Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Isabel Hapgood

Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Isabel Florence Hapgood were the two people most responsible for the spread of English in early 20th century American Orthodoxy. Hapgood, a lifelong Episcopalian, was a renowned translator, honored by the Tsar, and she is still remembered today for her landmark 1906 English translation of the Orthodox Service Book. Less than a year earlier, in November 1905, Irvine, a defrocked Episcopal priest, was received into Orthodoxy and ordained by St. Tikhon. Irvine made it his life’s work to promote the use of English in American Orthodox parishes.

Yet despite their common advocacy English-language Orthodoxy, Irvine and Hapgood were like oil and water. Hapgood’s feelings towards Irvine are not well documented, but Irvine made his disdain for Hapgood clear, both in public and in private. In a 1915 letter published in the official magazine of the Russian Archdiocese (and reprinted on this site), Hapgood publicly begged the Archbishop to invest in a first-rate show choir, arguing that a great choir is “immensely more important” than “twenty little new parishes.” Irvine’s response was swift and strong, lambasting Hapgood for her “musical heresy.” Two years later, in a letter to Archbishop Evdokim (and preserved in the OCA archives), Irvine called her “that vixen Miss Hapgood,” and said that she had “damned the Church for years.”

It appears that the hostility between Irvine and Hapgood dates at least to the time of Irvine’s conversion to Orthodoxy, in late 1905. Not long ago, I happened to read Stuart H. Hoke’s outstanding paper, “A Generally Obscure Calling: A Character Sketch of Isabel Florence Hapgood” (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 45:1, 2001). This is, by far, the most complete and well-researched biography of Hapgood I have ever seen. Hoke points out that, in his 1906 book A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims, Irvine committed a “major slight” against Hapgood, erroneously identifying Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky as the person chiefly responsible for Hapgood’s brand-new English Service Book. Irvine wrote that the book had been “under the watchful eye of the Very Rev. A.A. Hotovitzky and its real merits as a valuable Liturgical work as well as a witness in the English language to ‘the faith once for all delivered unto the Saints’ must be ascribed to his painstaking and interest, both as a Liturgical Scholar and Theologian.”

This was all sorts of wrong, and Hotovitzky immediately moved to correct the problem. In a letter to The Living Church (a major Episcopalian periodical), published on December 15, 1906, St. Alexander wrote,

Such an assertion, which attaches my name to the publication, and imputes to me qualities and services to which I have made no claim in connection with that publication, unhappily and unjustly omits the name of the real author of the work, to whom, incontestably, all its merits, all praises and gratitude should be attributed. The Service Book was compiled by Miss Isabel F. Hapgood, on her own initiative. To her belongs the original idea of this work; hers are the plan and execution of it, which have required arduous labor and expenditure of strength for the space of several years, as she was compelled to study our Liturgical books, and the Church Slavonic and Greek languages, and so forth. Any one who has the slightest conception of the complicated structure of the Orthodox religious services, in their entire extent, will make no mistake if he applies to this labor the epithet “gigantic,” both as to its design and its importance; and the merits of Miss Hapgood’s liturgical English in this work are confirmed by learned ecclesiastical authorities of the Episcopal Church.

 Further on, Hotovitzky instructed Irvine to insert a copy of this letter into his book:

In comparison with this enormous mass of labor — in truth a most precious and unselfish gift from Miss Hapgood to our Church — my share in it, (as an orthodox priest, who has rendered, so far as occasion required, only what aid was indispensable,) is merely of secondary importance; and, especially when her name is omitted, does not deserve to be mentioned. And therefore, being profoundly distressed that this statement, so unfortunately phraseed [sic], has found a place in your book, I most earnestly ask you to place the matter in its true and complete light by inserting my letter in the text of your book, so that no reader would be misled by that paragraph.

Hoke writes that Irvine obeyed Hotovitzky’s order, and I’m sure that did, but I’ve seen two copies of the book, and neither have such an insert.

Stuart Hoke refers to A Letter on the Anglican Church’s Claims as “Irvine’s spurious book.” This is way off base; Irvine’s book is a perfectly worthwhile piece of work. The “letter” referred to in the title was originally written by Irvine to St. Tikhon, explaining the ecclesiastical position of the Church of England. In addition to the letter, Irvine pulled together articles from prominent Episcopalian scholars and ecclesiastics, each one explaining a different aspect of Anglicanism. While Irvine’s statement about the Service Book was indeed wrong, it doesn’t mean that his whole book is “spurious.”

While all this provides helpful background on the Irvine-Hapgood dynamics, what is most interesting is the insight it provides into the relationship between Irvine and Hotovitzky. You may recall that Hotovitzky was actually Irvine’s priestly sponsor when he was ordained in November 1905. In fact, Hotovitzky had to defend Irvine’s ordination in the face of criticisms from, among others, The Living Church. A year later, though, Hotovitzky wrote to the same Living Church journal, strongly critiquing Irvine and instead defending the Episcopalian Hapgood. While both were important and admirable figures, Irvine and Hotovitzky were polar opposites in many ways — Hotovitzky more reserved and politically-savvy, Irvine a bull in a china shop. Hotovitzky takes a rather standoffish tone in his letter announcing Irvine of Irvine’s transfer from the Russian Mission to the Syrian Mission. It may very well be Hotovitzky did not really care for Irvine, and that some of that distaste originated in Irvine’s “slight” of Hapgood in 1906.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]