A History of the Orthodox Church
The history of the Orthodox Church actually begins in the Acts of the Holy Apostles, with the Descent of the Holy Spirit: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4). As the text further tells us, on that same day, after St. Peter had preached to the gathered people, those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41), thus constituting the first Christian community at Jerusalem.
This first community of Christians, headed by St. James, the Brother of the Lord the first Bishop of the city was later scattered by the persecutions which followed the stoning of the first martyr of the Christian Church, St. Stephen: And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles (Acts 8:1).
At the same time, faithful to the Lord's command to go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), the Apostles went out and preached wherever they went, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, so that in a surprisingly short time, Christian communities had sprung up in all the main centers of the Roman world and beyond. Their exploits are recorded in the Acts, as well in the inner tradition of the Orthodox Church.
The Holy Apostles.
St. Andrew the First-Called.
St. Andrew was a Galilean fisherman of Bethsaida and was the first called of the Apostles of Christ (John 1:37-40), to whom he brought his brother Simon, called Peter. According to Church tradition, he suffered martyrdom at Patras in Achaia on an X-shaped Cross (St. Andrew's Cross). Another tradition says that he visited Russia as far as the city of Kiev (while yet another Novgorod). His Feast Day is November 30.
In Holy Scripture, St. Bartholemew is to be identified with the Nathanael of John 1:45-51, of whom the Lord Himself witnessed, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile (John 1:47). According to Church tradition, he preached the Gospel in Lycaonia, India and Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive. His Feast Day is June 11.
St. James the Elder.
St. James the Elder (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle, St. James the Younger) and his brother, John (the Evangelist), were fishermen the sons of Zebedee. This James, along with his brother and St. Peter, were especially beloved of the Lord. According to the Acts, he was beheaded by King Agrippa in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2), after first having preached in Spain. His Feast Day is April 30.
St. James the Younger.
St. James the Younger (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name; sometimes called the Son of Alphaeus), was the brother of St. Matthew. In St. Mark's Gospel he is said to be the son of Mary, one of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women (Mark 16:1). According to Church tradition, he labored in Judea and then accompanied St. Andrew to Edessa, preaching the Gospel. Later he traveled to Gaza (on the southern seacoast of Palestine), and from thereto Egypt, where he was martyred by crucifixion. His Feast Day is October 9.
St. John the Evangelist (also the Theologian or the Divine), was a son of Zebedee and brother of St. James the Elder. In Holy Scripture he is referred to as the disciple, whom Jesus loved (John 13:23), and who leaned on his Master's breast at the Last Supper. To him was entrusted the Most-Holy Theotokos by Our Lord as He was dying on the Cross (John 19:26), and it was at St. John's house that her Holy Dormition occurred. St. John occupied an important place in the Apostolic ministry and, according to St. Paul, he, together with Peter and James were seen to be pillars of the Church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). According to Church tradition, he was the last of the Apostles to die, ca. 100 A.D., and while exiled on the Isle of Patmos, he wrote the Apocalypse (or Revelation). To him is also attributed the Gospel and the three Epistles that bear his name. His Feast Days are May 8 and September 26.
This Apostle, the brother of James the Just (both being half-brothers or perhaps, cousins, of the Lord), is also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus (John 14:22; Matt. 10:3). To him is attributed the Epistle of St. Jude. According to Church tradition, he preached in Syria and Edessa, eventually being martyred in Persia with his fellow Apostle, Simeon Zealotes. His Feast Day is June 19.
[See St. Jude].
St. Matthew (also called Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14)) was a brother of St. James the Younger and was a tax collector. The First Gospel is attributed to him, and, according to many scholars, was first written for the Hebrews. According to Church tradition, St. Matthew preached to the Jews first, and then traveled to Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria and Persia, dying a natural death, according to one tradition, or by martyrdom, according to another. His Feast Day is November 16.
According to the Acts, St. Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left vacant by the Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). According to Church Tradition he is said to have preached in Ethiopia and Armenia, eventually suffering death by crucifixion. His Feast Day is August 9.
[See St. Bartholomew].
St. Peter was a brother of St. Andrew, and, together with him, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Called by the Lord to become a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), he was originally named Simon, but later his name was changed to Peter (in Aramaic Cephas, meaning rock) by the Lord. This was in response to Peter's declaration: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), for the Lord then said to him, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Holy Scripture amply witnesses to the fact that Peter occupied a primary place among the Apostles, although not to the extreme claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. His activities after the Resurrection are witnessed to in the Acts and, according to Church tradition, he was later martyred in Rome, being crucified upside down at his own request, since he felt himself not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Himself. The two Epistles of St. Peter are ascribed to him and he is celebrated, together with the other chief Apostle, St. Paul, on June 29.
St. Philip, like Peter and Andrew, came from Bethsaida in Galilee (Matt. 10:3) and was called early in the Lord's earthly ministry, bringing Nathanael with him (John 1:43ff.). According to Church tradition, he was a missionary in Phrygia and died there (by martyrdom, according to some) at Hierapolis. His Feast Day is November 14, the next day being the beginning of the Nativity Fast (for which reason it is often called St. Philip's Fast).
St. Simeon Zealotes.
St. Simeon Zealotes (or the Zealot; sometimes the Canaanite), according to Church tradition, traveled through Egypt and Africa, then through Mauretania and Libya, preaching the Gospel of Christ. Later he is said to have traveled to Britain, where he was martyred by the Romans on a Cross. Another tradition says that he was martyred with St. Jude in Persia. His Feast Day is May 10.
[See St. Jude].
St. Thomas, called Didymus (or the Twin, John 11:16), appears several times in St. John's Gospel, which gives a good impression of the sort of man he was: ready to die with the Master (John 11:16); skeptical about the Resurrection, yet, when the Risen Christ manifested Himself to him, is whole-hearted in his belief (John 20:24-28). According to Church tradition, St. Thomas preached in Parthia (Persia), Edessa and India, where he is held in great veneration as a founder of the Church there, eventually suffering martyrdom. According to Church tradition, his remains were buried in Edessa. His Feast Day is October 6 and also the Sunday following Holy Pascha (St. Thomas Sunday).
This disciple, forever a symbol of treachery, the son of Simon, was from the town of Kerioth (from Kerioth Iscariot). According to the Gospel, he stole from the common treasury of which he had charge (John 12:5-6) and ultimately betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-15). After the Crucifixion of Jesus, in deep remorse, Judas cast the pieces of silver into the Temple before the Chief Priests and Elders, later going out and hanging himself. With the money, now considered blood money, a potter's field was bought to bury strangers in (Matt. 27:3-10).
St. Paul was a strict Pharisee, having studied under the respected Rabbi Gamaliel at Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). At a young age he had learned the trade of a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3) and had inherited Roman citizenship from his father (Acts 22:28). The young Saul (as he was known before his conversion to Christianity) was zealous for Judaism and consented to the stoning of St. Stephen, later actively joining in the persecution of the Christians (Acts 8:3). While on the way to Damascus, to persecute the Christians there, he had a sudden vision of the Lord, Who rebuked him for his persecution, and later he converted to the Christian Faith (Acts 9:1-22). After this conversion experience, St. Paul went on to become one of the greatest of the Apostles, zealously bringing the Light of Christ to the Gentiles, eventually going to Rome where he received martyrdom by beheading. During his missionary journeys, amply attested to in the Acts, he wrote letters of encouragement to various congregations and individuals along the way, and thirteen of them (fourteen, if the Epistle to the Hebrews is accepted as of Pauline origin) have been accepted as part of the New Testament. Together with St. Peter, he is commemorated on June 29.
St. Barnabas, a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24), was a Jew from Cyprus, closely associated with the work of St. Paul. It was Barnabas who was sent to the Christians at Antioch, fetching Paul from Tarsus to help him. Later, he and Paul were sent on the first missionary journey, which began on the island of Cyprus, of which Church St. Barnabas is said to have founded. According to Church tradition, he was martyred on Cyprus at Salamis. He commemorated together with St. Bartholomew on June 11.
St. James the Brother of the Lord.
St. James was a half-brother (or perhaps a cousin) of the Lord, and was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem, being called by St. Paul a pillar of that Church, together with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9). At the first general Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, James is depicted as having a leading role (Acts 15:12-21). Having ruled the Church in Jerusalem wisely (for which reason he is often called the Just), St. James was martyred there. Being taken to the top of the Temple wall, he was commanded to convince the people to turn away from Christ, which he refused to do, speaking to them in quite the opposite manner. Thereupon he was thrown down from that high point to the ground, where he was stoned and beaten to death. The Epistle of St. James is attributed to him and his Feast Day is celebrated on October 23.
St. Luke, the Beloved Physician (Col. 4:14), is the author of the Gospel bearing his name, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. He was a Gentile convert, probably a Greek, and was a companion of St. Paul in his later missionary journeys, concerning which he related in the Acts. According to Church tradition, St. Luke was an iconographer and wrote the first Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos. St. Luke died, unmarried, in Greece, at the age of eighty-four, and is commemorated on October 18.
The Second Gospel is attributed to this Apostle, who some say was the young man who fled away naked at the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52). In the Acts, he is called John Mark (Acts 12:12; 15:37), the son of Mary, at whose house in Jerusalem the early Christians stayed (Acts 12:12), and he was a cousin of the Apostle Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He figures several times in the Acts, at one point being the source of a temporary rift between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40), but later he was with Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome (Col. 4:10). In his 1st Epistle, St. Peter mentions Mark as being with him, styling him my son (1 Pet. 5:13). According to Church tradition, St. Mark wrote his Gospel at the request of the brethren in Rome, who asked him to relate what he had learned from St. Peter. He is said to have preached the Gospel at Alexandria, Egypt, and was its first Bishop, being martyred there during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. His Feast Day is April 25.
After these humble beginnings, Christianity spread far and wide throughout the known world, but the Good News of Christ aroused intense opposition, and the first three centuries of the Church were characterized by sporadic, but bloody, persecutions. Church tradition is full of the lives of these early martyrs for the faith, and one cannot but admire the courage and perseverance of these heroes who willingly gave up their lives rather than denounce Christ. Among these were Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, burned at the stake when over eighty years old, Justin the Martyr, and Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, as well as many other men and women martyrs, who are commemorated in the Church Calendar.
These persecutions were often local in character and of limited duration, and although there were long periods of de-facto toleration, the threat of persecution was always there. Christians knew that at any time the threat of persecution could become a very present reality and the idea of martyrdom held a central place in the spiritual outlook of these warriors for Christ. Later, when persecution and martyrdom ceased to be a major concern of the Christians, the idea, nonetheless, did not disappear, but took other forms. Chief among these was the monastic life, regarded by many as a form of martyrdom equal to bodily death.
In 312, however, a momentous event occurred, for in that year, seeing, in a vision, a Cross in the sky with the inscription, In this sign conquer, and placing the Cross on the shields of his army, the Emperor Constantine defeated a rival army and ultimately became the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity. In 313, Constantine and his fellow Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed the official toleration of the Christian faith. Fifty years later, the Emperor Theodosius carried this policy even further when he legislated Christianity as the only accepted religion of the Empire, while outlawing paganism.
In 324, Constantine moved his imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium, on the shores of the Bosporus, where he built a new capital, Constantinople (dedicated in 330). From here, in 325, he summoned to Nicea what was to be the first of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
The Seven Councils.
The conciliar principle of deciding matters of doctrinal and disciplinary importance began with the Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, where the Apostles met to decide whether Gentile converts should be subject to the Mosaic Law. (They were not!). With this Council in mind, and the various local councils which met at diverse parts of the Empire in the period prior to Nicea, the Church established an important principle: In council, the members of the Church, so to speak, can together claim an authority which individually none of them possess. The Seven Ecumenical Councils which met in the period from 325 to 787 performed two basic tasks: 1) They formulated the visible, ecclesiastical organization of the Church, setting the ranking of the Five Patriarchates; and 2) they defined, once and for all, the teachings of the Church on faith, formulating the basic dogmas concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Nicea I (325).
This Council condemned the heresy of Arianism, which had contended that the Son was inferior to the Father and was, in fact, created. The Fathers here declared that the Son is one in essence (homoousios) with the Father, and formulated the first part of what eventually became the Creed the Symbol of Faith. In addition, three great Sees were singled out Rome, Alexandria and Antioch (Canon 6), and the See of Jerusalem, although still subject to the Metropolitan of Caesarea, was given the next place in honor after Antioch (Canon 7).
Constantinople I (381).
This Council expanded the Nicene Creed, developing the teachings concerning the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father; Who, with the Father and Son, is worshipped and glorified..., against the heresy of the Pneumatomachi (Spiritsmashers) and the Macedonians (followers of Macedonius), who could not accept the Third Person of the Trinity as equal to the other Two. It was in this period that we see the activities of the great Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian), St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, as well as the great Alexandrian Father, St. Athanasius the Great. The First Council of Constantinople also decreed that Constantinople, the new capital, should hold the next place of honor after Rome, since it was now the New Rome (Canon 111).
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Nestorians, who could not accept that God and Man had been united in one Person, Christ, refusing to call the Virgin Mary, Theotokos (or Birthgiver of God). Supported primarily by St. Cyril of Alexandria, this Council affirmed that Mary was truly Theotokos, since, as the Evangelist had proclaimed, the Word was made flesh (John 1:14), and the Virgin had borne a single and undivided Person Who is, at the same time, God and Man.
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Monophysites who held that in Christ the human nature had been merged into the divine, so that there was, after the divine union, only one nature. The Bishops of this Council accepted the so-called Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great of Rome, which affirmed the belief that the one and the same son, perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, [is] truly God and truly man...acknowledged in two natures unconfused, unchanged, undivided and inseparable. In addition, the place of Constantinople after that of Rome was confirmed, as was that of Jerusalem in the fifth place of honor.
A tragic result of this Council (and that of Ephesus prior) was the splitting apart from the main body of a large group of Christians adhering to either the Nestorian or Monophysite view. The Nestorians were found basically in Persia and Mesopotamia, and were especially decimated by the Islamic and Turkish onslaughts, whereas the Monophysites were strong in Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia the present Coptic Church), Armenia, and India (the Jacobite Church).
Constantinople II (553).
This Council met to further reinterpret the decrees of Chalcedon, seeking to explain how the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person. It affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is one of the Holy Trinity, one and the same divine Person (hypostasis), Who has united personally (hypostatically) in Himself the two natures of God and Man, without fusing them together and without allowing their separation. Certain teachings of Origen, including his teaching concerning the pre-existence of the soul, among other things, were also expressly condemned.
Constantinople III (681).
This Council met to condemn the Monothelite heresy which held that in the union of the two natures in Christ, the human will was merged into the divine as one will, since the two natures were united into one person. The Council, however, held that if Christ has two natures, he also has two wills human and divine.
Nicea II (787).
This Council met to affirm the belief of the Orthodox that veneration of the Holy Icons was proper and necessary for a correct understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, against those who held that Icon-veneration was idolatry and that all Icons should be destroyed (Iconoclasts). This Seventh Council was also the last of the Ecumenical Councils accepted as such by the Orthodox Church, although the possibility does exist that, in principle, more could be convened. The Iconoclast controversy did not end until after another rising of the heretics beginning in 815, which was finally suppressed by the Empress Theodora in 843. This final victory of the Holy .Icons in 843 is known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and is commemorated on the First Sunday of Great Lent. Thus, with the resolution of the Iconoclast controversy, the Age of the Seven Councils came to an end.
During this same period, there were two other major currents that were to have a profound effect on the Byzantine Empire and Orthodoxy. The first of these was the rise of monasticism. It began as a definite institution in Egypt in the 4th Century and rapidly spread across the Christian world. It literally began at a time when the persecutions had ended, and the Monks, with their austere life, were, in a real sense, martyrs when martyrdom of blood had virtually ceased. At a time when people were in danger of forgetting that life in the world the earthly kingdom was not the Kingdom of God, the Monks and their withdrawal from society, reminded Christians that God's Kingdom, in fact, is not of this world.
The second major current in this period was the rise and rapid spread of Islam, the most striking characteristic of which was the speed of its expansion. Within fifteen years after the death of Mohammed in 632, his followers had captured Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and in fifty years, they were already at the gates of Constantinople. Within 100 years, they had swept across North Africa and through Spain. The Byzantine Empire lost the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and until the actual fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Empire was never free from attack.
The Great Schism.
In 1054 occurred one of the greatest tragedies of the Christian world the Great Schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. Officially proclaimed at Constantinople in that year by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Humbert, it was, in a sense, the culmination of a process that had been taking place for several centuries, ultimately centering on two major controversies: Papal authority and the Filioque.
Originally the two branches of Christendom had begun to drift apart because of cultural and language differences. Then, in 800, we see a political split with the proclamation of Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor there were now two! The hegemony of the Arabs over the Mediterranean and their expansion into the Balkans made direct contact difficult, if not impossible, between East and West. And even in theology the two branches of Christendom began to differ in their basic approaches, with the Latins being more practical, the Greeks more speculative; the Latins more influenced by legal ideas nurtured by the basic concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks were influenced by worship and the Holy Liturgy; the Latins were more concerned with redemption, the Greeks with deification. These different approaches, practiced in greater isolation from each other, eventually led to the two main theological problems outlined earlier.
The first problem was that of Papal authority. The Greeks were willing to ascribe to the Pope of Rome a primacy of honor, considering him to be the first among equals, whereas the Pope believed his power of jurisdiction to extend to the East as well as the West, the Greeks jealously guarding the autonomy of the other Patriarchates. The Pope saw infallibility as his sole prerogative, whereas the Greeks insisted that in matters of faith, the ultimate decisions belonged to an Ecumenical Council consisting of all the Bishops of the Universal Church.
The second great problem was the Filioque (Latin and the Son), first inserted into the Creed at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 and later adopted by the whole Western Church. Whereas the original wording of the Creed ran, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father..., the Latin insertion changed it to read, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son__ The Orthodox objected to this insertion on two grounds: 1) the Ecumenical Councils had expressly forbidden any changes to be introduced into the Creed, and 2) this insertion disturbed the balance between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, leading to a false understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Prior to the Schism of 1054, there had been another breach, the so-called Photian Schism, in the 9th Century, but it had been officially terminated in the latter years of the reign of Patriarch Photius. The breach of 1054, however, although not universally applied at first, was never healed, even after several attempts to do so, most noticeably at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1438-9, when the Turks were already threatening Constantinople, but these reunion attempts were doomed to failure. Probably the deciding factor in the permanence of the Schism had been the capture and sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, which forever after remained indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of the Orthodox.
In 1453, a crucial event occurred in world Orthodoxy, with the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Sultan, Mohammed II. The Greek-speaking Churches fell under the heavy yoke of Islam, and for nearly 500 years labored in servitude, only emerging again with the Balkan Revolutions of the 19th Century and World War I. In the meantime, the focus of Orthodoxy shifted to the North, to the domains of the Most Pious Tsars of Russia.
Notable Fathers of the Early Period.
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage ( 258).
St. Cyprian, commemorated on August 31, was Bishop of Carthage during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius (250). He died as a martyr in 258, and among his many writings concerning Church life, the most important is On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which sets forth the role of the Bishop in the ecclesiastical structure.
St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch ( 107).
St. Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch and is commemorated on December 20 and January 29. Martyred in the Arena at Rome, while on his way to martyrdom, he wrote seven letters to Christian communities, as well as to St. Polycarp, which contain valuable information on the dogmas, organization and liturgy of the early Church.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons ( 202).
St. Irenaeus, who is commemorated on August 23, was a disciple of St. Polycarp, and, as a Westerner, he succeeded St. Photinus as Bishop of Lyons. His major doctrinal work is Against Heresies, which defends Orthodoxy against the Gnostics, borrowing heavily on both human reason and Holy Scripture and Tradition, serving as an important witness to Church traditions of his time.
St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna ( 167).
St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and is commemorated as a martyr on February 23. The account of his martyrdom, the earliest detailed account of a martyr, gives an excellent picture of his character and the steadfastness of his Christian faith.
Notable Fathers of the Early Byzantine Period.
St. Anthony the Great ( 356).
St. Anthony, commemorated January 17, is considered to be the Father of monasticism, and The Life of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius, presents him as a truly inspiring example of monastic ascetical perfection. During the Arian controversies, he risked his life defending the Orthodox teachings of St. Athanasius in Alexandria.
St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 373).
St. Athanasius, commemorated January 18 and May 2, was a great defender of the Orthodox faith during the Arian controversies and was exiled five times for his labors. Among his major writings are The Incarnation of Christ and The Life of St. Anthony, which serve as major inspirations for Orthodox theology and monastic spirituality.
St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia ( 379).
St. Basil, commemorated January 1 and January 30, was a notable theologian and spiritual writer of the 4th Century and is noted for his many writings on numerous theological and spiritual subjects, as well as commentaries on Holy Scripture. During the Sundays of Great Lent, as well as on his Feast Day (Jan. 1), the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, although probably only the prayers are actually of this Saint.
St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 444).
St. Cyril, commemorated on January 18 and June 9, was the leader in the defense of Orthodoxy against the Nestorians, and was a firm defender of the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos. He was especially prominent in the deliberations of the Third Ecumenical Council.
St. Ephraim the Syrian ( 373-9).
St. Ephraim, commemorated January 28, was a major spiritual writer and hymnographer of the 4th Century, and is especially noted in Orthodox liturgical life for, among other things, his inspiring work, The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which is said at all of the weekday services of Great Lent.
St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 389).
St. Gregory, commemorated January 25 and 30, was a fellow student and friend of St. Basil the Great and was a leading opponent of the Arians. He has been honored by the Church with the title Theologian, being one of only three, so honored (the others being St. John the Evangelist, and St. Simeon the New Theologian), primarily because of his Five Theological Orations.
St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (4th Cent.).
St. Gregory was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and is commemorated on January 10. He is especially known for his spiritual writings, as well as various dogmatic works, including his Great Catechism.
St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 407).
St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouth), commemorated January 27 and 30 and November 13, was one of the greatest preachers of his time (late 4th Century) and was known for his zeal for Orthodoxy and his passionate defense of the poor, boldly exposing the vices of his age, for which reason he was eventually deposed and exiled. The bulk of his works are sermons on Holy Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, as well as other ascetical and pastoral works, including his On the Priesthood. To St. John is attributed the usual Divine Liturgy, although, as in the case of that of St. Basil the Great, probably only certain prayers are properly his.
Notable Fathers of the Later Byzantine Period.
St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome ( 604).
St. Gregory the Dialogist, commemorated March 12, was Pope of Rome in the 7th Century and was noted for his many literary works, including his Dialogues on the monastic Saints of Italy. To him is ascribed the writing-down of the beautiful Gregorian Chants as well as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which he is specially commemorated.
St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica ( ca. 1360).
St. Gregory, commemorated on November 14 and the Second Sunday of Great Lent, was a pious Monk of Mt. Athos, and later was elected to the See of Thessalonica as its Bishop. He is noted for his defense of the contemplative life of hesychasm (inner silence), teaching concerning the uncreated Light of Tabor and the Divine Energies of God, through which man can have true communion with God.
St. John of Damascus (Damascene ( 776)).
St. John, commemorated December 4, was noted for his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a major dogmatic work, as well as his zealous defense of the Holy Icons, for which he suffered the severing of his hand (miraculously restored by the prayers of the Mother of God). He is also noted for his many sermons on Feast Days, as well as numerous hymns, extensively used in Orthodox liturgical services.
St. Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus (15th Cent.).
St. Mark, commemorated January 19, accompanied the Byzantine Emperor to the Council of Florence, and single-handedly defended the Orthodox faith against the Latins. His brilliant defense of Orthodoxy and his letters after the Council were largely responsible for the Orthodox rejection of this false Council.
St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople ( 891).
St. Photius, commemorated February 6, was a zealous defender of Orthodoxy against the Latin error of the Filioque, for which he suffered much. He wrote on the Procession of the Holy Spirit and was responsible for the commissioning of Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the conversion of the Slavs.
St. Simeon the New Theologian ( 1021).
St. Simeon, commemorated March 12 and October 12, was noted as a brilliant spiritual writer, whose works hold a place of honor in the Phllokalia, a major monastic spiritual work. For this reason he endured persecution and also received the veneration of the Orthodox Church which honors him as the New Theologian.
The Conversion of the Slavs.
Of major importance in the history and development of Orthodoxy was the conversion of the Slavs and the shifting of the focus of the Church to the northern regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Moravia, Romania, and then Russia. In the middle of the 9th Century, Patriarch Photius initiated large scale missionary labors in these regions by sending out the two brothers Constantine (in monasticism Cyril 1869) and Methodius (885 both are commemorated May 11), first to the Khazar State north of the Caucasus (this was largely unsuccessful) and then to Moravia (Czechoslovakia) in 863.
The Prince of Moravia, Rostislav, desired that his people hear the Word of God in their own language and the two brothers were apt missionaries in this respect as they had developed an alphabet, adapted from the Greek, which later was called Cyrillic (after St. Cyril). Using a local Macedonian dialect which they had heard near their birthplace of Thessalonica, the brothers began translating the liturgical books, Holy Scripture, etc., into this dialect, using the new alphabet which they had developed. This new liturgical language Church Slavonic became of crucial importance in the extension of the Orthodox faith into the Balkans and ultimately to Russia. This was so, since, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which continued to insist on the use of Latin, the use of Church Slavonic allowed the new converts to hear the Gospel and the services in a language they could understand.
The Mission to Moravia was ultimately doomed to failure because of the jealousy and persecution of German missionaries working in the same area. The brothers traveled to Rome (where St. Cyril died)and placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, but this was not honored by the Germans in Moravia and after the death of St. Methodius in 885, his followers were expelled from the country.
The missionary labors of Cyril and Methodius were not in vain, however, for their disciples were successful in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Led by St. Clement of Ochrid (commemorated November 25), the missionaries were successful and in 869, Tsar Boris of Bulgaria himself was baptized. The Bulgarian Church grew rapidly and about 926, under Tsar Simeon, an independent Patriarchate was established there, recognized by Constantinople in 927 (although later suppressed), and the Bulgarian Church became the first national Slavic Church.
The missionaries were likewise successful in Serbia and with the baptism of Prince Mutimir ( 891), Serbia became officially Christian. After a period of vacillation between East and West, Serbia came under the sway of Constantinople. Under St. Sava ( 1237 commemorated January 12), the Serbian Church became partially independent with his consecration in 1219 as Archbishop of Serbia, and in 1346 a Serbian Patriarchate was established with the consecration of Bishop Ioannikios, recognized by Constantinople in 1375.
Missionaries from Bulgaria traveled to the Romanian lands and by the end of the 9th Century portions of the Romanian people had been Christianized, adopting the Slavonic Liturgy, but it was not really until the rise of the Wallachian Moldavian principalities in the 14th Century that the Church actually began to thrive. In 1359 a Wallachian Metropolitan was appointed by Constantinople to the new See of Argesin the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps and in 1401, the Romanian Metropolitan of Suceava in Moldavia was recognized by Constantinople.
The missionaries had also penetrated into Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Bosnia and Montenegro, but these areas were, for the most part, under the influence and control of the Latin West during this period.
The Conversion of Russia The Russian Orthodox Church.
Missionaries penetrated into Russia during this period and the Russian Princess Olga was converted to Christianity in 955, although the effective Christianization of Russia actually received its greatest impetus with the conversion of Olga's grandson, Vladimir, in 988. According to Russian tradition, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that an official religion was necessary for his country and he was unsure which to choose: the Islam of the Volga Bulgars, the Judaism of the Khazars (on the lower Volga), the Latin Christianity of the Germans, or the Orthodox faith of the Greeks. Accordingly he sent envoys to the various regions to enquire of their faiths and to make a report to him.
The envoys fulfilled their appointed mission and then reported to Vladimir:
When we journeyed among the Bulgarians [of the Volga region], we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and their is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.... [From the Russian Primary Chronicle].
After receiving the report of the envoys, Vladimir went to war with the Byzantine Empire and laid siege to the Greek city of Kherson. He promised to accept Christianity if he was successful in this campaign and after the capture of the city, he did, in fact, embrace Orthodoxy and was given in marriage Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperors Basil and Constantine. Returning to his capital of Kiev, Vladimir ordered that all pagan idols be destroyed. The people were exhorted to renounce paganism whereupon they embraced the Orthodox faith and received Baptism in 988. From this date Russia became officially Christian.
With the conversion of Vladimir (later canonized by the Russian Church commemorated July 15), Orthodoxy spread rapidly and already, within fifty years, the Russian Church had her first canonized Saints, the martyred brothers Boris and Gleb ( 1015 commemorated together on July 24). In 1051 the first Russian Monastery (The Monastery of the Caves) was founded in Kiev by St. Anthony ( 1073 commemorated July 10), later reorganized by St. Theodosius ( 1074 commemorated May 3 and August 14; he and St. Anthony are commemorated together on September 2). In 1037, Theopemptos was consecrated Metropolitan of Kiev and all but two of the Metropolitans of this period were Greeks, appointed by Constantinople. (The first Russian Metropolitan was Hilarion in 1051, and the other Clement in 1147). To this day, the Russian Church still sings in Greek the greeting to a Bishop, Eis polla eti, Despota, in recognition of the debt owed by the Russian Church to Greek Byzantium.
Disaster befell the Kievan State in 1237 with the onslaught of the Mongols, who ruled until 1480, and during this period only the Church kept alive national consciousness, much as was later done by the Greek Church under the Turkish yoke. The primary See of the Russian Church was moved from Kiev to Moscow by St. Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev ( 1326 commemorated December 21), and henceforth ceased to be the city of the chief Hierarch.
Three important Saints shone in this period: St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod ( 1263 commemorated August 30 and November 23), who preserved the political structure of his Principality (alone unharmed by the Mongols in their invasion) against the Swedes, Germans and Lithuanians; St. Sergius of Radonezh ( 1392 commemorated September 25 and July 5), founder of the famous Trinity St. Sergius Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk) near Moscow, (from which Monks spread out through all of Northern Russia), probably one of Russia's greatest national figures (as was St. Sava in Serbia); and St. Stephen, Bishop of Perm ( 1396 commemorated April 26) who, in a sense, was the first of the long line of missionaries who were eventually to come to Russian America.
After the Council of Florence in 1440, Constantinople had accepted union with the Roman Catholic Church and Russia could not accept a Metropolitan from there. Finally, in 1448, a council of Russian Bishops elected their own Metropolitan and from this date the Russian Church has reckoned her independence. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and from this date the Russian Church remained the sole free branch of Orthodoxy. Men began to see Moscow as the Third Rome, and the Grand Duke of Moscow assumed the titles of the Byzantine Emperors Autocrat and Tsar the earthly protector of Orthodoxy. Accordingly, with the rising power of Russia, in 1589, the head of the Russian Church was raised to the rank of Patriarch (the first being Patriarch Job), ranking fifth after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
The Russian Church was not without its own turmoils however. In 1503 came the beginnings of a split in the monastic ranks between the Non-Possessors (followers of St. Nilus of Sora ( 1508 commemorated May 7)), who argued for monastic poverty, and the Possessors (followers of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, 1515, commemorated September 9), who defended monastic landholding. The Non-Possessors were more lenient and gentle concerning the treatment of heretics, considering it to be solely a Church matter, while the Possessors, great supporters of the idea of the Third Rome, believed in a close association between Church and State in such matters (and many others as well). In this struggle the Possessors were victorious, but recognizing the sanctity of both leaders, the Church has enrolled both Joseph and Nilus in the Calendar of Saints.
In the mid-17th Century there occurred in the Russian Church a major split due to the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) who attempted to correct certain corruptions in the liturgical books and liturgical practice. The result was the splitting off of the Old Believers, who resisted the changes (many of which were ill-founded), as well as their persecution, and this schism has endured to the present day. The leaders of the Old Believers, including the Archpriest Avakkum, were burned at the stake and Nikon himself suffered persecution, since the Council of
Moscow, which met in 1666-7, endorsed his reforms, but deposed him from his Patriarchal Office because of his intemperance and arrogance.
A third major event which was to have a profound effect on the Russian Church, was the abolition of the Patriarchate by Tsar Peter I (the Great) in 1721. The Patriarch had died in 1700 and Peter, wishing no more Nikons, refused to allow the appointment of a successor. Accordingly, in 1721 he issued his celebrated Spiritual Regulations, and the Russian Church was placed under an uncanonical Synodal System, whereby a Synod of twelve members, drawn from the Bishops, Abbots and secular Clergy appointed by the Government ruled the Church. However, all meetings were attended by a government functionary, the Chief Procurator, representing the Tsar, and all decisions had to be approved by the Sovereign. At the same time monasticism was severely restricted and later in the Century more than half the monasteries were closed by Empress Catherine II (the Great 1762-96) and their lands confiscated.
This Synodal Period, which lasted until 1917, was a period of spiritual low for the Church, although there were a few bright spots. Missionary activity, always a strong feature of the Russian Church, expanded throughout Siberia and Central Asia, eventually reaching Alaska. Certain monasteries were revitalized, including the famous center of Valaam, and the spiritual traditions of Mt. Athos, especially popularized by Paisius Velichkovsky and his Philokalia, reached Russia, through the efforts of Metropolitan Gabriel of Moscow and his disciple, Nazarius, Abbot of Valaam. A special system of spiritual direction, eldership (or starchestvo) developed, especially popularized at the Optino Hermitage under the Elders Leonid, Macarius, Amvrosy and Joseph, and a few Saints shone during this time, especially St. Tikhon of Zadonsk ( 1783 commemorated August 13), a revitalizer of pastoral life, and St. Seraphim of Sarov ( 1833 commemorated January 2 and July 19).
Finally, in 1917, with the Fall of the Monarchy, the Patriarchate was re-established and Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow, was elected Patriarch by the All-Russian Council of that year. Sadly, however, the Church was soon engulfed in the fires of the Bolshevik Revolution of that year and the unprecedented persecutions which followed. The Russian Orthodox Church since 1917 has endured sufferings without parallel, contributing a new rank of Martyrs to the Church Triumphant, yet despite the severe decimation of her faithful, clergy, and institutions, she still remains a powerful spiritual and moral force in the Orthodox world, confirming that the Church of Christ is built upon a rock, for in the words of the Savior, the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
Orthodoxy in America
Orthodoxy in America.
In the 18th Century, the great Orthodox Christian missionary work which began with Pentecost in Jerusalem, so many centuries before, finally crossed from the continent of Euro-Asia into North America. The first missionaries traveled with the explorers Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov, who formally claimed Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. For the next fifty years, together with the exploration and economic development of this new outpost of the Russian Empire, the first attempts were made to bring the Orthodox Faith to the natives of that region (the Aleuts, the Athabascan Indians, the Tlingits, and the Eskimos).
The first formal Orthodox Christian Mission to America arrived on September 24,1794, in Kodiak. This Mission consisted of eight Monks and two Novices, together with ten Alaskan natives who had been taken to Russia by Gregory Shelikov in 1786. This Mission discovered on Kodiak Island hundreds of natives who had been taught the rudiments of the Orthodox Faith, and had been baptized by laymen. Gregory Shelikov, one of the founders of what was to become later the Russian-American Company, had himself baptized about two hundred Aleuts on Kodiak Island.
The American Mission, headed by Archimandrite Joasaph, immediately began the work of establishing the Church in Kodiak and the Islands and later on the mainland of Alaska. Despite great difficulties, this Mission was very successful, for virtually all the remaining natives of Kodiak Island were baptized in just three years. During this period, one of the missionaries, Hieromonk Juvenaly, was martyred at Lake Iliamna by natives.
The Martyrdom of Hieromonk Juvenaly.
In 1795 Hieromonk Juvenaly left Kodiak for Nuchek, where he baptized more than seven hundred Chugach, and then crossed to Kenai Bay and baptized there all the local inhabitants. In the following year (1796), he crossed to Alaska in the direction of Lake Iliamna, where his apostolic duties came to an end, together with his life. He was killed by the natives, and the reason for his death, was partly because the first thing he did after baptizing the natives was to order them to give up polygamy. He had also persuaded the chiefs and other leading men in the tribes there to give him their children so that the latter might be educated on Kodiak. When he set out with the children, the men regretted what they had done, gave chase, caught up with him, and fell upon him.
When Father Juvenaly was attacked by the savages he did not try to defend himself, or run away, which he could easily have done, especially since he had a firearm with him. He let himself be taken without offering any resistance, asking only that those with him should be spared, which was done.
Much later those who had been spared related that when Father Juvenaly was already dead he had risen up and followed his murderers, saying something to them. The savages, supposing him to be still alive, attacked him again and beat him. But as soon as they left him he again stood up and followed them, and this happened several times. Finally, in order to be rid of him, the savages hacked his body to pieces. Only then did this fervent preacher fall silent, a Martyr for the word of God. On the spot where the missionary's remains lay, there at once appeared a column of flame, reaching up to the sky.
The Martyrdom of the Aleut Peter.
In a letter to Abbot Damascene of Valaam, dated November 22, 1865, Simeon I. Yanovsky, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies from 1818 to 1820, wrote:
Once I related to [Fr. (later St.) Herman] how the Spaniards in California had taken fourteen of our Aleuts prisoner, and how the Jesuits had tortured one of them, to try and force them all to take the Catholic faith. But the Aleuts would not submit, saying: We are Christians, we have been baptized, and they showed them the crosses they wore. But the Jesuits objected, saying No, you are heretics and schismatics; if you do not agree to take the Catholic faith we will torture you. And they left them shut up two to a cell until the evening to think it over.
In the evening they came back with a lantern and lighted candles, and began again to try and persuade them to become Catholics. But the Aleuts were filled with God's grace, and firmly and decisively answered, We are Christians and we would not betray our faith. Then the fanatics set about torturing them. First they tortured one singly while the other one was made to watch. First they cut off one of the toe joints from one foot, and then from the other, but the Aleut bore it all and continued to say: I am a Christian and I will not betray my faith. Then they cut a joint off each finger first from one hand, then the other; then they hacked off one foot at the instep, then one hand at the wrist. The blood poured out, but the martyr bore it all to the end, maintaining his stand, and with this faith he died, from loss of blood!
On the following day it was planned to torture the others, but that same night an order was received from Monterey that all the captured Russian Aleuts were to be sent under guard to Monterey. And so in the morning those remaining alive were sent away. This was related to me by an Aleut who was an eyewitness a colleague of the man put to death and who later escaped from the Spaniards....
When I had finished telling him this, Father [Herman] asked me, What was the name of this tortured Aleut? Peter, I replied, but I cannot remember the other name.
Then the elder stood before the Icon, devoutly crossed himself and said, Holy newly-martyred [Peter], pray to God for us!
[The above accounts were taken from The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon, St. Petersburg, 1894.]
In 1798, Archimandrite Joasaph returned to Irkutsk in Siberia and was consecrated on April 10, 1899, Bishop of Kodiak, the first Bishop for America, but he and his entourage, including Hieromonk Makary and Hierodeacon Stephen of the original Mission, drowned somewhere between Unalaska and Kodiak Island. Though the American Mission was now reduced to half of its original number, it continued its work. Notable was the great spiritual and missionary work of the Monks Herman and Joasaph. Not only did they instruct the natives in spiritual and religious matters, but they also taught them practical, secular subjects, such as mathematics, carpentry, agriculture, as well as animal husbandry.
In 1824, with the arrival of the Missionary Priest John Veniaminov in Unalaska, a new impetus was added to the missionary work already done. The original missionaries had been replaced by others, so that by the time of the arrival of Father John, only the Monk Herman, now retired to Spruce Island, was left of the original American Mission. He died on December 13, 1837, and on August 9, 1970, he was canonized as the first Saint of the Orthodox Church in America.
Our Venerable Father Herman of Alaska.
Little is known of the early life of the Monk Herman. He was born in Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese about 1756 and at the age of 16, he began his monastic life at the Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg. While at the Hermitage, Herman developed a severe infection on the right side of his throat which brought him to the point of death. After fervent prayer before an Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos he fell into a deep sleep, and during this sleep, Herman dreamed that he was healed by the Virgin. Upon waking, he found that he had completely recovered. Remaining at the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage for five more years, he then moved to the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga.
During his stay at the Valaam Monastery, Father Herman developed a strong spiritual attachment to the Elder Nazarius, Abbot and Renewer of the spiritual life of Valaam. He found in Nazarius a gentle, yet effective spiritual guide, whom he would remember for the rest of his life. During his stay in Valaam, the monastery was visited by Gregory Shelikov, head of the Golikov-Shelikov Trading Company, who requested Monks to work in the new mission field in Alaska. Thus, in 1793, Father Herman, with several other Monks was sent by the Holy Synod of Russia to the Alaskan missionary field.
After a journey of nearly a year, the little band of eight Monks arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. From Kodiak, the Monks began their effort to convert and educate the natives. Several thousand Alaskans were converted to Orthodoxy, but the Mission did not have the success that had been expected. Archimandrite Joasaph, the head of the Mission, was consecrated a Bishop, but died with two others when the ship on which he was returning to Alaska sank, and Fr. Herman, who, from the beginning had distinguished himself with his humility, compassion for the natives and his administrative skills, became the acting head of the Mission. Eventually only he remained from the original Mission.
After difficult relations with and persecution by the Russian-American Trading Company, which controlled the Alaska Colony, between 1808 and 1818 Fr. Herman left Kodiak and went to Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. He spent the rest of his life on this island, where he cared for orphans, ran a school and continued his missionary work. He built a small chapel, school and guest house, while food for himself and the orphans was produced from his own experimental garden.
Caring little for himself, Fr. Herman wore the oldest and simplest clothes under his cassock and ate very little. His free time was devoted to prayer and singing the services he could do as a simple Monk, since, in humility, he had refused to be ordained. Thus, his life on the island was that of an ascetic and was in many ways similar to the lives of the early Monks of the Egyptian desert. When asked if he was ever lonesome, Fr. Herman answered, No, I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. The Most-Holy Angels are there. With whom is it better to talk, with people or with Angels? Most certainly with Angels.
Father Herman continued to grow in his love for the natives while he lived on Spruce Island, for he saw them as newly-born children in the faith, who had to be guided and taught. He had a special love for the children and they were very fond of him. One of his greatest pleasures was being with children, teaching them and giving them the delicacies he made. During this time a ship from the United States brought an epidemic to the Alaskans and hundreds of them died. But they were not alone, for Herman remained with them constantly, going from person to person, Comforting the dying, and praying with and for them. After the epidemic ended, Fr. Herman brought the orphans back to New Valaam with him and cared for them. On Sundays and Holy Days, Fr. Herman would gather the people for prayer and singing, and he would give sermons that captivated the hearts of all those present. As a clairvoyant Elder, he could see into the hearts of his spiritual children and help them.
The natives recognized the holiness of the Venerable One and turned to him for help, seeing in him an intercessor before God. Once there was a great tidal wave threatening the island and the people came to Fr. Herman for help. He took an Icon of the Theotokos, placed it on the beach and said, Have no fear. The water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands; and it did not. On another occasion there was a fire on the island and the people again turned to the righteous Elder, who interceded successfully on their behalf.
Prior to his death, Fr. Herman revealed what would happen to him. He told the people that when he died there would be no Priest in the area and the people would have to bury him by themselves. He also said that he would be forgotten for thirty years and then would be remembered. Father Herman died on December 13, 1837, in the manner in which he had described to his flock. They continued to revere his memory, but the outside world seemed to forget him until the first investigation of his life in 1867, by Bishop Peter of Alaska. Finally, on August 9, 1970, the Holy Monk was glorified by the Orthodox Church in America, in impressive ceremonies at Kodiak, Alaska, and the Blessed Father Herman of Alaska entered the ranks of Saints who are interceding on behalf of American Orthodoxy.
The Church, however, worked hard to further the work of the Mission, even in these difficult times, so that, despite the harsh climate, the difficulty of supplying the Mission because of the great distances involved, Father John found a solid foundation upon which to do his work. He had the help of Father Jacob Netsvetov (a Creole, one of mixed race), who had been sent to Irkutsk, Siberia, for Seminary training, and had been ordained in 1828. (The first American-born Priest, Prokopy Lavrov, was ordained in 1810, but he returned to Russia after a brief period of less than a year, since he found the life in Kodiak too harsh.)
Together, Fathers John and Jacob were a remarkable missionary pair. They succeeded in revitalizing the Mission to such a degree that at the end of the 1830's, there were five active Priests and five religious centers, with more than 10,000 Orthodox Christians. There were four schools for boys (about 100 students) and four orphanages for girls (about 60). All these schools, as well as the churches, gave religious instruction to the natives in their native tongues. This missionary work was financially supported primarily by the Russian-American Company, with substantial assistance also provided by the Holy Synod and the Church of Russia.
On December 15, 1840, the American Mission was blessed with the consecration of the now-widowed Priest, Fr. John Veniaminov, as Innocent, Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and the Aleutian Islands. With the consecration of Bishop Innocent, the history of the American Mission entered an even more glorious phase. Bishop Innocent's sixteen years of experience in the Alaskan missionary field, coupled with his in depth knowledge of the natives now entrusted to his pastoral care, as well as his judicious choice of fellow missionaries, accounted for the unparalleled success of the Mission.
As soon as he arrived in Sitka (the capital of Russian America), he began the work of enlarging the missionary work of the Diocese. The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was beautified and enlarged, and plans were laid for the construction of a Seminary, which opened in 1845. At the same time, he continued his extensive missionary journeys throughout his far-flung Diocese which covered parts of two continents.
When his responsibility was again increased with the enlargement of his Diocese into an Archdiocese, with increased territories, Bishop Innocent transferred his center of activity to Siberia, leaving an Auxiliary Bishop to supervise the American part of his enlarged domain. In 1869, Archbishop Innocent was elevated to the See of Moscow as its Metropolitan, but he still kept a careful watch over his beloved American Church. Important here was the organization, at his urging, of the Russian Missionary Society, which was organized to further the missionary work of the Russian Church, especially in Siberia, Alaska and Japan, which guaranteed that the work begun in America would not be abandoned or forgotten with the sale of Alaska to America which had occurred in 1867. With true prophetic insight, the aged Metropolitan called for the missionary work to be directed to the whole of America and foresaw the need for American-born clergy totally conversant with the American cultural ethos, as well as the English language.
Our Father among the Saints Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas.
John Popov (later St. Innocent) was born on August 27, 1797, in Aginsk, a small village near Irkutsk, Siberia. He came from a pious family and at age six, young John was already reading at his parish. At age nine he entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, where he remained for eleven years, proving to be its most brilliant pupil during this time. Besides his Seminary classes, he read all of the books in the library dealing with history and the sciences, and while still a student he began to construct different types of clocks, acquiring the skills of carpentry, furniture making, blacksmithing, and the construction of musical instruments.
At the age of seventeen, in recognition of his outstanding achievements at the Seminary, his last name was changed to Veniaminov, in honor of the late Bishop Benjamin (or Veniamin) of Irkutsk. Not long after graduation from the Seminary, John married the daughter of a Priest and was ordained to the Deaconate. In 1821, he was ordained to the Priesthood.
While a young man, Fr. John had heard stories about the native settlements at Unalaska in the Aleutian Island chain, part of the Russian colony in America, and how they labored in the darkness of paganism. Thus, in 1823, having heard that the Bishop of Irkutsk had been requested to send a Priest to Alaska and that everyone else had refused, against the wishes of his family and friends, he volunteered to go. After fourteen months of difficult travel across the wilds of Siberia and the Bering Sea, he arrived in Unalaska with his family.
Upon arriving at Unalaska, Fr. John found that there was no house or chapel there, but he welcomed this as an opportunity to teach the natives. He first built a home for his family, using the opportunity to teach the natives carpentry. Constructing furniture for the new home, he taught the natives this skill as well, so that, with these newly-acquired skills, they were able to assist Fr. John in the construction of the Cathedral of the Ascension, which was completed in 1826.
At the same time, Fr. John's primary work was converting the natives to Orthodoxy and educating them. He learned the Aleut language, as well as the life style of the people. He and his wife organized a school for them (as well as for their own six children), and one of the required subjects was the Aleut language, for which Fr. John had devised an alphabet based on the Cyrillic. He translated services, as well as the Gospel of St. Matthew, and even wrote a small book, A Guide to the Way to the Heavenly Kingdom in the Aleut language.
Fr. John traveled throughout the Aleutian chain to teach and baptize the people, and while preaching he was always able to communicate effectively with his flock. One of these wrote, many years later: When he preached the Word of God, all the people listened, and they listened without moving until he stopped. Nobody thought of fishing or hunting while he spoke; nobody felt hungry or thirsty as long as he was speaking, not even little children.
In 1834, Fr. John and his family were transferred to Sitka, where the local Tlingit population was intensely antagonistic to their Russian overlords. He learned their language and culture, but they showed now real interest in his message until a smallpox epidemic hit the area. Father John convinced many of the Tlingits to be vaccinated, saving many of them from death. This served to be the means whereby he was to reach these natives and gradually he gained their love and respect.
In 1836, Fr. John decided to return to Russia to report to the Holy Synod on the needs of the Alaskan Mission. Leaving his family in Irkutsk, he went on to Moscow, where he met with the Synod, which approved his request for more Priests and funds for the Mission, as well as desiring to publish his translations. While in Moscow, he learned of the death of his wife. Hearing of this, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow encouraged Fr. John to become a Monk, which he accepted, being tonsured with the name Innocent. Soon after, the Alaskan Mission was constituted part of a Diocese and Fr. Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and Alaska on December 15, 1840.
Returning to his new Diocese, Bishop Innocent traveled to the far reaches of his new domain, teaching the population and organizing churches. Everywhere he preached and served in the native languages. In Sitka, he organized a Seminary to train native Priests and built a new cathedral there dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Although preoccupied with the affairs of his large Diocese, the Bishop did find time to construct, with his own hands, the large clock on the front of the Cathedral.
In 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and his new Archdiocese was enlarged to include more territory in Asiatic Russia, with its center at Yakutsk. Once more Innocent and his Priests set out to learn languages and cultures, teaching the new flock with gentleness and by personal example. In 1860, Archbishop Innocent met the future Bishop Nicholas of Japan (canonized in 1970), who was just beginning his lifetime missionary labors, and he gave Nicholas advice on missionary work.
Despite declining health and his request to retire, in 1868, Innocent was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. He was especially loved by his new flock for his many works of charity, and he remembered his former missions by organizing the Imperial Mission Society, which he served as its first President. Almost blind and in constant pain, Metropolitan Innocent died on Holy Saturday, 1879, at the age of eighty-two, having served Christ and His Church throughout his entire life, distinguishing himself as a true missionary and apostle. In recognition of his great apostolic and missionary labors, the Russian Orthodox Church, on October 6, 1977, solemnly glorified this Man of God and entered him into the Church Calendar, styling him St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the America's.
In 1867, Bishop Peter (Lyaskov) of Sitka was succeeded by Bishop Paul (Popov) and in this year the first study of the life of the Elder Herman of Spruce Island was initiated. In 1870, Bishop John (Metropolsky) was appointed and he transferred the center of the American Church from Sitka to San Francisco, California, in 1872. In 1879, the American Church came under the supervision of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and the long tie with the Diocese of Eastern Siberia was ended, with Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) being appointed Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in that year. In 1882, however, he drowned at sea and was buried on the Island of Unalaska.
After six years without a resident Hierarch, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) was appointed in 1881, and on March 25, 1891, he accepted the Holy Virgin Protection Uniate Church in Minneapolis, as well as its Pastor, Fr. Alexis Toth, into the Orthodox Church. With this event, the American Mission entered into a new phase of its life. A Church almost exclusively concerned with missionary work among the natives of America, mostly in Alaska, now was to change its focus of attention to the return of the Uniates to Orthodoxy. This work, until now centered in the Western provinces of Russia, was directed to those Uniates who had emigrated to America, together with those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicians and Carpatho-Russians). The first attempts at a development of an English liturgical text to be used in the Church also began at this time.
In 1891, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) arrived in America and became deeply involved in the many-sided work of the American Mission to the native Alaskans, to the newly-returned Uniates, as well as to the Orthodox immigrants from virtually all of the traditional Orthodox nations in Europe and Asia. It was in this period (from the time of the American Civil War) that Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Russians, Syrians and Albanians began to come to America in increasingly greater numbers. The Mission was now extended to Canada, where great numbers of Orthodox and Uniate immigrants had been arriving, a Missionary School was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a bilingual (English-Russian) publication for the Diocese was initiated.
In 1898, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) arrived to rule over the Church in America, and in his nine years of service in America, the Mission was brought to a new stage of maturity. For the first time the American Mission became a full Diocese, with its presiding Bishop wholly responsible for a Church within the continental limits of North America. In 1905, the center of the Church was transferred to New York (St. Nicholas Cathedral, the new Episcopal Cathedra, had been dedicated in 1902), and the newly-elevated Archbishop Tikhon was now given two Auxiliary Bishops to administer a greatly-expanded Church in America. Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox Bishop consecrated in America March 12, 1904) was primarily responsible for the Syro-Arab communities and the other Auxiliary, Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) was appointed Bishop of Alaska.
Orthodoxy in the World
The Patriarchate of Constantinople again, at least nominally, became independent after World War I and the rise of modern, secular Turkey, although greatly reduced in size. At present the Patriarch's jurisdiction includes Turkey, the island of Crete and other islands in the Aegean, the Greeks and certain other national groups in the Dispersion (the Diaspora) in Europe, America, Australia, etc. as well as the monastic republic of Mt. Athos and the autonomous Church of Finland. The present position of the Patriarchate in Turkey is precarious, persecution still exists there, and only a few thousand Greek Orthodox still remain in Turkey.
(a) Mt. Athos.
Located on a small peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea from the Greek mainland near Thessalonica, Mt. Athos is a monastic republic consisting of twenty ruling monasteries, the oldest (Great Lavra) dating to the beginning of the 11th Century, as well as numerous other settlements sketes, kellia, hermitages, etc. Of the twenty ruling monasteries, seventeen are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian. (One, Iveron, was originally founded as a Georgian monastery, but now is Greek.) Perhaps 1,500 Monks are presently on the Mountain, a dramatic decline from the turn of the Century when, in 1903, for example, there were over 7,000 Monks there. This is due, in great part, to the halt of vocations from the Communist countries, as well as to a general decline in monastic vocations worldwide. However, there appears to be a revival of monastic life there, particularly at the monasteries of Simonopetra, Dionysiou, Grigoriou, Stavronikita, and Philotheou, and two Monks have shone as spiritual lights there in this Century - the Elder Silouan ( 1938) of St. Panteleimon's Russian Monastery and the Elder Joseph ( 1959) of the New Skete.
The Orthodox Church of Finland, an autonomous Church (self-governing, except that the primate is confirmed by the Patriarch of the Mother Church, in this case Constantinople) was originally the fruit of the Monks of Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga, who spread Orthodoxy among the Finnish Karelian tribes in the 14th Century. Until 1917, the Finnish Church was part of the Russian Orthodox Church, but with the independence of Finland in 1917 and the unsettled situation in Russia after the Revolution, since 1923 it has been under the spiritual care of Constantinople. There are, today, approximately 66,000 Orthodox faithful in the Finnish Orthodox Church.
One of the original ancient Patriarchates, since the Monophysite Schism after the Council of Chalcedon (451), the numbers of the faithful of the Patriarchate of Alexandria have remained small approximately 300,000 faithful in Africa, most of whom are non-Greek Christians in Central Africa (primarily Kenya and Uganda). The rapid expansion of Orthodoxy in Central Africa in this Century has been most remarkable since it sprang up without benefit of Orthodox missionaries, and the Orthodox Church of this region promises to become an important force in the life of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.
Like Alexandria, the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch was severely decimated by the Monophysite Schism and Turkish depredations, and now numbers some 500,000 faithful in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as an emigrant population in America. Its Patriarch, who lives in Damascus, is an Arab, as are most of the clergy, and the bulk of its faithful are Arabic and Arabic-speaking, its liturgical services being celebrated in that language.
This ancient Church, whose jurisdiction includes Palestine and Jordan, never was large in numbers, but always held a special place in Orthodoxy due to her custody of the Holy Places of Palestine. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is a Greek, but the majority of the clergy and faithful are Arabic, numbering about 60,000 souls.
Since the Russian Revolution, the Church of Russia has been severely persecuted by the atheist state and the numbers of her faithful, clergy and institutions have been drastically reduced. In 1914, there were officially 54,457 churches, 57,105 Priests, 1,498 monasteries and convents, 4 theological academies, 57 theological seminaries, and 40,150 religious schools, with perhaps 100,000,000 faithful. By 1947, the figures read: 22-25,000 churches, 33,000 Priests, 80 monasteries and convents, 2 theological academies, 8 theological seminaries, and no other religious schools. (This was after a certain liberalization following World War II!) At the present time there are perhaps 30,000,000 active Orthodox Christians. By 1966, after renewed persecution, only 3 seminaries were still functioning and by the 1970's, only 12 monasteries and convents were open, as well as about 7,000 churches. Nonetheless, Orthodoxy is still alive in Russia, and, despite reduced membership figures, this Church remains the largest in the Orthodox world.
Founded in the 4th Century by St. Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles ( 355 commemorated January 14), this Church had become autocephalous (self headed) in the 8th Century, but was incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church, with the subjugation of the Caucasus, in 1811, receiving her independence again in 1917. The ranks of her faithful and clergy have been severely diminished since the Communist takeover, and now there are about forty functioning churches (2,455 in 1917), served by less than 100 Priests, out of a population of over 2,000,000. The head of this Church is styled the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia.
With the gradual crumbling of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century, the Serbian Church received her independence again in 1879. This Church has fared better than some in the Communist bloc, but many of the problems common to the Churches there (diminished ranks of clergy, closing of churches, etc.) are found here also. There are large numbers of Orthodox Serbians in the Dispersion, many of whom are to be found in America, Australia and Canada. The primate of the Serbian Church is the Patriarch, who lives in Belgrade.
As in the other Balkan countries, with the independence movement of the 19th Century, the Church of Romania received her independence. The nation became a Principality in 1856, and its Church was organized in 1864. Romania became an independent Kingdom in 1881, and the autocephaly of her Church was finally recognized in 1885 by Patriarch Joachim IV of Constantinople. In 1925, the Church of Romania became a Patriarchate, whose Patriarch lives in Bucharest. In numbers of Orthodox faithful, this Church is the second largest in world Orthodoxy, and the persecution by the atheists has not been as severe as in other Communist countries.
With the conquest of the Balkans by the Turks, the ancient Bulgarian Patriarchal See of Trnovo was suppressed and the Bulgarian Church was placed under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. On April 3, 1860, however, Bishop Hilarion openly declared independence from Constantinople by omitting the Patriarch's name at the Divine Liturgy, and on March 11, 1870, the Turkish Government recognized a Bulgarian Exarchate in Constantinople. In 1872, the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated the Bulgarian Church, but the de-facto autocephaly of this Church was finally recognized in 1945. As in Romania, the persecution of the Church has not been as severe as, for example, in Russia, but monasticism is in decline and there are few young Monks. Generally, Church life is more active, however, than in Yugoslavia with its more liberal policies.
This ancient Church has been independent since the Council of Ephesus (431) and, although suffering under the Turkish yoke, is still strong with over 700 Priests and over 400,000 faithful. For a time, the Turkish system, whereby the primate of the Church was also the political leader of the Greek population, was continued after the liberation of the country in 1878, which explains the role played by the late Archbishop Makarios, who ruled Cyprus as President, as well as being the primate of her Church.
The first national Church to emerge from the independence struggles of the 19th Century was the Church of Greece. On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1821, Germanos, the Archbishop of Patras, raised the banner of revolt against the Turks (which cost the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory, his life). This war of independence was successful and, as the Hierarchs of the Greek Church did not wish to remain subject to a captive Patriarch in Constantinople, in 1833 a synod of Greek Bishops declared their Church autocephalous, although this was not officially recognized by Constantinople until 1850. In 1864, the Diocese of the Ionian Islands was added to the Church of Greece, and in 1881 the Dioceses of Thessaly and a part of Epirus were likewise joined to her. This Church is the third largest in the Orthodox world and is ruled by a Holy Synod, presided over by the Archbishop of Athens.
Christianized by both Greek and Latin missionaries, Albania, part of ancient Illyricum, had both Latin and Greek rite Christians, with close ties both to Rome and Constantinople, until the Turkish conquest of 1478-9, when half the population became Moslem and a small minority remained Christian Latin in the North and Orthodox in the South. On November 28, 1912, Albania declared its independence from Turkey, and on October 26, 1922, a Church Council at Berat declared the Church of Albania independent of Constantinople, which was finally recognized by that Hierarch on April 12,1937. After World War II, with the seizure of power by the Communists, the Church has suffered terribly, her clergy forbidden to conduct services, as the regime has officially declared religion to be dead in Albania. Since the death of the last Primate, Damian, the primal See of Tirane remains vacant.
The Church of Poland has been autocephalous since 1924, although this independence has not been recognized by Constantinople. Consisting primarily of Orthodox Christians from Western Byelorussia, which was added to Poland's territory after World War II, this Church is headed by a Metropolitan who lives in Warsaw.
The Church of Czechoslovakia has been autocephalous since 1951, although, A as in the case of Poland, this has not been recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Czechoslovak Church is composed, primarily, of former Uniates, who were forcibly joined to the Orthodox Church by the Communists in 1950 (many returned to Roman Catholicism in 1968). The Church is headed by a Metropolitan who lives in Prague.
The ancient Church of Sinai, which is actually an autonomous Church consisting of a single monastery, St. Catherine's, at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Mountain of Moses. The Abbot of this Monastery is always an Archbishop, elected by the Monks of the Monastery , although he is consecrated by the Patriarch of Alexandria and lives in Cairo. The Monastery, at the present, consists of only a few Monks, most of whom are very old.
The Church of Japan was founded by St. Nicholas (Kassatkin), later Archbishop of Japan ( 1912 commemorated on February 16), a Russian missionary, who knew St. Innocent of Alaska. At the present there are about 40 parishes and about 36,000 faithful. The autonomy of this Church was proclaimed by the Patriarch of Moscow in 1970, and it is headed by a Metropolitan, who lives in Tokyo, and one other Bishop, who, although chosen by the Church of Japan, must be confirmed by the Church of Russia.