SERMON ON ST. INNOCENT
Sunday, October 6, 2019
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10: 10-11).
These two verses from John’s Gospel are part of the reading appointed today for St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Equal to the Apostles, and Missionary Enlightener of Alaska and North America. Now, Christian missionary activity, historically, has not enjoyed a very good reputation, has it? Just look at the histories of Latin America, Hawaii, Africa, Polynesia, and elsewhere. In many cases, these are horrifying accounts of exactly what Jesus described as the activities of a thief – stealing, killing, and destroying. Even in Alaska, after Russia sold it to the United States, Protestant Missionaries were sent, funded by the US government, to “christianize, westernize, and civilize” the native peoples there, especially the Orthodox Christians among them! And we know the devastating results that obtained from those efforts, on the faith, culture, and economy of our precious and revered native Alaskan Orthodox!
Fortunately, or more accurately, by the grace of God, Orthodox missionary activity has largely avoided these scandals. A large part of the reason for this is love. Oh, there are other very important factors as well, but love is the predominant reason, and St. Innocent is the perfect example of it. Love for God and love for people was the hallmark of his life in service to Christ. He wrote in his little catechetical book, “Indication of the Way Into The Kingdom of Heaven,”
“If you love Jesus Christ and consider yourself grateful to Him, will
you do what He orders you? Because whoever loves anyone, and whoever feels grateful, will do everything he can to please his benefactor. But Jesus Christ wants from you only one thing; namely, He wants you to follow Him into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Now, you all know how much I love Christmas. I mean, everyone loves Christmas, the birth of our Lord, but some have suggested that I suffer from OCD...Obsessive Christmas Disorder, and they may be right. And yes, I am already thinking about it, mentally preparing. Soon I’ll start working on Christmas cards. Later this month I’ll make my Christmas puddings so that they have time to mature before the Big Day. And of course gift-giving is also an important part of the tradition which I’ll begin working on too. Gift-giving is important because of the gifts of the Magi given to the new-born Christ, but also because of its direct association with our Holy Father, St. Nicholas, whose feast day also falls in December. I hope that all of you understand that I believe very strongly in the gift-giving of the very real Santa Claus. I believe in Santa because I know that he is St. Nicholas, the wonder-worker. The Dutch, who were early settlers in New York and New England, pronounced St. Nicholas as “Sinterklaas” and there you have it. So why am I bringing up Santa Claus, in a sermon about St. Innocent? Well just listen to this:
From August of 1850 to May of 1851, St Innocent traveled from place to place in Alaska preaching and ministering to the native people. He traveled a distance of some 4,000 miles before he was through. He reported to his immediate superior, St. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, that he and his party traveled utilizing the following means: horses, ox carts, sea-kayaks, hunting kayaks, several times by dog-sled, and finally (wait for it!) on several occasions by reindeer sleigh! Can you imagine? A holy Bishop, with a long white beard, wrapped-up in fur, bringing joy and gifts of salvation, being pulled by reindeer!
Now I realize that St. Innocent and St. Nicholas are NOT the same person. Yet St. Innocent was an imitator of St. Nicholas, just as surely as St. Nicholas was an imitator of the Apostles, who were, themselves, imitators of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. That’s why we sing these praises today in his honor:
“As a faithful servant of the Master,
You labored in all humility
You wandered from place to place like the Apostles,
a spectacle to the world.
Your hunger for righteousness fed your flock,
your thirst for the Kingdom led a siege on it.
ln all things you endured and blessed, teaching the churches everywhere,
bringing the Good News to the New World.
Therefore, we exalt you as our father in Christ,
Pray that we may follow the example you left for us”
(4th Verse on the Praises). Amen.