Vol. 2 No. 1 - Pascha 2007
The Shape of the Church Calendar in Canada
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind" - Romans 14:5
In almost every Orthodox nation, the second Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated to all the saints of the nation in which the faithful dwell: in Bulgaria, All Saints of Bulgaria are commemorated; in Greece it is All Saints of Greece; in Serbia and Russia, the saints of Serbia and Russia respectively.
For centuries, North America has been blessed with saints of its own, both those who were born here (like Saint Jacob Nesvetov), and the many saints who spent most of their lives in mission work here (such as Saints Innocent and Herman, to name just two). In Alaska, the land of greatest Orthodox labours, the fruits of the mission work of these saints is overwhelming: entire cultures consider themselves Orthodox, and even secularized natives keep Orthodox holy days as inherited holidays. The saints are beloved, because their mission work impacted not just the minds of the local people, but their hearts as well. Saint John Maximovitch watched over immigrant Russian and Chinese orphans; Saint Herman defended local Aleuts against commercial exploitation by Russian merchants. The measure of their holiness was found not in their loyalty to their party, but in their love for sharing - and living - the Gospel of Christ.
Historically, most Orthodox immigrants have not come to the West as missionaries. Many have come fleeing some form of oppressive yoke, such as Communism or Islam, while others come seeking a higher standard of living for themselves and their children. Yet in most cases, Orthodox immigrants have come to stay in Canada, not to return to the "old country", but rather to build a life on North American soil: they open Canadian bank accounts, hold Canadian passports, trade on the Canadian stock market, vote in Canadian elections, and for all secular purposes, aspire to live as Canadians - because they are Canadians.
Yet as far as Orthodox Christian life is concerned, many Orthodox in Canada live a hermetically sealed existence, endeavouring to emulate a distant national ghetto, and neglecting the great need to work for (or even actively working against) putting down Orthodox roots in North America. In many cases, within two generations, their kids are lost from the Faith - the paid-off mortgage on the cultural centre (which now sits empty and unused) must somehow provide consolation to the grandparents.
Nowhere is this disconnect between faith and life more evident than in the Church calendar. Not only do most Orthodox parishes in North America never celebrate the feast of the North American saints on the second Sunday after Pentecost - most don't even know it exists. The feast of the Synaxis (or Assembly) of the Martyrs of North America (December 12/25 - civil Christmas for those on the Old Calendar), celebrated along with the feast day of the first revealed North American saint, Herman of Alaska, is almost universally eclipsed by the celebration of Saint Spyridon on the same day.
It is a strange twist of fate that those who came to North America to enjoy its freedoms, have often forgotten to enjoy the full freedoms they are afforded, in spiritual terms. The same blood of the martyrs that has sanctified foreign lands has also sanctified the land in which we live - albeit in far fewer numbers, but often in more recent years. It is this blood, which would be the seeds of the growth of the Church in Canada, if the Orthodox faithful respond to the call of Saint John Maximovitch to reverence the saints of their own land, the land whose passport, currency, citizenship, and freedoms are good enough to make them call it home.
Although the number of Orthodox Christians continues to demonstrate a rapid decline between generations, the hope for renewal in Orthodox life may only be as far as the Church calendar. The saints of this land have a unique connection to this land, and a unique concern for it: they have walked its shores, worked in its shops, baptized its children, defended its poor, and called it their home - or better still, their sanctuary when their home had been destroyed.
It is in the commemoration of the saints of this land that the Church in North America will find its rebirth, that the Canadian faithful will look forward to the feats of Saint Herman as the patron of children, celebrating his missionary zeal with the salty pretzels he shared with his Aleut charges. It is here that Canadian scientists and inventors will ask the intercessions of the great inventor-missionary Saint Innocent (Feast Day March 31 / April 12), and will name their technological academies after his memory. It is here that the adventurer and outdoor recreationalists will find reason to gather at the foot of the great Canadian mountains, or on the shores of the mighty northwestern rivers to ask the prayers of St. Brendan, patron of adventurers, for their safety, and will sing to the Lord the services of the Holy Church on the highest mountains of our land. It is here that the farmers of the prairies will find aid in the intercessions of Saint Arseny of Winnipeg (Feast Day October 4/17), who spent years crisscrossing the miles of wheat fields and cattle farms, blessing crops and animals against impending epidemics not dissimilar to those of our own day.
It is here that faithful Canadian academics will find solace in the prayers of Saint John Maximovitch (Feast Day June 19 / July 2), who blessed the work of the first Orthodox bookstores and publishing house on the continent, dedicated to spreading the Orthodox faith to all nations. It is here that our first peoples will find an intercessor in Saint Herman, and young native Canadians struggling with temptations, doubt, or fear will find champions before the throne of the Most High in the prayers of Saint Peter the Aleut and Jacob Netsvetov (Feast Days September 24 / October 7 and July 26 / August 8, respectively; Saint Peter is also commemorated with the martyrs of North America on December 12/25). And it is here that Canadian leaders, politicians and community activists, will find strength through the prayers of Saints Tikhon (Belavin) and Nicolai (Velimirovich) (Feast days April 7/20 and March 5/18, respectively), who stood before civil authorities as ambassadors of their Orthodox faithful, sacrificing their own safety and security for the good of their whole civic culture, not simply their niche in the mosaic.
Just as Greeks remember the deliverance of their land from the Turks on the feast of the Annunciation, so too Canadian Orthodox would remember on November 11th the souls of those who sacrificed their lives to secure the nation where we can safely practice the Orthodox faith. As secular Canadians mark civil Thanksgiving, let us mark it with services of prayer for our nation and its leaders, giving thanks to God for its many blessings. And on the Sunday nearest Canada Day, let us sing the service of prayer for a civil holiday, that our safety and sovereignty may be preserved, not by our politicians, but by Christ.
In the native land that so many peoples call home, let us pray that the feast of Saint John Maximovitch would become a feast day of the universal witness of Orthodoxy, East and West. Let us ask God that Saint Jacob Netsvetov's feast will be held up as a day to ask the Lord for the reconciliation of divided races and peoples. Let us ask the prayers of Righteous Matushka Olga of Alaska on the day of her repose (Feast day November 8) for all those who work in our hospitals and nursing homes. Let us call upon our father among the saints Alexander (Hotovitsky) who edited the first Orthodox journal in our land, that the Lord may send His Holy Spirit into the hearts of our journalists and advertising executives, to turn their talents for His glory, and to preserve them from all evil. Let faithful converts find a special intercessor in Saint Alexis Toth and Righteous Father Seraphim Rose, marking the dates of their repose (May 7/20 and August 20 / September 2, respectively) with special services for humility of heart and zeal for the Truth. And may the annual date marking the repose of Saint Raphael (Hawaweeny - Feast day February 27 / March 12) be celebrated with prayers for all immigrants to this land, for whom the saint laboured tirelessly, out of love for His Master Christ.
For only when the time comes that the calendar of saints observed in each and every Orthodox parish in our land bears the names and feast day celebrations of our native saints can Orthodox Christians truly say they are Orthodox Canadians - and not simply visitors in a foreign land.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pascha, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.