"Entering into their labours" (Jn. 4:38) - a meditation on the blessed Archbishop Arseny

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

"Entering into their labours" (Jn. 4:38) - a meditation on the blessed Archbishop Arseny

by Archpriest Gregory Scratch

When new people come to St. Nicolas in Narol, they are almost always struck by the beautiful iconography that adorns the temple. Most often they will notice in the collection of Icons of the North American Saints along the south wall, and one icon in particular; that of "St. Arseny of Winnipeg" (painted by Fr. Vladimir (Lysak)). More often than not, I hear "I didn't know there was a saint from Winnipeg".  My response is generally "yes there was a saint from Winnipeg, but it isn't quite official... yet". I generally qualify this by recognizing how important Archbishop Arseny was to the Church in Canada.

Truly Archbishop Arseny, was a missionary in every sense of the word.  From his first assignments in Eastern Pennsylvania assisting St. Alexis Toth's mission of reuniting Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Rusyns to Orthodoxy, to the founding of St. Tikhon's (in 1905) monastery and pastoral school (1910) he gave everything of himself to the service of the Lord.

His time serving in Manitoba (at Holy Trinity Sobor in Winnipeg) he worked diligently to organize and found parishes for the thousands of Ukrainian and Romanian settlers flocking to the Prairies. After a return to Russia for health reasons, and the ensuing chaos following the Russian Revolution, he was elevated to the Episcopate in Serbia to be the bishop of Canada at the request of Metropolitan Platon. When he returned to Winnipeg as the Bishop for Canada (1926), the eclisaticial order he had put in place 25 years earlier was in ruins. Communities and families were divided, and violent and mindless acts committed even in the name of Christ; (himself  being shot by agitators in Canora Saskatchewan). Yet his work in these difficult and dangerous times, and his constant proclamation of the Gospel narrative "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away." (Mt. 24:35) ensured that communities like ours (and many others) had a future that transcended nationality, politics, and culture; through. Suffering from his injury, his tireless work in serving a diocese that stretched across six provinces, and his age, Archbishop Arseny was compelled to retire in 1937 at the monastery he founded, where he passed away on October 4th 1946.

I express that it is almost impossible to consider the challenge of his work as an administrator and bishop - of traveling across this country in the days before air travel, and dealing with constant division and disunity. Yet those labours were at heart, the missionary witness of God's love for humanity; built upon the foundation of Christ, and cultivated through the tools of humility and repentance.

Indeed Archbishop Arseny's life bears the fruit of this humility and repentance; if only because we have inherited from him a healthy and vibrant Archdiocese, let alone a healthy and vibrant Church at St. Nicholas in Narol. These facts alone bear witness to the providential love of God for us all, as revealed  by his works in the face of adversity. As the Lord said, "Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (Jn 15:20). Truly, in keeping the words of His servant and bishop Arseny, we have kept the saving words of the Lord in our hearts.

This is the mark of sanctity, of holiness, of a saint -even if unrecognized officially by the Church as a whole. For this reason we can have an Icon of Archbishop Arseny as an offering of thanksgiving that we, in lifting up our eyes at the fields that compose our city, province, country and continent; we might see that they are "already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored;others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” (Jn. 4:35-38)

In commemorating the holy labours of Archbishop Arseny, we are given the opportunity to truly rejoice. For in entering into his labours,  we manifest the "fruit of eternal life" as given us by the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, whether it be at St. Nicholas, or throughout the  Archdiocese of Canada; whether it be at St. Tikhon's monastery and seminary, or throughout the Orthodox Church in America.

Holy Bishop Arseny, pray to God for us, in continuing your work.