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In 1795 Hieromonk Juvenaly left Kodiak for Nuchek, where he baptized more than seven hundred Chugach, and then crossed to Kenai Bay and baptized there all the local inhabitants. In the following year (1796), he crossed to Alaska in the direction of Lake Iliamna, where his apostolic duties came to an end, together with his life. He was killed by the natives, and the reason for his death, was partly because the first thing he did after baptizing the natives was to order them to give up polygamy. He had also persuaded the chiefs and other leading men in the tribes there to give him their children so that the latter might be educated on Kodiak. When he set out with the children, the men regretted what they had done, gave chase, caught up with him, and fell upon him.
When Father Juvenaly was attacked by the savages he did not try to defend himself, or run away, which he could easily have done, especially since he had a firearm with him. He let himself be taken without offering any resistance, asking only that those with him should be spared, which was done.
Much later those who had been spared related that when Father Juvenaly was already dead he had risen up and followed his murderers, saying something to them. The savages, supposing him to be still alive, attacked him again and beat him. But as soon as they left him he again stood up and followed them, and this happened several times. Finally, in order to be rid of him, the savages hacked his body to pieces. Only then did this fervent preacher fall silent, a Martyr for the word of God. On the spot where the missionary's remains lay, there at once appeared a column of flame, reaching up to the sky.
In a letter to Abbot Damascene of Valaam, dated November 22, 1865, Simeon I. Yanovsky, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies from 1818 to 1820, wrote:
Once I related to [Fr. (later St.) Herman] how the Spaniards in California had taken fourteen of our Aleuts prisoner, and how the Jesuits had tortured one of them, to try and force them all to take the Catholic faith. But the Aleuts would not submit, saying: We are Christians, we have been baptized, and they showed them the crosses they wore. But the Jesuits objected, saying No, you are heretics and schismatics; if you do not agree to take the Catholic faith we will torture you. And they left them shut up two to a cell until the evening to think it over.
In the evening they came back with a lantern and lighted candles, and began again to try and persuade them to become Catholics. But the Aleuts were filled with God's grace, and firmly and decisively answered, We are Christians and we would not betray our faith. Then the fanatics set about torturing them. First they tortured one singly while the other one was made to watch. First they cut off one of the toe joints from one foot, and then from the other, but the Aleut bore it all and continued to say: I am a Christian and I will not betray my faith. Then they cut a joint off each finger first from one hand, then the other; then they hacked off one foot at the instep, then one hand at the wrist. The blood poured out, but the martyr bore it all to the end, maintaining his stand, and with this faith he died, from loss of blood!
On the following day it was planned to torture the others, but that same night an order was received from Monterey that all the captured Russian Aleuts were to be sent under guard to Monterey. And so in the morning those remaining alive were sent away. This was related to me by an Aleut who was an eyewitness a colleague of the man put to death and who later escaped from the Spaniards....
When I had finished telling him this, Father [Herman] asked me, What was the name of this tortured Aleut? Peter, I replied, but I cannot remember the other name.
Then the elder stood before the Icon, devoutly crossed himself and said, Holy newly-martyred [Peter], pray to God for us!
[The above accounts were taken from The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon, St. Petersburg, 1894.]
In 1798, Archimandrite Joasaph returned to Irkutsk in Siberia and was consecrated on April 10, 1899, Bishop of Kodiak, the first Bishop for America, but he and his entourage, including Hieromonk Makary and Hierodeacon Stephen of the original Mission, drowned somewhere between Unalaska and Kodiak Island. Though the American Mission was now reduced to half of its original number, it continued its work. Notable was the great spiritual and missionary work of the Monks Herman and Joasaph. Not only did they instruct the natives in spiritual and religious matters, but they also taught them practical, secular subjects, such as mathematics, carpentry, agriculture, as well as animal husbandry.
In 1824, with the arrival of the Missionary Priest John Veniaminov in Unalaska, a new impetus was added to the missionary work already done. The original missionaries had been replaced by others, so that by the time of the arrival of Father John, only the Monk Herman, now retired to Spruce Island, was left of the original American Mission. He died on December 13, 1837, and on August 9, 1970, he was canonized as the first Saint of the Orthodox Church in America.
Little is known of the early life of the Monk Herman. He was born in Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese about 1756 and at the age of 16, he began his monastic life at the Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg. While at the Hermitage, Herman developed a severe infection on the right side of his throat which brought him to the point of death. After fervent prayer before an Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos he fell into a deep sleep, and during this sleep, Herman dreamed that he was healed by the Virgin. Upon waking, he found that he had completely recovered. Remaining at the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage for five more years, he then moved to the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga.
During his stay at the Valaam Monastery, Father Herman developed a strong spiritual attachment to the Elder Nazarius, Abbot and Renewer of the spiritual life of Valaam. He found in Nazarius a gentle, yet effective spiritual guide, whom he would remember for the rest of his life. During his stay in Valaam, the monastery was visited by Gregory Shelikov, head of the Golikov-Shelikov Trading Company, who requested Monks to work in the new mission field in Alaska. Thus, in 1793, Father Herman, with several other Monks was sent by the Holy Synod of Russia to the Alaskan missionary field.
After a journey of nearly a year, the little band of eight Monks arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. From Kodiak, the Monks began their effort to convert and educate the natives. Several thousand Alaskans were converted to Orthodoxy, but the Mission did not have the success that had been expected. Archimandrite Joasaph, the head of the Mission, was consecrated a Bishop, but died with two others when the ship on which he was returning to Alaska sank, and Fr. Herman, who, from the beginning had distinguished himself with his humility, compassion for the natives and his administrative skills, became the acting head of the Mission. Eventually only he remained from the original Mission.
After difficult relations with and persecution by the Russian-American Trading Company, which controlled the Alaska Colony, between 1808 and 1818 Fr. Herman left Kodiak and went to Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. He spent the rest of his life on this island, where he cared for orphans, ran a school and continued his missionary work. He built a small chapel, school and guest house, while food for himself and the orphans was produced from his own experimental garden.
Caring little for himself, Fr. Herman wore the oldest and simplest clothes under his cassock and ate very little. His free time was devoted to prayer and singing the services he could do as a simple Monk, since, in humility, he had refused to be ordained. Thus, his life on the island was that of an ascetic and was in many ways similar to the lives of the early Monks of the Egyptian desert. When asked if he was ever lonesome, Fr. Herman answered, No, I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. The Most-Holy Angels are there. With whom is it better to talk, with people or with Angels? Most certainly with Angels.
Father Herman continued to grow in his love for the natives while he lived on Spruce Island, for he saw them as newly-born children in the faith, who had to be guided and taught. He had a special love for the children and they were very fond of him. One of his greatest pleasures was being with children, teaching them and giving them the delicacies he made. During this time a ship from the United States brought an epidemic to the Alaskans and hundreds of them died. But they were not alone, for Herman remained with them constantly, going from person to person, Comforting the dying, and praying with and for them. After the epidemic ended, Fr. Herman brought the orphans back to New Valaam with him and cared for them. On Sundays and Holy Days, Fr. Herman would gather the people for prayer and singing, and he would give sermons that captivated the hearts of all those present. As a clairvoyant Elder, he could see into the hearts of his spiritual children and help them.
The natives recognized the holiness of the Venerable One and turned to him for help, seeing in him an intercessor before God. Once there was a great tidal wave threatening the island and the people came to Fr. Herman for help. He took an Icon of the Theotokos, placed it on the beach and said, Have no fear. The water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands; and it did not. On another occasion there was a fire on the island and the people again turned to the righteous Elder, who interceded successfully on their behalf.
Prior to his death, Fr. Herman revealed what would happen to him. He told the people that when he died there would be no Priest in the area and the people would have to bury him by themselves. He also said that he would be forgotten for thirty years and then would be remembered. Father Herman died on December 13, 1837, in the manner in which he had described to his flock. They continued to revere his memory, but the outside world seemed to forget him until the first investigation of his life in 1867, by Bishop Peter of Alaska. Finally, on August 9, 1970, the Holy Monk was glorified by the Orthodox Church in America, in impressive ceremonies at Kodiak, Alaska, and the Blessed Father Herman of Alaska entered the ranks of Saints who are interceding on behalf of American Orthodoxy.
The Church, however, worked hard to further the work of the Mission, even in these difficult times, so that, despite the harsh climate, the difficulty of supplying the Mission because of the great distances involved, Father John found a solid foundation upon which to do his work. He had the help of Father Jacob Netsvetov (a Creole, one of mixed race), who had been sent to Irkutsk, Siberia, for Seminary training, and had been ordained in 1828. (The first American-born Priest, Prokopy Lavrov, was ordained in 1810, but he returned to Russia after a brief period of less than a year, since he found the life in Kodiak too harsh.)
Together, Fathers John and Jacob were a remarkable missionary pair. They succeeded in revitalizing the Mission to such a degree that at the end of the 1830's, there were five active Priests and five religious centers, with more than 10,000 Orthodox Christians. There were four schools for boys (about 100 students) and four orphanages for girls (about 60). All these schools, as well as the churches, gave religious instruction to the natives in their native tongues. This missionary work was financially supported primarily by the Russian-American Company, with substantial assistance also provided by the Holy Synod and the Church of Russia.
On December 15, 1840, the American Mission was blessed with the consecration of the now-widowed Priest, Fr. John Veniaminov, as Innocent, Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and the Aleutian Islands. With the consecration of Bishop Innocent, the history of the American Mission entered an even more glorious phase. Bishop Innocent's sixteen years of experience in the Alaskan missionary field, coupled with his in depth knowledge of the natives now entrusted to his pastoral care, as well as his judicious choice of fellow missionaries, accounted for the unparalleled success of the Mission.
As soon as he arrived in Sitka (the capital of Russian America), he began the work of enlarging the missionary work of the Diocese. The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was beautified and enlarged, and plans were laid for the construction of a Seminary, which opened in 1845. At the same time, he continued his extensive missionary journeys throughout his far-flung Diocese which covered parts of two continents.
When his responsibility was again increased with the enlargement of his Diocese into an Archdiocese, with increased territories, Bishop Innocent transferred his center of activity to Siberia, leaving an Auxiliary Bishop to supervise the American part of his enlarged domain. In 1869, Archbishop Innocent was elevated to the See of Moscow as its Metropolitan, but he still kept a careful watch over his beloved American Church. Important here was the organization, at his urging, of the Russian Missionary Society, which was organized to further the missionary work of the Russian Church, especially in Siberia, Alaska and Japan, which guaranteed that the work begun in America would not be abandoned or forgotten with the sale of Alaska to America which had occurred in 1867. With true prophetic insight, the aged Metropolitan called for the missionary work to be directed to the whole of America and foresaw the need for American-born clergy totally conversant with the American cultural ethos, as well as the English language.
John Popov (later St. Innocent) was born on August 27, 1797, in Aginsk, a small village near Irkutsk, Siberia. He came from a pious family and at age six, young John was already reading at his parish. At age nine he entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, where he remained for eleven years, proving to be its most brilliant pupil during this time. Besides his Seminary classes, he read all of the books in the library dealing with history and the sciences, and while still a student he began to construct different types of clocks, acquiring the skills of carpentry, furniture making, blacksmithing, and the construction of musical instruments.
At the age of seventeen, in recognition of his outstanding achievements at the Seminary, his last name was changed to Veniaminov, in honor of the late Bishop Benjamin (or Veniamin) of Irkutsk. Not long after graduation from the Seminary, John married the daughter of a Priest and was ordained to the Deaconate. In 1821, he was ordained to the Priesthood.
While a young man, Fr. John had heard stories about the native settlements at Unalaska in the Aleutian Island chain, part of the Russian colony in America, and how they labored in the darkness of paganism. Thus, in 1823, having heard that the Bishop of Irkutsk had been requested to send a Priest to Alaska and that everyone else had refused, against the wishes of his family and friends, he volunteered to go. After fourteen months of difficult travel across the wilds of Siberia and the Bering Sea, he arrived in Unalaska with his family.
Upon arriving at Unalaska, Fr. John found that there was no house or chapel there, but he welcomed this as an opportunity to teach the natives. He first built a home for his family, using the opportunity to teach the natives carpentry. Constructing furniture for the new home, he taught the natives this skill as well, so that, with these newly-acquired skills, they were able to assist Fr. John in the construction of the Cathedral of the Ascension, which was completed in 1826.
At the same time, Fr. John's primary work was converting the natives to Orthodoxy and educating them. He learned the Aleut language, as well as the life style of the people. He and his wife organized a school for them (as well as for their own six children), and one of the required subjects was the Aleut language, for which Fr. John had devised an alphabet based on the Cyrillic. He translated services, as well as the Gospel of St. Matthew, and even wrote a small book, A Guide to the Way to the Heavenly Kingdom in the Aleut language.
Fr. John traveled throughout the Aleutian chain to teach and baptize the people, and while preaching he was always able to communicate effectively with his flock. One of these wrote, many years later: When he preached the Word of God, all the people listened, and they listened without moving until he stopped. Nobody thought of fishing or hunting while he spoke; nobody felt hungry or thirsty as long as he was speaking, not even little children.
In 1834, Fr. John and his family were transferred to Sitka, where the local Tlingit population was intensely antagonistic to their Russian overlords. He learned their language and culture, but they showed now real interest in his message until a smallpox epidemic hit the area. Father John convinced many of the Tlingits to be vaccinated, saving many of them from death. This served to be the means whereby he was to reach these natives and gradually he gained their love and respect.
In 1836, Fr. John decided to return to Russia to report to the Holy Synod on the needs of the Alaskan Mission. Leaving his family in Irkutsk, he went on to Moscow, where he met with the Synod, which approved his request for more Priests and funds for the Mission, as well as desiring to publish his translations. While in Moscow, he learned of the death of his wife. Hearing of this, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow encouraged Fr. John to become a Monk, which he accepted, being tonsured with the name Innocent. Soon after, the Alaskan Mission was constituted part of a Diocese and Fr. Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and Alaska on December 15, 1840.
Returning to his new Diocese, Bishop Innocent traveled to the far reaches of his new domain, teaching the population and organizing churches. Everywhere he preached and served in the native languages. In Sitka, he organized a Seminary to train native Priests and built a new cathedral there dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Although preoccupied with the affairs of his large Diocese, the Bishop did find time to construct, with his own hands, the large clock on the front of the Cathedral.
In 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and his new Archdiocese was enlarged to include more territory in Asiatic Russia, with its center at Yakutsk. Once more Innocent and his Priests set out to learn languages and cultures, teaching the new flock with gentleness and by personal example. In 1860, Archbishop Innocent met the future Bishop Nicholas of Japan (canonized in 1970), who was just beginning his lifetime missionary labors, and he gave Nicholas advice on missionary work.
Despite declining health and his request to retire, in 1868, Innocent was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. He was especially loved by his new flock for his many works of charity, and he remembered his former missions by organizing the Imperial Mission Society, which he served as its first President. Almost blind and in constant pain, Metropolitan Innocent died on Holy Saturday, 1879, at the age of eighty-two, having served Christ and His Church throughout his entire life, distinguishing himself as a true missionary and apostle. In recognition of his great apostolic and missionary labors, the Russian Orthodox Church, on October 6, 1977, solemnly glorified this Man of God and entered him into the Church Calendar, styling him St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the America's.
In 1867, Bishop Peter (Lyaskov) of Sitka was succeeded by Bishop Paul (Popov) and in this year the first study of the life of the Elder Herman of Spruce Island was initiated. In 1870, Bishop John (Metropolsky) was appointed and he transferred the center of the American Church from Sitka to San Francisco, California, in 1872. In 1879, the American Church came under the supervision of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and the long tie with the Diocese of Eastern Siberia was ended, with Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) being appointed Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in that year. In 1882, however, he drowned at sea and was buried on the Island of Unalaska.
After six years without a resident Hierarch, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) was appointed in 1881, and on March 25, 1891, he accepted the Holy Virgin Protection Uniate Church in Minneapolis, as well as its Pastor, Fr. Alexis Toth, into the Orthodox Church. With this event, the American Mission entered into a new phase of its life. A Church almost exclusively concerned with missionary work among the natives of America, mostly in Alaska, now was to change its focus of attention to the return of the Uniates to Orthodoxy. This work, until now centered in the Western provinces of Russia, was directed to those Uniates who had emigrated to America, together with those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicians and Carpatho-Russians). The first attempts at a development of an English liturgical text to be used in the Church also began at this time.
In 1891, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) arrived in America and became deeply involved in the many-sided work of the American Mission to the native Alaskans, to the newly-returned Uniates, as well as to the Orthodox immigrants from virtually all of the traditional Orthodox nations in Europe and Asia. It was in this period (from the time of the American Civil War) that Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Russians, Syrians and Albanians began to come to America in increasingly greater numbers. The Mission was now extended to Canada, where great numbers of Orthodox and Uniate immigrants had been arriving, a Missionary School was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a bilingual (English-Russian) publication for the Diocese was initiated.
In 1898, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) arrived to rule over the Church in America, and in his nine years of service in America, the Mission was brought to a new stage of maturity. For the first time the American Mission became a full Diocese, with its presiding Bishop wholly responsible for a Church within the continental limits of North America. In 1905, the center of the Church was transferred to New York (St. Nicholas Cathedral, the new Episcopal Cathedra, had been dedicated in 1902), and the newly-elevated Archbishop Tikhon was now given two Auxiliary Bishops to administer a greatly-expanded Church in America. Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox Bishop consecrated in America March 12, 1904) was primarily responsible for the Syro-Arab communities and the other Auxiliary, Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) was appointed Bishop of Alaska.
Jacob Netsvetov was born on the island of Atka, Alaska, in 1802. His father was a Russian, an employee of the Russian-American Trading Company, and his mother was a Native American. Raised in Irkutsk, Siberia, Jacob received a theological education. At age 23, he married a Russian woman from Siberia, named Anna. Three years later, he was ordained a priest and assigned to St. Nicholas parish on Atka, his birthplace. He was the first Native American Orthodox Christian to be ordained to the priesthood.
Father Jacob’s parish territory consisted of a number of islands, spanning a total distance of 2,000 miles. He visited the islands regularly, ministering to the faithful and dispensing medicine. He established a school and, with the help of St. Innocent, Fr. Jacob developed a written form of the local Unangan language. He then translated the Scriptures and other writings into it. Most of the Islanders had already been introduced to the basics of Christianity and had been baptized by lay missionaries. It was Fr. Jacob’s task to chrismate the people and to continue their Christian education. In his first year, he recorded that he had baptized 16, chrismated 442, married 53 couples, and buried 8.
Father Jacob kept a most interesting and valuable journal of his activities. For example, an excerpt of his entry for November 26, 1842, reads: “On the occasion of the feast of St. Innocent of Irkutsk, I held the vigil. In the morning, prior to Liturgy, I baptized an infant born to a local Aleut a week ago. Then, all the children, boys and girls, were gathered in the chapel, and I spoke to them about God’s love for people, especially for children…. Afterwards, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy, at which 50 adults who had come to confession were joined to the Holy Mysteries. Later on, I visited the cemetery and sang the requiem for all those who had died there since my last visit. The rest of my time was spent performing weddings…. After the services, I instructed the newlyweds on the meaning of marriage and the duties of husband and wife, respectively. Thus I concluded my activities there.”
In 1844, St. Innocent appointed Father Jacob (now a widower) to the Kuskokwim/Yukon Delta region as a missionary priest. He spent the next twenty years ministering to and learning the languages of the Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabaskan Indians of this vast region of the southwest Alaska tundra.
Father Jacob fell asleep in the Lord on July 26, 1864, at the age of 62. He was glorified as “Enlightener of the Peoples of Alaska” in 1994. His feast day is commemorated on July 26.
Alexis Toth was born on March 18, 1854, in Eperjes, Hungary, the son of a priest. He studied in Roman and Byzantine Catholic seminaries and married his wife, Rosalie, soon after graduation from the University of Presov. Alexis was ordained a priest in the Uniate Greek Catholic Church in 1878 and assigned as a parish priest. His wife died soon afterwards, followed by their only child – losses which the saint endured with the patience of Job.
In 1879, he was appointed secretary to the bishop of Presov, director of an orphanage, and professor of church history and canon law. In 1889, he was appointed to pastor St. Mary’s Uniate parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Upon arrival in America, Fr. Alexis presented himself to the local Roman Catholic bishop who refused to accept him as a legitimate priest. The parishioners of St. Mary’s were immigrants from the Carpathians Mountains of Austrian Galicia. Their ancestors had been Orthodox, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire had imposed the Roman Catholic Church upon all as the state church. As Uniates, however, they were allowed to retain Orthodox-style services and practices rather than the Latin rite. Fr. Alexis appealed to both Presov and Rome, but got no answer. Other Uniate communities were being treated in the same way by Roman Catholic bishops all over America.
As one who was well learned in history and doctrine, Fr. Alexis had for a long time longed for himself and his people to return to the Communion of the Orthodox Faith. The situation with the Roman bishops prompted him to think about taking action. In October of 1890, eight of the ten Uniate priests in America met in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to discuss their situation. On March 25, 1891, Orthodox Bishop Vladimir went to Minneapolis and received Fr. Alexis and his community. Although some accused Fr. Alexis of becoming Orthodox for financial gain, in fact he did not receive any financial support for a long time, for his parish was very poor. He worked in a bakery to support himself and, even though his funds were meager, he never neglected to give alms to the poor and needy and shared his money with other clergy worse off than himself. He also contributed to the building of churches and to the education of seminarians. The other Uniate communities saw and took courage in following his example. He moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, two years later to continue his work there.
Fr. Alexis did not hesitate to point out errors in the doctrines of other Churches, but he was always careful to warn his flock against intolerance. His writings and sermons are filled with admonitions to respect other people and faiths. In the midst of great hardships, he issued a stream of Orthodox writings for new converts and gave practical advice on how to live in an Orthodox manner. By the end of his life, he had personally received about 15,000 Uniates back to Orthodoxy. Fr. Alexis fell asleep in the Lord on May 7, 1909. He was glorified as “Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy in America” in 1994. His feast day is commemorated on May 7.
Raphael Hawaweeny was born on November 8, 1860, in Beirut, Lebanon. His parents, Michael and Miriam, had fled there from Damascus, Syria, before the Druze massacres which claimed the lives of 2,500 Christians.
Raphael attended the Greek Orthodox Theological School in Halki, Turkey; then traveled to Russia to further his studies at the Kiev Theological Academy. He was ordained a priest in 1889 and assigned to pastor the Antiochian Patriarchal Embassy in Moscow. He came know to the Arab communities in America as they sought his leadership. Bishop Nicholas of the North American diocese also went to Russia to recruit him and other missionaries. They arrived in America on November 14, 1895.
Immediately, Fr. Raphael set to work and organized the parish that would eventually become St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. Then after just five months in America, he set out on the first of several missionary journeys by rail across and up and down the United States, Canada, and Mexico, seeking out Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians and establishing parishes.
Twice in 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected a bishop in his homeland. Twice he declined, stating that his work in America was not finished. St. Tikhon, by then Bishop of North America, also had great confidence in Fr. Raphael and asked the Holy Synod of Russia to elect him as Bishop of Brooklyn. The consecration took place on March 12, 1904, in New York; and Raphael became the first Orthodox bishop consecrated on American soil. With the help of St. Alexander (Hotovitsky), a colleague from Russia and fellow missionary, Bishop Raphael immediately began publication of The Word, an Arabic-language journal.
He could and did serve the entire Divine Liturgy in perfect Arabic, Greek, Russian, or English; but, when Bishop Raphael saw the young people of the Church drifting away because they did not understand Arabic, he insisted that Sunday School instruction, the Divine Liturgy, and other services be in English. He worked with Isabel Hapgood to prepare the famous English language Service Book that was published under the direction of Bishop Tikhon in 1906. The Holy Synod of Antioch made more attempts to lure him back to the Middle East, offering him lucrative dioceses; but he steadfastly declined, declaring that his work in America was not yet complete. By 1909, when his health failed and he became bed-ridden due to his tireless labors, he had established more than thirty parishes. Bishop Raphael fell asleep in the Lord on February 27, 1915, at the age of 54. His flock mourned for him bitterly. He was canonized a saint by the Orthodox Church in America on May 29, 2000, at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, New Canaan, Pennsylvania. He was glorified as the “Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America.” His feast day is the Saturday before the Synaxis of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, which falls between November 1 and 7.
Vassily Ivanovich Belavin was born on January 19, 1865, the son of a priest, near Pskov, Russia. He was destined for the priesthood from an early age and excelled in his studies in school and at the famous St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Upon graduation, he immediately started teaching at a seminary. He was tonsured a monk in 1891, taking the name Tikhon, and was ordained a priest soon after; yet he continued teaching.
In 1897, Father Tikhon was consecrated as Bishop of Liublin, Poland; but within a few months, he was reassigned as Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (which included the entire U.S. and Canada). He arrived in New York on December 12, 1898. He was the only Orthodox bishop on the continent; and his flock was made up of native Americans (Eskimos, Aleuts, and Indians), Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Greeks, Antiochians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians, Galicians, Carpatho-Russians, Romanians, and others, at a time when immigration was at its peak. Bishop Tikhon worked to maintain the unity of all these Orthodox faithful while, at the same time, allowing for ethnic and cultural variations. He used a multitude of languages, and he held services in English at his cathedral as early as 1904. In 1906, he published a translation of the Liturgy and other church services into English. Bishop Tikhon traveled all through North America during his nine years as bishop here. He established many parishes; he opened the first Orthodox seminary in America, in Minneapolis, and he founded the first monastery, in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He devoted all his efforts to making the Church in America into a local, self-sustaining, autonomous Orthodox Church, not merely an extension of the Russian Church. Bishop Tikhon requested and received help in an auxiliary bishop for Alaska. To assist him in caring for Arabic-speaking immigrants, in 1904, Bishop Tikhon also consecrated the Antiochian Raphael Hawaweeny as Bishop of Brooklyn.
Archbishop Tikhon was transferred to an important diocese back in Russia in 1907. In 1914, he was transferred again, to the diocese of Vilnius, Poland. Just then World War I broke out. Archbishop Tikhon traveled to the front lines and personally cared for sick and wounded soldiers. In 1917, he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow. That same year, the patriarchate was restored and Tikhon was elected as the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 217 years.
That same year, communist Bolsheviks began terrorizing Russia with gunfire, murdered the Tsar and his family, and began a fierce persecution against the Church. Patriarch Tikhon stood firm in denouncing the Bolsheviks’ political abuses and violence, yet he also appealed to the Russian people to obey all legitimate decrees of the new Soviet government – anything that did not violate the Faith. The atheists confiscated churches and melted down chalices, censers, tabernacles, and other precious liturgical items. Through all this, the Patriarch shepherded his persecuted flock. In 1922, the communists placed him under house arrest. He was admitted to a hospital in 1925, suffering from very poor health. There, he was given a lethal dose of morphine “to ease the pain” of his heart attacks. Patriarch Tikhon fell asleep in the Lord on March 25, 1925, at the age of 60. The Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed him a saint in 1989, designating him as “Enlightener of North America and Confessor of Moscow.”
The term “enlightener” refers to his role in evangelizing the American people. In his last sermon in America, St. Tikhon said, “The Light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people…. It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light, and our joy with those who do not have these gifts. This duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St. Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body, every member takes part.”
John Alexandrovich Kochurov was born July 13, 1871, in Bigildino-Surky, Russia. His father was the village priest. John graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1895. He married Alexandra, the daughter of a priest, and was ordained to the priesthood in August of the same year.
During his theological studies, John had felt a call to be a missionary. He asked Bishop Nicholas to let him become part of the American Mission. By October, Fr. John and his wife were in Chicago. He was assigned as pastor of St. Vladimir’s Cathedral there as well as pastor of Three Hierarchs mission in Streator, Illinois, ninety miles away. St. Vladimir’s ‘Cathedral’ was actually a rented house. The people worshipped on the ground floor. Fr. John, the church reader, and their families lived upstairs, with large cracks in the walls.
Shortly after his arrival as Bishop of North America, St. Tikhon visited Chicago in 1899. He gave the community his blessing to try to build a new church. By the next day, Fr. John had found a plot of land. The Chicago community was composed of largely poor people, so Fr. John traveled to Russia to seek funds for construction. Bishop Tikhon consecrated Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1903, which had been built for – by the standards of the time – the enormous sum of fifty thousand dollars, blending traditional Russian and 20th century American architecture, according to Fr. John’s design. The temple quickly became the center of a thriving, self-sufficient pan-Orthodox community, including Russians, Greeks, Arabs, former Uniates and Roman Catholics, and many others. Fr. John also traveled extensively, ministering to groups of Orthodox Christians and accepting the increasing numbers of converts to the Faith. Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn presided over a large diocesan assembly honoring Fr. John, in 1905, for his first decade of service and presented him with a gold cross.
Fr. John and his family, now including six children, returned to Russia in 1907, where he spent the next nine years teaching theology in secondary schools. In 1916, Fr. John resumed his life as a parish priest at St. Katherine’s Cathedral in Tsarkoye Selo, near St. Petersburg. People flocked to hear his preaching. It was not long, however, before the Bolshevik Red Guard exposed the town to artillery fire. The townspeople jammed into St. Katherine’s, where Fr. John and the other clergy spontaneously led them in a prayer service seeking an end to the civil conflict. The clergy then decided to lead the people in a solemn procession through the town, calling for an end to the fratricide. Candles were lit in the hands of all the people, as they were praying and singing. The next day, October 31, 1917, the Bolsheviks entered the town and began making rounds, arresting people. Because of his leading the procession and prayer for the salvation of Russia, they took Fr. John to St. Theodore’s Cathedral on the outskirts of town and assassinated him there in a succession of rifle shots. When they took his body to the hospital the next day, his cross was already missing.
Father John thus became the first of countless numbers martyred at the hands of the atheist Bolsheviks. Since the moment of his martyrdom, which by the shedding of his blood sanctified his homeland, the veneration of his life and witness has continued to grow both in Russia and in America. The Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church glorified him in 1994, jointly, as “First Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yoke and Missionary of America.” His feast day is commemorated on October 31.
Alexander Alexandrovich Hotovitsky was born on February 11, 1872, in Kremenetz, Russia, the son of a priest. He attended the Volynia Theological Seminary, which his father headed, and went on for graduate studies at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Upon graduation in 1895, he applied for a position with the North American mission and was accepted. He accompanied Bishop Nicholas to America that year.
In America, Alexander met Maria, and they were married the next year. A month later, Alexander was ordained a priest and assigned to the newly founded St. Nicholas parish in New York City, which was to become the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan. At first, the parish rented a house: services were conducted on the first floor and Father Alexander’s family lived on the second level. In 1901, Father Alexander traveled to Russia to raise funds to build the cathedral. St. Tikhon consecrated the magnificent, new cathedral on East 97th Street the very next year.
Father Alexander traveled up and down the east coast and Canada, as well, helping to establish new parishes. He worked also to bring the Uniates back into the Orthodox Communion. Everywhere he went people flocked to hear him speak, for his sincerity and conviction clearly shone through. He published the American Orthodox Messenger in both English and Russian; and he assisted his friend, Bishop Raphael, in publishing The Word in Arabic.
From 1914 to 1917, Father Alexander served as a priest in Helsinki, Finland. He returned to Russia in 1917 and participated in the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-18, where he was a major proponent of the reestablishment of the Moscow Patriarchate. He thereafter served as a close advisor to the sainted Patriarch Tikhon.
Fr. Alexander served in a number of parishes in the ensuing years, including at the famous Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He spoke boldly, encouraging his flock, ravaged by the terrors of the Bolsheviks, to stand firm in the Faith and to protect the churches. He helped the needy and fed the starving. Because he was a leader and organizer, the communists made Fr. Alexander one of their chief targets. They exiled him to concentration camps numerous times for his pastoral activities, for refusing to surrender the sacred vessels to be melted down, and, especially, for disobeying the law by teaching children and holding church school classes. He disappeared following his final arrest, in 1937, suffering as a martyr for the Christian Faith at the hands of the Soviets.
In 1994, the bicentennial of the arrival of the first Orthodox missionaries to America, The Orthodox Church in America and the Church of Russia canonized Father Alexander jointly. He was glorified as the “New Hieromartyr of Russia and Missionary to America.” His feast day is commemorated on December 4.
Nikola Velimirovich was born into a large peasant family in Lelich, Serbia, on December 23, 1880. After completing studies at the local schools, he went on to attend the St. Sava Theological Seminary in Belgrade, graduating in 1902. He received the first of many doctoral degrees in 1909 from the Theological Faculty in Bern, Switzerland. That year, he returned to Serbia and was tonsured a monk at the Monastery of Rakovica, receiving the name Nicholas. Shortly thereafter, he was ordained a priest and joined the faculty at the St. Sava Seminary. Fr. Nicholas went to England during World War I, where he lectured at Oxford University and received a doctorate in philosophy. Returning to Serbia in 1919, he was elected bishop of the dioceses of Zica and Ochrid.
Bishop Nicholas came to America in 1921 and spent two years as a missionary, traveling extensively, establishing and administrating the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in the United States and Canada. He then returned to Serbia to care for the flocks of his own dioceses.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Yugoslavia. They tortured and massacred hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians. Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo and Bishop Nicholas were sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp. Bishop Nicholas, who was a spiritual man of prayer, remarked years later, “I tried the visualization of God’s presence. And as little as I succeeded, it helped me enormously to prevent me from sinning in freedom and from despairing in prison. If we kept the vision of the invisible God, we would be happier, wiser, and stronger in every walk of life.” Having survived the war, Bishop Nicholas was prevented from returning to Yugoslavia by the communists.
Bishop Nicholas returned to America in 1946 as a refugee. He settled down at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He taught courses and soon became head of the Seminary, while also earning three more doctorates. He taught his courses in English, a bold step at the time, which earned him the resentment of some of the other faculty members; but he insisted. When someone complained, he would reply, “You have learned and heard enough. It is time for the seminarians to learn something.” Bishop Nicholas also received and corresponded with many spiritual children. He was loved and respected, and people eagerly sought his wise and insightful spiritual counsel. He knew each one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Bishop Nicholas fell asleep in the Lord on March 18, 1956. The local diocese glorified him as a saint in 1987.
Michael Maximovitch was born June 4, 1896, into a noble family in the Ukraine. He entered law school at the age of 18 and then began theological studies at 25. Due to the anti-religious conditions imposed by the communists, Michael left Russia and was tonsured a monk in a Serbian monastery, taking the name John. The same year, 1926, he was ordained priest. He kept an austere ascetic discipline all his life.
In 1934, Father John was consecrated a bishop of the Russian Church in Exile and was assigned to Shanghai, China, where he immediately set out building churches, an almshouse, an orphanage and a hospital. He became Archbishop of Paris and Brussels in 1951. He came to America in 1962, as Archbishop of San Francisco. Blessed John had great compassion for all men, regardless of their faith, and his devotion to God consumed him 24 hours a day. He literally “prayed in the air,” for many times people would come to visit and find him standing deep in prayer, aglow in light, and six inches off the floor. He would be seen in several distant locations at the same period of time without there being any possibility that he could have traveled so quickly by earthly transport.
Late one night, during a severe storm, one of Blessed John’s parishioners was near death in a hospital. She asked the nurse to call Fr. John, but was told that the phones and electricity had been knocked out by the storm. The nurse also said that since Fr. John lived across town they could not send a messenger to summon him. The patient decided that the best she could do was to pray. While she was in prayers, Fr. John entered the room, attended to her needs, healed her immediate crisis, and departed. The next morning, the woman asked the nurse how she had reached Fr. John. The nurse replied that she had not and that no one had come through the entrance, because it was bolted due to the storm. The nurse did say that she saw an Orthodox priest in the hallway that night, but added that it could not have been Fr. John, for the man she saw was not the least bit wet from the storm.
Blessed John held strong to the belief that the Orthodox Church was not a social institution, but a place of true worship and spiritual growth towards God. He refused to pander to the groups in San Francisco who wanted the church to be primarily an ethno-social gathering place. As a result, many inflammatory letters, filled with fraudulent accusations, were sent to the Metropolitan; and Archbishop John was even sued by parishioners for alleged misappropriation of building funds. At the end of several years of courtroom legal defense, he was physically exhausted. He died soon after his acquittal, on July 2, 1966, but not before formally declaring that the disgruntled parishioners were to be forgiven, for Satan had blinded them.
Archbishop John was canonized a saint of the Orthodox Church in 1994. He is entombed at his Cathedral in San Francisco, where visiting pilgrims can view his body that has not decayed despite its not being embalmed. Reports of miracles connected to his intercession (similar to those in his lifetime) continue to be reported from many sources – both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Christian and non-Christian. On July 2, 1994, Archbishop John was glorified as “Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” and his feast day is commemorated every July 2.