St. Tikhon of Moscow, Apostle to America, is a particularly special saint for me: I was received into the Orthodox Church on his spring feast day, April 7th; I went to the seminary that bore the name of his patron saint (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk); I prayed there for three years at the monastery he founded; and I was married on his fall feast day, October 9th. During seminary I wrote a brief biography of him for a class, which I have presented in full below.
Troparion to St. Tikhon of Moscow
Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia,
And enlightener of North America,
An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions,
And good pastor of the Church of Christ,
Who was elected by divine providence,
And laid down his life for his sheep.
Let us sing to him with faith and hope,
And ask for his hierarchical intercessions:
Keep the church in Russia in tranquility,
And the church in North America in peace.
Gather her scattered children into one flock,
Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith,
Preserve our lands from civil strife,
And entreat God’s peace for all people!
In studying the life of St. Tikhon of Moscow, it is immediately evident that several major themes in his life are expressed in the troparion that was composed in his honor: his archpastoral role in North America and in Russia, his self-sacrifice for his people, his peaceful spirit, and his desire for church unity. While much of the biographical information extant on his life focuses on his time as Patriarch of All Russia in the midst of the horrors of the Russian Revolution, this study will focus primarily on his archpastoral ministry in North America, between the years 1898 and 1907. Therefore, this study will attempt to illustrate the ways in which these major themes of his life were manifest in his experiences while ministering in our land. While these themes are mentioned in his troparia are evident in his Patriarchal role, this study will show how this archpastor envisioned his own service as being crucified with Christ, how his peaceful and humble spirit penetrated all of his work, and how he truly desired unity in the Body of Christ.
St. Tikhon was born Vassily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865, eighteen days after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. When he was a small child, Russia sold its Alaskan colony to the United States (1867) and the United States completed the First Transcontinental Railroad (1869). During the time that young Vassily attended his local catechetical school (high school), seminary in Pskov, and the Theological Academy at St. Petersburg, the American expansion westward exploded. When the American Manifest Destiny was in full steam, foreigners from Eastern and Southern Europe began to immigrate to the Eastern United States in waves upon waves. These events would have an enormous impact upon St. Tikhon’s work in North America.
When Vassily took monastic vows in 1891, he took the name Tikhon in honor of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. After being ordained a priest, he taught at the seminaries in Kholm and Kazan in the Russian Empire. Shortly thereafter, he received the rank of Archimandrite, and in October 1897 he was consecrated Bishop of Liublin, modern-day Poland; however, he immediately returned to Kholm to serve as Vicarial Bishop for a year. “On September 14, 1898, Tikhon was made Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” and as he had so gained the love and trust of his flock in this short period of time, “on the day of his actual departure people threw themselves on the tracks to keep the train from leaving and had to be removed forcibly.”
The Pastor of His Flock
“Let us praise Tikhon...
...[who] laid down his life for his sheep.”
As San Francisco was the diocesan see of the American Mission in 1898, St. Tikhon traveled there shortly after his arrival to America. In his first recorded homily in San Francisco, he exhibited one of his greatest strengths: that of being an exceptional pastor of Christ’s flock. In the homily that he delivered upon this first visit to the San Francisco Cathedral, he shows his great pastoral sensitivity in speaking to his new flock of his desire to work for their benefit—not as their superior, but as a loving pastor:
And my unworthiness, through the will of God, was called to the apostolic service here, and here now I will “say to them who were not my people, Thou art my people; I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy.” Before, we were strangers to each other and did not know each other; but from now on, by the Lord Himself we will become closely connected in the mutual relationship of a bishop with his flock and a flock with their bishop.
St. Tikhon’s great pastoral sensitivity was grounded in a profound sense of humility. In his homilies given in America, St. Tikhon showed his utter conviction that leadership in the Church, indeed, service for Christ in any capacity, requires growth in humility. Even before he died as a confessor for the Faith under the Bolsheviks, St. Tikhon was not averse to self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake. It is fitting that he was named Bishop of the American Diocese on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, for his ministry in America can be seen in many respects as a preparation for his difficult service as Patriarch of Russia. This conviction of the necessity to give oneself entirely for Christ’s sake and for His flock is perhaps best illustrated in several homilies that he delivered at the ordinations of priests. One of these homilies in particular, delivered in San Francisco to the newly-ordained priest Fr. Peter Popov on September 17, 1900, reveals St. Tikhon’s conviction of pastoral ministry as self-sacrifice. St. Tikhon used the proximity of the ordination to the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross as an opportunity to describe pastoral ministry in its most honest, humble terms:
Through the way of suffering and the Cross went the Most Holy Master of all pastors, Christ Himself; this is proclaimed by the Cross of the Lord displayed today. Anyone who wants to serve Him must follow the same path… If He, while being the Son, “learned obedience through suffering” (Heb. 5:8), then even more so we cannot attain moral perfection without saving sorrows. If He endured offenses, and abuses, and terrible sufferings, and the life-giving Cross, while being innocent, then even more so we must endure suffering, which we rightly deserve through our sin, without complaint. In one word, each one of us must crucify himself with Christ.
St. Tikhon’s pastoral strength, rooted in the suffering and humility of Christ, certainly manifested itself through what must have been a grueling travel schedule. An important component of his pastoral ministry throughout his life was extensive travel and visitation of many churches, regardless of size or importance. As this was true in his work as the rector of the Kholm Seminary from 1892 to 1897, and later in his work back in Russia, it was certainly true in his work in North America. Between December 1898 and February 1907, St. Tikhon traveled the span of the United States many times, and in some cases at least twice in one year; he also visited Alaska several times, and did not ignore the interior, visiting Texas, Minnesota, Alberta, and Pennsylvania on several occasions. Even during his summer retreat to St. Tikhon’s Monastery in the summer of 1906, which he co-founded, he visited every church in the area. Archishop Arseny (Chagovstov), a co-founder St. Tikhon’s monastery and seminary, recalls, “This anchoretic-monastery life of Vladika is interrupted and diversified by trips to the neighboring parishes for Archpastoral services on Sundays. None of the neighbors is forgotten. All parishes—poor and well-to-do, populous and not—had the pleasure of receiving the exalted guest.” Perhaps this is a helpful reminder in our time, when many parishes are struggling due to poor attendance, an adverse economic climate, or other factors, not to ignore them. St. Tikhon clearly showed throughout his life that as “God shows no partiality,” neither should we.
It is possible that the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in his childhood, was St. Tikhon’s solace in an otherwise hectic environment. Certainly it is plausible to conjecture that this man, who awed others by his “peace of mind” in the face of crushing trials and dangers, took some time to adjust to the peripatetic life of a bishop. For a bishop that traveled as extensively as he did, perhaps the long train rides across golden plains and misty mountains offered him a sense of solace and peace.
What weakness was there in him? Was his peaceful spirit an inhibition to archpastoral ministry? Jane Swan relates that “Tikhon’s very mildness and gentleness were misleading on first acquaintance and many took it for weakness.” Perhaps this “mildness and gentleness” was both a source of quiet strength and a personality trait that he had to keep in check, for fear that passivity would take over. If his quiet strength waned, and his desire for peace—perhaps even at all costs—took over, this might explain his temporary abdication of patriarchal authority in May 1922, under pressure from the nascent Living Church. But even then, his great spiritual strength and humility shone through: for toward the end of his life, he heroically said, “Let my name perish in history, only that the church might live.” This statement could not be born out of passivity, but from a quiet trust in the Providence of God. If St. Tikhon did indeed struggle with passivity for the sake of peace, this possible weakness is not immediately apparent in his work in America. It is difficult to identify his weaknesses, as he lived a very positive, holy life among his flock; as Jane Swan has noted, he was very loth to speak of himself in any of his homilies, which are the most valuable primary resources available from this period of his life.
A Heart for Unity
“Gather her scattered children into one flock,
Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith.”
St. Tikhon’s work in North America was marked by a number of drastic organizational changes, all aimed toward building a stronger local American Orthodox Church. These changes, though working in tandem, appear to be of two varieties: first, efforts to foster the unity of the local Church, and second, to work toward unity with other Christian confessions. “Early in his tenure in North America, Tikhon realized that the missionary diocese, as then organized, was unequal to the tasks assigned to it.”
St. Tikhon’s vision for the American Mission required, firstly, a reconfiguration of episcopal oversight. St. Tikhon consecrated a new auxiliary bishop for Alaska in 1903, and in 1905 moved the diocesan see from San Francisco to New York. This was aimed at having a greater proximity to newly arriving immigrants and converts from the Unia. In 1904 he consecrated St. Raphael Hawaweeny as the auxiliary bishop for the Arab Christians, whose see was in Brooklyn. As part of his vision for a unified local Church, in 1905 St. Tikhon proposed a reorganizational plan to the Russian Holy Synod in which the American Church would be divided into five Dioceses: “1. The Archdiocese of New York, which would have all the Russian parishes in the United States and Canada under its authority; 2. The Diocese of Alaska, which would include the churches of the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos); 3. The Diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian); 4. The Diocese of Chicago (Serbian); and 5. The Greek diocese (?).” St. Tikhon was certain that the strength of Orthodoxy in America would be contingent on the mutual cooperation of the various ethnicities. For this reason, he said at one time, “The closer the unity among the Orthodox of various nationalities, the stronger will the Orthodox be in this land.” This vision of Orthodox unity in America has not completely died out since St. Tikhon’s time, as the existence of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America attests, in some small way. However, the grass-roots cooperation that St. Tikhon envisioned is far from maturity. Certainly the connection between healthy missionary activity and Orthodox unity, which for St. Tikhon was a given, needs to be recalled in our time—this can only be accomplished by the renewing of the vision that guided St. Tikhon in America.
St. Tikhon also was aware of the necessity for the Mission to be self-sustaining. Better education was a foci of his episcopacy in America. In 1905 he established the first Orthodox seminary in Minneapolis, the place of St. Alexis’ miraculous reception of many Uniates back into the Faith of their fathers. That year he also helped establish St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Also, in one of his most influential actions, he guided the first All-American Sobor, held in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in February 1907, to adopt a conciliar form of self-government—in keeping with the spirit of American democracy. These efforts were meant to help the local Church become self-sustaining, and in many ways they have contributed to the unique character of American Orthodoxy.
Another major aspect of his ministry in America was his positive relations with the surrounding culture. This was manifest particularly in his relations with the Uniates who had immigrated to the United States. Earlier in his life, St. Tikhon was highly influential in the re-conversion of many Uniates in Kholm back to Orthodoxy, both as the seminary rector of that city and later as bishop. Although his dreams of a multi-ethnic local Church in America did not survive the early 1920s, his missionary dreams thrived under his successors, under which many Uniates continued to return to the Orthodox Church. This great desire to enlighten the Uniates is best illustrated in a homily he delivered in 1903 at the funeral of Bishop Markell Popel in St. Petersburg. In this homily, he speaks of Bishop Markell’s extraordinary missionary efforts, which resulted in some 200,000 Uniates in Eastern Europe returning to Orthodoxy under his guidance.
St. Tikhon’s administration of the American Mission was not inhibited by overbearing ethno-phyletic concerns. In a letter to Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary and “the first [American] commissioner of education” in Alaska, St. Tikhon explicitly states that the Orthodox Church did not seek to “Russify” the local population; on the contrary, he was supportive of the native population learning English along with Church Slavonic. For American Orthodoxy to continue to thrive in the New World, St. Tikhon enlisted the talents of Isabel Hapgood, an Episcopalian, to translate and compile the groundbreaking Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Church, completed in 1906; this was the most influential English service book of the Orthodox Church, and is still used. Supporting these contacts with non-Orthodox is certainly an aspect of St. Tikhon’s ministry that we can learn from. St. Tikhon showed no fear that increased contact with non-Orthodox would make his own flock susceptible to foreign influence; rather, he embraced dialogue with Christians of other backgrounds and the use of English in services.
St. Tikhon and the 21st Century
“Let us sing to him with faith and hope,
And ask for his hierarchical intercessions:
Keep the church in Russia in tranquility,
And the church in North America in peace.”
St. Tikhon’s vision for the American Mission undoubtedly did not survive in its entirety: although the Metropolia was granted autocephaly in 1970, which was one of St. Tikhon’s dreams, the united American Orthodox Church did not survive the 1920s. Whereas large numbers of Uniates converted before, during, and after his administration in our land, many Uniate churches remain in the Catholic Church. Whereas many mission parishes have been planted where Orthodoxy has never been, particularly in the southern and western United States, Orthodox Christians in North America remain separated by jurisdiction.
If St. Tikhon were to speak to us, now, what might he say? Perhaps he might speak to us as he spoke to his flock in his last homily in the United States, in the New York Cathedral in March 1907: “Don’t lose the vision.” As he spoke in 1907, so he might speak now. We cannot boast of great numbers of the faithful, and often our church appears weak and contemptible; however, our archpastor assured his flock in 1907 and assures us now that “in reality “God’s power and wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:24) are concealed in it. It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, its clarity of rules, a deep sense of liturgical service, and an abundance of grace.”
“Don’t lose the vision, little flock.” We do not have jurisdictional unity, and this most certainly is a hindrance to the mission that Christ gave in Matthew 28:19-20 to spread the gospel throughout the whole world. As St. Tikhon states in his last homily in North America, it is not enough merely to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. “It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph.” And how do we promote our triumphal faith? Dying to oneself, humility, and placing the Gospel above all else in this brief life.
Perhaps St. Tikhon would be disappointed to see how our churches are often diminishing, how many have become ethnic ghettos, how they are dangerously close to losing the vision of what every Christian life should entail: one’s “personal podvig” for the sake of the Kingdom of God. “The spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us,” he reminds us. “Don’t lose the vision—it’s not too late! Take up your crosses and witness the love of Christ, and our Church will indeed triumph. This is the way to true Christian unity; this is the only way to witness our precious Orthodox Faith.”
 George A. Gray, Portraits of American Saints, 5th ed. (Los Angeles: Department of Communications, Diocese of the West, OCA, 1994), 33.
 Jane Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery, 1964), 9-10.
 “A Sermon Preached on Ascending the Archpastoral Cathedra, San Francisco, 11/23 December, 1898,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, When He Served as Archbishop of the Russian Missionary Diocese in America: 1898 – 1907, trans. Alex Maximov and David C. Ford, 18-19.
 “Homily Addressed to the Newly Ordained Priest, Fr. Peter Popov, Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco September 17, 1900,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 49.
 Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 8-9.
 Ibid., 11, 90.
 “An Introductory Vignette: The Stay of His Eminence, the Most Reverend Tikhon, at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, and His Visits to the Neighboring Parishes,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, trans. Alex Maximov and Fr. Juvenaly (Repass), 15.
 Acts. 10:34.
 Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 50.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 83.
 Ibid., 10.
 Mark Stokoe and Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994 (Orthodox Christian Publications Center, 1995), 35.
 “Opinions on the Issues Proposed for Discussion at the Pomestni Council of the All-Russia Church,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 156-7. N. 160 states that the question mark was original, as St. Tikhon was not sure concerning the degree of Greek cooperation with the Russian Mission.
 Gray, Portraits of American Saints, 34.
 Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 39.
 Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 8-9.
 Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 39.
 “A Sermon preached at the funeral service of the Right Reverend Bishop Markell (Popel),” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 117-121.
 Michael J. Oleksa, “Orthodoxy in Alaska: The Spiritual History of the Kodiak Aleut People,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 25, no. 1 (1981) : 16.
 “A Response to the general agent for education in Alaska, Mr. Sheldon Jackson,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 38-39.
 Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 42.
 Quotes in italics are my attempt to capture the ethos with which St. Tikhon preached.
 “Farewell Sermon Preached on the Sunday of Orthodoxy,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 182.
 Ibid., 183.