To His Beatitude Metropolitan Isidor [Nikolsky, Metropolitan of Novgorod, Sankt-Petersburg, and Finland; 1860-92]
May 9/21, 1879 San Francisco
Most Reverend Lord, most merciful Archpastor and father,
By the Grace of our Lord having successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, on April 18/30 I arrived in New York. Two hours after arrival I was visited by the Priest Nikolai Bjerring who asked me to immediately come to the church, but after the sea travel I felt myself very tired and for that reason postponed the visit until April 20/May 2.
When on the designated day I came to the church, I was met by Father Nikolai in vestments and with the cross in his hands. The church is not large. The iconostasis does not have North or South doors. To my question, "How do you perform the Little Entrance with the Holy Gospel and the Great Entrance with the Holy Gifts?" Father Nikolai answered: "Directly from the Royal Door."
On Sunday April 22/May 4, before the Liturgy, Father Nikolai expressed a wish to have confession with me in the English language, and then we celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Slavic language, according to my instructions. Being completely ignorant of Slavic, Father Nikolai pronounced and spoke so badly, that it was understood only because the content of the Liturgy is known by everyone. (He can pronounce the words only when they are written in Latin or German letters). Fr. Bjerring did not have the courage to read the Gospel in Slavic, and read it in English, but here too words "Jesus Christ" he pronounced in Slavic, not in English, therefore it became a mixture of Slavic and English, which produced an unpleasant impression on the Russians and on others, Greeks and English, who were present. In addition, Fr. Bjerring has bad pronunciation because he is of a non-English heritage, pronouncing English with an unpleasant accent.
At the proskomedia, which Fr. Bjerring served in the German language, I gave him instructions with corrections. For example, Fr. Bjerring positioned the nine particles on the paten not as it is indicated in the service book, but according to his own decision.
Since there if no North Door, Fr. Bjerring made the Little and the Great Entrances through the Royal Door. During the singing of "We praise Thee...", Fr. Bjerring, offering the Gifts, handled them differently than it should be done: he took the chalice with the right hand, and the paten with the left, then made the cross (with crossed hands).
After the service I commented to him about all the mistakes. In general, in celebrating the Liturgy, in spite of years of service in the Church, Fr. Bjerring showed himself completely inexperienced. Some Orthodox people from New York (for example the Ambassador and others) told me, that Fr. Bjerring doesnt know anything else except the Liturgy of John Chrysostom and the Vespers; some people would like to have a Panichida, but Fr. Bjerring cant, some others need to have a baptism in their family, but they do not wish to turn to Fr. Bjerring, assuming that he will not be able to perform the sacrament. Some people told me, that on Holy Friday Fr. Nikolai for lack of knowledge of any other service but the Liturgy of John Chrysostom, in the afternoon held a service, namely the Liturgy of John Chrysostom.
In general, the Orthodox people in New York, beginning with the Ambassador, are extremely unhappy with Fr. Bjerring for his lack of knowledge of services in Church Slavonic. It is understood that for the Russians a Russian priest is necessary. The New York Orthodox people would like to have Fr. Bjerring transferred from them. But where should he then go?
A thought came, that it would be good if Fr. Bjerring would be transferred to Petersburg to a parish where there is more than one priest, and here in his stead someone from Petersburg would be sent. In such case Fr. Bjerring would be accommodated and his deficiencies would be covered up, the Orthodox people in New York would be satisfied too, and Fr. Bjerring should not be along in a church.
On Wednesday, May 2/14, I arrived safely in San Francisco and was met at the railroad station by the Archpriest [Vladimir] Vechtomov, church elder Mr. [Ivan] Franetta and some members of the Greko-Slavonian Society. Having crossed the bay, we went to the church, where I was met by the rest of the clergy, and at once began the thanksgiving service to the Lord God; after that I gave a sermon that was timely prepared in the English language. After all that I went to rooms arranged for me, for the first days in a hotel.
On May 6/18, I served my first liturgy here in the local Cathedral, during which I gave a good sermon to the people. Our Cathedral, that is a temple, is in a wooden rented house, but, what can be done. It could be said that the church in its poverty is quite good, even though it is not a big one. With the agreement of the church elder and other honorary Orthodox parishioners it was decided, that every Sunday at 7 oclock in the evening, the Akathistos for the Dormition of the Mother of God would be read, and on May 6/18 I myself read such an Akathistos for the first time, but there were not too many people there to pray.
Upon my arrival in San Francisco, I heard verbal statements from many people and also from the clergy about all kinds of unseemly actions by the priest Nikolai Kovrigin. To protect the honor of Orthodoxy and to prevent all kinds of squabbles that badly reflect on the Orthodox Faith in foreign lands, I was, by necessity, put into the situation of relieving Kovrigin from his duty, based on the decree of the Holy Synod of March 13 this 1879, No. 755
The Alaskan Ecclesiastical Administration was given a following instruction: "I am forwarding with this letter the service list of the Hieromonk Herman (Tseleritsky) and the decree of the Holy Synod No. 755 regarding the appointment of Hieromonk Herman as a priest to the church at the Bishops cathedra in San Francisco and as a member of the Alaskan Ecclesiastical Administration.
I instruct the Administration with this to see that on the basis of the above decree the following would be done.
I instruct particularly:
1. Considering all circumstances, the future tenure of Priest Nikolai Kovrigin in America, because of many matters existing against him, will cast a shadow on Orthodoxy, to provide the Priest N. Kovrigin with a ticket for his travel to his fatherland.
2. In place of the Priest N. Kovrigin, removed from the position in San Francisco, and as a member of Administration, to appoint to these positions the Hieromonk Herman. To provide the Priest N. Kovrigin with his salary and accommodations up to and including May 4, according to the old style. The Hieromonk Herman to be enrolled for a salary and housing according to his position as a priest in San Francisco, starting on May 5 of the same calendar.
3. Since the Priest N. Kovrigin, according to the decree of the Holy Synod, is not entitled of receiving money for his travel and support money allocated for those who served in the Kamchatka diocese, but without receiving money he would find himself in a difficult position, I instruct to issue the Priest N. Kovrigin a financial support for his travel from San Francisco to his fatherland in the amount of $1,800.00 in gold from the funds of the Alaskan Administration.
4. In my name prepare for the Economic Directorate of the Holy Synod a report to register the designated financial support of the Priest Kovrigin from the funds remaining from the sums allocated for last year of 1878.
The priests certificate of Kovrigin I transfer to the Right Reverend Bishop of Irkutsk, to whose jurisdiction Kovrigin is being sent.
All necessary information from the diocese will be sent by me to the Most Holy Synod at the proper time.
Asking for your archpastoral prayers with a son's reverence and devotion I have the honor to be the most humble novice of you, the Most Reverend merciful Archpastor and father,
Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska
The Right Reverend NESTOR, Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, 1879 1882. Correspondence, reports, diary.Translated and edited by G. Soldatow. AARDM Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1993, vol. 1, p. 40ff.