The Erratic Life of Fr. Patrick Mythen

Fr. Patrick Mythen was an Orthodox Christian for just four years, but in that time, he was one of the most powerful priests in the whole Russian Archdiocese. This period — 1920-1924 — was one of great tumult and trial for the Russian jurisdiction, as it shifted from an archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church to a de facto self-governing “Metropolia.” The early ’20s also witnessed the death of Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, the ordination of a slew of convert priests, the founding of the Greek Archdiocese, and the creation of a body called the “African Orthodox Church.” And Fr. Patrick Mythen was in the middle of all of it.

Mythen was born James Grattan Mythen, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1883. At least, I’m pretty sure it was Baltimore in 1883; I’ve also seen Boston in 1885, or New Orleans in 1886. I’m confident about the 1883 date, because that’s what Mythen gave, but I’m not 100% sure about the city.

As far as religion went, Mythen was… well, he was confused. His mother, a Roman Catholic, died while giving birth to him. His father was an agnostic Episcopalian, and after being widowed, he married a German Lutheran woman. But, according to Fr. Patrick, his father “lost his mind,” leaving young James to be raised by an uncle. He was brought up in the Episcopal Church, but when he was 14, he visited some of his mother’s relatives in Chicago, who acquainted Mythen with Roman Catholicism.

I think Mythen converted to Roman Catholicism at this point. He decided to become a priest, and at about 14, he entered the Roman Catholic Epiphany College in Baltimore. While he was there, the founder of the school became a Unitarian, of all things. At 17, Mythen moved to Villanova College (now University), where he was scandalized by a professor who focused a great deal of attention on the “bad popes” of history. So Mythen became an Episcopalian again — all while still a teenager.

Over the next decade or so, Mythen continued to bounce back and forth between Rome and Anglicanism. At 21, he enrolled at the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary in New York; when he graduated, he was ordained a deacon and was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But soon he went to Rome and was received back into the Roman Catholic Church… And, just as quickly, he returned to the Episcopal Church and was ordained a priest. For a little while, in his mid-20s, Mythen tried to become an Old Catholic Benedictine monk in the Episcopal diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (the diocese of Bishop Charles Grafton, who was old friends with St. Tikhon).

From 1912-1914, Mythen was very active in the women’s suffrage movement, participating in marches, speaking at conventions. Then the war came — World War I, of course — and Mythen joined the Navy. Later, he explained his reasoning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (8/30/1919):

On Easter Day I preached a sermon in favor of the war, and when the young men of my parish enlisted I felt that I, being unattached, economically responsible for no one, that it was unbecoming of me to be content merely to stand in the pulpit and urge other men to give their lives for the principles which I considered worthy of life giving. And so, with countless numbers of young men of the Nation I enlisted voluntarily, although I was exempt from the draft on account of my clerical profession, and also since I was beyond the draft age. I was content to serve in the ranks in the humblest capacity, feeling that the menial tasks which fell to my lot were noble because even in their small way they were aiding in achieving the high purport of the sacred mission to which our country had committed itself.

By the end of the war, Mythen had become a strong advocate of Irish independence. He pressed his cause with the Senate, saying, “The Irish issue might well be called the acid test of our international honesty.” He went on,

As a Protestant, sir, and a clergyman of the Protestant religion, I resent the implication that Protestantism requires the sustenance of British imperialism to maintain itself in Ireland or elsewhere. Were I convinced that this were a fact, that only through the power of British arms could my religion maintain itself in Ireland, then I would repudiate my religion at once. […]

I want to say to you, sir, and gentlemen, that as a Protestant Irishman, whose family to-day in Ireland are representatives of the Protestant religion, that we would all gladly have Ireland free under any religious leadership rather than remain, as we are, the only white race still in slavery.

Mythen became the secretary of a group called the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom, and he toured the country, speaking on behalf of Irish independence. This understandably did not sit well with the Episcopalian hierarchy in America. After all, they were Anglicans, bishops of the Church of England. Pressured to quiet down, Mythen, of course, refused. Instead, he made yet another religious change — he decided to join the Orthodox Church.

I don’t know exactly when he converted to Orthodoxy, but it was sometime between February and July, 1920. In that period, he spent some time in Europe (perhaps Ireland, though he returned to America via England). He came back to America in April, and I would guess that he became Orthodox in May or June. As we discussed yesterday, by July, he was rector of the all-English Church of the Transfiguration in New York.

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far, so I’m going to pause here, at the time of Mythen’s conversion to Orthodoxy, and pick up the rest of the story in another article.

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