On September 6, 2022, His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman (Swaiko), the retired primate of the Orthodox Church in America, peacefully reposed in the Lord at his home on the grounds of St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, at the age of 90.
Met. Herman served the Church in holy orders for 58 years, including 49 years as a hierarch, with 6 years as the primate of the Orthodox Church in America.
His life of ministry began at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and the remainder of his life was connected with St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary, both of which he served in various capacities.
The funeral for His Beatitude was served at St. Tikhon’s on Thursday, September 15, 2022, and he was buried in the monastery cemetery the next day.
The following words were spoken in Met. Herman’s honor at the repast following his burial by Subdeacon Martin Paluch, who served as His Beatitude’s cell attendant for 57 years.
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces, fathers, matushki, family and dear friends of our most beloved Metropolitan Herman:
From the book of Hebrews chapter 13:7-8 (verses from the Lazurus Saturday Epistle reading) one can read:
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I have given much thought and meditated over these words spoken by St. Paul to the Hebrews and will attempt to give an answer to those gracious words: “How fortunate Vladyka was to have you, Martin, and thank you for taking care of our beloved Metropolitan Herman,” that have been offered to me so often these past dozen or so years.
I wish to begin with words often used by Metropolitan Herman, that we must, Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. And to love our neighbor as we love our self (Mt. 22:37-39).
How did His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman understand and teach these words?
The spirit of these words from the Gospel of Matthew, spoken by our Lord Himself exemplified the very life of Metropolitan Herman from the moment of his ordination to the priesthood until his last breath, and it was the Holy Spirit that gave him the strength to continue to work on his own salvation and to further build up especially these holy grounds, this righteous place in South Canaan [St. Tikhon’s Monastery—OC] for you and me, and all those many God-fearing people searching to be spiritually comforted.
Metropolitan Herman followed the teachings and imitated the ways of Sts. Peter, Paul, and perhaps all the Apostles. To the Americans, Russians, Greeks, Albanians, converts and all people he delivered only one message, that of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church! He never neglected the commands of the Church nor would he add or detract from the sacred teachings or order of the Liturgy without the unified approval of every member of the Holy Synod, for that was the oath of ordination that he had taken.
I knew him:
as a priest,
as a monastic and deputy abbot,
as an abbot,
as a bishop,
and as a metropolitan.
I knew of his visitations as a bishop in his diocese, in the dioceses which he was Locum Tenens of throughout America, his visitations to Russia, Bulgaria, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Jerusalem, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Japan, Africa, and so many places throughout North America.
And now I will begin with my first encounter with this true imitator of our Lord!
The students of my class of 1969 came to St. Tikhon’s in 1965 to become priests so as to change the world and make Orthodoxy what it should be, or so we thought. As young students, we had not fully realized that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow!
As we entered St. Tikhon’s doorway, we would quickly recognize that in the chair behind the office desk was a person who loved and honored God more than we, a person dedicated to helping his fellow man more than we, a welcoming priest of God who deeply cared for those entrusted to him, who would anoint with oil the weak, the infirmed, and as a good shepherd would dutifully watch over the first, the last and give special attention to the one wandering away.
This man was truly married to the Church! He took that cross of Christ and carried it in love and service, as long and as far as the strength in his body would permit. He had no desire for wealth, prestige, or power because he had already found and recognized the pearl of greatest value, that is Christ, which he had promised to follow and serve all the days remaining in his earthly life.
In our secular world, we give honor to those institutions and organizations that outwardly show works of charity. We can witness and are moved by advertisements on TV that speak of feeding a hungry child, opening hospitals and providing necessary services that would make a difference and so we willingly give!
On the other hand, the Gospel teaches and strongly encourages us to take notice of poor Lazarus waiting at the gate, the man beaten by robbers, those struggling to make ends meet, and those who are in want and perhaps just need a little compassion, mercy, or forgiveness.
Chapter 6 of Mathew’s Gospel begins with: And when you do acts of charity do not be as the Scribes and Pharisees for they love to have men see their works, but you let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
As a student, how well I remember the time Father Joseph Swaiko (Metropolitan Herman) received an urgent call and asked me to get his car and drive him to a place on route 196 about fifteen miles from the Seminary. I asked where we were going. He replied, “We will know when we get there! Look for a person selling things close to the road.” Upon arriving and to my surprise, he said turn in this driveway and stop. He got out and spoke to the man, the wife, and three young children who were trying to sell their possessions. You see, they had left New Jersey, towing a smaller car in search of a job when the motor in their van had blown apart. This left them with having to sell most of their personal items in hopes of earning enough money to make it to California where they had relatives who were willing to help them out. For now, they were living in their van, trying to collect enough money by selling what they owned along with the van that needed a new motor. Metropolitan Herman put them up in an old house that he had purchased from a Russian parishioner who begged him to buy it because of her failing health, and she needed money to go live with her daughter in Florida. At that time, Metropolitan Herman did not have money to buy the house but had me drive him to the bank for a personal loan. After a few days, Metropolitan Herman found a buyer for the van with the blown motor and gave them his own personal money—enough to buy food for the family and gas to reach California.
Another of many such occasions:
One Sunday afternoon, Pavlina, a women in her 80s, appeared on our doorstep. She spoke some English but mostly Russian. She had come from the cathedral in New York City. This poor lady lost her only son some years back; she was a Lazarus holding all that she had ever possessed in two shopping bags. She said she lost her place of stay at the cathedral and that, “You, as a bishop, must help me.” As days rolled into weeks and weeks became months that turned into years one could see Bishop Herman ministering to her with that same love and care that can be read about in the lives of some of the great saints of the past.
I also drove him to hospitals, to prisons, to nursing homes, and even to distant farms where he would dutifully take the most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior and stay for a time to listen and to offer comforting and loving words given to him by the Holy Spirit.
These few examples were not the only occasions on which my eyes were blessed to see his great love in action, imitating those simple instructions given by God throughout Gospels.
He never saw himself as a miracle-worker, however many were touched through his fervent prayers to God on their behalf. I personally witnessed and spoke with people who testified what took place in their life as a result of an encounter with this blessed man of God. From my room at night, I would often hear the phone ring at 1, 2, 3, and 4 am in the morning and be answered quickly by Metropolitan Herman. Sometimes the call would last for more than an hour and in the morning, I would ask who called. He would answer that the caller was pleading for help, or was in trouble with the law was going to commit suicide, wanted to have an abortion, was attempting to harm someone, or was in desperation and searching for someone who would listen.
Saint Tikhon’s: Center of Orthodoxy
To speak about St. Tikhon’s without mentioning Metropolitan Herman would surely dismay many alive today and displease those who have now taken up residency in St. Tikhon’s cemetery, especially the monks, the priests, past members of the Holy Synod, administration, and parishioners who walked, talked, and worked with him.
In his sermons, he would often remind us that unless God build the house, those who build labor in vain.
In 1965, one could hardly imagine that such a complex as we see here today at St. Tikhon’s would be built. Why, at that time there was even serious talk about closing this solitary place. How well I remember back then in the early years of my life at St. Tikhon’s wherein was a dilapidated barn, a two-story garage structure, a possibly three-story house if one were to include the semi-finished attic, and another old structure with some 27 rooms used for student housing that included 4 classrooms, kitchen, dining room, a small library and a small chapel. Across the street were the church, the monastic quarters, one garage with three bays, an old wooden bell tower that had stones for its foundation, a small dining room known as the trapeza, another larger house below the cemetery known as the Vecherny Zvon, and a cemetery by the church. All of this covered about ten acres of ground of the approximately 260 acres owned by St.Tikhon’s. At that time, the value of St. Tikhon’s set by the insurance company was less than $2 million. Today its value is more than $17 million.
Back in those early days, there were eight older monks at the monastery, whom I knew well, who were constantly praying that God would send someone to help them with their struggles, and especially breathe some new life, much like Elijah did in the Old Testament, into these holy grounds that had been anointed so many years ago.
Upon arriving, Joseph Swaiko (Metropolitan Herman) sensed that St. Tikhon’s was a strong ship blessed by God many years ago, and that the monastic brotherhood with very little at hand to work with had marvelously kept it well preserved. Perhaps with a little attention, building upon what they had already sanctified, it could be made to set sail and take its people through the turbulent waters of this world into more peaceful waters of everlasting joy. All this ship needed was a God-fearing leader who believed that it was God building it.
But who would be willing to give up all worldly cares much like those who came before to embark upon such a wearisome task? This would take a person of great faith, humility, and love for God and for those who were caring as best they could with that which was planted on these holy and consecrated grounds.
With prayers and supplication to God, the monastic brotherhood would warmly welcome such a person in the name of Fr. Joseph Swaiko. He unselfishly and prayerfully said yes to God, and gave up all worldly cares. He took the plow given to him and began to cultivate the soil, nourish the ground, and plant the seeds which were placed in his care by the elderly monks still living, and through the prayers of those who have long left this world. Humbly and with the love of God in his mind and heart, he began to minister to those whom God had already sent and would send to him.
He offered his own meager funds, and when that was not enough he was able by the grace of God to convince wealthier people to take up the cause for our Lord and support this center of Orthodoxy. Many were moved to tears by the example that he set and by the deeply spiritual and simple instructions in his sermons. And so began the rekindling and caring by all who were and would be sent by God to build what we see here today.
Blessed are the peacemakers
One day, a young monk who has peacefully left this world got into an argument and threw his keys at Metropolitan Herman. At that time Bishop Herman said, “You are full of darkness. Get out of my house!” In a rampage, the monk left! After three days the monk returned and begged Bishop Herman for forgiveness, and without hesitation, Bishop Herman gave him his blessing and restored him to his former position. From then on, this monk would come to see Bishop Herman every day after Liturgy for an hour or so and together they penned and compiled many books including, These Truths We Hold and the Book of Needs. So grateful was the young monk that he would not credit this or any book with his own name but merely the phrase, “by a Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery.” I would add also that this monk had a low tolerance and constantly was annoyed by the noise of children especially in church. After this incident, the monk was no longer tormented by noise and would often ask me during camp season, “When are you bringing the camp children to my skete?”
Luke 11:49: Therefore the wisdom of God also said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will persecute.”
While Metropolitan Herman was alive, he was accused of the “sin of omission.” I witnessed an attorney calling him a liar and others trying to force him to reveal a confession. He was ridiculed, mocked, and for more than three years forced into exile from these holy grounds. Some even tried to erase his name and memory from the history of the Church. Yet throughout all of these temptations he remained loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, and would only say that he was comforted to know that God would be his judge, not man.
Through all the trials and tribulations, he stood firm as an imitator of Christ and would not condemn nor lift his hand against his brother bishops in Christ or anyone else, for that would have surely divided the Church. He accepted the cross placed upon his already frail shoulders and glorified God even more for allowing him in his last days to be tested by the fire of suffering.
A whole generation of people, deacons, priests, and bishops during his time bear witness to the wonderful, good works and moral life exemplified by this humble man of God. Wherever he went, to whatever audience was placed before him, his actions were always indicative of the image and likeness of his Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
His entire life was one of prayer to God and I don’t suppose that will change now that he has left this earthly world. He will continue to keep praying especially for all of us, and why? Because that is what he did all his life! He was filled with the grace, love, and fellowship to which he was consecrated by the laying on of hands, that most holy and precious Apostolic Succession given by Christ to those whom He has chosen.
Our Lord instructs us in the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, chapter 7 verse 34 with these words: Do not Judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to many who have watched me care for him and who have expressed gratitude by blessing me with such tender words as, “Ge is most fortunate to have you to help him.” However, to me, who knew him better than anyone else, with gratitude I must answer that it was I who gained and was most fortunate to have him, this man of God, who by his very own lifestyle and example changed my way of life and that of so many others.
Reposted with permission