This week in American Orthodox history (February 6-12)

February 6, 1993: Bishop Job Osacky was enthroned as the new OCA Bishop of Chicago, almost exactly ten years after his consecration to the episcopate. Bishop (and later Archbishop) Job went on to become a key advocate for transparency in the recent OCA crisis before his untimely death in 2009.

Professor Basil Bensin

February 8, 1973: St. Vladimir’s Seminary professor Basil Bensin died in North Carolina. Bensin lived an eventful life. Born in Russia in 1881, he met St. Tikhon (then the Bishop of North America) in 1903, when Tikhon was on a visit to St. Petersburg. Tikhon recruited Bensin to come to America, taking a position as professor at the first Russian seminary in Minneapolis from 1905-1912. In 1912, he earned a degree in agricultural sciences from the University of Minnesota — a credential which would come in handy later. The seminary moved to Tenafly, NJ, and Bensin continued to teach until the turmoil following the Bolshevik Revolution made seminary life impossible. Bensin moved to Czechoslovakia for a decade before returning to America to work as an agricultural engineer in Alaska. When St. Vladimir’s Seminary was established in 1938, Bensin was one of the original professors, and he remained at SVS until his retirement in 1952. In retirement, Bensin continued his scholarly work, devoting a lot of time to researching the history of Orthodoxy in America. He produced only a few articles on the subject, but there must be valuable material in his notes (which are kept at SVS). (My sources for this information are Bensin’s obituary in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly and a short biography at the Hoover Institution website.)

February 9, 1908: Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny ordained Theophan Noli, an Albanian student at Harvard, to the priesthood, on behalf of Russian Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvensky. Two years ago, I wrote about Noli’s first Albanian liturgy, but I erroneously said that Archbishop Platon had performed Noli’s ordination. But apart from that mistake, that old article is still pretty decent, and if you want to know more about Noli, you might check it out.

February 11, 1962: In Damascus, Fr. Michael Shaheen was consecrated as the Antiochian Bishop of Toledo, Ohio. This is a complicated story, and I don’t have time to tell it all here, but the gist of it is this: Since the mid-1930s, the Antiochians in America had been divided into two overlapping jurisdictions — the Archdiocese of New York (led by Metropolitan Antony Bashir) and the Archdiocese of  Toledo (led by Metropolitan Samuel David). Met Samuel had died in 1958, and after a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations, the Antiochian Holy Synod chose Archimandrite Michael Shaheen to replace him. But Shaheen was a priest of the New York — not Toledo — Archdiocese, and although he was consecrated with the title “Bishop of Toledo,” in reality he was to serve merely as an auxiliary to Met Antony. In this way, it was hoped, the two Antiochian jurisdictions would be united at last. But it didn’t work: the Toledo parishes refused to accept Bp Michael unless he denounced Met Antony. In response to the impasse, the Holy Synod changed course, recognizing Toledo as an independent diocese and raising Bp Michael to the rank of Metropolitan. In this way, the Antiochian schism persisted for another 13 years, until Metropolitan Michael accepted a demotion of sorts, recognizing the authority of Bashir’s successor Metropolitan Philip Saliba for the sake of unity.

February 12, 1907: Bishop Platon Rozhdestvensky was elected to the Second State Duma (equivalent to a parliament) in Russia. Within months, he would replace Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin as primate of the Russian Archdiocese in North America.

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