Be the guide to the heavenly fatherland and not a signpost perched on the road, which indicates the way but itself moves nowhere. Call others to the great supper of eternal bliss, but go yourself too before them. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk)
When, in 1823, the Holy Synod of Russia instructed Bishop Michael of Irkutsk to find a priest to serve on the island of Unalaska in America, all the clergy in that diocese strongly declined to go. Among these was a young priest, Fr. John Veniaminov. who wrote: "How could I--why should I .(humanly speaking)--have traveled God-knows-where when I had one of the best parishes in the city, when. I enjoyed the love of my parishioners and the good, graces of the authorities, when I already owned my own home and had a -larger income than the salary being offered to whom ever was assigned to Unalasks?”
.....God werks in-unexpected ways. One of Fr. John's spirituaI children was an old adventurer by the name of John Kriukov, who had, spent 40 years among the Aleuts of Alaska. He spoke to Fr. John at length, not of the prosperous Russian merchants who wanted a priest, but of the Aleut Indians, who were by nature pious, and zealous in prayer. "Suddenly," Fr. John wrote, "I began to burn with desire to go to such a people !" At that moment, he heard God calling him to be an ambassador of His Son; Jesus Christ; he heard, and he answered the call, even though it meant a life of extraordinary hardship, suffering, and sacrifice.-Of this, Fr. John observed:
"May my own example serve as a new proof of the truth that the 'Lord guides a man safely in the way he should go,” and that each of us servants of His Church is no more than an instrument in His hands. He saw fit to establish my field of ministry in America-and that despite my opposition."
In exchange for his well-clothed middle class congregation in Irkutsk, Fr. John gained a flock which was dirty and tattered, lazy and without ambition, but a flock which shone with honesty and character--fertile soil for the seed of Orthodoxy. And so, "on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers...danger in the wilderness...in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst," (II Cor. 11:26-28) Fr. John labored among his new parishioners with all the love of a true father for his children. In return, he was both loved and respected, to such an extent that he could write .to his bishop: "My doctrine (which is not my own, but of Him Who sent me) was re-: coined everywhere with evident joy, zeal, and respect." This both strengthened and inspired him.
For many long years Fr. John toiled in the vineyard of Alaska. He grew old in the Lord's work, and covered with infirmities--but who can count the host of souls he harvested for the Kingdom of Heaven? In time, he became bishop and, in his closing years, Metropolitan of Moscow. Today we know him as Bishop Innocent of Alaska, "Enlightener of the Aleuts." [glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1979] But we should also view him as a modern-day patron of missionaries and missions, embodying in himself that rare combination of pastoral love and humility.
When he reposed, at the age of 82 on Great Saturday of 1867, it was said by a fellow hierarch that because of him "the Orthodox people of Russia have understood what mission is."
Brothers and Sisters! What a lofty example is here for us! How can we strive to do less in the field of missionary activity-even though we lack the true pastoral love and humility which characterized Bishop Innocent? Who among us will be shown, on the last day when the books are opened, to be an apostle to the English-speaking peoples of the world? Who?
The field is white with the harvest. It awaits only the sickle of missionary activity. Christ calls to each of us just as surely and as clearly as He called to Fr. John (Bishop Innocent) Veniaminor. Why do we not answer? We must not think that missionary work necessarily requires some kind of formal, theological schooling. The first apostles were simple fishermen who, Upon hearing Christ's call, "forsook their nets and followed Him." It is precisely this resoluteness of heart, this willingness to serve
Christ's apostles from the first centuries of Christianity until now. But how many of us today possess this willingness of heart, which. is perhaps the main requisite of an apostle? We are so fearful of what Christ might demand were we to offer complete surrender to His holy will. For this reason, We invent any number of justifications to cover our negligence in answering Christ's call.
Too often the layman says: "We have priests, we have missionary parishes"--as if that were enough. And, when one considers that there are whole metropolitan cities of this country which have 'not a single missionary parish among many millions of people--it is indeed something to be ashamed of. Yet every laymen, whether he be Russian, Greek., Rumanian, Serb, or American convert, is automatically a missionary simply by the example he gives others of his Orthodox way of life. To the degree that we are conscious Orthodox Christians, faithful to the standards of our Christ given way of life--to that degree we are good ambassadors of Christ and good missionaries.
And what Of the clergy? How many young men are today afire with the idea of becoming missionary priests--with all of the hardship and hard work that implies? And how many young women long to be the wives (matushkas, presbyteras) of missionary priests? Alas, too few, on both counts.
WHERE ARE THOSE WHO WISH TO STAND IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF INNOCENT OF ALASKA?
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers unto His harvest. (Matt. 9:38)
Fr. Alexey Young