The establishment of Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States was largely independent of the Russian Church’s missionary diocese. This was not the case with those parishes created by smaller, but numerically significant immigrants of other Orthodox Christians, including Arabs, Serbs, and Albanians. Each of these immigrations added to the multi-ethnic composition of the missionary diocese, and contributed outstanding personalities to its missionary endeavors. Each formed an integral part of the emerging “Immigrant Church.”
In Canada, unlike the United States, Orthodox immigration was to rural rather than urban areas. The missionary diocese established the first Orthodox parishes in the prairie provinces, and in 1916 a vicar bishop was assigned to this auxiliary see. But the competing pressures of sectarianism, national chauvinism, and charlatans masquerading as Orthodox priests quickly fragmented Orthodoxy in Canada.
Known collectively as “Syrians,” Arab Orthodox immigration to the United States began as early as 1878. By 1895, a sufficiently large community had been organized by the “Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society” of New York to request that a priest be sent from the missionary diocese. In late 1895, Archimandrite Raphael (Hawaweeny), a former professor of Arabic at the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kazan, Russia, arrived to assume his duties as the first Arab Orthodox priest in the United States. By 1905, the much-traveled Hawaweeny had established six other Arab Orthodox immigrant communities in such diverse areas as Nebraska, Quebec, and Massachusetts.
Unlike Greeks or Uniates, Orthodox Arabs often immigrated as families. Their stability, choice of occupations (many were professionals, others lower middle class entrepreneurs who became dry goods merchants), and small numbers (only 25,000 by 1917) facilitated their rapid acculturation and assimilation in America.
Arab immigration to North America increased after the 1908 imposition of compulsory military service throughout the Ottoman Empire. Under the pastoral guidance of the missionary diocese, the number of Arab parishes increased fourfold in the period from 1905-1915 (from 6 to 24). In large part this was due to the leadership of Hawaweeny, who was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop by Archbishop Tikhon of the American diocese in 1904. Following Hawaweeny’s untimely death in 1915, Archimandrite Aftimios (Ofiesh) was elected and consecrated by the American diocese to replace Hawaweeny as bishop of its Arab parishes throughout North America.
Early Serbian immigrants to America helped establish the first Orthodox parishes in the United States in New Orleans (1864) and San Francisco (1868). Their numbers were eventually supplemented by a large immigration of ethnic Serbs from Ottoman-ruled Kosovo and Macedonia (rather than Serbia proper) between 1890 and 1915. Immigration was not a new experience for Serbs. In their poverty-stricken homeland the tradition of “pecalba”—a temporary sojourn abroad to earn money—was already an established custom. The Serbian immigrant community in America before World War I was never large (40,000 by 1917). It was reduced by the return of thousands of Serbs to fight in the Balkan Wars, and later in World War I. The subsequent creation of Yugoslavia in the aftermath of the conflict, the promise of a better life in the new state, and new, restrictive American immigration laws discouraged further Serbian immigration until after World War II.
The first distinctly Serbian Orthodox parish in the United States was founded in a mining camp in Jackson, California, in 1892 by Archimandrite Sebastian (Dabovich). The son of one of the earliest known Serbian immigrants to the United States, and the “English Preacher” of the San Francisco cathedral of the missionary diocese, Dabovich established other multi-ethnic Orthodox parishes up and down the West Coast, including in Seattle and Portland. In Bishop Tikhon’s 1905 plan to ordain ethnic auxiliary bishops, the Serbian administration of the American diocese (whose parishes were located mainly in the steel centers of western Pennsylvania and the greater Chicago area), were to be united in a “Serbian” Diocese of Chicago under Dabovich. The repeated postponement, and ultimate failure, of the plan, among other concerns, led an assembly of Serbian parishes in 1913 to propose leaving the jurisdiction of the American diocese and joining the Metropolitanate of Belgrade (Serbia). Belgrade, however, did not reply. Dabovich, an American, eventually emigrated to Serbia to serve as a Serbian military chaplain during the First World War. He died in Yugoslavia in 1940.
Through good will on both sides, including a promise by the missionary diocese to reserve four pages of its monthly newspaper, The Russian-American Messenger, for the Serbian Administration, relations between the multi-ethnic diocese and its 19 Serbian parishes were fully restored by 1916. In 1919, the American diocese, unable as planned to consecrate Archimandrite Mardary (Uskokovich) as bishop for the Serbian parishes in America due to the Russian Revolution, sent Mardary to Belgrade for ordination. The newly-elected Serbian Patriarch Dimitriye decided to make Mardary the head of Rakovitsa Monastery instead. After repeated pleas by the Serbian-American parishes, the Patriarch sent Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich) to America in his place. Bishop Nicholai, one of the most famous of modern Serbian bishops for his preaching, pastoral ministry, and spiritual writings (and who has been venerated as a saint in several Serbian monasteries since 1987), served for two years, until he was replaced by Bishop Mardary in 1926.
Although Orthodox Christianity has existed in Albania since the second century AD, and the Orthodox historically constitute 20 percent of the population of Albania, the first Orthodox liturgy in the Albanian language was celebrated not in Albania, but in Massachusetts. Subsequently, when the Orthodox Church was allowed no official existence in communist Albania, Albanian Orthodoxy survived in exile in Boston (1960-1989). It is a curious history that closely entwines Albanian Orthodoxy with the Bay State.
Between 1890-1920, approximately 25,000 Albanians, the majority of them Orthodox Christians from southeastern Albania, emigrated to the United States, settling in and around Boston. Like many other Orthodox immigrants, they were predominantly young, illiterate, male peasants. Like so many other Balkan immigrants, a large number (almost 10,000) returned to their homeland after World War I.
Since the second century AD, the liturgical services, schools and activities of the Orthodox Church in Albania had been conducted in Greek. Those Albanian Orthodox, who, in the fashion of nineteenth- century Balkan nationalism, sought to recreate their church as an “Albanian” rather than “Greek” body, were frequently excommunicated by the Greek-speaking hierarchy.
Nationalist fervor ran high in Albanian immigrant communities in North America. When, in 1906, a Greek priest from an independent Greek parish in Hudson, Massachusetts, refused to bury an Albanian nationalist, an outraged Albanian community petitioned the missionary diocese to assist them in establishing a separate Albanian-language parish within the missionary diocese. Theofan (Fan) S. Noli (1882-1965), an ardentAlbanian nationalist and former parish cantor, was subsequently ordained in February 1908 by a sympathetic Metropolitan Platon to serve this new Albanian parish. Noli went on to organize five additional Albanian parishes, mainly in Massachusetts, as an “Albanian Orthodox Mission in America” under the auspices of the American diocese.
Noli later emigrated to Albania, served as the Albanian delegate to the League of Nations, was consecrated Bishop and Primate of the independent Orthodox Church in Albania in 1923, and even served briefly as Prime Minister of Albania until he was overthrown in a coup (1924). After years in exile in Germany, Noli returned to the United States in 1932, studied at Harvard, translated Shakespeare into Albanian and Orthodox Scriptures and services into English, and led the Albanian Orthodox community in this country until his death in 1965.
Although Jews from Romania arrived in the United States as early as the 1880’s, Orthodox Christian Romanians began arriving in North America in large numbers only after 1895. By 1920, it was estimated that 50,000 Romanian Orthodox had arrived. In the Romanian case, religious and linguistic oppression may be added to the general Eastern European incentives for immigration. In 1867, the Hungarian rulers of Transylvania began a program of enforced “Magyarization” among the indigenous Romanian population. It is not surprising that a majority of Romanian “new immigrants” came from this area and two neighboring indigenous Romanian regions, Banat and Moldova, which were both at that time outside the borders of the Kingdom of Romania. Following the incorporation of Transylvania and Moldova into the Kingdom of Romania after World War I, more than two-thirds of these immigrants (some 30,000) returned to their newly-expanded homeland.
The exceptionally transitory nature of the Romanian immigration and its geographic dispersion throughout North America did not encourage the establishment of ethnic Romanian Orthodox parishes. Rather, in a parallel to the Methodist circuit riders of the Old West, the Romanian community’s spiritual needs were met by itinerant priests from Romania who travelled throughout the American Midwest and Canadian prairie provinces, performing funerals, marriages, and baptisms.
Following the Greek pattern of requesting priests from the old country, the first Romanian Orthodox parish in the United States was established in Cleveland in 1904, with a priest from the Archdiocese of Sibiu (Transylvania). The first Romanian parish in North America had been established two years earlier in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Between 1904 and 1920, an additional twelve parishes reporting to Sibiu were founded in the Midwest, while six others reporting to the Metropolitan of Moldova were established in rural Saskatchewan. Orthodox Christian gypsies, for the most part of the “Rom” tribe, also found a tenuous home in these Romanian Orthodox parishes.
Other Slavic Immigrations
The small numbers of Belarussian, Cossack, Ukrainian, and Russian Orthodox immigrants in this period did not establish their own parishes, but were generally assimilated into the familiar Slavic parishes of the American diocese. The Bulgarians and Macedonians, the majority arriving after the Macedonian insurrection of 1903, followed the Greek pattern of establishing their own parishes with priests obtained from the old country. The first Macedonian-Bulgarian parish in the United States was established in 1907 in Madison, Illinois.
Orthodox Immigration to Canada
The Bukovinians, Ukrainians, and Russians, among others who arrived in the prairie provinces—Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta—in the 1890’s were quite different from the Slavic immigrants to the United States. These Canadian immigrants came as families, as settlers in search of new farmland, rather than as transient workers.
The 250,000 Slavic immigrants (Orthodox and Greek Catholic) to rural Canada between 1890 and 1914 received land and government assistance to turn the barren plains into fertile homesteads. In addition, to encourage stability, federal and provincial authorities offered up to 100 acres to every ethnic community that would erect a parish church within three years. As in the United States, though, these new immigrants received little welcome from their Protestant and Catholic neighbors.
The first Orthodox church in Canada was erected through the efforts of the missionary diocese, in the words of its cornerstone, “on June 4, in the year of our Lord, 1898, during the reigns of the Emperor of all Russia, Nicholas II, and the Queen of Great Britain, Alexandra-Victoria.” It was built not by Orthodox immigrants, but by a community of Greek Catholics who, like their co-religionists in the United States, had converted to Orthodoxy.
Unfortunately, the missionary diocese did not have enough priests to staff these newly-converted, almost-converted, and immigrant Orthodox parishes springing up in rural Canada. In 1902, a self-styled cleric claiming to be an Orthodox bishop appeared in Winnipeg, offering to ordain priests for these communities. In two years “Metropolitan Seraphim” attracted more than 30,000 followers and ordained more than 50 “priests” in his “Independent Greek Orthodox Church.”
The confusing situation in rural Canada between Orthodox, Greek Catholics, and “Seraphimites” often led to open hostilities. Fr Constantine Popov, a priest sent by the American diocese to deal with the chaos wrote of one incident: “The Seraphim followers threatened me many times. Once they hunted me with rifles, but by some intuition I left the hut where I had been staying two hours earlier than I had planned. When the armed pursuers broke in, I was already on my way..”
Seraphim’s “Church” eventually collapsed, and his hapless parishioners scattered to various Orthodox and non-Orthodox bodies. Though the missionary diocese went on to establish more than 50 parishes in the next decade, and appointed an auxiliary bishop to oversee them, the damage had been done. Even the fragile canonical and administrative unity achieved in the United States through the American diocese was never realized in Canada.
 Orthodox America, p. 71.