St. Innocent’s first homily as Metropolitan of Moscow

Image of St. Innocent from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery

After the death of St. Philaret Drozdov, St. Innocent, the former missionary to Alaska and Siberia, was chosen to be his replacement as Metropolitan of Moscow. Below is his first pastoral address as Metropolitan, given in Moscow’s Dormition (Assumption) Cathedral on May 26, 1868 — 142 years ago today. The address was printed in the English-language Orthodox Catholic Review (Vol. 2, 1868, edited by the English convert J.J. Overbeck).

“Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”

Thus the Apostles were accustomed, according to the commandment of the Lord, to greet the Churches, and thus also the pastors of the Church following their example greeted their flocks, when entering into spiritual communion with them. By the same law, I also, their most unworthy successor, am emboldened to greet you with these very same words, my brethren, and henceforward beloved brethren and children in the Lord, entering as I am into communion with you.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”

But who am I daring to take upon myself the voice and authority of my predecessors?

A disciple of a distant age, of a distant region, and one who has passed more than half his life in a still more distant land; one, but a humble labourer on a small field of Christ’s; a teacher of infants in faith. And is it for the least of labourers to become a labourer in a great, glorious and ancient vineyard of Christ? Is it for such a teacher to instruct a fold which sends teachers and instruction, ay, teachers of teachers, to all the ends of Russia?

True it is, that I might well say the same in every other place, to which I might have been called; — but the gravity of the question is enhanced in this case by the fact – after whom I am placed here? Who was my predecessor and who am I? No comparison can be made here. Or every comparison will be far from advantageous to me, in some respects against me. I understood all the weight and sadness, bitterness of such comparisons – natural, unavoidable, most just comparisons; they are not idle talk. I understood also how elevated, how difficult are the duties of this position, and it behoves me consequently to decline, at least I might have declined this honour, having besides a visible motive for doing so. But who am I to oppose God – our Heavenly Father, without whose will not even a hair of our head may fall? Who am I to contradict the earthly king whose heart is in the hand of God? Nay, I said to myself: let what the Lord wills be with me: I will go whither I am ordered. And lo! I am come.

Bless me then, O Lord, to enter upon my work. Lord, I am Thine, and I will be Thine for ever and everywhere; do Thou with me as Thou willest in this life and in the life to come, that I may become here but a simple instrument in Thy hands!

O most holy Lady, Mother of God, my aid, — do not deprive me here of Thy help, protection, intercession and prayers. Ye Saints of Christ, Peter, Alexis, Jonas, and Philip, and all ye Saints resting here receive me into your prayers – me, your most unworthy successor. Brethren and fathers! Most especially you, illustrious teachers and fathers. It was not such an unlettered Archpriest it behoved you to have. But bear with me in Christ’s love, — receive me into your family prayers, more especially pray, that false doctrine and carnal wisdom may not creep into the midst of Orthodoxy, on account of my ignorance. … I pray ye all, brethren and children, pray for me, a sinner. “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”

St. Innocent served as Metropolitan of Moscow from 1868 until his death in 1879.

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