Orthodox America

Isabel Hapgood   

So familiar and valuable is Hapgood's Service Book to Orthodox Christians of all jurisdictions that it is almost universally called simply "The Hapgood," for its compiler and translator, Isabel Florence Hapgood. Yet 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).

Born in Boston in 1850, of colonial English-Scottish descent, Isabel Hapgood was a linguist from her earliest years, including Russian and Church Slavonic.  Her love of Russian literature (she translated Tolstoy, Turgenev, and others) led her to investigate Russian Orthodoxy on her first visit to Russia in 1887, and later.  She visited many churches and especially was drawn to monasteries and convents. On subsequent visits, she visited Count and Countess Tolstoy, Tsarina Alexandra, and New-Martyr Patri-arch Tikhon, with whom she became well acquainted.

In 1917 she was caught in Moscow at the beginning of the Revolution, escaping only through the help of the American Consul. The Revolution also affected her second edition of the Service Book. She had wanted Patriarch Tikhon to examine her corrections of the first edition, but found that he had been placed under house arrest and communication with him was impossible.  The government had replaced him and the Holy Synod with bishops of the erroneous "Living Church," and they prevented the Patriarch from reviewing Miss Hapgood's manuscript corrections.

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.

Fr. Alexey Young    

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