A Great Cloud of Witnesses

On June 10, 2009, I published a post about our first weekly saint, St. Columba.  Since then, the list has grown considerably.  Most of them get the big ST, but not all.  The principle has been the examination of the lives and teachings of those who have gone before us.  Not all Christians of interest get the big ST.

We have looked at ancient, mediaeval, and post-mediaeval (‘modern’) Christians.  We have looked at Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and one Ethiopian Orthodox.  Apostolic men stand alongside poets who shake hands with mystics and martyrs.  All of these people have lived lives for Christ, and I hope that all of them can help bring us nearer to Christ by their example and teaching.

My selection has sometimes been from the Church Calendar.  Sometimes it has started there, as with Edmund James Peck (see in the list) and then extended by association; following Peck I wrote about other missionaries to the Arctic.  Sometimes they are chosen because I am reading about them or studying their work.

Often, if you have been following these weekly saints, you will have noticed that I give a brief biography of the saint, but not always.  Sometimes I offer a meditation on some aspect of the saint’s life and teaching.  Sometimes I ponder how best we might be able to honour or learn from a particular saint.  I hope these have been a blessing and will continue to bless!  Enjoy!

There are no women.  This is too bad.  I should fix this.  I meant to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, when her feast rolled on by, but posted about no saint that week.  She and others shall make their way into the saints for 2011.  Here are the Weekly Saints thus far:

St. Joseph the Carpenter

Pope St. Leo the Great (here & here)

St. John of the Cross

St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Andrew the Apostle

St. Albert Lacombe

St. John the Baptist

St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Matthias the Apostle

St. Boniface

St. Augustine of Canterbury

St. Anthony of Padua

Emperor Constantine the Great

St. Athanasius

Dante Alighieri

St. George the Dragonslayer

George MacDonald

Thomas Cranmer

St. Cuthbert

St. Gregory of Nyssa

John Wesley (here & here)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

St. Valentine

St. Antony the Great

St. Jean de Brebeuf

St. Francis of Assisi

Hans Egede

St. Juvenaly of Alaska

Edmund James Peck

St. John of Damascus

Abba Giyorgis Saglawi

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Maximilian Kolbe

CS Lewis

St. Alban the Martyr

Sts. Peter and Paul

St. Basil the Great

St. Columba

Saint of the Week: Hans Egede, Apostle to Greenland

As it turns out, St. Juvenaly and his abortive attempt to evangelise the Eskimos of Alaska that ended with his death was not the first person to bring the Gospel to the Inuit.  That person was Hans Egede, a Norwegian Lutheran missionary.  On May 21, 1721, he set out to find the lost Norse colonists of Greenland.

I’ll let Rt. Rev. John R. Sperry, retired Anglican Bishop of the Arctic pick up the narrative:

Upon his arrival in Greenland, Egede found no Norse colonist survivors, but did find Greenlandic Eskimos.  Once he knew them, he urged that they no longer be referred to as “Skraellings”.  Reverend Egede found them to be authentic subjects for the sharing of the same Gospel message that had been proclaimed in Greenland so many years before [by Leif Eriksson to the Norse colonists].

He and his family built a mission and settled in.  They worked in Greenland for fifteen years — years of study, learning the language, and offering a compassionate ministry.  However, after that time, broken in health through much hardship, Hans Egede returned home, accompanied by his family.  He died shortly thereafter, but is remembered as the “Apostle to Greendland.”  (from Igloo Dwellers Were My Church, p. 44)

The next missionaries to the Inuit were the Moravian Brethren, initially in Greenland with the Lutherans, but as of 1752, with the Inuit of Labrador.  We have already heard of St. Juvenaly and the Rev. Edmund Peck.  Missions to evangelise the Inuit of the Central Arctic were not to begin until after 1910, with efforts both by the Roman Catholics and by the Anglicans.

The North American Arctic is enormous.  To give perspective, let’s note that the farthest North I’ve been (which is far from the Arctic) is Peace River, AB, 56°14′02″N.  The Canada-US border is 49° N.  A mere seven degrees.  To get to Peace River from Rocky Mountain House (52°22′31″N), where I grew up, is over six hours and a mere four degrees further North.

The Arctic Circle is 66°33′ N.  The islands of the Canadian Arctic go all the way to 83°.  Kugluktuk (Coppermine) where Bp. Sperry spent most of his days is at 67°42’32″N.  Pond Inlet, on the northern shore of Baffin Island, is 72°41′57″N.  And from the Bering Strait to Greenland is more than 3000 miles.  If there were a highway that did that (there isn’t and I don’t think there can be), it would be 50 h of straight driving at 60 miles/hour.  The distances grow much longer when you consider the lack of proper highways through most of the Arctic and the difficulties of how strangely-shaped the whole place is, with Hudson’s Bay in the way and the jagged shoreline and the lakes.  Take also into account the mosquitoes.

Anyway, the Arctic is huge (it’s huge in Europe and Asia as well).  The distances are enormous and the settlements remote.  The people, the various Inuit groups as well as the other native peoples, are very isolated.  Thus, one could possibly argue that Edmund Peck, Juvenaly, Hans Egede, and the later missionaries of the 20th-century were all apostles to the Inuit, since they brought the Gospel to Inuit who had never encountered it before.