The Light of St. Herman

Photo: Photo:

During the darkest days of the year, some find it hard to rouse their souls and bodies to prayer and good works. This is especially true in the northern lands, and anyone who has ever lived in Alaska will tell you that the light there in the winter is very low—first of all, the day is short. Today’s sunrise in Kodiak Alaska is 9:54 a.m., and sunset will be at 4:26 p.m. There is a 50 percent chance of rain or snow, which means it’s cloudy, as it will be almost all winter. People in Alaska are often scattered around, off the grid, and depend on kerosene lamps, gasoline generators, or wind generators for light. Fuel is hard to haul, and they use it sparingly. Melatonin levels are low, and “cabin fever” is a real thing. This is happening today.

In St. Herman’s day, there was only wood and whale oil. St. Herman and his natives lived in what they called “bara baras”—what we would call hovels. The wind, rain and snow lashed the wooden and dirt dwellings, their mukluks soaked through (no rubber boats). The steel-grey waves of the northern sea crashed noisily against the shore not far from their dwellings. A wan sun appeared for a few hours a day. But did they ever get depressed? All the information that has come down to us on St. Herman and his disciples tells us that they scarcely knew the meaning of the word. We know that even the most religious people have their moments of gloom, but we don’t see any evidence of this in St. Herman’s life. How did he do it?

St. Herman of Alaska. Photo: St. Herman of Alaska. Photo:
St. Herman kept prayerful vigil, and was no doubt steeped in Holy Scripture. The promises God made to His people throughout the Old and New Testaments were ever in his mind, enlightening it with the hope of Christ’s everlasting light. Let’s contemplate these promises:

“Glory to Thee Who hast shown us the Light!” (from Matins)

“And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the works of our hands do Thou guide aright upon us…” (from Matins).

“Praise Him O sun and moon, praise Him, all ye stars and light…” (from Matins).

“O thou Who dost send forth the light, and it goeth, Who makest the sun to rise on both the just and the unjust, on both the evil and the good; Who makest the dawn, and enlightenest the whole world: Enlighten our hearts, O Master of all…” (from the First Inter-Hour).

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light (Gen. 1:3).

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night (Ex. 13:21).

For thou art my lamp, O Lord: and the Lord will lighten my darkness (Sam. 22:29).

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain (Sam. 23:4).

That David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:36).

Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah for David his servant's sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children (2 Kings 8:19).

Howbeit the Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and as he promised to give a light to him and to his sons for ever (2 Chron. 21:7).

That our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage (Ezra 9:8).

Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul (Job 3:30).

Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? (Job 3:23).

He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death (Job 12:22).

Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways (Job 22:28).

He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light (Job 28:11).

When his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness (Job 29:3).

He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light (Job 33:28).

To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living (Job 33:30).

Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it, and covereth the bottom of the sea (Job 36:30).

O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep in death (Ps. 13:3).

For thou, O Lord, wilt light my lamp: my God, thou wilt lighten my darkness (Ps. 18:28).

The Lord is my light and my Saviour; whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1).

For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light we shall see light (Ps. 36:9).

And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day (Ps. 37:1).

Blessed is the people that knows the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance (Ps. 89:15).

Light is sprung up for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart (Ps. 97:11).

Thy law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths (Ps. 119:105).

For darkness will not be darkness with thee; but night will be light as day: as its darkness, so shall its light be to thee (Ps. 139:12).

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (Is. 9:2).

I will make darkness light before them (Is. 42:16).

Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow (Is. 50:11).

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily (Is. 58:8).

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day (Isaiah 58:10).

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee (Is. 60:1).

And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising (60:3).

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory (60:19).

Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended (Is. 60:20).

* * *

St. Herman of Alaska St. Herman of Alaska
And as the day would end, and the light of the sun would wane, St. Herman would sing a hymn to the Lord of Lights at Vespers:

“O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly holy blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of Life. Wherefore the world doth glorify Thee.”

“Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light of revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

For Jesus Christ, whom St. Herman served and strove to love above all, is the light of the world: he that followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (Jn. 8:12).

And when the time came for St. Herman to depart his earthly home, his disciples saw his soul rise to heaven as a pillar of light. So, whenever we feel that the darkness is compassing us all about and there is no healing for our flesh, let us always remember the Lord’s light-bearing promises to us; let us also remember our holy father St. Herman of Alaska, whose very soul was light, and let these thoughts be as a flood of radiant, gladsome light in our own souls.

An Alaska nun


See also
“I imagine my beloved Valaam.” “I imagine my beloved Valaam.”
St. Herman of Alaska
“I imagine my beloved Valaam.” “I imagine my beloved Valaam.”
St. Herman’s Letters to Abbot Nazarius
St. Herman even in Alaska considered himself to be under obedience to his spiritual guide and abbot, Fr. Nazarius of Valaam Monastery. Whenever he had the time he would write to Valaam with reports on the missionary team’s work in the Alaskan territories among the native peoples.
The Home of St. Herman—Kadom of Ryazan The Home of St. Herman—Kadom of Ryazan The Home of St. Herman—Kadom of Ryazan The Home of St. Herman—Kadom of Ryazan
Nun Cornelia (Rees)
It is worth exploring the history and background of this region of Russia, which produced such extraordinarily pious offspring as St. Seraphim of Sarov, Elder Nazarius of Valaam, and our dear Fr. Herman of Alaska.
St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
And here, in the midst of this pre-Christmas joy so filled with impressions, there enters into the American consciousness a Russian monk from Valaam who was also connected with children, coziness, spice-cake, pretzels, covered by the Alaskan snow—St. Herman the Wonderworker of America.
On the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska On the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska On the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska On the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska
Seeing the glorious life of podvig of Father Herman, seeing his miracles, seeing the fulfillment of his prophecies and finally his blessed falling asleep, "generally all the local inhabitants have an awesome respect for him as a holy ascetic, and are entirely convinced of his having pleased God," witnessed Bishop Peter.
A Life of St. Herman from 1919 A Life of St. Herman from 1919
Vera Johnston
A Life of St. Herman from 1919 A Life of St. Herman from 1919
Vera Johnston
A Russian missionary to America! Yes, indeed, a servant of God, lowly and simple of heart, who attained to such perfection of spirit that in our day and generation there are many in Alaska and throughout the Orthodox parishes in the United States who think that Herman, the humble monk, should be and will be canonized—a saint of the Church.[1]
The Miraculous Intercession of St. Herman of Alaska The Miraculous Intercession of St. Herman of Alaska
Matushka Galina Tregubov and Lee Browne-Beed
The Miraculous Intercession of St. Herman of Alaska The Miraculous Intercession of St. Herman of Alaska
Matushka Galina Tregubov and Lee Browne-Beed
When they finally started their exciting, but extremely difficult, ascent, everything went just fine for a few days. But at the end of one day, on a narrow path, they met an old, strange-looking man in a long dark robe. He was walking in the opposite direction, down the mountain. In a friendly manner he greeted them and advised them to turn around and return to the base camp as quickly as possible because the weather was changing into a severe storm.
Православная Аляска12/28/2017 6:58 am
Two historic accounts of St. Herman's life can be found, in the Russian language, at:
Жизнь Валаамскаго Монаха Германа, Американскаго Миссионера
(The Life of Monk Herman of Valaam, American Missionary)
by Valaam Monastery - published 1894
Миссионер Монах Герман
(Missionary Monk Herman)
Selection from "Russian Ascetics of the 19th Century"
by E. Poselyanin - published 1901, 1910
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