Book review by Archbishop Spataro

Turning to Tradition; Converts and the Making of an American Orthodoxy. By D. Oliver Herbel. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Francis C. Spataro

This is the story of recent movements in the United States which greatly expanded the Eastern Orthodox Church in America. Russian explorers to Alaska brought their Ancient Faith to North America. However, the men mentioned in this book ignited a light which still glows today.

The first of these is St. Alexis Toth who was a Catholic priest from Austria-Hungary, sent to the USA to work as a missionary among the many thousands of Uniates who had immigrated to this country to seek a better life. He ended up converting them en masse to the Russian Orthodox Church which had been the religion of their ancestors. It is an amazing study in the inability of the local Roman Catholic hierarchy to adjust to Catholics of a different Rite and History. The majority Irish bishops were trying to keep immigrants from the Irish Potato Famine from being lost to the Catholic Church. So they lost thousands of immigrants from Austria-Hungary instead.

Then we have the turning to Orthodoxy of Black Americans who eventually founded the African Orthodox Church here, in the West Indies and Africa. The first Black man ordained a priest was Fr. Raphael Morgan. Then we have Fr. Moses Berry and the Order of St. Moses the Black. Fr. Berry was first attracted to non-canonical Orthodoxy through the Holy Order of MANS and the Brotherhood of Christ the Saviour. Having personally known Metropolitan Pangratios and Bishop Joseph Langdon, I can comment knowingly about this phenomenon. Eventually,both the Order of MANS and the Brotherhood converted to canonical Orthodoxy, joining either the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) or the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Finally we have the saga of the Evangelical Orthodox Church and Pastor Peter Gillquist. This large group from the Campus Crusades have already documented their journey in Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith. Unfortunately the change from Fundamentalist, Evangelical Protestants was too radical an effort. Many “deconverted” after joining the Antiochian Orthodox Church. In some cases ethnic Orthodoxy was not severe enough for these Fundamentalists who wanted to live like the Thebaid Monks of Egypt. Some changed to the OCA while others just went back to being Evangelical Orthodox.

This is a very fascinating book, especially for me who since 1976 through the Vilatte Guild has watched and recorded so many persons in both Independent – Autocephalous and Canonical Orthodoxy. The Bibliography is well done and very complete. I highly recommend this study to all interested in American Orthodoxy.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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