• Text of Epistle reading here
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is in our midst! Today, we have the joy of celebrating the feast of two of the martyrs in America–St. Peter the Aleut, and the Hieromonk Juvenaly. I’d like for us to hear the life of St. Juvenaly, and see what God can reveal to us about our mission here in McComb, MS from the martyrdom of this holy monk. St. Juvenaly was born in 1761 in Siberia. His secular name was John Feodorovich Hovorukhin, and he was trained as a mining engineer in the military. After his wife died in 1791, John requested early release from the military and entered a monastery at St Petersburg and was tonsured with the name Juvenaly. Three years later, he was chosen for the mission team to Alaska. St. Juvanaly’s brother, Monk Stephen, was also a member of the group headed for Alaska. In Alaska there were many Russians working in the fur trade, so this team had been assembled to both minister to the Russians in Alaska, as well as to do missionary work among the native peoples of Alaska. Also numbered among the members of the team was St. Herman of Alaska. After arriving in Alaska, St. Juvenaly worked with another Hieromonk, Macarius, traveling around Kodiak island in little animal skin boats and preaching to the natives. St. Herman marvel’s, in a letter back to Russia, how the two hieromonks took no care for their own safety, but had as their driving force and goal spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1795, the monks split up and began traveling over the great expanse of the Alaskan wilderness—preaching the Gospel, baptizing and serving wherever they would go. Again St. Herman marvel’s at these two holy men, who have a bit of an argument over who would take which portions of the mainland—both wanting the larger area and the chance to preach to greater numbers of people. St. Herman sites this exchange as an example of the missionary zeal of the Fathers. Not an attack of pride, but the sincere love and desire to share their Saviour with as many souls as they could. Having traveled to the mainland, St. Juvenaly baptized more than 700 people in Nuchek, the first village he stayed in. What an incredible testimony to the power of the Gospel. More than 700 pagan people chose Christ when given the chance. From Nuchek he traveled to Kenai, where he baptized another large group of natives. From Kenai he traveled over the Lake Iliamna, where he died a martyr’s death. Interestingly enough, accounts of the martyrdom of St. Juvenaly vary. No one was with him except for the native Alaskans he was preaching to, so there was no one to return to the Russians and tell the story. Several very powerful versions of the martydom come to us today. The one from the offical Act of Canonization says that St. Juvenaly was taking a group of native children to school in Kodiak, but the parents in the village changed their mind, tracked him down and murdered him. He never fought back, and begged his attackers to repent of their evil deed. Another version has him martyred by a chief who was angry that to accept Christianity he would have to give up some of his many wives. A final version says that St. Juvenaly was preaching to a tribe from a boat, and the natives shot him with arrows as he stood and preached. He blessed then with the sign of the Cross as he was filled with arrows. The local shaman took St. Juvenaly’s pectoral cross, and was astonished that he couldn’t perform any magic on the Cross. So what do we make of all these different versions of the martyrdom of St. Juvenaly? It’s actually a good thing, in a way, that we don’t know exactly what happened to St. Juvenaly. We venerate the sufferings of the Saint, the fact that he shed his blood for Christ. The exact way in which that happened doesn’t matter. In a society obsessed with knowing what happens all the time, it’s hard for us to just accept not being able to nail down exactly what happened to St. Juvenaly. The reality that he shed his blood for Christ, for the spreading of the Gospel and calling pagan peoples to salvation in the Holy Church—this is what’s important. The life and martyrdom of St. Juvenaly poignantly remind us of two of our calls as Christians. We’re all called to be missionaries, and we’re all called to be martyrs. These calls are integrally related, when we remember that martyr means “witness.” And when we remember that both missionary zeal and martyrdom are fueled by love of God. We’re called to witness to Christ by our life, and even by our death. As St. Paul wrote in the Epistle this morning: “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” We’re always dying so that we can live. Dying to ourselves that Christ can live in us. “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” We’re called to be martyrs in our daily life, so that Christ can live in us. We’re called to follow the commandments of Christ, even when they aren’t convenient. Even when it’s not the thing we want to do. Once we accept Christ, our lives are no longer our own. They belong to another, to Christ. We martyr our own passions and desires in order to become all that God wants us to be. Christ says, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” We lose our lives for His sake, and in losing them, we find life. Living the Christian life is a daily losing of our own lives—a daily rejection of what we want, in order to have life with Christ. In addition to the call to martyrdom, all Christians are also called to be missionaries. “Let your light so shine before men, that seeing your good works men may glorify your Father Who is in heaven.” As Christians, we have no choice but to share the hope that is in us, to share with those around us all that Christ has done for us, and for all mankind. This is a natural outpouring of our love for God. The love that should fill our lives to the point that others wonder “Why are you like this?” So much has gone into the missionary effort of this parish—praying, sacrificing, building up the parish to where it is now. But we can’t stop where we are today. St. Juvenaly wasn’t satisfied to preach on Kodiak, he wasn’t even satisfied with 700 baptisms in his first village—he was always reaching for more. Always trying to do more for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, maybe we’re not called to be traveling missionaries like St. Juvenaly. We need to live missionary lives in the world—lives that call others to Christ with the same intensity as the preaching of St. Juvenaly. And we need to continue to focus on the missionary efforts of building this Church in McComb, MS. Always remembering, as St. Paul said this morning, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” God will build His Church, but it will continue to take sacrifices on our part. Not only giving monetarily, or showing up for services, but most especially the sacrifice of putting the things of God first in our lives. The best missionary effort, the best work for the growth of the Church, is for each of us to make the effort to put the things of God first in our lives. This will result in our doing whatever is necessary that Christ might be known to others. Our lives of martyrdom are necessary for our missionary efforts. Then we’ll be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit for missionary opportunities. We’ll know what to do on Saturday nights without even thinking about it. We’ll know what to say to the person in front of us, and we’ll astonish ourselves at the things that come out of our mouths. The things that God gives us to say. The Christian life is not about making a list of what has to be done and then doing it. The Christian life, as we’ve seen from the example of St. Juvenaly this morning, is about giving our entire lives to Christ. Holding nothing back. And if we’re not willing to do that, then we’d might as well not do anything. If we’re not sold out for Christ, striving to give everything in our lives to Him, then we’re not living the Christian life—and the Scriptures tell us as much. If we’re lukewarm, God will vomit us out of His mouth. Christ comes to offer mankind life—healing from the disease of our sin, true humanity, and eventually eternity in the heavenly kingdom. But accepting this requires total commitment from us. Our God is a jealous God, and living for Him will take all we’ve got. May God give us the strength, the grace, to turn our entire lives over to him. Through the prayers of the Holy Hieromartyr Juvenaly, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Glory to Jesus Christ!