We are indebted to the Guardian for the following well condensed report, taken, in the main, from the New York papers:—
An event which has recently taken place in America, in connection with the movement for the renewal of friendly relations and intercommunion between the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches, deserves something more than a passing notice. If, as appears probable, this step should lead to other and more important results, and if the courtesies interchanged between individual Churchmen should extend to the clergy generally, the service celebrated on the 2nd March, 1865, in Trinity Chapel, New York, will be referred to as an historical incident; for on that day, for the first time in a thousand years, the Sacred Liturgy (or Eucharistic Service) was celebrated in a Western Church by a priest of the Holy Orthodox Communion, and the Creed of Christendom was chanted in English without that Filioque clause which caused the great schism of East and West.
In October last year, Father Agapius Honcharenko, a Slavonian in Russo-Greek orders, monk of Mount Pentelicus, near Athens, was sent by his ecclesiastical superiors to minister to the spiritual wants of the members of the Greek communion in and about New York. The cordial letter of commendation which he took with him from Mr. Hill, the American missionary and English chaplain at Athens, at once obtained for him the sympathy and co-operation of the clergy in the United States; and a school-room was placed at his disposal by the Rector of Trinity, the oldest and most influential parish inAmerica. The Rev. J. Freeman Young, whose recent visit to Russia has done much towards the removal of prejudice and ignorance about the two Churches, made known to the Bishop of New York the wish of Father Agapius publicly to celebrate the Liturgy of the Orthodox Church on the 2nd March, the anniversary of the accession of the Emperor Alexander II.
The letter in which Bishop Potter expresses his ready acquiescence in the suggestion shows how fully he appreciated the opportunity thus afforded for promoting a good under standing between the two Churches. He says:
“Rev. and dear Brother,—In reply to your inquiry respecting a proposed public celebration of the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Orthodox Oriental Church on the2nd day of March (N.S.) next in one of the churches of my diocese, I beg to say that Í have great pleasure in giving m y hearty consent and approbation. In so doing it adds much to my satisfaction that the proposed service is intended to do honour to the anniversary of the accession of His Imperial Majesty Alexander II.,the present Emperor of Russia, who has done so much to promote the true glory and welfare of his own people, and who has so generously encouraged the friendly feeling of Russia towards our country. Such courtesies as the one now proffered, between Churches which have so much in common, it has seemed to me might be very well extended, without prejudging, on either side, any of the questions that may affect their relations with each other. On occasion of the visit of the Russian fleet to the port of New York last year, I took pleasure, as you know, in giving permission, through you, to the rev. the chaplains, to hold any service which they might find desirable, anywhere within the limits of my diocese. The rev. the chaplains of the Russian fleet did not find it necessary to avail themselves of the permission granted them, but it was very grateful to me to hear that the feelings which prompted that trifling act of Christian courtesy were duly appreciated in Russia, and that some of the most venerated of the prelates of the Holy Orthodox Church would have been well pleased had the offer made by me been accepted. On the present occasion I shall be happy if this proffer of one of the churches of my diocese for the proposed public service, shall be accepted here and in Russia as as light token of my fraternal regard for the Church of the nations which our beloved brother, the Priest Agapius, represents.
“I am, my dear Brother, most truly and affectionately yours,
Bishop of New York.
“New York, Feb.4, 1865.”
Episcopal sanction having thus been obtained, it remained with Mr. Young to ensure the complete success of the proposed service, and to render it as perfect and beautiful as possible. Fortunately, he had procured the score of the liturgical music in Russia, and by means of constant practice and careful arrangement of the parts under his own superintendence, he was able to overcome the difficulty which arose from the pronunciation of a strange language. The choir included members of various quartette societies, who volunteered their services from interest in the occasion, learning the responses by the representation of Slavonic sounds in English letters. Mr. Young, also, himself directed the preparation of the Oriental vestments the first ever made in America. The proposed celebration excited very general interest, although all public announcement of it was avoided, and on the morning of the 2nd March TrinityChapel, one of the few really beautiful churches in New York was completely filled. The building, it may be added, is of considerable length, with an hexagonal apsidal chancel, but without side aisles, and is capable of seating 900 or 1000 persons. The sixty or seventy Slavonians and Greeks residing in New York occupied seats at the end of the nave ;near them were more than fifty clergymen of the American Church, while Bishop Southgate, formerly missionary Bishop at Constantinople, the rector and clergy of Trinity parish, together with Dr. Thrall, a member of the Russo-Greek committee, and Dr. McVickar, the oldest presbyter of the diocese of New York, occupied the choir stalls. The chancel was brilliantly lighted by the corona above, two standing candelabra with clustered lights below, and a smaller one on the altar itself. Under the white linen altar-cloth, and upon the stone altar, was a board about two feet square, over which the consecration of the Eucharist was to take place— the rules of the Greek Church for bidding this to be done upon stone. This custom is due to the fact that the cross was of wood. So far do the Orientals carry their aversion to the idea of a carnal sacrifice, that they do not suffer even the books used at the altar to be bound in the skins of animals, or anything made therefrom. Gold, silver, cloth, silk, velvet, or jewelled work may be used, but no kind of leather. Those of the clergy who were present in the chancel were in black gowns, it being the Oriental custom that those only should be vested who take part in the service of the altar.
Father Agapius was clad in a white phænolion, adorned with bands and borders of gold, under which the epitrachelion of crimson, similarly adorned with gold, hung down in front. When he had entered, and made his lowly obeisance at the holy table, the deep silence was first broken by his chanting, in a high tenor voice of great sweetness and purity, the opening of the service in Slavonic, “Blessed be the kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, now and forever, even unto ages of ages.” At once the whole congregation rose, as if by instinct, and remained reverently standing throughout the entire service, according to Oriental custom. The well-trained choir of men’s voices responded, and as the solemn service proceeded, the oft-recurring response, Hospode pomelue (Lord have mercy), swelled forth again and again. The Liturgy was that of St. Chrysostom, translated into Slavonic, and the Russian music, which has been in use about two hundred years, is very simple, grave, and sweet. The organ was not used, only vocal music being employed in the Orthodox worship. The Beatitudes were chanted in English, the Trisagion in the original Greek, to a rich and varied harmony; but the “Eje Cheruveme,” or Greek Cherubic Hymn, was the vocal crown of beauty, and each repetition of its exquisite strains gave it a fresh hold upon feeling and upon memory. The following translation of it is from the pen of a well-known English scholar, G. M.:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand,
Ponder nothing earthly-minded—for, with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
King of Kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth He stood,
Lord of Lords, in Human Vesture—in the Body and the Blood
He will give to all the Faithful His own Self for Heavenly Food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of Light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the Powers of Hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.
At His Feet the six-winged Seraphs Cherubim with sleepless eye
Veil their faces to the Presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord most High!
But the most thrilling part of the service was the chanting of the Nicene Creed in English, so distinctly that each word was heard throughout the church, and the singing of the phrase, “Who proceedeth from the Father,” showed how easily at least two great branches of the Catholic Church could be reconciled on the old foundations laid by the General Councils. The cloud of incense, which ascended from time to time, added much to the beauty of the ceremony. Before the communion of the priest, the Lord’s Prayer, chanted in English, united the congregation in the act of worship, and the Cherubic Hymn again filled the air with the depths and heights of its swelling harmony. The Liturgy proper was followed by the special service for the day (the accession of the Czar), during which the officiating priest, the clergy, and all the congregation knelt. After the Amen all rose, and the familiar tones of the Gloria in Excelsis, in English, brought this beautiful service to a close. May it prove to be only the beginning of a new era of “peace and good will” among the long-severed branches of the one true Vine! It is stated that the leading motive of Father Agapius in holding this public service was to show his fraternal sympathy and fellowship with the American Church and with the whole Anglican communion , and his desire to aid in bringing about full intercommunion. Nor can we take leave of this affecting service without calling attention to the fact, thus publicly demonstrated, that the common inheritance of all Christendom belongs neither to the one nor to the other communion, but that the Lord’s Prayer, the Glorias, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and, with the exception of one clause, the whole Nicene Creed, can be thus used in the same tongue, in the same words, and with the same sentiments in the two Churches.
—Frederick George Lee (editor), The Union Review: A Magazine of Catholic Literature and Art (London: J. T. Hayes, 1865), pp. 336-339.