September 24, 2019

Saint Juvenaly of Alaska as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Juvenaly, who in the world was known as Yakov Feodorov, was born in Russia in 1756. He was a military man and reached the rank of brigadier, but the desire for God that burned in his heart caused him to abandon the military and settle in the renowned Monastery of Valaam, where he was tonsured a monk and ordained a priest. The abbot of the monastery, Staretz Nazarius, seeing his divine zeal, sent him to Alaska for missionary work, together with other monks, after a decision by the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia. With joy and enthusiasm Juvenaly joined the missionary team, led by the thirty-three year old Archimandrite Joasaph. On January 22, 1794 the eight missionaries left Moscow and mainly traveled by ship. According to a letter from the leader of the group to the abbot Staretz Nazarius, Juvenaly "was by far the most capable and prudent, with so much fervor for missions, that he wanted to run everywhere preaching about Christ."

In the summer of 1795 Juvenaly took with him an Indian as a guide and undertook the difficult journey to mainland America. It is estimated that he baptized around 5,000 natives. On September 29, 1796 he died a martyr, of which there are two versions. According to the first version he was killed by native hunters near modern Quinnagak. According to the second version he was killed near Lake Iliamna by a local tribal leader, who became enraged that Juvenaly baptized his three wives, as well as the entire family of his brother, and mainly because he advised these converts to avoid polygamy.

By one way or another, Juvenaly was made worthy of a martyric end, and became an enlightener and protomartyr of the American continent.

His life and conduct gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, zeal for missionary work and the evangelism of people, according to the model of the Holy Apostles, is a blessed work, when it is associated of course with humility and obedience to the Church. Unfortunately, in the ecclesiastical environment it is often observed that things are not done properly, with the result that divine zeal is replaced with "zeal not according to knowledge." Instead of building up the Church, it destroys it and creates divisions and schisms within the Church, thus splitting in a profound way the singular tunic of Christ. For zeal to be fruitful in missionary work, extremes must be avoided, which are the result of pride and arrogance, and there must be obedience to the ecclesiastical institution. When these preconditions are fulfilled, then the seed, namely the word of God, bears fruit, and it increases with the grace of God, which is richly cultivated in faithful and humble workers of the spiritual vineyard of Christ. The certificate of authenticity of those who truly work for the Church is that they have perfect love, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and this grace floods the entire existence of people, both their souls and their bodies, and enables them to not only be able to withstand temptations and difficulties, but also to long for a martyric death.

Second, those who were First-formed lived in Paradise like the angels before their disobedience to the will of God and their fall into sin. They had communion with God and true love between themselves. After their fall into sin, the communion they had with God was broken, as well as that which they had between themselves, and their love grew cold. The leather tunics God clothed them with were corruption and death. The way in which the human race grows and populates after the fall became the same way as the animals multiply. If the fall into sin of the First-formed did not take place, the human race would have multiplied in a similar manner as the angels multiply.

After the fall, the natural human state, as described by Elder Sophrony Sacharov, was polygamy, while monogamy that was instituted by the Church of Christ is a state of grace. He writes: "For fallen humans, polygamy is natural," while "humanity did not acknowledge monogamy because of the fall." After the fall there was polygamy because we were in an animalistic state. Christ referred to marriage as monogamous, thus "Christian monogamy is a supernatural state." The Elder says that only by the grace of God can people from their fallen state of being that leans towards polygamy remain in the monogamous state of marriage, but more importantly, to become the temple of the living God. Because marriage from an unnatural state (polygamy) must be led to a natural state (monogamy) and from there will arrive to a supernatural state of being, which is theosis, and then they will cease to be slaves to the "laws of nature."

The purpose of people is to be guided from the unnatural state of sin to the natural state of keeping the will of God and the supernatural state of theosis, to thus become temples of the Holy Spirit, namely truly human.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.