Episcopalians & Orthodox claims in America, 1862

Not going in chronological order, but continuing on the theme from yesterday… The following article appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin on December 6, 1862:

At the General Episcopal Convention recently held in New York, Dr. Thrall, late of San Francisco, took occasion to make some interesting statements as to the Russo-Greek church here. There were, said he, in San Francisco between 300 and 400 communicants of the Russo-Greek church, some of whom had been under his pastoral charge, although not feeling free to receive the communion at his hands, owing to the unsettled relations between their church and ours. They were about to build a church of their own and become organized into a parish; and before long there might be appointed a Bishop of the Russo-Greek church, who would claim jurisdiction and thus bring about a conflict with the Bishop of California. This ought to force upon the Convention the consideration of that great question — one of the greatest of questions — the establishment of full ecclesiastical relations with the Russo-Greek church. He was not prepared to pass an opinion on the subject, and did not suppose that, at this late moment in the session, the House would go into the discussion. He only asked for the appointment of a committee of inquiry and correspondence on the subject, the main object of which would be to present the claims of our own church as a true part of the Church Catholic, and thus as duly qualified to guide and feed those who might come from the Russian dominions to reside temporarily or permanently among us. There wre three possibilities that might ultimately result from the movement thus begun: 1st. A number of brethren of the Russo-Greek church might be brought into our own communion; 2d. It might lead the way to the correction of some of the errors of the Greek church itself; 3d. It might at last enable the Anglican and the Greek churches to present an undivided front to Rome and the infidel.

The article goes on to say that, after some discussion, the resolution passed “almost unanimously.” This committee — the “Russo-Greek Committee” — dove into its work. In 1865, it sent representatives to Russia to confer with the leading Orthodox churchmen there, including St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. The meetings were extremely positive; the Committee’s report to the 1865 General Convention can be viewed here.

From the above article, we also see that, in 1862, there were already several hundred Orthodox Christians in San Francisco, and even before the sale of Alaska to the US was imminent, they were hoping to establish a parish. The Episcopalians foresaw that “before long there might be appointed a Bishop of the Russo-Greek church, who would claim jurisdiction and thus bring about a conflict with the [Episcopal] Bishop of California.” It is this potential territorial conflict which provides part of the impetus to create the Russo-Greek Committee.

Eventually, in the winter of 1867-68, an Russian church was founded in San Francisco, and in 1870, Bishop John Mitropolsky moved his residence to that city. But, as we’ve discussed previously, he formally claimed territory in Alaska only, with the title, “Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” thus avoiding a conflict with the Episcopal Bishop of California.

We’ll keep fleshing this out in the days to come; however, for now, consider some of the things that were going on in this period:

  • As we saw above, at the 1862 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Dr. Thrall reported on the presence of Orthodox Christians in San Francisco, and the possibility of an Orthodox parish and even an Orthodox bishop in the future. The convention passed a resolution to create a “Russo-Greek Committee.”
  • In 1865, Anglican representatives of the Russo-Greek Committee visited Russia and had very positive meetings with the hierarchs there. The same year, Agapius Honcharenko served the first Orthodox liturgy in New York, using the Episcopalian Trinity Chapel. Among many Episcopalians, this was seen a landmark event.
  • In 1866, the Russian Church planned to establish a representation church in New York City, with the main goal of furthering dialogue with the Episcopalians.
  • In 1867, Russia sold its American territory — Alaska — to the United States of America.
  • In the winter of 1867-68, the Russian Church established a parish in San Francisco.
  • In 1870, Nicholas Bjerring opened a Russian chapel in New York, apparently in fulfillment of the 1866 plan. The same year, the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was created, and the new hierarch, John Mitropolsky, moved the bishop’s residence to San Francisco.

Bottom line, it’s impossible to understand the policy of the Russian Church towards America in the 1860s without also considering the relations between the Russian and Episcopal Churches. And once you start to understand those relations, Russia’s seemingly paradoxical treatment of America — with territorial claims only in Alaska, but a bishop living in the contiguous US — begins to make sense.

6 Replies to “Episcopalians & Orthodox claims in America, 1862”

  1. This may have been what broke the log jam in evangelizing New York and the rest of the US: the New York Times article (Dec. 1, 1895) with the obvious falsehood in the headline “FIRST BISHOP OF ALASKA” beginning “There was a notable gathering of the leading Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church yesterday, when the first missionary Bishop that Alaska has ever had, the Rev. Peter Trimble Rowe, was consecrated in St. George’s Church, in Stuyvesant Square.”

    The article goes on that the “First Bishop of Alaska” was the unanimous choice of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies for the missionary jurisdiction of Alaska…” The service was choked full of bishops (all named), “the ceremony…a solemn and impressive one and the coming together of so many men eminent in their church, not only as Bishops, but as men who have suffered and sacrificed much for their cause in wild and dangerous parts of the Western country, added greatly to the dignity and solemnity of the consecration… Bishop Talbot took his text from the Acts of the Apostles-“Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the gentiles….in the spirit of this command we are here today to consecrate the first Bishop of far away Alaska, where the flock is without a shepherd. The very genius of Christianity is expansion…”

    There is not a single reference to the Orthodox, in an article that takes up nearly a whole page.

  2. I think you might be on to something, Isa. The only problem is, I’ve found some references to Bp Nicholas’ see as encompassing the whole US from earlier in 1895. It may just be a coincidence. Or, it could be that once Bp Nicholas claimed all of America, the Episcopalians felt free to claim Alaska.

  3. “The only problem is, I’ve found some references to Bp Nicholas’ see as encompassing the whole US from earlier in 1895.”

    LOL. Won’t argue there. As the 1871 law states in NY (see my lengthy post under the year 1905 thread), such claims were already made.

    I think you are right, it was mutual. As the Orthodox began with accepting the uniates and the Arabs started to go to the Orthodox parishes set up instead of the Episcopalian, issues came to a head.

  4. I just came across something of interest here: “The American annual cyclopedia and register of important events” 1879

    It contains correspondence between the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of Antioch in 1873 with the Episcopal Church in the United States (St. John in New York is specified) over that latter’s general convention of 1871, referring to correspodence with the Russian Church three years prior to that. As Russia was already heavily involved in the Middle East at the time, it would seem the Orthodox/Episcopalian relations in North America had become a Pan-Orthodox matter.

  5. Something interesting on this topic, but in reverse. From the memoirs of Wiliiam Ingraham Kip, 1st Episcopalian Missionary Bishop to CA, and then 1st Episcopalian Bishop of CA, at SF:


    The earliest Convention (so called) was held in Trinity Church, San Francisco, in July, 1850, as it is expressed in the report,—” for the purpose of organizing the Diocese of California.” The opening sermon was preached by Dr. Ver Mehr, and the Rev. Flavel S. Mines was appointed chairman. The Convention met for eight evenings in succession, and adopted a constitution that could have been expanded to meet all the wants of a Diocese the size of New York. Besides the ordinary Standing Committee, they appointed a Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Fund; a Board of Trustees of the Diocesan Fund; Trustees of the College and Theological Seminary; and a Board of managers of the Presbyterium, (a place for disabled clergymen,) and of the Sanitarium, (a home for infirm widows). Most of these institutions, after a lapse of years, have not yet commenced their existence.

    It is a fact but little known to the Churchmen of this day, that the early founders of the Church on this coast had no idea of uniting with the general Church at the East. There is no recognition of it in any of their proceedings. They ignored the name of the ” Protestant Episcopal Church,” and called their organization ” the Church in California.”

    Knowing that while in this position no Bishop would be consecrated for them, the question of attempting to procure the episcopate from the Greek Church was discussed, previous to the meeting of the Convention. The Missionary Committee had cut off the stipends for California. Dr. Ver Mehr and Mr. Mines were of the opinion that the ecclesiastical authority at the East had no jurisdiction over the doctor, who never had been a missionary, or over Mr. Mines, whom by their action they had discarded; and that, therefore, they had a right to organize independently.

    But, apparently abandoning the idea of recourse to the Greek Church, the Convention elected as their Bishop the Rt. Rev. Horatio Southgate, who, having been consecrated for a Mission to Turkey, from which he had lately returned, was already a Bishop. He, however, declined the invitation. Then three years passed away, during which time nothing further was done to organize the Church. And when the Convention met in May, 1853, in their report they say: “The Diocese of California, organized in 1850, has remained about stationary—we are obliged to confess it; nay, it may in the eyes of some have seemed to be defunct. It exists, but in verity we cannot say more.” The Rev. Flavel S. Mines had been removed by death. Marysville, where the Rev. Augustus Fitch had commenced a parish, was vacant, by his removal to the East in the previous year, and the Standing Committee reported: ” At this time the parish at Marysville is defunct.” The same was the case with Sacramento and Stockton. The two parishes in San Francisco—Trinity and Grace—alone were reported by the committee as being ” in a progressive condition.”

    Still no advance had been made in procuring Episcopal supervision. The idea was entertained here, that as they had regularly organized themselves into a Diocese, the General Convention could not appoint a Missionary Bishop over them. They, therefore appointed a committee to correspond with different Bishops, and procure from some one of them a visit for temporary services. The report of the Standing Committee contains the following equivocal language: “As a Diocese we ought to manage our own affairs. Whether we ask for admission into union or not, we can no more rely on missionary help.” A resolution, however, was finally passed, ” to apply for admission into union with the General Convention,” but without any declaration that they subscribed to the government of the Church general in the United States.

    At the General Convention of 1853, therefore, California was regarded in the House of Bishops with an evident feeling of distrust. The impression seemed to be, that the Diocese wished in some way to be independent, and that its organization was made to prevent the appointment of a Missionary Bishop. The General Convention, therefore, entirely ignored the action of the Diocese, on the ground that it had not subscribed to the Constitution of the Church,— refused to receive its delegates, (two lay delegates being present,)—and the House of Bishops proceeded to the election of a Missionary Bishop.

    Before I left New York, considerable doubt was expressed as to the state in which I should find things on my arrival on the Pacific coast. The last conversation I had with one of the members of the Missionary Committee, (Rev. Chas. Halsey), on board the George Law, just before she left the wharf, was on this point. He said to me:—” If there is any opposition, we will at once send into the Diocese half a dozen missionaries, who will give the majority to right principles, and be the Diocese.” I subsequently learned, that on the news of the election reaching California, some, whose schemes had been thereby defeated, held a caucus to discuss the question, whether or not they should nullify it. Fortunately for them, they determined to bow to the decision of the Church. For my own part, I came prepared for whichever course they might take. If I should be met in a proper, Churchlike spirit, I was ready to respond to them with like feelings. If they took the opposite course, I should have refused all recognition of the recusants, as Churchmen, and, regarding them as schismatics, should have considered the Church in this Diocese as including those only who paid a proper respect to its authority.

    I, however, had no cause of complaint. The day after my arrival, the Standing Committee waited on me to present a series of resolutions of welcome, and at our Convention, four months later, the following preamble and resolutions were adopted.

    — Whereas, this Convention, at its session in May, 1853, adopted measures to obtain an Episcopal visitation of the Diocese of California, by some one of the Bishops of Dioceses in union with the General Convention, under the supposition that California, being an organized Diocese, was precluded from the privilege of having a Missionary Bishop placed in charge over her; And whereas, the General Convention, at its session in October, 1853, judged it canonical and expedient to send a Missionary Bishop to this Diocese, therefore,

    ” Besolved, That this Convention desires to express its devout thankfulness to the overruling Providence of Almighty God, and its very cordial satisfaction, that this Diocese has thus so soon been permitted to enjoy the benefit and consolation of a Bishop’s care.

    “Besolved, That this Convention eagerly embraces this first opportunity to express its hearty approval of the action of the Standing Committee as the representative of the Diocese, in promptly receiving the Rt. Rev. Wm. Ingraham Kip, D.D., Missionary Bishop to the Diocese of California, with a reverent and affectionate welcome, to be the shepherd of the sheep in this portion of Christ’s fold and our beloved Father in God.””
    Btw, by “Church of the East” he means EPCUSA, not the Orthodox. What is interesting is that by this convention date CA was nearly (two months away) a state of the union, Russia and already withdrawn from her CA colony at Fort Ross for almost a decade, and there was no idea that “Russian America”-i.e. present day AK-would join her in the Union. That Russia jurisdiction was even contemplated at the time, and by American Protestants, indicates that even at this early date the Russian Diocese’s presence was felt in the lower 48.

  6. The “Constitution and canons for the government the Protestant Episcopal Church” of 1865 has some interesting info, including St. Innocent speaking in 1863 of plans to set up what became Holy Trinity Cathedral SF OCA:

    THE Committee appointed at the last General Convention ” to consider the expediency of opening communication with the Russo-Creek Church, to collect authentic information bearing upon the subject, and to report to the next General Convention,” beg leave to report as follows: —….During the summer of 1863, a member of our Committee, the Hon. S. B. Ruggles, having been commissioned by the Government of the United States as its representative to the International Statistical Congress which assembled at Berlin, in Prussia, proceeded thence on a short visit to Russia. During his sojourn in that country, he was favored with several interviews with those at’ the highest official position, among whom was the venerable Metropolitan of Moscow.

    In those interviews, the attention of the imperial authorities was invited to the striking geographical analogies between Russia and the American Union, in the vast territorial extent of their lands and waters, physically constituting them the two great continental powers of modern days.

    The steadily increasing convergence of the two nations in their march of civilization in the Northern Pacific, opening a new hemisphere for inter-continental commerce, was also dwelt upon, and especially in connection with the continental telegraphic enterprises so characteristic of both. It was claimed, that, by their joint efforts, not only would New York and Washington be united by daily intercourse with Moscow and St. Petersburg, but that Asiatic branches, extending through Japan, China, and Australia, practically placing the pagan nations of the distant East side by side with the Christendom of Europe and America, would ore long convert the Pacific into one vast theatre, not alone of commercial movement, but of that of religious advancement, triumphantly carrying the cross and the word of Christ into that long-benighted portion of the globe….

    In hastening such a final development, the peculiar importance of friendly and fraternal intercourse between the Orthodox Apostolical [sic] churches in the two nations, now presenting so many points of agreement, was respectfully but earnestly asserted. Expressly disclaiming any wish for the premature discussion of any theological or ecclesiastical questions, it was deemed to be neither ill-timed nor improper to suggest to the ecclesiastical authorities in Russia, that any existing religious sympathies between the two nations would be materially strengthened by the mutual interchange on the part of the two churches, among the pioneers intermingling in those distant regions, of the religious offices common to both, and especially in the Christian duties of visiting the sick and burying the dead….

    The General Convention will be gratified to hear that the venerable and benevolent Philaret, Archbishop, and Metropolitan of Moscow, to whom this suggestion was made, not only gave it his prompt and cordial concurrence, but, after listening with interest to the statement of the active efforts in progress for promoting the physical welfare of the two nations on the Northern Pacific, expressed his willingness to submit without delay, to the Holy Synod at St. Petersburg, the question of establishing a Russian church at San Francisco…

    Another Metropolitan, after the perusal of the letters of the American Bishops, remarked, that ” the feelings which prompted this movement, and the sentiments expressed by the Bishops m their letters, could not but meet with warm sympathy on the part of the Russian Church, which is always ready to negotiate with those who desire to stand on the basis of primitive truth, and who admit the apostolic claims and dignity of the Russian Church;” adding, that ” the cordial political harmony which has always existed between Russia and America, and the more intimate social relations which are gradually springing up, ought to lead to more intimate relations between the churches, and the strengthening of those ties which bind heart to heart in the fellowship and love of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

    ….The missionary operations of the Russian Church we cannot pause to specify, but would only mention, as most interesting to us, that, extending across the Eastern Hemisphere, they have reached to bless our American continent by the conversion to Christianity and civilization of thousands of pagans on its north-western coasts. And the names of Benjamin, Sitviazen, Nezvetoff, and Innocent I., have been rendered immortal in the annals of this continent by the apostolic zeal, labors, and self-denials of those noble servants of Christ, who have borne these names but to honor them, and which, as a sister and neighboring Church, we are happy to mention in our own records. The languishing mission entered upon by Benjamin in 1823 has grown to be the Diocese of New Archangel, with its own Bishop, 27 priests, and 42 churches and chapels. It is yet presided over, happily, by its founder and apostle, Benjamin, who as Archbishop of Kamtschatka, under the title of Innocent I., superintends all the polar churches, and, although very aged, visits every part of his immense Arch-Diocese.

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