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Publisher's Summary

In 1892, a young man left his home in the coastal foothills of Lebanon in search of a better life. Coming to America with his newlywed wife, he found work as a traveling peddler, before settling on a small farm in central Nebraska.

Years later, personal tragedy and an unexpected midnight visit from a saint changed the course of his life. 

Seeing the desperate need of his fellow orthodox Christians and heeding God’s call, he would spend the rest of his life traversing the Great Plains as a circuit-riding priest, known to his thousands of parishioners as Father Nicola Yanney. 

His legacy stands alongside that of St. Raphael Hawaweeny, his mentor, as a seminal force in the American Orthodox Church of our day.

©2019 The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood (P)2020 The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

What listeners say about Apostle to the Plains

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Beautiful biography that gives insight to the life of an Orthodox Priest

Immigrants, as they so often do, bring their faith and build their new life/connections alongside people from the same faith and country. This is the beautiful immigrant story of Father Nicola Yanney, who came as a young man to the United States with his wife to build a life in a new county. He built so much more. That strong faith and those cultural connections laid the foundation for churches that now encompass what is now the Diocese of Wichita and Mid America in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Almost lost to the passage of time, his story is crafted from his own pastoral records and research by the Saint Raphael Brotherhood. A listener might think there seems to be repetition in the story on the number of baptisms he performs, but this detail is necessary to truly understand the extent of traveling required, the sacrifice of time away from his family, and the volume of faithful he served. As a person who loves biographies, I found myself fully engaged in listening to the inspiring story of a faithful man who gave up everything to serve others, even until his own death. I highly recommend this book.

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A life well lived...

Apostle to the plains is a detailed account of the life and times of Father Nicola Yanney, an Orthodox immigrant to the United states in the late 1800’s. I have listened to this audiobook four times and each time I am struck with a new depth of understanding in his continuous work towards the cross. His life was chock full of tragedy, hard work, and an unrelenting schedule.

How does one man almost single-handedly keep Orthodoxy alive in such a vast expanse like the Midwest. From Alabama to North Dakota, Colorado to the Mississippi River, he touched so many lives through the sacraments.

But it was his selflessness that strikes my heart. His willingness to be the chosen man to leave his Nebraska farm to become the great missionary to the Orthodox people. He lived a complicated life of schedules between our naturally complicated church calendar and the logistics of serving so many over an expanse I can barely wrap my head around. He managed to grow many churches among the Orthodox that still stand today in his fourteen years of missionary work.

Every year we take a trip to the western states, I have been struck at the number of small Orthodox parishes dotted around the countryside. Now I know this was part of the great work of Father Nicola Yanney and our Father in Heaven providing for His people.

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Glory to God

Good inspiration for our times. A true servant of God and an example to all in tmes of hardship. I enjoyed hearing of his journey.

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A Life Truly Given to Christ

Three years ago my family and I moved from my native Oregon to NW Wisconsin. It's not much of a move compared to Fr Nicola Yanney's immigration from Syria to Nebraska, but in a small way I left everything I'd ever known, and when I heard about this book I really needed to read it. It told the story of another soul who not only left home and church and family, but who settled here in the American midwest.

 I'm sure it's a different place than when the Yanneys originally made their homestead, but in some ways we face similar obstacles. Out among the farms, Orthodox parishes are few and far between and usually small. A regular pastor might or might not be attached to a parish. The elements and the climate can be harsh and unforgiving. In rural America, people are still often monetarily poor.

"Apostle to the Plains" is the story of a man who, in the midst of all this rocky soil, not only sprouted, but in Christ bloomed and flourished. In a worldly sense he endured tremendous sorrow. As I listened, I found myself in tears approximately every forty pages, because of all the bereavement that was so common at the turn of the 20th century (which is a compliment I must pay the authors of this book - I don't recall the last time a historical autobiography engaged me on such an emotional level).  Fr Nicola bore every cross. He sacrificed everything most of us consider most valuable: family, honest prosperity, a home. But in the words of the Apostle Paul, "whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (Phil 3:8). Fr Nicola Yanney truly exchanged everything he had for the pearl of great price, and he continued to do so until he died.

On a wider historic level the book gives readers a glimpse into the foundations of Orthodoxy in America, and through Fr Nicola's eyes, a very personal experience of the struggles the church suffered in becoming established here.  I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and without people like Fr Nicola to shepherd Orthodox immigrants through those years, I wonder if an American Orthodoxy would've survived for me to be baptized into. On behalf of myself, my husband and my four children  (who were all baptized just after their birth) I feel deep gratitude to Fr Nicola and those like him who sacrificed so much temporal treasure for the sake of eternal gain.

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Love requires sacrifice +

Fr. Nicola Yanney is a true example of what it means to follow Christ. His love for God is evident in his love for people and the Church. The brotherhood of St. Raphael did a wonderful job narrating this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering becoming clergy or desiring to know the Orthodox faith.

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A Great Read for Any American Orthodox Christian

I was absolutely enthralled with Fr. Nikola’s story. As a member of the Orthodox community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (spoken of several times in the book), although not the Syrian church in town (I go to the Greek Orthodox church), it was really interesting to hear about all the original Fathers to our country did to help our faith survive and thrive at the turn of the 20th century. I’m supremely grateful to Fr. Nikola, Bishop Tikon, and all those who worked until their death to humbly serve the ancestors of my amazing friends and church family. Truly they were the best example imaginable of what it means to be Christian. Thank you also to the Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood who compiled and narrated this work. I was deeply blessed by this book and being able to listen to it given a reading disability that renders me unable to effectively read a book in the “normal” way.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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A Life Well Lived. An Example To Us All.

I don't know that I could have withstood the trials and tribulations that Father Nikola Yanney had to endure, but what an inspiration to us all!

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Worth listening to! Good book for families as well

(Warning: this review may contain spoilers)

Apostle to the Plains is a book worth reading (or listening to, as I did)- both for perspective and building appreciation, as well as for learning a small part of the history of part of the Orthodox Church.

What a book to begin listening to during a time of pandemic! When I first started listening to this, we had been under stay at home orders for at least a month. We have not been to our church for at least five weeks. We were still ordering groceries from the delivery service. I was still going through extreme measures every time I returned home from work or from being out at a store. And while I did not feel isolated because I have a large family, and I was still working, I did feel disconnected.

Then on a 5 mile walk with my two-year-old, I turned on the story and she and I listened together to the story of Nicola Yanney, a Serbian man who immigrated to America with his new wife in the late 1800s. The descriptions of the immigration process, settling into a new home, and of frequent separations from his wife as he performed his duties as a traveling salesman were humbling. As the story went on, the tale depicted loneliness and a true longing for fellowship and worship, as the young immigrant couple labored to build a life and also to maintain their faith - on their own and without a local church or priest. The story reminded me that what we experience in longing for reunion and communion is real, and that it is a feeling that many have felt throughout the years. The sadness when the couple realized they had missed an opportunity to attend a service when a traveling priest visited the nearby town was so poignant, and their joy a year later when the same priest came back had me weeping alongside them. It had been 6 years for them, and it would be many more years, with more sadness and loss, before Nicola Yanney was able to worship and commune again. By the time he became Father Nicola Yanney, he had experienced deep sadness while maintaining his faith.

The story seems to begin again with his ordination. Father Nicola not only took on responsibility for the newly established local church, he also took on responsibility for a vast area of the Midwest, traveling at least four months of every year in order to serve other Orthodox Christians. Throughout the book there are tales of joy and sadness and much of the hardship experienced by Father Nicola and his family - the children left behind each time he took another missionary journey. We learn hardship and poverty that he, and they, experienced with grace and faith. The seeming monotony in the middle of the book, as we hear of travels to and from, of baptisms and burials, of discord and of marriages, all add credence to the struggle of this priest, and perhaps of every priest - the pull to worship and to serve and to be there for all in need, while also having a desire to be with family and care for them. In this tale, we hear of the struggle that is present for those in ministry.

We also hear of another time of pandemic, and the impact that had on the world and the church. Father Nicola Yanney served his parishioners during the flu in 1918. We hear in this tale of the precautions taken in different towns and of those who succumbed to the flu, including Father Nicola. The tale is cautionary to us, and encouraging.

In listening to this book, during this time of pandemic, I appreciated more what we do have during this time. I thought with gratitude of my own priest, and our parish, and even of the ease with which we travel when we are able to go to church - though ours is 90 minutes one way, I am reminded of how much joy there is in worship together and look forward to the reunion with those that have become family.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review. It was time well spent listening. My children enjoyed it as well, though there were times when we would pause to discuss issues of loss, grief, interpersonal struggles and other real-to-life issues that arose.



4 Stars overall because the middle can seem long and repetitive.
4 Stars for performance because I ended up listening to the book at 1.5-1.7 x the speed - I felt the reader was slower paced than I would have preferred.
5 Stars for the story because it is absolutely worth listening to and I recommend it to anyone who is interested.

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Highly Recommended

By Michelle Diaz-Nanasca

I think I've decided that my favorite type of Orthodox book is the kind that gives as much information as possible about the lives of saints. Whenever I read the paragraph-long lives of saints that appear in places like The Prologue from Ochrid, I always have so many questions! There are so many saints about whom we know just bits and pieces, a few small facts about how they lived and often the most about how they died. I am always hungry for more details, all the elements of a saint's story that added up to a life of becoming more and more like Christ.

Imagine my delight, then, when on the same day I received two such books: an audiobook review copy of Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Fr. Nicola Yanney and, in the mail, a book ordered by my husband just a few days before, The Romanov Royal Martyrs: What Silence Could Not Conceal. We are still reading and loving the second; this review is about the first, which I so enjoyed listening to while doing chores over the course of a week.

Fr. Nicola is a person whom I think every Orthodox Christian in America should know about! His story opened my eyes to many aspects of American Orthodox history that I had never heard about. I didn't know what it was like for a young man living in a small village in Lebanon in the late 1800s, or what he would have experienced immigrating to America in a steamship with his new wife, Martha. Learning about the experience of immigrants made me think about how blessed I am to be born in a country with religious freedom and access to opportunities. As a newly-married nineteen-year-old, Fr. Nicola left his home not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't safely raise a family there. He knew he would probably never be able to return to his beloved homeland. The book describes the difficult two-part sea voyage and the tense wait to see if he and Martha would pass inspection at Ellis Island and be deemed healthy enough to enter America. I felt like I was recovering pieces of American history that I really should have known about.

I was intrigued by how much detail The St. Raphael Clergy Brotherhood was able to compile to tell the story of Fr. Nicola's experience in Nebraska, as a peddler and then a farmer, and finally as a missionary priest with a massive territory (nearly all of the middle third of the contiguous U.S.). His story reminds readers of the gift it is to have a priest and an established parish in our own towns. He and his family spent years without any opportunity to see a priest, to go to confession, to receive Holy Communion, or to have their children baptized. The Yanneys were finally visited by the future bishop and saint, Fr. Raphael, on their remote homestead, when he baptized their children and stayed for a few days to offer church services and give the sacraments to the local Syrian Orthodox community. In the following years, they again had no access to a priest, since Fr. Raphael was based in New York and was traveling all over the U.S. to find the scattered Syrian Orthodox people. When Fr. Nicola's wife, Martha Yanney, tragically fell ill and then died in childbirth, she was not able to receive the sacraments or have an Orthodox funeral, because there was no priest. These experiences of having so little connection to the Church were formative for Fr. Nicola.

When his community all agreed that he was the best candidate to become their priest, Fr. Nicola was ordained by the newly consecrated Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn. In accepting ordination, he assumed a life of incredible self-sacrifice. While a single father with four still-young children, at Bishop Raphael's request Fr. Nicola began serving not only his local community in Kearney, Nebraska, but the Syrian Orthodox people throughout numerous Mid-Western states. After years of pouring himself out, he literally gave his life for his flock when he contracted the Spanish flu while confessing and communing ill parishioners, during the pandemic of 1918.

With the publication of Apostle to the Plains last summer and now its availability as an audiobook, we have the huge blessing of access to an in-depth look at Fr. Nicola's life and ministry. It was a treat to listen to the audiobook, because I love being read to while I work around the house. I'm very picky about narration, and I thought the read-aloud style of this recording was well done. The reader's straightforward manner doesn't distract from the text, allowing it to take center-stage. More importantly, the reader demonstrates an obvious respect for Fr. Nicola.

While I am glad to have the audiobook version and am already listening to it for a second time, I am planning to purchase the hard-copy version of the book, as well: I want to be able to reference it easily, and I want to see how names are spelled and have the full experience that comes with reading a book. As you can see, I highly recommend Apostle to the Plains!

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A Life of Service

The American heartland is vast. We forget this today with our extensive road system, ubiquitous automobiles, and sprawling suburbs and metropolitan regions, but you can still attain something of a feel for the wide open spaces if you should ever drive across the Great Plains, as they stretch from northern Texas in the south, to Minnesota and North Dakota, and on into Canada, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River, and arguably even across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. If you have ever driven, hour after hour, across Nebraska or Kansas, you begin to grasp the true scale. Imagine crossing it on foot, or by horse-cart, or even by a 19th century steam train, where the hours turn into days, or the days into weeks. This was Father Nicola Yanney’s territory as a circuit-riding priest.

Father Nicola would eventually perform over a thousand baptisms, numerous weddings, and a great number of funerals, including his own daughter’s, when she was 12. He faced a perpetual struggle to balance the needs of his own local parish with the needs of scattered Orthodox communities in his vast territory, and the book often recounts him arriving home, only to be required to travel again within days due to some emergency or other. He often had to play peacemaker too, either within the Orthodox communities, or between them and others. He even served as an Orthodox priest at the replica of the Holy Sepulcher church built at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Even by today’s standards of travel, Father Nicola’s schedule was punishing, and the distances enormous. But from this schedule, and surviving records, correspondence, and family recollections, Fr. Nicola’s devotion is readily apparent. He served even when financial support was lacking, acquiring significant debt to keep his 3 remaining children housed, fed, and in school while serving far afield. This is in marked contrast to other priests ordained after him, who sometimes would leave their assigned parishes for wealthier locales, forcing Nicola to keep up a longer travel schedule than he should have. It was his great piety that led his home community to nominate him to the priesthood, and that piety remained undiminished throughout his career.

In this time of the COVID pandemic, it is especially fitting to remember Father Nicola, for it was in the Spanish Flu pandemic that he lost his life, visiting with the sick and the dying in his own home town. Just as we are sometimes unaware of the size of our nation, we are often forgetful of how much our ancestors had to struggle, and how recently they lived with dangers that today we consider long forgotten. Apostle to the Plains is a worthy look at what service and devotion meant a century ago on the Plains, through the eyes of an itinerant immigrant priest.

Nota Bene: Ancient Faith provided me with a copy of the audio book for review.

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