SAN FRANCISCO: June 30, 2004

Youth Conference Goes to Fort Ross

On Wednesday, June 30, the participants of the Youth Conference departed for the southernmost point of the Russian Empire, on the American continent: Fort Ross.

After lunch, Protopriest Yaroslav Belikoff gave a speech on the spiritual legacy of the Western American Diocese.

Fr. Yaroslav noted that despite the fact that the Western American Diocese is fairly new, it still has a wide spectrum of saints, though few in number: an saint equal-to-the-apostles, a bishop-martyr, a bishop saint, a martyr, a saint, a saint-in-poverty.

The first Orthodox clergymen arriving in America in 1794 were the Valaam monks. Among them was Saint Juvenaly, martyred in the depths of Alaska in 1796 while preaching the Word of God among the natives. Another saint of the era was St. Herman of Alaska (+ 1836).

From the life of St. Herman, we learn of the martyric death of St. Peter the Aleut. He was baptized in Alaska. Working for the Russian-American Company, Martyr Peter was taken captive by the Spanish in Southern California. The Jesuits tried to force him to accept a Roman Catholic baptism, but the martyr firmly stated that he was already baptized, showing them the cross he wore around his neck. The Jesuits did not relent, and began torturing him, chopping off his toes one by one, then his fingers. Peter staunchly refused to betray his faith, and died from the loss of blood (1815).

In 1823, Priest John Veniaminov came to Alaska, the future Metropolitan of Moscow (+1869). His stunning labors are described in many books. In 1839, following the death of his wife, he entered monkhood, was consecrated bishop and sent to America. Thus he became the first Orthodox bishop in the New World. For his preaching among the natives, he was placed among the ranks of the saints as an Equal-to-the-Apostles.

Holy Martyr Tikhon (Belyavin), Patriarch of Moscow, was Bishop of Alaska and Aleut from 1898 to 1900 (residing in Sitka), and then Bishop of North America (residing in New York) from 1900 to 1907.

Saint John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, was the only saint of the Western American Diocese.

Fr. Yaroslav briefly noted Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, who can be called a confessor: he was sentenced to 8 years in a concentration camp, but was able to flee from the Solovetsk camp. Arriving in San Francisco, Fr. Michael laid the foundations for the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

Finally, Fr. Yaroslav told of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. Fr. Seraphim is valued for his varied life before his conversion to Orthodoxy. By the age of 14, he had already been a Baptist and a Methodist, after which he turned away from faith in God completely, became and agnostic, seriously studied Buddhism and Chinese philosophy. He was also a good example of the broadly popular American consumerist culture in the worst sense of the word. Thanks to all this "baggage," in accepting Orthodoxy, Fr. Seraphim was able to understand the depth of tragedy of contemporary mankind, which, thanks to globalism, is found in every corner of the world. Fr. Seraphim left a wealthy legacy of writings, and he has helped many understand themselves better, understand contemporary society and find within themselves, most importantly, faith in God in precisely the way the Lord Himself teaches us, through His Church.