Source of the Week: the 1877 Holy Synod edict

For months now, I’ve been posting a new article virtually every weekday. I’ve got some things coming up in my life that will prevent me from writing quite that often, so in an effort to organize my time a bit more efficiently (and continue to offer new historical information on a regular basis), I’ve decided to introduce a couple new features for our website. One will be an occasional “Today in American Orthodox History” article, looking back on a given historical event that occurred on the same day that the article is published. (We’ve done this twice already.)

The other feature I’m introducing is something I’m tentatively calling, “Source of the Week.” We’ll reprint a particular source document, and offer some basic commentary on its meaning and significance.

Today, we’re going to look at “the edict of His Imperial Highness the Autocrat of All Russia, from the Most-holy Governing Synod to the Alaska Spiritual Consistory,” issued on May 27, 1877. Obviously, this document was originally in Russian; an English translation appeared in Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE (the newsletter of the San Francisco OCA cathedral) in May 1997, and is included in their archive.

By edict of His Imperial Highness, the Most-holy Governing Synod reviewed the proposal of the Chairman of the Special Committee on the affairs of the Orthodox Bishop’s Cathedra in America, which was received on 20 April 1877 along with the minutes of the Committee’s meeting.

On the basis of this information, we do DECREE:The Special Committee, consisting of three members and, established by the Synod for the preliminary review of the affairs related to our Orthodox Bishop’s Cathedra in America, in the second minutes of its meeting has come to following conclusions:

1) The necessity for the existence in America of the mentioned cathedra is determined by the special situation in which our local churches, clergy-missionaries assigned to them, and the Orthodox population there find themselves — they are far removed from the Siberian dioceses and are deprived of any regular communications with the shores of Siberia via the Eastern Ocean, which makes it impossible to subjugate said churches and clergymen to the supervision of the Kamchatka diocesan authorities. Meanwhile, our clergy in America, in their missionary and pastoral activities among heterodox and pagan population, are in special need of the proper directorship, and only a local diocesan Hierarch can be such a director.

2) Since our Orthodox Bishop’s Cathedra in America is widowed, our churches and clergy there at the present time remain without proper hierarchical supervision, and subdeacons assigned to the cathedra have found themselves almost totally idle since their only regular occupation is reduced to hierarchical services. The Right Reverend Innocent of Moscow stated that our American clergy can better, and with fewer obstacles, communicate with Saint Petersburg from New York, than from California to Kamchatka. Therefore, it appears to be more convenient, while the Bishop’s Cathedra in America remains widowed, to entrust our local churches and clergy to the jurisdiction of the Saint Petersburg diocesan authorities, and to charge subdeacons assigned to the cathedra with teaching at the school attached to the cathedra.

3) A member of the Spiritual Consistory in San Francisco and district dean, Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky, can not be left in America any further since he has not cleared himself from the accusation of transporting contraband, brought upon him by the Alaskan Trade Company, as a result of which our Ambassador in Washington and our Consul in San Francisco declare it extremely necessary to remove him from America; and now he is being accused of incorrectly reporting the expenditure of sums allocated for the diocese; and

4) Sailor Wilson’s statement about a blameworthy liaison between a member of the Spiritual Consistory in San Francisco, Priest [Nicholas] Kovrigin, and the wife of a certain Philip Kashevarov, must be investigated because of the gravity of the accusations detailed in this statement.

On the basis of these facts, the Most-holy Synod decides:

1) At this time, not to enter into a discussion on the abolishment of our bishop’s cathedra in America.

2) Following the example of other churches abroad, to subordinate our churches and clergy located in America to the jurisdiction of the Saint Petersburg diocesan authorities for the entire period of the widowhood of said cathedra.

3) To charge subdeacons assigned to the cathedra with teaching at the school attached to the cathedra such subjects as are accessible to them according to their knowledge.

4) To leave to the Right Reverend Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg the selection of a person who can be useful in the position of a member of the Spiritual Consistory in San Francisco and a dean of the churches and clergy of the Aleutian and Alaskan Diocese; to send this person to the city of San Francisco, and upon this person’s arrival there, to recall from San Francisco to Russia the Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky who should turn over all sums and documents in his possession to the person who is replacing him, who is also charged with the investigation of the sailor Wilson’s statement regarding the Priest Kovrigin.

The Alaska Spiritual Consistory is to be notified of these decisions.

May 27, 1877.

Ober-Secretary: A. Polonsky

Secretary: Ushakov

This is a rich document, full of information about the Russian Orthodox presence in America in the late 1870s. Recently, I discussed the mysterious death of Fr. Paul Kedrolivansky in June 1878. We see here that, one year earlier, serious accusations were made against Kedrolivansky, and the Holy Synod decided to recall him to Russia. This was on the advice of both the Russian ambassador and the Russian consul in San Francisco. Yet, a year later, Kedrolivansky was still in San Francisco. Why? Did he somehow clear himself of the charges? Did he find a way to make them, essentially, go away? 130-plus years later, it’s impossible to know whether he was blackmailing somebody in a position of power, but such a thing seems at least somewhat likely. After all, when the powerful Alaska Commercial Company accuses you of serious crimes, and the Russian ambassador and consul demand your recall to Russia, and the Holy Synod orders you to come back… Well, all things being equal, you’re going back. But Kedrolivansky did not, and I don’t know why.

The very next item in the list details the accusation that Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin, Kedrolivansky’s assistant, had a “blameworthy liason” with a married woman. The woman’s name is not given, but her husband’s name is Philip Kashevarov. Who was he? The Kashevarov family was in both Alaska and San Francisco. In fact, Vasily Kashevarov was the deacon of the San Francisco cathedral. As for Philip Kashevarov, his name doesn’t appear on any of the parishioner lists from the period, published in the Holy Trinity Cathedral archives. I did find an online reference (which, alas, I’ve since lost) to a certain Filipp Kashevarov, who was born in Sitka in 1844 and died there in 1904. I also found this little tidbit — an excerpt from the minutes of the Sitka Ecclesiastical Consistory, dated 10/4/1868:

Olga P. Nedomolvin, a creole girl, asked Bishop Paul’s permission to be married to Philip Kashevarov, a Russian pilot, before reaching the legal marriage age of sixteen, which age she would be in one month and four days. Bishop Paul ordered the Consistory to grant permission, if there were no other objections to the marriage.

Was Olga Kashevarov the woman with whom Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin allegedly had a “blameworthy liason”? It’s hard to say. Kovrigin traveled from Sitka to San Francisco in March of 1868, returned to Sitka in the summer, and then brought his whole family to San Francisco in 1869. He thus would have been in Sitka at the time of Philip Kashevarov’s marriage to Olga Nedomolvin, and he probably knew the couple. The 1877 Holy Synod edict (the only mention of the specific accusation regarding Mrs. Kashevarov) was issued more than eight years later.

More significant is the fact that Kovrigin was repeatedly accused of immorality. In 1879, Bishop Nestor sent him back to Russia. Nestor wrote to the Bishop of Irkutsk, “Right after beginning my administration of the Aleutian diocese I found myself forced to remove Priest Nikolai Kovrigin, who had become known, sadly, all over Russia for his deeds.” He hoped that “the Lord God will call and put poor Fr. Kovrigin on a better and right road.” To Metropolitan Isidore of St. Petersburg, Nestor said, “Considering all circumstances, the future tenure of Priest Nikolai Kovrigin in America, because of many matters existing against him, will cast a shadow on Orthodoxy.”

I suspect that some additional document must exist in the archives of the Russian Orthodox Church, which would explain why Kedrolivansky didn’t return to Russia as ordered, and whether Sailor Wilson’s accusations against Kovrigin were ever investigated.