Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas: the first Greek priest in America?

According to some sources, Archimandrite Kallinikos Kanellas was the first ethnic Greek priest to serve in America. And those sources may be right, depending on your definition of “Greek.” The only other candidates would be from the Greek church in New Orleans. Fr. Stephen Andreades was the priest in the late 1860s, and Fr. Gregory Yayas served there from 1872-74; considering their names, both were almost certainly Greeks of one sort or another. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Kalitski) was the priest from 1881-1901, but he was reportedly from Bulgaria. In any event, Kanellas was one of the very first Greek priests in America.

I don’t know anything about Kanellas’ early life. I do know that, before he came to the United States, Kanellas had spent some time in India. From 1880 to 1886, he was the rector of the Greek church in Calcutta (the origins of which dated to the 1700s; see this fascinating history for more information). He first shows up in the US in 1889, as one of the priests of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco. He seems to be the first of several non-Russian priests brought over to America to serve in the Russian Diocese — “client clergy,” as Fr. John Erickson has called them. Soon, he would be followed by people like Fr. Ambrose Vretta, Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny, and Fr. Michael Andreades. But Kanellas seems to have been the original.

I’m not sure what Kanellas was doing from 1886 to 1889, but I suspect he might have been in Russia. This would explain his connection to the Russian Diocese in America.

Kanellas appears to have been trusted by Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky, who appointed him to serve on the Alaskan Spiritual Consistory, the group of clergy which ran many of the day-to-day affairs of the diocese. He was particularly useful in ministering to ethnic Greeks. In 1891, he made a cross-country missionary trip. He stopped in Savannah, Georgia, and baptized a Greek child. The Columbus Enquirer-Sun (6/24/1891) reported that the child’s father spent $650, which presumably included transportation and lodging costs. The paper said that the amount “includes a handsome fee.” $650 seems outrageous, though. I checked an online inflation calculator, and it estimated that $650 in 1891 is equivalent to over $15,000 in 2008.

From Savannah, Kanellas went to New York City, where he baptized the daughter of Anthony Ralli (who was possibly connected with the well-known Ralli Brothers merchant firm). The New York Sun (6/26/1891) said that Kanellas had a “patriarchal beard and jewelled gown.”  According to one account, he actually had to bring his own baptismal font — can you imagine taking one of those on a train?

I’ve seen some references to Kanellas having served in Chicago. That’s a bit of a puzzler… In July 1891, the Chicago Inter Ocean (7/11/1891) reported that a certain Archimandrite Lininas, “who presides over a temple in San Francisco,” was visiting Chicago and holding services for the Orthodox there. I haven’t been able to find evidence of this Fr. Lininas being in San Francisco, and it’s very possible that this was actually Kanellas, on his way back from New York to California. However, the Inter Ocean says that Fr. Lininas “is a finely educated gentleman, speaking German, Russian, and French fluently, but his English is best understood through an interpreter.” So according to the paper, he didn’t speak Greek (which, if true, means he wasn’t Kanellas).

In 1892, amid much turmoil and scandal, Bp Vladimir was recalled to Russia and replaced with Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. On July 1 (June 19 Old Style), the members of the Spiritual Consistory (of which Kanellas was apparently no longer a member) wrote to the new bishop,

Today, the Archimandrite Kallinikos was informed that he has to leave the Mission as of July 1. He replied that he has nowhere to go. In accordance with Your Grace’s will, we deemed it was better to say nothing in reply: Your Grace has ordered not to drive him out.

Obviously, something was up, but I don’t know what. The 1893 San Francisco city directory  doesn’t list Kanellas among the cathedral clergy, so he didn’t stick around much longer. And for the next 18 years, I can’t figure out he was. I’m pretty sure he stayed in America, and by at least 1911 (and probably earlier), he was pastor of the Greek church in Birmingham, Alabama. In the 1913 book Greeks in America, Thomas Burgess, writing about the Birmingham church, said,

Of its former pastor, says the “Greek-American Guide,” “The Rev. Arch. Kallinikos Kanellas is a very sympathetic and reverend old man of whom it is possible to say that of the Greek clergy in America he is the most—shall we say ‘disinterested’? The Greek word is a dandy, (literally, ‘not loving of riches’). Plutarch used to use that word.

In 1913, Kanellas moved to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spent the rest of his life there. This is from Annunciation’s parish history:

Father Kallinikos Kanellas was brought to Little Rock on a permanent basis in 1913, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall near 9th and Main Streets for the next eight years. This hall included a small chapel for Liturgies and Sacraments such as weddings, baptisms, etc., as well as a place for social gatherings. Incidentally, research indicates that Father Kanellas probably was the first Orthodox priest of Greek ancestry to come to the United States. When Father Kanellas became seriously ill, young Theo Polychron visited him daily, bringing soup from his little café. Father died in 1921 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery where most of the early Greek immigrants were also interred.

As  you can see, Kanellas’ story has a lot of missing pieces. I suspect a lot of the gaps could be closed by a letter Kanellas wrote to Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis on March 16, 1918, in which he gave an account of his career in both the Russian Diocese and the Greek communities in America. That letter appears on page 333 of Paul Manolis’ History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents… unfortunately, though, I can’t read Greek, so for now, I don’t know what the letter says. If any of you out there can read Greek and are interested in Kanellas, email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.

5 Replies to “Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas: the first Greek priest in America?”

  1. Looking up for more information on the Orthodox scene in Chiicago just after the fire, I came across again the work of Serapheim George Canoutas “Hellenism in America”
    (in Greek. 1918).
    He includes the claim of a priest in Chiago in 1872, which Lord willing I will translate and post, but in it he has an interesting footnote on Arcm. Kallinkos Kanellas which I thought I would post first.

    But first, on Canoutas:

    An American Greek who has traveled extensively throughout the United States, and has mingled freely with his peojle and therefore understands their aspirations and needs, is Seraphim G. Canoutas, member of the Boston Bar and author of the “Greek-American Guide” and the “Adviser for Greeks in America.”

    The following plain recital of Mr. Canoutas’s struggle and achievement is worthy of presentation here, because it shows that what the immigrant seeks for in America he may find, and that back of real success and contentment lies the will to serve. He says in a letter to the editor:—

    “I arrived in this country fifteen years ago [u,e, ], and my hardships during the first five to seven years cannot be briefly told. Still, I am glad that I have suffered so much. I was born in a little village of Greece, in 1873 or 1874; I do not know the exact date of my birth. There were no records kept in those days, and my parents were illiterate. There was no school in the little village; no church either. I went to school to another village at a distance of about three miles. I do not know how I managed to go to what they call Gymnasium in Greece, and finally to the University at Athens—a very uncommon thing for a poor peasant’s son. I graduated from the University of Athens, Law Department, in 1898, and in 1899 I received my license to practise law. But a poor young man in those days had no chance whatever to get any clients in Greece, except by selling his conscience and his principles to some politician. I left Greece immediately after my admission to the bar and settled in Constantinople, Turkey, where I started to practise law before the Consular Court of Greece. (Each nation maintains separate courts for its citizens or subjects in Turkey.) I practised law there for over five years and was doing very well. But I wanted to see other countries; there was something there which I did not like. I went to France, Italy, Austria, and at last I decided to come to America. When I arrived in America, I found myself wholly discouraged. Nobody could give me advice what to do. There were very few educated Greeks, fifteen years ago, in this country, and they did not know how to help others; they rather discouraged me. I knew not a word of Englsh; but, knowing French, I managed to learn some English in a few months. Two years after my arrival I started to write a book for the new immigrants under the title of “Greek-American Guide,” giving them as much information about the country as I knew. But books do not pay. Although everybody appreciated the usefulness of my book, the purchasers were very few.

    “In 1909 to 1910 I made a trip all over the United States and Canada to gather information about my countrymen from personal experience. Finally I met a good American who told me how I could study law in this country and be admitted to the bar. In 1912 I was admitted to the bar in Boston, and have practised law since; but I like social work better than law. I have continued to lecture to Greeks throughout this State and in New England; and I feel a great satisfaction that I have been able to do some good for my countrymen, as well as for my adopted country, which offers the greatest opportunities to everybody, although it takes a long time for a foreigner to find out.”

    In 1918 Mr. Canoutas published his “Hellenism in America,” dedicating the book “to the Greeks in America in general, but those serving under the glorious American flag in particular … in perpetual remembrance of their devotion to our beloved country and their heroic sacrifices for the cause of democracy.”
    “The American spirit in the writings of Americans of foreign birth” edited by R. E. Stauffer

    Thomas Burgess depended on K[yrios] Conoutas (as he calls him), noting that he toured the Greek colonies in every state except Arizona and New Mexico.

    As for Achmd. Kallinos, Mr. Conoutas says as a footnote to the early Church in Chicago:

    “This [Kallinikos Kanellos] had come to San Francisco from Calcutta, brought down from Galaxidi [a town in peripheral central Greece, in the middle of the north shore of the Gulf of Corinth] and ended up hereafter a priest in Savanna and Birmingham. The Russian bishop contended that he was not a priest. That, obviously, he spread deliberately, when Archm. Kallinikos passed over to Chicago and celebrated liturgy seperate for the Greeks. He not only was and is the over aged [senior?] priest, already, Kallinikos, resident in Little Rock of the State of Arkansas, but is also one of the more venerable priests, as far as self-denial [and] dislove of money, accomplishing that as one of the few exceptionss amongst the Greek clerics in America. According to the Archm. Phiambolis, Father Kallinikos is the first Greek priest to trod American soil. We nonretheless sense that he was first of the Church in New Orleans.”

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