Posts Tagged 'society for orthodox christian history in the americas'

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.


“Encounter” vs. “reception” vs. solutions looking for problems

As has been our custom for the last seven years, New Year’s found me and Flesh of My Flesh in the company of our dear friends Benjamin and Paul for a long weekend of food and movies. We all started out in Bloomington at about the same time, and we all converted to Orthodox Christianity within a year of each other. During academic year ’05/’06 Benjamin and Paul were roommates, and for all intents and purposes there was something of a miniature commune between our two residences, with at least one shared meal virtually daily at either our place or theirs. When they both departed for broader horizons in summer of 2006 — Benjamin to take an adjunct voice teacher position at his alma mater in Cleveland, Paul to pursue different opportunities in New Jersey — we made a point of continuing to spend New Year’s together, and save for ’10/’11 when Megan was in Germany for the year (and therefore I was overseas visiting her for the New Year), we have done so every year since. ’06/’07 and ’07/’08 were in Cleveland, ’08/’09 was here in Bloomington, and then this time we all made the trek out to New Jersey, since Paul has always been good enough to come out to see us in past years. This year the menu was French food, largely inspired by Benjamin and Paul’s respective travels; the films included The King’s Speech (I’d seen it before; it’s good but I can’t say I found it life-changing or worthy of Best Picture) and The White Countess (excellent on every level, and I was left wondering why in the world I’d never heard of it before). I also had the pleasure of introducing Paul to the Steven Moffat/Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman Sherlock, and I have to say that I have yet to show anybody the first fifteen minutes of “A Study in Pink” who hasn’t both been glued to their chair for the rest and bugging me for the next two or three days about watching the other two episodes. This means I’ve seen “A Study in Pink” now about ten times, but that has yet to be a problem. I will have to write later about how Steven Moffat, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Matt Smith have gradually taken over such TV viewing habits as I have; suffice it to say for the time being that I’m not pleased that I will have to wait until May for “A Scandal in Belgravia” and God-only-knows-when for Series 7 of Doctor Who.

A visit to Paul’s current parish Sunday morning was interesting for a number of reasons. Among them was the choir situation; they appear to be quite blessed with a volunteer choir that can pretty much sing whatever the director puts in front of them, and the director himself is a very capable conductor. He’s given them all very thick binders with multiple options for everything, and he apparently chooses everything on the fly during the service based on whom he happens to have that particular morning. He’s not shy about giving them tougher stuff, either, or about making some, uh, unorthodox musical choices, like Sarum chant and William Byrd.

We had, to say the least, a lively conversation following the Divine Liturgy, prompted in no small part by the director’s mention of the recent publication of the Suchy-Pilalis first Nativity Canon. He brought it up, mentioned that he saw that it was a new melody composed using Byzantine principles for the Lash translation, and I was about to say, “Yes, it’s great work that is one of a few things like that pointing the way forward” when he surprised me with his adamant insistence that it was nonsense. He asserted rather bluntly that composing for English texts using Byzantine compositional principles is no better than keeping an existing melody, whiting out the Greek, and shoehorning in the English. He said over and over again that you absolutely cannot do that — I think he may have even called it “unconscionable” that anybody would think that it’s an acceptable approach. His stance was that Byzantine compositional principles assume an inflected language with particular stress patterns for particular kinds of cadences, and that English doesn’t work that way, so it’s just another way of shoehorning English texts into a context they were never meant to fit. Plus, he said, even if you recompose for English, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re talking about a musical idiom that has zero cultural resonance whatever for the native English speaker, and thus utterly fails in terms of mission. In all fairness, he didn’t really single out Byzantine chant; he seemed to be suggesting that virtually all received forms of Orthodox liturgical music need to be consigned to the dustheap for purposes of English. If they’re going to survive at all, he said, they need to be adapted “organically” for purposes of a culturally American, English-language context, but even when pressed it seemed unclear exactly what he had in mind.

I found myself even more perplexed when it came to what he saw as a better alternative. He was as unsympathetic to the idea of using existing American vernacular musical idioms as a starting point as he was to anything else; “You’re just arbitrarily historicizing something else that way,” was his response. He made it clear that he wasn’t suggesting that we look to Eminem for a example of what “the music of the people” might sound like, but exactly what he thought we should be looking to was never articulated precisely.

He also had unmitigated wrath for anybody who might preserve any kind of Jacobean-style English, arguing that the style has the exact opposite effect from what it was intended to have. Thees and thous were supposed to be familiar, he said, and we now use them to distance ourselves from God and place him higher than ourselves rather than to address him with intimacy. Megan tried to express some appreciation for the style and he would have none of it; “You want Christ’s crucifixion to be meaningless just so you can have your thees and thous!” he told her. (A friend of his started to intervene at this point, only to have him yell, “WE’RE NOT ARGUING!”)

Now, lest I be misleading, I should say that while I intensely disagree with this gentleman on a number of points, he was — believe it or not — good-natured and friendly throughout the conversation, and very well-informed on the whole. There were a couple of things he said where I’m not sure where he’s getting his information, but it’s safe to say that our disagreements are generally informed disagreements, and those are the kind I’d rather have with people.

Megan also asked him, “Why do we need to reinvent the wheel when the wheels we have have done pretty well in every other situation for at least the last 1500 years?” His answer? “Good question. Because those wheels don’t travel on our roads.”

Because those wheels don’t travel on our roads.


Matthew Namee’s recent piece over at SOCHA, “Toward and American Orthodox historical narrative”, looks to the concept of “encounter” as a way of talking about American Orthodox history — “Encounter between Orthodoxy and the West; encounter between long-isolated Orthodox ethnic groups; and encounter between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox.” He expands on the notion of the encounter with the West using Orthodox youth as an example:

From the beginning, American Orthodoxy has struggled to retain its young people. It didn’t help that, for decades (and in some churches, up to the present) Orthodoxy was treated as more of a cultural artifact than a living faith. Old languages were preserved, and English was resisted, and most young people didn’t care about the misguided justifications for using only Greek or Slavonic or Arabic or what have you. Who wants to worship in a language they can’t understand? And no matter how beautiful a language is, if the people can’t understand it, it has failed in its fundamental purpose: to communicate meaning.

He wraps up the “encounter with the West” idea thus:

We encountered the West, and we didn’t know what in the heck to do with it. We weren’t prepared. We flailed about, dancing with the Anglicans, wallowing in our nominalism, ordaining every male American convert who expressed the faintest interest in the priesthood. All too often, we have lacked a vision for our mission in America, and even our identity as the Apostolic Church — the Church. Sentimentalism, ethnic pride, a desire for acceptance, a pleasant feeling of surprise when we are accepted — these things all can be good, and they can have their place. But they can also be our downfall.

The “encounter with the West” notion seems to agree with this New Jersey choir director that “those wheels don’t travel on our roads”. What we had doesn’t work here, and the more we try to make it work here, the more it underscores how badly it doesn’t work here. From a musical point of view this problematizes the whole notion of a “received tradition”; you can’t speak of a “received tradition” when nobody’s receiving it. This appears to be what the New Jersey choir director is getting at: reception isn’t happening, and the more you try to make the existing idioms get along with our language and culture, the more it emphasizes that it can’t be done.

As far as Matthew Namee’s piece goes — I like a lot of what he has to say, and I think what he has to say about the dangers we’ve set up for ourselves with convert clergy being ordained too lightly and too quickly is probably exactly right. Still, there are some over-generalizations that bother me. The language issue — and I’m not even going to go near the bit about the “fundamental purpose” of language, because that’s a significantly complicated matter — certainly gets its exercise in almost any conversation about this stuff, but the flipside is the phenomenon I’ve seen of people who’ve grown up in parishes where a non-vernacular liturgical language is preserved and for whom hearing the services in English is a cheapening experience. It’s great that it’s in English, it’s great that I can understand this or that part of the service, they say, but… something’s wrong. It sounds like English, but it doesn’t sound like church. What I have come to understand from what I’ve experienced in non-English parishes is that, for a significant portion of cradles, it matters that the language they hear in church is the language in which they remember hearing their grandmother pray. It matters because liturgy builds, maintains, and transmits religious identity, and to the extent that liturgy feels like a “family affair” in a broad and a narrow sense of the term, it’s going to be difficult for such people to separate their earthly family from their church family. I recently met an older Greek-American who lives here in Bloomington and was part of what became All Saints in the early days but who declined to continue to be part of it when the community incorporated under the Antiochians. He said, rather bluntly, “Forgive my ethno-centrism, but I just can’t do it. What a Greek person gets out of going to a Greek church is very personal, and it’s not something you can just transplant or translate.” A somewhat more flippant Greek-American friend of mine recently put it, “So often, you just want to say, ‘American Orthodoxy — you’re doing it wrong.'”

But let’s be honest — that’s what’s at the core of King James-style English, too. Even we as English speakers want church to sound like church. That’s the Lord’s Prayer the way we were taught it as kids — once again, the way we we remember hearing our grandmother pray. And the New Jersey choir director is right, sometimes that means the meaning has shifted — take the Paschal greeting the way it’s typically rendered into English: “Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!” And we hear things about how that means that Christ is risen now, today, that it’s an ongoing reality — but that’s not actually what “is risen” means. “Christ is risen” is an archaic way of saying what we would now express in English as “Christ has risen”. It’s a perfect tense — think the Christmas carol “Joy to the world” — “The Lord is come“. It’s still the way you do perfect tenses in German — “Christus ist auferstanden!” — but in English it’s an archaicism, and one we don’t readily grasp as being so. If you translate Χριστὸς ἀνέστη literally, it’s something like “Christ rose”; it’s an aorist tense, past time and simple aspect — the narrative past tense, if you like, which establishes it as a once-and-for-all historical event, which is something very different from understanding “Christ is risen” as being in the present tense. But if we started saying “Christ arose!” on Easter, I’m guessing it really wouldn’t work for most people.

If archaic language is keeping youth out, but English isn’t necessarily solving the problem, then there is more of an issue here, and maybe Namee gets more to the point when he says that Orthodox Christianity “didn’t know what the heck to do” with the West.

Here’s what I think is the hard reality: Orthodox Christianity in the United States, at least as presented up to this point, is a solution looking for a problem.

I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that Americans, by and large, have no interest in being part of Holy Russia, have no interest in re-establishing the Roman Empire, and have no real interest in Russian or Greek cultures except when they can get good poppyseed rolls or have a gyros while watching some kids re-enact Zorba’s dance. Yes, fine, we all know that. Americans want to be Americans.

But you know what? From what I’ve seen, I don’t think Americans, for the most part, have any particular interest in being part of “the one true Church” either. America, like it or lump it, is culturally Protestant, and as soon as you start using that kind of language, you’re already making assumptions that were rejected by our forebears centuries ago. Most Americans are not looking for a “more authentic” liturgical experience; most Americans are not looking for anything “traditional” or that constitutes a “deeper Christian spirituality”, or whatever the other buzzwords are that we all like to use. I have seen with my own eyes what can happen when certain kinds of American Protestants try to speak in that language, and the result is something like theatre for the deaf. Americans, at least some of them, can be well aware of the consequences when those elements of Christianity with even the vaguest of historical roots are traded for a mess of pottage, and in a way this can be seen as a manifestation of the same problem as language — church seems too distinct from your everyday life, which might be a problem, but in updating, it loses an important distinction from everyday life, and thus there ceases to be a compelling reason to go. But, by and large, these are pretty rarefied problems from the standpoint of most Americans trying to figure out where they might go to church on Sunday morning. Even the apparent cultural impulse in which Orthodox Christianity subsists of gilding and ornamenting the things you love and think are important falls totally flat in a culture that thinks you need to strip the things you care about down to bare essentials. As marketed and described, at least, Orthodox Christianity, frankly, is just in the wrong key for American culture, no matter what melody you try to write in that key. It may very well be what America needs, but that’s something completely different.

Orthodox Christianity, in order to succeed in any kind of an American mission, doesn’t first and foremost need to find a musical idiom that will have cultural resonance, it doesn’t first and foremost need to be in English, and it doesn’t first and foremost need a simpler liturgy or reduced vestments or married bishops or anything like this. I have a lot more faith in what has been passed down than that — those things have survived this long under wars and occupation and servitude and so on, and I’m not convinced that America is a worse threat than any of those issues. Does Orthodox Christianity need to preach the Gospel, Christ crucified? Yes, but it’s going to be painfully obvious in doing so that we’re not the only ones who are, and being “the one true Church” isn’t going to sufficiently elevate us over the competing ambient noise, I don’t think.

What Orthodox Christianity needs to do is actually have a way of addressing real problems real people have rather than thinking that Joe Average is going to care about Arianism or Iconoclasm. I think I’m on safe ground in saying that most people don’t think they have a “true Church” problem. Most people don’t think they have a liturgy problem or a filioque problem. Most people these days are just trying to get through the day with some amount of sanity and dignity and without going broke, and when they go to church they want to feel like they’re getting comfort of some kind. Solace. Some sense of belonging, of acceptance of and respite from their daily struggle the rest of the week. Some sense that God’s in control even if they’re not.

How does Orthodox Christianity do this? I don’t know. Our services don’t really do catharsis, and I don’t think we’ll serve ourselves or anybody else well to try. I don’t think we do it via self-conscious “accessibility” efforts; I could say something really obvious and pithy like, we have to do it by loving other people, and while that’s true, what does that look like so that, as C. S. Lewis might have put it, in aiming for it, the ecclesial, liturgical, and spiritual issues get thrown in? Certainly organizations like IOCC and OCMC already perform valuable social services and missions and so on, but the narrative of “Orthodoxy doesn’t do those things” already exists, rightly or wrongly, and efforts in those areas are seen as confirming their scarcity rather than speaking to their abundance or efficacy.

By the way, what I’m not arguing here is that we somehow need to come up with a “strategy”. I’m actually trying to say that the strategies we’ve come up with up to this point aren’t actually accomplishing what we think they should be. Some of you may recall that over a year ago, I was trying to get an Orthodox IU alumni association going. Well, we put together a mailing list of 500 people, and somebody got involved who himself had a lot of experience at what he called the “science” of marketing and fundraising. He gave a lot of specific advice about what the mailing should and should not do and look like, and what actually went out in the mail, even though it bore my signature, was more based on his concept than mine. In any event, he believed very strongly that what we sent out should have really grabbed a lot of attention and gotten a lot of people involved. It was a well-strategized effort, to say the least — and there was absolutely zero response. Zero. The strategy accomplished nothing. Why? Again, because we were a solution looking for a problem — for a good chunk of the people we were trying to reach, there would be no association of Orthodoxy with their time at IU because there was no church here in those days. There would be no reason for them to be sold on an Orthodox alumni association if they were already members of the regular alumni association and didn’t have any particular already-established goodwill towards the parish here. Strategies do nothing if you aren’t actually addressing an issue somebody has, unless you’re Steve Jobs, in which case you are magically able to convince people they need something they’ve never heard of before. Orthodoxy in this country has not had a lot of luck being Steve Jobs, although the reason why he was so good at it was because the designs produced under his name were useful and elegant and beautiful. We haven’t yet convinced ourselves that we have the resources to do all three of those things the way they would actually need to be done.

To come back to liturgy and music — I myself do not play to English exceptionalism. English is important, yes, sure, fine, but catering to it to the extent of throwing out large chunks of historical practice with the justification that we have to do it because it’s English can hardly be priority zero. (I’ve already said what I think about the textuality of the liturgy.) I don’t hear anybody arguing that icons need to look more like Norman Rockwell painted them. I think the wheels we have do travel on our roads — I think the simple fact is that we aren’t building the wheels well enough for the most part. If we’d actually build them as designed with skill and attention to quality, they’d work just fine. We need to do what we do and what makes us distinctive as well as we possibly can, not decide for everybody else that they won’t like it anyway. What form of music will play in Peoria is, honestly, a side issue. If the Orthodox Church can actually reach an average person in Peoria who is struggling with just getting through the day, love that person unconditionally, and proclaim the Gospel to that average person in a way that sticks, then that person isn’t going to care that the music is Byzantine chant — rather, he or she will associate that music with the difference that is made in his/her life. (That’s something I have seen, I should hasten to add.) If we don’t take our own practices seriously enough to do them well and with care, then such a hypothetical person will sense that we don’t care about them, and he/she won’t care about them either.

Anyway — all of that is to say, Orthodoxy in America as a solution looking for a problem. Discuss.

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.

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