When most people think about saints, they think about Saint Paul, Saint George, Saint Mary of Egypt, and of course the Panagia, the All-Holy Mother of God. Naturally, these are all ancient holy people whom the Church has been honoring for centuries. Their life stories have been incorporated into the life of the Church. Thinking about the ancient saints is a natural part of our Orthodox life, but we rarely think about modern day saints, let alone American saints.
Today is the Feast of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn. Yes…Brooklyn. Yes…NEW YORK! Around the turn of the century, he arrived in the New World from Syria, and began immediately to help reunite Orthodox Christians in America. He was the first bishop to be ordained in the New World, have been ordained in 1909 by two other contemporary saints who were also serving in America, Saints Tikhon and Innocent. During his ministry in America, he established dozens of parishes before falling asleep in the Lord in 1915. His relics are located at Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania.
These are just three American saints. There are more here, and I encourage you to take a moment and read about our American Orthodox Saints. I have a personal connection to Saint Tikhon who, when serving in America before leaving to become Patriarch of Moscow, established the Orthodox Churches in Colorado where I grew up, including my home parish of the Assumption Cathedral. According to the story, St Tikhon had already established the Transfiguration Church in 1898 then being served by a Russian Priest but made up of many ethnic Orthodox. In 1906, after many Greek families had emigrated to the area, he established the Assumption Church and brought a priest from Greece.
The early Church history of America was much more pan Orthodox than today. While we can recognize the past, we must also understand our call for the future. The Orthodox Church is ONE Church and should not be divided along ethnic lines. It may have been pastorally necessary in 1900, but in 2021 we are hard-pressed to find legitimate reason beyond personal preference. May the examples of the early American Saints inspire us to return to the tradition of moving beyond ethnic boundaries and become a united witness to the truth of Orthodoxy. It was the ministry of St Raphael, and it should be our ministry too.