Pilgrims celebrate Herman's canonization
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published on Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 By SAM FRIEDMAN Mirror Writer
MONK'S LAGOON, Spruce Island They say the sun has a way of
shining on the celebration of St. Herman, patron saint of the Americas.
The sunlight came out dramatically for the 40th anniversary of
Herman's canonization on Spruce Island Monday.
The light broke through the fog and spruce trees a few minutes before an
international group of Orthodox Christian leaders in green vestments
began preparing for communion. About 250 pilgrims stood in line to
receive the communion, overflowing a wooden deck built around a small
Among the visiting clergy was Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox
Church in America and Canada, who led the celebration of the Divine
Liturgy for the second year in a row.
Earlier in the service the metropolitan spoke about one of the lessons
that can be learned from St. Herman's time living as a hermit on
"Few places like this exist on earth," he said. "Very
quickly in silence a person learns that you are not your thoughts, and
this is one of the most incredible freeing things you can learn."
Saint Herman came to Kodiak in 1793 as part of the first Orthodox
mission sent by the Russian empire to Alaska.
The church hagiography praises his ascetic life, his kindness to the
Alutiiq people, and his miracles like a wildfire he stopped behind
a piece of moss and a tsunami he halted by placing an icon of the Virgin
Mary on the beach.
He died on Spruce Island in 1843 and was canonized in 1970. His relics
are kept at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak.
The celebration of Saint Herman's canonization is one of only a few
Orthodox pilgrimages in America and might be the hardest to access.
Many pilgrims from the Railbelt arrived in Kodiak Saturday on the ferry
Kennicott, where they gathered together on the top deck. Other pilgrims
came from the Lower 48 and Russia. Among Russian guests was Alexander P.
Torshin, a senator in Russia.
Also among the pilgrims were Archbishop Justinian, the Russian Orthodox
church's leader in the U.S., acting Bishop of Alaska Benjamin and
Bishop Maxim, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Western U.S.
Monday did not begin with sunlight.
During the morning a fleet of skiff captains carrying pilgrims between
Fort Abercrombie and Spruce Island called out to each other over radios
in the pea soup fog.
Victoria Nielson, a Wasilla resident taking a break between college
terms, called the entire day "ethereal." She had not expected
such a big crowd.
"I was amazed by how helpful and happy everyone was," she said.
"Everyone would be complaining if this was anything else except for
"It's funny, you get up at 6 a.m. and you wait at the beach for
three hours, but you're happy."
Nielson has wanted to attend the pilgrimage since seeing St.
Innocent's Academy perform in Homer. She said she hopes to teach the
academy Irish dancing.
Father Deacon Samuel Woolums came from Santa Rosa, Calif. He said he was
affected by both the presence of St. Herman and the isolation of the
"It's incredibly easier to pray here," he said.
"There's not as many people with evil thoughts polluting the
Kera Dalton of Boston came to Spruce Island with her husband, three
children and a friend of one of her children.
"One of the things I learned is how Father Herman treated the
people," she said. "You hear terrible things about missionaries,
but here is a man who cared for the Native people and stood up for them
against the Russian American Company."
The trip was special, but she will probably not make the pilgrimage
again because it was so expensive to travel from Boston.
After arriving at the beach on Spruce Island, pilgrims walked up a
shallow hill to the chapel past mossy trees and icons of Jesus Christ
and the Virgin Mary.
On the return trip the pilgrims stopped at the beach to eat a meal
organized by the Holy Resurrection Church and the Nativity of Our Lord
Church in Ouzinkie. Many had been fasting since the night before.
Most of the group left Spruce Island after the liturgy and lunch, but
Spruce Island remains home to a group of monks who live in another part
of the island. A group of nuns lives on nearby Nelson Island.
Footage from this year's pilgrimage may reach Russian-speaking
audiences around the world through New York-based Russian Television
International. A crew from the station filmed the service and
interviewed church leaders.
"We loved it," said producer Sergey Shesthaov. "We hope to
create a nice special and continue covering the pilgrimages."
Mirror Writer Sam Friedman can be reached via e-mail
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