April 27, 2009

My Brief Reply to George Michalopulos' Reply to Fr. Oliver Herbel

Father Agapius Honcharenko, first Orthodox Missionary priest of the United States

Here is a link to a reply to Fr. Oliver Herbel by George Michalopulos. I will not touch upon every error I see in his reply, but I do want to point out a few errors he makes regarding the Greek presence in America and some questions he raises regarding the establishment of Greek parishes prior to 1922.

One point he raises is the lack of a Greek episcopal presence in America prior to 1922. Of course, Michalopulos has an agenda which implies that a lack of such a presence means an uncanonical presence of Greek parishes in America. As a historian of American Orthodoxy, however, he should know better.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia published in 1909 which records the statistics of 1908, there were 130,000 Greeks in the United States with 32 parishes in the United States and 2 parishes in Canada. The clergy consisted of 7 archimandrites, 3 celibates, and 25 married priests. Of the Greek clergy, 15 were subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and 20 to the autocephalous Church of Greece. We are also told why there was no Greek episcopal presence in America - because some Greeks had come from Asia Minor and some from Greece and there was no agreement as of yet as to who should have jurisdiction in America. It is also stated that neither the Ecumenical Patriarchate nor the Church of Greece recognized the authority of the Russian bishops over the Greek parishes in 1908.

What happened after 1908? Under an agreement made in 1908 between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Holy Synod of Athens, jurisdiction of the Greek churches in America was given to the Church of Greece under Archbishop Theoklitos I. However because there was still disorder the new Archbishop of Athens, Meletios Metaxakis, tried to bring healing and unity to America. He visited America in 1918 to survey the situation, and upon his return to Greece three months later appointed Bishop Alexander of Rodostolou as his resident American legate. Alexander was delegated the unenviable task of initiating canonical order among the independent Greek parishes throughout North America.

Due to political intrigues, Meletios was exiled from his position in the Church of Greece and came to America on February 21, 1921. On September 15, 1921 he incorporated the Greek Archdiocece of North and South America which was recognized by the state of New York in 1922. Two months later on November 27, 1921 he was elected Ecumenical Patriarch. One of his first decisions was to get the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to repeal the Tomos of 1908 and on March 1, 1922 transferred the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece in America back to Constantinople based on Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod.

Now what does this say concerning the points brought up by Mr. Michalopulos? First, there was a Greek episcopal presence in America in the representation of the priests who presided over the Greek churches in America. A priest is never a priest based on his own authority, but exists as a representative of his bishop. These priests either represented the Synod of the Church of Greece or the Ecumenical Patriarch himself. Second, a parish does not require the physical presence of a bishop for consecration, but this can be done through a priest with the proper antimension from his representative bishop. No doubt this was done and there is no evidence to suggest anything to the contrary.1

Michalopulos goes on to make some very foolish remarks regarding the Greek parishes of America, even going so far as to suggest the possibility that these parishes are uncanonical, the Holy Mysteries invalid, and the priests of dubious backgrounds. Again, as a historian of American Orthodoxy, he should know better. Each Greek parish established before 1922 has very good records of their history, and if he had looked to the right sources he could get this accessible history.

One example he brings up is Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Orleans. He writes as if he researched its history, but all he did was hear from a friend who talked to the secretery of the parish who probably had no idea of these historical matters. A Google search would have served him better which reveals that the church was consecrated by a Greek Orthodox priest, Father Agapius Honcharenko, the confessor of Leo Tolstoy, who was of a Ukrainian background and had immigrated to the USA via Athens, Greece in 1865 while under the Church of Greece. He came to America via Boston on January 2, 1865 to serve as a missionary to the Orthodox by establishing churches and feeding the faithful with Holy Communion. As far as the antimens is concerned, one should keep in mind that the original church was demolished with a new edifice constructed in its place in 1950 and consecrated as a Cathedral in 1960 by Bishop Silas. It could also be possible that the early antimensions belonged to the priests for the purpose of serving the Divine Liturgy and never actually belonged to some parishes.

The other great error of Michalopulos is his assertion that the Russian mission was the only canonical presence in America prior to 1922. From the information above alone his conclusion is clearly faulty. There is no excuse in making such an ignorant statement such as: "There were no non-Russian bishops in North America prior to 1922 nor were there any non-Russian exarchates, dioceses, eparchies, or jurisdictions on this continent before this time." I already gave two examples above and there are a few others, such as Metropolitan Germanos from the Patriarchate of Antioch who served the Antiochian community in New York after 1915 and presided at the funeral of St. Raphael of Brooklyn in 1915.

There are very few valuable points in Mr. Michalopulos' reply to Fr. Herbel. As far as I'm concerned, the two letters could have been reversed with Fr. Herbel's reflection being a response to Mr. Michalopulos. The former still refutes the latter.

1. We know from a Russian text written in 1868 that Fr. Agapius understood the importance of the antimension and it seems that the missionary priests carried them. See: http://www.holy-trinity.org/history/1868/03.00.Kovrigin-Paul.html