On Saturday night I usually pack my pipe and go for a walk to fine-tune and shape my sermon, in an attempt to avoid rambling on and on (as I am prone to do). That morning I had been informed about the sudden repose of Archimandrite Alexander (Dennis Pihach), and it had weighed heavily on my heart throughout the day. I was working on my sermon about St. Tikhon (whose feast day of glorification it was this past Sunday), yet every time I would go over my sermon, I would get lost in thoughts of Fr. Alexander. I would re-focus and get back to my sermon only to slip back into thoughts about Fr. Alexander.
This went on for a bit (well, two hours) as I considered the many humble works St. Tikhon did in this country and province: serving immigrants from Ukraine, preaching the Good News, building churches, babysitting children while their families were in the fields, or helping push wagons out of the mud – all for the Glory a God. then it dawned on me that Fr. Alexander not only continued this work, but also was transition between the world of St. Tikhon and our 21st century Canadian culture; between a culture steeped in a millennium of Christianity, and a world thirsting for meaning; between a cultural Orthodox tradition, and the convert experience.
He always gave honour to the blessed gift of Orthodoxy, the inheritance of those saints and pioneers who brought with them the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Whether it was taking young converts with him to bless homes in rural Manitoba for Old Calendar Theophany, immersing them in the festive life of the Church as lived out in the homes of the faithful, or giving a feast for the servers of the Cathedral in Ottawa on the occasion of his Namesday, and serving at the OCA representation Church in Moscow (a Bukovinian boy from the prairies in Moscow, -how is that for irony); or whether it was his willingness to be “all things to all men that some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22 ) applying the fluidity of the Gospel that witnessed the saving love of Christ, and not simply moral piety: he worked to help others find a their way as Orthodox Christians within a culture that gave no room for either tradition, or conversion.
This was truly his witness and his suffering. To some he was a traitor, and to others a one-track- minded traditionalist, but to myself and to many in the Archdiocese of Canada, he was a voice of reason and clarity.
It was not that Fr. Alexander re-invented Orthodoxy, or that he made it a new, purer expression of Christianity, or that he crystalized the life of the Church into some relic of distant lands and ages. What he did was continually to bear witness to the living Faith: the love of God the Father, in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, made real in the Church, regardless if it was expressed in Slavonic, Ukrainian, English or French, served on the old or new Calendar, or in full or abbreviated services.
His legacy will not simply be the men, women and families that he brought closer to Christ, or the men he inspired to serve at Christ’s Altar (myself included); or the churches he built, and the parishes he healed. Rather, like St. Tikhon’s legacy, the seal of his legacy is that he cultivated the hearts of the faithful that they might hear the voice of the Shepherd, Christ our God, calling each of us to peace, mercy and grace in a very turbulent and trying time.
The question now for us is what do we do? how do we serve? What do we proclaim? Do we cultivate the world around us to hear our own voices, or the voice of the one Shepherd who calls us by name? Is it our own word that we bear witness to, or the divine Word, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon all creation?
If we are true to the work of St. Tikhon and holy men and women who have served the Lord in Canada (like our beloved Archbishop Arseny); and if we are true to the memory of Fr. Alexander, our proclamation will be of the Lord’s saving mercy poured out onto a new land, a proclamation that cutting through the noise of sin so that the hear voice of God calling us to life eternal.
May His memory be eternal.