools.

Dr. Irvine has filled several important pastorates in the Protestant Episcopal Church and has held the positions of Rural Dean and Cathedral Dean.

The following Prelates and Clergy were in the Sanctuary and officiated on the occasion of his ordination to the Holy Orthodox Priesthood — His Grace, Most Reverend Archbishop Tikhon, D.D. of North America and Aleutian Islands, The Right Rev. Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn, N.Y., Very Rev. Fr. A. Hotovitzky, Dean of the Cathedral, Rev. Fr. E. Zotikoff, Rev. Fr. Joanniky, Rev. Fr. Solomonidis, M.D., Rev. A. Kalneff, Deacon.

A number of members of the Protestant Episcopal Church were at the Service. The venerable Hon. Wm. S. Price, who was for fourteen years Chancellor of the P.E. Diocese of Pennsylvania, came with his daughter, Mrs. Brown, from Philadelphia to show by his presence his respect for Dr. Irvine as well as his approval of the act of the Holy Orthodox Church. Another striking character in the Congregation was that of the great army surgeon who ministered to the Martyr-President of the U.S. — Abraham Lincoln, when he was shot in  Ford’s Theater, Washington D.C. at the close of the late Civil War, — we refer to Charles A. Leale, M.D., of 604 Madison Ave. N.Y. who with his daughter Miss Lillian was present. Herbert Noble Esq. one of the most celebrated members of the New York Bar, as well as the Rev. Thomas P. Hughes, D.D., LL.D., and both members of the P.E. Church, were also present. The Congregation was very large and filled every part of the Cathedral. The music under the leadership of Mr. N. Greevsky was well rendered.

Thus passed off a remarkable service which marked an epoch in Church History and which was attended by representatives of all parts of the Church of Christendom, and since it’s [sic] performance has brought out the spontaneous commendation of sober minded Christian scholars.

While this article doesn’t have a listed author, I am certain, based on the writing style, that it was written by Irvine himself. It was the Russian Mission’s introduction to its first “American” convert priest.

No doubt Irvine felt it necessary to defend and justify himself. As soon as news of his impending ordination became public, many Episcopal Church leaders raised an outcry against it, mostly on the grounds that the Russian Church did not, in their view, have the authority to ordain a defrocked Episcopal clergyman to the Orthodox priesthood. We’ll present the Episcopal perspective later; for now, it’s enough to understand that Irvine was probably feeling pretty defensive when he wrote this article.

One of the things that jumps out about this article is at the end, where Irvine refers to the “Church of Christendom.” He wasn’t an adherent of branch theory, exactly, but at the time of his conversion, his ecclesiology wasn’t far from it. In the years that followed, Irvine’s ecclesiology did evolve a bit, becoming more traditionally Orthodox in the process.

Also notable is the involvement of three canonized Orthodox saints — Tikhon, Raphael, and Alexander Hotovitzky. St. Tikhon was the main celebrant who ordained Irvine; St. Raphael assisted; and St. Alexander was Irvine’s sponsor into the priesthood.

Finally, and, in my view, most interestingly, Irvine acknowledges the beginning of “an epoch in Church history.” He certainly knew that Protestants had become Orthodox before him, and he was probably aware of the fact that even other Protestant clergymen had converted to Orthodoxy. But there was something different about Irvine’s ordination. It was such a public affair, involving such a visible figure, that it could not be ignored. But more than that, Irvine was a man with a vision, and he had the support of two great hierarchs, Tikhon and Raphael. His dream was to see the use of English spread in American Orthodoxy, and for Orthodoxy to “penetrate the United States,” to use St. Innocent’s words, and he would spend the rest of his life working towards that goal.