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