Glorification of Saint Alexis of Wilkes Barre

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Glorification of Saint Alexis of Wilkes Barre
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Autumn 1994]

On 29-30 May, 1994, at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, the Orthodox Church in America celebrated the glorification of Saint Alexis (Toth). Sometimes we hear the term “canonisation” used to describe an event like this. However, if we use this western term too much, we can fall, it seems to me, into a way of thinking which might easily distort our actual experience, since it could imply that the person was not a saint before, and somehow becomes one after some sort of announcement or mysterious initiation. Glorification is more specific to what happens with us in actuality, and I will explain why.

When a person becomes holy, it is a reality which others can fairly readily recognise by the grace of God. There is the warmth of recognition of the presence and activity of holiness. The reflection of Christ is evident in a very clear way, and others are, in the Holy Spirit able to sense this and respond to it. The response is one of thanksgiving and request for intercession in a way that is deeper even than usual amongst believers.

I am not going to repeat the personal characteristics of Saint Alexis, the priest who returned from Unia to Orthodoxy in the midst of and very much a part of a multitude of others. You can read this elsewhere (in fact, there is a brief biographical sketch of him inserted supplementarily in the last issue of the Messenger). I do want to say, however, that the movement he led was a healing one, and at the same time controversial – as it would be today. Nevertheless, from the time of Father Alexis’ repose in Christ until today, the faithful have continued to visit him at his grave at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, to leave flowers, candles, and requests for his prayer. They continued to do so because there has been a living tradition of how this man lived and confessed Christ, and how his prayers are effective in the lives of people.

In other words, the veneration of Saint Alexis was already active, and now with his glorification, it is confirmed by the rest of the Church. In the 1994 Tikhonaire, the yearbook of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, one can read an account of the uncovering of his relics. After almost 90 years in the tomb, they were described as being “mostly incorrupt”. This was a further confirmation of God’s blessing on this man in the face of our sceptical North American atmosphere. His life is an example of how we ought to behave and pray. Moreover it is a sign, as in all holy persons, that we who are no different are able to be holy also, as God has always directed us to be, if we will but do so for the love of God.

There were at least 5,000 people present for the Vigil and Liturgy of the glorification of this saint, including a decent representation of us Canadians. The services were presided over by Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) of Washington and Archbishop Nicholas of Presov in Slovakia. The region near Presov was the home of Saint Alexis before he emigrated. In addition, also serving were 10 other bishops and many clergy of all ranks. On Sunday evening we served the Vigil in the open air by the old belfry, just across from the former tomb of Saint Alexis. The relics were carried by clergy to rest in the midst, and during litya, carried around the Monastery Church in procession. At the Magnification came the “moment” of glorification as we sang the magnification of Saint Alexis before his relics and icon, and heard the reading of the proclamation of the Holy Synod. This moment marked the public acceptance by the whole of The Orthodox Church in America, of that which had already been known, that this man is a saint of the Church, a holy person. His name was added to our yearly calendar of commemorations. The service proceeded with devotion, and with the focussed attention which we do not often experience these days in North America.

The focus and attention were even clearer on the Monday morning when the bishops and clergy carried the relics of Saint Alexis from the Monastery Church to the large pavilion where the Liturgy would be served. With bells ringing and the singing of the Paschal troparion and Canon, the procession moved along, with the faithful always near, and the relics were placed in the midst of the assembly until before the Lesser Entrance. They were then moved to the Solea by the Iconostasis until the end of the Liturgy.

A sermon by His Beatitude pointed out the importance of this occasion and this saint, helping us further reflect on the particular blessing of having these relics readily accessible to many believers, in the USA in particular. The Liturgy continued with a generous use of melodies from Carpatho-Rus’, the homeland of Saint Alexis and his forefathers. A multitude received Holy Communion on that day, and I am certain that all would agree that the sense of the presence of the Grace of the Holy Spirit was clearly upon us all.

At the conclusion of the Liturgy, again there was a procession back to the Monastery Church with singing of Paschal Troparion and Canon, and other hymns, with stops around the church. Then the Reliquary, a simple wooden casket, was opened, and all were given time to approach and venerate the relics of Saint Alexis – taking about 5 hours in all. The faithful lingered throughout the day, one might say basking in a sense of the presence of God’s love through the prayers of this saint.

Now that Saint Alexis has been recognised by the whole of the Orthodox Church in America as a holy person for us all to venerate and turn to for intercession, we will do well to learn of his life and purpose, his devotion to Christ, and his determination to do what is right. We should try to take some opportunity to visit his relics, to venerate them, and to ask his intercession. But much more, we ought to take the opportunity to renew our own determination to follow Christ, to be obedient, to become ourselves as God has been exhorting us from the beginning : “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:2). We are to be as He is, to reveal Christ clearly in our lives by the way we act and treat each other.

Through the prayers of Saint Alexis of Wilkes Barre, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.