Early Orthodoxy in Alabama and Georgia

Archimandrite Dorotheo (sketch from the Atlanta Constitution, 6/26/1900)

In June of 1900, an Archimandrite Dorotheo — I don’t know his last name — came to Birmingham, Alabama. He had traveled there from Chicago, although I’m not sure which Chicago parish he was affiliated with. Borrowing a local Episcopal church — the Church of the Advent — he performed the first known Orthodox sacraments in Alabama, baptizing two Greek children. Besides the 50-60 Greeks who attended the ceremony, about a score of Protestants turned out to witness what was, for them, a remarkable spectacle.

A couple of days later, on June 23, Archimandrite Kallinikos Kanellas came to Birmingham. I don’t know if he intentionally coincided his visit with that of Fr. Dorotheo, but the next day was a Sunday, and the two Greek priests concelebrated the Divine Liturgy — the first ever in the state of Alabama. As was typical in those days, the male-to-female ratio of the congregation was 50 to 1 — literally, 50 men and a single woman, Mrs. Chronaki, whose child had been baptized a few days earlier. The clergy commemorated both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Athens, and offered prayers for numerous government leaders, from the King of Greece and the US President all the way down to the Mayor of Birmingham.

Leaving Birmingham, the two priests moved on to Georgia — Fr. Dorotheo to Atlanta, Fr. Kallinikos to Savannah. In Atlanta, Fr. Dorotheo performed more baptisms, including one of a three-year-old girl named Antigonie Constantine. The Atlanta Constitution (6/26/1900) reported, “But one of the children offered the slightest protest when it was placed in the water. This was Antigonie, and to her protestation Father Dorotheo smilingly spoke words of such soothing power that the little one was laughing when lifted from the water and dried by her happy parents and several of their neighbors.”

We’ve discussed the life of Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas in several articles already, and this story helps fill in part of a decade-long gap in his career (between his 1892 departure from the Russian cathedral in San Francisco and his 1902/1903 arrival in Birmingham as the first parish priest). Fr. Dorotheo is a bit of a mystery; the most biographical information I’ve found on him is from the Atlanta Constitution, quoted earlier. Here’s what they said about Fr. Dorotheo:

Father Dorotheo is a native of Samos, an independent principality in the Turkish dominion of Asia Minor, and was sent to take charge of the orthodox Greek church in this country by the patriarch at Constantinople. During his residence in the United States he has built up the orthodox church in Chicago until it now numbers among its congregation hundreds of the best known Greek citizens of that city. […] Father Dorotheo, though a man of some years, is as erect as an athlete and possesses a strong and intelligent face, lit up by twinkling eyes that denote a genial character. He is a graduate of one of the great colleges of learning in his native land and speaks Russian, German and Arabic almost as easily as he speaks his native tongue.

Savannah, Atlanta, and Birmingham had sizeable and growing Greek Orthodox populations, numbering in the hundreds, and all three communities established Orthodox parishes within a few years of Fr. Dorotheo’s and Fr. Kallinikos’ visits to their cities. The Savannah church was begun first, in 1900. The Birmingham Greeks brought back Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas to be their first pastor in about 1902, and the Atlanta church was founded in 1905. Thus, the 1900 pastoral visits of Frs. Dorotheo and Kallinikos were pivotal in the establishment of Orthodoxy in the southern United States.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]

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