A Siberian Missionary to America

IMG_8794From a small city church in Russian Siberia to one of America’s largest cathedrals in San Francisco, our batiushka (endearing term for priest) is about to finally complete his mission and strengthen a Cross-Pacific relationship that began in the middle of this past century. The story is bound up with one of America’s most beloved saints, Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who after establishing St. Tikhon’s Orphanage in China, fled Shanghai  in 1949 when the flood of communism spilled into that ancient land as well. The saint fled first to a storm-ridden island in the Philippines and then to San Francisco in 1962. What concerns our Siberian pastor is that many other Russians fled with the Archbishop from his home city of Kyakhta, an important trade center on the northern border with Mongolia. To mark this connection between the mother city and the place of these emigrants’ exile, batiushka has brought a copy of the icon Mother of God, Surety of Sinners, all the way from its original home in Kyakhta to the San Francisco Cathedral “Joy of All Who Sorrow” on Geary Boulevard. Continue reading

Fellow Pilgrims of St. Herman

hermanalaska

June 18, 2016
Eve of Pentecost

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. (I Peter 2:11)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36)

This world and all its lusts make us who live here forget that our true home lies elsewhere. Pilgrimage is the God-given tool for overcoming our excessive attachment to this world.  On this Eve of the Feast, having arrived at the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity in North America, our small group of pilgrims assembles in the early morning around the relics of America’s first Orthodox saint, Herman of Alaska, to pray for the salvation of our souls. I am here in Kodiak, Alaska with my brother-in-law and a priest who has almost circumnavigated the globe from a city if Siberia just north of Mongolia. We are guests at St. Herman Seminary in an unfamiliar place, but the common love for St. Herman makes us feel right at home as we meet other pilgrims from places as far flung as ours. Continue reading

Cultural Camping

6:30am

I cannot believe it has taken our family this long to start camping seriously. It is such a close cousin to the dacha experience in Russia only without the growing of crops, for camping tends to be of much shorter duration than Dacha. Growing up with Asthma, I was rarely able to even go anywhere overnight in a tent. Now that I am older and less affected by allergies, I am making up for lost time in my contact with the natural world. Continue reading

All Things To All Men

pentecost_kirillo-belozerskSunday, May 31, 2015
Feast Day of Pentecost

It always happens to me as we near the end of our time in Russia. The battle fatigue sets in from being constantly surrounded by a culture not my own, hearing another tongue I can barely speak myself, and meeting people with whom I miss so many unspoken cultural cues and gestures. In its most extreme form, it is called culture shock, and even the most seasoned travelers are subject to it. The best remedy for it is a kind of cross-cultural humility that’s hard to come by for most Americans, and especially for this one.

Growing up in a small town in the midwest, I found excursions to the big city of Toledo to be enough of a thrill. When we wanted to visit a foreign country, we traveled several hours north and crossed the border into Canada (in those days, they did not even require a passport). With our country surrounded on two borders by oceans, it is easy for us to think of ourselves as the center of the world. The farthest most Americans I knew traveled was down to Florida for Disneyland. But there was one exception to this general rule, and that was those who had accepted the call to be missionaries and spread the Gospel throughout the world. Continue reading

Care for the Soul, a Thing Immortal

Frs.-Herman-and-SeraphimA1Test thyself, who thou art; come to know thy nature; come to know that thy body is mortal, while thy soul is immortal, that our life is two­-sided: one side, proper the flesh, is transitory, while the other, related to the soul, does not admit limitation. Therefore, take heed to thyself, do not dwell on the mortal as eternal, and do not disdain the eternal as transitory. Do not care about the flesh, because it passes away; take care for the soul, a thing immortal.

— Saint Basil the Great

Fr. Herman (Podmoshesky), sometime abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, died today after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes. While his wish was for his body to lie in the ground close to his friend and co-struggler in the monastic life, Fr. Seraphim Rose, his precious soul, which he poured out on behalf of so many, will still be alive in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him. He is one of the first Orthodox pastors to teach me the true place of beauty in the spiritual life and how important it is to feed one’s soul with truth, beauty, and goodness before ever aspiring to things of the spirit. Continue reading

Pop Culture That’s Alive

In a previous post, I exaggerated a bit about our family’s lack of media consumption. We do watch a little bit of television in Russia, but it is the kind of programming that we don’t find in America. After breakfast around 10:00am, we watch a 20 minute segment of cultural news on a whole channel appropriately named Kultura which also features documentaries, interviews, classic films, fine art reviews, opera, ballet… you name it. It’s a bit like PBS on steroids.

Similarly, the children’s theatre here is on a whole different level. I went today with my children to the Old Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard; it was the first time for me as well as for my children. Continue reading

When Things Don’t Work

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

An avid reader of this blog several years ago implored me to tell a few of the difficulties of living abroad with a large young family. While I do not wish to complain about our gracious host country, I also do not want to paint all of our experiences with an overly rosy outlook. Truth be told, it is often quite hard, especially when things don’t work out the way they are planned. And especially for us Americans who just expect everything as a rule to be safe, expedient, and convenient, a paradoxical place like Russia can become quite unnerving. Continue reading