On Orthodoxy and Black Americans

“The United States of America, after many years of union and peace, after gigantic material and moral development, are separated into two hostile camps. The Northern States, guided by true reason and evangelical principles, persistently seek the abolition of the slavery of the blacks. The Southern States, blinded by a badly understood material interest, obstinately and anti-Christianly seek the perpetuation of slavery. This war of ideas and physical interests is prosecuted to desperation. Bloody battles are delivered, but victory until the present is doubtful, and the return of peace does not seem near. But if we cast a careful eye upon the wonderful events of this age, we shall be inclined to believe that those who contend so nobly for the most unquestionable and humane rights, will, God helping them, reach the object of their desires.” (The Oriental Star)

Morgan traveled to Constantinople with a letter from the Philadelphia Greek community, which supported his ordination and also said that if he failed to establish a Black Orthodox parish, he was welcome to serve as their assistant pastor. So Morgan arrived in Istanbul, and he was interviewed by Metropolitan Joachim of Pelagoneia, one of the few bishops of the Patriarchate who knew English. Metropolitan Joachim recommended that Morgan be baptized, chrismated, ordained, and then sent back to America to “carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.” And so, in August, Morgan was baptized in front of three thousand people, and on the Feast of the Dormition, he was ordained a priest. He took the name “Father Raphael” in place of Robert. The Ecumenical Patriarchate sent him back to America with vestments, liturgical books, a cross, and twenty pounds sterling. He was given the right to hear confessions, but the Holy Synod denied his request for an antimension and Holy Chrism.

  • St. Nikolai Velimirovich preached in English at a Black church in Harlem in the 1920’s:

Metropolitan Amphilochius (Radovich):His sense of apostolic responsibility for all people and all nations can be explained. It is a fact that he was nearly the first [Orthodox] Christian bishop who preached Christ, in English, in the 20s of the twentieth century, to African Americans in Manhattan, New York [at St.Phillip’s Church in Harlem]. (The Theanthropic Ethos of Holy Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. [kindle version])

Archbishop Iakovos would later explain that it was an obligation to speak up that led him to Selma: “We have fought oppressive and repressive political regimes, based on Christian principles, for centuries… A Christian must cry out in indignation against all persecution. That’s what made me walk with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. We are all responsible, and must continue to speak out.”

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