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Six Ukrainian Saints Raised to Universal Honour

Dr. Alexander Roman (email)

The Second Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Catholic Church is the Sunday commemorating the Saints of the various Local Churches, unless such a Feast is appointed for another time by ecclesial authority.

This year, the feast of all Saints of Kyivan Rus’-Ukraine was marked by the glorification of six Saints whose cult of veneration was extended and elevated for national/universal honour.

The Kyivan Caves Lavra in Kyiv enshrines the holy and miraculous relics of monastic and other Saints within its underground caverns divided into the two “Caves” of St Anthony and St Theodosius respectively. More than 125 monastic Saints are enshrined there and one may see their “Arks” containing their relics as one walks through the narrow underground passages.

In addition, there are enshrined the relics of 61 skulls of unknown Saints which actually exude myrrh. They are contained in special silver bowls in order to catch the holy myrrh. We must add to this number the many sainted bishops and missionaries who were tonsured as monastics at the Lavra whose complete number may never be completely known and who are feted in other places and countries where they laboured in the Vineyard of Christ.

Finally, there are the Saints of another “Caves Monastery” not too far away that was founded closer to the time of St Volodymyr the Great, the Enlightener of Kyivan Rus’ and Equal to the Apostles – the Kyivan Zverynetsky Monastery. Destroyed by enemy invaders and marauders, the shrines of the Venerable Saints of this ancient monastery are still extant and the Church has, once again, reinstated their veneration in her calendar and liturgical prayer – including the numerous Venerable Martyrs killed during the incursions whose names are known only to God!

One of the things that is a constant with the Caves Saints of Kyiv is that their number continues to increase both through new glorifications/canonizations and through the discovery of new Saints who were tonsured there.

Three of the newly glorified Saints belong to the former category, in fact. St Paul (Koniuskevych), Metropolitan of Tobilsk was descended from an aristocratic family in Halychyna in Ukraine. He was tonsured at the Kyivan Caves Lavra and attained a high education, becoming a professor at Kyiv and a poet. Assigned to Tobilsk in Siberia, he promoted the Christianization of the peoples there, building churches and chapels (“chasovnia”) as well as an improved theological education for the clergy. He returned to Kyiv and took up the life of the Kyivan Caves ascetics until his repose there where he was buried at the Dormition Cathedral together with the great Archimandrite of the Lavra and Metropolitan of Kyiv, St Peter Mohyla. A true missionary to Siberia, he promoted the veneration of several local Siberian Saints, especially St Basil of Mangazea, a servant whose religious zeal angered his master who beat him to death and whose icons he had installed in several public places throughout Kyiv!

St Philaret (Amphiteatrov) came from the Orlovsky region before assuming his responsibilities as Metropolitan of Kyiv and Halych. Although not tonsured at the Lavra, he became an ascetic in the traditions of the Lavra, labouring in the Holosyivsky Skete which was a dependency of the Kyivan Caves. Like St Paul, St Philaret laboured incessantly to raise the theological education of the clergy through improved seminary programs. Like St Paul, he too was a missionary in Siberia (where he was glorified locally among the Saints of Siberia).

And, like St Paul, he prayed incessantly, receiving Holy Communion frequently, even daily and encouraged his great flock to participate more actively in the prayer and sacramental life of the Church while pondering the Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers. His shrine is in the Kyivan Caves proper, together with that of St Volodymyr, Metropolitan of Kyiv, and Protomartyr of the Godless Yoke (who was shot by the Bolsheviks after long torture against the walls of the Lavra).

St Anthony (Smirnitsky) was Bishop of Voronezh and Zadonsk. He was a most worthy successor to the famous St Tikhon of Zadonsk and St Mitrophan before him.

St Anthony received his tonsure at the Kyivan Caves Lavra and taught there, having completed the highest possible degrees in theology and philosophy. He knew and corresponded with St Seraphim of Sarov (who predicted that he would become Bishop one day – St Seraphim himself having been tonsured at the Kyivan Caves Lavra by the Abbot St Dositheus – in reality a woman – who blessed him to go to Sarov).

Like his predecessor St Tikhon (Sokolovsky) of Zadonsk, St Anthony was warmly devoted to the Jesus Prayer, frequent Holy Communion, the Church Services and the reading of Holy Scripture.

Two Venerable women Saints were likewise glorified, the two sisters of the great Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus’ St Alexius, Sts. Juliana and Eupraxia - all three of whom were descended from a Ukrainian aristocratic family. They established the Monastery of the Conception of St Anne which continues to this day and assisted their brother with his great works associated with his Metropolitanical responsibilities.

And although St Alexius moved the Kyivan See northwards towards Vladimir on the Kliazma and then to Moscow, he did so solely to protect the Church from destruction by marauding invaders from the East. No matter where he went, he was always “Metropolitan of Kyiv.”

St John Maximovich of Shanghai and San Francisco is very well known not only throughout the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, but also among other Christians. Indeed, people from other faiths entirely have experienced the miraculous benefit of his intercession at his tomb . . .

Descended from the same family as St John Maximovich, Metropolitan of Tobilsk and after whom he was named, St John became Archbishop of Shanghai and then parted ways with the Russian Orthodox Church in Stalin’s time. Having worked hard to establish Orthodoxy in the West in France, Spain and the Netherlands, he brought numerous orphans with him from the Philippines to San Francisco just as the forces of Dai Nippon invaded those islands. Although of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, his veneration by many peoples through the Diaspora led to his being called “the Apostle of the Diaspora.”

At his repose in 1966, the grown-up orphans he had brought to America as their adopted Father in Christ took turns carrying his coffin/Ark on their shoulders into the basement where it was enshrined until his later glorification by ROCOR.

In 1999, petitions were addressed to the Moscow Patriarchate for it to extend St John’s veneration formally throughout Russia and indeed universally. The petitions were approved in principle but were put on hold until such time as the schism between ROCOR and the ROC was healed. That healing took place in 2007 and this week saw the first time that the Primus of the ROCOR took part as a full member of the Synod of the ROC.

At the same time, the glorification of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was approved by the ROC for universal veneration and the great ascetic and miracle-worker has now taken his rightful place among the great Saints of world-wide Orthodoxy, not to mention the great veneration he has enjoyed for years among other Christians (there was even an Episcopal parish in the U.S. that sought to have itself dedicated to “St John of Shanghai!”).

In what is a most fascinating turn of events, the Synod also gave its approval to its Canonization Committee to study in depth the cases of the Saints that ROCOR glorified in the interim period of separation in order to clear them for inclusion in the pan-Russian calendar of saints.

Such saints include St Theophane of Poltava and St Jonah of Manchuria. There are also a number of New Martyrs that ROCOR glorified that are not on the ROC calendar.

All in all, the Canonization Committee’s work is cut out for them and will constitute a fascinating case study in how Churches that reunite after a period of separation approach their respective Saints as they try to unite their calendars.

The precedents that will be eventually set by the work of the Canonization Committee will definitely have reverberations for the talks between the Orthodox and the Oriental Churches, for those with the Old Believers (in fact, there is a movement in Russia to include the Old Rite saints in the Russian calendar, including St Avvakum the Old Believer) and others. The Orthodox monastery of New Skete in New York is a former Byzantine Catholic Franciscan monastery and they continue to privately venerate Sts. Francis and Clare (and to publish their icons).

Presumably, it might be possible for some New Martyrs that are on the calendar of ROCOR to be rejected as a result of the outcome of this investigation, the principles which led ROCOR to canonize them, a fuller understanding of their lives etc. I will keep you posted!

In the meantime, the contemporary witness of these new Saints with their dedication to the wellsprings of ancient Christian spirituality is destined to inspire the entire world. May their prayers protect us always and may they fill us with zeal to strive to put into practice their teachings by word and example in the Life in Christ!


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