1797 Aug 26, Sept. 7 1897.
This great missionary, who passed away from this visible world eighteen years ago, and whose remains rest in the holy Troitse - Sergief Monastery, still dwells in the loving hearts of the different peoples of his spiritual charge. I understand and feel the special privilege which I enjoy tonight, and for which I most heartily and humbly thank the Gracious Bishop and Most Reverend Father in God. Deeply feeling the love of our Archpastors, I become bold and venture to look into the unseen, where I behold the spiritual eyes of our first hard working missionary, with kindly light beaming upon this gathering, and approving of the feeble words of your son, and your brother and pastor -- one of the first born of the young Orthodox American Church.
John Benijaminof was a great man, indeed! As one of the first Priests in Alaska he labored for fifteen long years in several parts of that vast region, making his home principally first in Ounalashka and then in Sitkha. In those pioneer days of Alaska an Aleutian baidarka, or small canoe made of the skin of a walrus, was the only means he had for his voyages of longa corsa. It often happened that, in a mean, wet climate, his only comfort for whole months would be found in an earthen dug-out covered with skins. I will not detain you by repeating; you will hear and read of his life, and you will see how in the Providence of God, the Reverend Father John became to be known as Innocent, and how he returned to Alaska as the first Bishop there, and likewise our first Bishop in America!
There are several people in this city, who have personally seen him, and remember well the wholesome instructions of their gentle pastor. Besides the elder brethren and the elder sisters among you, some of the people mentioned are also fathers in their community. Our present Bishop and beloved Father in God was at one time under the spiritual rule of the Most Reverend Innocentius, and that was during his student life in the academy of Moscow, when Innocent was the Bishop of the church of Christ in that Province.
I have strong reason for maintaining my assertion that the missionary priest John Benjaminof also landed on our shores here, and how I love to dwell on the thought -- he bestowed God’s blessing upon our beautiful California. It was in the Fall of 1838 that this Godfearing worker left Sitkha in a sailing vessel to voyage down the whole length of the great Pacific and make his way around Cape Horn to Europe and St Petersburgh. At that time the Government of Alaska, following the wise counsels of Baranof, (another great man), obtained and held land in California, where it had a flourishing colony in the part now known as Sonoma County. Baranof was well aware of the worth of Alaska, but he needed California as a storehouse of grain for the Great North with its many resources and grand coast. The globecircumnavigating vessels coming from the North, certainly must have anchored in Californian waters, -- in order to take on supplies and make a final preparation before setting sail to round the Cape for the old world. And so it is possible that our dear missionary may have even offered the Divine Liturgy in the chapel at Fort Ross, and also baptized the Indians in Russian River. I do not attempt to speculate on the idea that our Apostle trod the sands -- where now our splendid City of San Francisco is built. For the sake of justice to memory I simply ask: is there not a history attached to Russian Hill in S. F.?
A most remarkable man was this Russian priest from Siberia. He was a mechanic, navigator, school teacher, administrator, and a preacher of the Gospel. A poor orphaned boy too young to earn his own bread, must depend upon the charity of poor relatives also strangers for his very existence. From a little country town he finds his way into the city of Irkutsk, where he becomes a pastor, beloved by his devoted people. Then he goes, as he thought, to give up himself with his entire strength and knowledge, to the simple Aleuts, who sat in darkness in the distant Islands of the Ocean. It was He, as he later sat in the councils of the Most Holy Governing Synod, who moved the proposition that the Orthodox Bishop in America should transfer his residence from Sitkha to San Francisco.
God selected John Benjaminof, a poor priest with a common education, to bear the light of Orthodox Christianity from the East to the West, from Asia to America! And nobly did the Great Russian Church prove herself worthy of the Apostolic power: of rightly dividing the Word of Truth, by carrying out the work in all its detail. She faithfully keeps the Apostle’s will, as expressed in these words: let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and teaching: She elevates Her missionary to a high post. In his new office as an archpastor the Most Reverend Innocent created two more Dioceses in Eastern Siberia, besides the church of Alaska. He was ever sailing over the ocean, or driving in reindeer and dog sledges over a country, thousands of miles in extent, everywhere baptizing the natives, for whom he has introduced the use of letters, and translated the Gospel into their native tongues.
It has been and still is the habit of some persons, who are unfriendly to the Orthodox church, to speak of Her as a dead church. Such a daring charge could be uttered for three reasons, and they are these: such persons are either determined upon a certain course of public policy, with no respect for the truth, or they are not inclined to think well of Eastern Christians, whom it would be inconvenient to recognize as brethren while enjoying personal comfort through social connections, but if it not be that, it is then because of a light head and total ignorance of the facts in universal history. As of old, also in modern times the Russian Church has proved, in more instances than one, that She is alive with the missionary spirit. May we condemn the Slavonic Orthodox Church in the Balkan States and in Austria, because She is struggling for her existence in spite of the aggressive intrusion on her own ground on part of the brethren of the Society of Jesus? Nor is the influx of American Sectarian preachers in Aralia and in Palestine a reason which could justify any one in saying that the church of Christ in those parts is dead! Has not the Greek Church shown by Her deeds the steadfastness of Her faith?
But it is not our purpose to lecture on history. Nor is it that, out of mere curiosity, we are here. Let us now look to the duty we have before us this hour. We are gathered here to show our gratitude to our benefactor, and also in a becoming way to honor the memory of our dear Archpastor Metropolitan Innocentius. Remembering him who has had the rule over us and our fathers -- the Christians of this Diocese; remembering him who had spoken unto us the word of God, let us now according to the Divine commandment consider his end, so that we may be able the better to follow the example of strong faith, which he gave us through out his whole life. Although he was much weakened in his last days by old age and sickness, yet the Venerable Prelate retained his mind clear up to the last, and truly his course on earth was appropriately crowned with a bright christian end. Tell them, he said as he was about to sleep, that no eulogies be pronounced at my funeral, they only contain praise. Let them rather preach a sermon: it may be instructive; and here is the text for it: The ways of man are ordered by the Lord.
San Francisco, August 16-28 1897.
The Russian-American Orthodox Messenger, No. 2, 15-27 September, 1897, pp. 42-45.
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