The Later Missionary Years
In 1867, Bishop Peter (Lyaskov) of Sitka was succeeded by Bishop Paul (Popov) and in this year the first study of the life of the Elder Herman of Spruce Island was initiated. In 1870, Bishop John (Metropolsky) was appointed and he transferred the center of the American Church from Sitka to San Francisco, California, in 1872. In 1879, the American Church came under the supervision of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and the long tie with the Diocese of Eastern Siberia was ended, with Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) being appointed Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in that year. In 1882, however, he drowned at sea and was buried on the Island of Unalaska.
After six years without a resident Hierarch, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) was appointed in 1881, and on March 25, 1891, he accepted the Holy Virgin Protection Uniate Church in Minneapolis, as well as its Pastor, Fr. Alexis Toth, into the Orthodox Church. With this event, the American Mission entered into a new phase of its life. A Church almost exclusively concerned with missionary work among the natives of America, mostly in Alaska, now was to change its focus of attention to the return of the Uniates to Orthodoxy. This work, until now centered in the Western provinces of Russia, was directed to those Uniates who had emigrated to America, together with those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicians and Carpatho-Russians). The first attempts at a development of an English liturgical text to be used in the Church also began at this time.
In 1891, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) arrived in America and became deeply involved in the many-sided work of the American Mission to the native Alaskans, to the newly-returned Uniates, as well as to the Orthodox immigrants from virtually all of the traditional Orthodox nations in Europe and Asia. It was in this period (from the time of the American Civil War) that Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Russians, Syrians and Albanians began to come to America in increasingly greater numbers. The Mission was now extended to Canada, where great numbers of Orthodox and Uniate immigrants had been arriving, a Missionary School was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a bilingual (English-Russian) publication for the Diocese was initiated.
St. Tikhon (Bellavin)
Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America
In 1898, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) arrived to rule over the Church in America, and in his nine years of service in America, the Mission was brought to a new stage of maturity. For the first time the American Mission became a full Diocese, with its presiding Bishop wholly responsible for a Church within the continental limits of North America. In 1905, the center of the Church was transferred to New York (St. Nicholas Cathedral, the new Episcopal Cathedra, had been dedicated in 1902), and the newly-elevated Archbishop Tikhon was now given two Auxiliary Bishops to administer a greatly-expanded Church in America. Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox Bishop consecrated in America March 12, 1904) was primarily responsible for the Syro-Arab communities and the other Auxiliary, Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) was appointed Bishop of Alaska.
Upon his return home, St. Tikhon was elected Patriarch of Moscow, just prior to the October revolution. All who met St Tikhon were surprised by his accessibility, simplicity and modesty. His gentle disposition did not prevent him from showing firmness in Church matters, however, particularly when he had to defend the Church from her enemies. He bore a very heavy cross. He had to administer and direct the Church amidst wholesale church disorganization, without auxiliary administrative bodies, in conditions of internal schisms and upheavals by various adherents of the Living Church, renovationists, and others who labored to destroy the Church under his care.
The situation was complicated by external circumstances: the change of the political system, by the accession to power of the godless regime, by hunger, and civil war. This was a time when Church property was being confiscated, when clergy were subjected to court trials and persecutions, and Christ’s Church endured repression. News of this came to the Patriarch from all ends of Russia. His exceptionally high moral and religious authority helped him to unite the scattered and enfeebled flock. At a crucial time for the church, his unblemished name was a bright beacon pointing the way to the truth of Orthodoxy. In his messages, he called on people to fulfill the commandments of Christ, and to attain spiritual rebirth through repentance. His irreproachable life was an example to all.On March 25, 1925 the Patriarch received Metropolitan Peter and had a long talk with him. In the evening, the Patriarch slept a little, then he woke up and asked what time it was. When he was told it was 11:45 P.M., he made the Sign of the Cross twice and said, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” He did not have time to cross himself a third time.
Almost a million people came to say farewell to the Patriarch. The large cathedral of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow could not contain the crowd, which overflowed the monastery property into the square and adjacent streets. St Tikhon, the eleventh Patriarch of Moscow, was primate of the Russian Church for seven and a half years.
St. Raphael (Hawaweeny)
Bishop of Brooklyn
Saint Raphael, a man of angelic name and apostolic fervor, was influenced by many cultures. He was born and raised in the Middle East, educated by Greeks at Halki, and by Russians at Kiev, and he spent the last nineteen years of his life as a missionary in North America.
The holy bishop was probably born on or about November 8, 1860. Fleeing Damascus due to religious persecutions, Michael and Mariam Hawaweeny went to Beirut where the saint was born and baptized with the name Rafla. They returned to Damascus in 1861, and sent their son to elementary school. Although the boy was a good student, his father could not afford for him to continue his studies. Providentially, Deacon Athanasios Atallah (later Metropolitan of Homs) arranged for Rafla’s acceptance as a student of the Patriarchate of Antioch in order to prepare for the holy priesthood.
In 1879, Rafla was tonsured a monk by Patriarch Hierotheos and became his personal attendant. Later, he was sent to the Theological School at Halki, where he was ordained to the diaconate in 1885. Upon graduation, Deacon Raphael returned to his homeland and accompanied the Patriarch of Antioch on his pastoral visitations to various parishes.
The saint’s thirst for knowledge was so great that he asked the Patriarch to permit him to continue his theological education in Russia, promising to return as the Patriarch’s Russian-language secretary. Deacon Raphael was accepted at the Theological Academy at Kiev, and in 1889 he was appointed as head of the Antiochian representation Church (metochion) in Moscow. At the request of the Patriarch of Antioch, he was ordained to the holy priesthood, then raised to the rank of archimandrite.
The Antiochian Patriarchate had been under the rule of foreign bishops since 1766. This was an intolerable situation for Father Raphael, who wrote many articles urging that the administration of the Church of Antioch be returned to its native clergy and people. His outspoken criticisms led Patriarch Spyridon to suspend Father Raphael from priestly functions. Eventually, St. Raphael was persuaded to ask the Patriarch’s forgiveness. The Patriarch reinstated him, but transferred him to the canonical jurisdiction of the Church of Russia. While teaching at Kazan’s Theological Academy, Archimandrite Raphael was invited to come to New York to become the pastor of that city’s Syro-Arab Orthodox community.
St. Raphael arrived in New York on November 2, 1895. One of the first things he did was to establish the church of St. Nicholas in New York. The parish later moved to Brooklyn. In addition to his pastoral duties there, he was given responsibility for all the scattered children of Antioch in North America. He spent the rest of his life traveling across the continent seeking out Orthodox Arabs and gathering them into a harmonious spiritual family in the Church. He comforted his people in sorrow and also shared their joys. He baptized their children, blessed their marriages, and buried their dead. He was a beloved spiritual father who organized many parishes and provided priests to serve them. At the time of St. Raphael’s death, the Syro-Arab mission had 30 parishes and 25,000 faithful.
As many people know, St. Raphael was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America (1904). He was also a tireless laborer who strove to build up the Church (I Cor. 14:12), and his great love and sacrifice for his flock mark him as a true pastor. The books and articles he has left behind give us an indication of his personality. He was a man of prayer who was consumed with zeal for the house of the Lord (Psalms 68:9). He protected his flock from false teachings and from straying into other pastures. He bore illness and affliction with patience, ever glorifying the Name of the Lord.
From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. When he came to America, he found his people scattered abroad, and he called them to unity. He never neglected his flock, but traveled throughout America, Canada, and Mexico in search of them so that he might care for them. He kept them from straying into strange pastures, and he protected them from spiritual harm. During twenty years of faithful ministry he nurtured them and helped them to grow. At the time of his death, the Syro-Arab Mission had thirty parishes with 25,000 faithful.
He was also a scholar, and the author of several books. He wrote many, if not most, of the articles that appeared in The Word. He served his own Arabic community, and also reached out to Greeks and Russians, speaking to them in their own language. He became fluent in English, and encouraged its use in church services and educational programs.
St Raphael came into contact with all sorts of people, and was a gentle father to them. He gained their love and respect by first loving them, and also through his charming personality and excellent character. He was always kind, merciful, and condescending with others, but was strict with himself. He accomplished many good things during his earthly life, and now he joins the holy angels in offering ceaseless prayer and praise to God.
On February 27, 1915, he rested from his labors and fell asleep in the Lord. We honor him as our father, teacher, and heavenly intercessor. By his holy prayers, may we be accounted worthy of the heavenly Kingdom. Amen.
St. Alexis Toth
Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy In America
Alexis Georgievich Toth was born to Father George and Cecilia Toth on March 14, 1853, near Eperjes (now Presov) in Zepes county of Slovakia during the reign of Franz Joseph Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. He followed in the steps of his father who was dean of the United Greek Church in the county. He was educated in the local preparatory schools and then went on to the Roman Catholic seminary for a year and then on for three years to the Uniate Greek Seminary in Ungvar. He continued on to the University of Prague where he graduated with a degree in Theology.
After marrying Rosalie Mihaluk on April 18, 1878, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1878 by Bishop Nicholas Toth, the Uniate Greek Catholic bishop of Presov. In a few years his wife Rosalie, whose father also was a priest, and their only child were to die. After his ordination Father Alexis was an assistant priest in Saros county before becoming the curate in the United Greek Catholic Church in Homrogd. Then Bishop Nicholas Toth appointed Father Alexis his chancellor. In 1881 the bishop appointed him director of the United Greek Catholic Seminary of Presov and professor of Canon Law and Church History. He continued in these position under Bishop Toth’s successor, Bishop John Valyi.
Then late in the 1880s, Father Alexander Dzubay, who studied with Father Alexis in the seminary, wrote a petition from America to Bishop John asking that Father Alexis be sent to America. The bishop agreed and sent Father Alexis as a “missioner.” He arrived in the United States on November 15, 1889, and on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, Father Alexis conducted his first services in the new St. Mary’s Church in Minneapolis as the first resident priest to serve this church officially. However, the church edifice was incomplete, there were no furnishings, no vestments, but a debt. Over the next year Father Alexis worked with his community, preaching, asking for donations, acquiring furnishings, vestments, and bringing the parish to an organized, stable institution, all this without receiving any salary.
As a Uniate, Father Alexis understood that he must visit the ruling Roman Catholic bishop in the area, Archbishop John Ireland of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in St. Paul. Archbishop Ireland was a strong advocate of the “Americanization” movement within the Roman Catholic Church, and thus was a strong proponent of the Americanization of the Catholic immigrants. And in this regard, Archbishop Ireland looked upon Father Alexis and his flock as an alien sect that did not have the capacity or desire to fit into his plans for Americanization. So, upon presenting his credentials to Archbishop Ireland on December 19, 1889, the Archbishop immediately rejected him as a Catholic, not recognizing the Greek Rite nor Father Alexis as a priest nor even his bishop. Archbishop Ireland directed all Roman Catholic priests and their flock to not have any relations with Father Alexis and his people. Father Alexis sent reports to his bishop in Slovakia about his reception by Archbishop Ireland but heard nothing in return. Other Uniate priests in the United States sent letters to Father Alexis reporting that they had had similar confrontations. The problems for the Uniate priests reached a head after they met to discuss their situation. They learned that they were to be all recalled and returned to Europe.
These confrontations brought Father Alexis to a course of action about which he had thought about before and that was to return to Orthodox Christianity. On December 8, 1890, St. Mary’s parishioners wrote to the Russian Consul in San Francisco to obtain information about a Russian Orthodox bishop and followed up by traveling to San Francisco to talk with Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) of San Francisco. Then, in February 1891 Father Alexis traveled with a parish group, led by the Church Warden, Paul Podnay, to met with Bishop Vladimir. At this time Father Alexis was received into the Orthodox Church. Bishop Vladimir, hearing that Father Alexis was not receiving any pay, established a stipend to help him. On March 25, 1892, Bishop Vladimir visited the St. Mary’s parish and formally accepted the community of 361 immigrants into the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. On July 14, 1892, the Ruling All-Russian Holy Synod officially approved and sanctioned this move.
By this action Father Alexis Toth gained the distinction of being the first Uniate Greek Rite Catholic priest in America to lead his people in reunion with the Orthodox Church. Having been sent originally to America to be a missionary to the immigrants, Father Alexis, in his new role, was to fulfill his destiny as the missionary leading his people back to the Orthodox Church. In December 1892 he evangelized the immigrants in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, preaching and enlightening them about their social and religious future in America. In 1902, he received the parish of St. John the Baptist in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, into the Orthodox fold. Elevated to the rank of protopresbyter, he was in the forefront, over the years until his death, of receiving parishes from the Unia into Orthodoxy. Through his efforts over 20,000 Carpatho-Russian and Galician uniates were re-united with the Orthodox Church.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich
“The Serbian Chrysostom”
In April 1915 (during WWI) Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich was delegated to England and America by the Serbian Church, where he held numerous lectures, fighting for the unison of the Serbs and South Slavic peoples. At the beginning of 1919 he returned to Serbia, and in 1920 was posted to the Ohrid archbishopric in Macedonia, where in 1935, in Bitola he reconstructed the cemetery of the killed German soldiers.
During the Second World War in 1941 Bp. Nikolai was arrested by the Nazis in the Monastery of Ži?a (which was soon afterwards robbed and ruined), after which he was confined in the Monastery of Ljubostinja (where, on the occasion of mass deaths by firing squad, he reacted saying: “Is this the German culture, to shoot hundred innocent Serbs, for one dead German soldier! The Turks have always proved to be more just…”). Later, this “new Chrysostom” was transferred to the Monastery of Vojlovica (near Pan?evo) in which he was confined together with the Serbian patriarch, Gavrilo (Doži?) until the end of 1944.
On December 14, 1944 he was sent to Dachau, together with Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo, where some sources, especially the standard Church references, record that he suffered both imprisonment and torture.
After the War he left Communist Yugoslavia and immigrated as a refugee to the United States in 1946 where he taught at several Orthodox Christian seminaries such as St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois and St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania (where he was rector and also where he died) and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary now in Crestwood, New York. He died on March 18, 1956.
On May 19, 2003, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with one heart and one voice, unanimously decided to enter Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovic) of Ohrid and Zi?a into the calendar of saints of our Holy Orthodox Church.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich is often referred to as Serbia’s New Chrysostom.