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  • David Constantine Wright
    Today, 12/25 December, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of St. Herman of Alaska, Apostle to America. Greetings to all on this joyous feast which provides
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 25, 2003
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      Today, 12/25 December, the Holy Church celebrates the
      memory of St. Herman of Alaska, Apostle to America.
      Greetings to all on this joyous feast which provides
      incentive for us all as we go forth to witness to and
      baptize all nations!

      Troparion, Tone IV:

      O venerable Herman, ascetic of the northern wilderness and
      gracious advocate for all the world, teacher of the
      Orthodox Faith and good instructor of piety, adornment of
      Alaska and joy of All America,: entreat Christ God, that He
      save our souls.

      Kontakion, Tone VIII:

      O beloved of the Mother of God, who received the tonsure at
      Valaam, new zealot of the struggles of the desert-dwellers
      of old: wielding prayer as spear and shield, thou didst
      show thyself to be terrible to demons and pagan darkness.
      Wherefore we cry out to thee: O venerable Herman, entreat
      Christ God, that our souls be saved!

      Homily by Father Josiah Trenham
      St. Andrew Orthodox Church Riverside, Ca.

      In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
      Spirit, One God. Amen.

      God is wonderful in His Saints! There is no end to the
      number of God�s saints and every saint is a precious gem
      shining forth in his own unique way the beauty and glory of
      our Lord, God and Creator. To turn your gaze upon a saint
      is to see through him the splendor of Christ. How important
      the saints are to our lives. There is no Christianity
      without them. Orthodox Christians read the lives of the
      saints as a part of our essential piety. When read in
      tandem with the Holy Scriptures we are provided practical
      examples of how to understand and apply the injunctions of
      Holy Scripture. There is no proper understanding of the
      Bible without the lives of the saints to flesh out and
      incarnate before our eyes its teachings and commandments.
      The Church herself cannot be understood apart from them,
      for She is their womb and cause. Indeed She is a veritable
      relic factory, producing holy ones in every place in every

      How especially important also are the saints of one�s own
      land! Every Orthodox land loves all of the Lord�s holy
      ones, but each land also has a special veneration for its
      own saints. National paterikons abound in the Church,
      collecting together the lives of Serbian, or English, or
      Romanian, or Greek, or Russian saints. This is only
      natural! That the faithful of a particular place would have
      special devotion to those individuals who have lived for
      Christ in their midst is easily understood. How important
      it is to love and be devoted to the saints of one�s own
      country! We have no better instructors on how to be holy in
      our own cultural milieu than saints of our own land. We
      have no better guides on how to become a holy American
      person than the American saints.

      St. Herman. The first of America�s saints is none other
      than our venerable and God-bearing Father, Herman of
      Alaska, the Wonder-worker. St. Herman was born in the 1760s
      in Russia just outside of Moscow. He was born in a very
      difficult period of Russian Church life. Catherine �the
      Great� was ruling, and followed Peter �the Great�, and both
      were renovationists in the Church. Their European ideas
      were often foreign to the ethos of our Holy Faith, and they
      improperly meddled in the affairs of the Holy Church of
      Russia. Peter abolished the proper polity of the Church,
      and these sovereigns especially persecuted monasticism. All
      rulers, both in the state and in the church, who want to
      change the ancient traditions always persecute monks for
      our monasteries are like living rivers flowing forth with
      traditional Orthodox life. The monasteries vivify the
      parish life of every country, and draw all upward toward
      the heavens and away from the earth. At the approximately
      the same time as all this was going on in Russia, her
      scouts, explorers, and fur traders had discovered what is
      today Alaska. This took place about 1730. Russian Orthodox
      merchants waded into the very difficult terrain of Alaska,
      and within just a few decades the natives scattered through
      the �great land� began to embrace Russian citizenship. As a
      result of this the faithful merchants sent to their
      homeland beseeching that missionaries be sent.

      The Original Missionary Team. And so in 1793 the first
      missionary team was assembled at Valaam Monastery in
      northern Russia. Ten of the brothers of this holy monastery
      were commissioned by the church to go to Russian Alaska to
      evangelize the pagan natives, who were now mingling
      extensively with the Russian merchants. One of these monks
      was St. Herman himself. St. Herman had embraced monastic
      life when he was only 17 years old. He had joined St.
      Sergius Hermitage where he lived in his early monastic
      obedience for six years. Then he received a blessing to
      live quietly in the forest, which he did for a number of
      years before God sent him to be enrolled amongst the
      brothers of Valaam Monastery, whose founders had been
      Athonites. The missionaries were sent off on the most
      difficult journey across Siberia, and up the Aleutian
      island chain, and finally they came to Kodiak. Their
      incredible zeal is reflected in a letter of reminiscence
      written by St. Herman. He recalls an incident in the early
      days of the missionary team when a number of the hieromonks
      and he walked up on a hill on Kodiak to look out at Alaska.
      Immediately, these priests began to divide up the various
      geographical portions in order to stake their field of
      evangelical labors. One would say, �That portion over there
      is sufficient for you dear brother for an entire lifetime,
      so I am going north here and will cover all the land to the
      east.� The other brother would respond, �No, no. The
      portion over here in certainly sufficient for your labors,
      and I will take the peninsula and everything surrounding
      it.� St. Herman recounts that as he heard these
      missionaries so zealous to give their lives for the natives
      in such incredibly adverse circumstances which held certain
      death for them all his soul went �from joy to rapture.�

      The First Five Years and St. Herman�s Spruce Island. The
      first five years of the missionary endeavor was crowned
      with great success. Thousands of natives were delivered
      from paganism and baptized. Churches were built on Kodiak
      and on Unalaska. Beautiful churches remain to this day on
      these spots. But after the five years St. Herman was the
      only member of the missionary team left. Most, if not all,
      of the rest had gone to their eternal reward. The life was
      extremely difficult. One of the senior members of the team
      was Hieromonk Ioasaph. He had been summoned back to Russia
      in order to be consecrated a bishop for Alaska. On his way
      back to the missionary front, after having been
      consecrated, he and his companions went down in their ship
      and drowned.

      St. Herman found himself all alone, and he retired to
      Spruce Island. He followed the greatest and most Orthodox
      missionary plan. Make yourself small! Give yourself totally
      to God! His contemporary, St. Seraphim of Sarov, would
      articulate it best, �Find inner peace and thousands around
      you will find their salvation.� St. Herman�s is the best
      proof of this maxim. St. Herman retired to a small island
      just two miles off the coast of Kodiak. Spruce Island is
      named for all the Spruce trees that cover it. There he dug
      a pit in the ground the summer he arrived which he used as
      a home. He planted a vegetable garden, and prayed. By
      winter members of the Russian-American company built the
      saint a small wooden cell next to his cave-house and St.
      Herman would live in the cell for the rest of his earthly
      life. He consecrated his cave-house as his grave-plot, and
      that is where he was buried. Soon St. Herman built a small
      wooden chapel for services and next to it a small school
      house that he used to instruct the natives. He prayed,
      gardened, and served the natives as their chief defender
      and advocate for some 40 years. St. Herman named his
      hermitage �New Valaam� and in writing regularly to the
      monastery of his repentance he would say that he was able
      to look out across monk�s lagoon and to see the walls of
      Valaam Monastery. For clothing St. Herman had one deer-skin
      shirt, which he did not change for 8 years, one cassock,
      and a klobuk/hat. He wore the same clothes winter and
      summer. Inside his cassock he wore an iron cross and chains
      that weighed 15 pounds. His klobuk and chains adorn the top
      of his reliquary in our Holy Resurrection Church on Kodiak
      to this day. For a bed he had a wooden bench, for pillows
      two bricks which he kept under a deerskin, and for a
      blanket another small wooden board that he kept next to the
      stove. When he died he asked his spiritual children to wrap
      him in his monastic mantia, lay him in the earth, and cover
      him with his �blanket.�

      There on the island in this way St. Herman lived out his
      earthly life for Christ. He divided his time between his
      prayerful seclusion and his availability to the natives. He
      taught them, began an orphanage, and constantly served as a
      liason between the natives and the Russian businessmen
      there who soon became quite cruel and even enslaved some of
      the natives. For his courageous reproof of such injustices
      St. Herman suffered much slander and calumny. One of the
      businessmen even accused St. Herman of stealing money, and
      one day came to the holy monk�s cell with an axe. He began
      to chop up the floor-boards saying that he was certain the
      monk had hidden gold under the floor. Finding nothing, St.
      Herman told the man that he would soon die by the axe, and
      indeed shortly thereafter this wicked merchant had his head
      cut off in southern Alaska by a man who used his own axe.
      St. Herman protected the natives not only from injustice
      but also from nature. Today on Spruce Island is a very
      famous bay called Icon Bay. It was here that St. Herman
      held back by his holy prayers the onslaught of an
      approaching tsunami by placing an icon of our Lady in the
      sand and prayer. He told the natives, �the waves will reach
      to this point, to the icon, but will go no further� and
      such was the case. How many miracles could be recounted!
      How he stopped a raging fire, how he carried huge logs
      barefoot in the dead of winter that normally took four men
      to lift, how he prophesied so many events! He was filled
      with the Holy Spirit of God.

      Every Lord�s Day St. Herman gathered the natives together
      and would lead them in the services as he could, and preach
      to them. He never met with anyone without speaking to them
      about the kingdom of heaven, God, sin, and how to be saved.
      His most famous of all counsels involves a number of very
      educated sailors and their captain who arrived in Kodiak on
      an official mission from Russia to survey the work in
      Russian Alaska. These men prided themselves on being
      intellectuals, and were not expecting much from the simple
      monk Herman. They were to hear such instruction that they
      would never be the same. St. Herman began,

      �What do you, gentlemen, love more anything else, and what
      would you wish for your happiness?�

      Various answers began to pour out. Some wished for riches,
      others glory, others a beautiful wife, and others a
      wonderful ship on which he could be captain, and so on in
      the same vein.

      �Isn�t it true,� said Father Herman to them, �that all your
      various wishes could be summed up into one, that each of
      you wishes that which, according to his understanding, he
      considers the best and most worthy of love?�

      �Yes, that is true!� answered all.

      �But still, tell me,� continued he, �what could be better,
      higher than all, more superlative and most worthy of love
      if not the Lord, our Jesus Christ Himself, Who created us,
      adorned us with such perfections, gave life to all, upkeeps
      everything, nourishes, loves all, Who Himself is love, and
      most wonderful, more so than all people? Shouldn�t one
      therefore love God more than everything, and in everything
      wish and seek Him?�

      All began to speak: �Well, yes! That is self-evident! That
      is true in itself!�

      �But do you love God?� asked the Elder.

      And all answered: �Of course we love God. How can we not
      love God?�

      �And I, a sinner, have tried to love God for more than
      forty years, and I cannot say that I perfectly love Him,�
      answered Father Herman, and began to explain how one must
      love God.

      �If we love someone,� he said, �then we always think of
      that one, we strive to please that one; day and night our
      heart is preoccupied with that object. Is it in this way,
      gentlemen, that you love God? Do you often turn to Him, do
      you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and
      fulfill His Holy Commandments?�

      We had to admit that we did not.

      �For our good, for our happiness,� concluded the Elder, �at
      least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day,
      from this hour, from this minute we shall strive above all
      else to love God and full His Holy Will!��

      St. Herman of Alaska truly fulfilled the greatest of all
      commandments. �To love the Lord your God will all your
      heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,
      and to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two
      commandments hang all the law and the prophets.�

      St. Herman, Wonder-worker of Alaska, pray to God for us!
      Greetins on this blessed Feast!

      |Reader Constantine Wright IC|XC|
      |Member of the Jerusalem Patriarchate -----|
      |in Athens, Georgia NI|KA|
      | http://www.angelfire.com/zine/rocanews |
      | http://constans_wright.tripod.com |

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