A Catechism and its Connections

Embassy-Emigrants-EnglishmenOn Thursday I travel to England to promote the publication of a book I have been editing for the past two years: Embassy, Emigrants and Englishmen, The Three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London. It is a remarkable work and I think the first book to give a continuous narrative of Orthodox history in the West over several centuries. The center point of the book is London, but connections to the story of Orthodoxy in America are numerous. Some of these are explicit in the text, but I want to draw out one nugget here and add my own research to demonstrate American links.

On page 103 we read:

On February 28, 1858, Count Tolstoy [in Russia] acknowledged receipt of a notebook from Father Popoff [priest of the Russian church in London] that contained “a translation of D. Wiese’s letters on English education and extracts from various articles by the so-called Oxford movement. I have also received Metropolitan Platon’s catechism translated into the English language.”

So it wasn’t the priest in London, but some unknown person who sent Count Tolstoy the catechism. Most probably this would have been the future Fr Stephen Hatherly, an English convert to Orthodoxy who had been received into the Church by Fr Popoff in London in 1856. Hatherly would later go on to try and establish a church in New York City in 1884.

Hatherly also had contacts with the Greek Orthodox community in Manchester (in the north of England) that began in the 1840’s. The catechism of Metropolitan Platon (a 18th century Russian Bishop) was actually published by the Greek community in Manchester in 1857. Manchester at this time seems to have been a hub of Orthodox publishing and the archives of the Greek Orthodox parish in New Orleans contain a number of items from there. It is also possible that some of the earliest icons in New Orleans came from Manchester. The community in New Orleans celebrated their 150th anniversary a few weeks ago and is the oldest continuously functioning Orthodox parish in the lower 48. The founding members of both the Manchester and New Orleans parishes mostly hailed from the Greek island of Chios and shared common business interests in the cotton trade.

Now, why would a Greek speaking community translate a Russian Bishop’s catechism into English? Because they didn’t; it was translated first into Greek and reworked by Adamantios Korais and then rendered in English by a member of the Manchester community. Korais was a leading figure in the war for Greek Independence in the 1820’s. He had been a classmate as a boy with the future St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, compiler of the Philokalia. Korais was himself a devout Orthodox Christian. He writes in his introduction to the catechism: All the commandments are founded on the dogmas; and if the believer lay not this good foundation, the building which he erects will always be unstable and tottering.

Now, way back in 1787, Korais was in Paris and was introduced at a party to one Thomas Jefferson. The mutual friend effecting the introduction was John Paradise, the Orthodox son-in-law of Philip Ludwell III, the first Orthodox convert known in the Americas. Jefferson went on to correspond with Korais for the rest of his life. This past summer I did some work in Jefferson’s library at Monticello in Virginia. The librarian there told me that the sources suggest Jefferson was particularly fond of Korais’ work and that he actively sought out anything that he published. Did that include Platon’s catechism in its Greek edition?

Would love to write more, but the day job beckons.

One comment:

  1. I look forward to tuning in to this blog, Nicholas – am an historian at heart.
    All categories of Orthodox History look interesting. Very little is known or
    published on this subject in this country.
    Many thanks!

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