by Fr. Andrew Morbey
As we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, we also remember those saints, bishops, clergy, and laymen who worked so diligently and with immense faith to establish Christ’s Holy Church here in North America. In this reflection, Archpriest Andrew Morbey, Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota, reflects on the place of the cathedral in the history of the Orthodox Church in America on the anniversary of the reception back into the Orthodox faith of the cathedral parish.
Yesterday we commemorated the repose of Saint Tikhon of Moscow, Englightern of North America, and celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation on the Julian Calendar. There are at least two significant ‘recent’ events for Saint Mary’s Cathedral on this date.
The first is that it is on this date in 1891 that Bishop Vladimir came to Minneapolis from San Francisco and received the Greek Catholic parish of the Protection of the Mother of God into the Orthodox Church. Prior to his Minneapolis pastoral visit, he had received Saint Alexis of Wilkes Barre and Minneapolis into the Orthodox Church at his San Francisco Cathedral. Saint Alexis had travelled to the Bay to meet the Bishop on behalf of the parish. I think that the words of the Troparion of the Annunciation on that day in 1891 had a special poignancy: Today is the beginning of our salvation…
Interestingly enough, Bishop Vladimir had a Japanese connection. Some years before his appointment to America, he had been attached to the Orthodox Mission in Japan. It is said that he was a zealous disciple of Saint Nicholas of Japan. Matthew Namee writes on his Orthodox History blog, “With his own eyes he [Bishop Vladimir] saw how Orthodoxy was inaugurated and began to flourish in Japan, and he wanted to establish the same in America. He began serving the Divine Liturgy in English and preaching in English, knowing well the language. From Russia he brought with him twenty people, among whom were priests, deacons, readers and singers. He had ambitious designs and an example to emulate in the person of his teacher, Saint Nicholas of Japan…” It was Bishop Vladimir’s keen interest in Orthodox mission, and his positive, hands-on experience of mission work in Japan, that inspired his warm reception of Saint Alexis and the Minneapolis parish.
The following year, after Bishop Vladimir had returned to Russia, his replacement, the new Bishop Nicholas, requested confirmation from the Holy Synod in Saint Petersburg of the situation in Minneapolis. Namee writes, “In its Ukase addressed to Bishop Nicholas on 14 September 1892, the Holy Synod approved the reception of Priest Toth in his existing rank, and his Minneapolis parish was registered as part of the Aleut diocese.” And so an early link was made between Saint Mary’s and the Alaskan Church. It is a history that needs to be documented. Saint Anatole Kamenskii, for example, was assigned from Alaska to serve Saint Mary’s and the Missionary School established there in 1899. Bishop Nicholas later went on to become the missionary-minded Archbishop of Warsaw, reposing in 1915.
The second connection concerns Saint Tikhon, the New-Confessor, Patriarch of Moscow (1917 - 1925), Enlightener of North America, who had been the head of the Orthodox Mission in North America with the title of Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and later Archbishop of North America (1898 - 1907). In early April in 1925, under house arrest in Moscow at the Donskoy Monastery, harassed and probably poisoned, he began to feel overwhelmed, and his strength and health declined. On Sunday April 5, 1925 he served his last Liturgy. Two days later, he died blessing himself with the Sign of the Cross, saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” He only crossed himself two times, dying before he could complete the third.
Saint Tikhon made several visits to Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Two important ones took place after our little wooden church burned down in 1904. He came in 1905 to bless the foundation of the new church. He returned in 1906 to consecrate the altar table and the impressive new brick temple which we continue to worship in today. We continue to use the original altar table. It is a very real and inspiring connection between our community and the life of the Patriarch and ultimately to his witness and confession of faith. We have a relic of Saint Tikhon embedded in his icon on the analoy to the right of the iconostasis, and of course, he appears on our south wall, in a fresco with Saint Alexis, together holding Saint Mary’s. We count them among our founders and benefactors, and our heavenly intercessors.
Saint Alexis, Bishop Vladimir, Bishop Nicholas and Saint Tikhon were dedicated to the building up of Orthodoxy. They had a vision for the mission of the Orthodox faith in America, and they prayerfully, diligently and creatively worked to allow it to flourish with God’s help. They lived lives of tremendous Christian witness.
That these events fell on the Annunciation can remind us that we are individually and collectively under the Protection of the Mother of God. By her intercessions, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us!