I’ve been reading Paul D. Garrett’s “St. Innocent, Apostle to America” from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press and as I’ve passed the half way mark one of the things that has impressed me the most has been the Saint’s workload as he served the people of Unalaska and Alaska as Priest. Dozens of Chrismations a day, same for baptisms and weddings. Long journeys by kayak over the open ocean to remote settlements. Translation work when there was free time plus the care of his family. As I read along it seems that consecrating him Bishop in Sitka actually lessened his work load in some ways if one can ponder that idea.Compared to this my five years of weekend trips to LaCrosse in a heated and air conditioned car seems like a kind of sloth.
Another thing I’ve been coming to understand in a greater way is that the stories of Saints can be true. There is a kind of scepticism, even in the Church, even in me, about the stories of Saints, especially from the remote past. Yes, the legendary can be mixed in with the factual but one of the great gifts of more recent Saints is that there are written records, often photographs, which verify the accounts of holy people in a way that meets the criteria of our understanding. God has no obligation to do this, of course, but its a kind of mercy to our weakness and lack of faith to see what we would consider to be “real” evidence of holiness even though the blessing belongs to those who have not seen and still believe.
Over the years something has changed with me. In seminary we read and examined the works of scholars but as I get older I prefer to read the stories of Saints. It’s not that there is no place for scholarship but rather the realization that my graduate work fitted me academically, perhaps, for ministry but did little to shape me as a person (besides making me tired). There are the credentials of a pastor and the character of a pastor and it seems to me that both have to be in place. What would having all the degrees matter if I am not, at least, somewhat like Christ? The devil is capable of exegeting Scripture and quoting the sources at a level well beyond mine. The stories of Saints, however, help me discover not just what to believe and defend but how to be.
That being said I have a tremendously long way to go, a far journey ahead to be anything like Saint Innocent let alone Christ. Part of me is discouraged when I read his story. I feel like someone plunking out a few tunes on the piano while watching a concert master. Yet part of me is hopeful as well. Growth, sanctity, and grace are possible and we have the photos, papers, records, and eyewitnesses to prove it.