Agapius Honcharenko in defense of himself

Agapius Honcharenko in his later years

Editor’s note: Today, we present the second of three historical documents recently discovered by Nicholas Chapman. On August 24, we published Nicholas’ introduction to the documents, and last week, we published a letter by St. Philaret of Moscow on the subject of Orthodoxy in America in 1865. Today’s document is an 1865 letter from Agapius Honcharenko to a priest. While the recipient is not identified by name, Nicholas notes that the priest was “most likely the Rev. Eugene Popov, the Russian Priest in London, England.” The initial translation of this letter has been provided by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.

The letter isn’t dated, but we can get a good idea of when it was written from this sentence: “I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.” On March 26, 1865, the New York Times reported that Honcharenko was to depart for New Orleans “in a few days.” It is thus probable that the letter was written shortly before that date.

Very Reverend Father,

I have always  regretted and wondered why in the new world there is no Catholic Orthodox faith and because of this having prepared myself with the necessary objects for a church service: of course icons, vestments etc. Last fall on October 1 I embarked from Smyrna on an American ship and left for America having received the ordination to the priesthood, the holy antimens and the holy myrrh with a letter from the Great Church. I arrived on Dec 21 and on Dec 25, the day of the birth of Christ, in our Orthodox dogma, among the Greeks, was performed the first liturgy on this continent since the time of Columbus.

In the Republic I find in the official documents seven thousand Orthodox Slavs, (Illyrian Dalmatians of Montenegro) , three thousand Russians and three thousand Greeks. These sheep live from birth without a Pastor. The Slavs and Russians, although they are citizens of the Republic…….. But they ask with all the soul addressing themselves to Russia, asking that the Russian Synod send a blessing for their church meetings and they ask to have the petition at the litany to commemorate the Emperor Alexander II and the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia as a symbol of the unity with the Russian Church. As I am a citizen of Greece, during my services I commemorate the Greek King and Synod and the Slavs do not wish this. During the several days of my stay in New York I baptized a few friendly …. (eight) and two Russians. I received today a letter from New Orleans, from the Greek Consul …… to go there and baptize four children and ten Illyrians.

By birth I am a Russian and I served at the Russian Church in Athens as a deacon. My unfortunate fate…….. (March 15, 1860) Unfairness of people …… made me become a Greek citizen. I am also with my soul and body dedicated to the Russian people…. The Russian government . Prince Gorchokov is convinced of this. But why does not the Russian Holy Synod recognise the truth of what I say?!!!

I am addressing you the deepest request very very Reverend Father. I have heard a lot about the goodness of your soul. Please pay attention to me and to the goodwill of the Orthodox Church and ask the petition for me that I would receive the blessing upon my sheep, both Slavs and Russians, from the Holy Synod, because I am the only and first Pastor of the Orthodox Church on this continent and the Pastor for all the Orthodox sheep of the flock of Christ.

I remain with the deepest respect ,

Priest Agapius Honcharenko
47 Exchange Place, Room 19, New York

9 Replies to “Agapius Honcharenko in defense of himself”

  1. I think it is interesting that he – and presumably those of the Great Church who ordained and sent him – believed that no other Orthodox Church had been active in the New World “since Columbus”.

    Of course, evangelism isn’t a game of continent-wide ‘plant the flag’, i.e., serving a Liturgy in either Alaska or New York doesn’t grant that church jurisdiction over all North America or the Americas.

  2. Some things are not adding up.

    ‘having received the ordination to the priesthood, the holy antimens and the holy myrrh with a letter from the Great Church,” he nonetheless “As… a citizen of Greece, during [his] services [he] commemorate[d] the Greek King and Synod,” something that contradicted the Tomos of Autocephaly Constantinople granted Athens, and a heated bone of contention between the two at the time, which had just flared up over the Ionian Islands a few months before Honcharenko left Ottoman Smyrna.

    It seems rather odd that he didn’t know that the very ship that informed Athens about the Orthodox in America had a priest on board who celebrated Divine Liturgy in NYC and was remembered by New Yorkers even a decade later when he returned as Bishop Nestor of Alaska and the Aleutians. It is also odd the Constantinople would not have known about the Russian Diocese, when they and Athens were in direct correspondance with PECUSA, whose CA diocese in 1851 conisdered getting orders from the Russian Bishop of Sitka, St. Innocent, who had been in CA, and who was already well known in Russia and outside of it. PECUSA had, in fact, formed its standing epsicopal committee to correspond with Constantinople and St. Petersburg because of the presence of the Russian Church in CA and the impeding setting up of a diocese there.

    “I have always regretted and wondered why in the new world there is no Catholic Orthodox faith .” If Honcharenko knew anything about the goings on in the Russian Church that he professes loyalty to, the mission in America and St. Innocent’s running of it, including his care for Fort Ross, CA, were well known in Russia when Honcharenko was a child in Kiev, one of the Church’s main centers.

    It is also odd that if he had an antimens from Constantinople, when he would be in SF demanding one from the Russian Orthodox Authorities there a few years later.

  3. Isa, keep in mind that Honcharenko is quite possibly the least reliable figure in the history of American Orthodoxy. I don’t doubt that there are some accurate statements in his letter, but I’m even more certain that there must be numerous errors and false statements as well. His letter is an important historical document, but we have to keep in mind who authored it.

  4. Isa, you mention “the mission in America and St. Innocent’s running of it … were well known in Russia when Honcharenko was a child in Kiev, one of the Church’s main centers.”
    Honcharenko whose real name was Andrii Humnytsky was born August 31, 1832, in Kryvyn, Skvyra county, Kyiv gubernia. It is highly unlikely that as a village child, he heard about missions in Alaska. It is unlikely that most people in Ukraine knew about St. Innocent, when Honcharenko was a child.

    A anyone checked the “Memoirs” of Honcarenko in File 11 of the Wasyl Halich Papers at the University of Minisota?

    Wasyl Halich Papers, ca. 1921-1971
    Immigration History Research Center
    University of Minnesota

    Honcharenko, Reverend Agapius
    Folders 2, 11, 13, 23

    Folder 11: “Spomynky Agapia Honcharenka”
    Folder 13: Picture of Reverend Agapius Honcharenko.

  5. Since there are a number of other documents in Folder 11 of the Wasyl Halich Papers, I think it is safe to conclude that the Memoirs of Agapius Honcharenko are not very long.
    Matthew, have you consulted the Memoirs? Would you be able to post the parts dealing with Honcharenko’s time with the parish in New Orleans and in New York on the web?

  6. This is getting confusing. Matthew since you wrote the original story on Honcharenko, could I ask you to post a timeline on Honcharenko:
    Date & place of birth
    Date & place of tonsure as a monk
    Date & place of ordination as deacon
    Date of assignment to Russian Embassy Church in Greece
    Date of change of name
    Date of ordination as a priest by EP
    Date of arrival in America
    Date of ministry in NY
    Date of connection with New Orleans Church
    Date of marriage & I assume leaving the EP jurisdiction
    Date of arrival in CA
    Date of death.
    This would be a great help to all of us.

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