The Myth of Unity

Nine years ago, at a conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I presented a paper called, “The Myth of Unity and the Origins of Jurisdictional Pluralism in American Orthodoxy.” My thesis, basically, was that, contrary to the prevailing narrative at the time, Orthodoxy in America was not administratively united prior to the Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of the Greek Archdiocese.

I planned on publishing the paper in a scholarly journal, or something, and at one point we here at SOCHA had a single-issue online journal that featured my paper, but the journal quickly disappeared, and the paper has remained sitting on my hard drive all these years. Until now, because, reinspired (thanks to my wife) to continue my work on church history, I’ve decided to simply publish the latest version of “The Myth of Unity” here at Orthodox History. This version was revised in 2011, and while some of my references to present-day Orthodoxy in America may be a tad outdated, I stand by my evidence and conclusions. I welcome discussion and criticism, and look forward to re-engaging with all who are interested, as I am, in learning more about the history of the Orthodox Church.

Here’s the paper:

The Myth of Unity and the Origins of Jurisdictional Pluralism in American Orthodoxy

By Matthew Namee

January 2011[1]


Orthodox Christians in America today are largely united. They share the same doctrine, the same liturgical tradition, and the same sacraments. Greek priests concelebrate with their Serbian counterparts; Antiochian students attend OCA seminaries. In many cities and regions, the various Orthodox churches have banded together to form elementary schools, nursing homes, and soup kitchens. English is increasingly emerging as the lingua franca.[2] There is quite possibly more unity among American Orthodox Christians today than at any other time in history.

Having said all that, we cannot ignore the fact that as a practical matter, Orthodox Christians in America are divided along “jurisdictional” lines. In most cases, these jurisdictions correspond to specific ethnic groups: Greeks are usually members of the Greek Archdiocese; most Arab Orthodox are part of the Antiochian Archdiocese. In every case but one, the different jurisdictions are subordinate to “Mother Churches” in the Old World, such as Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, and Serbia. Episcopal territories overlap one another and churches within mere miles of each other often answer to entirely different bishops. The present situation is both organizationally inefficient and difficult to explain to inquirers. Discipline with regard to marriage, ordination, and the reception of converts can and often does differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is therefore understandable that there is a growing call from many quarters for the full administrative unification of the various jurisdictions.[3] Some advocates of administrative unity cite the past American Orthodox experience as an example and an admonition. They argue that there once existed an American Orthodox Church that encompassed all the various ethnic groups, and that the key to our future unification is the re-establishment of that lost unity. In short, they say, we were once united, and we should be again.[4] Yet this widely believed story of past administrative unity is not supported by historical evidence. In fact, as we will show in this paper, early Orthodoxy in America was quite complex. Orthodox Americans organized themselves along ethnic lines from the beginning, and while varying degrees of administrative unity existed between some of the groups, no single American Orthodox Church ever existed. At the same time, this truth of the past need not be an obstacle to future unity; on the contrary, in that very past lie the seeds of a greater unity which may yet come.

Defining Unity

The term “unity” can have a variety of meanings. The unity which exists among the world’s Orthodox Churches is a unity of doctrine and sacraments: the various Local Churches[5] hold the same dogmas and moral teachings, acknowledge the legitimacy of one another’s sacraments, and practice intercommunion with each other. At times, they also share the unity of cooperation (e.g. in ecumenical dialogues), though this is a more practical manifestation of unity and one that is not necessarily implied by the presence of doctrinal and sacramental unity. Finally, there is administrative unity, which involves a common institutional structure. This type of unity exists within each Local Church (e.g. the various dioceses of the Orthodox Church in Russia ultimately look to the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate and its Holy Synod). Administrative unity involves both the presentation of a “common front” to the outside world and the existence of an internal structure of interdependence and shared government.

Based on these definitions, the Orthodox jurisdictions in America have always held the unity of doctrine and sacraments, and over the past several decades there has been an increasing number of examples of cooperative unity on various levels. However, the jurisdictions lack administrative unity, and it is this form of unity which receives a great deal of attention among American Orthodox Christians today.

Common Explanations

The most common explanation for the emergence of multiple jurisdictions can be found in The Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

Before the First World War the Orthodox of America, whatever their nationality, looked to the Russian Archbishop for leadership and pastoral care. […] After 1917, when relations with the Church of Russia became confused, each national group formed itself into a separate organization and the present multiplicity of jurisdictions arose.[6]

This “myth of unity” appears to originate with the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” a short-lived jurisdiction led by Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1927, one of Archbishop Aftimios’ top assistants, the convert hieromonk Fr. Boris Burden, wrote the following in an essay on the history of Orthodoxy in America:

The advent of Greek-speaking Orthodox Catholics followed this establishment of the Russian Hierarchy by many years, and the early Greek churches and faithful were naturally and canonically under the protection and care of the Orthodox Catholic jurisdiction thus established by the Russian Holy Synod for all American Orthodox residents.[7]

[…] For nearly fifty years after the Russian Hierarchy in America had thus established the first Greek church in this country [in New Orleans,] Greek churches and faithful continued to increase and multiply under the care and authority of the Russian Bishops of America.[8]

[…] We have viewed the history of all these [nationalities] in outline down to the period just preceding the World War and seen them, at that time, united solidly under one Hierarchy of the Church in America established for them by the Russian Holy Synod.[9]

Archbishop Aftimios himself propounded this version of the past in correspondence with the Greek Archbishop Alexander Demoglou in 1929. In claiming to be the rightful leader of American Orthodoxy, Archbishop Aftimios relied heavily on the idea that his jurisdiction had inherited the primacy once held by the Russian Archdiocese – a primacy which, according to Archbishop Aftimios, had been recognized by all American Orthodox Christians (including the Greeks) until the creation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921.[10]

Archbishop Aftimios’ use of the “myth of unity” to bolster a claim of jurisdiction in America anticipated by four decades the later use of the myth by supporters of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, the bulk of the Russian Archdiocese in America distanced itself from its mother church in Russia, and became known as the “Metropolia.” In 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church granted a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Metropolia, resulting in the formation of the OCA. As these developments were taking place, the myth of unity was revived.

Perhaps the most celebrated and often-quoted essay on the subject of Orthodoxy in America was written by Fr. Alexander Schmemann as an introduction to the 1975 OCA book Orthodox America: 1794-1976. In it, Schmemann describes a utopian American Orthodox past and the “fall” that destroyed it:

[U]nity did exist, was a reality, […] the first “epiphany” of Orthodoxy here was not as a jungle of ethnic ecclesiastical colonies, serving primarily if not exclusively the interests of their various “nationalisms” and “mother-churches,” but precisely as a local Church meant to transcend all ‘natural’ divisions and to share all spiritual values; […] this unity was broken and then arbitrarily replaced with the unheard-of principle of “jurisdictional multiplicity” which denies and transgresses every single norm of Orthodox Tradition; […] the situation which exists today is thus truly a sin and a tragedy.[11]

The view that Orthodox unity in America was “broken” presupposes some person or persons responsible for the fracture. Besides the obvious Bolshevik culprits abroad, some point the finger at Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios II Metaxakis, who spearheaded the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese.[12] In 1970, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras wrote a letter to Patriarch Alexy of Moscow, protesting the Moscow Patriarchate’s imminent granting of autocephaly to the American Metropolia. Patriarch Alexy responded, in part, with the following argument:

It is very well known that Orthodoxy on the American continent was established, developed and organized by the Russian Orthodox Church. […] From 1794, the year of the arrival of the first missionaries from Russia, until 1921, the year marking the beginning of pluralism in church jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church in North America united all of the Orthodox in America under its hierarchical authority, without regard for national background. This was recognized by all the Local Churches, including the Holy Church of Constantinople presently headed by Your Holiness. […] However, this order, adequate to church canons and practice, was violated in 1921, when, without the knowledge and canonical approval of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Greek Archdiocese was founded in America.[13]

Not long after he wrote this letter, Patriarch Alexy died; Patriarch Athenagoras thus responded to Alexy’s successor, Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Pimen. Athenagoras countered Alexy’s claims, arguing that the initial Russian presence in Alaska and on the west coast of the United States did not automatically grant to the Russian Church jurisdiction over all of America.[14] Metropolitan Pimen held the same position as his predecessor, replying to Athenagoras,

[T]he unalterable fact remains that, until the arbitrary establishment by the throne of Constantinople of its own archdiocese in North America in 1921 […] strict canonical order was followed on this continent under the hierarchical leadership of the Church of Russia. This order was challenged by no one, and was recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the Church of Constantinople.[15]

Some scholars disagree with this claim, arguing that the Greeks in America were always independent of the Russian hierarchy. Fr. Thomas FitzGerald writes, “Although some authors have maintained that all Orthodox in America accepted the authority of the Russian bishop prior to 1921, there is not sufficient evidence to support this claim. The vast majority of the Greek parishes were organized without any contact with the Russian bishops in America.”[16] Recently, Fr. John Erickson has proposed a model of two “spheres” to explain the early Orthodox situation in America. He writes, “[P]arishes whose founding members came from Old World churches that at the time lay outside what might be called the ‘Russian sphere of influence’ – the Romanians, some Bulgarians, but especially the Greeks” were, in practice, “independent of any authority beyond the local community.” Erickson continues, “[I]mmigrants coming from homelands within the ‘Russian sphere of influence’ – Syro-Arabs, Serbs, Albanians, as well as those who identified themselves as ‘Russian’ – generally turned to the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church’s North American missionary diocese.”[17] While helpful, Erickson’s model does not fully convey the great complexity that characterized this period.

In place of the “two spheres” model, I would propose the model of a continuum. At one end were the Carpatho-Rusyn converts from Eastern Rite Catholicism to Orthodoxy, who so identified with the Russian Mission that the “mission,” which was once directed at indigenous Alaskans, came to be focused principally on the conversion of Carpatho-Rusyns. The Carpatho-Rusyns did not have a separate ethnic administration – rather, these converts were the Russian Mission.[18] In contrast were the Greeks, who sat on the opposite end of the continuum. While a handful of Greek priests and a few hundred Greek laypeople were part of the Russian Mission, the overwhelming majority of Greeks in America considered themselves independent of the Russians. The other two large groups – the Syrians and the Serbs – fell somewhere in between these two extremes. Both of these latter nationalities had their own ethnic administrations within the Russian Mission, but they also had strong ties with church authorities in their own homelands. Over time, the Syrians and Serbs moved along the continuum from relative subordination to the Russians to relative (and ultimately total) independence.

The Greeks and Greek-Russian Relations

In 1890, only two Orthodox churches existed in the continental United States: a Russian cathedral in San Francisco and a Greek parish in New Orleans.[19] There had been a Russian embassy chapel in New York City beginning in 1870, but in 1883 the Russian Church decided to cut off its funding and close the chapel.[20] With the abandonment of the New York chapel, the seven largest cities in America were without an Orthodox church. The San Francisco parish was founded in the winter of 1867-68 under Russian authority. This was done not at the instigation of the Russian Mission itself, as a form of evangelism, but rather at the request of the local San Francisco Orthodox community.[21] As for the New Orleans parish, its jurisdictional position was ambiguous. The 1890 U.S. Census describes it as a part of the Church of Greece, “in connection with the consulate of Greece in New Orleans.”[22] The first priest to visit the parish, Agapius Honcharenko, was an itinerant Ukrainian of questionable credentials who was visiting New York City in 1865 when he was contacted by the New Orleans community. He was not connected to the Russian Church, and he even claimed that the tsarist government had put a price on his head for his involvement in revolutionary activities.[23] The New Orleans parish itself was not founded by the Russian hierarchy, and there would be no other Greek parishes – or Orthodox parishes of any other kind – until after 1890. Thus, it is impossible to speak of any kind of overarching Orthodox “unity” in America in 1890, there being virtually no Orthodox presence in America to begin with.

Those familiar with American Orthodox history may object at this point: was not Orthodoxy already well-established in Alaska, having been brought by Russian traders and then missionaries beginning in the 18th century? This is indeed true; however, several facts must be considered. Until its purchase by the United States in 1867, Alaska was a part of the Russian Empire. After the purchase, Alaskan residents received U.S. citizenship, but Alaska did not become an organized U.S. territory until 1912, and it did not achieve statehood until 1959. More significantly, Alaska is geographically divided from the U.S. mainland, and Alaskan Orthodoxy has a culture and history that are distinct from that of the rest of American Orthodoxy. Fr. Michael Oleksa points out that by 1917, the vast majority of American Orthodox Christians lived in the contiguous United States and were “immigrants from the Old World” who were “totally unaware of the history of the Alaskan Church.”[24] Alaskan Orthodoxy is its own phenomenon, worthy of study, but it is only tangentially relevant to the history of Orthodoxy in the contiguous United States.

In 1891, the growing Greek community in New York City began to organize itself. The Society of Athena was formed, composed primarily of Greeks from Athens. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that “since the closing of the Russian chapel, they [the Greeks] have found the lack of spiritual aid and counsel to be a great drawback to happiness.” So in 1891 the New York Greeks wrote to Archbishop Methodius of Syra, Greece. The Sun reported, “[T]he Archbishop conferred with a dignitary at Athens, and the dignitary at Athens wrote to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Patriarch said: ‘To be sure. They must have a priest. As it is their souls are in peril.’”[25] Notwithstanding the involvement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the priest who arrived in January 1892, Archimandrite Paisius Ferentinos, was appointed by the Archbishop of the Greek Church in Athens.[26] Thus began Holy Trinity parish.

It was not long before a disagreement arose in the community. The New York Times reported simply that Holy Trinity was “attended chiefly by the uptown colony of Greeks, and did not fully meet the wants of those who live[d] at the lower end of the city.”[27] However, Erickson writes that a “dissatisfied group wrote to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, rather than to the Holy Synod of Greece, asking for ‘an educated priest.’”[28] In January 1894, Archimandrite Kallinikos Delveis arrived in New York and a second Greek parish, Annunciation, was born. This was the result of a direct appeal from a group of New York Greeks to the Patriarch of Constantinople himself. Delveis, an “accredited representative” of the Patriarch, brought with him sacramental Holy Chrism which had been consecrated by the same Patriarch.[29] Given all this, it is apparent that the Annunciation community was founded as a parish of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Russian Archdiocese finally returned to New York City in 1895, more than a decade after closing its embassy chapel. A Russian-American journalist explained at the time that the Russian Orthodox “resident in New York are soon to have their own house of worship in the place of the Greek Church organized by the Hellenic colony.”[30] Thus when the Russian Church returned to New York City, there were already two Greek churches present, one under Athens and one under Constantinople, neither of which acknowledged the authority of the Russian bishop.

In Chicago in the late 1880s and early 1890s, a failed attempt was made to form a multiethnic Orthodox parish under Russian jurisdiction.[31] Around the beginning of 1892, the Greeks in Chicago formed the Society of Lycurgus. As one member of the community explained, “The society sent to the Metropolitan of Athens and asked him to send us a priest, leaving the choice to him.”[32] The Metropolitan selected Fr. Panagiotis Peter Phiambolis, who told the Chicago Tribune, “It was because I know something of [English] that Germanos, the Metropolitan of Athens, sent me on this mission.”[33]

A month later, a Russian church was organized in Chicago.[34] For the first time, two Orthodox parishes answering to different ecclesiastical authorities coexisted in the same American city. The Chicago Tribune reported, “One is the Orthodox or regular Russian Church, acknowledging the primacy of the Czar and the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg; while the other is purely Greek in its membership and nationality.” The Tribune explained that the Greek church “wants no one but those of Hellenic blood among its members.”[35] Still, the ethnic divisions did not necessarily preclude inter-Orthodox cooperation. On October 7, 1894, the feast day of St. Sergius, the Chicago Greek and Russian priests concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Orthodoxy in the New World. When Tsar Alexander III died the following month, a pannikhida was served by both the Greek and Russian priests at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building.[36] Likewise, both Greek churches in New York City held memorials, one of which was attended by the Russian consul.[37] When the Russian Bishop Nicholas Ziorov visited Chicago in December, the local Greek priest participated in the hierarchical Liturgy.[38]

The particularization among the Greeks in Chicago would not long remain limited to nationality. In 1897, a faction of the parish complained to the Metropolitan of Athens that Fr. Phiambolis was “unpatriotic.”[39] In response, the Metropolitan sent Fr. Theodore Papaconstantine to Chicago to replace Phiambolis. “The Metropolitan sent a priest before consulting the trustees of the church, which he should not have done, according to the laws of the church,” Phiambolis complained, “and the present trouble is partially his fault.”[40] Erickson explains that the Chicago parish was dominated by Greeks from Sparta, and that the Arcadian Greeks in the community wanted their own parish, complete with a priest from Arcadia.[41] They soon broke away, forming Chicago’s second Greek church.

In both New York and Chicago – the two largest cities in America at the time – independent Greek parishes preceded their Russian counterparts. The Greeks in these cities had established a precedent that would be followed by their countrymen throughout the United States. From 1900 to 1917, more than 340,000 Greeks – nearly 19,000 per year – came to America.[42] Bishop George Papaioannou writes that “administratively there was complete chaos.”[43] There was virtually no episcopal oversight of the Greek parishes. Erickson notes, “In practice [the Greek] parishes were independent of any authority beyond the local community.”[44]

One of the earliest Greek parishes in America was established in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1900, the Lowell parish was divided: one portion of the parish wanted to discharge their priest, Fr. Nathaniel Sideris, and “hire” another. “We have the right to tell a priest that he is no longer needed and to engage another priest,” one parish leader explained.[45] Other parishioners were appalled at such an approach. “Our complaint,” said the leader of the opposition, “is that the people upstairs are conducting the affairs of a Greek church different from anything to which we have been accustomed, and we do not consider it right. The bishop of the Greek church in Athens alone has the power to assign a priest.” Eight years later, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in Lowell: part of the community decided not to retain their priest, and the priest himself appealed to the Metropolitan of Athens. “If the Greek Orthodox community here refuses to recognize the authority of the metropolitan of the Greek church in Athens [the priest] will be transferred to some other Greek Orthodox church in this country.”[46] The striking fact about both of these incidents is that the Russian bishop is not mentioned by either party. One side wanted total independence from all hierarchy; the other acknowledged the authority of the Church of Greece. The Russians were irrelevant.

Both the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate oversaw Greek priests and parishes in America. Greek churches in Norfolk,[47] Salt Lake City,[48] and Washington, D.C.[49] were under Athens; those in Lynn, Massachusetts[50] and Savannah, Georgia[51] acknowledged the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The first Orthodox services in Birmingham, Alabama were celebrated by an Archimandrite Dorotheo, whose Holy Chrism came from Constantinople,[52] but who commemorated both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Metropolitan of Athens during the Divine Liturgy.[53] When a Greek parish was formed in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that “The church is governed from Athens and is not connected with the Russian Greek Church, although the doctrines are essentially the same.”[54] But two years later, a black Episcopal deacon who had been attending the Philadelphia parish traveled to Constantinople – not Athens – to be ordained an Orthodox priest. This man, Fr. Raphael Morgan, was then sent back to America by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to “carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.”[55]

On occasion, the Russian hierarchy attempted to assert ecclesiastical authority over trustee-governed Greek parishes. Such action was not taken kindly by the Greeks. For example, on Great and Holy Friday in 1904, Archbishop Tikhon, the Russian hierarch in America, visited Holy Trinity, the uptown Greek church in New York City. “[H]e was barred from entering by its angry trustees,” writes Erickson, “who feared a Russian takeover of their parish properties.”[56] To understand this reaction of the Greeks, consider that just weeks earlier, Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny, the leader of the Russian-affiliated Syrian contingent, was consecrated to the episcopate in Brooklyn by Archbishop Tikhon, and it was widely reported that this took place on orders from the Tsar. The Greeks viewed this as a Russian imperial encroachment into the affairs of Orthodox church life in America, and they felt threatened.[57] This tension was exacerbated in 1909, when the New York Greeks protested legislation that would have placed them under the legal authority of the Russian consul.[58] There are, however, examples of cooperation; for instance, in 1902 Archbishop Tikhon celebrated the Divine Liturgy in a Chicago Greek parish, serving entirely in the Greek language.[59] In the 1910s, Fr. Demetrios Petrides (the Greek priest in Atlanta) and Fr. Leonid Turkevich (a leading Russian priest and future Metropolitan) were the two Orthodox representatives to an official dialogue group called the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union.[60]

It is not entirely clear whether the Russian Archdiocese itself even considered the Greeks to be under its jurisdiction. Official Russian lists of parishes in the early 20th century include no Greek communities.[61] Only a handful of Greek priests and parishes are known to have accepted the authority of the Russian hierarchy.[62] Barbara MacGahan, a well-known journalist, co-founder of the Russian church in New York City, and prominent turn-of-the-century Russian Orthodox layperson, wrote the following in a letter to the Washington Post in 1903:

The Greek priests in this country are not under the rule of the Russian Bishop of America, the Right Rev. Tichon [sic]. There is no Greek bishop in this country at all. The direction extended over the Greek clergy here from far-off Athens (Greece) is exceedingly lax, in consequence of which the Greek priests here struggle along without any ecclesiastical guidance or supervision, and are apt to indulge in grievous irregularities as to church observances, for which the Russian Church clergy, under the steady guidance of Bishop Tikhon, should not be held responsible.[63]

In 1900, Bishop Tikhon himself wrote,

There are in America several Greek clergymen. Ecclesiastically they depend either upon the Patriarch of Constantinople or the Archbishop of Athens, but in fact they are dependent upon neither, and remain without any kind of oversight. […] The Greek clergy ought to submit to some sort of diocesan oversight, all the more so because they are now living with the Orthodox North American Diocese; but this issue is beyond my competence.[64]

Tikhon expressed a similar view in 1905: “[I]t is difficult to trust the Greeks: although they have parishes in America, some are dependent upon the Synod of Athens, some on the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and some on Jerusalem (quite a weak dependence!), and, according to the politics characteristic of Greeks, they would hardly wish to be under any kind of subjection to the Russian hierarchy.”[65]

In 1908, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued its now-famous Tomos, transferring the “Greek Orthodox” parishes in America from its own jurisdiction to that of the Church of Greece.[66] Fr. Alexander Doumouras explains that this was in response to pressure from the Ottoman government in Turkey, which was upset with the anti-Turkish stance of many Greek priests in America. The Russian Church, says Doumouras, then declared that all the Orthodox in America – Greeks included – were under its authority. The Ecumenical Patriarchate did not agree, however, instead issuing the Tomos and transferring its rights in America to the Church of Greece. Doumouras claims that “[t]his was the first pronouncement made of a separate jurisdiction in America apart from the Russian diocese.”[67] If, by “pronouncement,” Doumouras means an official declaration such as a Patriarchal tomos, then perhaps he is technically correct. But this is rather misleading: even before the 1908 Tomos, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece were both sending priests to America, resolving parish disputes, consecrating Holy Chrism for use in the New World, and even – in the case of Fr. Raphael Morgan – commissioning a missionary to evangelize Americans. In any event, the Tomos affected only a portion of the Greek churches, since many already acknowledged the authority of the Church of Greece. The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would issue such a decree, however, is confirmation that it did not consider America to be the exclusive territory of the Russian Church.[68]

To summarize, then: the typical Greek parish in America was founded and run by a lay board of trustees, without the participation, consent, or even, at times, knowledge of the Russian hierarchy. It was pastored by clergy sent from Greece or Constantinople, again without the participation, consent, or knowledge of the Russian bishops. These parishes were privately incorporated; legally, they were independent entities.[69] While it is true that no Greek bishop actually resided in America until 1918, it does not follow that the Greeks were therefore under the Russian hierarchy. Virtually all of the Greeks – who in 1916 represented 48% of all Orthodox Christians in America[70] – constituted a distinct group, independent of the Russian Archdiocese.

The Syrians and the Serbs

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Greeks in America were, with some exceptions, independent of the Russian Archdiocese. The same cannot be said of the Syrians and Serbs, most of whom maintained, at least officially, ties to the Russian Church into the late 1910s. The arrival of then-Bishop Tikhon and Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny in the latter half of the 1890s ushered in a new era for the Russian Archdiocese in America. This period is considered by many to be a sort of golden age of inter-ethnic Orthodox unity. Fr. John Meyendorff asserts that the Russian Archdiocese “always defined itself in territorial and not in ethnic terms,” in contradistinction from the principle “which became the basis for the existence of the Greek Archdiocese, created in 1921 specifically for Americans of Greek background and using Greek as their liturgical language.”[71]

But when Archbishop Tikhon presented his well-known blueprint for the future of American Orthodoxy in 1905, his entire vision was founded upon ethnic, not territorial, dioceses. He spoke of the multinational character of the Archdiocese, “composed of several orthodox Churches,” each with its own peculiarities that should be accommodated and preserved. Bishop Raphael was consecrated Bishop of Brooklyn and head of the Syro-Arab mission in 1904. He was an auxiliary to Archbishop Tikhon, but, to use Tikhon’s own words, he “is almost independent in his own sphere.” Likewise the Serbs were organized into their own group within the Archdiocese, headed by the American-born Serbian archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich, whom Archbishop Tikhon hoped to eventually consecrate a bishop. Archbishop Tikhon looked forward to the day when the Greeks too would have their own bishop, sent by the Holy Synod of Athens but operating under the ultimate authority of the Russian archbishop. “Each one of them is independent in its own sphere, but the common affairs of the American Church are decided in a Synod, presided by the Russian Archbishop,” Tikhon proposed. While he certainly envisioned a scenario in which all the Orthodox in America would be under the Russian primate, Archbishop Tikhon ultimately hoped for an American Church which would be divided into largely independent Russian, Alaskan, Syrian, Serbian, and Greek dioceses. “It should be remembered,” Archbishop Tikhon emphasized, “that life in the new world is different from that of the old; our Church must take this into consideration.”[72]

Such a principle is borne out even at that early date. In Chicago, for example, there were five Orthodox churches by 1912: two Greek, one Russian, one Syrian, and one Serbian. The Greeks rejected Russian authority altogether; the Syrians had a bishop of their own, Raphael; the Serbs likewise answered to Dabovich rather than directly to the Russian archbishop. A similar situation existed in Pittsburgh, with each group – Greek, Russian, Syrian, and Serbian – having its own parish. The Russians had a parish in Brooklyn, home of the Syrian cathedral; the Syrians had a parish in New York City, home of the Russian cathedral. The two groups also overlapped in Boston and Wilkes-Barre, and in all cases, each ethnic parish was answerable to its own ethnic bishop. It is true that the Russian, Syrian, and Serbian parishes were all united into one territorial Russian Archdiocese; at the same time, as a practical matter, they were already functioning as mostly-independent, de facto territorial jurisdictions.

Another example of ethnic separation is the Mayfield Church Council of 1907, envisioned by Archbishop Tikhon and hailed as the “First All-American Sobor.” The Sobor was scheduled to coincide with the convention of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society that was meeting in the same city. Sessions of the Sobor took place in between meetings of the convention.[73] Neither Bishop Raphael nor Fr. Sebastian Dabovich attended, and there is no evidence that any other Syrians or Serbs were present.[74] In other words, despite its nickname, the council was “Russian,” as opposed to “All-American.” Visionary as it was in its process, the Sobor did not include the non-“Russian” ethnic groups, further emphasizing the view that the other Orthodox groups were indeed “almost independent.”

The extent to which Bishop Raphael was “almost independent” may come as a surprise to some. He was, says Paul Garrett, “consulted before virtually every important decision in the [Antiochian] patriarchate and informed of the outcome directly thereafter.”[75] In his own periodical, Al-Kalimat, Bishop Raphael reported that his consecration was “by the order and permission of Melatois [sic], the Patriarch of Antioch”[76] and that “Patriarch Melatois [sic] counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” He went on to say that Patriarch Meletios declared that he “had instituted the new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.”[77] And furthermore: “[T]he territorial jurisdiction of the See of Antioch became much more extensive during the time of his beatitude [Patriarch Meletios], for Syrians who emigrated to many other countries still retained their spiritual relations with and continued to acknowledge and yield allegiance to their mother church, the Holy Church of Antioch.”[78]

While the relationship between the Syro-Arab mission and the Russian Archdiocese may indeed have been “nominal,” the relationship did exist, and it existed chiefly in the person of Bishop Raphael himself. His relationship with Russia and Antioch was ambiguous, and this ambiguity was strengthened by his own words and actions. In a dispute between factions of a Syrian parish in 1923, the judge observed with some frustration, “[A]t first the writings of Bishop Raphael gave to the Patriarch of Antioch jurisdiction over the Syrian branch of the Orthodox Church in the United States, and later gave expression to language indicating that all the branches, including the Syrian branch, of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, were under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of Russia.”[79] It is also worth noting that no Syrian names appear on the published lists of students at the early Russian seminaries in Minneapolis and Tenafly, New Jersey.[80]

In Bishop Raphael’s lifetime, his authority over the Syrians was unquestioned, and his ties to both Antioch and Russia were not seen as contradictory. But after his death in 1915, the Syro-Arab mission split: some wanted to retain their ties with the Russians, while others favored subordination to Antioch. This division took place immediately following Raphael’s death. “[A] meeting was held of the Syrian priests who were present at the funeral, and a division of minds existed and was then expressed as to whether or not Raphael, as Bishop of Brooklyn, was subordinate to the Holy Synod of Russia or to the Patriarch of Antioch, and whether the successor of Raphael as Bishop of Brooklyn should be a Syrian, or whether he might be a Russian.”[81] As far as many Syrians were concerned, they were a separate group. Bishop Raphael had spoken of only “nominal allegiance” to Russia, and Archbishop Tikhon had considered the Syrian bishop to be “almost independent.” The ethnic lines were drawn by the Russian leadership, by even that most visionary of bishops, Tikhon. That the gulf would widen in the years following the death of Bishop Raphael was largely inevitable.

Among the Serbs too there was a growing movement towards ecclesiastical independence from the Russians. The leader of the Serbian mission, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, was ordained a priest by the Russian Bishop Nicholas Ziorov in 1892. Two years later, Dabovich oversaw the founding of the first Serbian parish in America, in Jackson, California. Bishop Nicholas reportedly called for the parish be chartered as a “Russian church,” while Dabovich and the Serbs insisted that it be Serbian. The dispute was ultimately resolved in the civil courts, with the Serbs emerging as victorious. According to Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich, Dabovich and the Russian hierarchy clashed over this issue on numerous other occasions in various parts of the United States.[82]

The Serbian parishes do appear on the official Russian Archdiocese lists in the early 20th century.[83] Yet like that of their Syrian counterparts, the Serbian position was somewhat ambiguous. Of the Serbian priests, writes Fr. Mladen Trbuhovich, “Some were affiliated with their respective church jurisdiction in the Old Country, while others served under the Russian Orthodox Church in America.”[84] When the Serbian parish in Kansas City found itself without a priest in 1909, it did not appeal to the Russian archbishop, but instead placed advertisements in the Serbian-language American newspapers.[85] When that failed, the parish considered “writing to the Patriarch of Constantinople asking him to secure for them the service of a young priest.”[86] When the Serbian parish of Chisholm, Minnesota, was organized in 1910, the local Serbian society president traveled to Europe in search of a priest.[87] When the church building was dedicated two years later, the priest who performed the ceremony did so under the authority of the Bishop of Sarajevo.[88]

As early as 1897, both Dabovich and the Russian Bishop Nicholas wrote to the Metropolitan of Serbia to request that the Serbian parishes in America be placed under the care of the Serbian Church. The Metropolitan declined, citing an inability to support the necessary infrastructure.[89] In the coming years the Russian Archdiocese, and Dabovich in particular, would make numerous overtures to the Serbian Church in an effort to obtain a bishop for the Serbs. Yet to many of his fellow Serbs, Dabovich himself was a “Russophile” because of his cooperation with the Russian Archdiocese. The Serbs, writes Fr. Damascene Christiansen, “did not wish to support or be united under the Serbian Orthodox Mission because it was within the jurisdiction of the Russian Church.”[90] The 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia reports, “The Servian [sic] Orthodox Church is closely affiliated to the Russian Church in this country, except that some of their churches do not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of the Russian archbishop.”[91] At a convention held in Chicago in 1913, the Serbian parishes voted to secede from the Russian Archdiocese and asked to be received into the Serbian Church.[92] For various reasons, this did not take place until after World War I; however, at the parish level, there was little sense of or desire for unity with the Russian Church. The Serbs wished to make their own way in America.


Contrary to the version of the past presented by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, the first epiphany of Orthodoxy in America was precisely a “jungle of ethnic ecclesiastical colonies.”[93] The Greeks, the largest body of Orthodox in America, were, with a few exceptions, independent of Russian authority and only loosely tied to the Old World Churches of Constantinople and Athens. The Serbs, while technically a part of the Russian Archdiocese, to a large degree resented the Russian leadership and from an early stage sought to join the Church of Serbia. The Syrians did recognize the jurisdiction of the Russian archbishop, but they maintained close ties with the Patriarchate of Antioch, and Bishop Raphael used the word “nominal” to describe the Syrian-Russian relationship.[94]

One is forced to conclude that at no point in its history was American Orthodoxy administratively united. Ethnic divisions and “overlapping jurisdictions” have existed from the earliest days of Orthodoxy in America. The roots of these divisions can be found in the very identities of early Orthodox Americans. These people – immigrants, most of them male, few of them educated – viewed their Orthodox faith as an integral aspect of their cultural identity. But in this, Orthodoxy stood side-by-side with language, food, music, and so forth. Ethnic interests, says Erickson, superseded a vision of the Church “as a community of faith, a community open in principle to all nations and all peoples.”[95]

Thus there is no glorious, unified past upon which Orthodox Americans may look back, no golden age to which they must return. One might be tempted to view this conclusion as a negative. However, one might also argue that the truth of the American Orthodox past is far more positive than any myth of unity. The myth of unity is basically a story of loss and failure: a once blissful and united American Orthodox Church suffers the departure of Archbishop Tikhon, the untimely death of Bishop Raphael, and the tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution, followed by the rebellion of the Greeks and the ethnic fragmentation of the formerly united Russian Archdiocese. By implication, the Greek Archdiocese is illegitimate, and the presence of the Antiochian, Serbian, and other jurisdictions in America is, as Schmemann puts it, “a sin and a tragedy.” Following this logic, the only legitimate Orthodox body in America is the OCA.[96]

The true story is much different. Orthodoxy was brought to America by simple immigrants. The wonder is that these immigrants managed to preserve their Orthodox faith in a foreign land bent on turning them into “good Americans.” They spent their money to build Orthodox churches. They brought priests over from the Old Country. They made an investment in their faith, and it is largely because of that investment that Orthodoxy exists in America today. This is true even of those who made up the Russian Archdiocese: the great bulk of its members were former Uniates, Eastern Rite Catholics deemed unwelcome in America by the Latin Rite hierarchy. Rather than submit to the pressure to conform, they chose to remain true to their traditions and join the Orthodox Church. Had they bowed to that pressure, and had the Greeks, Syrians, Serbs, and others given in to the urging of so much of America to conform, there would be no American Orthodoxy.

The price of that preservation, however, was ethnic separation. These immigrants were not missionaries or theologians or far-sighted visionaries. They were simple people trying to make a life for themselves and their families, and in the process hold on to the things that mattered to them: their culture, their traditions, and their Orthodox faith. But their Orthodoxy was not an abstract reality, distinct from their fundamental identity. For many, faithfulness to ethnicity and faithfulness to Orthodoxy were one and the same. The positive aspect of this is that fidelity to one’s identity implied fidelity to one’s Orthodox faith.

The United States of America is a country of immigrants, and this was never more true than in the period from 1890 to 1920 – not coincidentally, the precise period in which Orthodoxy was established in America. Rather than view ethnicity as a negative, one could view it as a necessary tool that, through God’s providence, allowed Orthodoxy to be firmly planted in the New World. The seeds of administrative unity were present from the beginning, but they were in the initial stages of bearing fruit. American Orthodoxy is, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “Working out its unity in fear and trembling.” By letting go of the mythical past, American Orthodox Christians can be free of it and can begin to move towards a fuller unity, not blaming one another or scapegoating historical figures or lamenting past misfortunes, but taking responsibility, here and now, to make unity real in their own communities.

It should be an encouragement to American Orthodox Christians to know that, in many respects, they are more united now than at any time in history. The number and quality of pan-Orthodox institutions, organizations, and cooperative efforts in America today is without precedent.[97] These range from national agencies of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA)[98] to local, grassroots groups such as Orthodox schools[99] and nursing homes.[100] The use of English in church services is undoubtedly more prevalent than in times past.[101] Furthermore, a recent study indicates that more than 80 percent of American Orthodox Christians desire jurisdictional unity.[102] It is beyond the scope of this paper to document the nature and extent of the present unity of American Orthodoxy. However, it must be emphasized that nothing approaching this sort of cooperation and common ground existed during the supposed “golden age.” The closest approximation of a “golden age” is the present.

The following quotation, from a recent article by Fr. John Behr, seems an appropriate conclusion to this paper: “Perhaps we should not think, as we are wont to do, of the unity of the one Church that we desire as something we once had but have since lost. Perhaps we should see it rather as a unity towards which we are always moving as we sojourn in the changing circumstances of this world, seeking a citizenship that ultimately lies in the heavens.”[103]


Author’s Note

I am a lifelong Orthodox Christian of Lebanese descent, and I was raised in and am a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese. I have long been a proponent of Orthodox administrative unity in America, and I grew up wholly believing what I have now termed the “myth of unity.” When I began the research that ultimately led to this paper, my goal was to compile primary source documentation to support the view of the American Orthodox past as a “golden age.” I expected to find many and various pieces of evidence that would testify to the pre-1917 unity of American Orthodoxy, and I intended to publish this evidence in a book. This would, so I thought, help further the present cause of unity.

In the process of my research, it became apparent to me that the golden age of unity never actually existed. In fact, what I discovered was a great volume of evidence that directly contradicted this view. I reached my conclusions with not a small measure of disappointment, as it is always difficult to experience the virtual debunking of a long-held belief. However, I felt an obligation to continue my research and document, as best I could, the actual American Orthodox past. As I have done this, my perspective has changed. While I am still a very strong advocate of administrative unity – perhaps even more so than I was at the outset of my study – I no longer view the truth of the past as a disappointment or an obstacle. Quite the opposite: as I have argued in the conclusion to my paper, I consider the real past to be more positive, more encouraging, and more helpful to the present and future unity efforts than the old myth.

In this paper, I have singled out, among others, Fr. Alexander Schmemann as a prime advocate of the myth of unity. I have done this with some trepidation, as I am a great admirer of Schmemann. More than any other writer, he has had a profound influence on my life, and I consider his book For the Life of the World to be a defining text for me. While he was not principally an historian, his Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy is an admirable study of Church history. In his journals, he writes, “Ideally, the study of Church history should liberate people from enslavement to the past, which is rather typical for the Orthodox consciousness… I remember how slowly I became liberated from idealizing Byzantium, Old Russia, etc.” He goes on to say,

The historical events of the Church – such as the Ecumenical Councils – are important inasmuch as they are an answer to the world, an affirmation of salvation and transfiguration. As soon as they are absolutized, as soon as they gain a value per se, and not as related to the world; in other words, as soon as we transform them into sacred history, we deprive them of their genuine value and meaning. Therefore, the prerequisite for the study of church history must be to liberate it from being a sacred absolute, and not to be enslaved by it – which is so often a burden on Orthodoxy.

[Entry for Tuesday, November 12, 1974, published in The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann: 1973-1983 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 53-54.]

Schmemann unintentionally fails to follow these principles when he engages the American Orthodox past. Yet this is understandable: he engages that past not as a scholar but as an advocate for unity in the 1960s and 1970s. He – who, it should be remembered, arrived in America decades after the supposed golden age had ended – seeks, with the best of intentions, to use history as a tool to achieve a worthy end in the present. Because of his influence, I have had little choice but to quote and rebut him in particular. In doing this, however, I have meant no disrespect, and my high regard for Schmemann has in no way been diminished.

In making these clarifications, I hope I have demonstrated that I have not written this paper as an attack on any person or persons, and I have certainly not intended to hamper the effort for American Orthodox unity. I believe that an honest and accurate reading of our past is actually a step towards that unity, rather than away from it.


[1] This is a revised version of a paper delivered under the title, “The Myth of Past Unity,” at the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary Summer Conference in Crestwood, New York on June 20, 2009. I revised this paper in January 2011, but I have not made any additional revisions in the intervening four years.

[2] In a 2007 survey of 345 SCOBA parishes, 257 (74.3%) reported that English was their primary liturgical language. Elani Makris, “Learning About Ourselves: A Snapshot of the Orthodox Church in the Twenty-First Century,” in Aristotle Papanikolaou and Elizabeth H. Prodromou, eds., Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), 353-355.

[3] Cf. Alexei D. Krindatch, “The Orthodox Church Today,” Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute (2008), 91-95. This may be accessed at

[4] For instance, cf. “Kevin Allen Interviewed Charles Ajalat Regarding Orthodox Unity,” The Word 52:3 (March 2008), 5-6. This is a transcript of an interview Kevin Allen conducted with Charles Ajalat, then-Chancellor of the Antiochian Archdiocese, on The Illumined Heart program, which aired on Ancient Faith Radio ( on January 25, 2008. Among other things, Ajalat says, “The real point is that administrative unity isn’t so new. We need to get back to the Orthodox administrative unity that we all once had up until the early 1900s.”

[5] The term “Local Churches” refers to the world’s fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches. These Churches have defined territorial boundaries which are not supposed to overlap one another. The growth of Orthodoxy in the so-called “diaspora” – which includes the entire Western Hemisphere – has resulted in multiple Local Churches exercising jurisdiction over the same geographical territory. Thus, of the fourteen Local Churches, seven claim jurisdiction in the United States of America. In addition, the “Orthodox Church in America” (OCA) also considers itself to be autocephalous, but its autocephaly is not recognized by the majority of the other Local Churches.

[6] Timothy Ware (Metropolitan Kallistos), The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., rev. ed., 1985), 187-8. Archbishop Gregory Afonsky offers a similar story: “Up until the Russian Revolution the North American Church was a single administrative whole. […] In order to understand this development of plurality of national jurisdictions within a single territory, we must understand the changes which occurred after 1917. At that time the principle of nationalism (ethnicity) entered American Orthodox Church Life, and eventually became a pretext for any national group to form its own parallel jurisdiction in America.” Archbishop Gregory Afonsky, The Orthodox Church in America: 1917-1934 (Kodiak, AK: St. Herman’s Theological Seminary Press, 1994), 7. Likewise Archbishop Nathaniel Popp: “The Church in America was a united Church in the early 1900’s under the Russian Diocese of America. It was only after the Russian Revolution, which cut off support of the American Church, that the various ethnic jurisdictions began to spring up in America.” Dean Calvert, “Metropolitan KALLISTOS Addresses the Future of Orthodoxy in the U.S.,” The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, (Accessed February 25, 2008). And again, Fr. (now Metropolitan) Jonah Paffhausen: “While the 19th century saw great immigration of Orthodox people from different countries, nevertheless the normal canonical order embracing all Orthodox of all ethnic backgrounds was observed in America, up to the 1920s, under the supervision of the Russian Mission. There was a united Synod with a single archbishop, and several bishops with missionary outreach and ministries to the various ethnic communities. […] The division of the Orthodox Mission in America began in 1922 with the collapse of Russian Imperial support of the Mission following the Bolshevik coup, and the formation of parallel hierarchies, beginning with the Greek Archdiocese under Constantinople.” Abbot Jonah Paffhausen, “Episcopacy Primacy, and the Mother Churches: A Monastic Perspective,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (2008), 8.

[7] Hieromonk Boris Burden, “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America,” Orthodox Catholic Review 1:1 (1927), 9.

[8] Ibid, 10.

[9] Ibid, 15. It is worth noting that Burden, the first person to propound the “myth of unity,” did not join the Orthodox Church until 1922, and thus was not an eyewitness to the alleged unity prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Cf. D. Oliver Herbel, “Lessons to be Learned: Fr. Boris Burden’s Failed Attempts to Foster Orthodox Jurisdictional Unity in America,” presented at the 2008 conference of the Orthodox Theological Society in America in Chicago, Illinois, on June 13, 2008.

[10] Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh to Archbishop Alexander Demoglou (January 15, 1929) in Paul G. Manolis, ed., The History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents: Volume II (Berkeley, CA: Ambelos Press, 2003), 1497-1501 and Archbishop Aftimios to Archbishop Alexander (March 14, 1929) in Manolis vol. II, 1576-1581.

[11] Alexander Schmemann, “To Love Is to Remember,” in Constance J. Tarasar, gen. ed., Orthodox America: 1794-1976 (Syosset, NY: OCA Dept. of History & Archives, 1975), 12. This sentiment is echoed by Fr. Antony Gabriel: “Loyalty to the Russian hierarchy was not an issue; the relationship within the American Synod was an easy one. Russians, Greeks, Arabs and Serbs were mutually administered by the hierarchs in North America at that time. The authority and primacy of the Russians and their bishops, as well as the vision of Archbishop Tikhon, were locally acknowledged. In these early days, there was in fact, Orthodox unity, a harmonious relationship among the various ethnic Orthodox churches.” Antony Gabriel, The Ancient Church on New Shores: Antioch in America (San Bernardino, CA: St. Willibrord’s Press, 1996), 36.

[12] Cf. Josiah Trenham, “Orthodox Reunion: Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism in America,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 50:3 (2006), 293.

[13] Patriarch Alexis to Patriarch Athenagoras (March 17, 1970), in Autocephaly: The Orthodox Church in America (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1971), 59-60.

[14] Patriarch Athenagoras to Metropolitan Pimen (June 24, 1970) in Autocephaly, 68-69.

[15] Metropolitan Pimen to Patriarch Athenagoras (August 11, 1970) in Autocephaly, 78.

[16] Thomas E. FitzGerald, The Orthodox Church: Student Edition (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 33-34.

[17] John Erickson, “Organization, Community, Church: Reflections on Orthodox Parish Polity in America,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 48:1 (Spring 2003), 72.

[18] For a discussion of the tension between Carpatho-Rusyns and Russians, see Chapter 2 (concerning St. Alexis Toth) in D. Oliver Herbel, Turning to Tradition: Intra-Christian Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church (Ph.D. diss., Saint Louis University, 2010); Brigit Farley, “Russian Orthodoxy in the Pacific Northwest: The Diary of Father Michael Andreades, 1905-1906,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 92 (Summer 2001), 127-136; and Thomas F. Sable, Lay Initiative in Greek Catholic Parishes in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (1884-1909) (Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, 1984).

[19] Eleventh Census of the United States, Vol. IX: Report on the Statistics of Churches in the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894), 263-64. Some have suggested that Ss. Constantine and Helen Church of Galveston, Texas has its origins as early as the 1860s. Cf. Alexander Doumouras, “Greek Orthodox Communities in America Before World War I,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 11:4 (1967), 179. However, the 1890 Census reports only the parishes in San Francisco and New Orleans, and while Orthodox laypeople did live in Galveston and may have prayed together as early as the 1860s, there is no evidence that a formal parish existed in the city until 1896. Cf. “Church Chimes,” Galveston Daily News (March 15, 1896), 8.

[20] The resident priest, Nicholas Bjerring, left Orthodoxy to become a Presbyterian soon thereafter, and the parish was formally closed by the Russian consul in 1885. Cf. D. Oliver Herbel, “A Catholic, Presbyterian, and Orthodox Journey: The Changing Church Affiliation and Enduring Social Vision of Nicholas Bjerring,” Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 14:1 (2007), 49-80.

[21] Consul M. Klinkovstrem to Novo-Archangel Spiritual Directorate (December 2/14, 1867), Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral website, Among other things, the consul wrote, “I hereby dutifully report to the Spiritual Directorate for its information and consideration, that in San Francisco for several years already there has existed the Russian Slavonian Benevolent Society which I have had the honor of serving as Chairman. Now, this Society (…) and merged with the Greek-Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society, and its membership is significant. This Society through me (…) into correspondence with the Russian Government and the Most-Holy Synod regarding the construction of a temple, etc.” (Ellipses in original.)


[22] Eleventh Census, 263-264. Some, however, have claimed that it was under the authority of the Church of Russia, citing the gift of a Gospel book to the parish by Tsar Alexander II. Cf. Burden, 10. But the mere fact of a gift from the Russian tsar does not itself mean that the parish was formally under Russian jurisdiction. For a discussion of the Gospel book, see my article, “The New Orleans Gospel Book,” published at (August 27, 2009).

[23] I have done a great deal of research on Honcharenko, but it remains largely unpublished. My preliminary findings are detailed in a series of articles on, the website of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (see Also see the “Agapius Honcharenko” episode of my American Orthodox History podcast, which aired on Ancient Faith Radio on August 13, 2009.

[24] Michael Oleksa, Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992), 168.

[25] “New York’s Greek Church,” Baltimore Sun (January 13, 1892).

[26] “Religious Notices,” The Independent (January 14, 1892), 18.

[27] “Down-Town Greeks Worship,” New York Times (January 8, 1894), 9.

[28] John H. Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 72. However, it is not clear that Fr. Paisius Ferentinos was not “educated.” After becoming a monk on the island of Patmos, he studied at the theological school on Colchis, near Constantinople. He then returned to his monastery and taught Greek to the youth of Patmos. Then, for two years, he was a deacon to the Patriarch of Alexandria, after which he was ordained a priest. In the years immediately prior to his arrival in America, he served as librarian and assistant chaplain at the Pisarian Theological School in Athens. Such a biography suggests that Ferentinos was in fact quite educated. Cf. Baltimore Sun (January 13, 1892).

[29] New York Times (January 8, 1894), 9.

[30] Valerian Gribayedoff, “A Russian Greek Church,” Outlook 51:15 (April 13, 1895), 623.

[31] A meeting of the Orthodox Christians in Chicago was held in May 1888 to discuss the possible formation of a multiethnic parish under the jurisdiction of the Russian bishop. Bishop Vladimir, the Russian bishop in San Francisco, visited Chicago in October 1888 and served the Divine Liturgy. However, Bishop Vladimir soon became embroiled in a controversy in San Francisco which would occupy the bulk of his episcopate. Among the figures involved in that affair was a Montenegrin publisher named Gopchevich, whose brother was one of the leading figures in the Orthodox community in Chicago. In November 1891 the Chicago Tribune reported that “the local society has determined to remain entirely independent of Vladimir, and has sent a petition to the Russian Government and to the head of the Greek Church in Constantinople for a priest.” (Cf. “Greek Catholics,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (November 2, 1891), 2. Also cf. “Church Troubles,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (November 3, 1891), 1.) It appears, then, that Bishop Vladimir’s troubles ultimately undermined the effort to form a Chicago parish. For information on the 1888 attempt to form a parish in Chicago, see “A Greek Church for Chicago,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (May 12, 1888), 6; “Members of the Greek Church Meet to Organize a Place of Worship,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (May 14, 1888), 8; and “To Form a Greek Church,” Chicago Tribune (May 14, 1888), 5. For information on Bishop Vladimir’s visit to Chicago, see “Greek Christians in Chicago,” Wheeling (West Virginia) Register (October 23, 1888), 1. For evidence of continued efforts to form a parish, see “To Petition the Czar of Russia,” Chicago Daily Tribune (June 1, 1891), 4; “A Greek Church,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (July 11, 1891), 7; and “From the Churches,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean (July 26, 1891), 29. For a detailed account of the controversies during Bishop Vladimir’s tenure in America, see Terence Emmons, Alleged Sex & Threatened Violence: Doctor Russel, Bishop Vladimir, and the Russians in San Francisco, 1887-1892 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).

[32] “Its First Services,” Chicago Daily Tribune (April 17, 1892), 44.

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Greek Church Organized in America,” New York Times (May 19, 1892), 3.

[35] “This Its New Years,” Chicago Tribune (January 13, 1893), 10.

[36] “New Greek Church,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 12, 1894), 3.

[37] “Prayers Read for Their ‘Protector,’” New York Times (November 5, 1894), 3.

[38] “Russian Greek Church Service,” Chicago Tribune (December 10, 1894), 4.

[39] “Police in a Church,” Chicago Tribune (September 12, 1897), 4.

[40] “Police Guard a Church,” Chicago Tribune (September 13, 1897), 10.

[41] Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, 72.

[42] Stavros T. Constantinou and Milton E. Harvey, “The Persistence of Greek American Ethnicity among Age Cohorts Under Changing Conditions” in John W. Frazier and Eugene L. Tettey-Fio, eds., Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America (Binghamton, NY: Global Academic Publishing, 2006), 341.

[43] George Papaioannou, “The Diamond Jubilee of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1922-1997,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 45:1-4 (Spring 2000), 223. This article was written in 1997 and published posthumously.

[44] Erickson, “Orthodox Polity in America,” 72. This does not mean that the Greek parishes were entirely unconnected with each other. In 1893, for instance, the newly-formed Greek churches in New York and Chicago provided funds to aid in the establishment of a short-lived parish in Baltimore, Maryland. “Greek Church to Celebrate Christmas,” Baltimore Sun (January 6, 1894), 8.

[45] “Lowell Greeks at Odds,” Boston Globe (April 30, 1900), 6.

[46] “Appeals to Athens,” Boston Globe (April 1, 1908), 8.

[47] “The Rev. Father Constantine Doropoulos of Baltimore came down to Norfolk to minister to their needs. This arrangement continued for approximately 10 years until the Norfolk congregation saved enough money to support a permanent priest. In order to do so, a request had to be made to the archbishop of Athens, Theoklitos. The request was granted and Archbishop Theoklitos appointed the Rev. Father George Smyrnakis. In addition, he sent the required liturgical items necessary for conducting mass.” Ruth A. Rose, Norfolk: A People’s History (Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2007), 107-108.

[48] “[A]t a meeting held in this city, it was voted to make an application for the appointment of a priest. This application was forwarded to the metropolitan of Athens Feb. 4, and was granted.” “First Greek Service in Utah,” Salt Lake Herald (April 26, 1905), 8.

[49] The founder of the Greek church in Washington, Fr. Nathaniel Sideris, was the above-mentioned ousted pastor of the Lowell parish. A Washington Post article on the founding of the Washington parish mentions the existence of the Russian Church in America, which “has some fifty-eight churches, presided over by about forty priests, with 45,000 adherents.” It goes on to say that “Father Sideris represents the Greek Church of Greece, whose government is modeled after that of the Russian church. This branch has only five churches, with five priests, and about 20,000 adherents.” “Greek Church Priest,” Washington Post (June 4, 1905), E2. The statistics given for the Greek Church may not be precisely correct; however, a distinction between Greek and Russian jurisdictions is obviously made.

[50] “For the past week the Greeks have been awaiting the arrival of their new pastor. He was sent from Constantinople by the patriarch and arrived in this city about 11 last night.” “Fr Lambrides in Charge,” Boston Globe (January 8, 1906), 9.

[51] “On the way to Savannah is Rev. Thomas Papageorge. Advices that he has left Constantinople have been received. He has been assigned to the charge of the Savannah church by the patriarch of the world, the head of the Greek church.” “Pastor Comes to Greek Church,” Atlanta Constitution (April 25, 1907), 9.

[52] “Father Dorotheo the Greek Priest,” The Age-Herald (Birmingham, AL) (June 22, 1900), 5.

[53] “Mass Celebrated by Greek Priest,” The Age-Herald (Birmingham, AL) (June 25, 1900), 5.

[54] “Their Christmas Two Weeks Later,” Philadelphia Inquirer (December 24, 1905), 8. Also cf. “Christmas is Celebrated by the Greek Christians,” Philadelphia Inquirer (January 8, 1906).

[55] Paul G. Manolis, Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America (Athens, Greece: 1981), 6-7. For an account of Morgan’s life and work, see my paper, “Father Raphael Morgan: The First Orthodox Priest of African Descent in America,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 53:4 (2009), 447-459.

[56] Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, 73.

[57] “Greeks Angry at the Czar,” New York Sun (March 15, 1904), 12.

[58] “Fear Czar’s Control,” New York Tribune (May 6, 1909), 2 and “Greeks Oppose Ward Bill,” New York Tribune (May 7, 1909), 7.

[59] Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, 73.

[60] The Living Church Annual and Churchman’s Almanac: A Church Cyclopedia and Almanac, 1917 (Milwaukee: Young Churchman Company, 1916), 155. See also the 1918 edition of the same publication (published in 1917), page 165.

[61] These lists were published in 1906, 1911, and 1918. Cf. FitzGerald, 34. The official lists have been reproduced in Tarasar, Orthodox America, 337-350.

[62] Doumouras, 188. The three ethnic Greek priests known to have acknowledged the authority of the Russian hierarchy were Frs. Kallinikos Kanellas, Theoclitos Triantafilidis, and Michael Andreades. In addition, Doumouras reports that six Greek parishes requested antimensia (altar cloths) from the Russian Archdiocese, with all of the requests coming in the years 1916-1918. To put these numbers into perspective, consider that by 1916, there were 103 Greek priests and 87 Greek parishes in the United States. Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1916, Part II: Separate Denominations: History, Descriptions, and Statistics (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 255-256.

[63] B. MacGahan, “Not a Greek Priest,” letter to the editor, Washington Post (January 26, 1903), 4. A brief sketch of MacGahan’s life may be found in her obituary, “Mrs. Barbara MacGahan Dead,” New York Times (March 1, 1904). For more on her involvement in the New York Russian church, see Valerian Gribayedoff, “A Russian Greek Church,” Outlook 51:15 (April 13, 1895), 623. Also see “Has Withdrawn Her Suit,” New York Times (January 11, 1896), 15.

[64] Bishop Tikhon, “An Account of the State of the Aleutian Diocese for 1899” (written April 19, 1900), in Andrew Kostadis, Pictures of Missionary Life According to the Russian Clerical Press in America and the Ruling American Bishops About the Life of the American Mission in 1900-1917 (unpublished M.Th. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1999), 193-194.

[65] Archbishop Tikhon, “An Account of the State of the Aleutian Diocese for 1904” (written July 14, 1905), in Kostadis, 217.

[66] The text of the Tomos in its original Greek may be found in Paul G. Manolis, ed., The History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents: Volume I (Berkeley, CA: Ambelos Press, 2003), 310-315.

[67] Doumouras, 190.

[68] Doumouras also mentions a visit made by Fr. Michael Andreades – one of three ethnic Greek priests known to have served in the Russian Archdiocese – to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1912. According to Andreades, Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III “suggested that the Russian bishop in America, through the Holy Synod of Russia, recommend to the Holy Synod of Greece that ‘a Greek bishop be appointed for America who had studied in a Russian theological academy.’” Doumouras, 190-191. However, one cannot conclude from this anecdote that the Ecumenical Patriarchate acknowledged that the Russian Church had sole jurisdiction in America. On the contrary, the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece, both before and after 1912, indicate that while, at best, they may have hoped that cooperation might be fostered, neither of these autocephalous Churches felt the need to defer to Russian claims in America.

[69] Cf. Erickson, “Orthodox Polity in America,” 68-72.

[70] 1916 Census of Religious Bodies, 252.

[71] John Meyendorff, “The Forgotten Principle,” The Orthodox Church (January 1972), reprinted in The Vision of Unity (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987), 57.

[72] Archbishop Tikhon, “Projected Unity and Independence for America,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 19:1 (1975), 49-50. This is an English translation of a section of a longer document written by Archbishop Tikhon in 1905. A translation of the full 1905 text appears under the title “Views of Questions to be examined by the Local Council of the Russian Church,” and may be found in the Russian Orthodox American Messenger (English supplement) (March 1906), 68-70. I address the differences between the 1906 and 1975 translations in “St. Tikhon’s Vision, 1905,” published at (October 21, 2009).

[73] Alexis Liberovsky, “The 1907 Mayfield Church Council,” banquet address at the 100th anniversary celebration of the First All American Sobor (Council) at St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Mayfield, PA (October 28, 2007). This article may be accessed at

[74] In a private electronic message to the author (April 29, 2008), OCA archivist Alexis Liberovsky wrote, “Given the difficult logistics and expense of travel at that time, it seems unlikely that anyone who was not attending both events would make the trip. In view of these facts, it seems quite likely that Syrian and Serbian representatives did not attend the Mayfield Sobor. However, this is just a reasonable conclusion based on available evidence. As there isn’t a list of participants, this cannot be established with absolute certainty.”

[75] Paul D. Garrett, “The Life and Legacy of Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny,” in George S. Corey, et al, eds., The First One Hundred Years: A Centennial Anthology Celebrating Antiochian Orthodoxy in North America (Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press, 1995), 19.

[76] Al-Kalimat 1, 2, reprinted in Hanna v. Malick, Northwestern Reporter vol. 193, 802 (193 N.W. 798 (Mich. 1923)).

[77] Al-Kalimat 3, 95-96, reprinted in Hanna v. Malick. An alternate translation renders this statement, “And so it is indeed, though in name it belongs to the Russian Holy Synod.” Andre G. Issa, The Life of Raphael Hawaweeny, Bishop of Brooklyn, 1860-1915 (unpublished M.Th. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1991), 62.

[78] Al-Kalimat 3, 95-96, reprinted in Hanna v. Malick.

[79] Hanna v. Malick, 802.

[80]Tarasar, Orthodox America, 109, 134, 136. According to one account, prospective Syrian priests in America were selected by the local community and in turn apprenticed by the bishop to an experienced priest. After some time of this, they were ordained. “For at least forty years most Ordinations for Syrian Parishes in America have been in accordance with this custom, because it has not been possible to found in America a Theological School for the training of Syrian Clergy.” “Antecedent History,” The Orthodox American (April 1944), 5-6. This article was probably written by Fr. Michael Gelsinger.

[81] Hanna v. Malick, 801.

[82] St. Nicholai Velimirovich of Zhicha, “Father Sebastian Dabovich,” The Path of Orthodoxy 42:10 (October 2007), 5. Originally published in the Serb National Federation Commemorative Book (1951).

[83] Tarasar, Orthodox America, 337-350.

[84] Fr. Mladen Trbuhovich, “St. Vasilije’s on the Mesabi,” Serb World USA (July/August 1994), 57. This article was written in 1953.

[85] “Wanted: A Servian Priest,” Kansas City Times (February 22, 1909).

[86] “To Europe for Their Priest,” Kansas City Times (March 1, 1909), 3.

[87] “Goes to Europe After a Priest,” Duluth News Tribune (June 3, 1910), 3.

[88] Trbuhovich, 57.

[89] The Metropolitan wrote, “We could not do this because We could not support so many churches and priests, schools and teachers there.” Hieromonk Damascene Christiansen, “Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich: Serbian Orthodox Apostle to America,” The Orthodox Word 43:1-2 (January-April 2007), 28. Evidence also suggests that the Metropolitan of Serbia deferred to the authority of the existing Russian Diocese in America. In a letter to Dabovich, which may or may not be the same letter quoted by Fr. Damascene Christiansen, Metropolitan Mihailo Jovanovic of Serbia said, “I cannot establish and consecrate an independent Orthodox Church in California and America because there is already an Orthodox Church supported by [the] Russian Orthodox Church. Furthermore, we do not have the resources for this… I think you should agree and listen to your Bishop and he will help you and protect the Serbs and Orthodoxy and he will safeguard Serbian national customs. I think you should reconsider all the above [i.e., establishing an “independent Orthodox Church” in America] and refrain from doing anything that would be against the interests of Serbs living there.” Krinka Vidakovic Petrov, “An Outline of the Cultural History of the Serbian Community in Chicago,” Serbian Studies (2006), 46. (Ellipses in original.)

[90] Ibid, 50-51.

[91] Andrew J. Shipman, “Greek Orthodox Church in America” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VI (New York: Robert Appleton, 1909), 773.

[92] Orthodox America, 147. Also cf. Christiansen, 58-61.

[93] Cf. Schmemann, 12.

[94] In this paper, the discussion has been limited to the three major non-Russian ethnic groups of Orthodox Christians in America: Greeks, Syrians, and Serbs. There were, of course, others besides these, most notably Albanians, Bulgarians, and Romanians. The 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Albanians as being in cooperation with the Russian Archdiocese. However, of the Bulgarians it says, “They dislike the Greeks very much, and while the Turkish contingent of them is nominally under the Patriarch of Constantinople, they recognize only the Exarch of Bulgaria. Neither will they affiliate with the Russian Church authorities here.” The Romanians were “under divided jurisdiction, those from Rumania being under the Holy Synod of Rumania and those from Transylvania under the Metropolitan of Hermannstadt.” Catholic Encyclopedia, 772-774. Likewise in Orthodox America: “Prior to World War I, most of the Romanian parishes in the United States were affiliated with the Metropolitan of Transylvania and those of Canada with the Metropolitan of Moldava.” Fr. Vasile Hategan, “The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America” in Orthodox America, 305.


[95] Erickson, “Orthodox Polity in America,” 69.

[96] Then-Abbot (and current OCA Metropolitan) Jonah Paffhausen comes to precisely this conclusion in a recent paper. He writes, “[T]he presence of any other jurisdiction [besides the OCA] on American territory becomes uncanonical, and membership in the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America becomes the criterion of canonicity for all bishops in America.” Paffhausen, “Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches,” 9.

[97] For a selected list of pan-Orthodox organizations, see the website of the Virginia H. Farah Foundation (

[98] A list of SCOBA agencies and endorsed organizations may be found at

[99] A directory of Orthodox schools may be found at

[100] For instance, Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Worcester, Massachusetts is a pan-Orthodox ministry of the twelve parishes which comprise the Council of Eastern Orthodox Churches of Central Massachusetts. Cf. the organization’s website at Examples of other local pan-Orthodox clergy councils and brotherhoods include, among others, the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Metropolitan Detroit, the Orthodox Christian Clergy Brotherhood of Greater Kansas City, the Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood of Greater Pittsburgh, the Orthodox Council of Churches of South Central Pennsylvania, the Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association of Mahoning Valley (OH), the Oklahoma Orthodox Clergy Council, the Greater Cleveland Council of Orthodox Clergy, the Fellowship of Orthodox Churches of Connecticut, the Lehigh Valley (PA) Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood, and the Orthodox Clergy Association of Southeast Texas. In some cities, such as Wichita, Kansas, all of the Orthodox clergy are part of a single jurisdiction (in this case, the Antiochian Archdiocese).

[101] Cf. Makris, 353-355.

[102] Krindatch, 92-95. In the study, 40% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I think that very little has been done so far to achieve this goal. We need more consistent efforts and should act more intentionally.” A further 42% agreed with the statement, “I think that we are on the right path. Orthodox unity in US will be eventually achieved through the increasing cooperation among various American Orthodox jurisdictions – the way it goes now.” Only 10% considered the question of Orthodox unity to be “unnecessarily overemphasized.” While Krindatch himself concludes from these results that American Orthodox unity is a “divisive issue,” it is the desired speed of unification, rather than the ultimate goal, which seems to divide the respondents.

[103] Fr. John Behr, “One in Christ: An Historical Look,” AGAIN 28:2 (Summer 2006), 20.

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