On the second Sunday after Pentecost, each local Orthodox Church commemorates all the saints, known and unknown, who have lived and labored in its territory. Accordingly, in America we remember the saints of North America on this day. Leading up to this feast day, we will post, each day of the week, the lives eight of these saints.
Saints of all times, and in every country are seen as the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem fallen humanity. Their example encourages us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” and to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). The saints of North America also teach us how we should live, and what we must expect to endure as Christians.
The first Divine Liturgy in what is now American territory (Alaska) was celebrated on July 20, 1741, the Feast of the Prophet Elias, aboard the ship Peter under the command of Vitus Bering. Hieromonk Hilarion Trusov and the priest Ignatius Kozirevsky served together on that occasion. Several years later, the Russian merchant Gregory I. Shelikov visited Valaam monastery, suggesting to the abbot that it would be desirable to send missionaries to Russian America.
On September 24, 1794, after a journey of 7,327 miles (the longest missionary journey in Orthodox history) and 293 days, a group of monks from Valaam arrived on Kodiak Island in Alaska. The mission was headed by Archimandrite Joasaph, and included Hieromonks Juvenaly, Macarius, and Athanasius, the Hierodeacons Nectarius and Stephen, and the monks Herman and Joasaph. Saint Herman of Alaska, the last surviving member of the mission, fell asleep in the Lord in 1837.
Throughout the Church’s history, the seeds of faith have always been watered by the blood of the martyrs. The Protomartyr Juvenaly was killed near Lake Iliamna by natives in 1799, thus becoming the first Orthodox Christian to shed his blood for Christ in the New World. In 1816, Saint Peter the Aleut was put to death by Spanish missionaries in California when he refused to convert to Roman Catholicism.
Missionary efforts continued in the nineteenth century, with outreach to the native peoples of Alaska. Two of the most prominent laborers in Christ’s Vineyard were Saint Innocent Veniaminov and Saint Jacob Netsvetov, who translated Orthodox services and books into the native languages. Father Jacob Netsvetev died in Sitka in 1864 after a life of devoted service to the Church. Father John Veniaminov, after his wife’s death, received monastic tonsure with the name Innocent. He died in 1879 as the Metropolitan of Moscow.
As the nineteenth century was drawing to a close, an event of enormous significance for the North American Church took place. On March 25, 1891, Bishop Vladimir went to Minneapolis to receive Saint Alexis Toth and 361 of his parishioners into the Orthodox Church. This was the beginning of the return of many Uniates (Greek Catholics or Byzantine Catholics) to Orthodoxy.
Saint Tikhon (Belavin), the future Patriarch of Moscow, came to America as bishop of the diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska in September 1898. As the only Orthodox bishop on the continent, Saint Tikhon traveled extensively throughout North America in order to minister to his widely scattered and diverse flock. He realized that the local church here could not be a permanent extension of the Russian Church. Therefore, he focused his efforts on giving the American Church a diocesan and parish structure which would help it mature and grow.
Saint Tikhon returned to Russia in 1907, and was elected as Patriarch of Moscow ten years later. He died in 1925, and for many years his exact burial place remained unknown. Saint Tikhon’s grave was discovered on February 22, 1992 in the smaller cathedral of Our Lady of the Don in the Don Monastery when a fire made renovation of the church necessary.
Saint Raphael of Brooklyn was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America. Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny was consecrated by Bishop Tikhon and Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York on March 13, 1904. As Bishop of Brooklyn, Saint Raphael was a trusted and capable assistant to Saint Tikhon in his archpastoral ministry. Saint Raphael reposed on February 27, 1915.
In the twentieth century, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, countless men, women, and children received the crown of martyrdom rather than renounce Christ. Saints John Kochurov and Alexander Hotovitzky both served the Church in North America before going back to Russia. Saint John became the first clergyman to be martyred in Russia on October 31, 1917 in Saint Petersburg. Saint Alexander Hotovitzky, who served in America until 1914, was killed in 1937.
Here is a list of all the Orthodox saints who have connection to North America:
Alexander Hotovitzky, hieromartyr, Missionary of America
Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Missionary, leader of ex-Uniates into Orthodoxy
Herman of Alaska, first missionary to Alaska
Innocent of Alaska, missionary bishop to Alaska
Jacob Netsvetov, native of the Aleutian Islands who became a priest
John Kochurov, first hieromartyr in 1917
John Maximovitch, ROCOR bishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, wonderworker
Juvenaly of Alaska, Protomartyr of America
Mardarije Uskoković of Libertyville, recently canonized Serbian saint in America
Nikolaj Velimirović, influential theological writer and a highly gifted orator, rector of St. Tikhon's Seminary
Sebastian Dabovich of Jackson and San Francisco, recently canonized Serbian saint in America
Peter the Aleut, protomartyr of America
Raphael of Brooklyn, founder of the Antiochian Orthodox Mission in America
Tikhon of Moscow, was bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, missionary, then Patriarch of Moscow
Varnava Nastić, the New Confessor, born in Gary, Indiana