404. All Saints of North America

Since I’ve been traveling all week, this is a re-run of Post 69 from June 8, 2018, unchanged except for the introduction, and to update some information. 

All Saints’ Day

Why do we Orthodox have a day to celebrate all the Saints? Because there are far too many to be commemorated individually. Orthodox Wiki lists (if I count right) 28 for today alone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_9_(Eastern_Orthodox_liturgics). Multiply that by 365, and you see the problem. Besides, those are only the saints whose names have been remembered –  because they were martyred, or because they were bishops or monastics with their names recorded in monastic or diocesan records. The names of most saints are long forgotten – holy fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, teachers, parish priests, businessmen and women who were honest and treated their employees fairly, farmers, laborers, and so on and on. They also deserve to be remembered.

Why do we celebrate All the Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost? That’s obvious. Why did the Holy Spirit come upon the Church? Why does He come upon each of us at Baptism and Chrismation? To make us into saints, holy people, * who are set apart for the service of God.

  • I trust you know that “holy” and “saint” are a single word in most languages: The Greek “agios/άγιος” can be translated into English as either “saint” or “holy”. Likewise with the Latin “sanctus”. In French at the Thrice-Holy Hymn they sing “Saint, saint, saint”.)

In some American jurisdictions, on the second Sunday after Pascha they commemorate “All Saints of North America”. However, most of us do not, so that is how I justify repeating my old post on the subject today. Besides, next week I want to talk about something else.

The Orthodox Saints of North America

Little did the apostles imagine that 2000 years later, 8000 miles from Jerusalem, in a land they had never even heard of, the Church would still be carrying out their apostolic work. Although by Orthodox standards the Church in North America is still very young and Orthodoxy here is very small, we have produced a number of notable saints.

Why are most of Russian origin? I think it’s because: 1 they got here first, by about a hundred years; 2 they sent missionaries – priests and monastics – to the Alaskan natives.

The accounts that follow here are obviously very abbreviated. You can find more at https://orthodoxwiki.org/ and at websites of the various Archdioceses. I have not listed the days when they are commemorated, because they vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and new calendar/old calendar makes it even more confusing. You can look up the dates on the appropriate Archdiocese’s website.

The first Orthodox mission to North America came from Russia. In September 1794, after a journey of 7,327 miles, ten monks from Valaam Monastery in western Russia arrived on Kodiak Island in Russian Alaska. Among them was Saint Herman of Alaska. He left Kodiak and settled on little Spruce Island off the south coast and became “appa” (grandpa) to the natives and brought most of them to Christ. There are many stories of his wonderworking, which continue to this day. One of my favorites was told to us at our Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg, by Father Chad Hatfield, who was then dean of Saint Herman’s Seminary on Kodiak island, and is now President of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York: Some years ago a fishing boat off Kodiak island got caught overnight in a storm. They lost their bearings, were taking on water and were prepared to go down, when they saw an old man across the water carrying a lantern, beckoning to them. They thought they must be near an island. As they got close the water was calm, and they assumed they were safe in a harbor. In the morning they woke up and looked out. They were still far out at sea, but in the distance they could see Spruce Island. Saint Herman’s most famous words, often seen on his icons, were spoken to some Russian merchants one evening: “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive to love God above all and fulfill his holy will.” He died in peace on December 13 (though some say November 15 or other dates) in 1836.

Saint Innocent, first Bishop of Alaska, was a bright young man of Irkutsk in southern Siberia, who went to seminary and was on the “bishop track”, as some call it, but that ended when he unexpectedly fell in love and married Catherine, the daughter of a local priest. He was ordained and served a church, but soon he again impetuously volunteered to go to Russian Alaska – without asking his wife who burst into tears when he told her. She probably wanted to kill him, but she agreed. It took over a year to travel east through Siberia and across the Bering Straits. They reached Alaska in 1824. Father John (his name before he became bishop) ministered not just to Russian traders but even more to native Alaskans. He worked long hours, built a church with his own hands, traveled all over by canoe and dogsled to preach to the natives and baptize. He learned Aleut and Tlingit and other native languages, wrote the first Aleut grammar book and translated Church services into Aleut. *  Father John’s wife died, and he was then made bishop for Alaska, taking the name Innocent. He directed mission work, ordained native clergy, built churches and was responsible for many of those Orthodox churches that still dot the landscape, despite 19th Century efforts by the US government to destroy Alaskan Orthodoxy and, believe it or not, make the territory Protestant. He sent missionaries to the west coast of the United States, recommending that services here be done in English – this was in about the year 1865!

  • This is the traditional Orthodox missionary style. We do not try to turn converts into little Russians or Scots or whatever. Instead we learn their culture and language. It was Orthodox missionaries Cyril and Methodius who developed the Cyrillic alphabet which is used to this day in Slavic lands, so people could worship in their own native language. (Our frequent failure to do this in Western countries was because Orthodox usually came not as missionaries but as refugees.) We try to take what is good in a culture and redeem it, use it. Today Orthodox crosses sit atop old Alaskan “spirit houses” where the natives honored their ancestors, but now native Alaskan Orthodox pray there for their ancestors and honor the saints. Orthodox rarely ride in on conquering armies. We are not fly-by-night evangelists. We are not high pressure. We have what is sometimes called a ministry of presence. We settle in, learn the culture, build institutions, churches and schools, celebrate the services, preach the Faith as we can, and let God to give the growth.

In 1867 Bishop Innocent was elected Metropolitan of Moscow. He was nearly 70, his health failing due to overwork.  He was nearly blind and felt utterly inadequate – but he returned to Moscow. As Metropolitan, for twelve years he built homes for widows and orphans, and established the Orthodox Missionary Society. He died on March 31 (old calendar), 1879, at age 82. He directed “no eulogies are to be said at my funeral: rather let them preach an instructive sermon.” An amazing man, and a true apostle to America. The Russian Orthodox Church formally glorified him in 1977, and gave him the title “Enlightener of the Aleuts, Apostle to America”. Even the American Episcopal Church honors him annually on March 30.

We have had, thank God, only two North American Orthodox martyrs. The first, the Russian missionary Juvenal, was killed in Alaska by native pagans in 1799. The second was the convert Peter the Aleut. In 1815 he was in a group of Aleut seal and otter hunters who were captured off the California coast by Spanish sailors and taken to San Francisco for interrogation. Some Spanish Jesuit priests insisted they must convert to Roman Catholicism. When the Aleuts refused, the priests began to torture them. Peter had a toe severed from each of his feet. When he still wouldn’t give in, the Spaniards ordered a group of California native Americans to cut off each finger of Peter’s hands one joint at a time, finally removing both his hands – until he died. They were about to torture the next Aleut when orders were received to release them, so Peter was the only martyr.

The Orthodox Church in America (formerly Russian) lists Alexis Toth of Saint Mary’s Church, Minneapolis, on their calendar. In 1891 he led 361 of his Roman Catholic Uniate parishioners into the Orthodox Church. This was the beginning of the return of many thousands of American Uniates to Orthodoxy, under his direction.

Saint Tikhon came to America in 1898 as bishop of the Diocese of Alaska. As the only Orthodox bishop on the continent, he traveled throughout North America to minister to his scattered and diverse flock. He realized that the Church in America should not be just a permanent extension of the Russian Church, so he focused his efforts on giving the Church here a multi-cultural diocesan and parish structure which would help it mature and grow. Bishop Tikhon returned to Russia in 1907 and was elected Patriarch of Moscow in 1917, just as Communist persecution of the Church began. When he valiantly resisted, he was placed under house arrest. His health failed, and he died in 1925 when the doctor gave him an overdose of morphine – probably on government orders, so he was likely a martyr. He was buried in secret, his grave not rediscovered till 1992.

Saint Raphael of Brooklyn was from Beirut, Lebanon, and the Patriarchate of Antioch. Extensively educated in the Middle East and then in Russia, Father Raphael was sent to New York City in 1895 to help minister under Bishop Tikhon to the local Orthodox community, then composed mostly of Russian and Middle Eastern immigrants. In those days before the Russian revolution confused the situation, most Orthodox in North America were united. In 1904 Raphael became the first Orthodox bishop ordained in North America, consecrated in New York City by Archbishop Tikhon of Moscow and Bishop Innocent. Imagine – 2 saints ordaining a third saint! Raphael became Bishop of Brooklyn. He traveled extensively across North America, ministering especially to Arab immigrants, and founded 29 churches. This was the origin of the present day Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Bishop Raphael died on February 27, 1915, and was buried in New York. In 1989 when his body was transferred to Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania, it was found to be incorrupt. Saint Raphael’s relics may be venerated there today.

John Kochurov and Alexander Hotovitsky both served the Church in North America before returning to Russia where they were martyred by the Communists. Father John was the first priest ever martyred in Russia – in 1917, after over nine centuries of Russian Orthodoxy.

Saint John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco (what a title!) was born in 1896 in Ukraine, served as priest there till in 1934, then was ordained bishop for the Diocese of Shanghai in China. He found the cathedral half built and Orthodox people divided. He united the community, finished the cathedral, involved himself extensively in charitable works and founded an orphanage. Though he tried to hide it, his miracle working ability became known. One evening at the orphanage they had no food and no money and had no idea what to do. They could hear Bishop John all night in his upstairs room prostrating and praying. Next morning trucks arrived with food! Under the Japanese occupation he ignored the curfew as he went about his pastoral duties. When the Communists took over in 1949, Bishop John went first to a refugee camp in the Philippines, then was made bishop for Russians in exile in Europe. In 1962 he became Bishop of San Francisco for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Again he healed a divided community and finished building the cathedral. He was a target of slander, since the Russian Orthodox abroad were deeply divided at that time because of their differing views of their Mother Church under the Communists. (There are still three Russian or formerly Russian Orthodox jurisdictions in America – now happily all in communion with each other.) Bishop John died on July 2, 1966, while on a pastoral visit to Seattle. He had predicted the date and place of his death. His incorrupt relics lie beneath the altar of Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco where there have been many miracles.

At their regular session in 2015, the Holy Assembly of Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced the glorification of two clerics who served in North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—Bishop Mardarije [Uskokovic] of Libertyville (Illinois) and Archimandrite Sebastian [Dabovich] of San Francisco. Both are recognized as “preachers of the Gospel, God-pleasing servants of the holy life, and inspirers of many missionaries” because of their pastoral labors in America and their homeland.

There are more North American saints, some known to us, but most unknown, of course.

I wonder: where are the Greek American saints? Greeks certainly have had many in the old country. Surely there have been some here, but none are listed on their calendar. Can someone here present explain?

The Future?

We have a great heritage. What the future holds for Orthodoxy in North America only God knows.  In recent times, our number of parishes has held even, or slightly increased. The latest statistics show that we “Eastern Orthodox” are losing members, especially in the Greek Archdiocese. However, the number of  “Oriental Orthodox” is increasing rapidly. See: https://frbillsorthodoxblog.com/2021/10/15/283-2020-orthodox-statistics-in-america-bad-news-and-good-news/

A recent Wall Street Journal article was positive about Orthodox growth. If you don’t subscribe, it can be accessed here.  https://archangelsgoc.org/wall-street-journal-eastern-orthodoxy-shows-growth-in-u-s-as-parishes-gain-converts/ From what I hear and have experienced, a considerable number of young people (individuals and young families) are becoming Orthodox.

An NPR report from about a year ago headlined that Orthodoxy in America is drawing in “far right” members, Howeverm actually it says this is true of Russian Orthodoxy in America, and that actually they are not finding a welcome in Greek and Antiochian parishes. https://archangelsgoc.org/wall-street-journal-eastern-orthodoxy-shows-growth-in-u-s-as-parishes-gain-converts/

In any case, we’re still small here in North America – only about one half of one percent of the population in the US, less than two percent in Canada. But Anthony, our Antiochian Bishop of the Midwest, says this: As American Christianity loses its bearings and as, at least in the United States, our culture splinters, Orthodoxy alone has the stability and the answers and, God willing, is the future.

However, growth is far less important than holiness. Who does God value more? 10 people who are holy or 100 on the Church roles who are lackadaisical? Indeed, what will give us the kind of growth we need? God grant us more saints!

Holy Saints of North America, pray for your Church and for the people of North America, for the salvation of our culture and of our souls!

Next Week: What ever happened to fathers?

Week after next: Hmmmmm……

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