On Sunday, October 6, 2019, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, presided at the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts, and Apostle to the Americas, at Three Holy Hierarchs Chapel, Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary [SVOTS].
“Today Christ calls us to engage in an authentic Apostolic witness in North America, as individuals, as communities, and as a local Church,” said Metropolitan Tikhon in his homily to the faithful. “One of the brightest lights of this apostolic ministry is our Holy Father Innocent, Apostle to the Americas. Wherever he went, no matter who he was with, Saint Innocent did Christ’s work: serving and building up the brothers and sisters that God had brought to him on that day and in that place.”
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Tikhon shared with the faithful his experience of visiting the Church of Saints Peter and Paul on Saint Paul Island, Alaska. Saints Peter and Paul Church was founded in 1830, six years after the arrival of Saint Innocent to Unalaska in 1924. Saint Paul island was one of those under the pastorate of Saint Innocent. His Beatitude recounted his travel by small plane to this island where there is only one post office, one store and one church – the one Church being the Orthodox parish of Saints Peter and Paul. Commenting on the enduring legacy of Saint Innocent on Saint Paul Island, Metropolitan Tikhon said, “It was remarkable, and truly inspiring, to find an Orthodox community on this small island of 400 people, and especially to see the wonderful and natural integration of many cultures (Aleut, Russian, and North American) all within the context of a believing Orthodox community in the middle of the sea.” Click here to read His Beatitude’s full reflection and view a photo gallery of his visit to St. Paul Island.
Concelebrating with Metropolitan Tikhon were Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, seminary President and other seminary clergy.
The previous evening, Metropolitan Tikhon presided at the All Night Vigil for the feast at SVOTS. At the beginning of the service, His Beatitude addressed a word to the faithful on the coming celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America and the Glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska.
Homily of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
for the Feast of Saint Innocent
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gospel reading appointed for Saint Innocent, whose memory we celebrate on this, the day of resurrection, offers to us the words of the Lord about shepherds and sheep.
In the Lord’s day, caring for sheep was one of the most common types of work; being a shepherd was hard, dirty, dangerous work. But caring for sheep was essential, because in those days, the flock was often the most valuable possession in a family. Throughout Scripture, flocks and herds represent prosperity and security, because people relied upon sheep for their survival. So, God forbid, someone would come and steal from your flock.
Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ warns us of thieves who come only to steal or to kill the sheep. Most of us may not have a flock of sheep that we care for, but all of us have possessions that are essential for survival, and naturally we want to protect our possessions: nobody wants to be the victim of theft. But the need for material security can subtly, and insidiously be twisted into a sinful temptation. The quest for not only material security, but for prosperity, can turn a righteous person into a kind of thief, maybe not the kind of thief who robs a bank, but the kind who loves money more than the neighbor.
The most dangerous crime is the one that is easily justified. “I earned this! I deserve it! You shouldn’t have this, so I’ll just take what is rightfully mine.” Or one of the worst, “You’re no longer useful to me, so I don’t owe you a thing.”
We may never steal a sheep, nor steal a cent, and we may think that we are righteous before God, like the Pharisee in the parable, who boasted that he was not an extortioner, and that he always gave a tithe of everything he received. But, the Pharisee was all too ready to rob the Publican of dignity and respect, in order to make himself look good; to puff up his own image the Pharisee forces others into the shadows so that he can keep the spotlight on himself. It is such an easy temptation to fall into, and so incredibly dangerous. Because theft is just an expression of greed, and a life of greed is a life of anxiety and despair. The greater my material prosperity, the more frightened I may become that others are trying to take what I have. And in this frame of mind, the people around me are not brothers and sisters, but they are outsiders, rivals and threats. In this state, we are no longer brothers and sisters in a family, we are no longer members of a community, Instead we start to resemble hired hands.
Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ also warns us about hirelings, people not personally invested in the flock, people only working for their own profit. The hireling doesn’t have any skin in the game. If he sees a hungry wolf coming towards the flock, why should he risk his own life to protect the sheep from danger? The hireling might think, “Wait a minute, I’m not getting paid to risk my neck, let me leave so as to save myself.” And as our Lord says, when the hireling flees, the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.
Now, if we’re completely honest, we might imagine that there are some advantages to being a hireling. You show up, you do your work, and then move on to the next project, and the best part, is that if things get dangerous, or uncomfortable, or if they just get boring, you can cut your losses and take off. How tempting is it to live life like a hireling? In our friendships or in our families, in ministry or in marriage, how tempting it is to think that if things get hard, or dangerous, or painful, then I don’t need to stay here. I can cut my losses and get out while I can.
But, being a hireling has a downside. The hireling is not part of the shepherd’s family: not a brother or sister, not a son or daughter. The hireling is an outsider, unrelated to the shepherd and his family. And being an outsider is lonely. The apparent freedom of the hireling conceals a terrible price: if I’m not connected or committed to the shepherd or the flock, if I’m free to run when the wolves approach, it means that I’m alone, isolated, even from Christ.
Now, it is critically important to acknowledge that there are situations and relationships that become so destructive, and abusive, and toxic, that we have no choice but to leave. This very thing happened to Christ when the people of Nazareth—his own people, from the city where he grew up—became so angry, so filled with wrath, that they tried to throw Him off a cliff. Yet our Lord passed through the midst of them and went away. Of course, we all know, this is not the end of the story. Christ did not depart from Nazareth so that he could seek his own pleasure and comfort in this world. Far from it, Jesus left that region in order to do the will of His Heavenly Father.
As Fr. Thomas Hopko would remind us, “If God delivers us from one kind of suffering, it is to bear an even greater Cross.” When Jesus fled from Nazareth and the angry crowd that wanted to cast him down off the hill, it was not to escape suffering and death, it was to follow the path leading to an even more frightening hill, a lonely, terrible hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, the place of the skull, Golgotha, where our Lord endured a shameful, humiliating, agonizing death, And Christ endures all of this so that you and I, the people of all times and all nations, and yes, even the people of Nazareth might find salvation and new life in the kingdom of Heaven. For our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. And the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
This is what it means when Christ says, “I am the door” because in the ancient world, when the flock was settled down for the night in the safety of an enclosure, the shepherd would lay down to rest at the entrance. Literally, the shepherd WAS the door to the sheepfold. And in laying down his life, Christ reveals the fearful depths of God’s love for every one of us. In laying down his life for us, Christ the Good Shepherd declares to us—the broken, the lonely, and the weak—“You are mine. I have found you, and you belong with me.”
If we were once only hirelings, today we “are no longer strangers and sojourners, but…are [now] fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” And if we have fallen to the temptation of thieves, Christ the Good Shepherd welcomes us into the flock of the forgiven as He welcomed the Good Thief. The Good Thief had accomplished nothing substantive or worthwhile, but in the final minutes of the eleventh hour of his earthly life, that broken desperate man turned to Christ and, with boldness and without condemnation, dared to say, “Remember me when you come in your Kingdom.”
Like the Good Thief, today we lay aside our proud reliance on our own self-determination and strength and place all our trust in God’s divine grace and in the community of the Church. Accepting God’s mercy and forgiveness, Christ the Good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters; he restores the soul. And He leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Filled and strengthened with God’s blessings we make our own contribution to the living tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the 21st century. Today Christ calls us to engage in an authentic Apostolic witness in North America, as individuals, as communities, and as a local Church. One of the brightest lights of this apostolic ministry is our Holy Father Innocent, Apostle to the Americas. When we consider the life of St. Innocent, we might marvel at his many gifts and talents: He had the intellect of a scientist and a linguist; the skills of a master craftsman, and the physical stamina of the greatest athlete. He was tremendously talented and gifted, but that is not why we venerate and celebrate St. Innocent. We celebrate St. Innocent because he heard the call of Christ the Good Shepherd, and he dedicated his life, and all his God-given talents, to serving his neighbor. He translated Scripture and the prayers of the church into native languages so his neighbors could give glory to Jesus Christ in their own tongue. He made scientific observations in Alaska, so that his neighbors might be better stewards of God’s creation. He shoehorned his burly frame into a tiny kayak and crossed treacherous freezing waters in order to visit his neighbors on remote islands. Throughout his world travels he would often repair machines, clocks, and instruments for his neighbors. And as Metropolitan of Moscow, he served countless neighbors throughout Russia.
Wherever he went, no matter who he was with, St. Innocent did Christ’s work: serving and building up the brothers and sisters that God had brought to him on that day and in that place. Few of us are as talented, as smart, and as physically strong as St. Innocent, but in the most important way, we are all like St. Innocent. We are all called by Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd to use the talents, and gifts, and abilities that we have to serve the neighbor, to build up the Body of Christ, and to glorify God.
May the intercessions of our Holy Father Innocent Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts, and Apostle to the Americas comfort and strengthen all of us on the evangelical journey we travel right here, today, and may St. Innocent’s life serve as a light for our feet on the common path we walk, following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.