“O blessed Father Herman of Alaska, North star of Christ’s holy Church, the light of your holy life and great deeds guides those who follow the Orthodox way. Together we lift high the Holy Cross you planted firmly in America. Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ, singing his holy Resurrection.”
-Troparion for the feast
Today we celebrated Divine Liturgy (Holy Communion) in honor of St. Herman of Alaska, a monk missionary sent from Russia in the late 18th century. He was known to feed animals such as ermine and bears, as in this icon.
The saint lived many years on Spruce Island, near Kodiak Island in the Aleutian group. Just hearing and thinking about the setting for his life and labors makes me shiver. I am such a lover of comfort! While I like to warm a rice bag in the microwave to put under piles of blankets at the foot of my bed, when the temperature outdoors is well above freezing, Father Herman would warm a board on the stove and use it for his only covering. Not cozy. But then, monks are known for seeking warmth not for their bodies, but in their souls, and they use their beds as reminders of the grave.
Father Herman was beloved of the people of Alaska for his intercessions before the civil authorities on behalf of the Aleuts who were often mistreated and enslaved. He prayed to God and he served those thankful people for over 40 years.
The icon is by L. Kintsurahvili of the Republic of Georgia.
On December 13th we remember the repose of St Herman of Alaska, a monk who was sent from Russia to America in 1794 as part of the original Russian Orthodox mission to Alaska.
Many stories of his more than four decades there can be found here, the following among them:
The Aleuts related that when Father Herman was still alive and lived on Spruce Island, the local inhabitants used to go to the Elder for some reason or other. And more than once it happened thus: They approached the chapel where he celebrated divine services, and they heard superb choral singing, a multitude of voices singing. They wondered where the people had come from. And all this time the singing was clearly audible, and such harmonious, sweet singing . . .
They opened the door into the little chapel, and there Father Herman stood alone reading, chanting half aloud, celebrating the Lord’s service. And of course he was alone and there was no one there with him. … And such a thing was noticed more than once. It was angels of God who sang praises to the Lord with him.
The biography of Father Herman records the following incident. The Elder was asked: “How do you live alone in the forest, Father Herman? Don’t you become bored?”
He replied: “No! I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. Holy Angels are there. How can one become bored with them? With whom is it better and more pleasant to converse, with men or with Angels? With Angels, of course!”
I am most familiar with this quote from Father Herman, which is included in the icon of him in our church and is worth meditating on the year round: “…let us make a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!”