The World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893

World's Parliament of Religions. Abp Dionysius Latas is holding a staff, the second man to the right of the podium. (Click to enlarge. Many thanks to Isa Almisry for sending me a link to this photo.)

Not long ago, I wrote a pair of articles on the visit of the Greek archbishop Dionysius Latas to the United States. The archbishop came to America in 1893 to attend the “World’s Parliament of Religions,” which was held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. When we last left Abp Dionysius, he had visited New York and Washington and was on his way to the main event in Chicago. We’ll continue his story today.

Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante, at the World's Parliament of Religions

Abp Dionysius and his deacon, Homer Paratis, arrived in Chicago in August or early September. The archbishop gave two addresses at the Parliament. His main talk focused on the history of religion in Greece, from the pre-Christian philosophers through the arrival of Christianity. He closed with this prayer:

Almighty King, most High Omnipotent God, look upon human kind; enlighten us that we may know Thy will, Thy ways, Thy holy truths; bless Thy holy truths; bless Thy holy Church. Bless this country. Magnify the renowned peoples of the United States of America, which in its greatness and happiness invited us to this place from the remotest parts of the earth, and gave us a place of honor in this Columbian year to witness with them the evidences of their great progress, and the wonderful achievements of the human mind.

The Parliament itself was a typically overambitious 19th century ecumenical gathering, and some of the participants had unrealistic goals of inter-religious union. In fact, one of those unduly optimistic compromisers was the Antiochian archimandrite Christopher Jabara, whom we’ve discussed in the past.

There were other Orthodox people there, too. Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, pastor of Chicago’s new Greek church, gave a speech of his own, and in many ways, it was more interesting than either of Abp Dionysius’ addresses. He was certainly not of one mind with Fr. Christopher Jabara. At the outset of his talk, Phiambolis said, “Believing is not the question — believing rightly is the question.” After referring to Rome’s schism from Orthodoxy, Phiambolis attacked Islam:

This division resulted in the prevention of Christianism and the progress of Mohammedanism, whose motto is, “Kill the Infidels,” because every one who is not a Mohammedan, according to the Koran of the prophet, is an infidel, is a dog. […] The people of the orient suffered, and still suffer; the Christian virgins are dishonored by the followers of the moral prophet, and the life of a Christian is not considered as precious as that of a dog.

Phiambolis then spoke of the Orthodox Church:

Regarding the church, the orthodox church, we are true to the examples of the apostles and the paradigma of the synods, we follow the same road in religious questions, and after discussion do not accept new dogma without the agreement of the whole ecumenical council; neither do we adopt any dogma other than that of the one united and undivided church whose doctrine has been followed until to-day. The orthodox Apostolic Catholic church contains many different nations, and every one of them uses its own language in the mass and litany and governs its church independently, but all these nations have the same faith.

The Russian bishop of Alaska, Nicholas Ziorov, was at the Parliament on its opening day, but was conspicuously absent from the meetings themselves. According to the 1893 book The World’s Parliament of Religions, Bp Nicholas “met with the delegates and deeply regretted that his church duties called him from the city.” I’m not sure what those “church duties” were, and while I’m just speculating here, it’s possible that Bp Nicholas (or his superiors in Russia) did not want high-ranking Russian Orthodox churchman to participate in such a potentially questionable gathering. Of course, it could have been much simpler — Bp Nicholas simply could have had prior commitments.

The Parliament was more of a spectacle than anything else, and Fr. Christopher Jabara’s hopes for a single world religion were left unfulfilled. Abp Dionysius continued his tour of the United States, and we’ll pick up the rest of his journey in a future article.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]