The Protomartyr (the first martyr) of the Christian Church is the Archdeacon Stephen, who suffered from the Jews who refused the Gospel of Christ. He died with the heavens opened up to him, asking God's forgiveness for his murderers (Acts 7:54-60). From that day to this, the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of Christianity; every Christian land has had its martyrs, and in giving up everything earthly and laying down their very lives for Christ, they have served as the source of the flowering of Christianity for each separate people.
The first martyrs in each country are usually from the heathen; and once Christianity has been established on their blood, a second wave of martyrs has been produced by the heterodox--those, who while calling themselves Christians, have distorted the Gospel of Christ and rise up attempting to destroy the true Church of, Christ. Finally, the godless, or those who have rejected Christ altogether, make a final attack against the Church.
Thus it was with Byzantium, which after the pagan persecutions of the first three centuries, had to endure numerous persecutions from the Arians, the Iconoclasts, and others, until the very city of Constantinople was sacked and its holy things defiled by the Latin Crusaders; and finally it was reduced to merciless slavery at the hands of the Turks, the only light in this period coming from its new martyrs who went boldly to endure tortures and death at their hands.
The Orthodox land of Russia, which suffered little from persecutions in earlier periods, has in this century brought forth an abundant multitude of new martyrs from the godless, who have raised up the worst attack ever to afflict the Church of Christ.
America, a land late to receive the light of Orthodoxy, has also had its martyrs, although up to now they have received little veneration or even attention. HIEROMARTYR JUVENAL, at the very dawn of Orthodoxy on this continent (1796), suffered from the pagan natives of Alaska to whom he was preaching the Gospel so zealously; and New Martyr PETER THE ALEUT, one of the first generation of Orthodox converts in America, suffered cruel torture and death at the hands of Latin missionaries in San Francisco (1815) for refusing to abandon Orthodoxy for the heterodox Christianity of the West.
Martyrs are seldom given a formal glorification or canonization, their own blood shed for Christ being already sufficient witness of their sanctity. But in the case of these American protomartyrs, the absence of a formal glorification has been a cause of their neglect. The church service to St. Herman of Alaska, approved by the bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia in 1970 for the glorification of the first Saint of America, did make mention of Sts. Juvenal and Peter, but still only a few have begun to show veneration for them. Now the same group of bishops has issued a formal decree on this subject (see p. 11), and perhaps at last a worthy glorification of them will begin, with the realization that their martyric witness, together with the righteous life of St. Herman, is the seed of our own Orthodox Christianity in this land.
One kind of martyrdom is still lacking to American Orthodoxy: persecution from the Godless. But the march of historical events seems to point inexorably to this kind of future for America. Let the sons of Orthodox America take to heart the warning of world events and prepare now to be strong witnesses (the literal meaning of "martyr") of true Christianity. Let us pray the more fervently to the new martyrs of this land, that by their prayers we may be strengthened in this witness.
Holy New Martyrs Juvenal and Peter, Pray to God for Us!
St. Herman of Alaska Monastery