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John Eliot, known as “The Apostle to the Indians,” was born in 1604 at Widford in Hertfordshire, England. Educated at Cambridge, Eliot’s nonconformist beliefs brought him into conﬂict with the tenets of the established church, and he departed for New England in 1631. Eliot arrived in Boston later that year and became the pastor of a church in Roxbury.
During his tenure as pastor in Roxbury he became concerned with the welfare of the native populations and he learned Algonquin language. After two years of study he began preaching to them in their own language. Like Roger Williams before him, Eliot had learned the native language and preached to the local tribes, but unlike Williams, Eliot devoted his entire life’s work to preaching the Gospel to the native people.
In 1649, by act of Parliament, a Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating of the Gospel among the Indians of New England was set up, and with the ﬁnancial backing of the English government, Eliot built a native settlement at Natick. The native people were provided with food, clothing, homes, and education, and in 1660 the ﬁrst Indian church in New England was founded.
During this time, Eliot began his monumental translation of the English Bible into the Algonquin language. Starting with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, he was able to complete translations of the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew with the ﬁnancial support of the Corporation for the Propagating of the Gospel.
In 1661, his Algonquin New Testament was published, a copy of which was sent to King Charles II, and ﬁnally, in 1663, his complete translation of the Bible was published. Eliot would revise his translation several times after most copies had been destroyed in the Indian Wars of 1670, along with many of the Indian settlements he established.
Eliot wrote a number of other books before his death, including a grammar of the Algonquin language. His work was vital to the studies of many linguists after him who were interested in Native American languages.
I. Great Creator, source of mercy, we offer thanks for the imagination and conviction of thine evangelist, John Eliot, who brought both literacy and the Bible to the Algonquin people, and reshaped their communities into fellowships of Christ to serve thee and give thee praise; and we pray that we may so desire to share thy Good News with others that we labor for mutual understanding and trust; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II. Great Creator, source of mercy, we thank you for the imagination and conviction of your evangelist, John Eliot, who brought both literacy and the Bible to the Algonquin people, and reshaped their communities into fellowships of Christ to serve you and give you praise; and we pray that we may so desire to share your Good News with others that we labor for mutual understanding and trust; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 1:1–11
Preface of a Saint (1)
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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