Homily ofor 12/25/05 - St Herman of Alaska
- Today we celebrate the feast of St Herman of Alaska, one of the first Orthodox missionaries to North America. He was part of a group of monks sent by the Church to preach the Gospel to the native Alaskans. Fr Herman was a simple monk and lived isolated on a small island where he labored to preach the Gospel not only with words but by every moment, every action of his whole life. Even though he was isolated, he became well known to the merchants and naval officers who frequented the area. There is a well known incident of his life which demonstrates the lesson of the parable that we heard today in the Gospel.
Once they invited the Elder to the frigate that came from St. Petersburg. The captain of the frigate was a rather learned man, highly educated. He was sent to America according to the imperial decree for observation of all the colonies. There were at least twenty-five sailors with the captain who were also educated people. In this society sat a rather short-statured man with worn out clothing - a desert-dwelling monk. who with wise conversation brought all these educated people to such a state that they did not know how to answer him. The captain himself related: 'Before him we were at a loss what to answer, like fools!' Father Herman asked one common question to all of them: 'What do you, gentlemen, love more than 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 would 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 more 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,' answered Father Herman 'have tried to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that I perfectly love Him," and he 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 to fulfill His Holy Will!' What a wise and wonderful talk Fr Herman conducted in this society: without a doubt this conversation must have been impressed in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.
In this conversation, just as in the Gospel parable, we see that the love of men for the things of this world distracts from the love of God. It is easy to say that we love God and yet our hearts turn first to the things in this world that we hold dear. And then when we consider what it means to truly love someone, we must admit that we do not love God in that manner.
What more can we add to the words of the Saint which apply so well to each of us today. All we can do is repeat the challenge that he gave to the officers of the ship with whom he spoke and take it for ourselves, "For our good, for our happiness, 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 to fulfill His Holy Will!"
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