Daily Reflection for September 24, 2020

Holy Protomartyr Thecla, Equal-to-the-Apostles • Holy New Martyrs of Alaska


Every saint is close to the place where he is invoked for help, or where his sanctity is commemorated and glorified. Those who are clairvoyant see the saints. If those who are not clairvoyant truly believe, they will see them in due time. Even as a young monk, St. Cosmas of Zographou had this gift. Once, on the Feast of the Annunciation, he went with several other monks to the Monastery of Vatopedi for this, their main feast. During the church service, and during the meal in the refectory, Cosmas saw a woman of royal beauty and majesty, who authoritatively organized, directed, and even served. This was not a momentary vision, but continued for a long time, both in the church and in the refectory. Cosmas was perplexed and startled by this vision. It was not at all proper for a woman to be in a monastery of the Holy Mountain. When he related this vision to his brother monks at Zographou, all the while protesting the presence of women on the Holy Mountain, the astonished monks explained to him that she was the Queen of the Holy Mountain, the Most-holy Theotokos. Then the perplexed heart of Cosmas was filled with great joy. St. Cosmas was so gifted with spiritual sight that, later, as an old hermit in his cave, he saw the soul of the abbot of Hilandar ascending to heaven, struggling to pass through the tollhouses, tormented by demons. Cosmas immediately sent someone to ask the brethren at Hilandar to pray to God for the soul of their reposed abbot. Matins had just been dismissed, and the monks and the abbot had just left the church. Hearing Cosmas’s message, the monks laughed, saying that their abbot had just gone to his cell to prepare for Divine Liturgy. But when they entered the cell they found their abbot dead. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.
            Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls. (Luke 21:12-19)

Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy New Martyrs of Alaska, in particular the Hieromartyr Juvenaly of Lake Iliamna, and the Martyr Peter the Aleut. The passage from Luke read during the liturgy this morning is stark and graphic. When Jesus says, “before all these things,” to what is He referring? He is referring to all the things that must happen before the end of the world and the Great Judgment. The verses before today’s selection speak of those things. Then, before the world ends and the Second Coming, believers must face martyrdom — a witnessing to the world, for “martyr” means “witness.” The words of the Lord are hardly subtle. There will be persecution, imprisonment, and trial. We will be betrayed by loved ones. Some will be put to death. Most will be hated for “[His] name’s sake.” But these are given by the Lord as an “occasion for testimony [witness].” When the opportunity for witness presents itself, we must have two qualities of the martyrs: 1) we are open to the inspiration and words of the Lord Himself. No planning or preparation of defense. The Lord will say what He wishes. 2) Courage and patience. The Lord Himself says when we go to martyrdom with those qualities, “not a hair of your head will be lost.” We possess our souls through patience.

Our celebration today is for those who literally died for the Faith and to bring the Church to this land. But there are certainly many “martyrdoms” to remember and honor as the Church was planted in this land. The simple monks who left Valaamo and traversed across Asia to a new land were martyrs as they died to their old life. St. Herman was a martyr (witness) as he brought the faith to a native people. St. Innocent was a martyr paddling around the icy waters of Alaska to bring the Church to the interior of Alaska. And on and on… As heirs and descendants of those martyrs, we must be awake to the reality that we face the same challenges in a different way. They witnessed to a pagan people. We live in a pagan culture. They faced ignorance about God in the people to whom they were sent. We face ignorance about God in the people of our culture today. The martyrs died trying to bring Christ and the Church to a people hostile and indifferent. We are surrounded by a people hostile and indifferent. The Church was planted in this land by those remarkable saints sent by God. The Church in this land has been placed in my hands. Am I patiently enduring martyrdom to bring that faith and Church to others, thereby possessing my soul? Or am I as cold, indifferent and pagan as the culture in which I live?