Daily Reflection May 7th, 2020

Daily Reflection May 7th, 2020

MAY 7 St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Defender of Orthodoxy in America


I will tell you and not hide the mysteries of God from you. For He is the Guide of wisdom, the Corrector of the wise and the Artisan of all thoughts and deeds. Wisdom will teach with all understanding: For in her is a Spirit, intelligent and holy, the Radiance of the Everlasting Light and the Image of the Grace of God.
​She fashions friends of God and prophets. For she is more beautiful than the sun and above all the order of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be first. She delivered from infirmities those pleasing her and guided them on the paths of righteousness. She gave to them understanding to be holy and to preserve them from those who would ensnare them, and she granted them strength in struggles, so that all might understand that the most powerful of all is piety, and that evil might not prevail against wisdom, nor judgment pass away without convicting the wicked.
​Having reasoned unrighteously, they said to themselves, “Let us oppress the righteous man and not spare his venerableness, nor let us be ashamed of the gray hairs of the old man of many years. But let our might be our law and let us seize the righteous, because he is inconvenient to us and is opposed to our deeds; he reproaches us for apostasy against the law and divulges the sins of our training.
​“He declares to us to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his life is unlike that of others, and his ways are very different. We are considered by him to be an insult, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the end of the righteous blessed.
​“Let us see if his words are true; let us test him to see what will happen to him. Let us torment him with revilement and tortures, that we may understand his meekness and test his guilelessness. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to his own words, he shall be respected.”
(Composite from Wisdom of Solomon, St. Alexis)

Fr John’s Reflection

Today is the feastday of St. Alexis (Toth) of Wilkes-Barre, Defender of Orthodoxy in America. At the liturgy this morning, we heard the reading from St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to Himself as “the door of the sheep.” It is a reference to Truth. Anyone wanting to come into the sheepfold and pasture must come through the only Door (who is Truth). St. Alexis came to America as a priest of the Byzantine Catholic Church (for many historical reasons and circumstances). When confronted with rejection in America, specifically Minneapolis, he prayed and begged God to show him the Door. He realized that if he really wanted to be a pastor in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, he had to come back to Orthodoxy. Bishop Vladimir of San Francisco was wise and humble enough to be the presence of the Door in the Church at that time. St. Alexis walked through that door, and following him were thousands of other Slavic (mostly Carpatho-Russian) Christians who had, for similar circumstances, found themselves outside the true pasture. The missionary efforts and the personal deprivations he endured led to the establishment of many Orthodox parishes, especially along the Eastern seaboard. But “his” parish that opened the door was Protection of the Virgin Cathedral in Minneapolis, which became the largest parish in the Metropolia (the precursor to the OCA).

The scripture reading above is taken from a composite reading chosen from Wisdom of Solomon for the Vespers of the feast by the Church. It highlights the guiding principle in the life of St. Alexis, and the consequences of faith to that principle. The principle is how God is the guide of wisdom and He bestows that wisdom (which He is) on His servant. That wisdom delivers him from infirmities, gives him understanding to be holy, preserves him from those who would ensnare him, strengthens him in struggles, and gives him the power of piety. All of that was demonstrated in the life of St. Alexis.

But the second part of the selection speaks to consequences; what St. Alexis endured because of his holiness, his righteousness, his “speaking truth to power,” and his powerful preaching of the Faith and missionizing: “He declares to us to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his life is unlike that of others, and his ways are very different. We are considered by him to be an insult, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the end of the righteous blessed.” The powers of the Roman Catholic Church that stood against St. Alexis realized all that was stated in the Wisdom of Solomon. And just like the end of the scriptural selection, they put him to the test. He was tormented, reviled, persecuted, and condemned. But God protected him and blessed his work. Many Orthodox families in America today can trace their origins here to St. Alexis. May we be worthy of his legacy.

A few last personal words. My family and I were blessed to be able to participate in the canonization ceremonies for St. Alexis back in 1994. Anyone who was present when the miraculous Iveron Icon of Hawaii visited our parish knows the scent of holiness — we all smelled it when the myrrh was anointing us. When the reliquary of the Saint was opened, the scent of heavenly roses filled the entire space. The relics exuded holiness. Years later, that very same scent took me back to the canonization when the icon was opened in our church.

When a Saint is canonized, during the liturgy, the relics are placed in the center of the church. At the time of the Little Entrance, the entrance is made around the relics, and the words which are uttered at every single liturgy are uttered once again: “Blessed is the entrance of Your holy ones…” Never had those words struck me in the way they did that day. Because when the entrance was blessed, the holy one was picked up and entered into the sanctuary! I got chills just typing these words. It was a powerful sight to witness a holy one enter through those doors. Liturgy has never been the same for me since.

Finally, one never knows the awesome responsibility that God might place on any one of us. In 1994, at the canonization ceremony, the service took place outdoors in the great pavilion at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, because there simply was not enough room for everyone in the church itself. But after the liturgy, we had to process from the pavilion to the Monastery Church, where the saint would be laid down for the last time. To this day, when you go to St. Tikhon’s, you can venerate his relics in the monastery church. For his last walk through the monastery grounds, I was given the responsibility by God to be one of the priests (I was much younger then!) to carry the reliquary into the church. I can never forget the feeling of sharing the priesthood of the Saint, but not the sanctity. It was a feeling of profound repentance, hoping that my hands did not profane the reliquary of the saint, and begging God’s forgiveness if they did. I often think I would be a much better Christian if I had that feeling every day. Holy St. Alexis, pray to God for us! Christ is Risen!

Take a moment and read the life of the Saint: