Tuesday, April 21. 2009
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Thank you Fr Oliver. Christ is risen!
#1 anonymous on 2009-04-21 05:44
Fr. Herbal's "essence" is quite perfumy, but lacks a real understanding of the historical realities and canons. Yes, many Orthodox of many different nationalities arrived in North America and sought to find their own kind and churches with their own language. The canons are quite clear, a church which has started it's missionary activity in a territory and has established itself, is responsible for the Orthodox in that territory. This began with the Russian mission in Alaska going to San Francisco & NYC which became the Metropolia and then the OCA. This is clear. The ethnic churches which developed under their foreign patriarchs was directly related to the chaos caused by the Russian Revolution. The many different bishops in North America under foreign patriarchs became a non-canonical arrangement which continues today.
The answer: exactly what SCOBA outlined in its early meetings. A synod of ethnic bishops in an "autocephalous" church where each bishop rules over his own churches. This is the gift given to North America by Fr. Schmemann in 1970 in his successful negotiation of an indigenous, autocephalous Orthodox Church (OCA) from Moscow. According to Canon Law, when this occurs, ALL the Orthodox must come under this church's authority. And thus why the Phanar has fought this tooth and nail.
The Phanar has stated, that ONLY it can grant "autocephaly." This is not true and there are historical examples where this argument proves to be bogus.
The ONLY real future for Orthodoxy in North America is to throw off the control of foreign bishops and for us to take responsibility for our own future. The Canons are clear "local churches are under the authority of local bishops."
#2 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 06:40
Thank you, Fr. Oliver, for this fine look at even the barest of the primary source evidence which explodes the myth of pre-Bolshevik Orthodox unity in America. It is a much-beloved myth, to be sure, but it needs to go the way of the dodo, or else we will hardly ever be able to get on with the real work of converting America to Christ.
#3 A history student on 2009-04-21 07:40
Which canons are those? What about the ones which forbid ordaining bishops for areas outside your own canonical territory? Ecclesiastical flag-planting is uncanonical. A church cannot simply expand its borders by scattering clergy. There is a reason why canonical territory has to be agreed-upon in a pan-Orthodox, not unilateral, manner.
#4 A history student on 2009-04-21 07:43
Fr. Oliver exploded nothing. The libraries of the world are filled with books with misinterpretation of historical facts. This is why it takes scholars of American Church History and Canon Law to properly comment on Fr. Oliver's observations. Where do we find such scholars? I suggest we begin with Fr. John Erickson who teaches at St. Vladimir's Seminary to begin. I will forward Fr. Oliver's essay and let's see if we get a comment.
#5 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 08:36
The Canons of the Holy Apostles
"Let not a bishop dare to ordain beyond his own limits, in cities and places not subject to him...let him be deposed."
Foreign bishops have no authority over North America!
#6 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 09:06
Interesting that Father Oliver neglected to mention St. Herman's Mission to the Aleuts before that of St. Innokenty's missionary activities. What is left out of his "history" may reveal more than what he includes.
Canon 8 of The Third Ecumenical Council
"Let the rights of each province be preserved pure and inviolate. No attempt to introduce any form contrary to these shall be of any avail."
Canon 20 of The Sixth Ecumenical Council
"The bishop of one city shall not teach publicly in another. If he shall be shown to have done so he shall be deprived of the episcopate and shall perform the functions of a presbyter."
All the canons stress local churches and local bishops. There is no such thing as foreign bishops have control over foreign territory.
#8 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 09:31
Fr Oliver /is/ a scholar of "American Church History and Canon Law" and is about to defend his doctorate at St Louis University on the history of intra-Christian conversion to Orthodoxy in America. He has published a variety of scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals in patristics, church history and theology and has a book of translations of Sarapion of Thumis forthcoming. Lastly, he was a student of Fr John Erickson in both Church History and Canon Law as we were at St Vladimir's together. His brief very clear overview of a very complex area shows both a mastery of the sources and a dedication to truth above the beloved historical myths of some in the OCA. Fr Oliver, in fact, is now one of the few academic historians specializing in the history of Orthodoxy in America so his contribution is most welcome.
(Regent's Park College, U of Oxford)
#9 Brandon Gallaher on 2009-04-21 09:51
I would encourage you to contact Fr. John Erickson. I know both Fr. John and Fr. Oliver Herbel, the author of this essay. Fr. Oliver was a student of Fr. John's at St. Vladimir's, and I am confident that Fr. John would affirm the conclusions of Fr. Oliver's historical work.
There are not many scholars who deal with American Orthodox history, but I would be very, very surprised if any of them would dispute Fr. Oliver's conclusions. He has not cherry-picked facts and misinterpreted evidence. If you consult primary sources from the period in question, the conclusions are almost inevitable.
#10 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-21 09:53
But wait -- isn't this exactly what Fr. Oliver is disputing? This notion that the Russian Church had a full-fledged missionary effort aimed at Americans, which involved a fully-functioning diocese throughout the North American continent?
The "foreign patriarchates" were involved in America well before the Russian Revolution. This is easy to demonstrate, and is undisputed (as far as I'm aware) by scholars who study American Orthodoxy. And the Russian "missionary work" was, first of all, virtually nonexistent among English-speaking Americans prior to 1905 or so. And secondly, any missionary work was directed (after 1891) at converting Uniates to Orthodoxy.
I'd like, just once, for someone to who disagrees with these statements to produce primary sources in support of their claims. As Fr. Oliver said, many have confused the visions of Saints Innocent and Tikhon with actual realities, when in fact they were not. They were unrealized, or at best partially-realized, visions. It would have been wonderful if St. Innocent's advice had been followed to evangelize America, but it wasn't.
We need to stop pretending, and to stop accusing the EP and others of being uncanonical. Let's all give up our spurious arguments (including Canon 28) and work together. This rhetorical language is not helpful, and it certainly isn't respectful.
#11 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-21 10:07
Fr. Oliver writes an extraordinary essay that does indeed go against the grain of the traditional feel good narrative of "Established in 1794-Granted Autocephaly in 1970, thus everyone must join us and it'll be like St. Tikhon meant it" mentality put forth by the OCA. I commend OCANews for publishing it.
St. Tikhon's 1905 report puts forth a view of unity through plurality, though in a different way than Fr. John Meyendorff would use the phrase and idea some 70 years later. St. Tikhon writes:
"And the North American Diocese should be reorganized into the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. The fact is that its members include not only different nationalities but also different Orthodox Churches, each of which, within the unity of the Faith, has its own peculiarities in canonical structure, in liturgical order, and in parish life. These peculiarities are dear to them and are quite tolerable from the common Orthodox point of view....
Therefore, we do not believe we have the right to encroach upon the national character of the local Churches. On the contrary, we are trying to preserve it in them, giving them an opportunity to be under the direct authority of a superior of their very own nationality...."
Certainly sounds like he wants an English-speaking, ethnically neutral Church in America, doesn't it?
One thing that really jumped out at me about Metropolitan Jonah's remarks, which he has now apologized for, was the use of the phrase "American Orthodox Church." There is no such thing, and intentionally so. That's why the Metropolia renamed itself the Orthodox Church in America. St. Tikhon's vision, which has been continually misinterpreted since the 1950's to serve the narrative the Metropolia/OCA wished to put forth at the time, called for anything but such a thing.
After all, if the OCA was serious about being open to ethnicity, and to the "national character" St. Tikhon speaks of, would they make an effort to make the Albanians, Romanians, and Bulgarians feel less like strangers who don't really account in the fullness of the Church administration? One can listen to Archbishop Nathaniel's remarks at the AAC for more on that. After all, the Canadian and ethnic dioceses are not counted in the official membership figures (whatever they may be, depending on who you ask), and none of the ethnic dioceses pay assessments.
In the end, one must question why there can be three ethnic dioceses in the OCA, yet Russian/Slavic parishes are relegated to the catch-all general administration of the Church. Of course this has to do with the way in which these episcopates were accepted into the fold in the 1960's and 1970's, but the fact remains that the remainder of the OCA is a confusing mixture of Slavic and so-called "pan-Orthodox" or "American" parishes, with a strong emphasis on the latter from Syosset. There were preliminary plans and some momentum for a Russian Episcopate in the early 1990's, but that was unceremoniously squashed. And we wonder why the MP/ROCOR presence in America is growing stronger...
Thus, we must ask, what is the OCA doing, to paraphrase St. Tikhon, to preserve the national character of the local churches, Alaska included? Throwing in a cursory "Lord Have Mercy" in Church Slavonic is not the correct answer.
#12 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 10:13
Fr. John has actually come to similar conclusions himself, putting forward a theory of two rough "spheres" prior to the Bolshevik revolution, one which was Russian-influenced and another which was independent.
In any event, Fr. Oliver is a Ph.D. candidate working on his doctorate in history. His dissertation is on related material.
The "explosion" is not solely by Fr. Oliver's brief article, but rather by any serious examination of the primary source documents, which honestly do not bear out the commonly repeated myth. I've not yet seen any earnest engagement with the sources which does not come to similar conclusions.
Mind you, all of this is a separate issue from what "ought" to have been, according to canonical interpretation. (There again, of course, there is not agreement as to how the canons ought to be interpreted and applied in this case.)
This is simply a matter of what actually was the case on the ground: there was no agreed-upon unity under the Russian administration in America prior to the Bolshevik revolution. Statements to the contrary are post facto inventions, usually created to serve the purpose of some agenda or other. In the case of the first known assertion along these lines (Boris Burden, whom Fr. Oliver mentioned), his agenda was bolstering the claim of his bishop, Aftimios Ofiesh, that his newly founded (and ill-fated) jurisdiction ought to have claim over all Orthodox in America.
#13 A history student on 2009-04-21 11:09
The mission in Alaska (which included St. Herman as a member, but not the leading member) was precisely to Russian citizens within Russian imperial territory, some of whom were the native people. It also was prior to any bishop or diocese being appointed for Alaska.
In short, it existed outside of any questions of "jurisdiction" or "unity."
#14 A history student on 2009-04-21 12:36
I'm sorry, but you don't know what you are saying. Go back and read the minutes from SCOBA in 1961-62. ALL the canonical bishops agreed to move toward a united, autocephalous church in North America. The minutes even point out that the name should be, "Orthodox Church in America." (OCA) THIS WAS AGREED UPON. When Fr. Alexander Schmemann brought this about in 1970, the Greeks & Antiochians reneged. The idea of the OCA is a council of ethnic bishops joined in a council (synod) where the church is autocephalous. Each bishop rules over it's own ethnic churches. That's what the OCA is. This format solved all issues and was exactly what SCOBA agreed upon!
#15 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 14:24
I suggest everyone here go here and read this:
All the false historical thoughts put forth here are ridiculous. It's amazing how some wish to re-write history.
(editor's note: As the author of the aforementioned work I do not think that the facts Fr. Herbel put forth are ridiculous. He is simply offering a different framework for understanding our past, based on much of the same evidence. Is one better or more accurate than the other? Perhaps - it depends on where one wants to go. It is clear that if we want to go forward together we had better come up with an understanding that encompasses all of us. In the end, a view of history that is only a straight line leading to us may ignore other lines of meaning that are valid as well. I have no problem with Fr. Herbel's thesis - nor should you.)
#16 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 14:27
Fr. Oliver's reflection is a most welcome examination of our history. It may violate some of our favorite tales, but we have to be brave enough to face truth and reality.
Perhaps exploding some of our false histories [and it's an equal-opportunity explosion of all of our false histories] can help us focus on our current reality.
Our reality is multi-jurisdictional.
Our reality is multi-ethnic.
Our reality is a mix of communities rooted in ethnic identity and communities somewhat detached from ethnic identity [although containing multiple ethinicities within themselves].
Our reality is missionary.
Our reality is one of support for 'our own' recent arrivals.
And our reality is uncannonical.
Not because anyone ever set out to violate the cannons, but because our situation is unimagined by the cannons. Just as we cannot find answers in false history, we cannot find answers in cannons that never conceived of a complex, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society formed by immigration yet connected to countries of origin by the radical transformation of travel and communication of the last 100 years.
So in some sense we need to start from scratch -- that may seem like a let down in some way, but really it's far better than refighting the same battles for primacy and domination we've been fighting for ... well, forever.
#17 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-04-21 15:01
A History and Introduction
of the Orthodox Church in America
Written by the Very Rev. John Matusiak
Managing Editor, The Orthodox Church magazine.
The Orthodox Church in America traces its origins to the arrival in Kodiak, Alaska of eight Orthodox missionaries from the Valaamo Monastery in the northern Karelia region of Russia in 1794. The missionaries made a great impact on the native Alaskan population and were responsible for bringing many to the Orthodox Christian faith.
Today, the Orthodox Church in America numbers some 700 parishes, missions, communities, monasteries, and institutions throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In the 1820s, Father John Veniaminov arrived in Alaska and also conducted missionary work. Among his many accomplishments was the translation of Scripture and the liturgical services into the native dialects, for which he also devised a grammar and alphabet.
Around 1840 Father John was elected to the episcopacy, taking the name Innocent. The Church continued to grow among the native Alaskans, but Bishop Innocent also visited California and the Orthodox community at Fort Ross, north of San Francisco. He eventually returned to Russia, where he was named Metropolitan of Moscow. [In 1977, he was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church as a Saint of the Orthodox Church.]
While the Church continued to grow in Alaska, immigrants began arriving in what we today call the lower 48. In the 1860s a parish was established in San Francisco by Serbians, Russians and Greeks. [Today this parish is the OCA's Holy Trinity Cathedral.] Gradually other similar parishes were established across the territory of the United States and, with the great waves of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Southern Europe at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the headquarters of the North American Orthodox Diocese was moved to San Francisco and later to New York. By the early 1900s almost all Orthodox communities, regardless of ethnic background, were united in a single diocese, or jurisdiction, which was under the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, the first bishop for Arab-Americans, Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny, was also the first Orthodox Christian to be consecrated to the episcopacy in North America. He and the parishes under his direction were an integral part of the North American Diocese. [Bishop Raphael was glorified as a saint in May 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America.]
In 1917 the Russian Revolution broke out. As a result communications between the North American Diocese and the Church in Russia were greatly hindered. In the early 1920s the Patriarch of Moscow, Saint Tikhon for ten years he had served as Bishop of the North American Diocese issued a decree calling on dioceses outside the borders of Russia [by then the Soviet Union] to organize themselves autonomously until such time as normal communications and relations with the Church in Russia could resume. Shortly thereafter, at a Council of all hierarchs and clergy and parish delegates, it was decided that the Church in North America could no longer maintain strict administrative ties with the Church in Russia, especially since Patriarch Tikhon had been arrested. [He subsequently died in 1925, and glorified as a Saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1989.]
Concurrently, various ethnic groups which had been an integral part of the single diocese organized separate dioceses, or jurisdictions, and placed themselves under their respective Mother Churches. This gave rise to the present situation of Orthodoxy in North America, namely the existence of multiple, overlapping jurisdictions based on ethnic background, rather than following the canonical principle of a single Church entity in a given territory.
In the early 1960s the OCA at that time it was known as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America, or The Metropolia entered into dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate in an attempt to regularize the Metropolias status. In 1970 the Metropolia once again entered into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, which promptly granted it autocephaly, or administrative self-governance. At a Council of hierarchs, clergy and laity held at Saint Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, Pennsylvania in the same year, it was decided that the Church should be renamed The Orthodox Church in America.
Today the OCA, in addition to counting the parishes of the former Metropolia, includes the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese. Further, within the past two decades the OCA has established over 220 new parishes, almost exclusively non-ethnic in origin and employing only the English language in worship. [Virtually all of the former Metropolia parishes now employ English exclusively in the services.]
The Orthodox Church in America is a full member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), together with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, and the other member jurisdictions. Hierarchs and clergy of the OCA regularly concelebrate with clergy of other SCOBA jurisdictions. This is especially evident on the annual celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday of Great Lent.
As a self-governing Church, the OCA has the right to elect its own Primate, or presiding hierarch, without relying on any ecclesiastical entity abroad for ratification. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, the current Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, presides at meetings of the Holy Synod of Bishops, consecrates Holy Chrism, and carries out other duties appropriate to his office. Elected Primate at the 15th All-American Council convened in Pittsburgh, PA in November 2008, Metropolitan Jonah was enthroned on Sunday, December 28, 2008, at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC.
The Orthodox Church in America is fully committed to the unity of Orthodoxy in North America according to the canonical principle of a single, united Church in a given geographic territory. To this end, it fully supports and participates in the work of numerous pan-Orthodox agencies and initiatives, including International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, and numerous Orthodox media and communications outlets.
#18 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 15:16
I love these arm-chair settler versions of history! Keep it up guys, and don't be surprised when people like myself don't buy into your wonderbread version of Orthodoxy. I think this "historian" priest should have used the words "Protestant" and "convert" about a half dozen more times in the reflection...makes you wonder doesn't it? protestant, convert, protestant, convert, protestant, convert, protestant, convert...there, I did it for him!
Moses the Tlingit
#19 Moses on 2009-04-21 15:39
Very nice exposition, 3 things,
-I believe OCA was chosen because AOC was already licensed.
-Canadian cannot give large portions of money to foreign countries by Canadian Law.
-I wonder if the model of having a local bishop that respects the local languages/customs and having an auxilary under a metropolitan to deal with specific cultural issues wouldn't be the better idea. (local bishop head of church, however customs, translations, and much of visits done with partnership of auxiliary)
Perhaps a way to balance out young people leaving due to language barriers, would be to have a larger English/(local language) service on Sundays, with a Tuesday(midweek) , biweekly liturgy in the specific language of a large immigrant group. (eg;. English church every Sunday with Arabic/Romanian every alternating week on Tuesday, bringing in a local priest who speaks the language).
We most definitely do not have what it means to be an Orthodox Church in a multicultural society worked out yet. This is one thing that needs to at least be on paper before talks for an North American Orthodox Church begin.
(editor's note: I think you missed what Metropolitan Jonah, Fr. Herbel and many others are pointing out: There is a North American Orthodox Church already here - and has been here for more than 200 years. It does not need to begin - it just needs to be recognized for what it is. And that is the question before us: we know what we want it to be - but how do we best describe its reality now?)
#20 Reader Michael on 2009-04-21 16:46
Yes, this is the story we tell ourselves. But it is simplified and others tell different stories. All of these stories reflect the historical realities, but none of them really encompass the complexities of the history. And much energy is lost insisting on particular interpretations and treating our own interpretations as fact and others' as fiction. I know I spent many years arguing with various people from ROCOR online, maintaining the OCA history as I'd learned it and assuming their information was faulty. Ultimately though I realized that the facts fully supported neither position, and arguing for one interpretation over another was not productive.
Anyway, I find it fascinating that this reflection has provoked such vehemence. Also that people feel compelled to post defenses of the standard OCA interpretation of our history anonymously -- why???
Maybe this reflects that while we've cleaned up aspects of our administration, we haven't cleansed ourselves of the triumphalistic fictions that helped set the stage for the corruption that took hold in the previous administration.
#21 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-04-21 18:24
ROCOR has been trying to re-write the history of American Orthodoxy since I can remember. The lies and twists manufactured by them is amazing. They never recall that Pat. Tikhon himself condemned them as a non-canonical entity. The Greeks also wish to re-write the history of American Orthodoxy, but all these attempts amount to frivolous, non-factual interpretations. Unfortunately, Fr. Oliver may be going for his Ph.D, but someone should really check his facts.
#22 Anonymous on 2009-04-21 20:38
What do you think is the source for the OCA's triumphalistic fictions? Certainly not grass roots. Something a bit more sophistocated and subtle, I'd wager.
Everybody likes to have the power and authority, but only a few are clever enough to get it and promote it for their own reasons, perhaps?
#23 Ever and anon. on 2009-04-22 05:59
I'd be willing to bet he'd love some earnest fact-checking! So far, all the detractors here have yet to do so, just repeating the same unsourced assertions from secondary commentators.
Anyway, a lot of material is coming out which seriously questions the "received wisdom" of the OCA's mythical history regarding itself, which many even outside the OCA have accepted as fact. But serious engagement with the primary sources shows a quite different picture.
So, in straightforward language: "put up or shut up." You can either just shout out "I don't believe you!" at the top of your lungs, or you can do some research yourself.
#24 A history student on 2009-04-22 06:44
Huh? Somebody should really check Fr. Oliver's facts? I've known him personally for about six years now, and actually, I HAVE checked all his facts. My advice: go for it. I mean, the man is a legitimate scholar, and I know for a fact that he is basing his conclusions on the whole body of primary sources. Do you have any primary sources to back up your views? Have you ever researched the early history of American Orthodoxy? Or do you just believe what you've been told and then criticize anyone who says otherwise?
And you should know that Fr. Oliver is not somehow biased against the OCA or Orthodox unity, or biased in favor of ROCOR or the EP. He's an OCA priest serving in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
As for you, Anonymous, I'll echo Rebecca's question and ask, why are you being anonymous? I understand Antiochian priests not wanting to reveal their identities when criticizing Metropolitan Philip, but what exactly do you fear in this discussion? Why not reveal your name when you question someone's scholarly integrity?
So again, I challenge you to do the research yourself and present a coherent, fact-based argument in opposition to Fr. Oliver.
#25 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-22 10:00
Moses -- Fr. Oliver is an actual historian. Have some respect.
And I really, really do not understand what your deal is with "Protestant" and "convert." Fr. Oliver used the word "Protestant" two times in his article. He used the word "convert" three times, and "converted" twice. What are you trying to imply with your comment? In what way was his use of these words inappropriate or objectionable?
#26 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-22 10:02
I've commented quite a bit on here already, but I do want to make another point. Fr. Oliver is a friend of mine, and I can tell you without a doubt that he is just as opposed to Constantinople's erroneous interpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon as he is to the erroneous interpretation of history by some in the OCA.
I agree with him completely. Both views, both myths, are wrong and are actually hindering Orthodox unity in America. Both views hold that those who do not join one group (EP or OCA) are "uncanonical." And both views ignore a great deal of historical evidence.
For a great critique of the EP's interpetation of Canon 28, I highly recommend Fr. John Erickson's paper "Chalcedon Canon 28: Yesterday and Today" which may be found at:
#27 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-22 10:09
I find it ironic that many of the posters on this topic still insist on anonymity! What on earth are they afraid of? I don't see many factual history books being written by A. Nony Mous!
Rdr. James (not a mouse here)
#28 James Morgan on 2009-04-22 10:18
Were we as a church to be held captive to party line interpretations of history and to remain preoccupied with our perogatives, there would be no path forward towards unity.
We must start with current reality -- pretending that today's ROCOR is the same as that about which St. Tikhon spoke is as silly as pretending there is an unbroken line of consistently focused missionary activity connecting the 1794 mission to Alaska with today's OCA. We can be inspired by our past, but we must not allow ourselves to be held captive by worshipping a particular interpretation of the past.
It seems that some remain enamored of the Potemkin Village version of the OCA.
#29 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-04-22 10:28
I found Fr Herbel's Reflection very enlightening, and I rejoice that it dispels the myth of pre-Revolution "unity" in America. However, this does not change the fact that those of what has been called the "Russian Mission" were, in fact, the first Orthodox on the continent in 1794. The fact that there was future disunity, fractionalism, breaking of communication and communion (with Russia, following the Soviet Revolution) proves Fr Oliver's point that there never was any idyllic, romanticized unity in reality, but this real history of fractionalism does not detract from the reality of the first missionaries in 1794. The spiritual "descendents" of that missionary activity are now officially organized under the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (OCA)!!! The constant name changes that Fr Oliver points out (Archdiocese of Alaska, whatever) bursts the bubble of the idyllic myth, but does not change the fact that we are the spiritual descendents, however fragmented our "family tree" turns out to be, of that Russian Mission! And, despite the fact that some people have a bad taste in their mouths regarding claims to canonical status, it is in the canonical tradition of our Orthodox Church that the first group of Orthodox to missionize a new land lay legitimate claims to establishing what will hopefully, in time, become a united Church in that land!! Therefore, along with agreeing with Fr Herbel that we should not point the finger and name-call other Orthodox in our country as "uncanonical," we should work, all of us together, to unite our fellow Orthodox brothers and sisters to our canonically-established (despite what Istanbul says [there is no Constantinople anymore, nor has there been for centuries!!]) autocephalous Orthodox Church in America!!! Our fellow Orthodox in this country may not be uncanonical, but the continued domination of them from phanars across the ocean is!!
#30 David Barrett on 2009-04-22 10:36
"Early Orthodox Immigration to the United States
Prior to 1890, only small numbers of Orthodox Christians had immigrated to the United States. In colonial times (1768), an English land-grant settlement, populated mainly by Greeks, had been established in Florida. Quickly succumbing to disease, exploitation, and neglect, the New Smyrna plantation was forcibly disbanded by British troops on order of the English governor of Florida in 1769.
The first Orthodox Church in the continental United States was established during the Civil War in New Orleans by Greek cotton merchants (1864). This "Eastern Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity" was typical of the earliest Orthodox parishes in America: it was multi-ethnic, composed of Greeks, Slavs, and Arabs, and multi-lingual, services being held in Greek, Slavonic, and English. Between 1868-1892, similar multi-ethnic and multi-lingual parishes were founded by diplomatic personnel, foreign businessmen, and small numbers of Orthodox immigrants in San Francisco (1868), New York (1870-1883), Chicago (1888), Portland, Oregon (1890), Galveston (ca 1890), and Seattle (1892). Following the provisions of the Council of Carthage (AD 419), wherein responsibility for Orthodox communities in a new land is given to that Orthodox Church which initiates missionary work in it, these small communities, numbering altogether some 600 faithful, received priests, financial assistance, and/or liturgical items from the -- -- missionary diocese -- in San Francisco. "
#31 Anonymous on 2009-04-22 14:45
Fr. Oliver's MDiv thesis was on hunting; he likes to write about things in a controversial way. That is nothing new for academia. Unfortunately, that is not always a helpful way to look at the world when you are trying to BUILD UP something, namely, the Church.
If Fr. Oliver is a historian of American Church history -- does he know how to read Russian?
#32 Doubtful on 2009-04-22 16:21
The tone of Fr. Oliver's MDiv is hardly controversial. The topic is controversial to a minority of American Orthodox. No one who knows the man, or has familiarity with his writing would refer to him as a controversialist without deceit. The man is the image of moderation in tone, and fairness in debate. Fr. Oliver reads Russian, as well as Patristic Greek, and I think Serbian and maybe Romanian as well, not to mention the European languages every historian who has done serious graduate work is required to know. I have had some occasion to know because he is the Godfather of two members of my immediate family and I have spent countless hours speaking with him and corresponding with him for the near decade I have known him. I have also read, I believe, everything he has published.
There is an inference being made in this thread which I would like to address - the straw man dismissal of Fr. Oliver's essay because it has been written by an academic with serious academic credentials. With regard to the man in question here, these inferences are incorrect. Fr. Oliver is, intellectually speaking, akin to Fr. John Behr in this respect - while he is competent and well versed with regard to the methods of contemporary historiography, he well knows the limits of such methods, especially when they are imposed upon the Church, and, like Behr, he understands the charism and the method of the Church's actual hermeneutic, and how this differs from would-be modern imposters. In this regard, like Behr, he will use contemporary intellectual nomenclature and method, but only in the service of the Church, and, more importantly, subject to the Church's own way of understanding herself.
Questions of historiography and criticism are not easy ones, and one of the ironies in this game is that those who reject any writing that strikes them as "academic" or "intellectual" often are themselves unwittingly embracing late modern ideologies. Indeed, those who think that questions of historiography and the criticism of history are black and white are almost always subject to an ideology of some sort. But besides all this, Fr. Oliver, in his own personal life, is not an academic first and a priest second. If that were the case he would have pursued the sort of academic life his credentials afford him, instead of going back to his native land (Fargo) to serve as a missionary priest among the people and culture he knows and loves so well.
I have never met another person who understands, by way of his peculiar synthesis of peer reviewed historical analysis and his first hand lived experience, Orthodoxy in the American context. The man has no agenda for or against the OCA. He has no agenda for or against the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He loves the Church, he loves this country. Thus I concur with certain comments above. One might well disagree with the data he presents or his interpretation. If that is the case, one might be best served to dispute the actual data, or to provide reasons for disputing the interpretation. Anything less than this quickly falls the way of rabid and crass hubris.
On a final note, those who in rote fashion state that the Russians were here first and Russia granted the OCA autocephaly therefore…, contrasted then with those who in rote fashion state that the Greeks were here first and therfore…., well, seeing these two “arguments” stated as simple fact requiring no interpretation or serious review should remind us of the need for men with the skills and research experience Fr. Oliver provides.
Yes, Fr Oliver knows Russian, he learned it /after/ he left SVS but perhaps you have not kept in touch (as you seemed to remember his period at seminary?)? Why the need to be anonymous? If one doubts his reading of the source material then show specifically where he is wrong. The OCA should be able to stand without a particular mythos of its foundation just as the EP should be able to stand without its rather dubious apostolic foundation.
#34 Brandon Gallaher on 2009-04-23 06:44
Let's not forget that a parish was organized and started in San Francisco in 1864 and Galveston, TX in 1862. There was never a question that these parishes were under the Russian Orthodox Mission and accepted funds, direction and priests from it.
#35 Anonymous on 2009-04-23 07:05
I wonder if it is really fair to consider all of North America the canonical territory of Moscow because it planted its flag first in one corner of this giant continent? A similar argument is implied by Greeks regarding New Smyrna in FL and New Orleans.
Personally, I would love to follow this line of reasoning regionally, state by state, or city by city. Let us establish who first established a parish under episcopal rule and/or furnished that place with active episcopal oversight and give it to that local church. Then, let the horse trading begin.
Greece is divided between 2 local churches - and it would have been three had Cyprus acceded to the Republic of Greece but for the actions of Turkey. Let the huge continent of North America also be divided up. The canons only require 'one city, one bishop', not one local Synod (whether autocephalous, autonomous or exarchate) of contiguous territory per independent, UN-recognized state (e.g., Serbia/Montenegro; Slovakia/Czech Republic,; Israel/Palestine/Jordan/Egypt; Syria/Lebanon; Romania/Moldova; Russia/Ukraine/Belarus, etc.)
For instance, I believe there was already an Orthodox bishop in Boston prior to Met. Methodios' GOA see was established there.
I know what you all mean when saying American or North American Orthodox Church, but we need to refrain from calling it such. As Father Hopko has stated, you can't use an earthly adjective to name the Church.
#37 Gerry Bokas on 2009-04-23 09:36
One wonders...If the churches in North America were poor, would these issues ever have come up?
(editor's note: They threw dice for our saviour's robe, so being poor is no safeguard either.)
#38 Morton on 2009-04-23 10:47
Just correcting some factual errors:
Chicago did not have a parish in 1888. There actually was an attempt to start a parish then, but it never came to fruition. The first Orthodox parish in Chicago was Greek, under the Church of Greece and founded in 1892. The very next month, the Russian diocese started its own parish in Chicago.
The New York chapel of Fr. Nicholas Bjerring, which Fr. Oliver mentioned in his article, was shut down by the Russian hierarchy in 1883. They abandoned the city, and the next two parishes to be founded were Greek (one under Greece and one under the EP). After that, in 1895, the Russian Church returned to New York.
The Russian chapel in Portland, Oregon was founded in 1895. It too was abandoned several years later. The next Orthodox church in Portland was Greek (1907).
As for Galveston, I've heard the claim that there was a Russian parish there in the 1860s, but I've never actually seen any evidence for it. I have searched multiple Galveston newspapers from the 1860s through the 1890s, and I have found no evidence of an Orthodox parish. The first parish in Galveston for which there are any known sources is Ss. Constantine and Helen, founded in 1896 (under the Russians).
Also, the New Orleans Greek church was not formally created until 1865 (rather than 1864). Of course, just as in San Francisco and elsewhere, there were certainly Orthodox Christians in that city well before the founding of the parish, but in terms of existing as an actual church community, 1865 is the correct date.
The above parishes are not the only churches founded in the 1890s, but since they have been brought up, I wanted to set the record straight.
#39 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-23 12:24
Thank you for your comments and responses. However, if I may, I would like to propose a different perspective than the one you have put forth, advocating the "horse trading" of parishes, people (faithful Orthodox) and so on. This may seem to have worked well at Yalta, at the meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin (it actually didn't!! We are still suffering from that "let's split the pie of Europe" meeting today!!!). Yet, we need to remember that this is *the Church*, and that we don't use the ways of the fallen world to solve our problems.
Furthermore, let me share something that was said many times in Dogmatic Theology class by Fr Thomas Hopko, who has a gift for presenting ideas in small, algebraic-like tidbits. He often said, "Christ unites!!! It is the devil who divides!!" Therefore, when you propose, in good faith, I am sure, "Let the huge continent of North America also be divided up," we will only end up more fragmented than we already are.
I believe that we should endeavor to use our energies to unite the other so-called "jurisdictions" (how I hate that term!!) with the OCA for two reasons: 1) despite the nit-picky microscopic examinations of when a lone Greek, Romanian, Serbian, or whomever visited these shores years ago, it seems apparent to most that it was the visiting Russians in 1794 who began the missionary work of planting Orthodoxy on this continent. 2) an even wiser reason to work at bringing in the other Orthodox into the OCA fold is that we are the only "jurisdiction" that is not under the thumbnail or the boot heel of phanars across the ocean!!! This is what really rankles Istanbul and the other totalitarian hierarchs associated with them!! We are not canonically or financially subservient to any of them. If, for example, the OCA were to merge "under" the AOCA or the GOA, we would, alas, find ourselves in the same predicament that the AOCA now finds itself re +Philip and Damascus!! Working to bringing the others into unity by asking them to merge with us would free them from such spiritual serfdom!!! Again, let us heed Fr Hopko's words, realizing that it is our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who unites, and work (and pray!!) towards Orthodox canonical, financial, and autocephalous unity in our land!!!
Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!
#40 David Barrett on 2009-04-23 13:51
I agree that my response to this article was a bit harsh, I could have said it differently; on that note, one of my fears is that as more white protestants have been converting to Orthodoxy for last 30+ years, they will increasingly try to claim all of it for themselves and will procede to claim that they "resuced" it from all of those "ethnic" ingrates with all of our outdated traditions, thereby creating a sort of WASPy "bleaching" of Orthodoxy in North America. As an Alaska Native, I also find it strange and maybe a bit disconcerting that the great-grandchildren of the very Protestants that came here to Alaska and undertook a massive campaign of both cultural genocide (while trying to destroy the Orthodox Church in Alaska as an un-American threat to yankee-doodlism and native assimiliation) and ethnic cleansing are now claiming to be showing all of us ignorant believers that our history is all wrong and we need them to show us what "real" Orthodoxy looks like! I personally don't have a problem with the emergence of an "American" Orthodoxy, I think that is fine, but don't think that all the rest of us folks who might have a ethnic identity that is not of the WASP variety will go along with all of it, and please know that if you do try to cram it down our throats, there are many of us who will resist you at every turn. We have seen and expereinced American Manifest Destiny up close and personal in all of its brutality and unfortunately, it can also take on a viral-spiritual form; there is still a tendency to believe that this is some kind of "saving light" that we should all be in (shock and) awe of...I am not. My version of Orthodox history here in my neighborhood comes from my Tlingit Orthodox predecessors. A concise printed (as opposed to oral) version of "my Orthdox history" is "Memory Eternal" by Sergei Kan, it is a tour-de-force that shows everything, warts and all. One last thing: "peer revieiws" are one of the dirty little secrets of academia, give me a break.
#41 Moses on 2009-04-23 15:11
I agree with almost everything you have written, and I am very sympathetic with your concerns.
I might add this as a nuance to your own position. We all know the caricature of the overzealous white middle class American convert. In some regards, the apparatuses of this caricatured sort point to a very white, Republican, middle class, saccharine, Disneyesque Orthodoxy - Again Magazine, AFR, various Orthodox parachurch ministries, Orthodox 100% organic cotton t-shirts with sayings from the desert fathers on them -- in other words a stylized Orthodoxy for the American bourgeoisie. I feel a bit of your pain, brother.
That said, there is another "threat" as it were. There is in certain camps of "ethnic" Orthodox an overwhelming desire to accomodate to American middle class values. Thus we see in the current Antiochian debate ethnic Arab Orthodox who want to be left alone in their rites of accommodation (Jamie Farr signing a Gospel book in the altar, no fasting, etc.) and not bothered by a convert bishop who is simply trying to enforce the rules established by his Arab metropolitan. When you think of those Orthodox who have most tried to accommodate Orthodoxy to White American middle class social norms, you think of GOArch parishes with organs and padded pews and Antiochian parishes in Detroit that have guest signings in the altar and do a 15 minute Matins service, along with the McByzantium you suggest. Often times, it is "ethnic" immigrants who cherish middle class American values as much or more than anglo Americans do.
All I can say to you is that Fr. Oliver is not your target. I only wish that you could have a conversation with him in order to realize that, of all Orthodox priests who speak broadly of Orthodoxy in America, he is certainly among those most adamently opposed to notions of manifest destiny, or the notion that whites must be freed from foreign, darker skinned ecclesiastical rule of some sort. Part of the concern here, is that no Synodal order be presented in a manner in which it deems itself as having the authority to squash real and legitimate local traditions, wherever they might be found in North America.
Just for the record, while my skin might be white like those that went to Alaska to convert the Native Orthodox to Protestantism or Roman Catholicism, my white family had not yet set foot on the continent when that was at its height - and never went West of the Rockies much less up to Alaska. I think this is true of many. Please don't tar all white people with the same brush. In fact, I'm part Native American myself - Ojibway from the French-Canadian side of my family. The resolute faith of the Alaskan Orthodox has been a source of great, great pride for Orthodox whites - especially converts since it proves that Orthodoxy is not about being Eastern European or Middle Eastern. I think it is the converts that probably treasure your faith and culture the most, in fact.
There are converts and then there are converts. Some elderly converts have been Orthodox longer than younger cradle Orthodox. We are also seeing the first generation of cradle Orthodox that are not 'ethnically' Orthodox - not Greek, Russian, Tlingit, etc.
Also, it isn't as if converts have just made up some pure form of 'Orthodoxy' out of whole cloth. The 'ethnic' Orthodoxy here in North America is not like the 'ethnic' Orthodoxy back in the old countries - 'ethnicity' can be a cover for laxity, innovation, cultural arrogance and romantic escapism, as well as for the continuity of Orthodox faith in a living culture. There are also 'ethnic' Orthodox that behave in ways that some like to scorn as 'convertitis' - I don't think Elder Ephraim is a convert and he's got the worst case of 'convertitis' I've seen in a long time; same with ROCOR; those crazy monks in the Holy Land are also a bunch of evangelical know it alls. Being born Orthodox doesn't mean one's Orthodoxy is pure or sufficient, neither does an MDiv, Holy Orders, membership in a priestly family, or converting and reading every book available - we are all to repent daily and to struggle. No one's Orthodoxy is pure or sufficient.
There is also a different between the venerable local traditions of the Aleuts and Tlingits - traditions that have witnessed martyric struggles in the preservation of Orthodox faith - a innovated traditions taken over in an attempt to 'be more American'.
Well, I guess that we in Portland celebrated a false centinary in 1995, then, and are under delusion -- as we've thought ourselves to have had a continuous parish life since 1895. Guess I'll go tell the "old folks" that their history in this parish doesn't exist!
#44 Rdr. John on 2009-04-23 18:11
"Christ unites!!! It is the devil who divides!!"
I don't think that the division of the Orthodox Church into separate local churches (eparchies, Metropolitanates, dioceses) divides the Church - that is actually a Roman Catholic argument against the unity of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church has not been 'devilishly' divide in the Orthodox countries I mentioned.
Our unity is not dependent on whether each country has its own local Orthodox Church. The canons require only 'one city, one bishop' and that they know who is 'first' among them when the meet twice annually.
Thank you for your insights and reminders, I really don't want to come off as some jerk-in-reverse (I know many here think I am), and I know that painting any group of people with a broad brush is not wise, I will try harder not to do that...we all need to solve the problems at hand, while somehow giving each other a break and the benefit of the doubt more often. We can all fall victim to the norms and fashions "of the world" reagrdless of where we are from; we have an entire native corporate elite here in Alaska that has, since 1971, become exactly the kind of people you mention (of course, not all of them!). I will try harder.
#46 Anonymous on 2009-04-23 21:34
Good points, all...I will try harder not to generalize or use broad brushes in the future, thank you for your insights and POV, things really are more complicated than any of us would like to admit...my family is still recovering from the damage done by the American Protestant missions to Alaska, it is an inter-generational healing process. My grandparents, great-grandparents and father were tortured by these people, all in the name of Christ, and yet, as you and the other gentleman pointed out, many of our own people collaborated with these missions and hurt thier own families and communties in the process. On another note, I was corrected by an elder that I have alot of respect for on my earlier cassock rants (a few weeks ago) and stand corrected, it is not my place or business to tell a priest what he should wear and when. (I know, I know, but this really is me saying this...)
#47 Moses on 2009-04-23 21:52
There was still plenty of justification for celebrating a centenniel in Portland in 1995. It was still the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Orthodox chapel in the city, which I think is worth celebrating. The fact that St. Nicholas itself wasn't established until 1927 doesn't take away from that.
#48 Ferris Haddad on 2009-04-24 06:17
I was thiniking about this comment from you when I went to sleep last night and when I woke this morning!
"Being born Orthodox doesn't mean one's Orthodoxy is pure or sufficient, neither does an MDiv, Holy Orders, membership in a priestly family, or converting and reading every book available - we are all to repent daily and to struggle. No one's Orthodoxy is pure or sufficient."
This really is all of it in a nutshell, thank you! We really all must repent weekly, daily, hourly, and by the minute, no matter who we are! Great comment.
#49 Moses on 2009-04-24 09:19
fr. oliver's account probably is as accurate as any historical account can possibly be, he simply states what happened based on available documentation.good work.WE ORTHODOX OF ALL JURISDICTIONS MUST STOP THIS BICKERING AND WORK TOGETHER. we already are ONE CHURCH in america,because we have UNITY IN THE CHALICE, which must be cherished and safeguarded. i so hope and pray the greeks will not cease concelebration with us because of our very good and pious,but inexperienced metropolitan's speech.it would be very bad for our oca and orthodox unity in america if that happened.metropolitan JONAH needs experienced and wise advisors to assist him.protopresbyter fr.Thomas Hopko would be great in that capacity, he has deep theological knowledge,wisdom and experience.in fact, one of the most important attributes of any great king and leader is the capability of choosing good advisors and ministers to "run" things. i am basically very happy we have metropolitan JONAH,because as a true monastic,he'll lead the church in the right direction.
#50 Anonymous on 2009-04-25 18:23
"fr. oliver's account probably is as accurate as any historical account can possibly be, he simply states what happened based on available documentation."
Baloney! His conclusions create a false history without factual content.
#51 Anonymous on 2009-04-27 14:19
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