Sunday of All Saints of Russia and America
On this second Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Church commemorates those saints who shone forth in the various local regions where the seeds of Orthodoxy took root… in Greece, in Romania, Serbia, Georgia, and whatever region the particular church might honor as its legacy and inheritance.
Today, our Russian Orthodox Church commemorates all the saints of the Russian land – a land with a rich spiritual heritage of holy men and women who have been filled with the grace of God. Monks, nuns, patriarchs, bishops, priests, and lay men and women… all infused with the grace of God as poured out through His holy church throughout the centuries. Such luminaries and Sts Cyril and Methodius, St Sergius of Radonezh, St Seraphim of Sarov, Sts Antony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, the holy Elders of Optina, St John of Kronstadt, St Xenia and St Matrona, and many others who have illumined the Russian land like the stars in the sky. If you are not familiar with their lives, I highly encourage you to get to know them… you will find that they are inspiring and wonderful company.
In the stichera for Vespers for this feast, we heard the following: ‘Come, ye assemblies of Russia,/ let us praise the saints that are in our land./ The venerable, the holy hierarchs, the right-believing princes, the martyrs, hieromartyrs,/ the fools for Christ’s sake, and the company of holy women./ Both those known by name and those unknown;/ for truly by their deeds and words, and their manifold ways of life,/ and through the gifts of God, they became saints,/ and God hath glorified even their graves with miracles./ And now, standing directly before Christ Who hath glorified them,// they pray fervently in behalf of us who celebrate their splendid festival with love.’
What a beautiful honoring and remembrance of these holy ones who shone forth in the land of Russia – holy hierarchs, right-believing princes, martyrs, fools for Christ’s sake, and all manner of holy men and women.
I have to say that one of things that struck me most strongly when I was a young man first encountering the Orthodox Church, was a certain ‘tone’ I detected among the Russian Orthodox Christians that I met and that I read about in the lives of saints. How might I describe that ‘tone’?
It was a tone of depth and sobriety, of patience and acceptance in the face of suffering. It was a tone of steady faith and hope and love. This made a great impact on me – as one coming from a modern culture which lacked many of these traits.
It somehow reminds me of the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was a very speedy character and jumped from one place to the next. The tortoise, by contrast, plodded along at a slow and steady pace. As the story goes, they became engaged in a contest – a race to a finish line. Of course, all bets were on the hare – it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would win. However, due to the hare’s arrogance and over-confidence, he thought he could enjoy a nap while the poor tortoise plodded his way along the racecourse. While the hare was distracted, the tortoise proceeded to the finish line and won the race.
When I encountered the culture of Orthodoxy, I felt a bit like the hare… coming from a teenaged life of speed and distraction, of TV and rock and roll… Encountering the Orthodox Church, I was faced with a culture of steadiness, of consistency, of patient endurance, of faith in something beyond the offerings of this world. This was a marvelous thing and opened a rich treasury of Christian virtues cultivated from the soil of the Russian land and encountered here in my own land.
This rich inheritance of Russian Orthodoxy has adorned our land with such luminaries as St Herman of Alaska, St Innocent the Apostle of America and later Metropolitan of Moscow, the Missionary Monks Juvenaly, Macarius, and the native Alaskan Peter the Aleut who was martyred in San Francisco. The holy martyred Patriarch Tikhon of Russia served as bishop in San Francisco from 1898 to 1907. And this inheritance follows through into our own times with the many praise-worthy fathers who came to this land during the 20th century. Priests and monks whose spiritual lineage came from the holy monasteries of Valaam, Pochaev, and Optina. And certainly, one of the crowns of this immigration was St John, whose memory will be celebrated this coming Saturday before his incorrupt relics at our cathedral in San Francisco.
All these righteous ones whom we celebrate today - be they from the lands of Russia, of America, or of any of our Orthodox homelands – these are the ones we call ‘saints’ precisely because they heard the call of God echoed in today’s Holy Gospel. Today’s Gospel reading recounts for us the call of God to the first apostles. Our Lord called out to Peter and to Andrew, ‘Follow Me’, and they responded to this call of God – immediately dropping their nets and following Him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. This is the call of God in our lives each and every day. How do we respond? Isn’t it interesting that the Gospel speaks about the Apostles ‘dropping their nets’ to respond to the call of God? What are the nets in your life that tangle you up in worldliness and selfishness, that prevent you from responding to the call of our Lord? Let each of us take stock of what these nets might be and let us be prepared to drop them in order to follow Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today we glorify all those men and women who heard the call of God, who responded by dropping their nets and opening the door of their hearts to let Christ in. All these holy ones who adorned the lands of Russia and of America deserve our praise and our gratitude. They show us through their lives how God can transform us, they fill us with inspiration and hope. Through the prayers of all the saints of Russia and of America and of all the lands where the light of Orthodoxy has shone, may God grant us the wisdom and the courage to listen for and to respond to His call.