Two important people in my life died on this day. I didn’t know either of them personally, but both have contributed hugely to the presence of true and living Orthodox faith in America, that Church in which I’ve found the fullness of Him Who fills all in all. Every year that we come to this date finds me more thankful.
Saint Herman of Alaska, whose feast we commemorate today, arrived in Alaska in 1794 and died there in 1837. On the occasion of his canonization in 1969 Bishop Dimitri spoke:
The Church on earth lives in a loving fellowship with the saints who have already run their race, who have fought the good fight, and have received their crowns (2 Timothy 4:7) (James 1:12). This is what the Apostle means when he says that we are compassed about or surrounded by the witness-martyrs or saints. We are assured both of their presence and their interest in us. In fact, they are concerned about the whole world and its salvation, for “there is joy in heaven over the repentance of one sinner” (Luke 15:7).
Father Schmemann was born in 1921 into a family of Russian emigres, and came to the United States in 1951 to join the faculty of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where two of my own parish priests sat under his teaching. He reposed in the Lord in 1983. Not only has my life been enriched broadly by his contributions to the whole of Orthodoxy in America, but by my reading directly what he wrote, especially For the Life of the World, and his journals.
I’m so thankful, too, that I can commune with that cloud of witnesses in church this morning. So as to not be late, I’ll just finish by copying here what I posted last year on this happy day. And it is another cold one!
It seems fitting that we commemorate St. Herman of Alaska on this date, when winter is making itself felt. I’ve written before here and here about Father Herman, how he spurned the cold, befriended the animals, and interceded between the Aleuts and the powerful people who would exploit them.
His is a good example in the Advent season, of how to keep our hearts and activities focused on the Kingdom of God in the face of distractions. And if we have a church service to attend where we can share in the Life of Christ together with Saint Herman and all the Cloud of Witnesses, we are very blessed!
I just learned (and am adding this paragraph to my original post) that today is also the anniversary of the repose of Father Alexander Schmemann, another shining star in our church family. This note about both men leads to further inspiration from and about Fr. Alexander, who rests firmly in the tradition of Saint Herman. I’m ever so thankful to have this coinciding of the celebration of two of my favorites.