Everything in the Orthodox Church begins and ends with Christ. His saving sufferings for our sake, His betrayal, crucifixion and death are remembered and experienced solemnly every year during the seven days we call "Great and Holy Week" in our liturgical books. And our Lord's resurrection from the dead, with its promise of our own victory over death in Him, is our greatest celebration. We celebrate it at the darkest hour - at midnight, and we call it Pascha - Passover. We do this as we were taught to do by our ancestors in the faith, going back to the apostles themselves. Every Sunday is for us a little resurrection, a little Pascha.
Each Orthodox Christian parish has its own particular little Pascha as well - the feast of its heavenly protector or patron. The historical witness of a parish's patron saint is an example to us that the Christian life is not just a beautiful ideal, but can be a lived reality. And his continued intercession for us, as a wise and experienced elder brother in the Kingdom of Christ, is felt tangibly by the faithful.
The patron saint of our own parish is the first saint recognized in North America, St. Herman of Alaska. He was among the first group of missionaries sent to Alaska in 1794, and continued alone, a seeming failure, even after all the other members of his group had turned aside, given up, or been killed. His feast day falls on December 12/25 (the first date is given according to the Julian calendar used by most Orthodox worldwide).
This year the services were particularly festive at St. Herman's. We were joined by friends and visitors from three states, in addition to our own Michigan parishioners. Representing the bishop was Fr. Gregory Joyce, the Dean of Michigan parishes in the Russian Church Abroad and the rector of the St. Vladimir Parish in Ann Arbor. We were also happy to have Fr. Timothy Tadros of our neighboring St. George Parish in Michigan City, IN and Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky of St. Innocent Parish in Wheaton, IL. At the service, many came forward to receive the saving Mysteries of Holy Communion, and all had the opportunity of venerating a portion of the relics of the saint, given to the parish through the kindness of Archbishop Benjamin Peterson, locum tenens of the Diocese of Alaska of the Orthodox Church in America, our daughter church.
In his sermon, Fr. Gregory spoke of St. Herman's faithfulness in carrying out his obedience, even in trying and seemingly hopeless circumstances. Fr. Gregory reminded his listeners that we too have obediences - responsibilities which we cannot shirk without harming ourselves and others. But the faithful carrying out of these responsibilities can be a way in which we come to know Christ's power to save us. Christ can love His world through us; we can become instruments used by Him. And we can do this without any fanfare, in the plain and ordinary matters of life, without any position of power or clout, as St. Herman did.
After a satisfying festal meal with good fellowship, everyone left for home spiritually strengthened.