“Generation of Vipers”: The Life and Ministry of St. John the Baptist

Beheading of John the BaptistIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today I’d actually like to talk about a Great Feast we celebrated this past week; on Thursday, we had the Feast of the Beheading of the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord, St. John. Because of the reality of the weekday working situation in America today, most parishes aren’t able to really celebrate this Feast in the way it deserves. The highest level of Feast in the Church are those of Christ and the Mother of God, and this Feast of St. John is on the next highest level. We can see just from that, that this is a very special commemoration in the life of the Church.

Our Lord said of St. John that no greater man had ever been born of woman. He is the last and also the greatest of all of the Prophets of the Old Covenant. The Prophets were sent by God not primarily to predict the future (which is our modern understanding of prophet), but to reveal the deeper judgments of God. They came usually to call the people to repentance, and warn of God’s punishment if they failed to repent. [We still have this ministry, primarily within the bishops of the Church, who are here to reveal to us the deeper judgments of God – as we’ll pray in a few moments, “to rightly divide the word of Thy truth”] St. John is the greatest of the Prophets not only because of his fierce call of the people to repentance, but most especially because he was given the most sacred of all messages – to prepare for, and finally to announce, the coming of the Promised Messiah.

We don’t know an enormous amount about the early life of St. John. We first see him in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, and he leaps in her womb when the Theotokos comes to visit Elizabeth, pregnant with Jesus. The Fathers tell us that Elizabeth’s words to Mary are the voice of prophecy from John (the babe in her womb) – “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her of the Lord” (Luke 142-45). We next find St. John preaching to the people of Israel, calling them to repentance and baptism in the Jordan River. All we really know about his life between his birth and his ministry is that his father, Zacharias, who was the high priest, was murdered in the temple. It is then believed that his mother Elizabeth took the baby John and fled to the wilderness, most likely living among the Essenes, who were a very strict and ascetical group of Jews that lived in the desert and were fed up with the degradation of the priesthood in the Temple of the Lord.

St. John was a rough man, per his description in the Bible – with long hair and a shaggy beard, dressed in camel skins for clothing, living in the desert and eating locusts and wild honey for his food. He had no fear of mankind – with strong words he called the people of Israel to repentance. He told them that they were sinners, and that they would suffer the wrath of God if they did not repent of their sins. He called them a generation of vipers, and even said that by their actions they had alienated themselves from Abraham, whom they called their father. He preached both to the average person and also to the leaders of the Temple; he even preached to the house of Herod the king. With his seemingly harsh words, as Fr. Zacharias very beautifully explains, with these harsh words (You generation of vipers) he consoled the people of Israel. He crushed the pride of their hearts by calling out their sins, and in their humbled state many repented, were baptized, and thus were consoled and saved. St. John baptized the people in the Jordan River as a sign of their repentance. This notion of being baptized was not foreign to the Jews; there is a rite of ritual purification that involves baptism; St. John merely used this in a new and inspired way.

We won’t go into great detail, but we can’t skip the great event of our Lord’s baptism by St. John. As John was preaching and baptizing one day, Christ appeared walking toward them. St. John had prophesied that one mightier than he was coming, the one who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit, and would be the judge of all mankind. When St. John saw our Lord approaching, he recognizes him and tells the people “here comes the one I’ve been telling you about, here comes the Messiah.” Jesus asks to be baptized of John; John instead asks to be baptized of our Lord, saying that there was no reason for Jesus to be baptized. And certainly, in the context of St. John’s ministry, calling the people to be baptized for the repentance of their sins, Jesus didn’t need baptism for this reason. Our Lord responds that His baptism is necessary to “fulfill all righteousness.” John immediately baptizes the Lord, and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father is heard from the heavens, “this is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” This baptism inaugurates the 3 year public ministry of the Lord as the Messiah.

The events leading up to the martyrdom of St. John come directly from his preaching to King Herod. He called the King to repentance, rebuking him because he had married his brother’s wife. This wife, Herodias, convinced Herod to arrest John. She wanted St. John dead, but Herod would not kill him because he knew that John was a holy man, a prophet, and so he protected him from death and even listened to him gladly, St. Mark says (6:20). But St. John remained in prison, even though Herod knew that he was a prophet. On his birthday that year, King Herod had a great feast of celebration, and his daughter Salome came and danced for the King and his guests, pleasing them greatly. Herod, swept up in the moment, promised to give the young girl anything she asked, up to half of his kingdom. Salome asked her mother what she should request of the king, and in her vengeance, the wicked Herodias told her to demand the head of St. John the Baptist on a silver platter. King Herod had no choice but to give the girl what she asked; St. John was beheaded and his head was delivered to Salome on a silver platter; the girl then delivered the martyr’s head to her mother. According to the Tradition of the Church, the head of the Forerunner continued to call Herodias to repentance. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in an unclean place. His head was later recovered by a pious disciple, and buried on the Mount of Olives.

We very beautifully commemorate this martyrdom with a Great Feast on the 29th of August every year. We honor St. John’s ministry with a day of strict fasting, calling to remembrance our own sins and offering that same repentance to the Lord that he spent his ministry preaching.

Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptizer of our Lord, pray to the merciful Saviour that our souls may be saved!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

Take Heed Therefore How Ye Build: Becoming a Temple of God

Parish icon at St. Maximus, Denton, TX

Parish icon at St. Maximus, Denton, TX

Homily preached at St. Maximus Orthodox Christian Church, Denton, TX (August 25, 2013)

Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 3:9-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen! Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

I’d like us to look, this morning, at our reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Christians of Corinth, and to particularly focus on one particular phrase. St. Paul writes, “Let each one take heed how he builds on it” (v10). Firstly, we must put this phrase within the context of the Epistle.

St. Paul has said that we “are God’s building” (v9), and the entire reading uses this imagery of building on a foundation. At the end of the reading St. Paul goes so far as to say, “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God” (v16). So we are buildings, built for the glory of God – in fact, we are building ourselves as the Temple of God. It’s an ongoing process that St. Paul describes.

And the first thing you do when putting up a new structure is the laying of the foundation. The foundation for our building is already laid, as St. Paul says; that foundation is Christ. The bedrock of all we are as human beings and as Christians is found solely in Christ. He is the cornerstone, that single piece which upholds the entire building. And in fact, even the content of what we’re to build is found entirely in Christ. He came into the world, fully God and fully perfect man – He revealed to us what it means to be truly human (human as God created us to be), and He reveals to us God.

So all of the materials we need, as well as our foundation, is found in Christ. And then, with us understanding that this foundation is laid, St. Paul speaks that very rich phrase: “Let each one take heed how he builds on it” (v10). We are baptized in Christ, sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and then we begin to build. This building St. Paul speaks of is the building of our lives. The Fathers tell us that we can take nothing from this life into the next, except those things we do; the content of how we build our lives in the fallen world will follow us even into death. St. Paul teaches us this morning (or reminds us) to be very careful in how we build our lives – to be very cautious in those things we allow ourselves to do.

As we live, even with Christ as our foundation, there are many different kinds of buildings we can construct. We heard examples of the materials we might choose to use in the Epistle reading: gold, silver, gems, wood, hay, and straw. But in that last Great Day of the Judgement of the Lord, no all houses will continue to stand. Those build with quality materials will withstand, and their builders will receive eternal reward. Those built cheaply, with hay and straw, will be burned up on that Last Day, and the builders will suffer great loss.

This shows us that there are many things we can construct over the course of our life:
1 – there are buildings which are entirely unworthy of their foundation, and those buildings will be destroyed and their builders condemned;
2 – there are those which are weak, and those buildings also will not survive, but (St. Paul says) the builders can still be saved;
3 – and finally there are those well made houses which will stand for all of eternity, and their builders will receive great reward.

The Epistle offers us the opportunity to reflect and to question: 1 – what type of building and I constructing for my Lord and my God? and 2 – what kind of building do I want to build for Jesus my Saviour? We don’t want to offer Christ a broken down shack, or even an unfinished cinderblock cubby hole. We don’t want that to be all we have to show when we reach the end of our earthly sojourn. Can you imagine our humiliation if all we have for God, Who suffered and died and was buried in the flesh for us men and our salvation, if all we have is a thatch hut ready to collapse and be burned?

When we analyze the content of our lives, as we always do before confession, we invariably find weakness, sin, and imperfection. So if we see that we are carrying bales of hay and trying to use that material as an offering worthy of the Lord – we know that we have to stop, to repent, and to change direction. We need to refocus that area of our life in Christ, so we can draw out holy content and make a worthy offering to the Lord.

St. Paul says that by the material with which you build, your works will become clear. Those works which are silver and gold and precious stone will build an everlasting house. Works of straw and hay will never stand. We can’t talk in incredible depth this morning about which works are gold versus straw, for example. But I will give you one very powerful work – one quote from Fr. Zacharias (priest/monk/confessor at Elder Sophrony’s monastery in England). When talking about this excerpt from 1 Corinthians, he says, “The most practical way of becoming a [worthy] Temple of God is the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, because it is something that can always be with us.” Our holy work par excellance is prayer, the Jesus Prayer – and if this prayer is constantly in our minds and in our hearts and on our lips, then other good works will quite naturally flow from our lives.

Keep this word of St. Paul close to your heart – let us be careful how we build our lives on the foundation of Christ which we’ve been freely given. We can build shacks worthy only of fire, or magnificent Temples of silver and gold – the choice is ours. May we always choose those things which are well-pleasing unto our sweetest Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ our God.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

I Can Do All Thinks Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me (Phil. 4:13)

"There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations. Without them, it is not possible to obtain a strong will. When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. " -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

“There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations…When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. ” -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

There is an article (a few of them, actually) making the rounds on social media right now which tries to make the point that the phrase “God will not give you more than you can handle” is not an accurate thing to say. Unfortunately, these articles themselves don’t quite have things right.

They refer back to the quote from 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.” (This is where the quote ‘God will not give you more than you can handle’ originates). The point is then attempted: this verse doesn’t mean you won’t be given things that can’t be handled, only that God will not allow a temptation you can’t bear – that the verse doesn’t say anything about other experiences you may have within life. Pointing out difficult situations – Auschwitz, cancer, rape, etc. – the authors then say that these things crush people and are more than can be borne (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9 for their Biblical example – where Paul says they are at the *point* of breaking in order to learn to trust in God, Who then enabled them to handle their temptations).

The truth of the matter is that the Fathers of the Church understand all of the negative and evil experiences that we endure in this life to fall in that broader category of ‘temptation.’ We may have a temptation to fall into a particular sin, or we may have the temptation of cancer or some other tragedy in our lives. Following is a portion of the wonderful commentary of St. John Chrysostom (4th C) on the particular verse in question. If you are interested in engaging with the question at hand, read through the commentary, and I will make a few points at the end for our consideration.

“Then, because he terrified them, see how again he raises them up, at the same time recommending moderation; in the words, God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able. There are therefore temptations which we are not able to bear. And what are these? All, so to speak. For the ability lies in God’s gracious influence; a power which we draw down by our own will. Wherefore that you may know and see that not only those which exceed our power, but not even these which are common to man is it possible without assistance from God easily to bear, he added, But will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. For, says he, not even those moderate temptations, as I was remarking, may we bear by our own power: but even in them we require aid from Him in our warfare that we may pass through them, and until we have passed, bear them. For He gives patience and brings on a speedy release; so that in this way also the temptation becomes bearable. This he covertly intimates, saying, will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it: and all things he refers to Him.” –St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on First Corinthians

It is very important that St. John points out to us that all temptation, everything evil we encounter, is too much for us to bear. From the ‘smallest’ temptation to the most dramatic events, all temptation is more than fallen humanity can bear. It is only through God’s assistance that we can bear all things. God will not give us more than we can bear, but bearing our temptations requires that we turn to Him for help.

God is infinitely powerful – by His grace we can endure anything. To say otherwise would be to doubt in the power of God. As St. John says, God will give us patience to endure, and also provides a way of escape, a way to come through out temptations when the time is right.

It is very easy for us to question this Biblical and Patristic teaching, mainly because we want God to moderate our temptations in a way that seems wise to us. We don’t want to bear temptation, but to already pass through it before it has even begun. We choose not to seek God in our moment of temptation, and then it becomes quickly more than we can bear. We want God’s comfort in a way we define. But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and His foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:25).

Our ‘duty’ then, should we choose to accept St. Paul’s teaching, is to seek solace from all temptation in Christ, and to accept the path He lays out for us. We accept God’s help on God’s terms, and since His might is infinite, He can equip us, by His grace, to endure all things.

Posted by Matthew Jackson

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, and On the Purpose of Miracles

sleepers(Luke 24:36-53 Matins); Romans 12:6-14; Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we celebrate the lives of seven very famous saints in the Orthodox Church, known as the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.” The lives of these 7 ties in nicely with our Gospel reading this morning, especially seeing the power of God as it is revealed by Christ in the world. The paralytic man from the Gospel is forgiven, restored to God, and physically healed – we see a similarly amazing miracle in the hagiography of the 7 Holy Sleepers.

The 7 Holy Youths were named Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Constantine, and Antonius. All of the young men were from well to do families in Ephesus, and Maximilian’s father was even the city administrator. The 7 were friends from childhood, and all entered the military together. At some point the pagan emperor Decius made a visit to Ephesus, and he commanded everyone to make sacrifice to the pagan gods. The 7 youths did not participate, since they were Christian, and someone in their unit told the emperor. They were summoned before him, and there they confessed their faith in Christ. The emperor removed them from the military, but decided to set them free while he was away on a military campaign, hoping they would change their minds by the time he returned.

The youths found a cave on Mt. Ochlon, and there they went to stay, spending their days in prayer and fasting, preparing for torture and death. They knew that they would never deny their Beloved Christ. From time to time the youngest, St. Iamblicus, would dress as a beggar and go into the town to buy bread. One day he heard that the emperor had returned and was looking for them. They prepared themselves to go and face him, but before their return the emperor heard what they had done. He knew that they were preparing for martyrdom, and so he decided on something worse. He commanded that they be sealed in the cave, to die a horrible death of thirst and starvation. It happened that one of the officials there at the sealing of the cave was a secret Christian, and he placed a container in cave with two metal plaques in it – one containing the names of the 7, the other detailing their martyrdom.

God, at this point, placed the 7 in a miraculous sleep that was to last for almost the next 200 years. During the time they slept, most of the Empire became Christian. At some point there arose a certain tension in the Church – with a large group of heretics denying the resurrection of the dead. They claimed that since the body disintegrated in the grave, the body and soul could not be re-united at the end of days. It was at this point that the Lord chose to reveal these 7 Holy Sleepers.

The man who owned the land where Mt. Ochlon was one day discovered the covered cave, and has his workers open the entrance to the cave. The youths were not discovered at this point, and neither was the container or plaques. The Lord woke the youths, and it was as if they had fallen asleep the day before. Their bodies and clothes were unchanged, and they again began to prepare for martyrdom. St. Iamblicus was sent to the town to buy bread, and he could hardly believe what he saw. There was a cross on the town gate, and churches throughout the town, and people openly spoke the name of Christ in the town square. He went to buy his bread but was detained because his money had the image of Decius on it, and not of Theodocius, the emperor at that time. He was brought before the town administrator, who was also the bishop of Ephesus, and question. The bishop immediately recognized that something strange and wonderful had happened, and accompanied the young man to the cave.

The container and plaques were found at the entrance to the cave, detailing the martyrdom of these 7 Holy Youths. The bishop then entered the cave and saw that all 7 were miraculously awoken from sleep. The Church understood this miracle as a revelation from Christ about the Resurrection from the dead on the last day – that God could do all things, and that the bodies of the dead would indeed be reunited with their souls at the glorious resurrection. Even the emperor came to see the 7 Sleepers, having heard about the great miracle and being a Christian himself. Finally the time came, and the 7 lay back down on the ground, and fell into their final sleep, from which they will awaken on the last day.

In the Kontakion for the saints we sing: “Those who renounced the perishing comforts of the world, preferring the eternal things of heaven, were incorrupt after death and rose from the dead and buried the snares of the devils! O Faithful, let us then honor them, singing a hymn of praise to Christ!” Though they are referred to as sleepers, we see here that the Holy Ones reposed in their cave, and were reawakened by Christ to destroy the snare of the devil, which was the temptation to the heresy of denying the final Resurrection.

Our Lord works miracles for many external reasons – He heals paralysis, makes the blind to see, makes the mute to talk, and even raises the dead. The center, the purpose, of all of the miracles is one – our salvation. In the Gospel, Christ first forgives the sin of the paralytic, and only after does He heal him. And in all of our Lord’s miracles, He forgives sin, and often tells the healed “now go, and sin no more.” With the 7 Sleepers, the miracle is worked to preserve people from falling away from the Faith and into heresy. So as we encounter miracles – in the Bible, in the Saints, even in our own lives – remember that they are always for our salvation. We seek to discern how our Lord is revealing Himself, and how He is leading us to Him and each and every miracle we encounter.

May the many miracles of Christ lead us all to that greatest of all miracles – the regeneration of our own lives and souls in Him, and our eternal salvation. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

Bringing our Demons to the Lord

Healing_of_the_demon-possessedThis homily was delivered on 28 July 2013 at St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Mission in Gulf Shores, AL.

Matthew 8:28-9:1

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we have a Gospel reading that most of us are probably very familiar with – we read this Gospel 2-3 times each year because of the way it falls in the lectionary cycle. Basically, this Gospel tell the story of the healing of a demon possessed man. As we well know, this is not the only healing our Lord does during His ministry, and it’s not even the only time He casts out demons. But this is a story with a twist. At the end of this reading, instead of the people coming to thank and to worship Christ, as is usual and as we expect, instead they come to drive Him away.

The demon possessed men mentioned in St. Matthew’s Gospel were well known to the people of the town nearby. In other Gospel accounts, we learn that the locals had even tried to chain and to bind these men, but they were given superhuman strength by the demons and always broke out of their chains. The men terrorized the locals and the people traveling nearby. It had gotten to the point where everyone had basically adapted to the situation – people didn’t travel nearby, and the townspeople stayed away as well.

At the beginning of our reading, our Lord did pass by the tombs where the men lived. The demon possessed did not attack Him, as they usually did, rather they recognized Him. “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of God.” The demons recognized Christ as the Son of God and God. The tables were now turned – instead of striking fear in the hearts of men, it was their turn to be afraid. The demons feared our Lord; they feared He had come to “torment them before the time.” They feared being cast into the abyss by Christ for their evil actions. So the demons begged our Lord to be allowed to go into a nearby herd of pigs so as not to be thrown into the abyss.

Christ blessed the demons to leave the two possessed men and to go into the pigs. At this moment in the Gospel reading, we see a vision of the way that demons and sin destroy our lives: as soon as the demons entered the pigs, they ran down a steep cliff and drowned themselves in the sea. Even the pigs can’t stand being possessed by the evil of the demons. I think it would be good to meditate on this moment from the Gospel reading in our time of private prayer – if the demons had such a devastating effect on the pigs, imagine what they do to our souls when we allow them in, when we fall to sin and evil in our lives. Lord have mercy on us!

The keepers of the pigs saw all of this taking place – the approach of our Lord, the healing of the demoniacs, and the suicide of the pigs. They ran to the town to tell the people what had happened.

At this point, we have a certain expectation – we expect the townspeople to come praising Christ. We expect them to thank Him for freeing two of their own from such a horrible fate as their possession by demons. We’ve seen Christ worshipped for far less spectacular miracles over the course of His ministry as recorded in the Gospels.

But this is not what happens – the people instead come and beg Him to leave. They want Him out of their town, gone for good. And the humble Lord speaks not a word, but gets into a boat and leaves their shores.

So the big question, of course, is why? Why would the townspeople make our Lord leave after He’d performed such a great miracle? I have two thoughts this morning, one much more interesting than the other.

1 – perhaps they simply drove Him away because He had destroyed their herd of pigs. Losing that herd was certainly a financial hardship on the people, so the townspeople could have simply driven this stranger away with no other motives in mind than money.
2 – what Christ brought and represented was change, and as human beings we don’t like change. The people had all grown used to their routines, to the demons that lived among them in the tombs. They were used to the evil in their midst. But then Christ came and changed everything. He brought something new, and something far better. The people were unable to see that our Lord made things better, however – all they saw was change to their routine, and they rejected that change. And in their rejection, they also rejected the ministry of the Son of God.

We can quickly become like the people of this town – we easily get used to sin, we get comfortable with the demons in our lives. When we reach this level of comfort, surrendering ourselves to Christ and allowing Him to rid us of our demons, making things incomparably better, becomes a difficult and delicate undertaking. Just like the townspeople, we grow fond of our demons and delusions, else we would be trying even now to overcome them. We must struggle to continually look at ourselves, look for our hidden demons, for the sin that lurks in the dark places of our lives, so that we can open those crevices to the light of Christ, allowing Him to heal and restore us, just as He restored the demon possessed men from this morning’s Gospel reading.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

Sunday of All Saints of America

american saintsIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Every year, on the 2nd Sunday after the Great Feast of Pentecost (which is today), we celebrate the memory of All Saints of America, whether known or unknown. Really, the day is set aside for a local people to recognize their Saints – so in Greece it’s All Saints of Greece, and in Russia, All Saints of Russia, etc. This is one of those times liturgically that very beautifully brings us into direct contact with holy people who very literally have been where we are. There is a great temptation sometimes to think of the Saints as “those others” – to place them on a different plane and to think that their achievements are unattainable to us in our time and place. Today reminds us that that’s not at all true. There are people recognized as Saints (not to mention those we don’t even know about) who have lived in modern times in this very land. We are all called to be Saints; “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and “Be ye holy, even as I am holy” (multiple places in Leviticus). The word Saint means holy – Sviat, Agios. To be holy means not just that something is sacred, but it means “to be set apart.” As Christians we are called to be set apart in two ways – to be set apart from the world, and to be set apart for God.

The Church sets the Saints before us as those who set themselves apart for God. They fulfill the Gospel commandments; they dedicate everything they are to Christ. And so in our hymns we hear about their lives and their exploits, and in our hagiography we read in more detail about their lives as they lived in Christ. But not only are we to learn about the Saints, to follow in their steps and to be inspired by their lives, but we’re also to be in relationship with the Saints. We as Orthodox don’t traditionally speak of the Church as visible and invisible – there is One Church, composed of those living in this world, and those alive in Christ in the world beyond. Just as we have a relationship with the Mother of God and with our patron Saints, we are encouraged to learn about, and then get to know, other Saints as well. We obviously can’t, in our earthly life, do this with all the Saints, but people typically find Saints with whom they resonate for one reason or another, and then they get to know those Saints. So with that in mind, instead of a detailed life of one of our American Saints, I basically want to give a list of our Saints with a sentence or two about each – an introduction to our American Saints, and perhaps something about one or more of them will inspire you to deeper study and to prayer and relationship.

St. Herman of Alaska – great missionary monk and wonderworker of Alaska, preached the Gospel, built schools, defended natives from mistreatment by Russian company, lived as a hermit most of his life on Spruce Island, 1st glorified American Saint

Martyred Hieromonk St. Juvenaly – part of original Russian mission from Valaam, was part of the baptism of over 14,000 Alaskan natives through his missionary efforts, later killed during his Gospel ministry by natives

St. Peter the Aleut, ProtoMartyr – with a group of Aleut hunters captured by the Spanish and taken to San Francisco in 1815, tortured brutally for refusing to convert to Roman Catholicism, St. Herman heard about his death and called him a new martyr

St. Jacob Netsvetov – first Alaskan ordained priest, traveled over huge stretches of land to minister and preach the Gospel, after his wife reposed he went to the Alaskan interior, preaching to many people who had never heard the Gospel, during his last trip to the Yukon he baptized over 1300 natives

St Innocent of Alaska, Metropolitan of Moscow – married Russian priest assigned to Alaska in 1823, learned languages and translated Gospels and services, wife reposed while he was in Russia in 1838, took monastic vows in 1840 and was made bishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands, continued traveling and working for the spread of the Gospel, later appointed Metropolitan of Moscow

St. Tikhon, Patriarch of All Russia – worked tirelessly during his tenure in America as bishop, traveling, converting many, founding Churches, and founding St. Tikhon’s Monastery, worked to establish Church structure for the American diocese, returned to Russian in 1907 and elected Patriarch in 1917, harassed by the government, imprisoned and persecuted, reposed in 1925, considered a martyr (many think he was poisoned by the Bolsheviks)

Hieromartyr St. Alexander Hotovitsky – married Russian priest assigned to St. Nicholas in NY, very active in the community and in publishing, built a huge new cathedral, returned to Russian in 1914, he was arrested and tried by the Soviets, eventually facing a final arrest in 1937 when he was sentenced to death and executed

St. Raphael of Brooklyn – born in Lebanon to Syrian parents, educated both in Damascus and Russia, 1st Bishop consecrated in America (by St. Tikhon), served as auxiliary bishop of Russian Church, based in Brooklyn, traveled constantly serving the Arab Orthodox throughout North America (visited St. George Church in Vicksburg!)

St. Alexis Toth – married Uniate Greek Catholic priest in Slovakia, he came to America as a missionary priest after his wife’s repose, the Latin bishop refused to receive him, he knew his heritage was Orthodox and had considered conversion before and so now he entered the Russian Orthodox Church in America, through his ministry over 20,000 uniates were re-united with the Orthodox Church

Hieromartyr St. John Kochurov – married Russian priest who came to America as a missionary in 1895, served in Chicago, built the parish and founded other parishes in the Chicago area, translated texts into English, returned to Russia in 1907, martyred by Bolsheviks in October 1917 becoming the protohieromartyr (1st priest martyr)of the Soviet yoke

St. John Maximovitch, Wonderworker – life is far to amazing to detail here, spent the last years of his life as Archbishop of San Francisco (1962-1966) and was known far and wide even during his lifetime as a holy man and great worker of miracles

St. Nikolai Velimirovich – came to America from Communist Yugoslavia as a refugee in 1946 (spent time in Dachau, imprisoned and tortured by Nazis), ended his life as rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary in 1956

Lesser known (4)
Hieromartyr St. Basil Martysz of Poland – married Polish priest who was a missionary in North America from 1900 to 1912, was in charge of Orthodox affairs for Polish army for 25 years, martyred in closing days of WW2 by bandits who tortured and killed him in 1945

St. Seraphim of Uglich – Russian monastic priest who was a missionary under St. Tikhon from 1902-1908 where he served as a teacher, deacon, and priest, consecrated bishop of Uglich in 1920, refused to cooperate with the Bolsheviks to form a new Synod, eventually exiled in 1928 from which he never returned (possibly martyred in 1937)

Hieromartyr St. Anatole of Irkutsk – missionary priest in North America from 1895-1903, glorified as a New-Martyr by the Russian Church for his suffering, though he reposed freed from prison in the early 1920s

St. Barnabus the New Confessor – born in Garyn Indina in 1914, returned to Serbia as a child and became a monk in 1940, later consecrated bishop and accused of being an American spy for his open criticism of the communist governments mistreatment of Christians, arrested and tortured and imprisoned, death believed to be by poison (like St. Tikhon)

All of these people lived and worked on this very continent, and now are glorified in Christ and recognized as Saints of our land. And we can be sure that there are many more Saints that are unknown to us.

May all the Holy Ones of America pray to God for us!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew

I decided today, for the Feast of All Saints, to post the life of my own patron saint. May we have his holy prayers!

“The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, was also named Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27); he was one of the Twelve Apostles (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:45; Acts 1:13), and was brother of the Apostle James Alphaeus (Mark 2:14). He was a publican, or tax-collector for Rome, in a time when the Jews were under the rule of the Roman Empire. He lived in the Galilean city of Capernaum. When Matthew heard the voice of Jesus Christ: “Come, follow Me” (Mt. 9:9), left everything and followed the Savior. Christ and His disciples did not refuse Matthew’s invitation and they visited his house, where they shared table with the publican’s friends and acquaintances. Like the host, they were also publicans and known sinners. This event disturbed the pharisees and scribes a great deal.

Publicans who collected taxes from their countrymen did this with great profit for themselves. Usually greedy and cruel people, the Jews considered them pernicious betrayers of their country and religion. The word “publican” for the Jews had the connotation of “public sinner” and “idol-worshipper.” To even speak with a tax-collector was considered a sin, and to associate with one was defilement. But the Jewish teachers were not able to comprehend that the Lord had “come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt. 9:13).

Matthew, acknowledging his sinfulness, repaid fourfold anyone he had cheated, and he distributed his remaining possessions to the poor, and he followed after Christ with the other apostles. St Matthew was attentive to the instructions of the Divine Teacher, he beheld His innumerable miracles, he went together with the Twelve Apostles preaching to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:6). He was a witness to the suffering, death, and Resurrection of the Savior, and of His glorious Ascension into Heaven.

Having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, St Matthew preached in Palestine for several years. At the request of the Jewish converts at Jerusalem, the holy Apostle Matthew wrote his Gospel describing the earthly life of the Savior, before leaving to preach the Gospel in faraway lands.

In the order of the books of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew comes first. Palestine is said to be the place where the Gospel was written. St Matthew wrote in Aramaic, and then it was translated into Greek. The Aramaic text has not survived, but many of the linguistic and cultural-historical peculiarities of the Greek translation give indications of it.

The Apostle Matthew preached among people who were awaiting the Messiah. His Gospel manifests itself as a vivid proof that Jesus Christ is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, and that there would not be another (Mt. 11:3).

The preaching and deeds of the Savior are presented by the evangelist in three divisions, constituting three aspects of the service of the Messiah: as Prophet and Law-Giver (Ch. 5-7), Lord over the world both visible and invisible (Ch. 8-25), and finally as High Priest offered as Sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (Ch. 26-27).

The theological content of the Gospel, besides the Christological themes, includes also the teaching about the Kingdom of God and about the Church, which the Lord sets forth in parables about the inner preparation for entering into the Kingdom (Ch. 5-7), about the worthiness of servers of the Church in the world (Ch. 10-11), about the signs of the Kingdom and its growth in the souls of mankind (Ch. 13), about the humility and simplicity of the inheritors of the Kingdom (Mt. 18:1-35; 19 13-30; 20:1-16; 25-27; 23:1-28), and about the eschatological revelations of the Kingdom in the Second Coming of Christ within the daily spiritual life of the Church (Ch. 24-25).

The Kingdom of Heaven and the Church are closely interconnected in the spiritual experience of Christianity: the Church is the historical embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven in the world, and the Kingdom of Heaven is the Church of Christ in its eschatological perfection (Mt. 16:18-19; 28:18-20).

The holy Apostle brought the Gospel of Christ to Syria, Media, Persia, Parthia, and finishing his preaching in Ethiopia with a martyr’s death. This land was inhabited by tribes of cannibals with primitive customs and beliefs. The holy Apostle Matthew converted some of the idol-worshippers to faith in Christ. He founded the Church and built a temple in the city of Mirmena, establishing there his companion Platon as bishop.

When the holy apostle was fervently entreating God for the conversion of the Ethiopians the Lord Himself appeared to him in the form of a youth. He gave him a staff, and commanded him to plant it at the doors of the church. The Lord said that a tree would grow from this staff and it would bear fruit, and from its roots would flow a stream of water. When the Ethiopians washed themselves in the water and ate the fruit, they lost their wild ways and became gentle and good.

When the holy apostle carried the staff towards the church, he was met by the wife and son of the ruler of the land, Fulvian, who were afflicted by unclean spirits. In the Name of Christ the holy apostle healed them. This miracle converted a number of the pagans to the Lord. But the ruler did not want his subjects to become Christians and cease worshiping the pagan gods. He accused the apostle of sorcery and gave orders to execute him.

They put St Matthew head downwards, piled up brushwood and ignited it. When the fire flared up, everyone then saw that the fire did not harm St Matthew. Then Fulvian gave orders to add more wood to the fire, and frenzied with boldness, he commanded to set up twelve idols around the fire. But the flames melted the idols and flared up toward Fulvian. The frightened Ethiopian turned to the saint with an entreaty for mercy, and by the prayer of the martyr the flame went out. The body of the holy apostle remained unharmed, and he departed to the Lord.

The ruler Fulvian deeply repented of his deed, but still he had doubts. By his command, they put the body of St Matthew into an iron coffin and threw it into the sea. In doing this Fulvian said that if the God of Matthew would preserve the body of the apostle in the water as He preserved him in the fire, then this would be proper reason to worship this One True God.

That night the Apostle Matthew appeared to Bishop Platon in a dream, and commanded him to go with clergy to the shore of the sea and to find his body there. The righteous Fulvian and his retinue went with the bishop to the shore of the sea. The coffin carried by the waves was taken to the church built by the apostle. Then Fulvian begged forgiveness of the holy Apostle Matthew, after which Bishop Platon baptized him, giving him the name Matthew in obedience to a command of God.

Soon St Fulvian-Matthew abdicated his rule and became a presbyter. Upon the death of Bishop Platon, the Apostle Matthew appeared to him and exhorted him to head the Ethiopian Church. Having become a bishop, St Fulvian-Matthew toiled at preaching the Word of God, continuing the work of his heavenly patron.”

Life of St Matthew from oca.org