We sang Matins this morning as is our parish custom on Friday mornings. Today we had the additional blessing of celebrating the life of St. Herman of Alaska, the first canonized saint of Orthodoxy in America. The Orthodox Church in America has recognized the missionary zeal of her early saints as being the basis for the vision and ministry of Orthodoxy in America. And while the OCA has struggled in recent years administratively, it has not forgotten the Light of Christ that was brought to our shores by these Orthodox missionary saints. The OCA shares the responsibility for carrying forth through the 21st Century the mission and ministry of the canonized Saints who lived, witnessed and ministered in North America. (see my blog: St. Herman and the Future of the OCA)
Certain of the verses from the Canon for St. Herman of Alaska stood out in my mind this morning.
THE ETERNAL LIGHT OF CHRIST OUR SAVIOR
GUIDED YOU, BLESSED FATHER HERMAN, ON YOUR EVANGELICAL JOURNEY TO AMERICA,
PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.
NOW YOU STAND BEFORE THE THRONE OF GLORY;
INTERCEDE FOR YOUR LAND AND ITS PEOPLE://
PEACE FOR THE WORLD, AND SALVATION FOR OUR SOULS!
It is the light of Christ which guides the Saints of the Orthodox Church, and which is to guide Orthodoxy in America. If we lose sight of the only purpose of the Church, to be a light to the world, we will become just another human institution in our country. We are to stand before God and to pray with the saints for the salvation of the world. If we do that faithfully, others will notice God too.
You were a good shepherd and loving father, Saint,
a help and healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm,
a refuge and teacher to orphans.
Do not take away the protection of your prayer
from us whom you have left orphaned.
St. Herman was what the Church should always be: “a help and a healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm.” That is what Orthodoxy in America should strive for. Our goal and purpose is not mainly to imitate rubrics from the Mother Churches, but more importantly we are to incarnate Christ in whom we are and wherever we are. We happen to be in America in the 21st Century. This is where we belong and this is where we are to experience Christ, to witness to Christ, and to make Christ present to the world.
The people were amazed and wondered, Saint Herman,
that you lived alone in the forest.
I am not alone, you said, But God is with me:
He who is everywhere, and His holy angels!
How can one be cast down, having such company!
And now as you dwell in the heavens,
do not abandon us who dwell on earth.
God is with us. This is a simple truth which we sing and celebrate in our liturgical services. When we forget that our purpose is to worship God here and now, we lose sight of the presence of God all around us. If we are unaware of God’s presence in our lives, how can we witness to God’s love and presence to the rest of the world? Our parishes and our parishioners are to be lights to the world: to make everyone aware of God’s presence by being totally attuned to this truth in our daily lives.
You laid up treasure in heaven, zealot of divine things,
leaving nothing behind in your cell
to be found for those who sought treasures on this earth.
Teach us now, unmercenary Father,
to treasure up heavenly things,
and offer our hearts to the Only Priceless One.
Our treasures as Orthodox Christians are not really in the past, but rather are present and revealed in the liturgical life of the church, and in the communal lives of our parishes and in the lives of our parishioners. The treasures of Orthodox Christians are in heaven, in that world and kingdom which is to come. Our treasures are not in some past century or in some other nation or empire or in some other language. The treasures of Orthodoxy are available to everyone in every generation and in every nation on earth, including our own. The fullness of the Church is found in every Orthodox parish and can be experienced today. It is an experience we can strive for and encounter every day of our lives. That is what it is to be Orthodox.
Old age, infirmity and even blindness
did not stop at all your intercession for the people before authorities.
You begged them to prefer mercy to sacrifice,
that they themselves might find mercy from the Lord.
Now as you stand in heaven, do not cease to intercede for us
before the Lord.
St. Herman’s ministry and mission was not crippled by aging or by any infirmities or handicaps. That is something we in the OCA or in any Orthodox jurisdiction in America should remember. Yes we have stumbled and suffered setbacks and at times seem weak and ineffective. Yet our mission and purpose remains the same. We are to be faithful to God just like those Three Youths who were thrown into the fiery furnace by an evil king who thought he could destroy them and their faith. They sang a hymn of praise to God even in the midst of the fiery furnace. Even oppression and the threat of death could not change their faithfulness to God and witness to His greatness.
And today is not only the commemoration of the repose of St. Herman of Alaska, it is also the anniversary of the repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who I at least consider a great teacher of Orthodoxy in America. His writings inspired me to stay in the Orthodox Church and to work to buildup Orthodoxy in America. You can read one article honoring this great teacher of Orthodoxy in America at An Essay on the 30th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
In honor of St. Herman and Fr. Schmemann, I join my fellow Orthodox in inviting all of our OCA members to offer this Christmas season, extra financial support to the ministries, mission and vision of the Orthodox Church in America: Become a Steward. I have this month for the first time in many years renewed my own support of the mission of St. Herman and the vision of Fr. Schmemann for Orthodoxy in America.
You too can support the work and vision of an Orthodox Church in America at : Support the Vision and Mission of Orthodoxy in America.