Posts tagged Tikhon Belavin
Editor’s note: On April 22, 1900, the San Francisco Call published a full-page spread on Orthodoxy in America. The author, Sarah Comstock, visited San Francisco’s Holy Trinity Cathedral and interviewed the cathedral dean, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich. The resulting article (below) was accompanied by several photos, some of which I have reproduced here.
It has advanced quietly enough. Churches and missions have been established here and there, and without the blowing of trumpets. Now, at the top of all the years’ climbing, the Most Holy Synod in St. Petersburg creates the diocese of North America, names a Bishop therefore and chooses San Francisco as the see city. This is the largest diocese in the world. And it was only so long ago as 1759, I believe Mr. Inkersley turned aside from his seal skinning long enough to set up the first cross ever planted by orthodox hands on this side of the Pacific.
“Most Rev. Tikhon, Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America,” is the whole of it. A man of no more than 35 years claims the title. Rev. Tikhon of San Francisco is the Bishop over all our continent.
Over in the northern part of our city live the Greeks and the Russians and the Slavs who trudge hills up or hills down to their orthodox service. There are so many of them that little Trinity Cathedral nigh overflows. In the days to come there will be such a cathedral built here as the great cities of the mother land have built. So much the 600 members are glad of and proud of, but they do not wait until then to worship. They are a hard-handed, bleakly clad congregation for the most part, who drudge for the six days that it is permitted to drudge, and on the seventh day they stand for two hours in reverence that will be no deeper when the splendor of the Orient is about them.
Last Sunday I saw them come in ones and twos and threes of them, and some came in the weariness of sagging muscles and some brought curious, restless little children because they must bring them or forego the worship of people together. Great, vigorous men were there, such and so many as I have not seen before inside church walls on a Sunday when the green things outside are newly green and the ceiling of the park is of a color with the blue, far away glimpses where north-bound streets come to their end. From first to last these people stand while they watch green-robed priests moving slowly, intricately through the royal gates; while they listen to the voices that chant without accompaniment as it is written.
Trinity Cathedral is an adapted house. From without it gives no promise of Oriental gorgeousness. Within is the color spilling from high windows and the gleam of rare ikons, gold draped, and warmth of paintings. The monotony solemn sound and the heavy fragrat from swaying censers and the presence faith make all things drifting.
In the midst of the priests and deacons I saw the Bishop – the newly famous man. He stood with his back to the people, and for a time I knew only that his robe was splendidly green and gold like the rest, only more splendid, and that the miter was beautiful with turquoises, and that beneath it flowed long locks of yellow hair that may or may not indicate something by its fineness. I saw that the form of the man was magnificent enough to belong to the savage past or the enlightened future.
So much I watched during long and ceaseless music, all of which was a mere accompaniment to the organ tones of the big faced proto deacon, who is known to people and clergy as “the man of the strong voice.” Now and again I caught a glimpse of the Bishop’s hand extended for the kisses of baby acolytes, and I thought the hand was like a woman’s. It contradicted the power of the figure. And I waited to see the face.
When at last the man, the teacher, the priest turned, it was borne in upon me that there was no contradiction after all. The candles had been given to him. The signs he made with them were mechanical. But while I understood not one word of his, I looked into his face and I felt that we were being blessed. I am sure that he is gentle as a woman and strong as a man, and that is why he has been chosen for a spiritual guide to both.
The race of him is written in every feature. Dully fair in coloring as Russians are; wide and square of countenance as the Russians are; clumsy of feature as the Russians are. But the expression is one that claims no race, for it is great enough to be universal.
Father Sebastian Dabovich, who is the Bishop’s tireless assistant in charge of Trinity Cathedral, has outlined the Bishop’s life for me. It seems that he was the son of a parish priest in the Russian province of Pskov, and in the steps of his narrowly bound father he went about doing good. Then there was a reach toward bigger things and the young Tikhon was sent away to St. Petersburg, where the world is a wider one than in the province of Pskov. The boy liked to learn and he studied well, and at last he came to teach others, for he was made a professor of theology in the Seminary of Kazan. In 1892 came a presidency at the Seminary of Cholm, and 1897 saw his consecration. He was made Bishop of Lublin, assistant to the Bishop of Warsaw.
From that year on he has grown greater in the eyes of the church. He was promoted to the independent diocese of Alaska in 1898, and then began his American labors. It was not altogether easy to pull up roots. Russia is his home and the church’s home, and Alaska gives dreary welcome to strangers. But the seal of the work was upon him, and he knew the joy of sacrifice.
He came to the field where those first eight missionaries had labored. It was in 1794 that they cut a way through pathless Siberia and struggled to achievement. This achievement was the conversion of the Aleuts. In the time that followed, chapels were built. They were simple affairs, but they held together the worshipers. The Indians came regularly to service and joined the church. To-day a priest on the Aleutian Islands has little to do in the way of conversion. The ground is won and must be settled.
One church, that of Sitka, has been adorned. Its royal gates are famous. Its ikons are rich. Its peal of bells is music. This cathedral will hold the first place for beauty in the Greek Church of America until the San Francisco cathedral is built.
Among the meek Aleuts Bishop Tikhon labored in churches and schools. He saw the little Indians making themselves awkward in the clothes of civilization and he was happy as a father. But he was not satisfied with this work alone. Alaskan affairs were in smooth running order, hence he helped the church extend. It is reaching to all parts of our land now.
His new title is the outward climax of his labors. The American diocese, being so large, has been divided into four deaneries, Father Sebastian tells me: one in the Eastern States, one in the Western and two in Alaska. “The Bishop is to be assisted in the administration by a consistory,” he says. “This sits with him in San Francisco. There are thirty priests in the diocese, four deacons, two sub-deacons and twenty-five teachers and parish clerks.
“We have strong parishes in Pennsylvania and New York. We have one in Portland, in Seattle, in Jackson, California, and we hope to build in Los Angeles before long.”
Already there are treasures here that will go to make beautiful the new cathedral. An ikon of Christ is one, and one of the Mother and Child is another. The orthodox church differs from the Roman in its view of the Mother. In this point it comes nearer to the Anglican branch, while on the other hand, its elaborate service is more like the Roman.
Another treasure kept at Trinity Cathedral is a miter worn by the Bishop on great days. It is set with jewels of every color and is valued at $2000. It is the finest in America. Such is the wealth of the church in Europe that there are miters there worth as much as $50,000.
The wealth of adornment, the dignity of service, the devotion of worship have established themselves in our land. How much stronger hold they will gain – who knows?
One year ago, I delivered a paper at St. Vladimir’s Seminary entitled, “The Myth of Unity and the Origins of Jurisdictional Pluralism in American Orthodoxy.” (Click here for the audio.) My thesis was that, contrary to a widely-held belief, American Orthodoxy was not administratively united prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Rather, from a very early stage, Orthodox parishes in the United States answered to multiple ecclesiastical authorities. The events of 1917 exacerbated the problem, and served as a breaking point in cases where cracks already existed (e.g. with the Serbs and Antiochians), but our jurisdictional multiplicity did not originate in 1917 or some date thereafter.
At the time that I gave my talk last June, many people still believed the “myth of unity” — the idea that all Orthodox parishes and people in America recognized Russian authority until 1917. In the year that has followed, the rigid old myth has faded considerably. I’m not trying to boast, or take full credit, or anything like that. I’m just one of many people who has challenged the old myth. The important point is that the old story is just no longer tenable.
Quite understandably, some people were disappointed to have their perception of the past challenged. In some quarters, a modified form of the myth has emerged, and with it, a subtle but very substantial shift in emphasis. Whereas my paper was focused on how things were, some have begun to emphasize how they think things should have been. Whereas I examined questions relating to unity, some are now focusing on questions of legitimacy.
I must admit, while I am quite confident about my conclusions regarding the reality of the past, I am much less confident when talking about how things should have happened. Should the early Greek parishes have joined the Russian Mission and submitted to the Russian bishop? To be completely honest, I think the answer is yes. Ideally, the Greek (and Romanian and Bulgarian) parishes being founded at the turn of the last century would have looked to the local Russian hierarch as their natural leader.
This didn’t happen, of course. Political commentators tend to immediately jump from “it didn’t happen” to “it should have happened” and then straight to “the Greeks were illegitimate.” I don’t follow that line of thinking. I’m an historian, so I am naturally inclined to ask, “Why didn’t it happen?” Why did the Greeks, with few exceptions, reject Russian authority? Why did the Serbs seem to chafe under that authority, and why did St. Raphael send conflicting messages to his Syrian flock (telling them both that they were under the Russian Church and were simultaneously a diocese of Antioch)? To me, these are much more interesting questions.
But then, I suppose I’ve wandered back into the area of “what happened,” and not “what should have happened.” So, to satisfy some of my critics — yes, in a perfect world, everyone would have been united under the Russian Archbishop. Of course, it would have helped a lot if the Russians had followed St. Innocent’s advice and initiated a continent-wide missionary program after the sale of Alaska in 1867. It would have also helped if the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska had changed its name to include “North America” prior to 1900, by which point Greek parishes were already proliferating. It would have helped if the brilliant St. Tikhon was the rule, rather than the exception, for Russian bishops in America. Consider the roster of Russian bishops in America around the turn of the century:
- Bishop Nestor (1879-1882) committed suicide during a fit of neuralgia.
- From 1882-1888, the episcopal see was vacant.
- Bishop Vladimir (1888-1891) was constantly embroiled in scandals and may have been a pedophile.
- Bishop Nicholas (1891-1898) was a good man, but was also a Russian nationalist whose primary focus was (quite understandably) on the conversion of Uniates to Orthodoxy and their subsequent Russification.
- St. Tikhon (1898-1907) was an outstanding bishop.
- Archbishop Platon (1907-1914) was heavy-handed, temperamental, and extremely nationalistic.
- Archbishop Evdokim (1915-1917) was rather flaky and eventually joined the Soviet Living Church.
- Archbishop Alexander (1919-1922) was utterly incompetent and possibly corrupt.
Had someone the caliber of St. Tikhon been in charge beginning in the 1880s, it is entirely possible that the jurisdictional chaos could have been avoided. Then again, it’s likely that that chaos was inevitable. The Greeks had a perfectly understandable fear of Russian hegemony. (Maybe you don’t agree with their fear, but it was understandable.) The Russian Empire had tried for centuries to capture the city of Constantinople. The Russian Church was buying up church properties on Mount Athos and in the Holy Land, and exerting its influence in other autocephalous Churches, such as the Patriarchate of Antioch. I’m not saying this influence was negative, but Greek fears of a Russian takeover of global Orthodoxy were, at least, reasonable. The Russian Church was rich and powerful, backed by one of the great empires of the world, and had already suppressed the independence of at least one autocephalous church (Georgia in 1811). Russian ecclesiastical imperialism was a very real concern for Greeks a century ago.
And it wasn’t just the Greeks. The Romanians and Bulgarians tended to reject Russian authority as well. Some Serbs accepted it, but a lot of them did not, and were reluctant (and nominal) members of the Russian Mission. The Syrians did have a close relationship with the Russian hierarchy, but even that relationship was ambiguous enough to confuse the laity. It is one thing to affirm the vision of the Russian Mission (or, rather, the vision of St. Tikhon), but the reality of the Mission was different. Apart from the great Tikhon (and, to a lesser extent, the capable Bishop Nicholas), the Russian bishops were rather disappointing. And even St. Tikhon was only one man, with a continent-sized diocese and one of the most diverse flocks in Church history.
Anyway, I’m not trying to justify anything; I’m trying to understand it. Again, I have crept over from “what should have been” to “why it was.” That’s what history is — literally, inquiry. All we can do is acknowledge our own ignorance, ask questions, find the best answers we can, and then ask more questions. Truly, the more you know about American Orthodox history, the more you realize that you don’t really know much at all.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
We’ve tried this before. Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity. Next week, from May 26-28, we embark upon a sixth effort — an effort which, compared to its predecessors, seems remarkably promising.
First, of course, there were the Russians. In the early 20th century, the Russian Archdiocese envisioned itself as the platform for Orthodox unity in America. Its sainted archbishop, Tikhon Bellavin, articulated an innovative vision to deal with the unprecedented diversity of ethnic Orthodox Christians in the New World. He proposed that the Russian Archdiocese be organized, not along territorial lines, but according to ethnicity — a bishop for the Russians, another for the Syrians, another for the Serbs, still another for the Greeks. St. Tikhon realized that the different ethnic groups needed their own ethnic hierarchs, and his first step in implementing this plan was to consecrate St. Raphael Hawaweeny as bishop for the Syrians. Separate, overlapping administrative units were created for the Serbs, and later for other groups (e.g. the Albanians), but St. Tikhon’s overall plan was never fully enacted. The tenuous unity that existed among the Russians, Serbs, and Syrians soon fell apart, and by 1920, any notion of American Orthodox unity under the Russians was dead.
Dead, but not forgotten. When St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop, died in 1915, he left no obvious successor. His flock divided into warring camps, one party favoring continued subordination to the Church of Russia, the other submission to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Eventually, the Russian Archdiocese consecrated Aftimios Ofiesh to be St. Raphael’s replacement. And, whatever else one might say of Archbishop Aftimios, he was nothing if not a visionary. In 1926, he proposed the idea of an autocephalous jurisdiction, the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” which would transcend ethnicity and embrace all the Orthodox in America. The Russian Metropolia — successor to the Russian Archdiocese, and predecessor to the OCA — granted Archbishop Aftimios his wish in 1927. Archbishop Aftimios went around acting like he was the head of an autocephalous Church, but few paid any attention to him, and even the Russian Metropolia soon withdrew its support. As hopeful an idea as the AOCC might have been, it never had any real chance of uniting all the Orthodox in America.
Archbishop Aftimios effectively destroyed his already fringe jurisdiction in 1933, when he married a girl young enough to be his daughter. But two of his top assistants, the convert priests Michael Gelsinger and Boris Burden, continued to dream of a united American Orthodox Church. They spearheaded a 1943 effort that resulted in the “Federation,” which was to SCOBA what the League of Nations was to the UN. The Federation included the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America (Greek, New York Antiochian, and Moscow Patriarchal, along with Serbian, Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Russian), with the glaring exceptions of the Russian Metropolia and ROCOR. In its short life — measured in months, as opposed to years — the Federation achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. It managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. Just as significantly, the Federation led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. My own Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by that legislation, from the 1940s.
In the end, though, the Federation fell apart. There were probably dozens of reasons for the failure, but, in my view, the biggest was simply that the bishops involved in the Federation weren’t committed enough to its success. Well, most of them. One man who was deeply committed to the vision of the Federation was the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He kept the Federation going, on paper only, through the whole of the 1950s. In 1960, the Federation was reborn as SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. The “big three” jurisdictions — Greek, Antiochian, and Russian Metropolia — were led by three larger-than-life figures, Archbishop Iakovos Koukouzis, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. Among many, the unification of all the American Orthodox jurisdictions seemed imminent.
A decade later, though, there was still no administrative unity. The Russian Metropolia had entered into talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, and in April of 1970, Moscow issued a Tomos, granting autocephaly to its formerly estranged American daughter. The Metropolia became the “Orthodox Church in America” — the OCA, and in the words of an official brochure published at the time, “invite[d] all of the national Orthodox church ‘jurisdictions’ in America to join with it in unity.” This marked the fifth major attempt to unify the various jurisdictions.
Today, of course, there is still no administrative unity. Five decades have passed since SCOBA was created, and four since the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to the OCA. SCOBA has been useful — it has fostered cooperation, if not actual administrative unity, and its many agencies are doing great work. For its part, the OCA did bring in Romanian, Albanian, and Bulgarian jurisdictions, although in every case the OCA group has a non-OCA counterpart jurisdiction. I think it’s safe to say that, despite the best efforts of many great people, neither SCOBA nor the OCA will be the platform for future administrative unity.
Before we get to Attempt No. 6, we should ask — why did all five past attempts at unity fail? Why could neither the Russian Archdiocese, nor the American Orthodox Catholic Church, nor the Federation, nor SCOBA, nor the OCA, succeed in bringing all the jurisdictions together into a single ecclesiastical entity? The answers, of course, are many and complex, but several common threads are apparent. The Russian Archdiocese, the AOCC, and the OCA were all unilateral efforts, led by a single group which tried to get the others to join it. The Federation and SCOBA were “pan-Orthodox” endeavors, but the leaders lacked a common vision, and, worse, the support of their “Mother Churches.” Yes, the Mother Churches may have granted permission for their American jurisdictions to join SCOBA, but they certainly didn’t share a vision of administrative unity in America.
There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.
Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which holds its first meeting this coming week, includes every single Orthodox bishop in America — every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.
There is no guarantee that the Episcopal Assembly will succeed, and if it does, it’s not clear whether that will be in 5 years or 15. But one thing, to me, is certain: all of us — all who share a desire for canonical unity in America — should throw our support and prayers behind the Assembly, and beg the Holy Spirit to guide its work, just as he guided the work of the Ecumenical Councils themselves. Because, make no mistake — this is the best chance we’ve ever had, or may likely have for many decades to come. May it be blessed by God.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
From its founding in 1868, the Russian cathedral in San Francisco was a multiethnic community. In particular, Greeks and Serbs were an integral part of the church, and, at various times, there was an ethnic Greek (Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas) and an ethnic Serb priest (Fr. Sebastian Dabovich) serving the parish.
By 1903, however, the Greeks of San Francisco wanted their own church. From the San Francisco Call (1/8/1903):
While the Greek members of Bishop Tikhon’s flock have nothing but the kindest feelings toward their spiritual director and the church which has sheltered and fostered the faith of their own land, they find the Russian language, in which the church services are now conducted, a decided impediment in the way of a proper and beneficial appreciation of the good Bishop’s ministrations.
There were about 2,000 Greeks in the city at this point, and they got together and formed an association, with the aim of establishing their own, Greek-speaking church. By the end of the year, all the arrangements were in place, and Holy Trinity Church was born. (Yes, they adopted the same name as the Russian parish which they were leaving.) The community hired Fr. Constantine Tsapralis to be their priest. On November 16, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, who was serving at the Russian cathedral, sent the following report to his bishop, St. Tikhon:
It is my duty to report to your Grace that the Greek Community in San Francisco has begun building a new church in San Francisco on a plot of land purchased south of Market Street. They ordered a priest by mail for themselves who arrived and was present today at Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral church (he was standing in the altar). This priest (married) in the rank of sakellarios, Father Constantine . . .[Tsapralis, or Chaprales] has his credentials from his Bishop, Ambrose of the Diocese of Salaris [probably, Fr. Sebastian is mistaken, it could be "Salamis"] (in the Kingdom of Greece), in the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod in Athens. He has a Holy Antimension that was given to him (he says) to celebrate Liturgy in the United States of North America. He was here with two Orthodox Greeks known to me.
On December 12, Tikhon sent a brief reply: “May God grant them all success.”
(Both Dabovich’s letter and Tikhon’s response may be found in the incomparable archive of Holy Trinity OCA Cathedral.)
As Dabovich said, Fr. Constantine Tsapralis was a married priest. In 1904, he sent for his wife and son. Tsapralis was born in about 1869, so at this point, he was in his mid-30s. Despite this, he and his wife went on to have four more children, the last of them when Fr. Constantine was in his mid-50s.
The Holy Trinity Greek Church website has a profile of Tsapralis, which includes several descriptions and vignettes. Tsapralis is described as “durable,” having pastored the parish through many difficult times, including the devastating 1906 earthquake and various schisms in the decades that followed. He’s also described as “kind and compassionate,” “a good teacher,” and “gentle with children.” Here is one story about Tsapralis:
In 1913, a Greek man named Prantikos was convicted of murder. Fr. Tsapralis was asked to go to San Quentin to administer the last rights before Prantikos was hung for his crime. The event, described in the San Francisco Call Bulletin, said that Fr. Tsapralis was reading prayers on the way to the gallows. He was described as a strong, tall man. On the gallows, his knees buckled and he wavered at the sight before him. The prison chaplain put his arm around him to support him because he was worried that he might fall through the gallows. Fr. Tsapralis continued reading prayers and he witnessed the hanging. The prison chaplain later described him as a kind, gentle soul.
I found another story about Tsapralis that doesn’t appear on the Holy Trinity website. For several years in the early 1900s, Tsapralis had owned and operated a candy store, which has also been described as a “saloon.” If it really was a saloon (in the sense that we understand it), this would be uncanonical — an Orthodox priest is expressly forbidden from operating a drinking establishment. Eventually, Tsapralis sold the place… to his wife! The Morning Oregonian (11/18/1911) reported, “But before selling he neglected to liquidate a bill of $300 for a soda fountain and other fixtures in the shop. A collection agency sued, and, securing judgment, had an execution issued against the candy store.” The sheriff came and seized store property, but Mrs. Tsapralis protested, arguing that the store was her property, not her husband’s. The case went to court, and Fr. Constantine admitted having owned the store. I don’t know how the case turned out.
Anyway, after Fr. Constantine’s wife died, he was raised to the rank of archimandrite. He served the Holy Trinity community for more than three decades, finally stepping down in 1936. He died in 1942, at the age of 73.
St. Tikhon delivered the following address on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, February 23, 1903, in San Francisco. It was reprinted in Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE (the newsletter of the San Francisco OCA cathedral) in March 1995, and may be found in the fantastic Holy Trinity Cathedral online archives. We are reprinting it below in its entirety:
This Sunday, Brethren, begins the week of Orthodoxy, or the week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, because it is today that the Holy Orthodox Church solemnly recalls its victory over the Iconoclast heresy and other heresies and gratefully remembers all who fought for the Orthodox faith in word, writing, teaching, suffering, or godly living.
Keeping the day of Orthodoxy, Orthodox people ought to remember it is their sacred duty to stand firm in their Orthodox faith and carefully to keep it. For us it is a precious treasure: in it we were born and raised; all the important events of our life are related to it, and it is ever ready to give us its help and blessing in all our needs and good undertakings, however unimportant they may seem. It supplies us with strength, good cheer and consolation, it heals, purifies and saves us. The Orthodox faith is also dear to us because it is the Faith of our Fathers. For its sake the Apostles bore pain and labored; martyrs and preachers suffered for it; champions, who were like unto the saints, shed their tears and their blood; pastors and teachers fought for it; and our ancestors stood for it, whose legacy it was that to us it should be dearer than the pupil of our eyes. And as to us, their descendants,? do we preserve the Orthodox faith, do we keep to its Gospels? Of yore, the prophet Elijah, this great worker for the glory of God, complained that the Sons of Israel have abandoned the Testament of the Lord, leaning away from it towards the gods of the heathen. Yet the Lord revealed to His prophet, that amongst the Israelites there still were seven thousand people who have not knelt before Baal (3 Kings 19). Likewise, no doubt, in our days also there are some true followers of Christ. “The Lord knoweth them that are His”. (2 Timothy, 2, 19) We do occasionally meet sons of the Church, who are obedient to Her decrees, who honor their spiritual pastors, love the Church of God and the beauty of its exterior, who are eager to attend to its Divine Service and to lead a good life, who recognize their human failings and sincerely repent their sins. But are there many such among us? Are there not more people, “in whom the weeds of vanity and passion allow but little fruit to the influence of the Gospel, or even in whom it is altogether fruitless, who resist the truth of the Gospel, because of the increase of their sins, who renounce the gift of the Lord and repudiate the Grace of God” (a quotation from the service of Orthodoxy). “I have given birth to sons and have glorified them, yet they deny Me,” said the Lord in the olden days concerning Israel. And today also there are many who were born, raised and glorified by the Lord in the Orthodox faith, yet who deny their faith, pay no attention to the teachings of the Church, do not keep its injunctions, do not listen to their spiritual pastors and remain cold towards the divine service and the Church of God. How speedily some of us lose the Orthodox faith in this country of many creeds and tribes! They begin their apostasy with things, which in their eyes have but little importance. They judge it is “old fashioned” and “not accepted amongst educated people” to observe all such customs as: praying before and after meals, or even morning and night, to wear a cross, to keep icons in their houses and to keep church holidays and fast days. They even do not stop at this, but go further: they seldom go to church and sometimes not at all, as a man has to have some rest on a Sunday (…in a saloon); they do not go to confession, they dispense with church marriage and delay baptizing their children. And in this way their ties with Orthodox faith are broken! They remember the Church on their deathbed, and some don’t even do that! To excuse their apostasy they naively say: “this is not the old country, this is America, and consequently(?) it is impossible to observe all the demands of the Church.” As if the word of Christ is of use for the old country only and not for the whole world. As if the Orthodox faith is not the foundation of the world. “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel into anger.” (Isaiah, 1, 4)
If you do not preserve the Orthodox faith and the commandments of God, the least you can do is not to humiliate your hearts by inventing false excuses for your sins! If you do not honor our customs, the least you can do is not to laugh at things you do not know or understand. If you do not accept the motherly care of the Holy Orthodox Church, the least you can do is to confess you act wrongly, that you are sinning against the Church and behave like children! If you do, the Orthodox Church may forgive you, like a loving mother, your coldness and slights, and will receive you back into her embrace, as if you were erring children.
Holding to the Orthodox faith, as to something holy, loving it with all their hearts and prizing it above all, Orthodox people ought, moreover, to endeavor to spread it amongst people of other creeds. Christ the Savior has said that “neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5, 15) The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: “Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Luke, 16, 15), “go ye therefore and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28, 19) We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light and joy with others, who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them. Once “a vision appeared to Paul in the night, there stood a man from Macedonia and prayed him, saying, come over into Macedonia, and help us,” (The Acts 16, 9) after which the apostle started for this country to preach Christ. We also hear a similar inviting voice. We live surrounded by people of alien creeds; in the sea of other religions, our Church is a small island of salvation, towards which swim some of the people, plunged in the sea of life. “Come, hurry, help,” we sometimes hear from the heathen of far Alaska, and oftener from those who are our brothers in blood and once were our brothers in faith also, the Uniates. “Receive us into your community, give us one of your good pastors, send us a Priest that we might have the Divine Service performed for us of a holy day, help us to build a church, to start a school for our children, so that they do not lose in America their faith and nationality,” those are the wails we often hear, especially of late.
And are we to remain deaf and insensible? God save us from such a lack of sympathy. Otherwise woe unto us, “for we have taken away the key of knowledge, we entered not in ourselves, and them that were entering in we hindered.” (Luke 11, 52)
But who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox faith, for the increase of the children of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all the members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also. “The whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4, 16) At the beginning, not only pastors alone suffered for the faith of Christ, but lay people also, men, women and even children. Heresies were fought against by lay people as well. Likewise, the spread of Christ’s faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heart-felt interest. This interest may show itself in personal preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
And to our great joy, we know of such examples amongst our lay brethren. In Sitka, members of the Indian brotherhood do missionary work amongst other inhabitants of their villages. And one zealous brother took a trip to a distant village (Kilisno), and helped the local Priest very much in shielding the simple and credulous children of the Orthodox Church against alien influences, by his own explanations and persuasions. Moreover, in many places of the United States, those who have left Uniatism to join Orthodoxy point out to their friends where the truth is to be found, and dispose them to enter the Orthodox Church.
Needless to say, it is not everybody among us who has the opportunity or the faculty to preach the gospel personally. And in view of this I shall indicate to you, Brethren, what every man can do for the spread of Orthodoxy and what he ought to do. The Apostolic Epistles often disclose the fact, that when the Apostles went to distant places to preach, the faithful often helped them with their prayers and their offerings. Saint Paul sought this help of the Christians especially. Consequently we can express the interests we take in the cause of the Gospel in praying to the Lord, that He should take this holy cause under His protection, that He should give its servants the strength to do their work worthily, that He should help them to conquer difficulties and dangers, which are part of the work, that He should not allow them to grow depressed or weaken in their zeal; that He should open the hearts of the unbelieving for the hearing and acceptance of the Gospel of Christ, “that He should impart to them the word of truth, that He should unite them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; that He should confirm, increase and pacify His Church, keeping it forever invincible”, we pray for all this, but mostly with lips and but seldom with the heart. Don’t we often hear such remarks as these: “what is the use of these special prayers for the newly initiated? They do not exist in our time, except, perhaps, in the out of the way places of America and Asia; let them pray for such where there are any; as to our country such prayers only needlessly prolong the service which is not short by any means, as it is.” Woe to our lack of wisdom! Woe to our carelessness and idleness!
Offering earnest prayers for the successful preaching of Christ, we can also show our interest by helping it materially. It was so in the primitive Church, and the Apostles lovingly accepted material help to the cause of the preaching, seeing in it an expression of Christian love and zeal. In our days, these offerings are especially needed, because for the lack of them the work often comes to a dead stop. For the lack of them preachers can not be sent out, or supported, churches can not be built or schools founded, the needy amongst the newly converted can not be helped. All this needs money and members of other religions always find a way of supplying it. Perhaps, you will say, that these people are richer than ourselves. This is true enough, but great means are accumulated by small, and if everybody amongst us gave what he could towards this purpose, we also could raise considerable means. Accordingly, do not be ashamed of the smallness of your offering. If you have much, offer all you can, but do offer, do not lose the chance of helping the cause of the conversion of your neighbors to Christ, because by so doing, in the words of St. James, “you shall save your own soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (5, 20)
Orthodox people, in celebrating the day of Orthodoxy, you must devote yourselves to the Orthodox faith not in word or tongue only, but in deed and in truth.