Fifteen Amazing Facts in LOST HISTORIES

As you may have seen, Ancient Faith recently published my book, Lost Histories: The Good, the Bad & the Strange in Early American Orthodoxy. If you like this website, you’re the target audience for the book. And while reading it should give you a good handle on the early history of Orthodoxy in America, I wrote it not just to educate but — hopefully — to amaze and surprise you (even if you’re a longtime reader of this website). With that in mind, here are fifteen random, amazing facts from the book (which you can buy HERE).

  1. The first Divine Liturgy on US soil, in 1865 (when Alaska was still Russian territory) was by a Ukrainian nationalist with a fake name who claimed he was on the run from Tsarist assassins and went on to marry the daughter of an Italian-American revolutionary and tried to form a Slavic Protestant church in the Bay Area.
  2. The first two convert priests in the United States went on to apostatize. One became Orthodox because he wanted a triple-immersion baptism but quickly left the Church due to his opposition to icons. The other was so unprepared for the priesthood that he didn’t know many services; for example, for Holy Friday, he served the Divine Liturgy (which is forbidden on that day) because he was unfamiliar with any Holy Week services.
  3. The dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco in the 1870s died of a blow to the head. The prime suspect in his death (murder?) was his assistant priest, who was also his predecessor. Another suspicious character was the future Russian vice-consul who founded the Inglenook winery, which is now owned by Francis Ford Coppola.
  4. A rogue Bulgarian monk from Jerusalem roamed the United States in the 1870s and 1880s. At one point he and his friend the Oregon governor visited Utah, where the monk met Mormon leader Brigham Young and tried to convert him to Orthodoxy. Brigham declined.
  5. In 1897, St Alexander Hotovitzky, dean of the Russian cathedral in New York, baptized a Jewish convert. The baptism was done behind a screen because the convert was completely naked for it, consistent with ancient practice but very different from what’s done today.
  6. St Tikhon’s brother Michael, who worked as the bishop’s assistant, fell in love with an Italian opera singer in San Francisco. They couldn’t understand each other’s languages but he professed his love. She didn’t reciprocate and soon returned to Italy, at which point Michael died of a broken heart.
  7. St Raphael Hawaweeny was accused of trying to shoot a police officer during a street fight in Brooklyn. He was arrested, jailed, and went to court, but the charges were ultimately dropped.
  8. St Raphael was an unusually creative, open-minded hierarch. Among his interests was electricity, which he encouraged his parishes to install. On a pastoral visit to Beaumont, Texas, he decided to extend his visit to fundraise so the fledgling Antiochian parish could add electric lights to their church.
  9. Sometimes, St Raphael’s open-mindedness got him into trouble, such as when he authorized his people to go to Episcopalian priests in emergencies when no Orthodox priest was available. He soon realized his error and, rather amazingly, fell on his sword, publicly repenting of his error and rescinding his authorization.
  10. The Ford Motor Company fired almost a thousand Orthodox employees because they took the day off work for Julian Calendar Christmas.
  11. One of the teachers at the early Russian seminary in New Jersey, Vera Johnston, was the niece of Theosophist Helen Blavatsky and was a leading Theosophist herself, even while she was involved in training future Russian Orthodox priests.
  12. Two different early priests were involved in attempts to invent a flying machine. One, based in New Orleans, traveled to New York and committed suicide under somewhat mysterious circumstances; the other claimed that he’d figured out how to hover over the earth while the globe spun beneath him, allowing him to travel anywhere in 24 hours or less.
  13. The first black Orthodox priest in America had a messy divorce, after which he took his teenage daughter to Greece and left her there, where she would remain for a dozen years.
  14. The Antiochian cathedral dean under St Raphael was repeatedly attacked by young punks in Brooklyn who threw rotten vegetables at him. He thought it was because of his beard and wrote to the mayor of New York about it. The mayor assigned a detective to the case but also wrote back to the priest, lecturing him on proper beard trimming.
  15. One of St Raphael’s last ordinations was of a young Greek priest who spoke perfect Arabic, so much so that he was routinely mistaken for being half-Syrian. For a little while, he pastored Antiochian and Greek parishes simultaneously.

There’s a lot more where that came from: click here to buy the book.

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