This week we have the joy of commemorating two profound and wonderful saints who labored here in North America as missionaries, St. Vasily Martysz (Monday May 4th- the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom) and St. Alexis Toth (Thursday May 7th).
Although most people know about St. Alexis, whose conviction that faith of his ancestors, was that of Orthodox Christianity and not Roman Catholicism, manifested the return of millions of Eastern Catholics to Orthodoxy over a hundred years ago. Although the founders of St. Nicholas might not have known of St. Alexis, they certainly followed his example in returning to Orthodoxy from Ukrainian Catholicism when they settled in Narol just over a hundred years ago.
Not as many people know about St. Vasily Martysz, whose service in the Orthodox Church, extended through Alaska, Pennsylvania, Alberta, Russia, and back to his home in Poland. He even served for a time as the Dean of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba (in which he would have being an active element in facilitating the founding of our parish in 1911). I encourage everyone to follow the links and read (or re-read) about their lives and witness.
Nonetheless, like all the saints who have manifested the mercy and love of the Lord throughout the ages, both saints, through their service and labours preserved what was given to them in their role as missionaries. They also insured that we would have an inheritance richer than anything we could ever imagine; that of Orthodox Christianity. As I was thinking about them, and their work, it dawned on me how they both manifested the witness of Joseph of Arimathia and Nicodemus (whom we commemorated this past Sunday) in their lives and labours here in North America.
As both Joseph (Mk. 15:43) and Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1-21) sought out the Lord, both Sts. Alexis and Vasily sought out the Lord, searching for him even if it meant traveling around the world to encounter Him from the woods of Alaska to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, to the expansive prairies of Canada. As both Joseph and Nicodemus left the security and status of the Jewish Sanhedrin and leadership in following Christ, so too did Sts. Alexis and Vasily in forsaking the security of homelands or denomination, loosing everything to gain Christ.
As both Joseph and Nicodemus did not abandon the Lord, even in death and failure, but in boldness, served Him out of love and thanksgiving taking him down from the Cross, wrapping and anointing Him, and placing Him in a new tomb, so too did Sts. Alexis and Vasily faithfully serve the Chruch, serve the Lord. They did not abandon the small and disjointed Orthodox communities scattered throughout this continent, bruised and beat down by sectarian strife, racism, pressures to assimilate both culturally and spiritually as Americans or Canadians. Rather like Joseph and Nicodemus in the face of unimaginable odds and against unimaginable challenges, offered their love as shepherds for their flocks without care for their own lives.
I suppose you could make this comparison with almost any saint. Yet the connection offered by them to a historical Eastern Orthodoxy manifested in a new world in circumstances that were very familiar to the founders of our Church (even within in our grandparents lives), reveals their work as something close and personal; and by extension, it reveals the witness of Sts. Joseph and Nicodemus equally as something close and personal.
The challenge for us today is to preserve what has been given us, by Sts. Alexis and Vasily, and insure for future generations, an inheritance richer than anything one could ever imagine; that of Orthodox Christianity.
By the prayers of St. Joseph and Nicodemus, and of St. Alexis and Vasily, may we be inspired to serve the Lord and neighbor with the same love they manifested.