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Rev. Agapius Honcharenko (August 31, 1832–May 5, 1916, aka Andrii Humnytsky) served the first Orthodox Divine Liturgies in New York City and New Orleans, both in 1865. He later moved to Alameda County, California, and was an outspoken critic of both the Russian government and the Orthodox Church.
Born in what is now Ukraine, Honcharenko served as a deacon in the Russian embassy in Athens, Greece. He wrote anonymous articles for the socialist journal Kolokol (The Bell), and claimed to have been persecuted by Tsarist agents in Greece and Turkey. At some point, he appears to have been ordained a priest in Greece. In January 1865, he arrived in New York City, and in March of the same year, he celebrated the first known Orthodox Divine Liturgy in the city. He then traveled to New Orleans, which had a sizable Orthodox community. He is often referred to as the first pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (now Cathedral) in New Orleans, but he only visited for a short time and was never the community's resident priest.
Honcharenko's socialist associations were soon discovered, and he eventually left New York City. While in Philadelphia, he married an Italian woman named Albina. This was in spite of the fact that he was already an Orthodox priest. Honcharneko and his wife moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and in late 1867, he began holding Slavonic-language church services in San Francisco. The Orthodox community in the city soon realized that Honcharenko was no longer connected with the Orthodox Church, and they petitioned the Russian bishop in Alaska to send them a priest. The priest who arrived in 1868, Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin, founded the first Orthodox church in San Francisco.
Honcharenko went on to publish a magazine, and he authored a Russian-English phrase book for Americans traveling in Alaska. He claimed to have been, among other things, novelist Leo Tolstoy's confessor, an associate of US Secretary of State William Seward, the former Russian instructor to US diplomat Eugene Schulyer, and the discoverer of gold in Alaska. Honcharenko lived out his days at his ranch in Alameda County, California, where he died in 1916.
In 1999, the California Office of Historical Preservation declared Honcharenko's ranch, "Ukraina," to be a California Historical Landmark.
Sources and External Links
- Podcast on Honcharenko by Matthew Namee on the American Orthodox History program on Ancient Faith Radio.
- Articles on Honcharenko at OrthodoxHistory.org
- Alameda County, California Historical Landmarks, California Office of Historical Preservation
- Article on Honcharenko in the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) (December 27, 1896)