Very Rev. Raphael Morgan (born Robert Josias Morgan) (186?/187? - ?) was a Jamaican-American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, later the founder and superior of the Order of the Cross of Golgotha, and thought to be the first black Orthodox clergyman in America.
He spoke broken Greek, and therefore served mostly in English. Having recently been discovered, his life has garnered great interest, but much of his life still remains shrouded in mystery. Fr Raphael is said to have resided all over the world, including in Palestine, Syria, Joppa, Greece, Cyprus, Miylene, Chios, Sicily, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Austria, Germany, England, France, Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Bermuda, and the United States.
Robert Josias Morgan was born in Chapelton, Clarence Parish, Jamaica either in the late 1860s or early 1870s to Robert Josias and Mary Ann (née Johnson) Morgan. He was born six months after his father's death, and named in his honour.
Robert was raised in the Anglican tradition and was received elementary schooling locally. In his teenage years he travelled to Colón, Panama, then to British Honduras, back to Jamaica, and then to the United States. He became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and left as a missionary to Germany, and then came to England, where he joined the Church of England and was sent to Sierra Leona to the Church Missionary Society Grammar School at Freetown. He studied Greek, Latin, and other higher-level subjects. Being poor, Robert had to work to support himself, and worked as second master of a public school. He took course in the Church Missionary Society College at Fourah Bay, and was soon appointed a missionary teacher and lay-reader by the Episcopalian Bishop of Liberia.
After some time, Robert again visited England for private study, and then America to work amongst the African-American community as a lay-reader. He was accepted as a Postulant and as candidate for the Episcopalian deaconate. During the waiting period, Robert again returned to England to study at Saint Aiden's Theological College in Birkenhead, but prosecuted his studies at King's College of the University of London. He returned to America, and on June 20 on the same year was ordained by the Rt Rev Coleman, Bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Delaware. Robert was appointed honorary curate in St Matthews's Church in Wilminton, and procured a job as a teacher for a few public schools.
In 1898, the deacon Robert was transferred to the Missionary Jurisdiction of Ashville in western North Carolina. By the next year he was listed as being assistant minister at St Stephen's Chapel in Morganton and St Cyprian's Church in Lincolnton. Between 1900 and 1905, Robert moved around much of the Eastern seaboard, serving in Delaware, Charleston (South Carolina), Richmond (Virginia), Nashville (Tennessee), until finally ending up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At some point, he joined an off-shoot of the Episcopalian Church, known as the "American Catholic Church", a sect founded by Joseph René Vilatte in 1915. He is listed in the records of the Episcopal Church of the USA as late as 1908, when he was suspended from ministry on the allegations of abandoning his post.
Trip to Russia
By the turn of the 20th century, Robert already began to question his faith, and began to study Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy to find what he felt was the true religion. He decided on Orthodoxy, resigned from the Episcopalian Church, and embarked on a trip to Russia.
Once there, Robert visited various monasteries and churches, soon becoming quite the sensation. Sundry periodicals began publishing pictures and articles on him, and soon Robert became the Special Guest of the Tsar, which allowed him to be present for the anniversary celebrations of Nicholas II's coronation, and memorial service for Alexander III. Leaving Russia, Robert traveled Turkey, Cyprus, and the Holy Land, returning to America and writing an article to the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger in 1904 about his experience in Russia.
Study and Trip to Ecumenical Patriarchate
For three years, Robert studied under Greek priests for his baptism. In January of 1906, he is documented as assisting in the Christmas liturgy. In 1907 the Philadephia Greek community referred Robert to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople armed with two letters of support. One was a recommendation from Fr. Demetrios Petrides, the Greek priest then serving the Philadelphia community, dated 18 June 1907, who described Morgan as a man sincerely coming into Orthodoxy after long and diligent study, and recommending his baptism and ordination into the priesthood. The second letter of support was from the "Ecclesiastical Committee" of the Philadelphia Greek Orthodox Church, stating he could serve as an assistant priest if he failed to form a separate Orthodox parish among his fellow Black Americans.
Robert was interviewed by Metropolitan Joachim (Phoropoulos) of Pelagonia, one of the few bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that could speak English and among the most learned of the Constantinopolitan hierarchs of that time. The metropolitan concluded that Robert should be baptised, chrismated, ordained, and sent back to America in order to "carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers".
Baptism and Ordination
On August 2, 1907 the Holy Synod approved that the Baptism take place the following Sunday in the Church of the Lifegiving Source at Valoukli. Metropolitan Joachim was to officiate at the sacrament, and the sponsor was to be Bishop Leontios (Liverios) of Theodoroupolis, Abbott of the Monastery at Valoukli. Robert was baptised "Raphael" before 3000 people; subsequently he was ordained a deacon on August 12, 1907 by Metropolitan Joachim; and finally ordained a priest on the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, August 15, 1907. According to the contemporary Uniate periodical L'Echo d' Orient, which sarcastically described Morgan's Baptism of triple immerson, the Metropolitan conducted the sacraments of Baptism and Ordination in the English language, following which Fr. Raphael chanted the Divine Liturgy in English.
Fr. Raphael was sent back to America with vestments, a cross, and 20 pounds sterling for his traveling expenses. He was allowed to hear confessions, but denied Holy Chrism and an antimension, presumably to attach his missionary ministry to the Philadelphia church. The minutes of the Holy Synod made it clear in fact that Fr. Raphael was to be under the jurisdiction of Rev. Petrides of Philadelphia, until such time as he had been trained in liturgics and was able to establish a separate Orthodox parish.
Return to America and Later Life
Once home, around the fall of 1907, Fr Raphael baptized his wife and children in the Orthodox Church. This is noted in the minutes of the Holy Synod of February 9, 1908, which acknowledges receipt of a communication from Fr. Raphael.
The last mention of Fr. Raphael in Patriarchal records is in the minutes of the Holy Synod of November 4, 1908, which cite a letter from Fr. Raphael recommending an Anglican priest of Philadelphia, named "A.C.V. Cartior", as a candidate for conversion to Orthodoxy and ordination as a priest. According to the letter, Cartior (Cartier?) was also black and desired as an Orthodox priest to undertake missionary work among his fellow blacks. This is the only indication we have of Fr. Raphael's missionary efforts among his people.
In 1909, his wife filed for divorce, on the alleged charges of cruelty and failure to support their children. She left with their son Cyril to Delaware County, where she remarried.
Two years later, Fr Raphael sailed to Cyprus, presumably to be tonsured a monk. Interestingly, he was allowed to remain a priest. Possibly somewhere around this time, he founded the Order of the Cross of Golgotha.
Near the end of 1913, Fr Raphael visited his homeland of Jamaica, staying for several month until sometime the next year. While there, he met a group of Syrians, who were complaining of a lack of Orthodox church on the island. Fr Raphael did his best to contact the Syrian-American diocese of the Russian church, writing to St Raphael of Brooklyn, but as most of their descendants are now communicants in the Episcopal Church, this presumably came to no avail. In December, a Russian warship came to port, and he concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with the sailors, their chaplain, and his new-found Syrians.
The main work of his visit, however, was a lecture circuit that he ran throughout Jamaica. Citing a lack of Orthodox churches, Fr Raphael would speak at churches of various denomination. The topics would usually cover his travels, the Holy Land, and Holy Orthodoxy. At some point, he even made it to his hometown of Chapelton, to whom he remarked of his name change, "I will always be Robert to you".
Last Known Records
The last documentation of Fr Raphael comes from a letter to the Daily Gleaner on October 4, 1916. He, representing a group of like-minded Jamaican-Americans, wrote in to protest the lectures of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. Garvey's views on Jamaica, they felt, were damaging to both the reputation of their homeland and its people. Garvey's response came ten days later, in which he called the letter a conspiratorial fabrication meant to undermine the success and favour he had gained while in Jamaica and in the United States.
Little is known of Fr Raphael's life after this point, except from some interviews conducted in the 1970s between Greek-American historian Paul G. Manolis and surviving members of the Greek Community of the Annunciation in Philadelphia, who recalled the black priest who was evidently a part of their community for a period of time. One elderly woman, Grammatike Kritikos Sherwin, remembered that Fr Raphael's daughter left to attend Oxford; another parishioner, Kyriacos Biniaris, recalls that Morgan, whose hand "he kissed many times", spoke broken Greek and served with Fr. Petrides reciting the liturgy mostly in English; whilst another, a George Liacouras, recalled that after serving in Philadelphia for some years, Fr. Raphael left for Jerusalem, never to return.
"Indirect Conversion of Thousands" Theory
During the 16th Annual Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference, Matthew Namee presented a 23-minute lecture on the heretofore recently discovered life of Fr Raphael Morgan. He postulates that even if Fr Raphael's missionary efforts failed outside of his immediate family, he may be indirectly responsible for the conversion of thousands.
Records for St Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virgina indicate that for a short while in 1901 Robert J. Morgan was listed as the Rector. However, being only a deacon, this would mean that Robert's position was only temporary, during an interregnum of sorts. The previous rector was one George Alexander McGuire, an Episcopal priest.
In 1920, George McGuire became an associate of Marcus Garvey and his Black Nationalist movement. In 1921, he was made a bishop of the American Catholic Church by Joseph René Vilatte, and soon after founded the African Orthodox Church, a non-canonical Black Nationalist church, in the Anglican tradition. Today, it is best known for its canonisation of Jazz legend John Coltrane.
George McGuire soon spread his African Orthodox Church throughout the United States, and soon even made a presence on the African continent in such countries as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. However, around the time of the Second World War, the African churches were cut off from the American and in the post-war period had drifted far enough way to request and come under the omophorion of the Church of Alexandria.
Namee questions whence the idea came for McGuire to form namely an Orthodox church. Fr Raphael Morgan and George McGuire have a few similarities: both were Black Caribbeans, served concurrently or consecutively at St Philip's in Virginia, were ordained around the same time, and later served in Philadelphia. Namee concludes that with so many coincidences, it is impossible for these two men to not have known one another; and therefore it must be from some influence - either in conversation or evangelism, that McGuire came to know the Orthodox Church.
However, one deterrent from this theory comes in the familiarity he had with the Orthodox Church by McGuire's consecrator, Joseph René Vilatte. At various points, Vilatte come into contact with both the Russian and Syriac Orthodox Churches in a move for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation, having even been accepted for a while by Bishop Vladimir of Alaska in May of 1891.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on January 8, 1906, that “Rev. R.J. Morgan of the American Catholic Church, an off-shoot of the Protestant Episcopal Church, assisted.”
- Summaries of the two letters are given in the Synodal Minutes of 19 July, 1907, presided over by Patriarch Joachim III, who introduced the subject of Morgan's baptism and ordination. As is stated in the second letter, Morgan's goal was to establish an Orthodox community of Blacks ("...να πηξη ιδιαν ορθοδοξον κοινοτητα μεταξυ των εν Αμερικη ομοφυλων αυτου Νιγρητων...").
- Manolis, Paul G. Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. Theologia: Epistēmonikon Periodikon Ekdidomenon Kata Trimēnian. (En Athenais: Vraveion Akadēmias Athēnōn), 1981, vol.52, no.3, pp.467.
- Une Conquete du Patriarcat Oecumenique. Echos d'Orient . Vol. XI. No.68, 1908, pp.55-56.
- Manolis, Paul G. Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. Theologia: Epistēmonikon Periodikon Ekdidomenon Kata Trimēnian. (En Athenais: Vraveion Akadēmias Athēnōn), 1981, vol.52, no.3, pp.468.
- Manolis, Paul G. Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. Theologia: Epistēmonikon Periodikon Ekdidomenon Kata Trimēnian. (En Athenais: Vraveion Akadēmias Athēnōn), 1981, vol.52, no.3, pp.470-71.
- Manolis, Paul G. Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. Theologia: Epistēmonikon Periodikon Ekdidomenon Kata Trimēnian. (En Athenais: Vraveion Akadēmias Athēnōn), 1981, vol.52, no.3, pp.469.
- The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has no record either of Fr. Raphael Morgan, nor of Fr. Petrides, as the first records for the Philadelphia community in the archives only begin in 1918.
- Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church, Philadelphia, PA.
- Joseph René Vilatte at Wikipedia.
- Lumsden, Joy, MA (Cantab), PhD (UWI). Father Raphael.
- Manolis, Paul G. Raphael (Robert) Morgan: The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. Theologia: Epistēmonikon Periodikon Ekdidomenon Kata Trimēnian. (En Athenais: Vraveion Akadēmias Athēnōn), 1981, vol.52, no.3, pp.464-480. ISSN: 1105-154X
- Mather, Frank Lincoln. Who's who of the Colored Race: A General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent. University of Michigan. Gale Research Co., 1915.
- Namee, Matthew. The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. OrthodoxHistory.org (The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas). July 15, 2009.
- Namee, Matthew. Fr. Raphael Morgan: America's First Black Orthodox Priest. 16th Annual Ancient Christianity & African-American Conference. June 03, 2009.
- Une Conquete du Patriarcat Oecumenique. Echos d'Orient . Vol. XI. No.68, 1908, pp.55-56.
- (Publication of the Roman Catholic Uniate Assumptionist Fathers, located in Chalcedon)