IV The Spread of Christianity in the New World – the Americas
In the previous articles, we discussed how Christianity spread in the Middle East, Africa and the whole of Europe. In this article we will look more closely at the missionaries of the ‘New World’, particularly those in North America. We will discover four of these Saints who have particularly made an impact on Orthodox Christianity in the Americas.
St Innocent of Alaska, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of North America
St Innocent was a Russian Orthodox priest, missionary to Alaska, bishop, archbishop, and then Metropolitan of Moscow during the 1800s. He learned several native languages and was the author of many of the earliest scholarly works about the natives and their languages, as well as dictionaries and religious works. He also translated parts of the Bible into several native languages in Alaska. The preaching of the Holy Gospel was a primary achievement in the life of St Innocent and occupied a special place in his apostolic service. He had a great gift of preaching. He never missed an opportunity to preach and talk to people and tirelessly instructed his clergy to do the same.
St Peter the Aleut, the Protomartyr of America
St Peter the Aleut was a native of Kodiak Island, Alaska. The Aleuts lived in the Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands, Commander Islands, and the Alaskan Peninsula. The word Alaxsxa in Aleut is the origin of the name of the US state of Alaska. St Peter received the Christian name of Peter when he was baptised into the Orthodox faith by the monks of St Herman. In 1815, a group of Aleut seal and otter hunters, including Peter, were captured by Spanish sailors who took them to San Francisco for interrogation. With threats of torture, the Roman Catholic priests attempted to force the Aleuts to deny their Orthodox faith. When the Aleuts refused, the priests had a toe severed from each of Peter’s feet. Peter still refused to renounce his faith and the Spanish priests ordered a group of California Indians to cut off each finger of Peter’s hands, one joint at a time, finally removing both his hands. They eventually disembowelled him, crowning his life with martyrdom. When he heard of Peter’s death, St Herman was moved to exclaim, “Holy new-martyr Peter, pray to God for us!”
St Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, leader of ex-Uniates into Orthodoxy
St Alexis was a missionary priest, sent from his homeland in Slovakia as a Uniate (who placed themselves under the Roman Catholic Pope’s authority). The Latin environment in the United States was hostile. He recognised that in order to protect his flock he needed to lead and return them to Orthodox Christianity. Fr Alexis was the first Uniate Greek Rite Catholic priest in America to lead his people in reunion with the Orthodox Church. In December 1892, he evangelised the immigrants in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, preaching and enlightening them about their social and religious future in America. Through his efforts over 20,000 Carpatho-Russian and Galician uniates were re-united with the Orthodox Church.
St Raphael Hawaweeny of Brooklyn
St Raphael was born in Beirut, Lebanon to Syrian refugee parents. He was educated at the Patriarchal School in Damascus, the School of Orthodox Theology in Halki Island and at the Theological Academy in Kiev. In 1904 he became the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America. He served as bishop of Brooklyn, New York until his death. From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. St Raphael saw the absolute necessity for using English in worship and in education for the future progress of the Orthodox Mission. St Raphael founded the present-day Cathedral of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, established thirty parishes, assisted in the founding of St Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania and blessed the orphanage there as well.
Source: Lychnos December 2019 – January 2020