Conversations on the Western Rite
Below are the sequence of discusions that our Home Study Group has completed with regards to the history of the Western Rite. We invite you to listen to them as we continue to explore and celebrate the rich history that Western Rite Orthodoxy has to offer.
Discussion 2- February 4, 2015 (To clarify: I mixed up the date of Vatican I within this discussion and want to be clear that that took place from 1869-1870)
|7:00pm||- Deacon's Mass/Silent Prayer|
One of the joys of visiting an ancient, foreign land is the knowledge that saints have walked the streets there in ages past, that great events in the life of the Church have occurred there, or – as is true of the Holy Land – our Lord himself hallowed this ground by his earthly presence.
Americans can be thankful that the Church has recognized the sanctity of missionaries and converts who gave their lives in the effort to establish the Orthodox faith in our land. We now have nearly a dozen North American saints who have blessed our land by their presence and witness. We celebrate the feast day of two of these holy ones – St. Juvenaly and St. Peter the Aleut – on September 24.
Juvenaly (who had been named Jacob by his parents at his birth in 1761) left his home in the Ural Mountains of Russia first to serve in the army and then to enter a monastery. Taking the name Juvenaly at his tonsure, the young monk was eventually ordained priest and transferred to a monastery in Russian Finland.
It was from this monastery that plans were made which would have immense impact in the future of America. A missionary endeavor was begun to provide for the spiritual welfare of Russians who worked for the North America Trading Company in Kodiak, Alaska, and for the evangelization of the native Alaskans.
Hieromonk Juvenaly and eight other monks (including St. Herman) spent 9 months on their 8,000 mile journey, arriving on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. The plan was for the North America Trading Company to support the mission with provisions and contacts with the natives, many of whom were employed by the company.
There was great success initially, with thousands of Alaskans baptized in the first two years. The missionaries learned the language of the natives and found that they needed to provide care for them in their illnesses and to advocate for them with their often unjust employers. The monks began to expand their territory and Fr. Juvenaly journeyed toward the mainland, baptizing more new Christians along the way. After he came to the mountains near Lake Iliamna, no word was ever received from him again.
Through the years, stories were frequently told by the Alaskan people about the missionary and his Indian companion, a tonsured Reader who was serving as a guide and interpreter. Other reports were sent to Russia from the managers of the Trading Company, cruel men who, as it turned out, resented the presence of the missionaries and considered their work among the natives to be an interference with their treatment of the workmen. These reports were very unflattering of Fr. Juvenaly.
It took many years for the truth to be known. Fr. Juvenaly and his companion evidently arrived at a settlement of Yupiat Indians who were frightened by the sudden appearance of strangers. The priest first made the sign of the cross, blessing the people as he approached. The shaman, recognizing a foreign holy man, was wary and ordered the people to kill the intruders. St. Juvenaly’s martyrdom was immediate, but his guide dove into the water and swam “like a seal”. The Yupiats were impressed with his skill but caught up with him and killed him also. They buried the bodies in the nearby mountains, first taking the cross from Fr. Juvenaly’s neck.
The shaman decided to wear the priest’s “ornament” and soon discovered that none of his usual rituals and magic formulas worked. In fear, he removed the cross and warned the people to do no harm to any others who might wear this emblem.
Stories of Fr. Juvenaly’s martyrdom continued to be told among the Alaskans. When later missionaries arrived, they found surviving evidence of earlier Christian contact – crosses being worn by the Indians, some knowledge of Orthodox rites, and these persistent stories of the Russian priest who had been murdered by their ancestors.
Finally, in 1977, the Orthodox Church in America glorified St. Juvenaly, counting him as one of the first saints of North America.
In the next several years after Fr. Juvenaly’s death, the North America Trading Company (now known as the Russian-American Co.) established Ft. Ross, an extension of the company, only 80 miles north of San Francisco. This was Spanish territory. Complaints were lodged against the Russians out of fear that they planned to attack and capture San Francisco. The Spanish forbade Russian ships from approaching Spanish territory and would not allow foreign trade in California.
But the Russians working in Alaska needed food and other supplies which could not be found there, and they did not take seriously the Spanish threats regarding trade.
In 1815, a Russian official of the company led a group of 14 Aleut employees who were seal and otter hunters toward the coast of California. They were stopped by the Spanish authorities, their ship was looted, and the hunters were taken captive.
A mock “trial” took place in San Francisco and the guilty prisoners were then taken for punishment to a Spanish priest who expected to exact acceptance of Roman Catholic authority in exchange for leniency. The penalty for non-cooperation was to be torture and death.
The first to be “questioned” was a young Aleut named Cungagnaq, who had taken the name Peter when he was baptized and chrismated by the Russian missionaries as a child.
Peter tried to explain to the priest that he, too, was a Christian but that he could not renounce the Orthodox Church in favor of Roman Catholicism. He showed him the cross which he had worn since his baptism, but the priest called him a heretic and ordered that a toe be cut off at the first joint.
Each time Peter was asked and refused to deny the Orthodox faith, another part of his body was cut off – his fingers, toes, and feet. By the time the Spanish received an order from a higher official to stop the torture of the prisoners, Peter had died from his wounds. He was quickly buried in a mass grave for Indians, probably at Mission Dolores. The other captives were eventually released and they gave their eye-witness reports of Peter’s martyrdom. St. Peter was glorified in 1980.
Today, our land still experiences conflicts due to differing religious, political, social, and moral understandings. But our land has been blessed by the presence and witness of saints. Through the example and intercessions of St. Juvenaly and St. Peter, may we stand firm in the Orthodox faith. Holy Juvenaly, holy Peter the Aleut, and all the saints of North America, pray for us.
The news is filled with stories of wayward youth – those who have rebelled against the rules of society and their families and who have begun lives of crime, or at the least, irresponsibility. In the Church, however, we hear of youth on a different path, of those who have seen the beauty and truth of Jesus Christ even before their parents and who have given their lives to following him against all odds. St. Thekla, one of the saints of our Patriarchate, is an example of such a young person.
Thekla was born in Iconium around the year 16. She was 18 years old and engaged to marry Thamyris, when St. Paul and St. Barnabas visited her town to preach the Gospel (as related in Acts 14). Although her parents and fiancé were strongly opposed to the talk of this new religion, Thekla was fascinated and wanted to be part of the crowds who gathered to hear Paul speak. Her mother forbade her to go, but Thekla discovered that, just by sitting at the open window of her room, she was able to hear every word. For three days, she took it all in, amazed at the difference in the life that Paul described and that which was planned for her as a soon-to-be matron in pagan Roman society.
Thekla’s family and Thamyris were alarmed at the effect that Paul’s preaching was having on her. They – and many others in the city – went to the governor and demanded that he put a stop to this disturber of the peace. So Paul and Barnabas were arrested and put in prison to await trial.
Hoping for more stories of Jesus and His teachings, Thekla secretly went to the prison, bribed the guard with pieces of her jewelry, and went in to Paul’s cell where he continued teaching.
Discovering this clandestine activity of her daughter’s, Thekla’s mother went again to the governor and demanded an immediate judgment in the case against Paul. The governor complied by having Paul stoned and expelled from the city. He also chastised those who had listened favorably to the Apostle’s preaching. The young girl responded by declaring that she had decided to forego marriage and instead would devote herself to living out the teachings of Christ as a virgin.
Thinking that the threat of severe punishment would be just the thing to bring Thekla to her senses, the governor sentenced her to be burned at the stake if she did not renounce this folly.
But Thekla was resolved, and so she went willingly to her punishment. But God had other plans for this courageous young woman, so a sudden thunderstorm with heavy rains caused the fire to be put out. Wanting to be rid of the whole affair, the governor ordered Thekla out of the city, never to return.
The young woman immediately sought to catch up with Paul and Barnabas, who were then traveling to the city of Antioch. There, Thekla again faced danger when a local nobleman, who found her attractive, tried to force his attentions on her. She fought him off, but he complained to the governor and, once again, Thekla was sentenced to death. This time, her escape from death was even more dramatic. The lioness which was sent into the arena to kill her became tame and harmless and then killed the bear that was sent in next. Other miraculous escapes followed and Thekla was finally sent away by the authorities.
Following St. Paul to Myra, the young women now received his blessing to lead an ascetic life, so she traveled to the mountains of Syria where she began her solitary life of prayer and meditation.
Some years later, there was another escape by Thekla – this time when a man, seeing her praying in the mountains sought to attack her. As in the past, God provided a means of escape. A crevice opened up in the rocky mountainside and Thekla was able to climb through it to safety.
St. Thekla lived many more years and fell asleep in the Lord at the age of 90. Young women who had been inspired by St. Thekla’s life came to form a monastery around her cell and to build a chapel for her relics. 1900 years later, this monastery still thrives in the hills above the town of Ma’loula in Syria.
We give thanks to God for the courage and conviction of the young Thekla and pray that she will intercede for all young people who would strive to follow Christ.
Note: At Antiochian Village, there is a shrine containing a relic of St. Thekla. Annually, on a weekend nearest her feast day, a pilgrimage takes place, with those attending praying at the shrine of St. Thekla.
We are once again living in dangerous times. In so many parts of this world, persecution – and even death – are the fate of those who call themselves Christians. Our Lord warned us of these times: ..you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved [ Matt. 10:22]; …they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and Kings for my sake… [Mark 13:9]; ..the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. John 16:2]
In the early centuries of Christianity, when persecution of the followers of Christ was carried out by Emperors, governors and local officials, being in a position of service to the Empire did not exempt a Christian from receiving persecution. In fact, Christians were more vulnerable if they served in some official capacity and members of the army were in the front lines of this battle. A revered saint of the Church who shows us courage in the face of death is St. Maurice, who with his companion soldiers, received the crown of martyrdom around 286-7.
Maurice was born in 250 in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. As soon as he came of age, he joined the Roman army, beginning a career path as common in that time and place as it is now. Through loyal and valiant service, Maurice received promotions in rank until he became the leader of the Theban Legion, a company of more than 6,000 soldiers.
Raised in the land which had received the Christian faith from St. Mark, Maurice was a Christian and it happened that most of his fellow soldiers were also Christians. Their faith had sustained them in their defense of the Empire and had not been a source of trouble until the Legion was called up by Emperor Maximian to help put down a revolt in Gaul. When the troops rested on their march across the Alps, the Emperor announced that the soldiers would all join in a formal sacrifice to the Roman gods in anticipation of their success. This, along with the knowledge that Gallican Christians would be among those who suffered in this military operation, led the Theban Legion to retreat and encamp at an area somewhat away from that of the other companies of soldiers.
But Maximian was suspicious of this action and ordered the soldiers to return to the camp. Several times, they refused, through their leader, Maurice, and then they received the shocking news: if the Legion did not obey the Emperor’s order, it would be decimated – every tenth man would be executed. This severe punishment was reserved for extreme cases such as that of treason. But in Maximian’s mind, these soldiers were traitors for having forsaken the Roman gods in favor of allegiance to Christ. The soldiers’ courage did not fail them. They declared themselves as Christians, held fast and encouraged each other as the order for decimation was given and repeated several times until no one was left standing. The place where this martyrdom occurred was called Agaunum, but is now called St. Maruice-en-Valais in honor of the courageous saint, and an abbey was built on the site in 515.
In the centuries following, knowledge of the martyrdom of St. Maurice and his companions spread around the world, largely through a letter of Bishop Eucherius of Lyons (c 434-450) so that veneration of this saint became widespread. St. Maurice became the patron saint of the Holy Roman Emperors, and he is particularly venerated in the Egyptian Coptic Church.
May St. Maurice plead in heaven for the safety of Egyptian Christians at this time and may he intercede for all in military service. Holy Maurice, pray for us.