The Russian Diocese in 1905

Roman Catholic writer Andrew Shipman

Roman Catholic writer Andrew Shipman

In 1905, the Roman Catholic religious writer Andrew Shipman wrote an article on the Russian Church in America. It’s an enlightening piece, a snapshot of the Russian Mission taken by an intelligent outsider. Given that the Russian Mission is the subject of my latest podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I thought this would be a good time to reprint part of Shipman’s article.

Much of the article isn’t actually Shipman; it’s Fr. John Nedzelnitsky, a Russian priest from Pittsburgh. Shipman translated an article by Nedzenitzky into English — an appeal to the Russian Holy Synod to elevate the North American Diocese to the status of an Exarchate. Given that the Russian Mission is the subject of my latest podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, I thought this would be a good time to reprint much of Shipman’s (and Nedzelnitsky’s) article here. (By the way, the article comes from the June 1905 issue of The Messenger, a Roman Catholic monthly.)

In the United States the Russian Orthodox Church has been established for a hundred years. At first it was confined to Alaska, — then known as Russian America, — then it came to San Francisco and along the Pacific coast. Then it flourished along the Atlantic coast and the adjoining States, and now has its chief and most splendid temple in the City of New York. The episcopal title has varied as the fortunes of the Church have waxed. First, it was “Bishop of the Kodiaks,” afterwards “Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands,” (Bishop Innocent), then “Bishop of New Archangel” (Bishop Paul), then “Bishop of Aleutia and Alaska” (Bishops John, Nestor, Vladimir and Nicholas), and finally now it is “Bishop of Aleutia and North America” (Bishop Tikhon). The latter bishop has been provided with two vicar-bishops or auxiliary bishops, Bishop Innocent, “Bishop of Alaska,” and Bishop Raphael, “Bishop of Brooklyn.”

It is now proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church to form the United States into an Exarchate or at least an Archiepiscopal province. This is to be an ecclesiastical organization, the head of which will be subject directly to the Holy Governing Synod, but which in other respects will be completely autonomous, the bishops and clergy of which will be ruled by the Exarch.

To appreciate the significance of this, let us consider a moment the latest official figures of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States. They are as follows for 1905:

  • Russians from Russia — 1,706
  • Russians (Ruthenians) from Galicia — 7,747
  • Russians (Ruthenians) from Hungary — 4,676
  • Bukovinians and Wallachians — 3,653
  • Servians and other Slavs — 6,386
  • Greeks — 731
  • Syro-Arabians — 5,484
  • Half-breeds — 2,124
  • Indians — 2,281
  • Aleutians — 2,272
  • Esquimaux — 3,210
  • Americans and others — 71
  • TOTAL — 38,341

These figures show a slight increase over those for the preceding year. Among themre 772 persons who were formerly Uniate Greek Catholics.

I cannot better explain the purpose and scope of this movement to erect an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church than by translating an article on that subject by the Reverend Archpriest John Nedzelnitzky, of the Russian Church of St. Michael, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After giving a short history of the Russian mission in America, he says:

“The American Orthodox diocese, after a century of its existence, has grown in the number of its members, both clergy and lay, and has become exalted in its significance in the eyes of those of other faiths, — such as the Episcopalians and the old Catholics of America, and it has so important a missionary purpose in spreading orthodoxy among the Uniates, the Slavs and other peoples of the new world, that in justice, both by reason of its purpose and by the merits of its bishops, it ought to have for its visible head in America an Exarch or at least one with the title of Archbishop. For this the following facts will speak:

“In the past year, 1903, the Holy Synod in Russia established in America a vicariate with the cathedral see at Sitka, and on February 24, 1904, the first vicar-bishop arrived in America. He was the Right Reverend Innocent, with the title of ‘Bishop of Alaska.’ On the first of February, 1904, the Holy Synod established a second vicariate for the Syro-Arabian missions, with the cathedral see in the city of Brooklyn, and on February 29th there was celebrated in New York the first Orthodox consecration of a bishop in America, when the Archimandrite Raphael was made Bishop of Brooklyn. There are therefore now America two vicariates and the ruling bishop, who continues to bear the title of ‘Bishop,’ the same as for a century past. There is nothing in the title to distinguish him from his vicars, and he is only differentiated from them by the powers exercised by him, although in reality it follows that a ruling bishop should be distinguished from assistant bishops even in title. For the effectiveness of an archbishop and two vicar-bishops in America, the Diocese of Aleutia ought to be placed first in rank of Orthodox dioceses, not only by the alphabet, but in reality. It ought to be an Exarchate like the Exarchate of  Georgia, or at least an Archbishopric. If in Russia there is not a diocese where the ruling bishop with two vicars bears only the title of ‘Bishop,’ but is called ‘Archbishop,’ so it should be in the American Exarchate or Diocese of Aleutia and North America.”

Fr. Nedzelnitsky goes on for another paragraph, comparing the American Orthodox situation to that of the Roman Catholics, who had an Apostolic Delegate, 16 archbishops, and 85 bishops. He then asks,

“If the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in America are ruled by archbishops, why then does not our Orthodox Church in America have even one archbishop, especially now, when the Holy Synod, having established two vicariates in America, has thereby extended the importance of the diocese of Aleutia and its head? And of course it will soon establish also a third vicariate, for the Servians in America, since the Servians, having erected their churches and parishes, wish to have a bishop of  their own nationality.”

Nedzelnitsky then notes that the Episcopalian bishops oversee a relatively small number of parishioners — an average of 7,825 per bishop. He continues,

“Our Orthodox diocese in America is comparatively great in the number of its members, only there are now regular statistics, in view of the huge territory in America, of those scattered in towns and villages, where the Orthodox may live, the majority of them leading a nomadic form of life, such as factory hands (Russians, Servians and Ruthenians), and a few tradesmen (Syro-Arabians and Greeks) and the like.

“The official publications of the American government and of our diocesan organization in regard to the number of the Orthodox differ widely in view of the causes we point out. Dr. H.K. Carroll, late special agent of the United States Census Office, informs us that up to 1905 there were in the United States of America 40,000 Russian Orthodox (including probably also Ruthenians), 21,230 Greek Orthodox and 15,000 Syrian Orthodox. Therefore, according to the information of this government official, there are 76,230 Orthodox souls in the United States, but from his statistics there does not appear the quantity of Orthodox Servians, Bulgarians, Macedonians and Roumanians, who altogether amount to more than 10,000. Nor does this official reckon in the half-breeds, Indians Aleutian and Esquimaux, who comprise the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska and its islands. And there are not a few of these last-named races! In Canada there dwell more than 5,000 Bukovinians and Wallachians. An official of the United States of course cannot count them in, for Canada belongs to England. Our missions, for instance, count only those Greeks who go to confession to Russian priests, and in America there are many purely Greek parishes which do not give us their statistical results, but all these really have common ground with us and our bishops, as they are one in faith with us. And in the eys of the Greeks the presence in America of an Orthodox Metropolitan or Archbishop-Exarch would have tremendous importance, as they, as well as the Syro-Arabians and Servians of Austrian territory are accustomed in Europe and in Asia to have many metropolitans, archbishops and bishops of their own.

Nedzelnitsky makes more arguments — that an exarchate would help combat imposter clergy, and that it is essential in drawing Uniates to Orthodoxy. Shipman then concludes his piece:

Thus far the archpriest. But other articles have appeared in the Russian Orthodox papers, showing the proposed foundation of an ecclesiastical seminary in Cleveland, Ohio, the laying out of an extensive school plan and other signs of progressive church work. The latest news in a statement in the daily papers that Bishop Tikhon, with his entire cathedral staff, is about to remove from San Francisco to New York, which latter will hereafter be his chief see city. The change is expected to be made in the month of May of this year, and if San Francisco thus becomes a vicariate with a new bishop, the American Exarchate may be an accomplished fact within a very short time.

St. Tikhon did move from San Francisco to New York City, and a seminary was indeed established (but in Minneapolis, rather than Cleveland). No bishop was assigned to San Francisco, though, and the dream of a full-fledged American Orthodox exarchate never really came to fruition.

Another interesting thing to note is the demographics of the Russian Mission, which I believe Shipman got from the Diocese itself. There were only 721 Greeks in the Russian Diocese, but according to Nedzelnitzky, there were over 21,000 in the country (and the next year’s Census of Religious Bodies would put the figure at more than 90,000).

Also, there were very few actual Russians in the Diocese — just 1,706, or less than 5% of the reported total. The biggest groups in the Diocese were actually the Ruthenians / Bukovinians / Wallachians (16,076 / 42%) and various types of Alaskan natives (9,887 / 26%).