Moscow, April 11, 2017
On April 5, in the Moscow church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr, an exhibition in honor of the great Russian missionary to America St. Herman of Alaska opened to the public. St. Catherine’s Church is the representation parish of the Orthodox Church in America in Moscow.
The exhibition, “In the Footsteps of St. Herman of Alaska,” was attended and opened by His Eminence Metropolitan Kliment (Kapalin) of Kaluga and Borovsk, the chairman of the Publishing Council on the Russian Orthodox Church, who served as administrator of the Moscow Patriarchal parishes in America from 1982 to 1990. The afternoon presented a series of beautiful photographs from places connected to St. Herman’s life, as well as the surprising results of new research into the early years of his life.
Following the singing of “O, Heavenly King,” Archpriest Christopher Hill read the greetings and blessings of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon (OCA) for the opening of the exhibition. Met. Tikhon highlighted the spiritual connection between the Russian Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy in America, as begun and symbolized by the person of St. Herman of Alaska, who brought the true faith to Alaska in 1794, where he remained until his repose in 1837. He also noted and thanked Met. Kliment for his important publications on the Orthodox mission in Alaska that came as a fruit of his time in America.
Met. Tikhon ended his greetings with a call to continue in the footsteps of St. Herman: “May the present exhibit at St. Catherin’s serve as a testament to the enduring and holy memory of St. Herman—a memory which enriches the present and future Orthodox witness in Alaska and in all the United States and in Canada.”
Following His Eminence’s words, the organizers of the exhibition, Hero of Russia and chairman of the Ryazan regional branch of the Russian Geographical Society Mihail Georgievich Malakhov, and director of the Ryazan Museum of Travelers A. N. Kapitanov spoke about their years of research into unknown pages of St. Herman’s biography, which was further expounded upon by museum deputy director on scientific works S. V. Yurchenko, who gave a tour of the photo exhibition, with many beautiful photos of places connected with St. Herman’s life, including Valaam and Spruce Island, and Kadom, where St. Herman was born, according to the latest research.
Through their research into archival documents, Malakhov and Kapitanov believe St. Herman to have been Egor Popov, who was born and lived in Kadom, 245 miles southeast of Moscow. It is believed that he worked in the Kadom provincial office, as evidenced by his smooth, beautiful handwriting.
The most interesting, and perhaps shocking, discovery of the men’s research is that Popov was married with a son. “Judging by the archival documents found, he had a son,” explained Yurchenko. “Accordingly, he was married. But in the copies of the archival documents his wife is not mentioned. They talk about his house, where he lived, about his parents’ wedding, about the place of his service… A number of documents talk about that while he worked in office—he was only 18 then—a son Vasily was born to him,” she continued.
Comparing and contrasting various data, the researchers believe Popov lost his family during a plague, and then first went to Sarov before heading for Valaam, the place of his monastic repentance until his departure for America.
“But the main thing for us is not some archival sources… It is the human memory, passed from person to person, from generation to generation,” commented Malakhov. “It is a great additional to the archival materials and documentary sources about St. Herman,” he concluded.
Following the tour of the exhibition, all were invited to tea with Met. Kliment and the event’s organizers. Several of those gathered also made their way into the church to pray at the insole of St. Herman, given to St. Catherine’s by His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, former primate of the OCA, in 2008.
The exhibition remains open until April 26.