The First Orthodox Liturgy in Chicago

Fr. Misael Karydis served at Holy Trinity Greek Church in New Orleans from 1881 to 1901. Throughout the 1880s, he was the only Orthodox priest in between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, and even in the 1890s, he was basically the only Orthodox priest in the American South. As such, his duties were not limited to the New Orleans parish alone.

In 1886, Karydis stopped in Chicago en route from New York back to New Orleans. I don’t know why he was in New York, but when he got to Chicago, he was met by a multiethnic community of Orthodox Christians. From the Chicago Herald (5/31/1886):

As novel a church service as any that ever took place in Chicago was that of Rev. Dr. Mixall, of the Greek Church, at Berry’s Hall, corner of Washington Boulevard and Sangamon street, at 9:30 yesterday morning. There is no Greek church in this city, and never has been, and, aside from the novelty of the service on this account, it was made still more peculiar by reason of the mixed character of the audience which required that the services be conducted in the Greek and Slav tongues at the same time.

Dr. Mixall is the pastor of the Greek Church in New Orleans, and was passing through the city on his way home from New York. An altar had been improvised out of two dry goods boxes, covered with sheeting. On the larger six candles were placed, and two on the smaller beside some bread, a spear-shaped knife and a chalice of wine.

Dr. Mixall is a stout, flord-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard. When he entered the church his congregation rose to greet him, and when he stepped aside at the altar to put on his robes of office, which are similar in many respects to those of the Romish Church, five Greeks with musical voices stepped up to one side of the altar and a score of Slavs to the other side. The mass was intoned first by the Greeks and then by the Slavs, but the service, aside from this dual character and the quaint music of the singers, was not much unlike the Catholic church service.

I find it especially interesting that there were two sets of chanters, and that the service was done in both Greek and Slavonic. It’s not clear from the description whether the Greeks and Slavs went back-and-forth in their singing, or whether the Greeks did the first half of the service and the Slavs the second. Either way, it was an creative way to deal with the multiethnic situation.

The Herald went on to explain that almost 100 people attended the service, despite the fact that only a part of the Orthodox community had been notified of Fr. Misael’s arrival. And they were generous, too — the newspaper reporter was impressed with the size of the collection, saying that it was “far more liberal than those in English-speaking churches.” The reporter concluded, “It is likely that Dr. Mixall’s visit will result in the founding of a Greek church in this city.”

In the past, we have discussed at length the later history of Orthodoxy in Chicago — how the community tried to form a parish, but failed, and how, in 1892, separate Greek and Russian parishes were founded almost simultaneously. But Karydis’ visit predates all of that, and his 1886 Divine Liturgy seems to have been the first ever celebrated in Chicago.

8 Replies to “The First Orthodox Liturgy in Chicago”

  1. I just stumbled across this. I’ll have to see if I can scare up anyting on this Greek priest from Russian in 1872. According to the NY Times, there were enough Greeks in Chicago. The other details are interesting:

    The new Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia of religious knowledge. v. IV, p. 5. 1909,+in+1872,+when+Greeks+and+Slavs+united+in+calling%22&hl=en&ei=Cd2LTfmqGNTogQeYh7muDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=The%20second%20was%20founded%20in%20Chicago%2C%20in%201872%2C%20when%20Greeks%20and%20Slavs%20united%20in%20calling%22&f=false

    “The first Orthodox church for those of Greek nationality was founded in New Orleans, where many Greek merchants were engaged in the cotton trade. The second was founded in Chicago in 1872, when Greeks and Slavs united in calling a Greek priest from Russia. This church, after an interval, was reestablished in 1891, and in the same year another was opened in New York City, and a fourth in Boston with a priest of Syrian nationality. The Church of Lowell, Mass., a city having a large Greek population, dates from 1895. The total number of Orthodox churches for those of Greek descent, under the jurisdiction either of the Synod of Greece or of the Greek patriarch at Constantinople at present exceeds thirty. A religious paper is published in Greek at Milwaukee. In 1905 and again in 1907 a bill was introduced in the Greek parliament at Athens for the despatch of one of the prelates of Greece as a resident bishop for the Greeks in the United States. The bill, however, failed to pass, perhaps because the existence in the United States of bishops of the Greek Church owing allegiance to two different autonomous synods— those of Russia and Greece—would be anticanonical. It has been suggested that, besides the Russian and Syrian bishops, a Greek and a Servian bishop be appointed; an independent synod for the United States and Canada can then be formed and the bishops can elect their own metropolitan.”

    I wonder if the records of the debates in the Greek Parliament have survived.

    1. Well, so much for my lecture last night : ) If there really was serious talk of a Chicago church in 1872, that’s just amazing. It’s 13 years before the first (known) Orthodox benevolent society was formed. There has to be SOME documentation of this, if it happened (and it has to be rooted in reality, because otherwise, why would Schaff include it in his encyclopedia?

      This is an outstanding find, and one that, frankly, has been sitting right under our noses. There must be at least some surviving documentation from the Greek Parliament, too… So much to research, so little time!

  2. Surfing I came across something interesting, “Extracts from the Official memorandum Report of the Over-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod Count D. Tolstoy to the Office of Orthodox confession for the year 1874.”

    I don’t have time to go through all of it right now, but one thing that caught my eye is the sentence on North America “Now Father Bjerring suggests that there are living in New York, Chicago and other cities of North American a significant number of Slav-Catholics who have clearly expressed their disposition to Orthodoxy” and then goes on to say something about alternating services in English and Slavonic.

  3. Searching for clues of the “Russian Connection,” I’m wondering if the transfer of bishops in 1870 has anything to do with this. Bp. Paul Popov, returned to Russia across the United States, instead of across the Bering Sea as had his predecessors. I assume that was by train, which would have gone through Chicago. Twice the size of SF, Chicago was the largest city Bp. Paul had ever seen when he laid eyes on it. His successor, Bp. John Mitropolsky, came from Moscow, which was only twice as large as Chicago. The possible impressions, and those of Fr. Bjerring, may have put Chicago on the radar screen.

    I was then reminded of the visit of the Russian Grand Duke Alexei to Chicago on New Year’s 1872, while the city was rebuilding, less than three months after the Great Fire. In the private publication (based on news reports) “His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Alexis in the United States,”
    it says how His Imperial Highness spent New Years Eve:

    “In spite of the fire and kindred embarrassments, the proprietors of the late elegant and fastidious Tremont have fitted up most superb apartments for the Duke in their temporary quarters, and the Imperial visitor exclaimed at once that he was ” very agreeably surprised” at them.

    There was considerable of a crowd at the hotel when the Grand Duke arrived, and large numbers lingered around there all day in hopes of getting a glimpse of him.

    While the corridors and sidewalks were thronged, the Russian tourist was out with a city official of Chicago, walking through the mud and slush and rain of tbe burned district in the vicinity of Lake, Clark, and Randolph streets. No one knew him, and he had a free and unmolested time of it.”

    This area is just across the river, a 5 minute walk down two blocks, from where the earliest Greeks are recorded to have settled, and returned after the fire, to make the first Greektown, which began to swell in 1872, in part from the activities of Christ Chaconas “the Columbus of Sparta,” who recruited friends back home to immigrate, who got jobs in construction in rebuilding the city and as fruit peddlers and merchants on the Lake street mentioned above. There is no mention in the book about an audience with the local Orthodox, as there is on New Orleans and New York, but Russian patronage may have been suggested to the local Greeks by the Grand Dukes gift to the city of $5,000 in gold (today=$330,000) for those left homeless by the fire.

    Then there was also personal connections: the Grand Duke’s father Czar Alexander III had not only supported the North during the recent war between the states (causing a strong Russophilia in the US) but also at the same time supported George I’s candidacy for the Greek throne, and the marriage of the Czarovich, the Grand Duke’s brother, to George’s sister Dagmar (later Czarina Maria:she’s the Dowager empress in “Anastasia.” Her remaiins were returned to Russia for burial 5 years ago, 140 after her first arrival in Russia for her wedding). A year later King George I of Greece married the Grand Duke’s cousin, making her Queen Olga of Greece.

    (Two decades later their son Prince George of Greece-the GD Alexei’s nephew on the father’s side and second cousin on the mother’s-passed through New York on his way from Japan to Russia to receive thanks from the Czar and Czarina (Prince George’s second cousin and aunt) for saving the life of their son the Czarovich Nicholas (II) in Japan. The occasion of the local Greeks coming to greet him (and the Russian consul who accompanied him from San Francisco) was the catalyst of organizing the first Greek parish in NYC).

    Anyway, the fledgling Greek community may have been inspired by the Grand Duke’s largess and the impression he made, to seek a priest from the Russians rather then get one that they would have to support from Greece, the later probably being the reason why the parish went defunct. Another reason it did not succeed in 1872 was that the first Greek woman, Mrs. Georgia Pooley (Poulis) didn’t arrive until 1885:when she did she organized the Greco-Slavonic Brotherhood, the first Greek voluntary soceity, for the purpose of erecting a Church.

    1. Isa, this is great stuff! So in the early 1870s, we apparently have (1) the beginnings of a Greek colony in Chicago, in large part through the efforts of Christ Chaconas, (2) the likely visit of Bishop Paul in the city on his way back to Russia, and (3) the visit of Grand Duke Alexis. Might a proto-parish have existed in Chicago at this early date? It’s certainly possible that the newly-arrived Greeks might have prayed together.

      Another thing you posted that jumped out at me is the reference by Bjerring to “Slav-Catholics” who were interested in converting to Orthodoxy. This would have been 15 or so years before St. Alexis started making his move in the direction of Orthodoxy. Might there have been a small but still significant number of earlier Uniate converts that predated St. Alexis’ conversion? It sounds possible, although with no priest nearby, it would have been difficult. There’s got to be story here, waiting to be uncovered.

  4. As I mentioned on the thread on Archm. Kanellas as the first Greek priest, Canoutas “Hellenism in America” starts on Chicago with this:


    The example of the Greeks of New York [he goes into GREAT detail into the founding the parishes in NYC] those of Chicago also imitated, according to the principles of 1892, an approximately equal number of expatriot immigrants, seeking from the Sacred Synod of Greece a priest. The Sacred Synod sends such, Archm. Panag. Phiambolis, a steward, Ithacan of the homeland, former chaplain and teacher of the Greek Coummunity of Soulina by the Danube [i.e easternmost Romania on the Black Sea]. He arrived in Chicago the 25th of March 1892, and celebrated the first liturgy the follwoing Sunday, which such was Palm Sunday, in a certain large hall converted into a temple, so situated on Randolph street. The purely Greek expatriate families in Chicago then were only four, i.e., that of John Palamari from Tenos, that of Anastasios Manousos and Sarantos Loumos from the people of Therapnon of Lacedaemos, and one other, named Pouli [i.e. Pooley], Kerkyraios. Besides the above four Greeks, there was also 4-6 other Greek sailors, married, but to catholic Irish women. Almost all Greeks in Chicago in thpse days were brought down out of Lacedaimon, and occupied, with very few exceptions, in the sale of fruit on the streets. Yet we have noted, that before the arrival of these new Lacedaimonian immigrants and this first establiishment of a purely Greek Church by them, they started in Chicago from 1872, and perhaps earlier, a few Greek sailors, set out from various Greek islands, the sort dwelling in the domestic market of Lake Michigan and some other small occupations. Surch persons were establishing some charity bortherhood, at first amongst themselves, but then with the correligionous Slavs under the name of “Greco-Slav Brotherhood,” the purpose of which was for the joint upkeep of an Orthoox temple, in which they would worship. Actually they had to rent some room and had to hire a Serb or Russian priest, one who also knows the Greek language, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. After a certain period of time however they disagreed and the Greeks parted and produced anew a purely Greek brotherhood, and called once a year then on the Greek priest Kallinikos Kanellas in San Francisco,
    [here is the footnote that I’ve posted on the “Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas: the first Greek priest in America?” thread], who took up in Chicago and celebrated liturgy for the benefit of the Greeks on the spot.”

    He publishes a similar account in his Greek-American guide, which Lord willing, I’ll post later.

  5. Thomas Burgess “Greeks in America” quotes Canoutas’ other work “Greek-American Guide” 1912, which I’m trying to find again.


    Probably the correct estimate of the Greek population of the metropolis of the West is 20,000. The numbers vary in winter and summer with the coming and going of the railroad laborers. Let us quote first from Canoutas’ “Greek-American Guide,” (pp. 391-392), translating literally.

    “Before 1882 there were a small number of Greeks in Chicago. These organized, with some Slavs, the ‘Helleno-Slavic Brotherhood,’ which later was called the ‘Good Deed Brotherhood,’ and invited a certain Greek priest, a graduate of a Russian school, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. After 1882 more Greeks immigrated to Chicago, and by 1891, when their number had reached 100, they organized a society under the name of ‘Therapnean Society’ [afterwards was called ‘Lycurgos’], the object of which was the establishment of a Greek church. Through the efficient work of this society a priest was asked for from Greece, and the Eev. P. Phiampolis came and remained there till 1898, when he went to Boston as pastor of that community. After this there were some other priests appointed, and in 1894 were sent the reverent and learned Archimandrites Leon Pegeas and Ambrosios Mandelares, both graduates of our national university. The first church building of their own was erected in 1898 under the presidency of the k. K. Loumos, ‘Holy Trinity,’ 1101 Johnson Street. Unhappily, this church was changed from a house of God to a nucleus of strife, wrangles, and legal contests, lasting for almost a decade, because of the jealousy of different parties as to who should be president and vice-president and all the rest of it! Thousands of dollars were wasted in the American courts by the various committees on matters of but transitory importance; often the police were called in to prevent fighting and bloodshed in this church building between those striving for the first places; and frequently the American press published articles on the subj ect that were not at all complimentary. Happily, order was restored at last in this great Greek colony by the establishment of two more churches, and the division of the whole colony into three sections. The first division or parish attend the old church, which remains under the pastorship of the Rev. Leon Pegeas. The second division or parish, made up of the compatriots living in the southern part of the city, attend the newly built church of St. Constantine (6100 Michigan Avenue), which is under the pastorship of the Rev. Ambrosios Mandelares. The third parish, made up of those in the north and northwest part, attend the stately church of The Annunciation, also newly built on LaSalle Avenue, Nos. 1017-1019, which is under a third pastor, at first the Eev. Const. Nicoletopoulos, now the Rev. Charitos Panagopoulos.””

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