This week in American Orthodox history (May 21-27)

Bishop Nicholas Ziorov (photo from Alaska's Digital Archives)

May 21, 1851: Michael Ziorov — the future Bishop Nicholas, head of the Russian Mission in North America — was born in the District of Kherson, in what was then the Russian Empire and what is today Ukraine. As a layman, he served as Inspector for two seminaries. At 36, he was tonsured a monk, ordained a priest, and appointed as rector of his alma mater, the prestigious Moscow Theological Academy.

In 1891, he was consecrated a bishop and placed in charge of the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. His task was difficult and complex. Not only was his new diocese geographically immense, but his predecessor, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky, had been at the epicenter of near-constant scandal and conflict in his three-year tenure. Bishop Nicholas’ flock consisted of numerous Native Alaskan tribes struggling under their American overlords and predatory missionaries from the contiguous United States. In the rest of the country, he had immigrants from Greece, Serbia, Syria, and elsewhere; and the beginning of a flood of Carpatho-Rusyn converts from Greek Catholicism (Uniatism). Bishop Nicholas wasn’t perfect, but he did a pretty spectacular job in his seven years at the helm. In 1898, he was succeeded by Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, who built upon Nicholas’ foundation. In the process, the great Tikhon largely overshadowed his predecessor, who is, unfortunately, not well remembered today.

In the past, I’ve been as guilty as anyone else of writing off Bishop Nicholas in favor of Tikhon. But I was wrong: he was quite visionary in his own way, and proved himself to be a capable administrator and a good man. Someday, I hope someone will write a good article on Nicholas’ time in America. In many ways, his era, even more than Tikhon’s, set the stage for the century that followed.

After leaving America, Bishop Nicholas became an archbishop. He was Archbishop of Warsaw when World War I began, prompting him to move to St. Petersburg. He died there in 1915, thus avoiding the terrible events of 1917 and beyond.

May 26, 1868: St. Innocent Veniaminov, the great missionary to Alaska and Siberia, became Metropolitan of Moscow.

May 21, 1889: The Russian Orthodox cathedral in San Francisco was burned to the ground, and many suspected that it was the work of an arsonist. This was part of the whole Bishop Vladimir saga. It’s a topic that I really should write about one of these days, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. In 1997, Stanford professor Terrence Emmons wrote a riveting (but scandalously graphic) book about the whole affair, Alleged Sex and Threatened Violence. (The link takes you to the Google Books page where you can preview the book.) It’s by far the best piece of research anyone has done on the Bishop Vladimir era, but seriously — it’s really scandalous, so let the reader beware.

Archbishop Michael Konstantinides

May 27, 1892: The future Greek Archbishop Michael Konstantinides was born. In some ways, Archbishop Michael is sort of like the Bishop Nicholas Ziorov (discussed above) — sandwiched in between the larger-than-life Archbishops Athenagoras and Iakovos, the humble Michael has been largely forgotten. Which is really too bad, because Michael was both an effective hierarch, a fine scholar, and, by all accounts, a genuinely pious soul. A couple of years ago, we ran some articles on Archbishop Michael’s life; you can read them by clicking here, here, and here.

May 22, 1901: Bishop Tikhon Bellavin laid the cornerstone for St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. He was assisted by a whole bunch of priests, including four saints (Frs. Raphael Hawaweeny, Alexis Toth, Alexander Hotovitzky, and Ilia Zotikov). If you click on Fr. Ilia’s name, in addition to reading a great article on his life (by Aram Sarkisian), you can view a newspaper photo from the cornerstone ceremony.

May 27, 1928: Fr. Sophronios Beshara was consecrated Bishop of Los Angeles for the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” the quasi-autocephalous jurisdiction led by Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh. He was actually the first Orthodox bishop to take Los Angeles as his see.

May 27, 1964: Bishop Philaret Voznesensky was elected First Hierarch of ROCOR, succeeding the retiring Metropolitan Anastassy Gribanovsky.

May 22, 1965: Metropolitan Anastassy Gribanovsky, retired First Hierarch of ROCOR, died. Soon, we’ll be publishing an article on these two events, by ROCOR historian Dn. Andrei Psarev.

May 21, 1981: Ethiopian Orthodox funeral of reggae legend Bob Marley, in Kingston, Jamaica. Last year, Fr. Andrew posted the funeral program and video from the funeral, and that post has been one of the most-read pieces on our site.

May 26, 2010: The first meeting of the Assembly of Bishops began in New York. Our own Fr. Andrew was present at the event, and his firsthand accounts are some of the best primary sources on that historic gathering. Click here and here to read those articles.

May 24, 2011: For the first time in generations, bishops of the OCA and ROCOR concelebrated the Divine Liturgy. Christopher Orr wrote a guest article on this event last year; click here to read it.

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