Amazing 1915 Letter on Jurisdictionalism in American Orthodoxy

The following remarkable letter appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 18, 1915. It offers a well-informed but obviously partisan perspective on the Orthodox reality in America and globally in 1915 — in the midst of World War I. There’s so much happening in this letter, so many layers. It has to be one of the most fascinating historical records I’ve ever stumbled upon. I only wish I knew the identity of the author — all we can tell here is that he’s a Greek-American who knows a great deal about the entire Orthodox world.


Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

With great interest I read the article in The Eagle of last Monday describing the funeral services of his beatitude, Bishop Raphael of the Syrian Orthodox Church, and, in the same issue, the eulogistic editorial on the deceased prelate. Your editorial writer made a mistake in saying that “Brooklyn is likely to remain the center and source of authority for the Orthodox Greek Church in America,” and again, “his (Bishop Raphael’s) branch of the Eastern Church recognizes the primacy of the Russian Holy Synod.”

Permit me to say that Brooklyn is not now and never has been “the center and source of authority” for the Orthodox in America. It has been the see city of the Syrian Church, but there is no church which may lay claim to Orthodox leadership and primacy in America. Here we have representative[s] of the Greek (Hellenic, and Patriarchist), the Bulgarian Exarchist, and the lesser Eastern churches, and the great, aggressive Russian Church exercising jurisdiction, or quasi-jurisdiction, over every Orthodox churchman it can gather in by hook or crook — Syrian, Serbian, Cypriote, Alexandrian, Roumanian and Ruthenian. Bishop Raphael’s Syrians, of obligation, are sons of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, but, unfortunately, they have fallen under the influence of the erastian Russian-American Mission. The Antiochene Church acknowledges no primacy in the Russian Synod, but is an autocephalous (independent) church, with no other head under Christ but “His Holiness, the Most Divine and Holy Patriarch of the great god-favored city of Antioch and all the East.”

It is said that the policy of the Russian Church is “uniformity within, expansion without.” Its activity and organization in America is admirable and makes for uniformity and expansion. The United States and Canada are divided into six proto-presbyterates (deaneries); an Orthodox monastery (St. Tikhon’s) is situated at South Canaan, Pa., and a flourishing seminary at Tenafly, N.J., and last, but not least, we find fully organized Syro-Arabian and Serbian missions, founded in derogation of the rights of Antioch and the National Church of Serbia and the Orthodox Serbo-Hungarians. Well received advances have been made toward the Roumanians and Bulgarians, and once upon a time, the then Archbishop Lord Tikhon looked for the establishment of successful missionary work among our “benighted” native Americans, and had a priest, a convert from the Episcopal Church, working in that direction.

We are on the eve of the fall of Constantinople. This will be an epoch-making event for the Orthodox. I would like to ask the Greek-Americans, coreligionists of the late Bishop Raphael, What will be the fate of the “great Hellenic idea”? What that of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Phanar, when the dream of Peter the Great comes true? Will the Holy Governing Synod tolerate the existence of the Greek Patriarch? Will the Patriarch humbly play “second-fiddle” to the “Ober-Prokurator”? Will that legendary priest come out of the wall of Justinian’s great Church of the Holy Wisdom, where he has been immured since 1453, and find that he must finish his interrupted Liturgy under the shadow of the Russian bear instead of the Byzantine eagle?


Brooklyn, March 16, 1915

12 Replies to “Amazing 1915 Letter on Jurisdictionalism in American Orthodoxy”

  1. Wow. There really are several layers to unpack here. Do you interpret the title “Archbishop Lord Tikhon” as sarcastic in tone, or is that a legitimate title?

    1. I don’t read it as sarcastic. Sometimes you’ll hear Russian translations into English refer to bishops as “Lord,” even today. Possibly a translation of “Vladyka” (i.e., Master)?

      1. “Lord” is a proper title given to bishops and it was customary for bishops to sign their name as “Lord X”. We still commemorate bishops during the Litanies and Polychronia in the Russian Church. In Slavonic and Russian the word is “Господин” which is different from the title given to Christ, “Господь”. I’m not sure if a similar distinction exists in Greek.

      2. It could relate to part of the honorific given prelates, shown in how they sign their names preceded with “K. K.” in some circumstances which as I understand in Slavonic is rendered in phonetic English as “Kyr Kyr” which reveals the Greek origin of the honorific spelled out: “Κύριος Κύριον.” So, the prelate has, among other titles, “Lord of Lords.” Perhaps the apparent hyperbolic sound of that for a ruler in the Earthly Church references the hierarch standing in the place of Christ liturgically in his office, as the “Τύπος Χριστού” (Type of Christ).

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in 1915 didn’t the Cazar of Russia still pay the salary of all canonical Orthodox Priest in America?

  3. Keep digging Mr. Namee! Empires die slowly, but Kirill’s Blessing of War Crimes will accelerate the process if the Orthodox Church wishes to regain credibility in the Christian community. The Priest and the Levite did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Should we?

  4. This is stunning. A proto-Archon leaving a comment similar in spirit to what his heirs write today. There is nothing wrong with pride in one’s own heritage, but it is really sad that he sees St. Raphael’s legacy not as something to eulogize, but as something negative, because the holy hierarch chose to be under the also holy future Patriarch Tikhon in the Russian Church. He sees mission work amongst Americans as unnecessary and even somehow insulting to Americans. And he views unity amongst the Orthodox in America only in the context of a supposedly waning Constantinople, and as a danger to Hellenism. From this letter it becomes even clearer why Orthodoxy in America continues to be fragmented into various jurisdictions. And as usual, Russian generosity (yes, the churches under the Russians were generously funded by Tsar Nicholas II personally) is mistaken for Russian imperialism. We often project our own failings on unsuspecting others.

    1. You misread Agathangelos M. Cornelia. As our host notes, he is “partisan” in the sense he is Greek and all too aware of the fading EP and Greek place within history and “world Orthodoxy”. Yet he speaks the truth when he refers to the Russian tendancy to blur the lines between state and its ambitions (sometimes called “imperialism”, and rightly so) and the Gospel. Notice how he recognizes Patriarch Tikhon and his situation for what it was in the context of the Gospel in David’s link below…

    1. Thank you for finding this! I wish we could figure out who this Agathangelos is, but I suspect it will forever remain a mystery…

      1. You’re welcome. While reading the lives of the saints for October 3, I also ran across New Hiero-Confessor Agathangelus, Metropolitan of Yaroslavl (1928). His life indicates that: “Agathangelus actively opposed the ‘renovationist’ movement advocated by the Bolsheviks, and so suffered imprisonment and exile”. There’s also the Martyr Agathangelus (November 5) from the 3rd-4th Century, and there’s the Monastic Martyr Agathangelus of Esphigmenou, Mount Athos (1818), commemorated on April 19. Perhaps the person who wrote these letters to the editor used the name of one of these saints as a pen name.

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