Orthodox America

  Orthodox Mission: Lessons from the Past

by Archpriest Stephan Lyashevsky

The Apostolic Exploits of:

One would be fully justified in giving the title "Equal-to-the-Apostles" to the missionaries of our time, Archbishop Nicholas of Japan, and Bishop Gorazd of Czechoslovakia.  These were founders of two Churches, and they both will very likely be added to the ranks of saints by their respective Churches, where they are already venerated as saints.

If Archbishop Nicholas merited his sanctity not only by his apostolic activity but also by his holy life, Hierarch Gorazd consummated the sanctity of his apostolic service with a martyr's crown; he perished for others, unwilling to give over to death, to the enemies of his country, people who were hiding in his church.  The Christian principle abiding in his righteous soul was for him of more value than his own life. Let us consider here the missionary activity of each of these hierarchs.

Archbishop Nicholas of Japan

Many already know how the young Kasatkin, having just graduated from the Theological Academy, walked into the Academy office and saw on the table an offer for anyone desiring a position at the embassy church in Japan. Instantly, he heard the apostolic calling: "Come after Me."  "Lord, I come."

In true apostolic fashion, without deliberating, without wavering.  The voice of God rang out in his heart.  "And so," he later wrote, "I went to Japan.  I imagined that the Japanese Orthodox Church, my bride in white, would greet me with flowers in her arms."

And the great hierarch was not mistaken.  But what effort it cost him to become the husband of this bride!  Eight long years he studied the Japanese language, literature, history, customs, philosophy.  He labored at translating the Gospel into Japanese, the services, catechism, and only after eight years did he acquire his first disciple, a pagan priest who wanted at first to kill him.  The hierarch named him Saul or Paul. Then there began the struggle for each Japanese soul, amidst constant danger of being killed by pagan fanatics.

There was joy over the first small Japanese Orthodox community, then joy over the first Japanese priest, then the construction of the cathedral, the school for catechists, and finally-recognition as a diocese, in essence, a local Church.

The hierarch became a real father of the Japanese Church, just as once Abraham left his homeland, in answer to the call of the Lord, in order to become the father of a new land.  He arrived in Japan as a youth, and ended his life there in deep old age.  He wanted to be as fully Japanese as possible in order to fuse himself to the Japanese Church he founded.  "With all my soul," he said, "I'm Japanese, but my body is Russian.  When I die, however, and blend into the Japanese earth, then I will be wholly Japanese."

Every day the bishop arose just as it was getting light, and set to work. First, he fulfilled his monastic rule of prayer; this was followed by the services, then the whole day was spent working-translating the Holy Scripture, the typicon; instructing future priests; and again church services, prayer, and only a few hours' sleep.  And he kept to this schedule his whole life, day after day.

Archimandrite Sergius, who spent some time in Japan as Archbishop Nicholas' assistant, wrote in 1890, "One cannot help but be amazed at the mercy of God.  We have neither schools with European programs, nor hospitals with whole staffs of nurses, no donations pouring in from right and left.  We are foreign to any cultural or political objectives.  The sole purpose of our Mission is to preach Christ and His teaching in its pure form, without any admixtures or misinterpretations.  Our Mission is strong neither materially nor in the number of its workers, but simply in the grace of God, and only in this. What are the Mission's strengths?  Zero, in comparison with the Protestants and Roman Catholics. Against their whole army of European missionaries, we have working exclusively Japanese converts, who are only superficially educated.  True, at the head stands His Grace Bishop Nicholas, and he instructs the preachers, but he is alone. Here it is not people that do the convincing; it's grace and truth.  For this reason, even our Mission's receptions carry a special, purely apostolic stamp."

Saint Nicholas worked very hard, very hard; but what joy came through the results of his podvig: the establishment of a whole Church, an entire assembly of clergy, many churches, monastics, all honor him as the apostle and father of the Church.  And what a reward awaits him in heaven. The Japanese Orthodox Church is awaiting that joyful day, when she sees her beloved bridegroom in the rank of those equal-to-the-apostles.

Hieromartyr Gorazd of Czechoslovakia

Another man who labored in a manner equal to the apostles was the founder of the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia, who revived the Greater Moravian archiepiscopal cathedra of Saint Methodius, the enlight-ener of the Slavs. As a young Roman Catholic priest, he sensed not only the dogmatic and historical errors of the Roman Church, but also the deficiency of its spirituality, whose fullness had been the possession of the ancient Church, a fullness which had been lost in Roman Catholicism but which had been preserved in Orthodoxy.

Along a path known to God alone, this Roman prelate came to Orthodoxy and became the first Czechoslovakian Orthodox bishop, entering the ranks of the Serbian Patriarchate.

Within a relatively short period of time-twenty years-he attained significant success in the spread of Orthodoxy in Czech-Moravia.  Several dozen Orthodox churches were built, several dozen Czechoslovakian Orthodox priests were preaching the truth of Orthodoxy to the local people, and yet it seemed to the hierarch of God, Gorazd, that the work still lay ahead, that the Czechoslovakian Orthodox Church would soon attain its former greatness and prosperity, that it was necessary to toil and to toil. But evidently it was not the hierarch's labors that were necessary for the rapid flowering of Orthodoxy in his country, but his hieromartyr's blood. This served as a foundation for the Czechoslovakian Church, which today numbers more than a thousand temples, with five dioceses and its own theological institute.

In time, the name of New Hieromartyr Gorazd will be added to the ranks of the Czechoslovakian saints, of the hierarchs Methodius and Kyrill, of the holy Queen Liudmilla, the holy Prince Wenceslaus, Saint Procopius; and by their prayers the Czecho-slovakian Church will flourish and grow.

The Appointment of Special Missions:
Saint Herman of Alaska and Saint Innocent (Veniaminov)

There has been only one case of a specially appointed Orthodox mission-that in Alaska, but it is so specific and so long ago that there is no basis for any hopes that it can be duplicated.  This was a mission to a pagan outpost of the Russian Empire, an area which soon passed over to the United States. Established in 1794 with the powerful financial and organizational assistance of the Russian Church, and maintained by an annual 720,000 rubles from the price of the sale of Alaska, the Mission began to decline with the cessation of financial aid.  There appeared all kinds of American "denominations," with their schools and well organized propaganda supported by various philanthropic enterprises, and Orthodoxy began there to dwindle. It appeared that the entire undertaking planted by the Russian Church would be reduced to nothing.  Its final evaluation, however, awaits the future.

Saint Herman of Alaska is an extraordinary example of a missionary-ascetic from the recent history of the Orthodox Church.  He shared with Saint Seraphim of Sarov the same teacher, the great abbot of Valaam, Nazarius, who later became the abbot of Sarov Monastery, and Saint Herman became the Seraphim of Sarov of America, the wonderworker and patron of the American Orthodox Church.  His labors and significance lie outside the limits of this present work.

He came to Alaska as a forty-year-old monk and lived there to old age in missionary labors among the Aleuts.  He was not so much a man of activity-his sphere of activity was very limited-as he was a great man of prayer for the newly enlightened land.  He foretold that Alaska would leave Russia, and he saw with his own eyes the blossoming of Orthodoxy in America.  He also foretold that there would be an episcopal cathedral in Alaska, and that on the site of his repose a monastery would be established.  He manifested many miracles through his prayers, and sanctified the American land with his Orthodox asceticism. He also became the first American saint, and herein lies his greatness and his service to American Orthodoxy.

The other great cultivator of Orthodoxy in America, Father John Veniaminov, later Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, presents in many ways a complete contrast to Father Herman.  He was a married priest with a large family, and was such an energetic missionary that it is difficult to find an equal-with the exception, of course, of Saint Nicholas of Japan. Leaving Irkutsk where he served as a priest, he, together with his wife and two young children, travelled on horseback through the impassable Siberian wilds, to a distant, unknown land, to America and the Aleutian islands.  He went, as he himself later described, impelled by such desire and such zeal that no obstacles could hold him back.  At last, in 1824, he managed to reach Alaska, where he settled in a rude hut with his wife and two small children, and began his tireless labors.  By caribou, by dogsled, in fragile little boats, he journeyed endlessly through this vast territory. By the time of his arrival, the Orthodox Mission, which had been established there through the efforts of the first missionaries-seven monks and hieromonks from Valaam Monastery-was in urgent need of clergy.  Some members of the Mission had died, others had returned, and there remained only Father Herman and Father Ioasaph.

At first Father John experienced great difficulties.  He was constantly travelling; he baptized, married, buried and preached.  He learned the local languages, compiled dictionaries for them, gave them an alphabet, translated into these languages the Orthodox service books and the Gospel. In addition, he wrote up studies of the area, as a geographer, an ethnographer and a linguist.  This was an extremely talented man. In 1840, after the death of his wife, he became bishop of Alaska.  After the repose of Metropolitan Philaret, Tsar Alexander II desired to see him as the successor of the great Metropolitan, and the last ten years of his life he occupied the Moscow cathedra.

Such, in brief, are the facts of his life.  There exist special monographs about him, and all who are interested in missionary work should become familiar with them.

Missions Established on the Foundation of Embassy Churches

Usually, embassy churches remain as they are and do not develop into missions. There have been, however, two exceptions: the Japanese embassy church and the Argentinian.

In the early 1900s, i.e., when Archbishop Tikhon (later Patriarch) was hierarch in North America, there arrived in South America a young, energetic priest, Father Konstantine Izrastsov.  At that time there was not a single Orthodox church in South America, and very few Russians.  There was a handful in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, where Father Konstantine had been sent to the embassy church, and there were Orthodox of other nationalities: Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians; but not many. Of course, had Father Konstantine not been the missionary he turned out to be, the embassy church would not have expanded its parameters.  But Father Konstantine's soul burned with a missionary flame, and he had big plans. He went to Russia to collect donations for the building of a church, and, primarily on the donation of Tsar Nicholas II from his personal funds, he was able to construct in Buenos Aires a majestic church.  But Argentina was a Roman Catholic country, where it was not so easy to spread Orthodoxy, and for that reason Father Konstantine decided to gather Orthodox of all nationalities and to build Orthodox churches in various parts of South America-which he managed to do with some success.  Although these Orthodox communities did not grow significantly, still, Orthodoxy in those parts burned with a steady flame, and, with the coming of the second wave of emigration, church life responded with the establishment of several dioceses, although numbers were not large.

Another of Father Konstantine's significant contributions was his translation into Spanish of the Divine Liturgy, which enabled all Orthodox Christians who were not Slavs to understand the service and follow it by means of parallel Slavonic and Spanish texts.

Great American Missionaries: Archbishop Nicholas (Ziorev) and Archbishop Tikhon (Belavin)

Wherein lies the greatness of these two founders of Orthodoxy in America? Archbishop Nicholas, who was at that time simply a bishop, was first to realize the idea of Orthodoxy in the West, by developing an energetic missionary activity with the incorporation of those Uniates who had come to America from Austro-Hungary.  He made no attempt to russify them and did not disturb their national identity, allowing them to hold to certain Uniate traditions which had become rooted in their services and their life. Here is what one of his successors wrote about him in a commemorative book on the occasion of the 150-year anniversary of Russian Orthodoxy in America:

"We, today's church laborers, feel that the name of Vladika Nicholas is a rock of faith which lies at the foundation of the Church of Christ in the USA. What Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow was for Alaska, Archbishop Nicholas of Warsaw was for the United States.  Before Archbishop Nicholas left for the place of his new appointment in America, he was entrusted with establishing a foundation which would serve to determine without doubt whether the American Mission-as the North American Church was then called-was viable or not.  Resolute, energetic, highly educated, Archbishop Nicholas brilliantly fulfilled the given task: not only did he settle the question with a positive answer, but in the short period of his seven-year administration of the North American diocese, from 1891 to 1898, twenty-six Russian Orthodox parishes were established here in America." In order to plant Orthodoxy among the peoples of the West at that time, one had to be a great missionary at heart.

When he came to America at the end of 1891 and settled in San Francisco, there was a very odd situation: the Alaskan parishes were miles away from San Francisco, and the only connecting route was along the ocean (in which two of his predecessors on the cathedra had already drowned); and in the entire country there was only one church, dedicated to St. Basil the Great, built in San Francisco by his predecessor, Bishop Vladimir.  Additionally, there was a Uniate parish in Minneapolis, which had not long before joined the Orthodox Church, but this had not yet been confirmed by the Holy Synod. The parish rector, Priest Alexis Toth, had been received into Orthodoxy by Bishop Vladimir, who was likewise an outstanding missionary, but his activity was tragically cut short, and a few words must be said about this. Before his appointment to America, Bishop Vladimir was at the Orthodox Mission in Japan, where he was a zealous disciple of Archbishop Nicholas of Japan.  With his own eyes he saw how Orthodoxy was inaugurated and began to flourish in Japan, and he wanted to establish the same in America.  He began serving the Divine Liturgy in English and preaching in English, knowing well the language.  From Russia he brought with him twenty people, among whom were priests, deacons, readers and singers.  He had ambitious designs and an example to emulate in the person of his teacher, St. Nicholas of Japan.  But in consequence of the slanders and jealousy of a certain learned hieromonk, who coveted his position, Bishop Vladimir was unable to realize his plans.

As a result of this slander, Bishop Vladimir was recalled to Russia, and did not engage any more in missionary work.  The slander was later exposed, and the hieromonk, seeing that his treachery had failed to achieve its purpose, disappeared "like a stone in the water."  It is unfortunate that this occurred only after the departure of Bishop Vladimir, who manifested such a profound understanding of the planting of Orthodoxy in the West. The mission which Bishop Vladimir had envisioned was fulfilled by his replacement, Bishop Nicholas, who was the actual founder of Orthodoxy in America, i.e., the USA.  His first order of business was to have the reception of Priest Toth and his parish validated.  In his report of 21 May 1892 to the Holy Synod, Bishop Nicholas detailed the circumstances of the transfer of Father Toth and his parish, presenting the case in a very positive light, and requested its confirmation.

In its Ukase addressed to Bishop Nicholas on 14 September 1892, the Holy Synod approved the reception of Priest Toth in his existing rank, and his Minneapolis parish was registered as part of the Aleut diocese.

With his spiritual vision, Bishop Nicholas saw half a century into the future, and he exerted every effort to draw all the Uniates in America into the Orthodox fold. By the end of his stay in America, fifteen Uniate parishes had come to Orthodoxy; fifty years later the number had risen to two hundred.

Back in Russia, Bishop Nicholas sent for young people from America to receive a theological education, and he introduced "his Americans" to Saint John of Kronstadt...

A close friend of Bishop Nicholas, Professor P. Ziechenko, wrote: "I remember well the speech Bishop Nicholas made on his arrival; the first sentence impressed itself on my memory for life.  He said, 'I have come not to rule over you but to serve you.'  He launched a whole era in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in America-so extraordinary and fruitful was his activity.  One can say that it was the golden age of the Orthodox Mission."

What suffering love and what pain are conveyed in his letter to his successor, Bishop Tikhon (Belavin), written in 1902:  "I just received your telegram with the invitation to participate in prayer in the consecration of the New York church.  I am very touched...  May the Lord reward you... Can I ever forget the American flock, to which I gave away a part of my being?  O, may my right hand be forgotten!  It is always in my heart and before my mental gaze.  I always pray for it.  May God's blessing be upon it unto ages of ages!  It is my desire that in this magnificent temple the hearts of all would be aflame with the same faith and love which filled them in the small and humble temples.  Farewell!  Christ is with you!  Pray for me, the sinner."

How tragic was this "Farewell!"  It recalls the cry of Saint Gregory the Theologian at his leaving his Constantinople flock.

Archbishop Tikhon continued the work of Bishop Nicholas in the same direction, and during his tenure thirty-two more Uniate parishes rejoined the Orthodox fold.

The future Patriarch indicated the path of Orthodoxy in America, and not only in America but, one could say, in Europe as well:  A strong Mission must be established for converting Protestants, whose various forms are represented by the Episcopalians.  We need to win them over to Orthodoxy. He spoke about this to me personally, when he was already Patriarch.  And His Holiness Tikhon did in fact lay such a strong foundation encouraging Episcopalians to join the Orthodox Church that even fifty years after his time in America many Episcopalians are irresistibly drawn to Orthodoxy, and they always point out that this desire was grafted onto them by the charismatic Russian Bishop Tikhon, whose memory they hold sacred to this day.

In 1903 Bishop Tikhon addressed the Holy Synod with a letter, which we quote here in full:

"The Orthodox Mission in America, among its tasks, also purposes to acquaint the heterodox world with the Orthodox Church.  It is true that up to the present time very little has been done to this end.  Nevertheless, among Americans an interest in our Church has been kindled and is gradually growing: Americans often visit our churches; they like our services and are interested to know the teaching of the Orthodox Church.  There are cases of individuals who have converted to the Faith.

"Those Americans who belong to the Anglican [Episcopalian] confession, cherish a particular sympathy and profound respect for our Church.  for example, one distinguished representative of the High Church in America, E. Grafton, takes every opportunity to openly express his sympathy and profound respect for our Church, and to clear the way for cooperation, for drawing together and for possible unity between the Churches.

"A few days ago he sent through me to His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony several books of the Anglican Church, and a characteristic letter outlining their faith and concluding with the following words: 'Like someone who is getting up after a prolonged illness and who is only just regaining strength, we are turning to the East, stretching forth our hands and asking for participation, counsel and Christian fellowship...' "In traveling through the diocese, I myself have heard similar requests from other Episcopalian clergy and laity.  What am I to reply?  What am I to do, particularly in those cases when several parishes and clergy wish to be received into the Church right away?  In what rank should they be received?  How are we to regard the Anglican hierarchy?  What can the episcopalians retain of their liturgies and canons, in the case when an entire parish is received?

"These and other such questions are in urgent need of resolution, which, of course the local diocesan administration has no right to take upon itself to do.

"In view of all this, does the Holy Synod not recognize that it is timely and expedient  to entrust a preliminary clarification of the aforementioned questions to the Commission examining the question of the Old Catholics, bolstering its staff with those conversant with Anglicanism?"

As we know, the Holy Synod responded to Bishop Tikhon's question by saying that Episcopalian clergy were required to be reordained, which was the practice followed by the future Patriarch of Moscow while he was hierarch in America.