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Homily for 4/13/08 - L5 - servant of all, St Innocent

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  • Fr David Moser
    Mark 10:32-45 We heard today in the Gospel something that we will hear again on Holy Wednesday evening as we prepare for the celebration of the Last Supper.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 13, 2008
      Mark 10:32-45

      We heard today in the Gospel something that we will hear again on Holy
      Wednesday evening as we prepare for the celebration of the Last Supper.
      When a dispute arose among the disciples concerning who was greater,
      Jesus instructed them that “whosoever will be great among you, shall be
      your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be
      servant of all.” Later, as they prepared for the last supper, Jesus
      demonstrated this again to them by taking a towel and washing their feet
      as though He were the most menial servant. In this He gave us a clear
      object lesson in the most essential of all the virtues – humility.

      Today we also celebrate the memory of St Innocent of Alaska. In his life
      we see a man who indeed became the servant of all and as a result our
      Lord raised him up above all in the Church. St Innocent was initially
      the married priest John Veniaminov. As a married priest, of course, he
      did not desire monastic life, nor did he seek any ruling position within
      the Church as the Episcopacy was closed to him. His was fated to be the
      life of an ordinary parish priest, until he heard, one day, an account
      of one of the native peoples of Alaska, the Aleuts. When he heard of
      their zeal in prayer and in hearing the word of God, the Holy Spirit
      touched the heart of the priest John and inflamed it with a burning love
      for these people and a desire to work among them. He took his entire
      family and they traveled across the eastern frontiers of Russia to the
      coast of Siberia where they traveled by ship to Alaska. The young priest
      and his family endured many difficulties and trials along the way, but
      they were preserved and sustained and even strengthened by the grace of
      God. Here we see that, for the love of God and His people, the young
      priest John gave up all that he had and exchanged it for the hardships
      of life in Alaska. In return, he received great grace and help from God.

      In Alaska we see St Innocent’s self sacrificing nature. He truly became
      the servant of his flock. As a priest, he could have taken refuge in his
      position and demanded all sorts of service from others, but instead he
      himself became the servant of all. He was a skilled craftsman and knew
      how to work with many materials. His residence in Alaska is marked by
      the many things he made with his own hands for the benefit of the
      Church. And even this labor he did not keep to himself but encouraged
      all those around him, from the smallest child to the elders to work with
      him. Not only was he the servant of all, but he was also the teacher of
      all. Again, he did not “lord it over” his pupils, but taught them by
      working alongside them as their equal.

      St Innocent’s skill did not lie only in his hands, but he was also a
      gifted linguist and educator. He did not force the natives to learn his
      language, but he learned theirs. Not only this, but in order to instruct
      them in their own language, he created an alphabet for them and began to
      write down for the first time the Aleut language. Having created this
      written form of the native language, the saint began to teach the
      natives to read and under his instruction the Aleut people became highly
      literate. He also wrote a basic catechism for them so that they might
      all understand the love of God for them and thus their love of prayer
      and hearing of the word of God might be enriched and confirmed by the
      understanding of the mind. This catechism, “The Indication of the Way
      into the Kingdom of Heaven” has been translated into many other
      languages (including English) and is still held in high esteem today as
      a catechetical text. He taught not only religious topics, but also
      desiring for his flock their greater good, taught secular subjects as
      well, science, mathematics, history, medicine, geography, languages and
      grammer, and many other topics. For all of these services, the priest
      would accept no payment, not even the customary gifts given to the
      priest for special services such as baptisms or weddings. All of this he
      did as a servant to his flock.

      In the year 1838, Fr John was called back to Russia to report on his
      activities in Alaska. His report was well received and he was elevated
      to the rank of Archpriest for his labors. But his joy was soon touched
      with deep sorrow as the news of his wife’s death reached him. He himself
      went into mourning and went on a pilgrimage of prayer regarding his
      future. In the meantime the Metropolitan of Moscow, Philaret, took a
      fatherly role and brought all of Fr John’s children (seven in all) back
      to Russia and placed them in seminaries and boarding schools where they
      could be educated and cared for. Fr John entered monastic life and was
      given the name Innocent. Quite unexpectedly, at the request of the Tsar
      himself, the new hieromonk Innocent was consecrated bishop and assigned
      to the diocese of Russian America and Eastern Siberia (that is bishop of

      Bishop Innocent returned to Alaska and there he continued his labors as
      before. Although he was now a bishop and could command a higher level of
      respect and honor than before, he remained as he was, the humble servant
      of his flock. He traveled over the whole of his diocese visiting even
      the smallest and most remote and inhospitable places. At times it was
      necessary to travel over the rough seas in an open boat or even by
      paddling himself in a kayak. Even when he traveled by ship, St Innocent
      did not travel as a passenger, but he stayed on deck serving alongside
      the officers and crew of the ship, sometimes acting as navigator (at
      which he was highly skilled) and at other times acting as a simple
      crewman. He did all of this as the servant of his flock out of love for
      them and the desire that they should be saved.

      In his old age, Bishop Innocent was chosen to be the successor of
      Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and was himself placed in this the
      highest position in the Russian Church. His path to this place at the
      pinnacle of the Russian Church was unlikely, beginning not as a monk but
      as a married priest, with a family. Even then, however, we see that he
      became the servant of all in his ministry to the flock entrusted to him.
      By becoming the servant of all, St Innocent acquired in his soul an
      abundance of that greatest quality of the Christian life, humility. Here
      is our example of how to live the Christian life; here is our example of
      how to obtain humility. St Innocent, by becoming the servant of all, was
      filled with humility and as a result he was found to be among the
      greatest of all. He is a living example of the truth of our Lord’s words
      which we heard today “whosoever will be great among you, shall be your
      minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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