Isabel Florence Hapgood: A Very Small Meditation on how Eastern Christian Mystical Theology Begins to Touch the West

Isabel Florence Hapgood: A Very Small Meditation on how Eastern Christian Mystical Theology Begins to Touch the West June 26, 2022





Today, the 26th of June, the American Episcopal Church celebrates the life of Isabel Florence Hapgood.

For me she’s particularly interesting in that she opened some fascinating doors for spiritual exploration.

Born in Boston in 1851 to an affluent family, she had many of the advantages of that time and place. While her gender prevented her from following her twin brother to Harvard, she received good private tutoring and attended the first rate program at Miss Porter’s School  in Connecticut.

Early on she showed a facility for languages. Her interests gradually turned from French and German to Russian, Polish, and Church Slavonic. And she was soon established as a translator of French and Russian literature. Her translations of Victor Hugo introduced him to American readers. Her translations of Tolstoy and Gogol were standard versions for a generation.

Isabel Hapgood worked principally as a journalist.  She was a foreign correspondent for The Nation and The New York Evening Post.  She also contributed to The New York TimesHarper’s WeeklyThe Century, and The Atlantic Monthly.

Her life was not entirely without blemish. But, of course, that is true of us all…

But the important thing, at least for me, was her interest in Russian Orthodoxy. However, washed through her lifelong and, near as I can tell, unwavering Anglicanism.

She spent several years toward the end of the Nineteenth century traveling extensively through the Russian Empire. And returned nearly annually for the rest of her life.

She was among the first to translate Russian liturgies and especially Orthodox choral music into English. She became a friend of then Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Alaska and later Patriarch Tikhon, He provided some critical support for her and his successor in Alaska provided her with a complete set of Church Slavonic texts, which she translated. The “Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic (Greco-Russian) Church” is still in use.

Isabel Florence Hapgood died in New York City on June 26, 1928.  She was 76 years old.

As noted at the beginning of this reflection, the Episcopal Church added her to the denominational calendar of saints at the General Convention of 2009.

Here is one appreciation of her work.


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