When Orthodox Were Told To Become Episcopalians:

One of the Orthodox responses against ecumenical relations that one hears now and again may be that “all of church history” or “all of the tradition” weighs against joint “non-sacramental” services (e.g. an Akhathis or even Adam’s suggestion of joint participation in Forgiveness Vespers) and “praying with heretics” (where “heretics” is applied to all non-Orthodox, even other Trinitarian Christians).  If one is to appeal to all of Orthodox Church history, though, one will find that the responses toward non-Orthodox have varied quite a bit.  In North Dakota, one such variance occurred in the early twentieth century.  Although many people might not know this, North Dakota actually received a small influx of Syro-Lebanese immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  There never was a Syro-Lebanese Orthodox Church established anywhere on the plains of North Dakota, from what I’ve been able to learn thus far.  What happened, instead, was a more “circuit-riding” approach, of priests (and once a bishop) who traveled now and then into the area.  North Dakota was fairly remote at the time and travel would have been a long one, with clergy coming from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Sioux City, Iowa, and once, apparently, Nebraska.

In 1914 an “archbishop” and a “priest” held a liturgy in the rural school of Reno Valley Township, south of Rugby, ND.  The bishop in question informed the faithful that they should attend the Episcopalian churches and that is also the message the faithful seem to have received from priests who would visit as well.  So, who was this bishop and why would he do such a thing?  Isn’t communion with non-Orthodox against the whole of tradition?  Well, we should keep in mind that at the time, the relationship between the two churches was close, much much closer than today.  It wasn’t perfect, though, and the case of Fr. Irvine shows that quite clearly (Irvine was a converted Episcopalian priest and his ordination in November, 1905, to the Orthodox priesthood caused a stir across the Protestant Episcopal Church at the time).  So, this bishop in question knew the complexities and yet still gave the recommendation he gave.  One could, of course, point to exigencies, but still, he could have insisted on the founding of an Orthodox parish.  There are enough people in a picture from the event to justify such a demand.  Yet, the demand was not made. In fact, the practical consequence of what they were told was that they became Episcopalians, and it would seem the bishop had to know this would be the case.

I am unsure who this “archbishop” was.  It is difficult to tell from the photograph.  It was not Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky).  It likely was not Metropolitan Platon, as he left for Russia on June 2nd of 1914.  I must also admit the pictured bishop does not look much like Metropolitan Platon to me anyhow (but I cannot share the picture due to copyright concerns at the moment).  It is possibly St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), who did take a trip through Minneapolis in 1914.  Did he journey into North Dakota?  I haven’t had the time to research, but it seems likely, especially since he was already in Minneapolis.  It’s not like there were many Orthodox bishops on American soil at the time and if not Bishop Alexander or Metropolitan Platon, St. Raphael is the next logical choice.  The Greek bishop, Metropolitan Meletios wouldn’t arrive in America until 1918 and I’m not aware of bishops other than those from the Russian Orthodox Church being in America at that time.

So, it seems that when it came to facing the realities of Orthodox on the plains, rather than tell Orthodox immigrants to found parishes, St. Raphael did the prudent thing and told them to go to Episcopalian parishes.  Nor was this unique, by the way, as Orthodox immigrants elsewhere did this as well.

This helps remind us that sweeping generalizations against inter-confessional prayer involving Orthodox do not hold up upon close examination.  In fairness, the opposite extreme should also not be concluded from this.  My point, here, is not to champion ecclesiological relativism.  Rather, my point is that we do possibly have a saint who sought to balance a faithfulness to Orthodoxy with a willingness to see what was good and true in a non-Orthodox Church, to the point of telling his flock to go to that other church.

I dare say this is in contrast to the knee jerk (“all of tradition” or “all of church history”) reactions to Adam’s more recent post.  Given that it’s Lent, I thought Adam’s point worth praying over more thoughtfully.  Those who wish to so pray might be encouraged to know that it is not simply a perspective found only here on this website in the twenty-first century, but one that can be found in other times and places as well.  Hopefully, in the future, I can post on some of those other times and places (lest someone conclude this is merely the “one” exception that proves the rule).  Times have changed and the Protestant Episcopal Church has certainly changed, to the point where telling Orthodox to commune at Episcopalian churches would be highly questioned.  Nonetheless, perhaps with other traditional, liturgical Christians, we Orthodox have more to draw on from our Tradition than merely a dismissal of serious interactions and joint prayer.

30 Responses

    1. Yes, this is true. It was basically a basement dwelling, not like what you see pictured. The first floor was never built but this is often considered the first mosque in America–right here in North Dakota!

  1. William Tighe

    I hope that it will not be seen as an abuse of your blog’s hospitality for me to post this excerpt from this article of mine here:


    In the period from roughly 1890 to 1970 relations between some Orthodox and some Anglicans became, at times, very close indeed. In Europe, from the 1870s onward the Russian Orthodox Church in particular interested itself in the Old Catholic Churches, those groups of formerly Roman Catholic clergy and laity in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland (and later elsewhere) that rejected the definitions of Vatican I in 1870 on the infallibility and universal jurisdiction of the papacy — the Dutch Old Catholic Church originated earlier, in the 1720s, as a result of a split in the Dutch Catholic community — and in 1889 organized itself into the “Old Catholic Union of Utrecht,” and because of the strong and sympathetic interest in the Old Catholics of elements in the Church of England, this common “anti-papalism” had the effect of furthering contacts between Anglicans and Orthodox, contacts which had been initiated in the 1850s through the efforts of some of the “Oxford Movement” Tractarians and their Anglo-Catholic successors, but which had been occasional in occurrence and largely fruitless in results. In America, Episcopalians by and large, and especially those of an Anglo-Catholic outlook, sought the friendship of the Orthodox and often assisted Orthodox communities in tangible ways, and so earned a good reputation amongst the Orthodox, particularly the Russians. This friendship was not a disinterested one on the Episcopalians’ part, as they often sought from the Orthodox support and even recognition of their own claims to embody a non-papal form of “Western Catholicism,” and since the Episcopalians who made most of the Orthodox tended to be those of a most strongly Anglo-Catholic viewpoint, such as Charles Chapman Grafton (1830-1912; Bishop of Fond du Lac from 1889), leading Orthodox clergy tended often to take them as representative of Anglicanism as a whole. When Reginald Heber Weller (1857-1933) was consecrated as Bishop-Coadjutor of Fond du Lac on November 8, 1900 Bishop Tikhon and two of his clergy attended the event as guests, and a photograph of the assembled Episcopalian bishops and a Polish Old Catholic bishop vested in copes and miters, together with the three Russians:


    was circulated by indignant Protestant Episcopalians (who tried to prosecute Grafton and the other bishops for violating the rubrics of the Prayer Book at the service) under the title of “the Fond du Lac Circus.” It was some four years later that Bishop Tikhon sent his inquiry regarding the use of the Prayer Book by convert Episcopalian clergy and parishes to Moscow. One of Bishop Tikhon’s assistant bishops, the Lebanese Raphael Hawaweeny (1860-1915), whom he consecrated in 1904 as Bishop of Brooklyn, and who was canonized by the Orthodox church in America in 2000, in 1910 issued a decree allowing members of the Orthodox faithful who were in “emergency situations” or who lived in regions where Orthodox priests were inaccessible, to have recourse to the ministrations of Episcopalian clergy — although late in 1912 he wrote a pastoral letter formally to revoke this permission, on the grounds that his further study of Anglicanism had convinced him that the “loose teaching” of Anglican theologians and the variety and indefiniteness of Anglican doctrinal stances demonstrated that the Episcopal Church was a Protestant body, and also because, as he claimed, Episcopalians had begun to proselytize Orthodox laypeople to join Episcopal churches (his letter can be found here:


    From a different perspective, Frederick Joseph Kinsman (1868-1944), the Church Historian and Episcopalian Bishop of Delaware from 1908 to 1919, when he resigned and became a Catholic, recorded in his religious autobiography Salve Mater (1920) — recently reprinted — some of the embarrassments of leading Episcopalians in their dealings with the Orthodox when the latter, taking them at their word about the “Catholic nature” of Anglicanism, requested that Episcopalians make their prayers and liturgies more explicit on such matters as prayer for the dead, invocation of the saints and sacramental efficacy and the Eucharistic Presence. In subsequent decades, down through the 1940s, many Orthodox churches or patriarchies declared their “recognition” of Anglican Orders, by which they meant that Anglican churches had preserved the form and structure of the Church to a sufficient degree that if any Anglican church or the Anglican Communion as a whole should profess the Orthodox Faith and seek to unite with the Orthodox Church then those Anglican clergy deemed suitable to continue as clergy subsequently would not need to be ordained. It did not mean what many Anglicans, then and subsequently, and some hopeful Continuing Anglicans today, seem to wish it to mean, that the Orthodox Church — or, rather, some Orthodox churches — had accepted Anglican churches as “sister churches,” real “churches” in the eyes of the Orthodox, or at least “real churches” to the same degree as the Orthodox view the Catholic Church (or “papal communion”) as “real.” Fortunately, however, this essay need not deal further with that powerful delusion, save to note, first, that the Gadarene descent of Anglican churches into the abyss of WO and SS from the 1970s onwards has disabused the Orthodox of their illusions about the nature of Anglicanism (see this as an example: http://www.episcopalnet.org/TRACTS/ConcerningOrdination.html), and, second, that the Orthodox do not seem inclined to treat any Continuing Anglican bodies as anything like the residuary legatee of Anglican orthodoxy.

    And see also:


      1. Of course they do. Saints are exemplars of being patterned after Christ in some specific way(s) but they are not Christ.

        That, however, is a separate issue from the one noted here. The question is not whether saints can ever be wrong, but whether the entirety of the tradition argues against an open posture toward Christians who are similarly grounded in liturgics and a Christian faith. The sectarian posture of defining ourselves against the “heretical other” is not all encompassing of our tradition.

        1. Marcin

          What you say reminds me the doctrine of the “invisible Church” by Martin Luther. That the visible churches are institutions that can be reorganized, divided, united by human beings, but the borders of the True Church containing true Christians are visible to God’s only.

    1. Teena, keep in mind that Fr. Nathaniel Irvine often did Raphael’s writing for him on this stuff. So, in 1912, he writes this stuff or has Irvine write it and then on the plains of ND says something else. It’s just how it was. Also, +Platon could speak/act out of both sides of his mouth on this. For instance, he was upset with Fr. Boris Burden back in the day for Burden’s attacks on the Anglicans. And, as I mentioned, it was not unusual for Orthodox clergy to tell laity to go to the Episcopalians.

      1. Teena H. Blackburn

        Well, this is interesting historically, but I’m not sure how it is to inform our practices now. There was a time when many Orthodox (mistakenly in my opinion) thought there was quite a bit of common ground between Anglicans/Episcopalians and Orthodox. At this point in time, the Episcopal Church in America is a good candidate for being considered a thoroughly apostate institution-that’s not “ecumenical”, but I think it’s the truth. I cannot imagine an Orthodox attending an Episcopal parish or communing in it (as you yourself have noted). I cannot imagine doing any sort of services with TEC at all. The presiding Episcopal bishop is a theological horror, and the admission of women and sexually active homosexuals into the clergy would, it seems to me, disabuse us of any notion of ecumenical services of any type. I was not comfortable with those sorts of services as a Catholic, and I’m not now as an Orthodox. That’s not because I don’t desire reunion, but because I think it’s putting the cart before the horse. Catholicism has some possibilities as an ecumenical partner. Protestants would have to cease being Protestants, and many of them have departed so much from any notion of historical Christianity, I can’t imagine what we would manage to do by having formal services with them other than confuse and scandalize.

        1. Inga Leonova

          Fellowship of St. Alban and Sergius, founded in England in 1928, which is still going strong and has produced some of the most outstanding theological publications in its journals, will likely disagree with the view that the idea of common ground between Anglicans and Orthodox is “mistaken”. So would most people familiar with the luminaries of Anglican theological thought. It should be enough to name just two names – Dom Gregory Dix and Abp. Rowan – Williams to demonstrate the breadth of theological overlap, and the list is, of course, much, much longer.

          1. William Tighe

            Dom Gregory Dix was a thoroughgoing “Anglo-Papalist,” whose occasional remarks about Orthodoxy are, at best, double-edged. Abp. Williams, despite his theological attraction to aspects of Orthodox thought and practice, is a strong advocate of women’s pretended ordination and of homosexual pseudogamy. Indeed, when I last attended the annual St. Alban & St. Sergius fellowship conferenced, in Oxford in 1994, I was surprised at how “at ease” almost all of the Anglican participants seemed to be with these innovations, and how blithefully they seemed to regard the Orthodox view on these matters as “culturally conditioned.”

            Still, it was a pleasant meeting in a pleasant place, and if genuine ecumenism consists of representatives of traditions that are, in practice, moving apart from one another at an accelerating pace “making nice” with one another, then I’m all for it.

            Unless, of course, these recent Anglican “developments” are to be regarded as theologoumena, and that advocacy for them is legitimate in an Orthodox Christian context.

          2. Teena H. Blackburn

            The Fellowship may have something to recommend it-TEC in America does not. I do not deny there are Christians in the Episcopal Church-of course there are. I deny the Episcopal Church in the US is a Christian body at this point in its history. Therefore, I cannot imagine what could be gained for any Orthodox or Roman Catholic to engage in any public worship services with them. Of course, I generally do not support ecumenical worship services, full stop. As I said before, I think it’s putting the cart before the horse. Further, other than Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholics, I cannot think of any Christian bodies who share substantially the same faith as the Eastern Orthodox, and therefore, I would consider worship with those bodies a bad idea on many levels.

          3. Inga Leonova

            “I deny the Episcopal Church in the US is a Christian body at this point in its history.” is rather a bold statement… Still, if one defines Christianity by allegiance to “cultural” or “moral” values, I suppose that this statement can be thrown at any Christian who challenges whether some of our traditional preferences have theological basis. My own experience with many Anglican friends in the US happily lies in the area of common faith. But then, what one believes in, as we always find out, is a choice. The fact that we all profess the same Creed does not always translate into being in communion even within the boundaries of the same denomination, as we are sadly discovering.

          4. William Tighe

            “Still, if one defines Christianity by allegiance to “cultural” or “moral” values, I suppose that this statement can be thrown at any Christian who challenges whether some of our traditional preferences have theological basis.”

            A masterful piece of evasion and suggestio falsi. But what if one “defines” Christianity by adherence to the apostolic tradition, and so rules out women’s pretended ordination and homosexual pseudogamy, and along with them those Anglican bodies that permit and practice them?

          5. Inga Leonova

            Christianity is defined by adherence to Christ. No more, no less. And there is nothing more difficult than that.

  2. Adam DeVille

    This is very interesting. One question that comes to mind: do you get any sense why people were encouraged to go Episcopalian rather than Catholic? Were there no RC churches in the area either?

    1. Well, you had the whole convert-the-uniates movement combined with good dialogue between the high church Anglican party and Orthodox (internationally and in America both). Together, it made it a natural fit. What has happened since is the Episcopal Church has drastically changed but the Orthodox animosity toward Catholics has largely remained (though there are a few notable exceptions on that front). Also, keep in mind that many converts (then and now) have come from Protestant backgrounds, thus having “tradition without the pope” can be attractive (though I make this statement more as conjecture, I’m not aware of any study that could be cited).

  3. Fr. James

    I once noticed in an old baptismal register in Jamestown a reference to a baptism of a child with the notation “Syrian Catholic.” I don’t know if the family was Eastern Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Fr. Bill Sherman is a good go to guy for this history.

  4. Michael Bauman

    St. Raphael is a saint. No question. He is a saint because of the great lengths he went to in order to care for the people under his care. He initially directed many to the Episcopal Church as a pastoral economia with the understanding there would be no conversion effort. He knew that there were not enough priests to go around.

    When he discovered later that both the theology of the EC had been misrepresented and there were strong efforts to convert the Orthodox, St. Raphael withdrew his blessing to attend the EC.

    St. Raphael sent the first priest to my parish and we have active parishioners who met him when they were children. Our associate priest at the time of St. Raphael’s elevation was charged with researching St. Raphael and writing his “Life”.

    The manner in which St. Raphael’s pastoral effort was twisted and misused is a cautionary tale for “ecumenical” arrangements rather than a template for doing similar things.

    1. The problem is, if this is St. Raphael, this is 1914, after Irvine’s influence. But again, Michael, the point of this is just one small example of how the Orthodox tradition is not as sectarian as some might have us think. That’s all this was intended to show (in addition to whatever additional interest we might have in early Syro-Lebanese immigrants on the plains). Other examples of past Orthodox openness will hopefully follow down the road. One small step at a time.

  5. Michael Bauman

    The point is Father that the fruit of what you call non-sectarian was bad. That word “sectarian” is an ad hominum word which can be used to declare victory in any argument.

    To hold to the fullness of the truth requires discernment and the willingness to say no. The Church is not egalitarian nor is she universalist.

    What some call sectarian others might call prudent discernment.

    What some might see as openness might actually be allowing the nose of the camel into the tent.

    With one voice the former Episcopelians I know (vastly different in many respects) all see their former confession going over the falls of apostasy.

    Openness in that case involves putting out life boats. It does not mean giving them false validation for their errors.

    1. “Sectarian,” like any other term can be used as an ad hominem, but I do not use it as such. That said, I like your comment and I think you raise a good point–what is meant by that word? I should probably get a post up on that at some point. Thank you for pointing out another area of clarification that is needed.

  6. Michael Bauman

    To me, sectarian means not seeing or believing in any good outside one’s own beliefs. I sense that you use it a bit more broadly than that.

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