June 18, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the most amazing experiences of my life occurred about twenty years ago in Russia. We were a small group of pilgrims visiting for the first time the famous Diveyevo Monastery founded by St. Seraphim of Sarov. Diveyevo is about 500 km from Moscow as the crow flies, located in the Nizhny-Novgorod Oblast east of Moscow. The journey out there was a grueling eight hours on a jolting and thoroughly shabby train, and then another hour by hired car. Needless to say, we were dragging, exhausted, by the time we reached the wall and entrance gate of the monastery. But as soon as we passed through that gate we were like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she opened the door from her crashed, sepia-toned house into the Technicolor paradise of Oz. No, this was much more glorious! In the background were two magnificent gleaming temples, the trapeznaya, the cells. But in the immediate foreground, and stretching all the way back toward the temples, were what looked like a sea of fragrant, fully-blooming, multi-colored roses. And near us the midst of this paradisaical waist-high forest stood a young nun, snipping away at the bushes. The moment she saw us she left her clippers and came up to me, making a metania, and taking a blessing greeted us with a mile, and with the words: “Христос воскресе!” just like St. Seraphim used to greet all of his guests, no matter the time of year. I was stunned by this perfumed garden, by this angelic person, and by the nearly palpable presence of St. Seraphim surrounding us. Tears were the only possible response.
In Sirach chapter 39, Yeshua ben Sira writes: “Listen to me, my holy children, and blossom like a rose growing near a running stream. Send forth a fragrant aroma like incense, and bloom with blossoms like a lily. Raise your voice, give praise together,
and bless the Lord for all his works.” (Sirach 39: 13-14).
Here God is speaking through through Yeshua and telling us that the saints are like sweet-scented flowers. The Mother of God is called “The Unfading Rose,” and in her icon the Mother of God “The Unfading Bloom” she is depicted holding lilies. But the saints are not earthly flowers. Their beauty is the beauty of the Holy Spirit, and their fragrance is the sweet fragrance of Christ, as St. Paul describes them (2 Corinthians 2:15). Each nation, each land is called by God to become a flower bed full of beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers, the saints, through whom God is glorified and faith blooms everywhere. In Psalm 15 and verse 3 (LXX) it says, “To the saints that are in his land hath the Lord been wondrous; He hath wrought all His desires in them.”
Brothers and Sisters, today we honor the first blossoms in our land, in North America,
Hieromartyr Alexander Hotovitzky, Missionary of America
Mitred Archpriest Alexis of Wilkes-Barre,
Venerable Herman of Alaska, first missionary to Alaska
Metropolitan Innocent of Alaska, missionary bishop
New Hieromartyr Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich
Priest Yakov Netsvetov of Alaska
Hieromartyr John Kochurov, served in America & Russia, died as first clergy martyr of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Archbishop John (Maximovitch,) of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Hieromartyr Juvenaly of Alaska, Protomartyr of America
Bishop Mardarije (Uskoković,) Serbian bishop of North America;
Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirović,) rector of St. Tikhon's Seminary
Youth-martyr Peter the Aleut in San Francisco
Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn
Archimandrite Sebastian (Dabovich) of Jackson and San Francisco.
Bishop Varnava Nastić, the New Confessor
St. Basil Martysz,
And here’s another list, a list of popularly venerated persons under consideration for canonization, whether formally or informally:
Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich)
Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
Archbishop Arseny (Chagovtsov) of Winnipeg, OCA, Canada
Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas
Bishop Gerasimos (Papadopoulos) of Abydos
Archimandrite Dimitry (Egoroff) of Santa Rosa
Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) of Platina
Priest John Karastamatis, of Santa Cruz
Matushka Olga Michael, of Alaska
Brother José Muñoz Cortés, keeper of the "Montreal Iverskaya” icon
Archimandrite Ephraim of Arizona
Dear ones, this is the garden, our garden, that we celebrate today, and these are our flowers. Our garden is still small, but it is expanding. And why is that? The Apostle Paul tells us,
“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
I’m going to finish with a quote written by a flower from another garden, Hieromartyr Gregory Petrov, shortly before his death in a prison camp in 1940. It’s Kontakion 3 from his Akathist Hymn “Glory to God for All Things.”
“Every flower is fragrant through the power of the Holy Spirit, in a delicate flow of aroma and tenderness of color; the beauty of the Great contained in what is small. Praise and honor to God, Who gives life, Who spreads forth the meadows like a flowering carpet, Who crowns the fields with golden ears of wheat and azure basilisks, and the soul with the joy of contemplation.”