Today we honor Isabel Florence Hapgood. Isabel was a lifelong Episcopalian who was a force behind ecumenical relations between Episcopalians and Russian Orthodoxy in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Massachusetts, she was a superior student, with an aptitude for languages. She mastered Latin, French, Russian, Polish, and Church Slavonic. She was able to translate subtleties of Russian into English, translating the works of Tolstoy and other greats. She was also a prolific journalist. It was travel in the late 1880s in Russia that cemented a lifelong love of Russia – especially the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, she loved its great Divine Liturgy so much that she got permission to translate the liturgies into English – work that was well received in Russia and in North America. Her work for the common life among the Russian Orthodox in North America, her desire for closer relations between Russian Orthodox and Episcopalians, and her making the liturgical treasures of the Russian Orthodox tradition available to the English-speaking world has made her renowned.
Isabel saw what any of us have seen who have traveled. Sometimes the faith expression of other groups helps us to see God more fully. When I was in seminary, we were regularly responsible for leading prayers. We often found ourselves in a section of the library that contained prayer books from around the world. Popular favorites were from South Africa and New Zealand. But others were influenced by Celtic worship or even the current English prayer book. Somehow, other cultures’ liturgies helped us to see God and express our faith even better than we could through our own familiar patterns.
What Isabel and perhaps we were on to is hinted at in our gospel lesson today. Jesus is praying for the disciples, that they may all be one. Though I don’t think Jesus was anticipating the development of the church into various denominations, what his prayer hints at is that the Christian faith is one when we recognize Christ in one another – despite cultural and theological differences.
We experience that truth in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Interfaith group here. Worshipping with other denominations and faiths helps us to see God more fully. We experience that truth when we travel and worship in other churches and traditions. Even our own worship is enhanced by our beautiful St. Margaret icon, painted by a Greek Orthodox iconographer. Our experience of God is at its fullest when we recognize that we are all loved in and through Christ and we all reveal Christ to one another in big ways and small ways. Amen.