Fr. Boris Burden and Orthodox Unity in America

One of the most dominating features of American Orthodoxy has been our jurisdictional plurality–whereby there are parishes labeled according to certain ethnicities, such as Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek, “Antiochian” (for Syro-Lebanese), Carpatho-Rusyn, etc.  Many factors were at play in this development, but the simplest, shortest way to explain it is to note that immigrant groups arrived in America too quickly for any one group to place all the others under one umbrella in a manner that would have allowed all the members under the umbrella to feel like their heritage was truly and honestly being respected and upheld.

In the middle of the 20th century, a convert priest named Fr. Boris Burden was a key player in two serious attempts at jurisdictional unity, the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of America (HEOCACNA) and the Federation of Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America.  The first was in the very late 1920s and early 1930s and the latter in 1942-1943, though it lasted longer on paper.  The latter movement proved important as it led to the Selective Service declaring to the NY selective service board that “EO” for “Eastern Orthodox” should be stamped on Orthodox dog tags and that Orthodoxy (and Orthodox chaplains) should be recognized officially.  It also helped stimulate and produce the Fourth Major Faith movement amongst Orthodox later in the 20th century.  For those interested in the Federation, you may go to a timeline I wrote for an Orthodox history website some time ago:

http://orthodoxhistory.org/2009/12/02/federated-orthodox-greek-catholic-primary-jurisdictions-in-america/

I raise our attention to Fr. Boris Burden and these two events to highlight the publication of an article I wrote on this for the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, which has just published it in issue 56:317-334.  Those who wish to read it in full should consult this issue.  For those wanting the “gist” of it, it is rather easy to summarize.  My main point is simply that one of the central reasons both attempts failed had to do with disagreements over how Orthodox should relate to the non-Orthodox.  This was certainly not the only issue, but it was one important one.  In HEOCACNA, Burden edited the journal they produced and had articles that were overly critical of the Anglican Communion, which angered some Orthodox, including Metropolitan Platon, because the Orthodox were dependent upon support and help from the Anglicans and, in America, the Protestant Episcopal Church.  The Russian Revolution had cut off funding from Russia.  The Federation divided over whether to punish the leading laymember, organizer, and lawyer, George Phillies, who had been taking communion at in the Orthodox Church but also in Episcopalian parishes.  To be sure there are interesting details to all of this but I think it can be a healthy reminder that how we Orthodox relate to the non-Orthodox can affect how we relate to each other.

In a future post, I’ll highlight an article by Fr. John H. Erickson (professor of church history and dean emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary) in the same issue.  I’ll then highlight a couple of others.  This issue nearly turned out to be an all-American-Orthodox issue of SVTQ!

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