St Herman of Alaska
For all the Saints: Herman of Alaska
On Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia is Valaam monastery. Brought close to extinction during the communist period, the monastery has been reborn and shows every sign of thriving once again. On December 14, 1989, six monks returned by boat to begin rebuilding after the destruction.
December 13 marks the commemoration of St Herman of Alaska, who left Valaam Monastery in autumn of 1793 with seven other monks bound for the territory of Alaska. They crossed all Siberia and the Bering Straits, finally arriving on Kodiak Island in September 1794. The Aleut people proved to be quite receptive to the message of the Gospel and in the mission’s first year alone, seven thousand were baptized and over a thousand marriages were consecrated.
In time, the people who initially pleaded for the church to send monks to evangelize the people turned against the mission. The problem was all too common: in this case, the Russians who wanted the mission were also exploiting the natives, a practice that the monks opposed out of Christian conviction. After a time Herman was left as the lone monk. He moved to Spruce Island, where he quietly continued the mission, beginning schools and hospitals and ministering to the Aleut people. Herman was not a priest but his ministry helped establish Orthodoxy on what is now American soil.
St Herman died November 15, 1836, at the age of eighty-one. The church also remembers him on July 27, the day he was proclaimed a saint in 1970 along with the other first American saints. An annual pilgrimage to his gravesite on Spruce Island takes place each July. The Orthodox Church in Alaska today consists of many native peoples as well as non-natives. In September of this year Bishop Nicholas of Alaska visited Valaam with pilgrims and priests of his diocese, part of the Orthodox Church in America, to see where it all began.
Since 1973, St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Theological Seminary trains priests, deacons, and lay workers for the church in Alaska. An earlier seminary founded in 1844 by St Innocent of Alaska in the name of the Russian church was closed following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.
St Herman is remembered for many things, among them a famous saying: “from this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive above all else to love God and do his holy will.” May it be so.
The web site for Valaam monastery is http://www.valaam.ru/en/
Published 16 Dec 06