Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Strange Case of Fr. Vladimir Owens

My new obedience (in addition to my bookstore duty) is researcher for the monastery. I’m looking through old magazines and newspapers, compiling sources for an eventual Wikipedia article. It’s been a lot of fun.

One of the biggest surprises I came across was when, looking through Google Books, I noticed Jordanville being mentioned in, of all places, Jet and Ebony magazines, which both published for African-Americans. In it, I found two articles on a Fr. Vladimir Owens, apparently the first black priest of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Fr. Vladimir, born Robert, was originally Catholic. But after studying Russian at Kent State (so the articles say), he got interested in Orthodoxy and converted. After his conversion he attended seminary at Jordanville from 1960–1965. Then he got ordained as a priest and served at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City, serving in Spanish for a sizable (56 people) group of Puerto Rican Orthodox.

The story ends in 1968, with these two articles. I wasn’t able to find out information on Fr. Vladimir after that. But, stumbling on the Orthodox History in the Americas website, I discovered that Matthew Namee, an Orthodox historian, has already done research “for years.” It turns out that Fr. Vladimir was some kind of con-man who eventually ended up getting thrown in prison. This still raises some questions:
  • Who was he, really? And did he really go to Jordanville?
  • What about the Puerto Ricans Orthodox community? How did they come into existence, and are there remnants of the community today?
The plot thickens…

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