June 26: [Isabel Florence Hapgood], Ecumenist and Journalist, 1929

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About this commemoration

Isabel Hapgood, a lifelong and faithful Episcopalian, was a force behind ecumenical relations between Episcopalians and Russian Orthodoxy in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Massachusetts of a wealthy family, Hapgood was educated in private schools. She was a superior student with a particular talent for the study of languages. In addition to the standard fare of the time—Latin and French—she also mastered most of the Romantic and Germanic languages of Europe and most notably Russian, Polish, and Church Slavonic. She possessed the particular gift of being able to translate the subtleties of Russian into equally subtle English. Her translations made the works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gorky, and Chekov, among others, available to English readers. She was also a prolific journalist writing regularly for The Nation, and The New York Evening Post, and was a contributor to The New York Times, Harper’s Weekly, The Century, and The Atlantic Monthly.

Between 1887-1889, Hapgood traveled extensively through Russia. That visit cemented a lifelong love of Russia, its language and culture, and particularly the Russian Orthodox Church. She would make return visits to Russia almost every year for the rest of her life.

Her love of Russian Orthodoxy and its great Divine Liturgy led her to seek the permission of the hierarchy to translate the rites into English. Hapgood’s already established reputation as a sensitive translator certainly contributed, but in the meantime she had developed close relationships with Russian clergy and musicians at all levels of the hierarchy. The work, Service Book of the Holy-Orthodox Catholic Church, took eleven years to complete. It received support of the Russian Orthodox bishops in North America, particularly Archbishop Tikhon who was later to give Hapgood’s work a second blessing when he became Patriarch of Moscow.

Isabel Florence Hapgood is faithfully recalled among the Russian Orthodox in North America for her contribution to their common life, her desire for closer relations between Russian Orthodox and Episcopalians, and for her making the liturgical treasures of their tradition available to the English-speaking world.


I  Loving God, we offer thanks for the work and witness of Isabel Florence Hapgood, who introduced the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church to English-speaking Christians, and encouraged dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox. Guide us as we build on the foundation that she gave us, that all may be one in Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, unto ages of ages.  Amen.

II  Loving God, we thank you for the work and witness of Isabel Florence Hapgood, who introduced the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church to English-speaking Christians, and encouraged dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox. Guide us as we build on the foundation that she gave us, that all may be one in Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Psalm  24


Isaiah 6:1–5

Revelation 5:8–14

John 17:17–23

Preface of All Saints

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


10 thoughts on “June 26: [Isabel Florence Hapgood], Ecumenist and Journalist, 1929

  1. Collect: This collect is awkwardly worded. Russian Orthodox Church, English-speaking Christians, Anglican and Orthodox – all these words overwhelm the collect’s effectiveness.

    Bio: She needs a ‘Who she is’ and ‘Why she is important’ statement. And mention of the year of her birth and the year of her death is needed.

  2. The collect says that she ‘encouraged dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox’ but the bio does not. I think if more could be said about that side of her work, I’d feel better about her inclusion. Being a fan of the Russian liturgy and translating it into English, no matter how well, does not seem to me to justify a national commemoration.

    The biographical information should also be confined to the bio, so that the collect can concentrate on what is proper to it. ‘Guide us’ should be ‘Guide Your church’. Not all of ‘us’ can say we are building on whatever foundation she laid. I know the church is implied in ‘us’, but better to be explicit.

  3. Instead of “around the turn of the twentieth century,” “during the 1920s.”
    I agree with Philip Wainwright – it’s nice that she translated all those novels, and the liturgy, but I need more about this dialogue. .

    • The bio above is very stiff & awkward, although it was from this bio that I learned she was a lifelong Episcopalian (a nice change, perhaps?). I actually heard of her from Orthodox friends before this. Here’s a rather nice bio from “Orthodox America:” http://www.roca.org/OA/135/135q.htm. It states: ..”few know much about this remarkable lady, whose Service Book has been called ‘a noble and Christian gift indispensable to the understanding of the teachings of the Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church’ (History of Russian Church Music, N. P. Brill)…. When she died in 1928, at the age of 78, Isabel Hapgood left behind a veritable treasure-house of sympathetic literature-translations and original commentary-of all kinds about Russia and the Orthodox Church. The English-language mission of Orthodoxy owes her a great debt.” Her dates are November 21, 1851 – June 26, 1928.

      A very good article about her and her work is available at http://anglicanhistory.org/women/hapgood/ledkovsky.pdf. It’s telling that it’s on an Anglican site, but is in fact a lecture delivered at the Twelfth Annual Russian Orthodox Musicians Conference by Columbia University’s Marina Ledkovsky Professor Emerita of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Prof. Ledvosky state, “By the turn of the century the quest by Anglicans and Episcopalians for unity with the Russian Orthodox Church was on the mind of most earnest theologians, prelates and ordinary
      faithful on both sides.”

      She did in fact write articles for Atlantic Magazine, but I would suggest that a better subtitle/epithet is “Translator and Ecumenist.” Also, she didn’t study the “Romantic” languages, which sound like Valentine’s Day materials: she might have studied Romance languages, but it sounds like she actually went for German and the Slavic ones. Finally, if she does remain in the calendar (and I’d like her to do so: an Episcopalian so venerated by our Orthodox brothers & sisters is deserving of a place on our calendar as well), then I hope the Collect gets a serious rewrite. It’s another in the series of wordy, didactic collects where God is told why this person is important (in case she’s slipped God’s mind?).

      • I would add to Lin’s comment that in “Romantic [sic] and Germanic languages of Europe” the “of Europe is redundant. After all the Methodists, converts to Rome, Calvinists, Jews and someone who was possibly an agnostic, it’s nice the Commission decided to honor an Episcopalian

  4. Romance languages, not “Romantic” languages. And the wording makes it sound as if Russian, Polish, and Church Slavonic were among these “Romantic (sic) and Germanic” languages, when in fact all three are neither Romance nor Germanic, but Slavic.

    I am not competent to judge her worthiness of inclusion here.

  5. Certainly her worrrk has had a tremndous influence. Her translation of the Russian liturgy is an imortant text, altthough others are now available. Tthe propers seem appropriate and the collect is good.

  6. Line 4, first paragraph: add “November 21, 1851,” after “born”.

    Line 13, first paragraph: delete the redundant comma after “Nation”.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “and” for the hyphen in “1887-1889”.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: delete “her”.

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