Raphael Morgan

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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.

Early Life

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 (AME) and left as a missionary to Germany.

Period in the Church of England

He 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.

Robert later said that he served five years in West Africa, of which he spent three years in missionary work.[1]

Period in the Episcopal Church

He returned to America, and on June 20, 1895 was ordained as deacon[2] by the Rt. Rev. Leighton Coleman,[3] Bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Delaware. Robert was appointed honorary curate in St Matthews' Church in Wilminton, and procured a job as a teacher for a few public schools.

In 1898, the deacon Robert (Rev. R.J. Morgan) was transferred to the Missionary Jurisdiction of Ashville (now in the Diocese of Western North Carolina). By 1899 he was listed as being assistant minister at St. Stephen's Chapel in Morganton and St. Cyprian's Church in Lincolnton.[4]

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 during this period he joined an off-shoot of the Episcopalian Church, known as the "American Catholic Church" (ACC), a sect founded by Joseph René Vilatte.[5] 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[6] 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.[7]

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 the Patriarchal Monastery at Valoukli, in Constantinople.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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 from October 2, 1907, 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.[11]

Return to America

Ellis Island records indicate the arrival in New York from Naples, Italy, of the priest, Raffaele Morgan, in December 1907.[12] Once home, 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. Cartier",[13] as a candidate for conversion to Orthodoxy and ordination as a priest. Cartier was rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, in Philadelphia, from 1906-12. According to the letter, Cartier desired as an Orthodox priest to undertake missionary work among his fellow blacks. Because the jurisdiction over the Greek Church of the diaspora had been ceded by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Church of Greece in 1908, the request was forwarded there. However according to Greek-American historian Paul G. Manolis, a search of the Archives of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece did not turn up any correspondence with Fr. Raphael. His letter about A.C.V. Cartier is the only indication we have from Church records of his missionary efforts among his people.[14]

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.

Monastic Tonsure

In 1911 Fr. Raphael sailed to Cyprus, presumably to be tonsured a hieromonk. Possibly somewhere around this time, he founded the Order of the Cross of Golgotha (O.C.G.). However, Fr. Oliver Herbel (AOC) has suggested that in 1911 Fr. Raphael was tonsured in Athens.[15] As is noted above however, the Archives of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece contain no information about Fr. Raphael.

Lecture Tour in Jamaica

The Jamaica Times article of April 26, 1913, wrote that Fr. Raphael was headquartered at Philadelphia where he wanted to build a chapel for his missionary efforts, that he had recently visited Europe to collect funds to this end, and had the intention of extending his work to the West Indies.[16]

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

In 1916 Fr. Raphael was still in Philadelphia, having made the Philadelphia Greek parish his base of operations.[17] The last documentation of Fr. Raphael comes from a letter to the Daily Gleaner on October 4, 1916. Representing a group of about a dozen other like-minded Jamaican-Americans, he wrote in to protest the lectures of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. Fr. Raphael signed the letter as "Father Rapahel, O.C.G., Priest-Apostolic, the Greek-Orthodox Catholic Church."[18] 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.[19] The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has no record either of Fr. Raphael Morgan, nor of Fr. Demetrios Petrides, as the first records for the Philadelphia community in the archives only began in 1918.


"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 (1866-1934), 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.


  1. The Daily Gleaner. West Africa. October 9, 1901. p.7.
  2. Fr. Raphael's name is given on a list of Black Episcopal ordinations as follows: "1895: Robert Josias Morgan, d. June 20, Coleman; deposed; went abroad and was made a priest in Greek Church." (Bragg, Rev. George F. (D.D.). Chapter XXXVI: Negro Ordinations from 1866 to the Present. In: History of the Afro-American group of the Episcopal church (1922). Baltimore, Md.: Church Advocate Press, 1922. p.273.)
  3. The New York Times. Bishop Coleman of Delaware Dies. Sunday December 15, 1907. Page 13. (Obituary)
  4. Lumsden, Joy, MA (Cantab), PhD (UWI). Father Raphael: His Background and Career. September 29, 2007.
  5. The "American Catholic Church" (ACC) included the jurisdictions and groups which had come out of Joseph René Vilatte's Episcopal ministry or were under his oversight. Among them were French and English speaking constituencies, and Polish and Italian ordinariates. The ACC began on August 20, 1894, at a synod held in Cleveland, Ohio, where Polish-speaking parishes joined the jurisdiction of Bishop Vilatte, however the ACC was actually incorporated in July 1915.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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...").
  8. The Patriarchal Monastery at Valoukli is where the cemetery with the graves of the Patriarchs is found.
  9. In a letter from the Chief Archivist of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, dated April 4, 1973, it was confirmed that the records of the Patriarchate show that Morgan was baptized and renamed "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.467.)
  10. Une Conquete du Patriarcat Oecumenique. Echos d'Orient . Vol. XI. No.68, 1908, pp.55-56.
  11. 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.
  12. Lumsden, Joy. Robert Josias Morgan, aka Father Raphael. Jamaican History Month 2007. February 16, 2007.
  13. A.C.V. Cartier is listed on a list of Afro-American Priests as follows: "1895: Rev. A.C.V. Cartier, Denver Col." (Bragg, Rev. George F. (D.D.). Afro-American Clergy List. Priests. In: Afro-American Church Work and Workers. Baltimore, Md.: Church Advocate Print, 1904. p.32.)
  14. 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.
  15. Fr. Oliver Herbel (AOC). Jurisdictional Disunity and the Russian Mission. Orthodox Christians for Accountability. April 22, 2009.
  16. The Jamaica Times. Only Negro Who is a Greek Priest. April 26, 1913.
  17. * Namee, Matthew. The First Black Orthodox Priest in America. OrthodoxHistory.org (The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas). July 15, 2009.
  18. The full text of the signed letter is printed in:
    Robert A. Hill, Marcus Garvey, Universal Negro Improvement Association. Letter Denouncing Marcus Garvey. In: The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers: 1826-August 1919. University of California Press, 1983. pp.196-197.
  19. 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.

External Links


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(Publication of the Roman Catholic Uniate Assumptionist Fathers, located in Chalcedon)

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