Orthodox Christianity is the Faith given to us by Christ Himself and His Holy Apostles. It is the fullness of the Faith, contained in His Church, protected by the Holy Spirit as Christ promised, and maintained to this day, as it forever shall be. It is in Christ and His Church that salvation is found.
The name “Orthodox” began to be used in conjunction with the Church as heresies began to arise during the first few centuries of the Church. Such heresies as Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism were combatted at one or more of the seven Ecumenical Councils, and the truth as given by Christ was defended and preserved.
Then came the unfortunate Great Schism of 1054, when the Roman catholics left the Church, embracing such heresies as papal supremacy, indulgences and the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed. About 500 years later, Martin Luther, a Roman catholic monk, rebelled against the pope, initiating the Protestant Reformation. From this sprang thousands of protestant denominations and sects. The religious moorings of the West are largely entrenched in the sandy foundation laid by Luther, Calvin, Zwinglii, and other reformers. Interestingly, Luther himself was said to be “headed East” to the Church, but died before he converted.
Most Americans who claim to be Christians are affiliated with either the Roman Catholic church, or one of the thousands of denominations, (including “non-denominational” denominations.) Most hold to no official Creed, preferring a “designer” Faith which is subject to their own personal beliefs. Jesus as a “personal Savior” is a common mantra in the West, and personal Saviors allow for truth to be a subjective matter. What one believes personally about Christ becomes their own truth.
A slippery slope, indeed.
My own Journey to Christ began in 1999, when I left the shallow sands of protestantism and embraced Christ and His Church. Save for children, I knew of no other Holcombe who’d ever made this trek.
In short, I”m not the first Orthodox Christian named Holcombe in America. And the first Holcombe we have record of that was an Orthodox Christian has quite the story, indeed.
Francis W. Pickens was the 69th governor of South Carolina, and he assumed office shortly before The Civil War. Governor Pickens’ wife was a woman by the name of Lucy Holcombe. Lucy Holcombe bore a daughter who was given the name Francis.
Prior to becoming governor, Pickens served the United States as its first ambassador to Russia. It was in Russia that he and Lucy Holcombe-Pickens met and befriended the Czar Alexander and his German born wife Marie of Hesse. Such close friends were they that when the Pickens’ daughter was born they agreed that she would be baptized as an Orthodox Christian and the Czar and Czarina stood as her Godparents. It was the Czarina who insisted she take the names “Olga” and “Neva.” The Czar simply took to calling her “Douschka.” The baptism took place in the Imperial palace in St. Petersburg in 1859.
It remains unclear whether the governor or his wife converted to Orthodoxy. However, their daughter was an Orthodox Christian, and there is a very beautiful account of their attending the Pascha (Easter) Night service in St. Petersburg.
Lucy Holcombe-Pickens went on to be known as “The Queen of the Confederacy” and she is the only woman depicted on the currency of the Confederate States of America. The “Holcombe Legion” of the Confederate Army was named after her and she reputedly funded it by the sale of diamonds given her by the Russian Czar. Douschka likewise went on to live a colorful life and became known as “The Joan of Arc of Carolina.” This was for her leadership in the post Civil War “Red Shirt” movement which fought openly to defeat Republican political candidates and limit the civil rights of the newly freed black population. All very ironic, given that it was her Godfather, Alexander II who liberated the serfs in Russia.
To conclude, here is the Douschka Holcombe-Pickens Civil War story as recounted in a book from the beginning of the twentieth century:
“It is said that General Pickens on the twelfth day of April, 1861, at Charleston, took his little daughter in his arms and placed in her tiny hand the lighted match that fired the first gun of the war on Ft. Sumter. Mrs. Pickens held all through her life the friendship of the Imperial Family of Russia, and on the marriage of their daughter, ‘Douschka,’ a silver tea service was sent to her by the Imperial Family.”
There are several Archdioceses within the Church: Greek, Serbian, Antiochian, etc. It’s interesting (perhaps fateful) that I am in the Russian Archdiocese, where we commemorate the Royal Martyrs of Russia at many of our services each week.
It’s also a bonus to realize Lucy Holcombe Pickens was on the right side in the War of Northern Aggression.