“Calling to Remembrance…”
So far, I have not discovered the name of this ‘Syrian’ Orthodox priest but he may well be the first Orthodox priest to serve in Boston. Hopefully some record of his name will turn up.
The earliest recorded visit of an Antiochian Orthodox priest to Boston however, is in March 1894 when Archimandrite Christopher Jabara, of Damascus [pictured here from a Boston Globe etching] visited briefly. Fr. Christopher was one of the first priests of the Antiochian Patriarchate to come to the United States. He arrived here on his own and settled in New York in 1892 to minister to the newly arriving ‘Syrian’ Orthodox immigrants he found there. Together they established a home chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets, which became the first ‘Syrian’ Orthodox ‘church’ in America, the origin of St. Nicholas Cathedral of Brooklyn.
Fr. Christopher’s visit to Boston was prompted by his interest in inner-religious dialogue. Turns out he was quite a colorful fellow with some rather un-orthodox views. He spoke at the “Parliament of the World’s Religions” in Chicago six months earlier where, among other things, he stated that; “Columbus discovered America for the whole world and discovered a home for the oppressed of all nations. As Columbus discovered America, so must Americans show the people of all nations a new religion in which all hearts find rest.” He envisioned a new syncretic religion that combined the basic tenants of the three major faiths. He authored a book entitled “The Unity of Faith and the Harmony of Religions” in which he promoted his view that the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran were all part of one historical continuum expressing one Divine revelation. He wrote, “I think and I believe that when the Gospels and the Koran …. are reconciled…. all humankind will become brethren in worshiping the true God and following Christ, the savior of the world”.
According to a Boston Globe report, he “came to Boston especially as a center of Unitarianism where the tenants of religion and the principles of his mission can be sifted and appreciated.” There were about one hundred ‘Syrian’ immigrants living in Boston at the time and although there is no record of Fr. Jabara meeting with or providing religious services for members of the community it is highly likely that he did have contact with his fellow countrymen here.
The lack of reception for his un-orthodox religious views by his fellow Orthodox soon caused Fr. Jabara to abandon his community in New York and leave America. It is reported that he fell into disfavor with his bishop in Beirut and left the priesthood. He was seen in 1896 living in Egypt. He eventually reconciled himself to the Church and died peacefully in Lebanon in the early 1900’s.
In 1895, a certain Fr. Constantinos is recorded living at the rear of 45 Federal Street and ministering to the Syrian Orthodox community. A Greek Orthodox priest who had just arrived from Turkey, Father Constantinos had a very amusing introduction to both his new flock and the American legal system. His story made front page news in the Boston Globe. He seems to have come to America on his own and settled among the Greek and Syrian community in the South End. He established a ‘chapel’ on the first floor of 120 Eliot Street. He reportedly ministered to nearly 150 Syrian Orthodox who lived in Boston by that time. A week or so after his arrival, Joseph John Anno and Nadimy Birkashy climbed the three flights of stairs to the priest’s modest attic room and requested to be married. Fr. Constantinos was elated and agreed to celebrate the sacrament right then and there. The newlyweds left happily looking forward to starting a new life together while taking up residence at 11 Oliver Place, their new home.
Everything would have been just fine had it not been for Peter Arbalene, a jealous suitor who could not contain himself upon hearing of the marriage. Joseph and Nadimy were sweethearts back home in Baalbec. Joseph arrived in Boston the year before and did very well as a peddler of ‘dry goods’ and oriental items. He sent for his Nadimy and she arrived two months prior to their marriage, ‘time enough for a little preliminary courting’.
Back home, when you wanted to get married, you went to the priest who asked a few questions and if you were ever married or engaged and if the answers were satisfactory he performed the ceremony. That’s all there was to it, the ceremony part that is. In Massachusetts, Joseph discovered there were a few more formalities, he needed a license. He went to the city register but misunderstandings soon arose as the clerk did not speak Arabic and Joseph, well let’s just say his English wasn’t classic. Being a subject of the Ottoman Empire, Joseph then went to the Turkish consulate for a license, which he took to Fr. Constantinos. It was a very impressive document written in flawless French, a language neither Joseph nor the priest knew. The stamped declaration from the Turkish government cost Joseph $1.63, well worth it, he thought, if it allows him and his precious Nadimy to be legally married.
Back on Oliver Place, Peter Arbalene, who lived next door, flew into a rage. A widower with two teenage sons, Peter said he knew Nadimy from the old country and was ‘smitten by her charm’. She rebuffed him there and in Boston, having eyes only for ‘her Joe’. Peter reported the newlyweds and the priest to the police and city clerk as being married without a license. Officer Livette of the Boston Police went to investigate but discovered that Fr. Constantinos only spoke Greek. The officer soon returned with an interpreter. When the good priest understood the charges he ‘nearly split his sides laughing’. He could not understand that this ‘crime’ was so serious. He readily admitted to the ‘offence’ and ‘in good humor’ went with the officer to the Court where he was bound over for $200 and ordered to appear for a hearing.
He was well represented by council and his defense was that he ‘was ignorant of the law’ which, as we all know does not always excuse. He must have had a sympathetic judge however, as the charges were later dismissed. Joseph and Nadimy were recognized as married and Peter quickly left town. Fr. Constantinos soon returned to Turkey. The Syrian Orthodox community remained without a priest until the arrival of Fr. George Dow Maloof in November of 1900. Joseph and Nadimy Anno were among his first parishioners at the newly founded St. George Syrian Orthodox Church on Oxford Street.
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