Holy Pentecost 2017
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
September 14th marks the Church’s annual observance of the Fast of the Exaltation
of the Holy and Life-giving Cross. This ancient feast, rooted in the Church’s history,
reminds us of the role of the Cross in the story of our salvation and invites us
to embrace the Cross as part of our daily lives. A brief story of the origins of
this feast follows here.
“The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his
enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of
the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.” In 313, he issued the
Edict of Milan, legalizing the practice of the Christian Faith and ending the official
persecution of Christians.
Deeply desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint
Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen, to Jerusalem, in the hope of
discovering the Cross on which Our Savior shed His blood and won our salvation. Although
the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set out on her long
journey with enthusiasm. Arriving in the Holy City, the empress gave orders to destroy
the pagan temples. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians
and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, she was
directed to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross
was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and,
after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered.
Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate,
and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body. In order to discern on which of
the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched
the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came
to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the
Life-Creating Cross was found. Christians, hearing of this miracle, came in a huge
throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross,
so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and
other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have
mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred
in the year 326.”
In remembering this historical event as we do on this Feast, we also are invited
to a deeper reflection upon the Cross and call to mind the fact that, as Christians
who follow the Crucified and Risen Lord, we are called to “take up the Cross” and
follow in the footsteps of Christ. The Cross makes itself present in our lives in
any number of ways, in ways that are as unique as we are as individuals. As we enter
this new Church year (September 1 is the beginning of the Ecclesiastical/Church Year),
we also have in our thoughts and prayers all the people throughout the world who
are suffering and who embrace the Cross nonetheless. May our loves, prayers, and
support be with all those who suffer from persecution because of their faith in Christ,
those who are burdened by illness, all couples and families that suffer from family
strife, and all those in our own nation and throughout the world who are experiencing
loss from natural disasters that have seemingly overturned their lives. Let us pray
for them, assist them in whatever ways we can, and, as Simon of Cyrene helped the
Lord carry His Cross to the hill of Golgotha, let us help them bear their burdens.
And may each one of us, as a people striving to imitate the Lord, be ever more willing
to accept the Cross in whichever way it may be a part of our own lives.
With love in the Lord,
Synaxis of All Saints of Alaska
Commemorated on September 24
On the anniversary of the arrival of the Russian missionaries in Alaska (1794), we
remember the New Martyrs Saint Peter the Aleut, Protomartyr of America, and Saint
Martyr Peter the Aleut
Commemorated on September 24
Saint Peter the Aleut is mentioned in the Life of Saint Herman of Alaska (December
13). Simeon Yanovsky (who ended his life as the schemamonk Sergius in the Saint Tikhon
of Kaluga Monastery), has left the following account:
“On another occasion I was relating to him how the Spanish in California had imprisoned
fourteen Aleuts, and how the Jesuits (actually Franciscans) were forcing all of them
to accept the Catholic Faith. But the Aleuts would not agree under any circumstances,
saying, ‘We are Christians.’ The Jesuits argued, ‘That’s not true, you are heretics
and schismatics. If you do not agree to accept our faith then we will torture all
of you to death.’ Then the Aleuts were placed in prisons two to a cell. That evening,
the Jesuits came to the prison with lanterns and lighted candles. Again they tried
to persuade two Aleuts in the cell to accept the Catholic Faith. ‘We are Christians,’
the Aleuts replied, ‘and we will not change our Faith.’ Then the Jesuits began to
torture them, at first the one while his companion was a witness. They cut off one
of the joints of his feet, and then the other joint. Then they cut the first joint
on the fingers of his hands, and then the other joint. Then they cut off his feet,
and his hands. The blood flowed, but the martyr endured all and firmly repeated one
thing: “I am a Christian.’ He died in such suffering, due to a loss of blood. The
Jesuit also promised to torture his comrade to death the next day.
But that night an order was received from Monterey stating that the imprisoned Aleuts
were to be released immediately, and sent there under escort. Therefore, in the morning
all were sent to Monterey with the exception of the dead Aleut. This was related
to me by a witness, the same Aleut who had escaped torture, and who was the friend
of the martyred Aleut. I reported this incident to the authorities in Saint Petersburg.
When I finished my story, Father Herman asked, ‘What was the name of the martyred
Aleut?’ I answered, ‘Peter. I do not remember his family name.’ The Elder stood reverently
before an icon, made the Sign of the Cross and said, “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray
to God for us!”
We know very little about Saint Peter, except that he was from Kodiak, and was arrested
and put to death by the Spaniards in California because he refused to convert to
Catholicism. The circumstances of his martyrdom recall the torture of Saint James
the Persian (November 27).
Both in his sufferings and in his steadfast confession of the Faith, Saint Peter
is the equal of the martyrs of old, and also of the New Martyrs who have shone forth
in more recent times. Now he rejoices with them in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying
God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
Martyr Juvenal of Alaska
Commemorated on September 24
Saint Juvenal, the Protomartyr of America, was born in 1761 in Nerchinsk, Siberia.
His secular name was John Feodorovich Hovorukhin, and he was trained as a mining
engineer. In a letter to Abbot Nazarius of Valaam (December 13, 1819), Saint Herman
says that Saint Juvenal “had been an assistant at our monastery and was a former
After his wife died in 1791, John entered a monastery at Saint Petersburg (Saint
Herman’s Letter of December 13, 1819) and was tonsured with the name Juvenal. Three
years later, he went to Alaska as a missionary.
During 1794, the hieromonks Juvenal and Macarius spent two months in the area around
Kodiak teaching the inhabitants about Christ and baptizing them. They traveled in
small boats of hide in all sorts of weather, dividing up the territory among themselves.
Saint Herman tells of a conversation he heard one day as he walked with the hieromonks
to a small hill on the south side of the harbor. They sat down facing the sea, and
spoke of various things. Soon they began to discuss where each of them should go
to preach. Aflame with zeal and eager to set out on their journey, a friendly argument
ensued between Father Macarius and Father Juvenal. Father Macarius said he intended
to go north to the Aleutian Islands, and then make his way to the Alaskan mainland,
where the inhabitants had invited him to visit. The monks had a map of Captain Cook’s
which indicated that some Russians were living near a certain river in that particular
area, and Father Macarius hoped to find them.
Father Juvenal interrupted, saying that he believed that the Alaskan mainland was
his territory. “I beg you to yield to me and not offend me in this,” he told Father
Macarius, “since the ship is leaving for Yakutan. I shall begin preaching in the
south, proceeding north along the ocean, cross the Kenai peninsula, then from the
port there I shall cross to Alaska.”
Father Macarius became sorrowful and said, “No, Father. Do not restrict me in this
way. You know the Aleutian chain of islands is joined to Alaska, therefore it belongs
to me, and also the whole northern shore. As for you, the southern part of America
is sufficient for your whole lifetime, if you please.”
As he listened to their apostolic fervor, Saint Herman says he “went from joy to
rapture” (Letter to Abbot Nazarius, May 19, 1795).
In 1795, Father Juvenal baptized over 700 Chugatchi at Nushek, then he crossed Kenai
Bay and baptized the local people there. In 1796, according to native oral tradition,
Saint Juvenal came to the mouth of the Kuskokwim near the present village of Quinahgak,
where he was killed by a hunting party (There is a forged diary attributed to Ivan
Petroff which gives a slanderous version of Father Juvenal’s death, and alleges that
he was martyred at Lake Iliamna).
The precise reason for Saint Juvenal’s murder by the natives is not known. However,
they later told Saint Innocent something about his death. They said that Saint Juvenal
did not try to defend himself when attacked, nor did he make any attempt to escape.
After being struck from behind, he turned to face his attackers and begged them to
spare the natives he had baptized.
The natives told Saint Innocent that after they had killed Saint Juvenal, he got
up and followed them, urging them to repent. The fell upon him again and gave him
a savage beating. Once more, he got to his feet and called them to repentance. This
happened several times, then finally the natives hacked him to pieces. Thus, the
zealous Hieromonk Juvenal became the first Orthodox Christian in America to receive
the crown of martyrdom. His unnamed guide, possibly a Tanaina Indian convert, was
also martyred at the same time.
It is said that a local shaman removed Saint Juvenal’s brass pectoral cross from
his body and attempted to cast a spell. Unexpectedly, the shaman was lifted up off
the ground. He made three more tries with the same result, then concluded that there
was a greater power than his own at work here. Years later, a man showed up at the
Nushagak Trading Post wearing a brass pectoral cross exactly like the one worn by
A column of light arose from his holy relics and reached up to Heaven. It is not
known how long this phenomenon continued.
Saint Juvenal, in his tireless evangelization of the native peoples of Alaska, served
the Church more than all the other missionaries combined.