In December we Orthodox commemorate the repose in 1837 of Saint Herman of Alaska, who came as an Orthodox Christian missionary to America in 1793. When he was glorified as a saint in 1970, Fr. Alexander Schmemann was present for the ceremonies. He wrote a non-official account of the event, seemingly from an overflow of joy that compelled his “weak attempt to express to those who were not there that which I cannot call anything other than a miracle of the mercy of God.” You can read it here: Days of Light and Joy.
Of the last of the three days of services and celebrations, Fr. Alexander writes:
“… very early in the morning, five priests with Archbishop Kiprian go to Spruce Island where for almost thirty years the Elder Herman lived as a hermit. And I know that we have never in our lives experienced anything better, purer, more joyful than what we’ve experienced there that morning: the walk through the wooded paths along the towering evergreens keeping their eternal vigil before their Creator, to the little chapel over the cave of the elder, and the liturgy in that chapel. I served the liturgy; but to say this is totally inaccurate. The liturgy served itself. It was only necessary for us to give ourselves to it completely, to immerse ourselves in it, to enter into the thanksgiving without reservation. I know as well that we did not deserve this at all but that it was given to us as a gift. I can only pray that it will also be given to us to preserve but the smallest portion of this gift of grace.”
This was in August of 1970, and since then a steady stream of pilgrims from across the globe has visited St. Herman’s grave, including descendants of the Aleuts who knew and loved him before his repose. In 2020 for the 50th anniversary of his glorification there were many festivities and pilgrims there in Kodiak and on Spruce Island.
Father Herman’s repose was in December, so we commemorate him at this time of year as well. I leave you with the closing paragraph of Fr. Alexander’s report:
“In this light and in this joy, all of our human disagreements, accusations and condemnations become so petty, so human, so sinful. The whole time it seemed: If only we could give ourselves humbly to this joy we would understand without words in what and for what the Church exists, and the scales of our wickedness and suspicions and divisions would fall from us. There, at the tomb of Saint Herman, in the splendor of his humility, it was given to us to see that reality which alone gives authentic life to the Church, that reality which is indeed the only thing which the Church has to reveal to this world, that reality by which alone the Church will be able to overcome every power of evil in this world.
“Holy Father Herman, pray to God for us!”