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A Sermon on All Saints of North America
We have reached today the Third Sunday after Pentecost, the third Sunday after the feast on which the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the apostles of Christ, and the great missionary work of the Church was begun. On the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate all the saints who have shown forth throughout the entire world, while the second Sunday is set aside for each local church to keep the festival of its own saints — in our case it is the Sunday of All Saints of the Church of Russia, the church which first brought Holy Orthodoxy to our land, and which still to this day leads and guides us [in the Russian Church Abroad] toward the Kingdom of Heaven as our loving mother. And today, on the third Sunday, we honor the saints who have spiritually labored right here, in our rough American soil, so that the same grace of the Most Holy Spirit which transfigured their lives will also transfigure the lives of you and me and each and every person around us.
And though they may be few in number, truly the spiritual glory within them shines no less brightly than in the saints of any other land! As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
So let us remember today those who have spoken unto us the word of God. Let us remember first of all the Protomartyr Peter the Aleut who, having found the pearl of great price, truly gave all that he had — even his very life — to acquire it (cf. Matthew 14:46). Let us remember our Holy Father Herman of Alaska, that great ascetic and model for monastics, who understood that the heart of all asceticism is love and that the heart of all monasticism is obedience, and so with humble obedience forsook his beloved solitude in Valaam in order to bring the love of Christ to the people of our land. Let us remember the Holy Hieromartyr Juvenaly, who like our Lord Himself meekly accepted death at the hands of the very people he had come at such great cost to bring to salvation. Let us remember the Holy Hieromartyr Tikhon, who labored tirelessly to build up church life and unity here in our land before his martyrdom at the hands of the godless Bolsheviks; and let us remember also his co-laborer St. Raphael of Brooklyn, a son of Antioch who was sent to our country by Tsar-martyr Nicholas to minister alongside St. Tikhon, under whose hands he become the first bishop consecrated here on our American soil and whose relics are enshrined even here in our own state of West Virginia. Let us remember the incomparable theologian and poet St. Nikolai Velimirovich, the “new Chrysostom” whose words we all so dearly love to listen to every Sunday in our monastic trapeza, and who ended his life as the rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania. Let us remember St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, that great ascetic, astounding wonderworker, and supremely loving archpastor who himself so loved to know and honor the saints of the local land in which he labored.
My brothers and sisters, though their numbers are few, time nevertheless fails us to tell of all the other saints who have labored here in our midst — not to mention all those saints whose secret labors and sanctity are known to the Lord God alone. But as we honor their memories and beseech their holy prayers, let each of us ask ourselves one vital question: what is the secret of their sanctity? How can you and I become not only admirers, but imitators of their holy lives?
The answer is quite simple, and we have all just heard it at the end of the Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33).
When we consider the lives of our saints of North America, no matter who they were, where they came from, or what form their labors took, each and every one of them had clearly “laid aside all earthly care” — as we ourselves will also be urged to do in only a few brief minutes during this Divine Liturgy — and cared for absolutely nothing in this life other than “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Every single one of them — in one form or another — had become exiles, they all like Abraham had heard the voice of God saying: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Genesis 12:1), and like Abraham they all “obeyed; and [they] went out, not knowing whither [they] went” (Hebrews 11:8). And then they all arrived here, sent by God to pour out the Most Holy Spirit even upon such wretched and unworthy sinners as you and I, to open even unto us also the gates of Kingdom of God.
So if we wish to truly honor them on this day, if we wish to truly show gratitude for the great and incomprehensible sacrifices they have made for our sakes, then let us not simply regard them as faces in paintings on our walls, and let us not regard their lives simply as histories written down in books. No, let us regard them as our living fathers and mothers in Christ, and let us regard their labors as a living inheritance which it is our own sacred duty to complete. Let us join them in becoming exiles even while yet living on this earth, for as today’s Gospel tells us: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). And above all let us join them in seeking to bring not only ourselves, but also each and every person around us into the Kingdom of God.
+Through the prayers of All Saints of North America, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen!