Posts Tagged 'Fr. Oliver Herbel'

Need last-minute gift ideas?

It’s Monday of the week before Christmas. Do you have all your Christmas shopping done? Of course you don’t. So, here are some suggestions:

The Gifted Pan prosphora baking dish. For the would-be ecclesiastical baker who feels stymied by handheld seals that seem to have never been applied five minutes after what seems like pressing down with all your might.


Scapple. If you’re a Scrivener user, this is an excellent companion application that basically allows you to doodle your ideas without having to go quite to the intellectually self-conscious extreme of “mind-mapping”.


– Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church by Fr. Dellas Oliver Herbel (Oxford University Press, 2013). I reviewed the book here; in short, it’s a great book for anybody interested in North American religious trends or Orthodox Christianity in the United States, with a lot to digest in a very reasonable length.


– Stocking stuffer 3-pack of CDs: Cappella Romana‘s Tikey Zes: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (reviewed here) and Robert Kyr — A Time for Life: An Environmental Oratorio (reviewed here), with Archangel Voices‘ Panagia: Orthodox Hymns to the Mother of God (reviewed here). Three very different kinds of recordings of what one might broadly call “Orthodox music”, and each very good in its own way. The Kyr is an oratorio informed by Orthodox liturgy; the Zes is an Orthodox liturgy that at times feels like an oratorio; and Panagia is a themed recital of Orthodox choral music about the Virgin Mary. What’s funny is that the Zes disc is sung entirely in Greek but often seems quite Italian; Panagia is all in English but feels quite Russian. What can you do (or, if you like, Τι να κάνουμε)?

– Sweet Song: A Story of Saint Romanos the Melodist by Jane G. Meyer (reviewed here). A beautifully-illustrated (and not distractingly anachronistic) children’s book set in sixth-century Constantinople during an episode in the saint’s life. If you’ve got a young reader who’s interested in singing in church or who has started to develop an early fascination with Byzantine and hagiographic arcanity, this is the book you want.

– 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking by Paul Levitz (Taschen, 2010). And this would be the book for the reader who is simply a geek and unashamed to admit it. Like, you know, me. (Just sayin’, just sayin’s is all.)

– Finally, if none of these speak to you, I offer the possibility that you could make a donation to The Saint John of Damascus Society. We’ve got a lot of different things that we’re working on, including the Psalm 103 project but also much more, and making a gift in the name of somebody you care about would be a lovely gesture for all concerned. All gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The above link will take you to our website’s “Support” page; click the “Donate” button and PayPal will take care of the rest. If you’re interested in giving a gift but want to have a conversation with a person about it, get in touch with me (either via the combox here or by e-mailing richardbarrett AT johnofdamascus . org), and I’ll be happy to talk to you.

And, should you for some unknown reason be looking to give me a Christmas gift, well — you can certainly give something to the Saint John of Damascus Society, and it will definitely make me happy. I also wouldn’t sneeze at 75 Years of DC Comics. And, hey, this blog has its own “Make a Donation” button. If those options don’t speak to you, well, there’s always this.

Okay — may you all stay well the rest of the fast (and beyond, of course)!


Fr. Oliver Herbel’s Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church and other thoughts about West being West and East being, at the very least, “not West”

My professional categories are sort of screwy. I have an undergraduate degree in music performance, a Masters degree in History with a PhD on the way, specializing in late antique Byzantine history. I am also a practicing church musician who has made a few professional-level contributions in that field, such as it is. My day job as a historian, in which I study the social and political context of liturgy, is informed by my lived experience as a church musician; both of these categories are informed by my conversion to Orthodox Christianity, which itself was informed by musical and historical endeavors. I’m not a historian of American issues as such, but as a historian who is an Orthodox Christian in an American context, I wind up thinking about issues of “American Orthodoxy” a fair amount, and this blog winds up being where those musings wind up. My efforts where the topic of “American Orthodoxy” is concerned aren’t really formal enough to be considered “research” or to function well as journal articles, but the blog is a fine enough outlet for the level of what I do, and probably winds up having appropriate readership numbers as a result (i.e., slim to none). If somebody came to me and wanted to do an essay collection, I wouldn’t sneer at it, but I certainly don’t see that happening anytime soon, so the blog it is.

On this topic, I’ve commented about the problems the topic of “American Orthodoxy” has as a scholarly category, particularly when tackled by people who aren’t fighting their intellectual weight and who have a strict ideological/confessional narrative that they want to support rather than an objective of honest inquiry. I’ve pondered the category errors that converts to Orthodoxy seem to represent for some people. I’ve talked about the struggles that some Americans seem to have distinguishing between cultural encounter and religious encounter in Orthodox Christianity — both in terms of not differentiating enough between them, as well as differentiating too much. I’ve asked the question, both as an American and as an Orthodox Christian, is Orthodoxy ultimately a solution for a problem America doesn’t think it has? Is Orthodox Christianity just fundamentally in the wrong “key”, as it were, for it to be taken on its own terms in an American context?

I have struggled with this question both on an intellectual level and on a personal level, and I have struggled with it at levels micro and macro, internal and external, local and regional. It’s a question that people make about music and language and architecture and heritage and so on, but it’s not really about any of those things, I don’t think. Translating the services into English isn’t enough. Building Orthodox churches that look like Methodist churches with domes isn’t enough. Adapting to an Anglican-style choir-and-organ musical model isn’t enough. Welcoming converts isn’t enough. There’s still something wrong, some people tell me, there are still ways it’s just too “Eastern” for me to not feel like I have to pretend to be something I’m not. So what’s the deal? Where does this sense of things being a put-on come from? Why is it that when a Roman Catholic or Anglican priest vests he’s, well, vesting, but when the Orthodox priest vests, he’s putting on a costume? Where does this sense of English services coming across as defective Greek or Slavonic services come from? How do you adapt for American culture without it feeling so self-conscious that it doesn’t really matter if it’s a good or a bad adaptation, it just feels wrong for some people?

What’s the end vision for what an “American Orthodoxy” will look like? Democratic? Run by lay committees and commissions? English-language — but which register? Liturgically redacted and shortened, if not completely revised? The Synaxarion and festal calendars started over more or less from scratch except for a few “greatest hits”, so that we can hopefully have room for Ss. Joe and Bob and Amy and Jennifer down the road and we can stop hearing so much about Photios and Paphnutius and Varvara and Thekla? Musically simplified, maybe using Gospel music or Sacred Harp or some such? Iconographically simplified, so that we don’t have all that gaudy stuff hanging around that looks like the Renaissance never happened, but then we don’t go to the naturalistic extremes of the Renaissance either? Architecturally simplified, so that we basically go with whatever size big concrete box that we can afford? Maybe we pull out historically relevant Byzantine or Russian prototypes of various things to emphasize particular feast days, but on the whole we recognize that to do it all every single service is just overdoing it, plain and simple, and we dial everything way back? Will it all feel “Western” enough if we do all of that? Will it feel enough like Orthodoxy actually belongs in twenty-first America if it does all of that? Or is the issue still something else?

I don’t have answers to any of that, but all of those are things that I’ve heard people say, converts, ex-converts, and ex-inquirers alike. In some cases, the people I’m thinking of seem to have realized that what they meant by “Western” was “Anglican” or “Catholic” or “Baptist” or, for that matter, even “unaffiliated”, and subsequently went to those places. It’s enough to raise the question — in an American context, can ecclesiology ever really trump “culture”, whatever we mean by that? What would it look like for it to do so? We value heritage in America, we tend to treat religion as a category of heritage, but then we also treat religion as something one self-identifies as, which you can’t really do with heritage. We also have a culture of pluralism where both are concerned, which means that no religion or heritage is (theoretically) any better than any other. So then what happens when somebody self-identifies, that is to say self-consciously identifies oneself as, a particular religious category that somebody else identifies with in a non-self-conscious way as a result of heritage? Ostensibly the religion is the same — but it doesn’t mean the same thing. Eventually the people self-identifying either isolate themselves so that they’re only interacting with other self-identifiers, they make some kind of peace with the issues of heritage, or they decide that heritage really is the determining factor after all and seek out a religious category where their heritage seems more appropriate. Various flavors of Anglo-European being the dominant heritage in the United States, it’s less of a weird thing, perhaps, for a Greek to become an Anglican or some other flavor of Protestant, because that’s a minority assimilating, as is, some might argue, not only appropriate but respectful to one’s “host”. For an Anglo-European American to become Orthodox — well, you’re not assimilating, and you’re self-consciously embracing abstractions that the heritage practitioners may or may not relate to, so, yeah, sorry, that’s just weird, and you’re really playing spiritual dress-up at the core of things. Go back to being whatever you were. Go be a Catholic, since that’s probably what you really want to be anyway, you just don’t want to be one those Catholics who sings “Gather Us In”. Ecclesiology has nothing to do with it — this is America, and ecclesiology is basically irrelevant here.

Is that basically what it boils down to? I don’t know. To reiterate something I’ve noted elsewhere — as Neo says, the problem is choice, or at least pluralism. What does it mean to choose a religious tradition that self-identifies as an exclusive truth in a context of inclusive religious pluralism, and then what does it mean when our weird American heritage and identity issues appear to create a conflict with that choice? How do you resolve the problem without factoring out lived experience and reducing the religion to a set of abstractions, or feeling required to “go native”, or effectively choosing one’s own adventure and creating a “personalized” version of the religion? Can you resolve the problem, or is one of those three choices effectively inevitable (with the tacitly expressed fourth choice being that you throw up your hands and walk away)?

This brings us to Fr. Oliver Herbel‘s book Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church (Oxford, 2013). Fr. Oliver contributed some excellent essays to the site OCA News, he was a co-founder of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas, and he also became a bit of a folk hero in some circles for taking a rather unappreciated public stand with a particular hierarch. Both his writings and his questioning of this bishop managed to annoy, shall we say, the right people, and his work influenced, in no small part, this piece of mine on historiography of Orthodox Christianity in America. The publication of his book, if nothing else, means that there is now on the shelf a serious monograph on the history of Orthodox Christianity in America by a serious Orthodox scholar, rather than, well, less-than-serious books by less-than-serious people who may be Orthodox but are obviously non-scholars.

Fr. Oliver’s book is, effectively, a collection of case studies of conversions in an American context. First, he looks at the now-St. Alexis Toth, the nineteenth-century Carpatho-Rusyn Eastern Catholic priest who converted to Orthodoxy after he moved to America and found the Catholic scene here rather less-than-welcoming for “Uniates”. Toth evangelized many of the Carpatho-Rusyns in this country, convincing many of them to convert (and ultimately laying the groundwork for what would become the Metropolia and the OCA). He also looks at the case of Fr. Raphael Morgan, an Englishman of African heritage who was baptized and ordained in Constantinople in the early twentieth century, and traveled back to the United States to evangelize about Orthodox Christianity to African Americans, providing something of a counter-narrative to Marcus Garvey. In this context, Fr. Oliver briefly discusses the “African Orthodox Church” that attempted to establish a distinct presence in, among other places, Uganda, only to fall apart and eventually become Greek Orthodox. He then studies the conversion of Fr. Moses Berry, who identified his experience as a black American with the experience of late antique Egyptian Christianity, and eventually became Orthodox via a path that included the Holy Order of Mans. Finally, he spends two chapters on the Evangelical Orthodox Church, who would notably join the Antiochian Archdiocese via a mass conversion in 1986; in particular, he complicates the “sanitized” narrative of the EOC’s journey to canonical Orthodoxy as presented by Fr. Peter E. Gillquist in his book Becoming Orthodox.

This is what amounts to Fr. Oliver’s thesis:

In many respects, the idea that such a traditional church in America [such as the Eastern Orthodox Church] would attract outsiders seems counterintuitive… paradoxically, what one encounters in the West… is a tradition of change, or an anti-traditional tradition, as found in the scientist, whose duty it is to find a flaw in the tradition that has gone before. The point is not that an exemplar of the anti-traditional tradition will reject any and all aspects of what went before, but rather that he or she may select some individual part of the preceding tradition in order to enact something entirely new or at odds with the tradition itself. American religion is also characterized by an anti-traditional tradition. As a phenomenon within American religion, it is denoted by a long tradition of mavericks who engage in religious choosing and novelty-creation by selecting and emphasizing a part of the religious tradition they inherited to create something new. The result over the last two centuries has been that the American religious scene has become ever more diversified and complex. Indeed, here one ought to think of the many restorationist movements dedicated to restoring, or re-embodying, the early Christian Church.

[…]In the converts studied here, their conversions demonstrated their Americanness in two different (though overlapping) ways: as a response to oppression and as an ironic species of the anti-traditional tradition… Though intended as a break from the anti-traditional tradition, by utilizing restorationism, the turn to tradition becomes an expression of religious identity creation in a very novel way. The conclusion (Eastern Orthodoxy as the Christian Tradition over and against a diversified, fragmented American Christian landscape) may at first appear rather un-American, since it is not the creation of a new subset of Christianity, much less a new religion, but the road to that conclusion is, ironically, precisely an expression of the anti-traditional tradition. Furthermore, inasmuch as these converts are seen as exemplars for other other converts, these conversion patterns themselves establish a tradition, one more tradition built out of the anti-traditional tradition. (pp3-6)

In other words, the way of solving the problem in an American context is to appropriate the cultural anti-traditional instinct (exemplified by a church called The Salvage Yard on the south side of Indianapolis that, when it opened, had as its motto “No Traditions, No Politics, No Baggage”, but then after six months or a year it took the sign down, presumably because it realized that it couldn’t honestly advertise those absences after a certain amount of time of being in operations), re-analyze it as its own tradition, and redirect the effort towards restoring the historical imaginary of the “early church” under some kind of rubric of “authenticity” rather than joining a lived tradition. No, we’re not becoming Orthodox; we’re restoring the real — or perhaps “authentic” — Apostolic Church in the West, and the Orthodox Churches are just being smart enough to validate our efforts. The EOC was hipster Christianity before there was such a thing as hipster Christianity, one might say.

(The thesis, by the way, reminds me of this essay that I wrote some six and a half years ago. There are a few things I’d perhaps put differently today, but this is a pretty good snapshot of how I was expressing and working through some of Fr. Oliver’s questions myself after maybe four years of moving in Orthodox circles.)

In terms of the thesis of anti-traditional tradition — I’m also reminded of this piece, specifically the part about the “culturally Western” critique of Byzantine chant. Basically, so some would argue (like a former EOC priest, for example), the received tradition of Byzantine chant itself isn’t “authentically” Byzantine but rather Turkish and Arabic (an outdated scholarly argument, but never mind for now), so re-appropriating parts of it, doing something new with them, and throwing out the rest isn’t just okay, it’s actually more authentically Orthodox to do so, because “real” Orthodox Tradition adapts to the culture it finds itself in. So, we don’t just get an Orthodox music that’s “more authentic”, we get an Orthodox music that’s “more American” at the same time. This is wrapped up in a number of concerns like Orientalism, a search for some kind of “original purity” (manufactured for the here and now if we can’t find it organically), and also a desire to assert some kind of American national identity in a religious context that claims catholicity but, practically speaking, has a sacred history that ends 39 years before Columbus sailed to the New World.

Anyway, the point is, it seems to me that implicit in the embrace of Orthodoxy in a context of anti-traditional tradition is an assent to the content while also including a critique of the form. To a certain extent, that critique may be legitimate in an American cultural context; the combination of how religion works in this country with how Orthodox Christianity came here deals a pretty crippling blow, at least for now, to Orthodox ecclesiology, and I don’t see that ideal managing to reconcile with the practical reality on the ground any time soon. If you’re in a country like Greece or Russia, then you can see the diversity that exists in those places as a deviation from a strong mainstream; a diversity in unity, if you like (while acknowledging some outliers like the Old Calendar breakaway groups). Here, though, while the cultural ideal is perhaps unity in diversity, what we actually kind of have is a plurality in diversity. It seems to me, anyway, that there are, in effect, multiple “Orthodoxies” in the United States with no strong mainstream holding them together.

In terms of Fr. Oliver’s EOC material, I must say up front that it’s a bit awkward for me to say much knowing personally some of the players involved, but I will say that there was very little in the EOC material I hadn’t heard before (Becoming Orthodox being a sanitized version of the EOC’s history, the EOC was authoritarian and cult-y, etc.) and there were a couple of things I was somewhat surprised not to see; new to me was how Fr. James Bernstein’s departure for the OCA in 1981 was handled (that is to say, poorly), the EOC’s welcoming of a cleric (I assume he means Fr. David Anderson) disciplined by the OCA being the reason why the OCA seemed not to be on the table as a possible entry point for the EOC, and Fr. Thomas Hopko’s involvement in the inter-episcopal discussion leading up to the EOC’s reception by AOCNA. Over the years, a couple of knowledgable individuals in the Greek Archdiocese have told me that, in fact, Constantinople had given the EOC a conditional “yes”, but the sticking points were that the EOC clergy would have had to go to seminary, and Fr. Peter was insisting on being received as a married bishop (something alluded to, but never explicitly stated, in Becoming Orthodox). The trip to Constantinople, according to them, was the EOC’s attempt at an end run around these logjams. If that’s true — oh, how much hair-pulling and sorrow perhaps could have been avoided if they had gone to seminary! Again, if everything had been normalized from the get-go in the context of “living tradition”, with a full dose of having to co-exist from the start with clergy who had always been in that living tradition, rather than being allowed to persist in what amounted to “American exceptionalism” turned into its own vicariate, we would be having a very different conversation right now about so many things.

Fr. Oliver does a nice job, I think, of setting up studies of a number of subsequent questions. What are the forces at play in terms of a group like the EOC, or HOOM, or the African Orthodox Church wanting to “become Orthodox” but insisting on doing so on its own terms? If they want to be Orthodox, what’s to stop them from converting as individuals instead of being “received” as a group? Why the necessity of preserving a distinct group identity? What are the cultural dynamics at work, with a predominantly white, Anglo-American group like the EOC being under the ecclesiastical authority of Arabs/Arab-Americans?

How does the “restorationist” impulse cast Orthodox converts in comparison to explicitly “restorationist” Protestant groups? At least here in the Midwest, there are a lot of converts from Campbell/Stone circles — and they all say the same thing, some variant of “You’re brought up to believe that you’re in the one true church; you realize very quickly that this isn’t true if you think about it for more than few minutes, but then you’re left with the conviction that such a thing ought to exist.”

How are forces of anti-tradition traditionalism and restorationism at play in the various American jurisdictions even without the issue of converts? He briefly looks at this at the very end, and I think it’s worth its own treatment. For American cradles who are accustomed to Orthodoxy as a lived tradition rather than a self-conscious “return to the early church”, “restorationism” can mean restoration of an “authentic” national Orthodox practice. In the Antiochian Archdiocese, for example, “Antiochian tradition” is a very complicated term that can mean one of four things — 1) “authentic” Patriarchate of Antioch tradition as practiced in Syria and Lebanon, 2) the parish practice of an “ethnic” parish in AOCNA (which is somewhat redacted from the first definition, and also depends somewhat on whether or not it’s a parish that was under Toledo or Brooklyn before 1975; those under Toledo seem to have been rather Russified, perhaps for obvious reasons), 3) Antiochian Village camp practice, and then since 1986 there’s definition 4) — practices imported by the EOC that have spread and been somewhat normalized. In the Greek Archdiocese, there are “restorationist” arguments about Byzantine chant, language, and so on — but at the same time, you have Greek-Americans for whom the music of Frank Desby and Tikey Zes are their “lived tradition”, not Byzantine chant. There is, of course, the issue of calendar and the “restorationist” overtones where that’s concerned; apropos to the book, I’m not sure that most of “continuing, real, authentic, Church Abroad in Exile” people who left ROCOR after they made nice with the MP in 2007 aren’t converts with a “restorationist”, or perhaps a “purifying”, impulse. Greek Old Calendarists are a somewhat different matter, but they’re certainly in the mix too.

I think there’s a bigger question too, of what “restorationism” means for people who convert. Is Orthodoxy in fact the intended end? Or is its function simply instrumental for another end? If its value is instrumental, why Orthodoxy in particular? Is it its relatively low profile in this country, making it attractive as something that can be “made over”, as it were? Is it a kind of paternalistic Orientalism, the taming of the exotic East by sympathetic Westerners both for its own good as well as for the good of other Westerners? Something else?

And, while I’m thinking about it, I will say that I’d be very interested to know what somebody who’s more up on race than I am as a historical category would make of Frs. Raphael Morgan and Moses Berry.

I still think that the definitive history of the EOC has yet to be written, but Fr. Oliver’s treatment of the material certainly outlines what I think some of the contours probably need to be. An idea that he outlines but never explicitly states is that one of the ways Gillquist sanitized the EOC’s history was to give the EOC’s objective, more or less from the start, as putting itself out of business and joining up with a canonical church. It’s clear from people I’ve talked to that this may have been a majority view, perhaps (and I do say “may”), but it was never universally held, and there were a good number of EOCers who wanted the EOC to be its own thing and to remain separate from the canonical churches. Some of this may have boiled down to xenophobia (something I still notice in a lot of oldtimer former EOC people), but I think some people just genuinely didn’t relate to the ecclesiological issues that Gillquist et al. were trying to push. I think on the whole there’s a lot more to be said — response to the ’60s hippie movement (it is very strange to me that nobody has done a scholarly comparative treatment of HOOM and EOC — same time period, same end more or less, but very different ideological starting point, different cultural context of NoCal vs. SoCal, and very different means to the end), Evangelical infighting (as Fr. Oliver points out), appropriation of “community” in a culturally conservative context (a former EOC cleric once told me that EOC communities were basically “right-wing communes”, and surely there is some hay to be made about the “fateful” meeting concerning the direction of the EOC in the early ’70s being entirely a group of middle-class white Protestant men), and the question of what “American identity” actually, particularly when counterposed with “Orthodox identity”. For the EOC, “American identity” seems to basically refer to the middle-class WASP, and they’re ultimately more liberal and syncretistic in terms of ecclesiastical practice; by contrast, former HOOM folks seem to be more inclusive in terms of race and class (Fr. Moses, Fr. Jerome Sanderson, etc.) but they embrace a far more conservative vision of Orthodox church praxis and polity. I think the lesson with both groups is “don’t receive groups as discrete bodies; receive individuals, period”, although obviously there are good things and good people that have come out of both (the priest my current GOA parish in Indianapolis is former HOOM, for example, and he’s wonderful; nothing guru-esque about him, to say the least). Indianapolis is an interesting case for all of this, actually; it’s very representative of the various Orthodox jurisdictions (except, curiously, cradle Russians; there’s a Bulgarian parish, a Serbian parish, and a Romanian parish, but no “mainstream” OCA parish or ROCOR parish — the cradle Russians all seem to have wound up at the big Antiochian parish over the years, which is perhaps not surprising given its status as a “Toledo” parish). Indy was home to an EOC as well as a HOOM community, both communities eventually became Orthodox (although the EOC group was one of the holdouts in 1986 and didn’t come in until later, and then under the OCA), and today there’s a lot of going back and forth between the two parishes. Indianapolis is also home to one of the splinter EOC remainder communities, and I’m told that the individuals who make up said remainder community are an interesting reminder of just how idiosyncratic these groups actually were.

I will note that I’m speaking from the point of view of presently being at a GOA parish, and that’s after I spent nearly a decade at an AOCNA parish that was never part of the EOC and was started by Greeks and Arabs, but functionally treated as an AEOM community because of its location in south central Indiana, ultimately becoming home to a plurality of Hoosier locals instead of the Greeks and Arabs who founded it, as well as sort of a home base for a big chunk of the Gillquist family. From my perspective, I once again say that it’s too bad that the EOC wasn’t “normalized” from the get-go. The idiosyncrasies introduced, and the way those idiosyncrasies have contributed to and exacerbated personal problems, have been counter-productive. Maybe it’s been a way to “engage America”, but I think it’s also set up false expectations about what Orthodoxy is and what it looks like.

Fr. Moses’ “flowers in God’s garden” image is actually really interesting in the light of the arguments about how to “Americanize” Orthodoxy. It’s fascinating to me that somebody like him can look at late antique Egyptian Christianity and see the continuity with Orthodox Christianity as well as with contemporary African American existence. And yet, we “Anglo” types are constantly wringing our hands over Orthodoxy not being “Western” enough or “American” enough or whatever. Somehow, Fr. Moses is able to see the flowers that look like him, so to speak, in Orthodoxy, where many Westerners cannot, or at least will not, see the flowers that look like us. What is that saying? Does it have more to do with Orthodoxy or with us? Is that, perhaps, a manifestation of white, or at least Occidental, privilege that we expect to be catered to and for things to be customizable for our ends? Again, does it boil down to a form of Orientalism and/or xenophobia that’s just culturally ingrained?

From a practical, pastoral standpoint (insofar as I have any business claiming such a perspective), much of what Fr. Oliver has to say about anti-traditional tradition is why I find myself at this point really resistant to self-conscious “Americanizing” efforts. How is it going to be helpful to make “American Orthodoxy”, whatever we mean by that, more idiosyncratic rather than less? Multi-generational models of lived experience are needed for the convert, I think, not reconstructions and restorations done by people who are still drying off from their baptism. The trouble with that, though, is that it’s counter to the American instinct to “do it yourself”, and for reasons I’m still not sure I understand, it seems that a good number of people think that the practical upshot of what I’m suggesting is that they need to “pretend to be Eastern”. I go to a Greek parish, I speak some Greek, I chant partially in Greek, and so on, but I don’t think of myself as “pretending to be Greek”; as far as I’m concerned, I’m just trying to understand how to be Orthodox, what that means and what that looks like, from people who have been Orthodox all their lives and whose families have been Orthodox for as long as they can remember. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference; your mileage may vary.

A more immediate practical concern than “Americanization” is — yes, converts need multi-generational models of lived experience. Are we going to able to produce them ourselves if we experience them? To put it another way, is there a second generation that will come about by births, or is “American Orthodoxy” effectively the Shakers without celibacy, hoping to grow by conversion rather than procreation? I know my share of kids of convert priests who either left or are simply indifferent, and then geographic mobility means even if you stay, you’re probably not at the parish Mom and Dad went to/converted at/helped establish/etc.

Which brings me to this talk by one Fr. John Bakas of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, delivered in November 2010 at a conference of The American Hellenic Institute Foundation. The talk is titled “The Challenges Facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America”.

So, here we have a cradle Orthodox expressing perhaps exactly the opposite concern of the individuals studied by Fr. Oliver. Here is not restorationism, but the question of how to rearticulate a lived tradition in a new cultural context in a way that is distinctive but inclusive — and doing so to ensure survival, so that it doesn’t have to be “restored”. While I grant that Fr. John’s use of the word “Hellenism” probably will go over like a ton of bricks for some, but I think what he’s saying needs to be understood properly. To me it’s clear he’s drawing a contrast between “Greekness”, Greek heritage as simply Greek heritage, and “Hellenism”, which he’s using here in a very Byzantine way, to mean the best parts of “Roman” culture which both provided a framework for Christianity and which were also transformed by Christianity — and it’s telling to me that he uses “converting the Russians to Christianity” and “Hellenizing the Russians” interchangeably. (I recently read the Greek life of St. Maximus the Confessor, and one of the things it says is that St. Maximus leaves the service of Heraclius’ court to pursue “philosophy” — a very Byzantine way of repurposing the word for an aspect of Hellenic culture to describe something in Christianity — i.e., monasticism.)

I’m not going to disagree that this sounds way off-key to American ears, but again, in terms of what I think he thinks he means, I actually think he could do a lot worse. One can argue about it being an effective strategy for evangelism; “translated” properly, shall we say, he might have a point. I think he’s also explicitly agreeing with the statement “You don’t have to be Greek to be Orthodox” (which itself is a paraphrase of Isocrates saying in the Panegyricus that one is Greek by education and culture, not blood), as evidenced by his example of the African-American cathedral parishioner at the end.

Okay, fine, I can get that, but is that going to be a meaningful distinction, or paint an attractive picture, for anybody else? Is even an inclusive “Hellenism”, that is to say an inclusive lived tradition of Orthodox Christianity, going to look inclusive enough to mean anything to the person who can’t handle how “non-Western” it is once he/she sees Greek or Slavonic script (and let’s not even bring up Georgian or Arabic), or a three-bar cross, or a Byzantine-looking icon? Are restorationism and anti-traditional tradition really the only ways forward? Can it be “Yiayia’s church” and my church at the same time, or are those always going to be mutually exclusive categories?

Enough for now; we’ll talk more soon.

Announcement: debut issue of Journal of American Orthodox Church History

The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA) has published the first issue of its journal, the Journal of American Orthodox Church History. It looks like SOCHA has set this up as a peer-reviewed electronic journal (although I’m told that they are toying with the possibility of a print edition for academic libraries), with scholarly articles, source translations, and book reviews in each issue. It will be published annually on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother God, 15 August. Issues are $10 apiece, which I would suggest is more than reasonable for an academic journal. The table of contents for the first issue, a summary of submission guidelines, and a brief statement of purpose for the Journal by SOCHA Executive Director Fr. Oliver Herbel, may be found here.

This seems like a great effort to support, both by buying issues as they come out, by citing articles that get published, and by submitting articles of publishable quality. I intend to do all three as I am able; please consider doing the same.

Updated link for Frontier Orthodoxy

Do note that Fr. Oliver Herbel has moved Frontier Orthodoxy to its own site. Not all of the first few articles have been moved; those you will still find here.

Of note: Frontier Orthodoxy

Fr. Oliver Herbel has a new column called Frontier Orthodoxy which looks like it has the potential to be of great interest. There are two posts up now, and my understanding is that he intends it to be a bi-monthly column. That Fr. Oliver reveals in his introductory essay that he is a fencer already means that this is going to be worth watching.

American Orthodox Christian Historiography: The Methodological Problem

It’s not often that I get requests. However, I got one a few weeks ago (scroll down to comment #77 if you want to cut to the chase). Here is my step-by-step attempt to make transparent the methodological points that were being discussed. I look forward to any and all comments.

Update, 18 November 2011: Taken down for the time being. I’ll hopefully have more to say later as to why (but don’t worry, it’s not because anybody sent me nasty letters or any other bad reason like that).

Update, 20 March 2012: Restored, and I’m not going to go into what was going on right this second, except that it’s evident to me that the piece was conceived for this setting and should probably stay in this setting. It’s not worth it to me to go through the rigamarole otherwise for this particular essay.

American Orthodox Christian Historiography:

The Methodological Problem


Richard Barrett

I. Introduction and thesis

The fundamental role of the historian, according to a current introductory text on historiographical methodology, is “to choose reliable sources, to read them reliably, and to put them together in ways that provide reliable narratives about the past” (emphasis in the original).[1] Georg G. Iggers, in discussing how methods of historical writing, and the theories which govern those methods, have developed in the twentieth century, observes that the modern historian faces the problem that there is a “fluid border…between historical discourse…and fiction…but also that which lies between honest scholarship and propaganda.”[2] This problem does not relieve the historian of any responsibility, however; “in the final analysis,” Iggers writes, “every historical work is a literary work which has to be judged by categories of literary criticism,”[3] but nonetheless the “distinction between truth and falsehood remains fundamental to the work of the historian.”[4] Therefore, it may be said that the use of reliable sources is in fact what distinguishes the modern historiographer from the fiction writer or the propagandist. For those who would write the history of Orthodox Christianity in the Americas, then, it is vital to understand not only what constitutes a reliable source, but also how to best use that source, lest the “fluid border” be improperly transgressed.

II. Methodology of sources

A. Definition, categorization, and typology of sources

To begin with, what is a source? Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. suggests that “[s]o multiple is the number of survivals of interest today that it is difficult to find any easy classification system of their nature,”[5] but Howell and Prevenier provide a set of general, useful guidelines. First and foremost,

[s]ources are…those materials from which historians construct meanings… a source is an object from the past or testimony concerning the past on which historians depend in order to create their own depiction of that past.[6]

To this end, Howell and Prevenier offer two broad categories of sources, relics or remains, objects which “offer the researcher a clue about the past simply by virtue of their existence,”[7] and testimonies, “the oral or written reports that describe an event… [which] provide the historian information about what happened, how and in what circumstances the event occurred, and why it occurred.”[8]

Howell and Prevenier continue, describing a three-pronged approach to categorizing written testimonies:

  • Narrative or literary sources. These might include newspaper articles, diaries, memoirs, biographies, or tracts, among others; under some circumstances, possibly novels and poetry as well.[9]
  • Diplomatic sources. These include charters, wills, mortgage agreements, or some other kind of legal instrument intended to either document a contemporary legal reality or to generate a new one.[10]
  • Social documents. Howell and Prevenier classify these as “the products of record-keeping by bureaucracies such as state ministries, charitable organizations, foundations, churches, and schools.”[11]

With respect to oral testimonies, these may take many forms; sagas, folk songs, rituals, protest songs, and interviews, among others.[12]

Types of sources that fall under the classification of relics, that is to say unwritten material sources, are sketched out briefly as including archaeological evidence, currency, paintings, drawings, photographs, and other kinds of imagery.[13]

B. Primary vs. secondary sources

In an examination of what constitutes a source, it is also necessary to discuss the difference between a primary and a secondary source. Berkhofer says that

[historians] believe those sources coming most directly from the times they are researching offer the best clues to those times. Historians emphasize this preference in their research by distinguishing between what they call “primary” as opposed to “secondary” sources.[14]

Broadly speaking, this distinction may be understood as primary sources being contemporary with the period being studied, or sometimes simply the oldest available evidence about the period, and secondary sources being of a later origin, thus having to rely on sources from the former category. Berkhofer does allow that “what is a secondary source for one question may be a primary source for another question… [which] shows the importance of using contemporaneous evidence in historical research that applies to the question asked.”[15] For an immediate example, this paper being a discussion of historiography, the historiographical writings themselves are the primary sources, whereas for the periods and events they discuss, they constitute part of the secondary literature.

C. Reliability of sources

Having established a basic typology of sources for the purposes of this brief discussion, the next question is that of reliability. Per Howell and Prevenier, this is a matter of content and form. Most fundamentally, is the language of the source understandable? Is the provenance, date of origin, and authorship of the source discernible? Finally, is it authentic – in other words, is what it claims to be?[16] These are deceptively simple questions that may require various kinds of technical expertise to answer properly, but an exhaustive examination of this is outside of the scope of this paper.

Once these matters are settled, traditional source criticism then evaluates the following seven internal criteria:

  • Genealogy. Is the document being examined an original? A copy? A copy of a copy? If it is a copy, is there a way to determine its relationship to the original, if an original is even known to exist?[17]
  • Genesis. This is a somewhat less technical question than that of provenance – in this case, what is of interest are the circumstances under which the source was created, by what kind of institution, and with what authority.[18]
  • Originality. Does the text in question borrow from other texts within the contemporary intellectual tradition? If it does borrow, does it do so intentionally?[19]
  • Interpretation. What was in the intended meaning of the source?[20]
  • Authorial authority. What reason(s) does the author have to record the information in the source? Were they an eyewitness to particular events? A newspaper reporter? A monk compiling accounts from pilgrims?[21]
  • Competence of the observer. How trustworthy is the observer’s point of view given various factors, such as psychological state, outside influences, personal biases, et al?[22]
  • Trustworthiness of the observer. To what extent might politics, personal vanity, or other factors shade the reporting of events?[23]

It is necessary to note here that reliability represents a range rather than a binary value, even within a given source; for example, a document may be more reliable about certain events it reports than others.

III. Representative example: Jaroslav Pelikan

With this as a methodological starting point, then, it is useful to examine the work of a known, established historian and to see how they operate within this framework. A natural choice who should be uncontroversial given the audience and context for this discussion, is Jaroslav Pelikan and his magnum opus, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

In his preface to the first volume, Pelikan writes:

This volume is based on a study of the primary sources in the original languages – Greek, Syriac, and Latin. To cite these, I have devised a system of marginal annotation which will, I hope, serve the interests of the scholar and the needs of the student simultaneously, without intruding the apparatus of erudition on the reader who is not interested (not yet interested or no longer interested) in the footnotes. […] The book has also derived much benefit from secondary works, a small number of which are indicated in the Bibliography, where I have given preference to the books from which I have learned the most and to those books which will take the reader to the next level of specialization.[24]

Pelikan subsequently requires nine pages, single-spaced, to list his primary sources for the first volume. With each source typically taking up no more than a single line, this indicates close to four hundred primary sources alone.[25]

Pelikan’s sources belong predominantly to the category established here as testimony, as opposed to relics. This is logical, as he is dealing with a particular kind of intellectual history. Within this category, there are several different types of testimonies, both written and oral, that he adduces as evidence. Some examples:

Literary sources Letters (e. g. The Epistles of Gregory the Great[26])Tracts (e. g. Tertullian’s On Fasting[27])

Memoirs (e. g. Augustine’s Confessions[28])

Biographies (e. g. Gregory the Presbyter’s Life of Gregory of Nazianzus[29])

Poetry (e. g. Ovid’s Metamorphoses[30], Venantius Fortunatus’ Poems[31])

Diplomatic sources The Canons of the Second Council of Constantinople[32]
Social documents Acts of the Council of Chalcedon[33]Prosper of Aquitaine’s Official Pronouncements of the Apostolic See on Divine Grace and Free Will[34]
Oral sources Gregory of Nazianzus’ Orations[35]

It is possible to argue that canons of an Ecumenical Council might be better classified as a social document rather than a diplomatic source; for the purposes of this discussion, canons are understood as a form of lawmaking, certainly one that would have had imperial endorsement, and thus their publication is considered here a legal instrument. Acts of a given Council, however, being the recordkeeping of a social body, as opposed to prescriptions carrying some kind of legal force, have been classified here as a social document.

On the question of how Pelikan judges the reliability of given sources, a useful case is that of his use of the so-called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.  A full discussion of the various issues surrounding Pseudo-Dionysius is outside of the scope of this paper, but it is informative to observe both how Pelikan uses him as a source, and how he does not, starting with the explicit identification of him as Pseudo-Dionysius in the table of primary sources.[36]

Pelikan discusses Pseudo-Dionysius in the context of the rise of mysticism as an important concept in Greek Christianity:

Mysticism became a major doctrinal force with the composition of the works that were published under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite, described in Acts 17:34 as one of the few Athenians who joined Paul and believed. Arising about 500, probably in the Monophysite circles of Syria, the Dionysian corpus soon achieved wide acceptance as a subapostolic (from the death of John of Patmos to the death of the Polycarp, roughly 100 A. D. until 156 A. D.) exposition of how the celestial hierarchy of God and the angels was related to the ecclesiastical hierarchy of bishops and priests with their sacraments. Here the mystical speculations of Neoplatonism and the spirituality of Origen were integrated into Eastern dogma in a way that was to shape the subsequent evolution of doctrine through such movements as the Hesychasm of the fourteenth century. It also shaped medieval Western theology, for the writings of Dionysius formed the basis for the mystical thought of Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas. These developments belong to later periods in the history of Christian doctrine and will be treated there, but the Dionysian system of mystical doctrine is itself an essential part of the story of catholic orthodoxy in the Greek church of the sixth century.[37]

Pelikan answers the questions of provenance and authenticity, while not answering questions that require speculation. Was the Dionysian corpus written under a pseudonym? Yes, but is it possible to know for certain what this meant to the author (or authors)? No – in other words, Pelikan does not ascribe an unknowable motive to Pseudo-Dionysius, but only notes that the writings were accepted by many as something they were not. Thus, while they are not a reliable source for the Apostolic or Sub-Apostolic period, they are nonetheless a reliable, and important, source for the period in which they were written and gained prominence, the sixth century, and this is exactly how Pelikan utilizes these sources.

For a representative example of exactly how Pelikan crafts a historical narrative using only primary sources, this brief passage on prayer is instructive, reproduced here, as accurately as possible, with his unique method of marginal source citation (a matter not entirely solved for purposes of web publishing, however it may have originally looked in Word, so the author begs your pardon for what is acknowledged to be a mean approximation and welcomes suggestions for fixing the formatting):

Just. I Apol.65.1 (Goodspeed 74)Tert.Apol.30.5 (CCSL 1:142)

Tert.Apol.30.6 (CCSL 1:142); Tert.Jejun.16.5 (CCSL 2:1275)

Or.Orat.33.1 (GCS 3:401)

Athenag.Leg.13 (Goodspeed 327-28)

But of course [Christian doctrine] began with, and presupposed, the fact of prayer and its forms. A Christian was a man of prayer. In the apologetic literature, the charge that Christianity was seditious was refuted by reference to the prayers that were offered for the empire and for Caesar. With rhetorical vigor Tertullian turned the tables on the critics with the assertion that it was the very refusal of the church to pray to anyone but God alone that supported Caesar and made him great. “I cannot ask this of anyone except the God from whom I know I shall receive it, both because he alone bestows it and because I have claims upon him for his gift.” This he set into contrast with the ritualism of Roman sacrifice. Reluctant though they were to expose the sacred mysteries of Christian worship to the blasphemous ridicule of their opponents, the apologists did occasionally feel constrained to describe the postures and gestures of Christian prayer as well as some of the content of the invocation, praise, confession, and thanksgiving spoken in public and in private. Significantly, however, the most complete explanations of the doctrine of prayer were reserved for writings addressed to the church.[38]

Pelikan’s citations make clear to the reader that the First Apology of Justin Martyr is the example of “apologetic literature” referenced as refuting the charge of sedition (accessible in Goodspeed’s collection Die ältesten Apologeten[39]), Tertullian’s Apology as well as his tract On Fasting are the sources for his quotes, and Origen’s On Prayer Athenagoras of Athens’ Supplication for the Christians provide the evidence on which he bases the remainder of the excerpt. At no point does he reference a secondary source to support a claim of any substance. A historian seeking to disagree with Pelikan’s narrative must do so on the basis of the primary sources themselves, or through an analysis of other primary sources that provide different information and are set forth as being more reliable, with a compelling argument being made for their greater reliability.

III. Analysis of American Orthodox historiography

With a working methodological basis having been established and a control example discussed, it is possible to discuss the application of these concepts to the historiography of Orthodox Christianity in the United States and North America. This is an area of interest as yet so new as to have few defining examples, but an analysis of some of the attempts thus far may provide some useful working answers to important methodological questions. For purposes of this discussion, three will be examined: “The Myth of Past Unity,” a paper presented by Matthew Namee at the conference Orthodoxy in America: Past, Present and Future held in 2009 at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary,[40] “Jurisdictional Unity and the Russian Mission,” an essay by Fr. Oliver Herbel published on the website Orthodox Christians for Accountability in 2009,[41] and The American Orthodox Church: A History of its Beginnings, a book published in 2003 by George C. Michalopulos and Herb Ham.[42] Both Namee and Herbel have the disadvantage of not currently being available in print, although the former is reportedly preparing his work for publication[43] and the latter is based at least in part on his doctoral dissertation, which is also being prepared for publication.[44] In the case of Namee, reference will be made to the video available of his presentation online.

It should be emphasized here that the analysis of these works is solely on methodological grounds; neither any ideological alignment, nor an endorsement of any particular author’s conclusions, is implied or should be otherwise inferred from these brief remarks.

A. Herbel (2009)

Herbel, by virtue of producing a rather informal reflection for a website rather than an article for an academic publication, has far less of an evident apparatus than would be ideal for this kind of discussion; nonetheless, he clearly interacts with the relevant primary sources throughout the piece, as he also does in its follow-up – indeed, he explicitly notes that “we need to be careful to conclude only what the sources allow us to conclude,“ and encourages readers to seek out and engage the sources themselves.[45]

In particular, he cites the report of St. Tikhon to the Holy Synod of Russia, published in November 1905, provides its publication details as well as two different avenues of locating an English translation,[46] and adduces it as useful evidence both for what it does say and what it does not say:

Furthermore, in the report to the Holy Synod of Russia, which was published in November 1905 and in which St. Tikhon proposed an autonomous diocese, he was simply making a proposal, hoping to address what he saw happening. Nowhere in that report to the Synod of Russia did he treat the Orthodox who were not part of the Russian Mission as schismatics, or uncanonical. He did not complain about foreign bishops adversely affecting his own ecclesiastical prerogatives. He was aware of the relative independence of St. Raphael (1860-1915), who was the bishop of Brooklyn from 1904 until his death in 1915, and oversaw the Syro-Arab community. St. Tikhon also explicitly noted that the Greeks were asking for a bishop from Athens. Tikhon was optimistic and considered it possible that America could become an exarchate of national churches. He did not claim such was already the case. What Tikhon was attempting to do was create canonical order out of a non-canonical situation. For possibly the first time in the history of the Church, several different autocephalous Churches simultaneously viewed their immigrant flocks as missionary outposts in a new land.[47]

Herbel’s reflections, while informal, nonetheless follow a methodology that focuses on evidence provided by primary sources, and this evidence therefore can be verified by reference to those sources.

B. Namee (2009)

Namee’s presentation provides more substance for analysis; being a conference paper, the listener does not have access to his footnotes, but he nonetheless makes clear reference to a variety of relevant sources throughout the presentation.

A general observation that may be made regarding Namee’s methodology is that the secondary literature is not appealed to as evidence in his argumentation; rather, secondary sources represent the arguments he is answering, elaborating, or otherwise engaging. In other words, Namee’s references to secondary works represent the scholarly discussion of the matter at hand to which he is contributing. An example may be found in the quotation of Fr. Alexander Schmemann early in his presentation:

Now, perhaps the most celebrated and often-quoted essay on the subject of Orthodoxy in America was written by Fr. Alexander Schmemann as an introduction to the 1975 book, Orthodox America… In this essay, Schmemann describes a utopian American Orthodox past and the Fall that destroyed it. He wrote, “Unity did exist, was a reality. The first Epiphany of Orthodoxy here was not as a jungle of ethnic ecclesiastical colonies, serving primarily if not exclusively the interests of their various nationalisms and mother churches, but precisely as a local Church meant to transcend all natural divisions and to share all spiritual values.” He goes on to say that “this unity was broken and then arbitrarily replaced with the unheard-of principle of jurisdictional multiplicity, which denies and transgresses every single norm of Orthodox Tradition. This situation which exists today is thus truly a sin and a tragedy.” Now, the view that Orthodox unity in America was broken presupposes some person or persons responsible for the fracture, and besides the obvious Bolshevik culprits abroad, some have pointed the finger at Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis, who spearheaded the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921. […] Now, some scholars have… argued that the Greeks in America were always independent of the Russian hierarchy.[48]

Namee goes on, reviewing from other secondary sources various points of view on the jurisdictional situation in the United States, but these secondary sources, including his reference to Schmemann, are only a jumping-off point for his argumentation, and do not represent principal means of support for his central thesis that administrative separation along ethnic lines existed in American Orthodoxy previous to the Bolshevik Revolution and the formal establishment of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921.

One representative example of how Namee does support his thesis provides a reference to a type of source not yet encountered in this discussion:

In 1890, only two Orthodox churches existed in the continental United States. […] The seven largest cities in America were without an Orthodox church. As for the New Orleans parish, its jurisdictional position was ambiguous. The 1890 U. S. Census describes it as part of the Church of Greece, in connection with the Consulate of Greece in New Orleans, and it was actually founded many years earlier by the Greek Consul in New Orleans. […] Thus, I would argue that it is impossible to speak of any kind of overarching Orthodox unity in America in 1890, there being virtually no Orthodox presence in America to begin with.[49]

In this portion of Namee’s argument, census data, a kind of diplomatic source which is clearly relevant, is adduced as evidence that a parish in New Orleans was administratively under the Church of Greece and not the Russians.

A second example is useful not only for the kinds of sources explicitly referred to but also those implied:

In 1891 – again, there being only two Orthodox churches in the continental United States – there was a growing Greek community in New York City, and it began to organize itself. It formed an organization called The Society of Athena, and this was composed primarily of Greeks from Athens. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that “[s]ince the closing of the Russian chapel, they” – the Greeks – “have found the lack of spiritual aid and counsel to be a great drawback to happiness.” So, in 1891, the New York Greeks wrote to Archbishop Methodius of Syra, Greece. The Baltimore Sun reported, “The archbishop conferred with a dignitary at Athens, and the dignitary at Athens wrote to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Patriarch said, ‘To be sure, they must have a priest; as it is, their souls are in peril.’”[50]

The Sun article is the principal item cited here, with newspaper articles being a common type of literary source employed in historiography of modern times. What is also alluded to, however, are the records of the Society of Athena, which would themselves be a social document – minutes of their meetings, for example. Without Namee’s footnotes, it is difficult to tell for certain, but his transparency otherwise would make it a simple matter to either contact him directly for clarification; presumably the published article will make this clear. In the interest of fairness, it must also be stressed that this is potentially a point where Namee may be critiqued depending on his published footnotes; as a point of direct comparison and a cautionary example, Fr. Nicolas Ferencz also makes reference to the Society of Athena in his book American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism, but the citation he provides is only of a secondary work, Theodore Saloutas’ otherwise fine The Greeks of the United States.[51] That having been said, Ferencz’ work is not primarily a historical study,[52] and may arguably follow a different methodological standard. In any case, it is at least useful to note that this is another kind of source that is employable in this kind of historiography.

Namee explicitly invokes another kind of social document in his paper, the Russian Archdiocese’s own published records:

It is not entirely clear whether the Russian Archdiocese itself even considered the Greeks to be under its own jurisdiction. The Russian Church issued official lists of parishes that they published in 1906, 1911, and 1918; they include no Greek communities.[53]

As with the earlier example of the census data, Namee’s central thesis is supported with a direct reference to a primary source; specifically, that the absence of Greek parishes from the Russian Archdiocese’s own published lists creates doubt as to whether or not the Russians considered those communities to under their authority.

C. Michalopulos/Ham (2003)

Focusing now on Michalopulos and Ham, it must be noted that The American Orthodox Church: A History of its Beginnings has two distinct advantages over Herbel and Namee: it has been published and is thus reasonably available for perusal, and the authors have included their apparatus – that is, they have made extensive use of endnotes and include a bibliography. In many respects, it is therefore easier to make methodological observations about this work than either of the other two examples.

The Acknowledgements section notes the following:

In addition to several primary, secondary, and even tertiary sources, some of which are no longer in print, oral sources have also been used. Those oral sources that have allowed the use their names [sic] for references have been so noted. Others have asked to be quoted only “on background” or only in paraphrase, as they are otherwise unwilling to lend their names for attribution. They are referenced only as “a priest in the Diocese,” or “a highly placed source in the Archdiocese,” or “a layman on the diocesan council” and so forth. […]As a co-author, [Ham] rewrote the initial drafts and crafted the research into its final form. The final product is an example of a collaborative process that joined research methodology with historical writing skills.[54]

Two points of concern are already warranted; first, use of anonymous “background” sources suggests a methodology approaching that of journalism, an approach against which Howell and Prevenier offer caution: “[H]istorians are not reporters or detectives. They are interpreters of the past, not its mediums.”[55]

Second, while interviews may well be legitimate oral sources, exactly what kind of interview serves the purposes of the historian is a matter not to be taken lightly:

The questions asked must be carefully designed, in accordance with an overall plan about the kind of information sought and about the tests of reliability to which it will be subjected; at the same time, however, the interviewer must be flexible, able to shift the terms of the interview to pursue unexpected avenues and avoid dead ends. In general, “hard” interviews can be distinguished from “soft.” In the first – the kind of real value to historians – the interviewer has worked hard to reconstruct the historical situation in which the informant lived in order to get beyond the simple narrative about what did or did not happen. A good interview is one in which the story becomes richer, more nuanced, more understandable in the telling, not one in which guilt or innocence is proved, a cause is vindicated, a person found out. Thus, even an interview constructed as though it were a “fact-finding” expedition is something much more; it is in itself an interpretation, a source that must be analyzed with extreme care.[56]

A certain amount of methodological transparency is required, then, of Michalopulos and Ham regarding the circumstances of the interviews they are adducing as evidence, a transparency which is not evident in their brief treatment in the Acknowledgements.

Setting these concerns aside, however, turning to Michalopulos and Ham’s list of works cited, another more serious issue presents itself. Of the some forty sources listed in the bibliography, the “several primary sources” mentioned in the Acknowledgements are nowhere to be found. Not a single listing is a primary source document of any kind; rather, all works listed belong properly to the category of secondary literature.[57] Perusing the 397 individual endnotes,[58] perhaps thirty may be considered references to primary source documents.[59] Of those thirty, four are patristic references outside of the period being directly examined,[60] and seven are of the type of interview and personal correspondence, anonymous or otherwise, which has already been discussed as being potentially problematic from a methodological point of view, and the aforementioned necessary methodological clarity is not apparent here.[61]

Of the nineteen remaining citations, only nine are cited in such a way as to be useful to the researcher attempting to follow their tracks.[62] For an illustrative example, compare the citation of a memoir with that of a letter:

Fr. Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith (Ben Lomond, Calif: Conciliar Press, rev. ed., 1992), p. 147.[63]

For this source, author, title, and publication information are provided, giving another researcher sufficient information to be able to consult the work themselves. As opposed to:

OCA “Letter on the Retirement of the Metropolitan.”[64]

Here, no useful information whatsoever is provided about how the source may be accessed. For an additional example, note V.5 is a citation of the decision of a court case, an otherwise interesting diplomatic source:

Memorandum on Opinion, Superior Court of Los Angeles: The Church of the Transfiguration et al vs. Rev A Lisin et al, 1948.[65]

This lacks any kind of pertinent publication or volume information that would make this source locatable.[66]

The endnotes also reveal another problem: many sources cited refer to websites that do not exist anymore. For example, note XI.7 tells the reader that “[t]he comments of Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch can be accessed at,”[67] but  an attempt to navigate to that URL reveals that it is no longer in service.

How do these issues of sources impact the argumentation? A significant problem may be illustrated with the following excerpt:

Before 1880, over 85% of the immigrants to the United States had come from Western Europe: England, Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia. After 1880, 80% of all new arrivals came from Southern and Eastern European countries: Italians, Greeks, Turks, Hungarians, Eastern European Jews, Armenians, Poles, Russians, and Slavs. The numbers were staggering. Between 1870 and 1910, more than 20 million immigrants came to the United States. In 1888, more than half a million Europeans arrived in the United States. By 1907, more than one million came into the United States via Ellis Island in New York City. Unlike immigrants from Western Europe who were mainly Protestants, these new immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were primarily Catholics, Jews, and Orthodox Christians.[68]

As Michalopulos and Ham are writing a history of a religion brought to the United States at least in part by immigration, clearly this is important information, a discussion of which should be expected in any reasonable work on the topic. However, not a single source is provided for any of these numbers. Census data is not cited (nor is any census data whatsoever among the nineteen citations of relevant primary source documents in the endnotes), and neither is any secondary work cited as a reference for immigration data. Indeed, the only note for this entire excerpt tells the reader only that “[i]mmigration statistics are often unclear in regards to the Turkish Empire. Syrians, Palestinians, and even Levantine Jews were often designated simply as ‘Turkish’ immigrants,” with no additional corroborative information.[69]

Another problem is demonstrated with this excerpt:

Bishop Alexander [of the ‘Greek Orthodox Church in the United States’ in 1920] realized that the downfall of his patron [Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece] necessitated taking matters into his own hands. He invited “many, if not most” American priests to New York City to organize the “Association of Canonical Hellenic Clergymen,” whose “stated objectives were to preserve the doctrines of the Greek Orthodox Church and to proclaim the independence of the members of the association.” The Holy Synod of Greece took a dim view of this and summoned Alexander to appear before it in Athens. Alexander refused, arguing, “he could not communicate with ‘a degraded clergyman’ [without suffering] [sic] the penalty of his own degradation, in accordance with Canon 11 of the Holy Apostles.”[70]

In this one paragraph, several different primary sources are suggested. Perhaps Alexander’s letter calling for the convocation of the Association still exists in an archive, as might perhaps some kind of mission statement or other document stating the Association’s objectives. Surely the summons sent to Alexander by the Synod is accessible somewhere, as well as Alexander’s note of decline. Perhaps as many as four different sources might be adduced as evidence for the narrative of this paragraph – a paragraph which, as it turns out, only includes two endnotes, both of which refer to the same work of secondary literature (the aforementioned Saloutos book, The Greeks of the United States). In fact, the narrative of the following sixteen pages refers solely to Saloutos in the apparatus, comprising some thirty-three individual, consecutive endnotes. In all frankness, Michalopulos and Ham have effectively done little more than summarize Saloutos in this rather lengthy section, have added little new to the discussion, and in fact by doing so have diminished their own authority to be arguing the book’s central thesis of an Orthodox missionary effort in North America hampered by history.[71]

Unfortunately, as an examination of the apparatus makes clear, this is representative of the methodology throughout the book. Judging strictly by the endnotes, which in the first nine chapters are predominantly references to Saloutos’ work as well as Mark Stokoe’s Orthodox Christians in North America: 1794-1994, it is unclear how much the work may legitimately be considered original historical scholarship.[72] In fairness, it will be conceded that perhaps Michalopulos and Ham do not intend their work to be seen as such, in which case perhaps a title change might be considered for a future edition.

IV. Concluding remarks

With these various examples in mind, then, it is possible to make some basic statements regarding methodology, at least in terms of consultation of sources, in the field of American Orthodox historiography.

  • Languages. While this has not been specifically addressed thus far, it has been an underlying issue at several points. In short, it is probably reasonable to conclude that Modern English is not the only applicable language for this kind of research. Written sources have been discussed which were in Russian and Modern Greek, and it appears likely that Serbian and Arabic are also useful. Depending on the researcher’s particular interests and focus of study, certain dialects of the Native Alaskans might also be necessary, as might Ancient and Byzantine Greek, Latin, and/or Syriac (if a more theological approach is to be taken).
  • Sources. This is the central question of the entire discussion – what constitutes a reliable primary source for this field? In terms of written sources alone, this brief discussion has dealt with letters, minutes and mission statements of social organizations, memoirs, census and immigration data, published lists of churches, public reports, newspaper articles, and court records. This is by no means exhaustive; diaries, bills of sale, real estate records, membership rolls of parishes, baptismal certificates, minutes of parish council/trustee meetings, et al. appear to be other kinds of written sources likely to be encountered. Among unwritten sources, photographs, films, videotapes (particularly for events occurring the last twenty to thirty years), interviews with eyewitnesses, homilies, and public speeches seem reasonable to include on this list. Material sources, the relics discussed at the outset, are also not to be forgotten; church buildings and liturgical furnishings are possible objects in this category, among others. Reliability will have to be determined for a given source on an individual basis using the criteria discussed, along with whatever other technical evaluation might be required for the specific type of evidence.
  • Use of sources. To contrast specific examples from the works analyzed here: Namee, citing census data, was able to demonstrate the existence of an Orthodox parish which administratively belonged to the Church of Greece in 1891, and was subsequently able to weave this point into his greater narrative. Michalopulos and Ham, in using immigration numbers without so much as a secondary source to back them up, failed to make them relevant to their discussion once the reader looked at their apparatus. Sources will always be far more reliable, to say nothing of effective, than assertions.

As a final point – considering the long-term implications of this discussion, it will be crucial to revisit this analysis when both Herbel and Namee have published works to review, as well as at such time as Michalopulos and Ham might decide to revise their book. To be plain, none of the three works discussed here are without disadvantages. Herbel and Namee are available as yet only in online versions – ephemera which, as shown earlier, should make any responsible historian nervous. To analyze their methodology under circumstances that allow their apparatus to be fully transparent is the vital next step of this discussion. Michalopulos and Ham, on the other hand, have the disadvantage of an apparatus far more detailed than their methodology will bear, reaching a level of detail that makes the flaws of the book clearer, it cannot be doubted, than the authors anticipated. It goes without saying that it will be vital to bring other historians of this period and area of interest, as well as their studies, into the conversation.

In conclusion – to revisit Georg Iggers, he discusses the historiographical assumption “that there are objects of historical research accessible to clearly defined methods of inquiry.”[73] To the extent that this assumption is legitimate, these short remarks have been an attempt to contribute to the conversation about how methods of inquiry relative to Orthodox Christianity in the United States may be clearly defined, given that it is a new enough field that it is in many respects undefined. Historians who wish to work in this field, particularly those who are themselves Orthodox Christians, should certainly be encouraged to do so, and to a large extent it is a wide open field for those scholars. Care must be taken, however, that their studies are conducted in a way that represents both good history as well as good Orthodox Christianity. Namee makes reference in his presentation to those historians who would appeal to “the past”;[74] the responsible scholar of Orthodox Christian history in America must do far more than just that.

Works Cited

Berkhofer, Robert F. Jr. Fashioning History: Current Practices and Principles. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

Ferencz, Fr. Nicolas. American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006.

Gibaldi, Joseph. Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5 ed. New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999. Reprint, 2001.

Herbel, Fr. Oliver. “A Response to Some Objections.”

———. “Jurisdictional Unity and the Russian Mission.”

Howell, Martha, and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Iggers, Georg G. Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1997.

Michalopulos, George C., and Herb Ham. The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings. Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003.

Namee, Matthew. “The American Orthodox ‘Historiographical Problem’: Comment 43.”

———. “The Myth of Past Unity.” In Orthodoxy in America: Past, Present and Future. St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York, 2009.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

[1] Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods(Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001), 2.

[2] Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), 13.

[3] Ibid., 10.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Robert F. Jr. Berkhofer, Fashioning History: Current Practices and Principles (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), 6.

[6] Howell and Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, 19.

[7] Ibid., 17.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 20.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 22.

[12] Ibid., 23.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Berkhofer, Fashioning History: Current Practices and Principles, 19.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Howell and Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, 43.

[17] Ibid., 61.

[18] Ibid., 62.

[19] Ibid., 63-4.

[20] Ibid., 64.

[21] Ibid., 65-6.

[22] Ibid., 66-8.

[23] Ibid., 68.

[24] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), x.

[25] Ibid., xiii-xxii.

[26] Ibid., xvii.

[27] Ibid., xxi.

[28] Ibid., xiv.

[29] Ibid., xviii.

[30] Ibid., xx.

[31] Ibid., xxii.

[32] Ibid., xvi.

[33] Ibid., xv.

[34] Ibid., xx.

[35] Ibid., xvii.

[36] Ibid., xvii.

[37] Ibid., 344.

[38] Ibid., 138.

[39] Ibid., xxii; Pelikan’s table of abbreviations for the editions and collections available for his primary sources is found on xxii-xxiii.

[40] Matthew Namee, “The Myth of Past Unity,” in Orthodoxy in America: Past, Present and Future (St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York2009). Online at

[41] Fr. Oliver Herbel, “Jurisdictional Unity and the Russian Mission,”

[42] George C. Michalopulos and Herb Ham, The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings (Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003).

[43] Matthew Namee, “The American Orthodox ‘Historiographical Problem’: Comment 43,”

[44] Fr. Oliver Herbel, “A Response to Some Objections,”

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Herbel, “Jurisdictional Unity and the Russian Mission.”

[48] Namee, “The Myth of Past Unity,” 7:27-10:26.

[49] Ibid. 11:43-13:27.

[50] Ibid., 14:51 – 15:45.

[51] Fr. Nicolas Ferencz, American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006), 130.

[52] As the section titled “Methodology” makes clear; Ibid., 8-10.

[53] Namee, “The Myth of Past Unity,” 28:09-28:28.

[54] Michalopulos and Ham, The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings, viii.

[55] Howell and Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, 60.

[56] Ibid., 27.

[57] Michalopulos and Ham, The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings, 235-7.

[58] Ibid., 215-34.

[59] By this author’s reckoning: III.5, IV.5 and 14, V.5 and 7, VI.41, VII.10, 11 and 16, IX.34 and 35, X.2, 13, 18, 19, 27, and 28, XI.4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 14, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 25, XII.16 and 17.

[60] IV.14, X.13, 18 and 19.

[61] VI.41, VII.11, IX.34 and 35, XI.14, 19, and 21.

[62] III.5, VII.10 and 16, X.27 and 28, XI.4, 6, 9, and 11.

[63] Michalopulos and Ham, The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings, 231, n. X.27.

[64] Ibid., 232, n. XI.22.

[65] Ibid., 221.

[66] For example, see Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 5 ed. (New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999; reprint, 2001), 177.

[67] Michalopulos and Ham, The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings, 231.

[68] Ibid., 19-20.

[69] Ibid., 217, n. II.9.

[70] Ibid., 91.

[71] Ibid., 223, n. 6, 7, et al.

[72] Ibid., 215-28.

[73] Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, 8.

[74] Namee, “The Myth of Past Unity,” 4:27 – 4:34.

So, evidently an encyclopedia is a primary source

Read this and read the comments.

I think the exchange speaks for itself. To echo Fr. Andrew’s comment: Sheesh.

UPDATE: The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas has posted a response to several issues on the comment thread that is worth reading.

“Μπορείτε να ετοιμάσετε ένα Manhattan;”: in which the author is faced with the dilemma of what to do when the bookstore that has everything he wants is actually open

There are a couple of housekeeping things I would like to bring to your attention.

First of all, I would like to congratulate my godchildren Subdn. Lucas and Stacey Christensen on the 20 June 2009 arrival of Theodore Lucas Christensen. He was born the day before Father’s Day, so Lucas’ first Father’s Day as a father was in fact within the first 24 hours of his tenure as a father. Life’s not terrible, huh? Many years to Theodore Lucas and parents!

Secondly, I would like to help spread the word about the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas. This effort appears to being spearheaded by Fr. Oliver Herbel, Matthew Namee, and others, and so far as I can tell, it’s a good, honest, scholarly approach to questions that seem to be largely dominated thus far by ideological wishful thinking. I for one am looking forward to reading Fr. Oliver’s dissertation when it is published; I hope that it will serve to balance works that are out there such as The American Orthodox Church: A History of its Beginnings.

Thirdly, I’d ask your prayers for my stepfather, Joe. He is undergoing some pretty major surgery on 1 July, and as my mom put it, he’s tightly wrapped around the axle about it. So, please, if you think about it, that’d be appreciated.

Okay. Where to begin?

I’ve been gone about three weeks. My previous longest trip abroad (of the three) was something like two and a half weeks. I’ve got five weeks to go.

I’d like to tell you that everything is great, that it’s been a really smooth ride so far, and that pretty much all is going as expected.

This would be a lie.

Now, to clarify, what would also be a lie is to say that things are terrible, I’m having a horrible time, I’m getting nothing out of this trip, I want my mommy, etc. I’m saying only that reality, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated under the best and easiest of circumstances, and that adjusting to a more-or-less totally unfamiliar environment where virtually all of one’s instincts about how things work, what to say, to whom to say it, and so on, are wrong, does not exactly represent the easiest of circumstances. This is, of course, part of the education of this kind of trip, and this means that one way or the other, I will be returning to the United States having learned a tremendous amount. Whether or not it is exactly what I thought I would learn is a different question, but never mind that now. The point is, I haven’t just been thrown into the deep end of the pool; rather, it’s at the very least one of the Great Lakes. (Or maybe the Aegean Sea.) Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, the most familiar thing I encounter here is the Divine Liturgy (even given ecclesiastical Greek as the liturgical language), which is perhaps the least familiar thing for many Americans who travel here.

To put it one way, I will see foreigners in the States for extended periods with different eyes from here on out.

All that having been said, that photo of the Acropolis at the top of this entry is exactly what I see every day on my way to school, as is the Olympic stadium from the 1896 Summer Games. That’s saying something, isn’t it?

I left off last time just before a trip to a nearby beach for Anna’s goodbye party (this would be two Sundays ago, 21 June). At the beach, I had the, er, amusing experience of trying to explain to the bartender, in Greek, how to make a Manhattan. I did so; they didn’t believe me and looked on some recipe card that told them to add orange juice of all things, and I got to pay 7 Euros for the privilege of drinking what I didn’t order (and with Jack Daniels as the whiskey, no less). It wasn’t horrible; it was actually kind of interesting and potentially worth playing with further. It just wasn’t a Manhattan. The next night, for the after-party of Anna’s goodbye party, I more than happily paid 8 Euros for drinks that I knew were made the way I wanted them. (By the way, I have become a fan of the Pomegranate Splash for fruity drinks that don’t just taste like juice with attitude. There’s a bar here in Halandri that makes a very nice one, but I am blanking on the name. I’ll get back to you on that.)

I decided to change up my route to school; rather than walking 15 minutes to catch a bus all the way into Athens and it taking 45 minutes, I now catch a bus from a block away from the house, take it a short way to a metro station, take the metro into downtown Athens, and then a streetcar (“tram”, and you have to say it with a flipped r) to the bottom of the hill where the Athens Centre is located. It can still take a little over an hour, but there’s also the possibility of it taking closer to 40-45 minutes depending on when the bus comes. The tricky thing is that the bus route goes through two different metro stations; the second is theoretically is closer to the destination, but the traffic bottleneck just before that station is horrible in the morning. The first day I went this way I rode the bus all the way to the second station (Katehaki), and got to school about twenty minutes late thanks to the traffic. The second day, I got off the bus at the stop right before Katehaki, and beat the bus there by about fifteen minutes. From the skybridge going to Katahaki Station:

The third day, I just got off at the first metro station (Ethniki Amina), which has turned out to be the best option all around. I regularly get to school now between 9:00-9:15 instead of 9:20-9:40 — and while, as my teacher told me on the first day, “This is Greece, not Germany,” I still prefer being on the early side.

While I will be very curious to see what the system is like once the three metro stations presently under construction are open and everything is running everywhere, I have to say that it’s not bad. For the international traveler, it’s a heck of a deal; you can buy a weeklong pass for 10 Euros that gets you everywhere, or you can buy a monthlong pass for 35 Euros. Couple of things to note about the monthlong pass: you have to provide a photo (four passport photos typically cost 7 Euros at a photography shop), you have to buy it at the beginning of the calendar month, and if you show a student ID, you’ll get it for 18 Euros. The passes are not like the London Underground where there’s a card you keep and top off and use with a card reading system; these are disposable tickets, and to some extent, the system is “on your honor.” You should be able to produce a validated ticket at any time, but I’ve never actually seen anybody checking.

Thursday evening, Giorgos (Anna’s dad) said to me, “Go get your camera. I’m going to take you someplace you’ll like.” He took me to some spots overlooking Athens, as well as Penteli Monastery in, appropriately enough, New Penteli. From the vantage points above the city with the landscape spread out in front of us, Giorgos talked a lot about how really, even twenty to thirty years ago, almost none of the sprawl was here. What are now the suburbs were really separate villages, and the end result of the buildup of Athens into something they want to be a major European city is that people have emptied out the real villages and small towns of Greece. “We Greeks are eating each other, and the reason why is because people are getting rich off of it,” he said.

The monastery is really lovely; I can’t say I’ve ever seen any place quite like it in the States. While we were there, Giorgos pointed out a priest and identified him as a “left-wing monk” named Fr. Timotheos, saying that he’s quite the publicity hound. He didn’t go into a lot of detail, but what I was able to dig up later suggested that he’s more of a nationalist figure than anything. Not quite certain what the deal there is.

A disquieting moment was when we were standing in front of the gates of the monastery, and Giorgos pointed out the bullet holes in the doors from attacks in decades past. He also showed me the following:

“What do you suppose that slit in the wall next to the mosaic is all about?” he asked me. I had to confess I didn’t know.

“That was where they pointed the guns against intruders,” he said.

(Oh, and paging Rod Dreher: the monastery has chickens.)

One thing that would be really difficult to overstate is how there are churches everywhere. Big churches, little churches, medium-sized churches, tiny village chapels. You’ll turn a corner and just see something like this:

Or this:

As I said the other day, when I walked to one church and found they weren’t having Vespers, I was able to walk ten minutes to another church and see what they were doing. Had I been inclined, another 5-10 minute walk would have gotten me to another church. Coming from a country where I have to drive 15 minutes to get to church, and then my next nearest option is an hour and twenty minutes away, it’s remarkable.

Friday morning, I attended a session of the second annual “Greece in the World” conference, with this year’s theme being Byzantine Studies. This particular session was titled “Byzantine Studies and the Orthodox Tradition”; Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon was the moderator, and the speakers were Dimitrios Balageorgos of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, who gave a talk on Byzantine music in today’s educational system, Giorgos Filias of the University of Athens, who spoke on liturgy and the Byzantine tradition, and Archimandrite Nicholas Ioannides of the University of Athens, who spoke on theology and Byzantine tradition.

Now, I can’t tell you what these gentlemen said in their papers, exactly. There were headsets that allowed English speakers to listen to the talks being translated, but let’s just say that the level of translation wasn’t exactly that of the United Nations. I will acknowledge freely that I would not want to be a translator who had to deal with such a particular and specific vocabulary, so I’m not casting aspersions on anybody — that’s just the way it was. Still, there were three big takeaways for me from attending this session:

  1. Catalogs from a lot of academic publishers in Greece on Byzantine topics. Megan, stop rolling your eyes; this is more useful than it perhaps initially sounds, because it gives me an idea of the sources that are out there in modern Greek, and it gives me a sense of the institutions here who are doing Byzantine Studies in one form or another. It will be useful information in trying to determine what good possibilities might be for academic exchange if I’m ever applying for certain kinds of grants and fellowships, in other words.
  2. I officially see Modern Greek as a basic requirement for Byzantine studies, just as Ancient Greek is. There is so much scholarship over here in this field — and why should this make anybody scratch their head? It is their national heritage, plain and simple, and they really regard church history as their own history. You can walk into the equivalent of a Borders here and find the collected works of St. Romanos the Melodist in one volume, in Ancient Greek and Modern Greek on facing pages. I’ve seen it; it’s freaking huge. I am coming to see it as the same as needing to know modern English if you’re going to do American history. If you can’t read texts in the language, you’re cutting yourself off from a mammoth body of work in the field. My instinct, based on my own experience, is that a native English speaker interested in pursuing this path should probably do Ancient Greek before Modern Greek; I don’t know if there’s a consensus on this one way or the other. I think I would have had a much harder time if I had started out with Modern Greek’s periphrastic forms and then tried to see how they related to their Attic ancestors; the way Ancient Greek works actually forced me to learn the grammatical concepts accurately and precisely, which allowed me to make more sense of why Modern Greek does what it does when I got there.
  3. I know the names of some of the players over here. Knowing who Giorgos Filias is, for example, is a good thing for somebody interested in liturgy.

(Unofficial #4: a native English speaker who knew the terminology well enough to do simultaneous translation of these kinds of talks could potentially do very well for themselves.)

In the evening, Giorgos introduced me to his childhood friend, Giorgos. (“And that’s Nicky, Nicholas, Nick, Nick, Nicky, and Nick.”) Giorgos Secundus (or perhaps I should say Dhefteros) is well-read in history and very adept at ancient Greek; we had a lot to talk about, even if my Greek and his English are about on the same level. I told Giorgos Prime (or Protos, I suppose) later that I very much enjoyed meeting him; he got a bit of a smile on his face and said, “Yes, George always has something to say.” I’m not certain what that meant.

Saturday I spent some time exploring Athens and points south. I found Apostoliki Diakonia, the bookstore of the Church of Greece; well, to be more precise, I had found it the previous Monday, but the hours of operation for smaller shops are governed by rules I’m still not sure I understand, and Saturday was the first day I could get over there when they were open.

I can best describe this store by saying that they carry everything that is virtually impossible to get in the States without mammoth effort and economic expenditure. You want an Ieratikon? Check. A Typikon? No problem. The services, the Menaion, Triodion, and Pentecostarion in Byzantine chant bound into real books? You betcha — how many and which edition? A complete Synaxarion? Right this way, sir.

This poses its own set of problems, however, as a moment’s thought should make clear.

In other words — where the heck do you begin????

I mean, okay, you could just buy one of everything. Things are reasonably inexpensive, and it would be a lot less to just buy them here rather than have them shipped.

Except… oh, wait. There’s a 50 pound limit on items of luggage before overweight charges are incurred. And you can only check two items of luggage before you start paying per item. And I have other stuff to get home. And… and… and…

Suddenly you realize there’s only so much you can take back with you before you’re not really making it any more cost-effective and just giving yourself a heck of a lot more to carry — because make no mistake, these books are heavy.

I found myself thinking, I could easily spend hundreds of Euros here, and then have to spend hundreds of more Euros toting it all back home… Ultimately, I just bought a couple of small prayerbooks for now. I will go back later and buy some other things, gifts for a few people and then one or two chant books for my own reference. Other stuff… well, this won’t be my last trip here.

Ack. So many books, so little room in the suitcases.

I had lots of time before Vespers at St. Irene, so I took the train down to Piraeus Harbor. This is where one catches the boats to the various islands; for example, I’ll be going to Aegina from here on 18 July, where I’ll get to pay my respects to St. Nectarios.

There wasn’t a tremendous amount to do down here for somebody who was still a few weeks away from embarking, but I walked around for a bit before heading back. Here’s St. Dionysios Church, right next to the harbor:

And from the front:

Gotta love the Constantinopolitan flag, still flying after all these years… (By the way, in case anybody was wondering, yes, you can find an AEK onesie here.)

I returned to Athens and enjoyed a frappé at Singles, the café behind St. Irene Church, jotting down some notes for later before going into the church at 6:30 for 7pm Vespers.

(Did I mention there are a lot of cats and dogs in Athens? Here’s one at a table near where I was sitting at Singles.)

As I entered the church, I clearly heard Lycourgos Angelopoulos intoning the apichima for Tone 2 (or Second Authentic mode, as I think Arvanitis would prefer I say) and then proceeding to sing the Doxastikhon for “O Lord I have cried”. I guess Vespers actually started at 6 this week. Oops. As it worked out, in the morning for Liturgy I didn’t arrive until the very last doxology before the Trisagion. I’ll live.

Monday I was walking home through Halandri after my chant lesson, and as I passed St. George Church, I was aware of a large reception on the lawn with music, a sit-down dinner, and so on. Is this a wedding reception? I wondered. Then it occurred to me that it was a celebration of Ss. Peter and Paul (29 June), which seems to be a big deal over here. Anna told me that she didn’t know what the Apostles’ Fast was before she started going to All Saints in Bloomington, but the Greeks definitely know what 29 June is. I had seen other signs and posters elsewhere indicating festal services for Ss. Peter and Paul, as well.

This brings me pretty much up to today. I still have a lot to say, but since I’m already nearing 3,000 words for this entry, let’s call this the narrative and the next post will be the analysis and reflection. I need your paper topics by tomorrow, the quiz will be Monday, and the final is scheduled for — wait, where are you going?

More for my own organizational needs than anything else, let’s say that the next post will cover the following:

  • My Greek class, colleagues, classmates, etc.
  • Chanting lessons
  • Some more specifics on the adjustment to an unfamiliar environment, including, but not limited to, the linguistic experience
  • Travel tips, to say nothing of unavoidable realities, for heat-sensitive folks
  • Other cultural observations
  • Anything else that comes to mind

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