Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped
you.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation. 2
Each September 1st, the Orthodox Church marks the beginning of the new Liturgical
Year. The Liturgical Year, (the Ecclesiastical or Church Year), provides a beginning
and an end to our annual observance of the cycles of fasts and feasts through by
which we are enabled and encouraged to commemorate and celebrate the history of salvation.
While it may seem to some to be an artificial construct (it certainly doesn’t coincide
with the civil calendar’s New Year; no, it’s much older, really ancient), it does
provide us with a marked-out schedule of feasts in order to allow us to reflect in
an orderly manner on those great and saving moments in human history in which God
brought about the salvation of mankind.
The first Great Feast we observe in the New Liturgical Year is the Feast of the Nativity
of the Mother of God, September 8th. How natural it seems that we should begin the
new cycle of feasts by celebrating a particularly key moment in the history of salvation,
i.e. the moment in which the One chosen by God to bear His Son and our Savior was
born and began her life of dedication and fidelity to the Will of God. From the
beginning of her life, the Ever-pure and Immaculate Virgin, born to Joachim and Anna,
desired only one thing: to be obedient to the Will of God. By her prayers, may we
also seek to do God’s Will in our daily lives!
As we begin the Church Year, we also return to the usual, what might be called “routine”
schedule of parish life. As with the liturgical year there is an ebb and flow of
fasting and feasting, of the daily cycle of services and festal celebrations, so
it is in parish life. We, too, have our own ebb and flow of parish activities. As
the long summer months are soon behind us, the scorching heat is replaced by cooler
morning and shorter days, and annual family trips and vacations come to an end, so,
too, our life as members of Saints Peter and Paul parish community returns to the
normal activities we associate with our communal life service, education, worship,
and fellowship. Please pay particular attention to the monthly newsletter and the
monthly calendar (distributed in print at the beginning of each month and also published
on our parish website: sspeterpaulaz.org).
As I write these few lines, our beloved Protodeacon Alexis is in hospice care. After
many years of dedicated service to Christ’s Holy Church, particularly in the Church’s
life of worship, (almost 11 years here at Saints Peter and Paul Church!), Protodeacon
Alexis is now being called by God from this earthly life to the fullness of life
in the Kingdom. He has assured me that, especially throughout these past few months
of failing health, he has felt your love and the support of your prayers in real
and tangible ways. As we pray for him, he is also praying for us, uniting his own
suffering to the suffering of Christ- that suffering which has reconciled the world
to its Creator.
With love in the Lord,
Repose of the Venerable Sergius, Abbot and Wonderworker of Radonezh
Saint Sergius of Radonezh was born in the village of Varnitsa, near Rostov, on May
3, 1314. His parents were the pious and illustrious nobles Cyril and Maria (September
28). The Lord chose him while still in his mother’s womb. In the Life of St Sergius
it is reported that even before the birth of her son, St Maria and those praying
heard the thrice-repeated cry of the infant at the Divine Liturgy: before the reading
of the Holy Gospel, during the Cherubic hymn, and when the priest pronounced: “Holy
Things are for the Holy.”
God gave Cyril and Maria a son whom they named Bartholomew. From his very first days
of life the infant amazed everyone by his fasting. On Wednesdays and Fridays he would
not accept milk from his mother, and on other days, if Maria used oil in the food,
the infant also refused the milk of his mother. Noticing this, Maria refrained altogether
from food with oil.
At the age of seven, Bartholomew was sent to study together with his two brothers:
his older brother Stephen, and his younger brother Peter. His brothers learned successfully,
but Bartholomew fell behind in his studies, even though the teacher gave him much
special attention. The parents scolded the child, the teacher chastised him, and
his classmates made fun of his lack of comprehension. Finally, Bartholomew besought
the Lord with tears to grant him the ability to read.
Once, his father sent Bartholomew out after the horses in the field. Along the way
he met an angel sent by God under the appearance of a monk. The Elder stood at prayer
beneath an oak in a field. Bartholomew approached him, and bowing, waited for the
Elder to finish praying. The monk blessed him, gave him a kiss and asked what he
Bartholomew answered, “With all my soul I want to learn reading and writing. Holy
Father, pray for me to God, that He may help me to become literate.” The monk fulfilled
Bartholomew’s request, offering up his prayer to God. In blessing the child he said
to him: “Henceforth, my child, God gives you to understand reading and writing, and
in this you will surpass your brothers and peers” (See the famous M. Nesterov painting
“Vision of Bartholomew”).
Then the Elder took a vessel and gave Bartholomew a piece of prosphora. “Take, child,
and eat,” said he. “This is given to you as a sign of the grace of God, and for the
understanding of Holy Scripture.” The Elder wanted to leave, but Bartholomew asked
him to visit at the home of his parents. His parents received their guest with joy
and offered him their hospitality.
The Elder replied that it was proper to partake of spiritual nourishment first, and
he bade their son to read the Psalter. Bartholomew began to read, and his parents
were amazed at the change that had occured with their son. In parting, the Elder
prophetically said of St Sergius, “Your son shall be great before God and the people.
He shall become a chosen habitation of the Holy Spirit.”
After this the holy child read without difficulty and understood the contents of
books. He became immersed in prayer with a special fervor, not missing a single church
service. Already in childhood he imposed upon himself a strict fast. He ate nothing
on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on the other days he sustained himself on bread and
About the year 1328, the parents of St Sergius moved from Rostov to Radonezh. When
their older sons married, Cyril and Maria received the monastic schema shortly before
their death at the Khot’kov monastery of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos,
not far from Radonezh.
Later on, the older brother Stephen was widowed and became a monk at this monastery.
Having buried his parents, Bartholomew and his brother Stephen withdrew into the
forest (12 versts from Radonezh) to live in the wilderness. At first they made cells,
and then a small church, and with the blessing of Metropolitan Theognostus, it was
consecrated in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. But soon, unable to bear the difficulties
of life in the wilderness, Stephen left his brother and went on to the Moscow Theophany
monastery, where he became close to St Alexis, afterwards Metropolitan of Moscow.
On October 7,1337 Bartholomew was tonsured by Igumen Metrophanes, taking the name
of the holy Martyr Sergius (October 7), and he started to build a new habitation
to the glory of the Life-Creating Trinity. Suffering temptations and demonic apparitions,
St Sergius advanced from strength to strength. Gradually he became known to other
monks seeking his guidance. St Sergius accepted all with love, and soon a brotherhood
of twelve monks were gathered in the small monastery.
Their experienced spiritual guide distinguished himself by an extraordinary love
for work. With his own hands he built several cells, he carried water, he chopped
wood, baked bread, sewed clothing, prepared food for the brethren and humbly took
on other tasks. St Sergius combined the heavy work with prayer, vigil and fasting.
The brethren were amazed that with such severe exertion the health of their guide
did not deteriorate, but rather became all the more hearty. It was not without difficulty
that they implored St Sergius to accept the position of igumen of the monastery.
In 1354 Bishop Athanasius of Volyn ordained the saint a hieromonk and elevated him
to the rank of igumen. Just as before, monastic obediences were strictly fulfilled
at the monastery. With the expansion of the monastery, its needs also grew. Often
the monks had only scant food, but through the prayers of St Sergius unknown people
provided the necessities.
Reports of the exploits of St Sergius became known even at Constantinople, and Patriarch
Philotheus sent to the monk a cross, a “paraman” (monastic clothing, a four-cornered
cloth tied with cords to the chest and worn beneath other garb, and adorned with
symbols of the Lord’s Passion) and schema-robe in blessing for new deeds, and a grammota
of blessing, in which the Patriarch counselled the chosen of God to organize a cenobitic
monastery. The monk set off with the patriarchal missive to St Alexis, and received
from him the counsel to introduce a strict manner of cenobitic life. The monks began
to grumble at the strictness of the monastic Rule, and St Sergius was compelled to
forsake the monastery. At the River Kirzhach he founded a monastery in honor of the
Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos. Matters at the former monastery went quickly
into disarray, and the remaining monks recoursed to St Alexis that he should get
the saint to return.
St Sergius unquestioningly obeyed the holy hierarch, and left in place of himself
at the Kirzhachsk monastery his disciple, St Roman.
Already during his lifetime St Sergius had been vouchsafed the gift of wonderworking.
He raised a lad, at a point when the despairing father had given up on his only son
as lost. Reports about the miracles worked by St Sergius began quickly to spread
about, and the sick began to come to him, both from the surrounding villages and
also from remote places. And no one left from St Sergius without receiving healing
of infirmities and edifying counsel. Everyone gave glory for St Sergius, and reverenced
him on an equal with the ancient holy Fathers. But human glory did not hold allure
for the great ascetic, and as before he remained the example of monastic humility.
One time St Stephen, Bishop of Perm (April 27), who deeply revered St Sergius, was
on journey from his diocese to Moscow. The roadway passed eight versts distant from
the Sergiev monastery. Intending to visit the monastery on his return trip, the saint
stopped, and having recited a prayer, he bowed to St Sergius with the words: “Peace
be to thee, spiritual brother.” At this instant St Sergius was sitting in the trapeza
for a meal with the brethren. In reply to the blessing of the holy hierarch, St Sergius
rose up, recited a prayer, and made a return blessing to St Stephen. Certain of the
disciples, astonished at the extraordinary action of St Sergius, hastened off to
the indicated place, and became convinced of the veracity of the vision.
Gradually the monks began to witness also other similar actions. Once, during Liturgy,
an angel of the Lord served with the saint, but St Sergius in his humility forbade
anyone to tell about this until after his death.
St Sergius was connected with St Alexis by close bonds of spiritual friendship and
brotherly love. St Alexis in his declining years summoned St Sergius to him and besought
him to accept to be Russian Metropolitan, but St Sergius humbly declined to be primate.
The Russian Land at this time suffered under the Mongol-Tatar Yoke. Having gathered
an army, Great-prince Demetrius Ioannovich of the Don went to monastery of St Sergius
to ask blessing in the pending struggle. St Sergius gave blessing to two monks of
his monastery to render help to the great-prince: the Schemamonk Andrei [Oslyaba]
and the Schemamonk Alexander [Peresvet], and he predicted the victory for prince
Demetrius. The prophecy of St Sergius was fulfilled: on September 8, 1380, on the
feastday of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, Russian soldiers gained a total
victory over the Tatar hordes at Kulikovo Pole (Kulikovo Field), and set in place
the beginning of the liberation of the Russian Land from the Mongol Yoke. During
the fighting St Sergius and the brethren stood at prayer and besought God to grant
victory to the Russian forces.
For his angelic manner of life St Sergius was granted an heavenly vision by God.
One time by night Abba Sergius was reading the rule of prayer beneath an icon of
the Most Holy Theotokos. Having completed the reading of the canon to the Mother
of God, he sat down to rest, but suddenly he said to his disciple, St Mikhei (May
6), that there awaited them a wondrous visitation. After a moment the Mother of God
appeared accompanied by the holy Apostles Peter and John the Theologian. Due to the
extraordinary bright light St Sergius fell down, but the Most Holy Theotokos touched
Her hands to him, and in blessing him promised always to be Protectress of his holy
Having reached old age, and foreseeing his own end six months beforehand, St Sergius
summoned the brethren to him and designated his disciple St Nikon (November 17),
who was experienced in the spiritual life and obedience, to be igumen. In tranquil
solitude St Sergius fell asleep in the Lord on September 25, 1392. On the night before,
the great saint of God summoned the brethren a final time to give them his final
instruction: “Brethren, be attentive to yourselves. Have first the fear of God, purity
of soul and unhypocritical love....”
“O blessed Father Herman of Alaska” …
I cannot tell you how many times I repeated those six words during this year’s pilgrimage
to commemorate the 46th year of
St. Herman’s canonization. The pilgrimage took place August 7-9 on Kodiak and Spruce
Island, Alaska. When you go to the pilgrimage you literally turn everything over
to St. Herman. For me, it is similar to saying “let go, let God!” Since we were
in Alaska and were hopping on boats and planes and praying for good weather, safety
and strength (since the number of services is similar to Holy Week), I thought I
would be in good hands letting St. Herman guide me. I was.
This year’s pilgrimage was an opportunity for me to meet other faithful members from
SS. Peter and Paul in Phoenix who were interested in experiencing the spiritual-ness
of St. Herman. I asked Bishop Daniel to bless this endeavor in November and then
proceeded to guide a contingent from our parish. After announcing this pilgrimage,
I was joined by the Moriarity and Weiss families. We became “the Phoenix 6.”
Attending Divine Liturgy at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage on Sunday (7 Aug.).
Arrival in Kodiak. Attended the Bishop’s Tea hosted by
Archive Tour at St. Herman’s Seminary in the library. The curator of the archives
(Daria) treated all of us to rare volumes of history of the Russian Orthodox Church
in Alaska from the 18th and 19th century.
Services in the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. The opening of the reliquary of St.
Meeting the Evans’s to become the “Phoenix 8.”
The Grand Banquet. The introductions of pilgrims in attendance.
Guided tour of the Baranov/Erskine House.
Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Spruce Island.
All of us are in a different place on our spiritual journey; however, everyone who
attended this pilgrimage felt it was rewarding and were grateful for the experience.
“O Father Herman of Alaska, thank-you for all your blessing during our pilgrimage,
Yours in Christ,