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 commemorate the feast of St. Tikhon, Apostle to America, and later Patriarch of Moscow. I was incredibly privileged, during seminary, to study at St. Tikhon’s (named for today’s saint), and to worship in the monastery church of St. Tikhon, founded by St Tikhon of America and Russia (and to serve on the altar consecrated by St Raphael of Brooklyn). And every time we entered the monastery Church, we were able to venerate the relics of St. Tikhon.

I’m always excited to have the opportunity to preach about the saints, and this is why. In the Church, we know the Holy Spirit is living and active – our goal in the Church, as St Seraphim of Sarov said, is to acquire the Holy Spirit. Our aim is to be filled with the grace of God, to be Christians – little Christs. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me – this is our goal – we are all called to be saints. As Metropolitan Hierotheos writes, we could say that the goal of the Church is to produce relics; in other words, to help us become saints. And today we get to hear about one of these men of God – and as we hear of his life and his struggles, may he stand out for us as an example of what we’re called to be, and also as a source of inspiration as we struggle in our daily lives to be like Christ.

As we heard in the second Gospel reading from St. John, St. Tikhon was the good shepherd, guarding the flock entrusted to him by God, and reaching out to bring others into the fold. St. Tikhon exhibited a particular love for Christ and His Church from childhood – his father was a priest, and he went to the seminary from ages 13-18. Upon graduating he became an instructor of theology at the seminary. He took monastic vows at age 26, very consciously dedicating the remainder of his life to serving Christ. At the very early age of 32, he was consecrated bishop, and began his episcopal work as an assistant bishop in Russia. The very next year 1898 (age 33), he was transferred to the American diocese [of course still in the Russian Church, but in North America physically] of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.

St Tikhon labored with love during his tenure in America, and many of his accomplishments are well known to the Orthodox in America. He had in his mind, and in his heart, that the Orthodox Church possessed the fullness of the Christian faith (of Truth), and this faith needed to be made available to all the people of North America. He changed the name of the diocese to “the Aleutian Islands and North America” to reflect that. St Tikhon traveled widely and constantly, from coast to coast, visiting existing parish communities and constantly establishing new Churches for the spreading of the Faith. Once the American diocese was elevated to an Archdiocese, St Tikhon was elected as the Archbishop, and his two assistant bishops were St Innocent and St Raphael. We can see very clearly that the Lord took great care in planting the Church here in North America – three saints overseeing the growth and development of the Church in her early years. St Tikhon’s vision for America was one Orthodox Church, made up of all different ethnic peoples and converts, worshipping God and calling others to the faith. He was a true missionary, an Apostle to America.

After 9 years in America, St Tikhon was called back to Russia and was made bishop in several other diocese over the course of the next 10 years. He was especially loved by his people for his kindness, his love for them, his generosity to the needy [frequently giving from his own money and the Church stores in order to care for the poor], and his wisdom in dealing with all matters. On November 5, 1917, St Tikhon was elected to be the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. St Tikhon realized that his pastorship would be one filled with enormous difficulties – the Communists had already seized the government in Russia, and he foresaw that the Church was about to be under terrible strain and persecution.

St Tikhon didn’t change when he became Patriarch, the title didn’t go to his head, he continued to be an image of humility – he continued to be filled with love for both Christ and his flock, and all times kept the safety and salvation of the people in his mind as he walked a very difficult path lined with inner church squabbles, dealing with an aggressive government, and even dealing with heresy and schism in the Russian Church. From all corners of Russia, St Tikhon heard of Church property being confiscated, clergy/monastics/laity being harshly persecuted and even killed, icons and relics and holy things being stolen and desecrated. Instead of becoming angry or embittered, St Tikhon stood in the midst of this storm as an example for the people, always calling them to fulfill the commandments of Christ, and to care for their spiritual (and earthly) life through prayer and repentance – he kept the focus on Christ, and not on the work of the evil one. He ordered the clergy to stay out of political matters (we’re about the Kingdom of God, not earthly kingdoms). He was imprisoned for 14 months for telling the clergy not to turn over sacred items to the authorities – he viewed this confiscation as sacrilege, the government viewed his memo as sabotage.

St Tikhon devoted himself entirely to the cause of Christ, and called on the clergy to do the same – “Devote all your energy to preaching the word of God and the truth of Christ, especially today, when unbelief and atheism are audaciously attacking the Church of Christ. May the God of peace and love be with all of you!” All of his struggles for the Church and personally were physically exhausting for St Tikhon, and he checked himself to a hospital for rest and care – but he always left on Sundays and Feast days to serve the holy services. On March 25, 1925, he served his final Liturgy (Feast of the Annunciation), and two days later he reposed in the Lord.

St Tikhon’s life is a clear example of how Christians, and Christian pastors, are to be. His dedication was to Christ – shepherding the flock, and calling others to the Lord – he never wavered in the face of incredible difficulty and temptation, and for his life in Christ he is celebrated today as one of the many Saints of the Orthodox Church.

I’ll end with an exhortation St Tikhons gave his flock in a homily on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1903:
Holding to the Orthodox Faith as to something holy, longing for it with all their hearts and prizing it above all, Orthodox people ought…to endeavor to spread it among people of other creeds. Christ the Saviour has said that neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house (Matt. 5:15) The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: Go ye unto all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) ..We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light, and joy with others who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them…but who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox Faith for the increase of the children of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all the members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also…The spread of Christ’s faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heartfelt interest…”

Holy Father Tikhon, pray to God for us!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!