As members of Holy Trinity Cathedral in the God-protected city of Saint Francis, we are blessed to be surrounded by a host of Saints and saintly predecessors. The living memory of these holy men and women who lived and worshipped in a manner well-pleasing to God challenges us to be good heirs and not to waist our precious inheritance. -Priest Victor Sokolov.
Sincerely and with all my soul I greet you, my beloved Father Alexander, for you have received today from my unworthiness the grace of the priesthood. I pray to God, who has bestowed His benevolence upon you today, that this grace in you will be not in vain (I Cor. 15:10), but that your profiting may appear to all (I Tim. 4:15).
From this day on, you are being elevated to a high, very high standard, so that you may be a light for the whole world. These words are not an exaggeration, for you are becoming not just a pastor, but a pastor in the see of the New World, where the interests of both flesh and spirit of the whole universe come together. You stand face to face with not just your little flock, but with all the heterodox that surround your flock. And that is not yet all. Along with your pastorate you are receiving still another calling, the calling of messenger of the universal truth to the heterodox through the written word. You will be an interpreter of this truth, its defender, and along with this you will explain to the Orthodox the spiritual demands and needs of the heterodox.1
May the Lord God through His Grace help you in this your ministry!
In spite of your relatively young age, my attention was called specifically to you and not to anyone else because I find in you the seeds of everything necessary for such a ministry. Particularly your decency, your good upbringing, your noble idealism, your religiousness -- immediately impressed me favorably and made me single you out from several other young men with whom you had visited me in Petersburg.2 I saw that you had that Divine spark, which transforms every ministry into God's work and without which every calling becomes a spiritless and stillborn craft. Do not let this Divine spark in you be extinguished; on the contrary, try to kindle it in yourself so that it will warm you and those around you.
Your first experience in preaching might have convinced you of the significance of this fervor. You saw how people gathered around you to listen to you, and with what heightened attentiveness they stood on their feet for hours listening to your talks. Why did these people come to hear you and not other preachers? The reason is clear: the Divine spark that burns in you attracted the hearts of those people to you like a magnet. I say again: do not let this Divine spark be extinguished in you and do not allow yourself to fall into that spiritual condition which John the Mystic calls "lukewarmness." This can cause any pastor, like the bishop of the church at Laodicea, to be spit out of the mouth of the Lamb (Rev. 3:15-16). We have to enkindle this gift within ourselves through intensive prayer, reading the Word of God, and, finally, by good deeds. Yesterday you asked me to borrow the book by Father John of Kronstadt. This pastor, well experienced in spiritual life, bears testimony to the fact that half an hour of evening prayer, often a prayer to which we force ourselves, is enough to grant us wonderful, healthy sleep, cheerfulness of spirit, and quiet joy. And vice versa: the habit of not praying causes our hearts to become completely stale. The Word of God, as you can be yourself assured, "is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow" (Heb. 4:12). Read this Word more often and more attentively. Delve also into the spirit and into the deepest meaning of patristic literature: there you will find an inexhaustible treasure-house of knowledge.
Be filled with the enthusiasm of the idea of your exalted ministry in this country, and never forget that by this ministry you are partaking in the great ministry of the Apostles, partaking in their heroic deeds. One of the brethren standing here compared America to fields white with harvest and waiting long for its laborers. Yes, this is not an exaggeration. I can support this through my own experience. There are multitudes of Christians -- our fellow believers and our fellow countrymen scattered all over this country who are for many years have had no religious consolation. And how many sheep are there not of our fold whom we must to bring to the Father's flock? And how many are already knocking at the door?... During the short time you were with us, you became a witness to how they knock at our door. You heard about one girl's letter from the state of Iowa; you perhaps read the letter from a person in the state of Oregon. O, how many such letters have I received and yet receive about which no one here is aware. So? Should we remain deaf to those wails, to those who approach us and knock at the door? Not so! Let them not say that we have much to do for our own minorities in Russia, that our Mission in America is unnecessary and not needed. Let them not say this. Orthodoxy cannot be contained in one nation, but by its very nature Orthodoxy must be Universal, for the Lord commanded to preach it not to one nation but to all peoples. His promise that the time will come when there will be one flock and one Shepherd must at some time be fulfilled. And that means that all will become Orthodox, including these "fields white with harvest."
Let them say not that the numbers of the local Orthodox population do not correspond to the expenditures of the Russian government - on churches, on clergy, etc. The Lord has not yet deprived our homeland of His mercies; it will not grow poor because of two or three dozens of missions in various countries. These missions proclaim the truth to all those who hold it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The parishes of these missions may be not great now; their expenses may be greater than the profits from them... We should remember that this is not so much today's business as the business of the future, and of the latter more then of the former. Even in nature fruit is not produced immediately after planting. And so it is with our business: it takes time. I consider these parishes, these missions to be like rescue stations for those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, or for those who although they confess the truth, confess it in unrighteousness... As the rescue station serves as the guiding point of light in the darkness of night and the sound of its bell is a guide in snow storms, so it is with our "stations" -- every priest is both a light to the world guiding weary travelers, and the welcome tolling of the bell, which those wandering outside the fold may follow. Do I need to say how my soul rejoices when I manage to add to the existing rescue station first one, and then another?... What brightness within my soul, with what joy my heart pounds when I see that the lamps I lit do not smoke but in truth burn brightly and spread their light to ever greater and greater territories! And vice versa, do I need to convince you of the fact that I deeply sorrow, I suffer with all my being when I see that people refuse to understand me, refuse to enter into the understanding of the idea that inspires me in my ministry in this country. We are already late on the field of world mission: should we remain in our seclusion any longer? Should the Lord's commandment to go preach everywhere be a priority of only the Church of Rome and the Protestant communities? Does not our conscience tell us that it is a sin to have the keys to the Kingdom of God, yet to keep the doors of this Kingdom locked? And -- to know the truth, yet to remain silent while others preach openly even total lies?
No, it is time to leave this way of thinking behind, it is time for our missionaries to enter the field world-wide. Otherwise we might discover that the Lord has taken the Kingdom away from us, as He took it away from Israel, and given it to someone who is more successful in this work.
These thoughts inspire me in my ministry; my advice you is to do the same. Only with this attitude towards the ministry will our life in this country, with all its deprivations and misadventures, not seem so hard, and only then will our labors be to our own salvation.
It is also necessary always to remember that only by the way of the Cross is it possible to enter God's glory, that the wide gate and the wide way do not lead to salvation. Let this cross3 that is being placed upon you as a sign of your ministry in this country always reminds you about this truth. May the might of the life-giving Cross be with you always!
I will request your attention for a few more minutes. Do you remember that beautiful September morning in Petersburg when you and I prayed together at the sepulcher of the Holy Orthodox Prince Alexander Nevsky with the group that was departing for the New World? We asked St. Alexander then to protect us and our work in the New World from all enemies, visible and invisible, and prayed diligently and fervently. I will always remember that morning. And now I again prayerfully address this Holy Prince and beseech him to be your invisible companion and protector throughout your entire life, helping you in your ministry for the glory of Orthodoxy and Russia. May the icon of this Saint well-pleasing to God be your ever present reminder of the union we entered into before the relics of this Saint, may it encourage you in those heroic deeds which lie ahead of you in this country.
Archbishop NICHOLAS (Ziorov)
San Francisco, February 25, 1896.
1 As an editor of the American Orthodox Messenger.
2 Between May and the end of September.
3 Pectoral Cross of a Missionary Priest.
Translated from Russian for Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE.
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