May 7, 2011

Saint Alexis Feast Day In Wilkes-Barre

John Krispin
May 7, 2011
The Times Leader

St. Alexis brought the power of communication to the Wyoming Valley when he became the first priest of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre more than a century ago.

The 102nd anniversary of the Repose (death) of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre will be observed today, with Bishop Tikhon, of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania of the Orthodox Church in America, as a main celebrant.

It was the power of the written word that helped bring St. Alexis’ Austrian-Hungarian people, who came to the Wyoming Valley to find work in the mines and mills, together to a religious welcoming not only in the Wyoming Valley but also in North America.

“He came to America, and there was no bishop for the Eastern Rite,” said the Rev. Martin Browne, of St. John’s Orthodox Church, Edwardsville, who will lecture on the life and history of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre at today’s service. “This was the late 1870s, and at that time people were talking about how American the church shall be.”

At this point, St. Alexis was working with immigrants in Minneapolis, Minn. Browne said this was the first step in St. Alexis’ duties in America, known officially as Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy in America.

“The consensus is, by his efforts, 15,000 people came into the Orthodox Church in 18 years. That’s nearly 1,000 new members a year,” said Rev. Browne.

He didn’t just do his duties in Wilkes-Barre. From the Midwest states through the New England states, he spread and professed the faith at “a great personal cost.”

“He suffered by virtue of becoming. There was a lot of name-calling and accusations made against him, and that gave him the title of confessor after suffering for his faith,” said Browne. “He defended the church, therefore giving him the name ‘defender’ of the faith in his name.”

The service will start at the main altar, where the liturgy is celebrated, and reliquary that holds a relic of St. Alexis will be used during a song or prayer. He was a mitered arch priest, which was the highest level of priesthood before becoming a bishop.

“They (his altar and relic) provide a physical connection and manifest his connection in a physical way. As a sign of respect and love, the hymn will be sung before his essence.” Browne said.

“This event is a way to localize the day of prayer for saints, but because he is one who is here in our midst, this is a special feast.”

St. Alexis was canonized in 1994. Every year since, the church has celebrated this day as its feast day. To Browne’s knowledge, St. Alexis is the only Orthodox saint from Wilkes-Barre.