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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (
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
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.
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)
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
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
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
Moscow, which met in 1666-7, endorsed his reforms, but deposed
him from his Patriarchal Office because of his intemperance and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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