WHILE RUSSIA was at its spiritual height, a group of Orthodox missionaries was sent eastward across Siberia to the New World in order to spread the treasure of the Byzantine Christian Faith. In 1794, a mission team of ten monks was gathered from the Monastery of Valaam, the island where Apostle Andrew had preached the Christian Faith centuries before. In the spirit of the Apostles these Russian monks sailed to Alaska, and through love and self-sacrifice brought thousands of the native peoples to the Christian Faith. One of these missionary monks met a martyr’s end while another began monastic life in the New World, in the spirit of Sr. Anthony the Great and St. Anthony of Kiev. This was St. Herman (ti 836). who became the first saint of the land of America. Thus, through Russia, the Christianity of the Apostles, of the catacombs, and of Byzantium was planted in American soil.
After the death of Sr. Herman the legacy of Orthodox Christianity in the New World was continued by St. Innocent (t1879). He was a simple priest from Siberia who had an unquenchable longing to give his whole life to the service of God. This longing was fulfilled when he sailed to the wilds of Alaska. There he traveled throughout this frontier just as the Apostles did in other lands so long ago, living in hardships and difficulty, suffering extreme poverty and battling the harsh elements of nature with the sole purpose of making Heaven accessible to as many souls as possible. St. Innocent had to create a written language for the natives of Alaska just as Sts. Cyril and Methodius had done for their native people so long ago, so that these new Christians could have the word of God in their own language.
St. Innocent was later chosen to be the Bishop of Alaska and continued to sacrifice himself for his flock. Then in old age he returned to his homeland where he was chosen to be the head of the Church of Russia (a position similar to that of a patriarch). While head of the whole Russian Church he started missionary societies with the aim of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the world. After having lived a full life in the service of God, St. Innocent died in his homeland and found his rest with the saints in Heaven.
Less than twenty years later, a great luminary of the twentieth century was born in St. Innocent’s homeland, who would one day continue the apostolic work in America. This was Sr. John Maximovitch. From childhood he loved Christ and His Church more than anything else in this world. This love was tested when his homeland of Russia became communist/atheist and underwent one of the bloodiest persecutions in the history of Christianity. The Church once again had to go into the catacombs in order to survive. In these difficult times God preserved St. John’s life and he escaped to the Orthodox country of Serbia, where he later became a monk; and soon thereafter he was made a bishop.
As a bishop and successor of the Apostles he went to China, where he founded Orthodox churches. Here he started an orphanage and took care of unwanted children. He would even go to the slums and find babies in garbage cans and take them home. Later he was asked to be the bishop of San Francisco in the United States where he continued his work of living and spreading the Gospel.
Although he lived in the city, his way of life was like that of the desert monks of old. He prayed without ceasing, ate very little only once a day, slept only three hours a night, and wholly sacrificed himself for God and for his fellow man. He voluntarily chose this difficult way of life for the simple reason that Heaven was more important to him than the comforts of the earth. Through this he attained such heights of Christian perfection that he was seen several times surrounded in an unearthly light that emanated from him, and he was given the gift of working miracles. In 1966 St. John died and was laid to rest in San Francisco. To this day, along with St. Herman, St. Innocent, and all the saints of the Orthodox Church, he is revered for bringing the light of Christ to the ends of the world.