Greek Catholic — not Orthodox — monk in America in 1850

Last week, I wrote about a priest from Lebanon who visited the United States in 1850. In an update to that post, I reprinted an 1850 Syracuse newspaper article claiming that the priest was an “impostor” who was raising money through dishonesty. That Syracuse newspaper referred to another article in the Puritan Recorder. Well, I’ve now tracked down that original article, which appeared in the Puritan Recorder on July 20, 1850. Here’s the full text:

 The Syrian Monk, Flavianus

Some months since a Papal monk, named Flavianus, from the convent of Kurkafen, on Mount Lebanon, Syria, accompanied by a Syrian youth named Nasif Shedoody, who acts as interpreter to the Monk, went to America to solicit aid for a convent, and for other purposes connected with the Papal-Greek sect in Syria. We have been informed that our names have been used in connection with this affair, and that the acquaintance of the interpreter with the members of our Mission, has been made the means of introducing the monk and his project to the favorable notice of some of our friends. We, therefore, deem it necessary to notify our friends in this public manner, that the project has never met with countenance from us, and that we remonstrated with the interpreter when he called upon us for letters of introduction to our friends. We declared to him our conviction, that no money could be obtained in the United States for such an object, except by fraud; — because Papists could find many ways, in which money could tell upon their cause more powerfully than were it to be given to increase the funds of one of the many well endowed convents on Lebanon; and Protestants of every name would decline giving a farthing, if they knew the character of Lebanon convents, and the doctrines and character of the sect for whom their aims were sought. We know that Papal convents, a Papal church, or even Papal schools, and a thoroughly Papal press, and a people not needy, would not commend themselves to other than Papists; and that a knowledge of the mode of which the funds of the Greek Catholic sect have been squandered, would destroy the confidence of their co-religionists everywhere. Indeed, the whole project was opposed violently by many of their own sect, including the Bishop of the Diocese, to which Monk Flavianus belongs.

Feeling an interest in the young man, who was once a pupil in one of our schools, we warned him against engaging in a scheme, which could succeed nowhere except by false pretenses and culpable concealment. But he satisfied his conscience by the plea, that he found it difficult to obtain other occupation which would give him a comfortable livelihood that he should be able to see foreign lands without cost to himself; and that, being the mere mouth-piece of the Monk, he should not be responsible for the nature of the communications made to the American public.

Our object in this notice is simply to prevent our names being used for the furtherance of the scheme in question. In our opinion, the case does not present a proper object of charity, nor is it one which we can commend, for any reason, to any portion of the citizens of the United States. Those who give to it cannot be sure that what they bestow will be expended according to their desires, even if all of it should reach the individuals who originated the object.

G.B. Whiting, C.V.A. Van Dyck, H.A. De Forest, S.H. Calhoun

Beirut, Syria, May 3d, 1850.

So this guy wasn’t Orthodox — he was Arab Greek Catholic (probably Melkite, but possibly Maronite). And, from the sound of this letter, he may have been only a monk, and not a priest.

That said, I do now think he was the same “Greek priest” who was reportedly trying to start a parish in New York in late 1849. The Orthodox in New York were reported to be Russians and Greeks (not the types you’d expect to follow an Arab Greek Catholic priest), but the Puritan Recorder letter accuses Fr. Flavianus of being dishonest, so he may well have led the New York Orthodox to believe that he was from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

We’ll keep researching this story, because, even if Fr. Flavianus and his interpreter weren’t Orthodox, there seems to have been a sizeable Orthodox community in New York in 1850.

This article was written by Matthew Namee.

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