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Parish Names Days
(December 25, December 12 old calendar).
Russian industrial entrepreneurs discovered the Aleutian Islands in the second half of the 18th century. The islands form something like a chain along the eastern coast of Kamchatka to the western coast of Northern America. After the islands were discovered, the pagan inhabitants, who became Russian subjects, were to be enlightened with the Gospel. The Holy Synod assigned the Valaam monastery elder, Nazarius, with the task to choose the most gifted monks from that monastery so that they would accomplish this apostolic mission. Thus, in 1793 ten monks of the monastery were chosen to go and preach the word of God to the uncivilized peoples of north-west America. A 33 year old monk Herman was among the members of that mission.
Saint Herman was born into a family of merchants and from his youth he had a great zeal for Christ. He entered the monastery at the age of 16. As a young monk, he once became deathly ill with an abscess on his throat. Alone in his cell and near death he fell down before an icon of the Mother of God and prayed with fervent tears for healing. He then took a wet towel and wiped the face of the icon of the Holy Theotokos, and with this towel he covered the swelling. In a dream he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary touching him on his throat, healing him. When he awoke in the morning, he was fully healed.
The mission started its journey in the year of 1793. It was the longest missionary travel in Christian history, taking a year to traverse over 7,900 miles, by land and sea, to arrive at Kodiak Island. As the result of their holy zeal, the light of Christ poured forth, and several thousand new Russian subjects, formerly pagans, were baptized into the Christian Faith. A school was set up to educate the newly baptized children, and the first church was built.
Eventually, Father Herman found himself the only surviving member of the original missionary team. Six years after the beginning of the missionary work among the Aleutians he retreated from Kodiak Island to the nearby Yelovoi (Spruce) Island for the life of prayer and seclusion. It was a small, forested piece of land with a brook running across the island, and he called it New Valaam. Yelovoi was separated from the main island Kodiak by a strait, two kilometers wide.
There he first lived in a cave and then he built a cell in which he lived and worked for the glory of the Lord for over 40 years. A wooden Chapel and a wooden schoolhouse/guest house were built near his cell. He wore the same simple monastic clothing both in winter and summer. His bed was a bench covered with a deer skin, he used two bricks for a pillow and a wooden board for a blanket, which was to cover his earthly remains according to his will. He ate very little, and for further asceticism he wore 16 pounds of chains under his deer-skin smock, so that no one, until his death, knew about them. These chains are kept with his relics to this day on the island of Kodiak. Ferocious bears living on the island were tame and benign around Fr. Herman. He worked many miracles and led thousands to Christ, remaining a simple monk.
St. Herman was so kind and easily approachable that for years Aleutians started regarding him as if he had been their father. Following the example of many desert Fathers who showed the greatest concern for the welfare and needs of others, yet regarded themselves of little significance, St. Herman responded to every hardship they had. He defended those who erred in front of superiors, defended the ill-treated and helped the needy with whatever he could. Aleutians would constantly visit him bringing their children along. Some would be asking for advice, some would complain about offence, some would seek protection or help - the old man tried to help each and everybody.
His love for the Aleutians brought him sometimes to utter self-sacrifice. During the epidemics of a deadly illness that took the lives of very many Aleutians in a month, Father Herman was selfless and tireless when visiting the sick, preaching patience and repentance, and preparing the dying to depart.
The elder took special care about instilling moral virtues in the Aleutians. To this end he organized a school for Aleut orphans where he taught them the Scriptures and church singing.
With the same aim in view, on weekends and holidays he gathered people in a chapel near his cell for a communal prayer. His disciples said prayers in turn, and the old man read Books of the Apostles, the Gospel and instructed them. The orphans taught by him were singing harmoniously during his sermons. The Aleutians liked his preaching very much, crowds of people always attended his sermons. His preaching produced an unforgettable impression on listeners.
Russian sailors coming to Alaska were visiting Father Herman too. Once he was invited on board a frigate, which sailed from Saint Petersburg. The captain of the ship, a man of excellent education, was sent to America by the Russian tsar to inspect the colonies. The 25 captain's subordinates were also well-educated navy officers. And this company was perplexed by a conversation with a modest rather short monk in shabby clothes. The captain himself said later, "We were at a loss what to say, we were fools in front of him!" Father Herman asked them, "What do you like most of all? What would you like to have so that you could think yourselves happy?" The answers were about wealth, titles, beautiful wives, position of a captain on a wonderful ship and so on. "Do you agree, sirs, " Father Herman continued, that all of your aspirations can be reduced to one wish: each of you wants to have something that he thinks to be the best and most worthy of love?" Everybody agreed and he continued, "Then tell me what can be better and far more worthy of love than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself? The One Who created us and adorned all with perfection, Who gave life, Who provides for all and nourishes all, Who loves all and Who is the best of all people and Who Himself is Love? Shouldn't we love Him more than anything else and aspire for Him?" Everybody started saying, "Well, of course, this is true! It goes without saying!" And then the old man asked, "Do you really love God?" Everybody said, "Of course, we do. How can we not love God?" "Here I am, a sinner, aspiring for 40 years to love God and yet I cannot say that I love Him perfectly," noted Father Herman and started to explain how one should love God. "If we love someone, we always remember that person, we try to please him or her, and day and night our heart is preoccupied with that person. Do you love God that much? Is it often that you turn to Him, do you always keep Him in mind, are you always praying and following His commandments?" We had to confess that we do not. "For our own benefit, for our happiness, let us at least promise ourselves that from this day, this hour, this minute we will try to love God above all and do His Sacred Will!" This wonderful conversation with St. Herman must have impressed the hearts of those people for the rest of their lives.
In general Father Herman was outspoken and eloquent, his statements were intelligent, to the point and enlightening. He spoke of eternity, salvation, future life and God's providence; he often told about lives of saints and quoted holy books, but he never deviated from the essence. It was so much pleasure to listen to him that his interlocutors, even the Aleutians and their women, were so enthralled that they reluctantly left him only at sunrise.
Father Herman was a man of short stature with a pale face covered with wrinkles; his grayish blue eyes shone with special light and his countenance revealed that the old man had the grace of God within him. His voice was not loud, but very pleasant. People were magnetically drawn to him by his mild and quiet disposition, his humble and appealing look, his pleasant smile and kind words.
God endowed St. Herman with the gift of discernment and wonderworking for his devoutness to the Lord and the decades of ascetic life full of hardships. When the time of his death was coming close St. Herman asked his disciple Gerasim to light candles in front of icons and to read the book of Acts of the Apostles. After a while his face lit up and he said loudly, "Glory to Thee, O Lord!" Then the old man lowered his head onto Gerasim's chest and the cell was filled with aromatic incense. At that moment Saint Herman's face shone and he peacefully departed to rest in the Lord. It was in 1837, St. Herman died on the 81st year of his righteous life. At the moment of his death the people who lived in a nearby settlement watched a pillar of light going up from the Yelivoi Island to the sky. This was a sign for them that St. Herman passed to a better world, which he was yearning for from his very youth.
To this day the Orthodox Aleutians venerate reverently the memory of St. Herman, and when baptizing their children they often christen them Herman in his honor.
Excerpts from Saint Herman's preaching.
Make your faith conscientious
A true Christian is faithful and loves Christ. According to the Savior Himself our sins do not prevent us from being a good Christian. He said, "I have not came to call the righteous, but sinners," "There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." He also said to a Pharisee Simon and to a sinful woman washing his feet, "Her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who loves little has been forgiven little." A Christian should come to hope and joy through such thinking, and to disregard everything that makes him despondent. We need a shield of faith" (which in our time is insight and love of Orthodox sermons, tradition and history and clear awareness of the numinous aspects of heretical teachings, sects, ecumenism and communism that take place in Russia and the whole world now. That is what the "shield of faith" is - ed. note).
Wage a constant battle
"According to the Apostles we are not swimming among waves of a stormy sea, but we travel and strive through an enticing world of passions. And though we are not blessed as the Holy Apostles were, we have to fight, like they did, against the same fleshless sources of evil, the rulers of dark powers of our time, the spirits of malevolence on the Earth that try to intercept, trap and stop all those on their way to our heavenly fatherland. The Apostle Peter said, 'Our foe, the devil, is roaming like a snarling lion looking for someone to fall prey for him to devour.' A sin for a God-loving person is just like an arrow shot by the enemy on the battlefield.
Find your aim in life
A true Christian is a soldier making his way through the battalions of invisible foes toward his Holy Fatherland.
Vain aspirations of our time distance us from our Heavenly Fatherland. Our attachment to those desires wraps our soul as if dressing it in repugnant apparel. The apostles called it "an external man." In our earthly travel, calling for God's help, we must remove the repulsive garb from us and attire ourselves in new aspirations and new love of the future (consummation of the Holy Spirit) and through that we shall see if we are coming closer to our Heavenly Fatherland or going further from it. (St. John of Kronstadt advised to keep a dairy of spiritual life, which was helpful, he said, in acquiring the ability to wage a spiritual life). But it cannot be achieved quickly, we must follow the example of those in sickness, who are looking unceasingly for a way to cure themselves.
Spread the good tidings of the Orthodoxy
"O how delighted was my spirit! Finding myself between bad and good weather, between joy and boredom, between abundance and lack, between fullness and hunger, between warmth and coldness and amidst all my sorrows, I receive something that livens me up when I hear conversations about preaching and removing of various obstacles!
Glory to Providence of our Merciful God! Through His unfathomable divine guidance He has now shown a new event that I had never witnessed before on Kodiak Island in those many years that I have been living here. Today after Pascha one young woman who had never seen or known me came here and having heard about the incarnation of the Son of God and life eternal, conceived such love for Jesus Christ that she would not leave me. Looking at that in great amazement I recall the Savior's words, 'I praise Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.' There are other zealous women and men who would like to follow her example...
But those who diverged from the true Orthodox Church have chosen a wrong path."
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