Matthew Namee: A New Vision of American Orthodox History

June 20, 2009

Matthew Namee is a layman from the Antiochian Archdiocese,  and independent scholar. 

In his introduction, Fr. John Erickson praises Namee’s knowledge of Orthodox history in America and his passion for the Church. This is clear from his presentation – he has a tone to his words that is intense.

Namee offers a new vision of American Orthodox History – one that seeks to move beyond the “myth” of Russian hegemony in America in the 19th century, and Constantinople’s “claims” on the basis of Chalcedon 28. Both are not fully congruent with the facts. There was no overarching unity in America prior to 1890 – since there were only two parishes in the entire country. Until its purchase in 1867 it was part of Russia, and did not become an organized part of the US until 1912, and is distinct in both its culture and geography from the US . It is only tangentially relative to the history of the immigrant church in America.

Namee presents a convincing, well documented, thorough case that most Greek parishes were independently organized along ethnic lines, with little or no clerical support or oversight, in a chaotic condition until the first Greek Bishop arrived in 1918, and the Archdiocese organized in 1921. The situation was very different for the Serbs and Arabs, both of whose parishes did relate to the Russian Orthodox Church in America. His reading of secular newspaper accounts of Orthodox churches around the turn of the century gave rise to much laughter. ( Talk about the Wild West!)

Namee’s presentation was really too long and nuanced to summarize adequately. I will try and post it in it entirety on as it’s attempt to offer a new vision of American Orthodox history less focused on heroic missionary bishops than heroic missionary clergy and laity. He makes a distinction between vision and reality: the vision of St. Tikhon was heroic, but it didn’t really happen as he envisioned it. While St. Innocent’s vision should be our model, it was little more than that. The Russian mission was really aimed at converting Uniates, not Americans to Orthodoxy.

In the question and answer period, Paul Meyendorff joined Fr. Hovorun’s talk with Namee’s. Both tried to correct mythical understandings with facts, to open up real new opportunities for Orthodoxy in the Americas in the next decades.



2 Responses to “Matthew Namee: A New Vision of American Orthodox History”

  1. […] Mark Stokoe (of offers some commentary on Matthew’s […]

  2. Roland Says:

    Check out Matthew Namee’s weekly podcast, American Orthodox History, on Ancient Faith Radio.

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