North American Saints
Brief biographies of Orthodox saints who lived in North America
SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA
Herman was born into a simple, merchant family in a suburb of Moscow around 1758. He entered the monastic life in 1772 at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Skete near St. Petersburg and, in 1779, transferred to the ancient and famous Valaam Monastery in what is Finland today.
At one point while he was at the Trinity-Sergius Skete, the right side of his throat became infected and an abscess formed. He was unable to swallow and his condition worsened, bringing him close to death. As he lay in pain one night, he turned to his icon of the Theotokos and asked her to pray for his health. He then took a moist towel and with it wiped the face of the Virgin and covered his swollen face with the towel, continuing in prayer. Falling into sleep, he saw a vision of the Theotokos healing him. When he woke up in the morning, the swelling was gone and the abscess was completely healed.
In the 18th century, Russia’s borders expanded and merchants discovered the Aleutian Islands that formed a chain across the Pacific Ocean to America. With the opening of these islands, the Russian Church recognized the imperative to bring the Gospel to the native inhabitants. The Holy Synod asked for ten men to be sent from the Valaam Monastery to missionize the new territories. Father Herman was among those selected for the historic and holy endeavor. After traveling for nearly a year, the group arrived in America on September 24, 1794, to begin their work. They immediately set up a base of operation and school on Kodiak Island, teaching the natives in both Russian and Aleut and traveling throughout the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan mainland. Several thousand of the natives quickly received the Gospel and were baptized.
Within a few years, most of the other members of the original missionary party died; but Herman lived and worked on Spruce Island for more than forty years. He lived in a little hut, and not far from this he built a schoolhouse and a guest house. Father Herman himself spaded a garden in front of his hut, raising potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables. He worked with superhuman strength. He was seen one winter night, for example, carrying a large log that would normally have required four men to lift; and he was barefoot! Everything that he acquired as a result of his immeasurable labors he used for the feeding and clothing of orphans and for books for his students. He loved all and everyone loved to converse with him and to hear his sermons, especially the children, for whom he would bake cookies. He even conversed with wild animals and he fed bears out of his hands. Because of the many miraculous events and healings associated with him, he is known as the “Wonderworker of America.” One day, for example, an earthquake caused a tidal wave which threatened to devastate the island. Father Herman placed an icon of the Theotokos on the beach and held a prayer service. Afterward, he told the people that the water would rise no further than the icon; and it was so.
Just before he died, Father Herman asked one of his spiritual children to light the candles and read the Acts of the Apostles. The cell filled with a wonderful, fresh, floral scent; and the elder’s face began to glow. Father Herman fell asleep in the Lord on December 13, 1837. His spiritual children kept his body lying in state at the orphanage for a number of weeks, but it did not decay and the sweet scent continued to linger about him.
Almost immediately, the local faithful considered their elder to be a saint; and devotion to Father Herman spread across Russia, Finland, and North America. On August 9, 1970, clergy and laity from the entire Orthodox world gathered in Kodiak formally to declare St. Herman as the first saint glorified on this continent. His feast day is commemorated on December 13.
Jacob Govoruchkin was born in 1761 into a middle-class family in the region of the Ural Mountains. Jacob became an engineering officer in the army. Receiving an honorable discharge in 1791, he entered the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. He was tonsured a monk, taking the name Juvenaly. He was soon after ordained a priest and transferred to the Konyavesky Monastery in present-day Finland.
In December 1793, Father Juvenaly, his younger brother Stephen, and eight other monks (including St. Herman) set out on an historic mission to America. Traveling 8,000 miles across Russia, Siberia, and the Pacific, they arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. Immediately upon the party’s arrival, Father Juvenaly began traveling around the island. He took up his work with great enthusiasm.
By God’s grace and through Father Juvenaly’s apostolic teaching, pastoral care, and personal example, the Alaskans came to understand the Good News of Jesus Christ and to espouse the Faith as their own. The ten monks divided up the territory and went to work. Within two years, more than 12,000 Native Americans had embraced the Gospel.
Father Juvenaly left Kodiak and headed for the Alaskan mainland in the summer of 1796. At Nunchek, on the coast, he baptized more than 700 Chugach Sugpiaq Indians. Continuing on to Cook Inlet, near present-day Anchorage, he spent the winter evangelizing and baptizing among the Athabaskan Indians. From there he set out over the mountains, near Lake Iliamna, and was never heard from again.
According to the oral tradition preserved among the natives, Father Juvenaly arrived at Quinhagak with at least one native companion as translator. A hunting party of local Yupiat Eskimos was frightened by the arrival of these outsiders. As Father Juvenaly stood up in the boat to speak to them, the Yupiat shaman ordered that the strangers be killed. As a shower of spears and arrows flew at him, the Indians remembered Father Juvenaly “waved his arm as if he were chasing away flies.” He was, of course, blessing his murderers with the sign of the Cross.
The cross that Father Juvenaly wore intrigued the shaman. He took it off the martyr’s body and wore it about his neck. Every time he tried to work his magic while wearing the cross, the shaman became frustrated: his spells did not work and he found himself lifted several feet above the ground. Removing the cross, he warned all not to harm any others who came dressed like Father Juvenaly. He told his companions that these people possessed great power and were to be treated well.
Father Juvenaly was glorified and proclaimed as a martyr by the Diocese of Alaska in 1977. His feast is commemorated on September 24.
SAINT PETER THE ALEUT
A native of Kodiak Island, Cungagnaq was baptized by the monks of St. Herman’s missionary party. He received the Christian name Peter.
In 1815, a party of 14 Aleut seal and otter hunters, including Peter, approached the California shore by ship. The Russian-American Trading Company had in 1812 established Fort Ross (derived from the word “Russia”) about 50 miles north of San Francisco as a warm climate trading post and as a place to raise crops and cattle to support the communities in Alaska. At that time, Spain still owned California; and some Spaniards perhaps thought that Russia was planning to attack and take possession of San Francisco.
When, therefore, Peter and his party of young fur trappers approached near Fort Ross, Spanish sailors captured them and took them to San Francisco for a mock trial. Roman Catholic priests in California tried to force the Aleut hunters to embrace Roman Catholicism. The prisoners answered, “We are Christians; we have been baptized,” and they showed their baptismal crosses. “No, you are heretics and schismatics,” replied one of the priests. “If you do not agree to take the Catholic Faith, we will torture you”; and they were told to think it over.
Returning a while later, the priests found that the Aleuts again refused to renounce Orthodoxy. They took Peter and cut off a toe from each foot; but Peter simply repeated, “I am a Christian. I will not betray my Faith.” The Spanish priest-inquisitor ordered a group of California Indians to cut off each finger of Peter’s hands, one joint at a time, eventually cutting off his hands altogether. Finally, he ordered that Peter be disemboweled. Peter quickly died as a result of the tortures, witnessing to his Faith in God to his last breath. Just as they were ready to start on the next Aleut, the Spaniards received an order to stop the proceedings. This eyewitness account of Peter’s martyrdom is told by some of his comrades who were eventually released.
When the incident was reported to St. Herman, back on Kodiak Island, the monk turned to his icon, crossed himself, and exclaimed, “Holy, new martyr Peter, pray to God for us!” Peter the Aleut was formally glorified as a saint, as the “Martyr of San Francisco,” in 1980. His feast day is commemorated on September 24.
John Popov-Veniaminov was born in Siberia on August 27, 1797. He excelled in school and was a voracious reader. He spent all his free time with a clock-maker and helped him build a tower clock on the cathedral in Irkutsk, learning how wheels, springs, and hands all fit together. He was skilled in many areas. He was a carpenter, clock-maker, navigator, explorer, natural scientist, anthropologist, theologian, and educator. After he married Elizabeth, at age 20, and was ordained a priest four years later, he also became a pastor.
The Russian Church was looking for clergy to send to Alaska. None wanted to accept the assignment, because they had heard that it was a wild place, full of savages. Eagerly, however, Fr. John, with his wife, son (the first of two sons and four daughters), mother, and brother, traveling on horseback, across wide rivers, through thick forests, boggy marshes, and steep mountains, and sailing by ship on a 2,200-mile journey, arrived in America in July, 1824.
As soon as he arrived, Fr. John established a school for children and adults in the Aleutian Islands. Rather than try to force the natives to abandon their own culture, he studied their language and culture, incorporating Aleutian ideas into his teaching of the basics of Christianity. The Aleuts had no written language; so Fr. John developed a written language for them (as the great missionary saints Cyril and Methodius had done for the Slays a thousand years prior). Using his many skills, he taught the Aleuts and worked with them to build a church. The Church of the Ascension of the Savior in Harbor Village on Unalaska Island was completed in June of 1826. Father John spent the next ten years traveling by ship, kayak, reindeer and dog sled throughout the islands, planting the seeds of the Orthodox Faith. He wrote the first book in the Aleutian language, An Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven. Fr. John also translated the Liturgy, a catechism, and portions of the Bible, into Aleut so the people would worship in their native tongue instead of Slavonic. In 1834, Fr. John and his family moved to Sitka. There he spent the next five years among the Tlingit Indians, once again teaching and translating the Gospel and the Liturgy into their local language.
In order to raise money for the Orthodox missionary work, Fr. John made and sold roll-organs (like player-pianos). In 1836, he traveled to California and the Roman Catholic missions in San Rafael, San Jose, Santa Clara, and San Francisco to deliver the instruments. In 1838-39, he traveled back to Russia to apply in person for more help in evangelizing America. During the trip, he received word that his wife had died. The next year, and only after great pressure from the Metropolitan of Moscow, who assured him that his six children would be well cared for, Fr. John was tonsured a monk, taking the name Innocent. On September 27, 1841, Innocent was elected as America’s first Orthodox bishop. The territory of his new diocese encompassed Alaska, the Pacific rim of Asia, Canada, and what would eventually become known as the “lower 48” United States. Bishop Innocent spent his time traveling from village to isolated village, teaching the Gospel. In 1848, St. Michael’s Cathedral was built in Sitka, for which he made the tower clock. In 1850, he was ordered to reside in and administer his diocese from Yakutsk, in Siberia. Once again, upon arrival, with the aid of his eldest son, Gabriel, now a priest, he immediately began the task of translating and preaching in the local language, so that the Siberians would not have to learn Russian or Slavonic to worship God.
In 1867, the year that the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, Archbishop Innocent was elected Metropolitan of Moscow, head of the entire Church of Russia. Now more than 70 years old and nearly blind from his travels over bright snow, he continued to work, establishing homes for orphans and widows, building schools, catechizing and baptizing literally many thousands of people. Metropolitan Innocent also had great vision for the Church in America. He suggested to the Holy Synod that the seat of the American diocese be moved from Sitka to San Francisco, that the bishop and clergy there be fluent in English, that American citizens be encouraged to enter the priesthood, and that the Divine Liturgy and other services be translated into English. At age 82, on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1879, Metropolitan Innocent went on to receive his heavenly reward. In 1977, the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia formally proclaimed him “Saint Innocent of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to America.” His feast day is commemorated on March 31.
Jacob Netsvetov was born on the island of Atka, Alaska, in 1802. His father was a Russian, an employee of the Russian-American Trading Company, and his mother was a Native American. Raised in Irkutsk, Siberia, Jacob received a theological education. At age 23, he married a Russian woman from Siberia, named Anna. Three years later, he was ordained a priest and assigned to St. Nicholas parish on Atka, his birthplace. He was the first Native American Orthodox Christian to be ordained to the priesthood.
Father Jacob’s parish territory consisted of a number of islands, spanning a total distance of 2,000 miles. He visited the islands regularly, ministering to the faithful and dispensing medicine. He established a school and, with the help of St. Innocent, Fr. Jacob developed a written form of the local Unangan language. He then translated the Scriptures and other writings into it. Most of the Islanders had already been introduced to the basics of Christianity and had been baptized by lay missionaries. It was Fr. Jacob’s task to chrismate the people and to continue their Christian education. In his first year, he recorded that he had baptized 16, chrismated 442, married 53 couples, and buried 8.
Father Jacob kept a most interesting and valuable journal of his activities. For example, an excerpt of his entry for November 26, 1842, reads: “On the occasion of the feast of St. Innocent of Irkutsk, I held the vigil. In the morning, prior to Liturgy, I baptized an infant born to a local Aleut a week ago. Then, all the children, boys and girls, were gathered in the chapel, and I spoke to them about God’s love for people, especially for children…. Afterwards, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy, at which 50 adults who had come to confession were joined to the Holy Mysteries. Later on, I visited the cemetery and sang the requiem for all those who had died there since my last visit. The rest of my time was spent performing weddings…. After the services, I instructed the newlyweds on the meaning of marriage and the duties of husband and wife, respectively. Thus I concluded my activities there.”
In 1844, St. Innocent appointed Father Jacob (now a widower) to the Kuskokwim/Yukon Delta region as a missionary priest. He spent the next twenty years ministering to and learning the languages of the Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabaskan Indians of this vast region of the southwest Alaska tundra.
Father Jacob fell asleep in the Lord on July 26, 1864, at the age of 62. He was glorified as “Enlightener of the Peoples of Alaska” in 1994. His feast day is commemorated on July 26.
Alexis Toth was born on March 18, 1854, in Eperjes, Hungary, the son of a priest. He studied in Roman and Byzantine Catholic seminaries and married his wife, Rosalie, soon after graduation from the University of Presov. Alexis was ordained a priest in the Uniate Greek Catholic Church in 1878 and assigned as a parish priest. His wife died soon afterwards, followed by their only child – losses which the saint endured with the patience of Job.
In 1879, he was appointed secretary to the bishop of Presov, director of an orphanage, and professor of church history and canon law. In 1889, he was appointed to pastor St. Mary’s Uniate parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Upon arrival in America, Fr. Alexis presented himself to the local Roman Catholic bishop who refused to accept him as a legitimate priest. The parishioners of St. Mary’s were immigrants from the Carpathians Mountains of Austrian Galicia. Their ancestors had been Orthodox, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire had imposed the Roman Catholic Church upon all as the state church. As Uniates, however, they were allowed to retain Orthodox-style services and practices rather than the Latin rite. Fr. Alexis appealed to both Presov and Rome, but got no answer. Other Uniate communities were being treated in the same way by Roman Catholic bishops all over America.
As one who was well learned in history and doctrine, Fr. Alexis had for a long time longed for himself and his people to return to the Communion of the Orthodox Faith. The situation with the Roman bishops prompted him to think about taking action. In October of 1890, eight of the ten Uniate priests in America met in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to discuss their situation. On March 25, 1891, Orthodox Bishop Vladimir went to Minneapolis and received Fr. Alexis and his community. Although some accused Fr. Alexis of becoming Orthodox for financial gain, in fact he did not receive any financial support for a long time, for his parish was very poor. He worked in a bakery to support himself and, even though his funds were meager, he never neglected to give alms to the poor and needy and shared his money with other clergy worse off than himself. He also contributed to the building of churches and to the education of seminarians. The other Uniate communities saw and took courage in following his example. He moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, two years later to continue his work there.
Fr. Alexis did not hesitate to point out errors in the doctrines of other Churches, but he was always careful to warn his flock against intolerance. His writings and sermons are filled with admonitions to respect other people and faiths. In the midst of great hardships, he issued a stream of Orthodox writings for new converts and gave practical advice on how to live in an Orthodox manner. By the end of his life, he had personally received about 15,000 Uniates back to Orthodoxy. Fr. Alexis fell asleep in the Lord on May 7, 1909. He was glorified as “Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy in America” in 1994. His feast day is commemorated on May 7.
Raphael Hawaweeny was born on November 8, 1860, in Beirut, Lebanon. His parents, Michael and Miriam, had fled there from Damascus, Syria, before the Druze massacres which claimed the lives of 2,500 Christians.
Raphael attended the Greek Orthodox Theological School in Halki, Turkey; then traveled to Russia to further his studies at the Kiev Theological Academy. He was ordained a priest in 1889 and assigned to pastor the Antiochian Patriarchal Embassy in Moscow. He came know to the Arab communities in America as they sought his leadership. Bishop Nicholas of the North American diocese also went to Russia to recruit him and other missionaries. They arrived in America on November 14, 1895.
Immediately, Fr. Raphael set to work and organized the parish that would eventually become St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. Then after just five months in America, he set out on the first of several missionary journeys by rail across and up and down the United States, Canada, and Mexico, seeking out Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians and establishing parishes.
Twice in 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected a bishop in his homeland. Twice he declined, stating that his work in America was not finished. St. Tikhon, by then Bishop of North America, also had great confidence in Fr. Raphael and asked the Holy Synod of Russia to elect him as Bishop of Brooklyn. The consecration took place on March 12, 1904, in New York; and Raphael became the first Orthodox bishop consecrated on American soil. With the help of St. Alexander (Hotovitsky), a colleague from Russia and fellow missionary, Bishop Raphael immediately began publication of The Word, an Arabic-language journal.
He could and did serve the entire Divine Liturgy in perfect Arabic, Greek, Russian, or English; but, when Bishop Raphael saw the young people of the Church drifting away because they did not understand Arabic, he insisted that Sunday School instruction, the Divine Liturgy, and other services be in English. He worked with Isabel Hapgood to prepare the famous English language Service Book that was published under the direction of Bishop Tikhon in 1906. The Holy Synod of Antioch made more attempts to lure him back to the Middle East, offering him lucrative dioceses; but he steadfastly declined, declaring that his work in America was not yet complete. By 1909, when his health failed and he became bed-ridden due to his tireless labors, he had established more than thirty parishes. Bishop Raphael fell asleep in the Lord on February 27, 1915, at the age of 54. His flock mourned for him bitterly. He was canonized a saint by the Orthodox Church in America on May 29, 2000, at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, New Canaan, Pennsylvania. He was glorified as the “Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America.” His feast day is the Saturday before the Synaxis of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, which falls between November 1 and 7.
Vassily Ivanovich Belavin was born on January 19, 1865, the son of a priest, near Pskov, Russia. He was destined for the priesthood from an early age and excelled in his studies in school and at the famous St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Upon graduation, he immediately started teaching at a seminary. He was tonsured a monk in 1891, taking the name Tikhon, and was ordained a priest soon after; yet he continued teaching.
In 1897, Father Tikhon was consecrated as Bishop of Liublin, Poland; but within a few months, he was reassigned as Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (which included the entire U.S. and Canada). He arrived in New York on December 12, 1898. He was the only Orthodox bishop on the continent; and his flock was made up of native Americans (Eskimos, Aleuts, and Indians), Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Greeks, Antiochians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians, Galicians, Carpatho-Russians, Romanians, and others, at a time when immigration was at its peak. Bishop Tikhon worked to maintain the unity of all these Orthodox faithful while, at the same time, allowing for ethnic and cultural variations. He used a multitude of languages, and he held services in English at his cathedral as early as 1904. In 1906, he published a translation of the Liturgy and other church services into English. Bishop Tikhon traveled all through North America during his nine years as bishop here. He established many parishes; he opened the first Orthodox seminary in America, in Minneapolis, and he founded the first monastery, in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He devoted all his efforts to making the Church in America into a local, self-sustaining, autonomous Orthodox Church, not merely an extension of the Russian Church. Bishop Tikhon requested and received help in an auxiliary bishop for Alaska. To assist him in caring for Arabic-speaking immigrants, in 1904, Bishop Tikhon also consecrated the Antiochian Raphael Hawaweeny as Bishop of Brooklyn.
Archbishop Tikhon was transferred to an important diocese back in Russia in 1907. In 1914, he was transferred again, to the diocese of Vilnius, Poland. Just then World War I broke out. Archbishop Tikhon traveled to the front lines and personally cared for sick and wounded soldiers. In 1917, he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow. That same year, the patriarchate was restored and Tikhon was elected as the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 217 years.
That same year, communist Bolsheviks began terrorizing Russia with gunfire, murdered the Tsar and his family, and began a fierce persecution against the Church. Patriarch Tikhon stood firm in denouncing the Bolsheviks’ political abuses and violence, yet he also appealed to the Russian people to obey all legitimate decrees of the new Soviet government – anything that did not violate the Faith. The atheists confiscated churches and melted down chalices, censers, tabernacles, and other precious liturgical items. Through all this, the Patriarch shepherded his persecuted flock. In 1922, the communists placed him under house arrest. He was admitted to a hospital in 1925, suffering from very poor health. There, he was given a lethal dose of morphine “to ease the pain” of his heart attacks. Patriarch Tikhon fell asleep in the Lord on March 25, 1925, at the age of 60. The Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed him a saint in 1989, designating him as “Enlightener of North America and Confessor of Moscow.”
The term “enlightener” refers to his role in evangelizing the American people. In his last sermon in America, St. Tikhon said, “The Light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people…. It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light, and our joy with those who do not have these gifts. This duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St. Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body, every member takes part.”
SAINT JOHN (KOCHUROV)
John Alexandrovich Kochurov was born July 13, 1871, in Bigildino-Surky, Russia. His father was the village priest. John graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1895. He married Alexandra, the daughter of a priest, and was ordained to the priesthood in August of the same year.
During his theological studies, John had felt a call to be a missionary. He asked Bishop Nicholas to let him become part of the American Mission. By October, Fr. John and his wife were in Chicago. He was assigned as pastor of St. Vladimir’s Cathedral there as well as pastor of Three Hierarchs mission in Streator, Illinois, ninety miles away. St. Vladimir’s ‘Cathedral’ was actually a rented house. The people worshipped on the ground floor. Fr. John, the church reader, and their families lived upstairs, with large cracks in the walls.
Shortly after his arrival as Bishop of North America, St. Tikhon visited Chicago in 1899. He gave the community his blessing to try to build a new church. By the next day, Fr. John had found a plot of land. The Chicago community was composed of largely poor people, so Fr. John traveled to Russia to seek funds for construction. Bishop Tikhon consecrated Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1903, which had been built for – by the standards of the time – the enormous sum of fifty thousand dollars, blending traditional Russian and 20th century American architecture, according to Fr. John’s design. The temple quickly became the center of a thriving, self-sufficient pan-Orthodox community, including Russians, Greeks, Arabs, former Uniates and Roman Catholics, and many others. Fr. John also traveled extensively, ministering to groups of Orthodox Christians and accepting the increasing numbers of converts to the Faith. Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn presided over a large diocesan assembly honoring Fr. John, in 1905, for his first decade of service and presented him with a gold cross.
Fr. John and his family, now including six children, returned to Russia in 1907, where he spent the next nine years teaching theology in secondary schools. In 1916, Fr. John resumed his life as a parish priest at St. Katherine’s Cathedral in Tsarkoye Selo, near St. Petersburg. People flocked to hear his preaching. It was not long, however, before the Bolshevik Red Guard exposed the town to artillery fire. The townspeople jammed into St. Katherine’s, where Fr. John and the other clergy spontaneously led them in a prayer service seeking an end to the civil conflict. The clergy then decided to lead the people in a solemn procession through the town, calling for an end to the fratricide. Candles were lit in the hands of all the people, as they were praying and singing. The next day, October 31, 1917, the Bolsheviks entered the town and began making rounds, arresting people. Because of his leading the procession and prayer for the salvation of Russia, they took Fr. John to St. Theodore’s Cathedral on the outskirts of town and assassinated him there in a succession of rifle shots. When they took his body to the hospital the next day, his cross was already missing.
Father John thus became the first of countless numbers martyred at the hands of the atheist Bolsheviks. Since the moment of his martyrdom, which by the shedding of his blood sanctified his homeland, the veneration of his life and witness has continued to grow both in Russia and in America. The Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church glorified him in 1994, jointly, as “First Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yoke and Missionary of America.” His feast day is commemorated on October 31.
Alexander Alexandrovich Hotovitsky was born on February 11, 1872, in Kremenetz, Russia, the son of a priest. He attended the Volynia Theological Seminary, which his father headed, and went on for graduate studies at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Upon graduation in 1895, he applied for a position with the North American mission and was accepted. He accompanied Bishop Nicholas to America that year.
In America, Alexander met Maria, and they were married the next year. A month later, Alexander was ordained a priest and assigned to the newly founded St. Nicholas parish in New York City, which was to become the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan. At first, the parish rented a house: services were conducted on the first floor and Father Alexander’s family lived on the second level. In 1901, Father Alexander traveled to Russia to raise funds to build the cathedral. St. Tikhon consecrated the magnificent, new cathedral on East 97th Street the very next year.
Father Alexander traveled up and down the east coast and Canada, as well, helping to establish new parishes. He worked also to bring the Uniates back into the Orthodox Communion. Everywhere he went people flocked to hear him speak, for his sincerity and conviction clearly shone through. He published the American Orthodox Messenger in both English and Russian; and he assisted his friend, Bishop Raphael, in publishing The Word in Arabic.
From 1914 to 1917, Father Alexander served as a priest in Helsinki, Finland. He returned to Russia in 1917 and participated in the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-18, where he was a major proponent of the reestablishment of the Moscow Patriarchate. He thereafter served as a close advisor to the sainted Patriarch Tikhon.
Fr. Alexander served in a number of parishes in the ensuing years, including at the famous Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He spoke boldly, encouraging his flock, ravaged by the terrors of the Bolsheviks, to stand firm in the Faith and to protect the churches. He helped the needy and fed the starving. Because he was a leader and organizer, the communists made Fr. Alexander one of their chief targets. They exiled him to concentration camps numerous times for his pastoral activities, for refusing to surrender the sacred vessels to be melted down, and, especially, for disobeying the law by teaching children and holding church school classes. He disappeared following his final arrest, in 1937, suffering as a martyr for the Christian Faith at the hands of the Soviets.
In 1994, the bicentennial of the arrival of the first Orthodox missionaries to America, The Orthodox Church in America and the Church of Russia canonized Father Alexander jointly. He was glorified as the “New Hieromartyr of Russia and Missionary to America.” His feast day is commemorated on December 4.
SAINT NICHOLAS OF ZICA
Nikola Velimirovich was born into a large peasant family in Lelich, Serbia, on December 23, 1880. After completing studies at the local schools, he went on to attend the St. Sava Theological Seminary in Belgrade, graduating in 1902. He received the first of many doctoral degrees in 1909 from the Theological Faculty in Bern, Switzerland. That year, he returned to Serbia and was tonsured a monk at the Monastery of Rakovica, receiving the name Nicholas. Shortly thereafter, he was ordained a priest and joined the faculty at the St. Sava Seminary. Fr. Nicholas went to England during World War I, where he lectured at Oxford University and received a doctorate in philosophy. Returning to Serbia in 1919, he was elected bishop of the dioceses of Zica and Ochrid.
Bishop Nicholas came to America in 1921 and spent two years as a missionary, traveling extensively, establishing and administrating the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in the United States and Canada. He then returned to Serbia to care for the flocks of his own dioceses.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Yugoslavia. They tortured and massacred hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians. Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo and Bishop Nicholas were sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp. Bishop Nicholas, who was a spiritual man of prayer, remarked years later, “I tried the visualization of God’s presence. And as little as I succeeded, it helped me enormously to prevent me from sinning in freedom and from despairing in prison. If we kept the vision of the invisible God, we would be happier, wiser, and stronger in every walk of life.” Having survived the war, Bishop Nicholas was prevented from returning to Yugoslavia by the communists.
Bishop Nicholas returned to America in 1946 as a refugee. He settled down at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He taught courses and soon became head of the Seminary, while also earning three more doctorates. He taught his courses in English, a bold step at the time, which earned him the resentment of some of the other faculty members; but he insisted. When someone complained, he would reply, “You have learned and heard enough. It is time for the seminarians to learn something.” Bishop Nicholas also received and corresponded with many spiritual children. He was loved and respected, and people eagerly sought his wise and insightful spiritual counsel. He knew each one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Bishop Nicholas fell asleep in the Lord on March 18, 1956. The local diocese glorified him as a saint in 1987.
SAINT JOHN (MAXIMOVITCH)
Michael Maximovitch was born June 4, 1896, into a noble family in the Ukraine. He entered law school at the age of 18 and then began theological studies at 25. Due to the anti-religious conditions imposed by the communists, Michael left Russia and was tonsured a monk in a Serbian monastery, taking the name John. The same year, 1926, he was ordained priest. He kept an austere ascetic discipline all his life.
In 1934, Father John was consecrated a bishop of the Russian Church in Exile and was assigned to Shanghai, China, where he immediately set out building churches, an almshouse, an orphanage and a hospital. He became Archbishop of Paris and Brussels in 1951. He came to America in 1962, as Archbishop of San Francisco. Blessed John had great compassion for all men, regardless of their faith, and his devotion to God consumed him 24 hours a day. He literally “prayed in the air,” for many times people would come to visit and find him standing deep in prayer, aglow in light, and six inches off the floor. He would be seen in several distant locations at the same period of time without there being any possibility that he could have traveled so quickly by earthly transport.
Late one night, during a severe storm, one of Blessed John’s parishioners was near death in a hospital. She asked the nurse to call Fr. John, but was told that the phones and electricity had been knocked out by the storm. The nurse also said that since Fr. John lived across town they could not send a messenger to summon him. The patient decided that the best she could do was to pray. While she was in prayers, Fr. John entered the room, attended to her needs, healed her immediate crisis, and departed. The next morning, the woman asked the nurse how she had reached Fr. John. The nurse replied that she had not and that no one had come through the entrance, because it was bolted due to the storm. The nurse did say that she saw an Orthodox priest in the hallway that night, but added that it could not have been Fr. John, for the man she saw was not the least bit wet from the storm.
Blessed John held strong to the belief that the Orthodox Church was not a social institution, but a place of true worship and spiritual growth towards God. He refused to pander to the groups in San Francisco who wanted the church to be primarily an ethno-social gathering place. As a result, many inflammatory letters, filled with fraudulent accusations, were sent to the Metropolitan; and Archbishop John was even sued by parishioners for alleged misappropriation of building funds. At the end of several years of courtroom legal defense, he was physically exhausted. He died soon after his acquittal, on July 2, 1966, but not before formally declaring that the disgruntled parishioners were to be forgiven, for Satan had blinded them.
Archbishop John was canonized a saint of the Orthodox Church in 1994. He is entombed at his Cathedral in San Francisco, where visiting pilgrims can view his body that has not decayed despite its not being embalmed. Reports of miracles connected to his intercession (similar to those in his lifetime) continue to be reported from many sources – both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Christian and non-Christian. On July 2, 1994, Archbishop John was glorified as “Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” and his feast day is commemorated every July 2.
Icons and Commentary courtesy of the North American Saints Shrine at St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, OK
Icons by Janet Jaime