This year marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the canonization of the great Russian ascetic missionary to America, St. Herman of Alaska, commemorated on July 27/August 9. Having left his chosen monastic home of the great Valaam Monastery, St. Herman departed under obedience to trek across the entire span of the Russian land to bring the light of Christ to the native peoples of Alaska. He arrived at Spruce Island in 1794 and labored for forty years, caring for all the physical and spiritual needs of the people. His life of prayer and asceticism and intense love in imitation of Christ left an indelible mark on the Alaskan land and people, and his memory has carried throughout the rest of America, and indeed throughout the entire Orthodox world. Under his heavenly protection the American mission continues to grow.
St. Herman was canonized on this day in 1970 in San Francisco's Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and in the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak, AL by the Orthodox Church in America. The year prior the Synod of the OCA released an official statement of the decision to canoinze our venerable father Herman of Alaska:
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Beloved in Christ; Pastors and God-loving Children of our Church:
The Venerable Spiritual Father Herman of the holy Monastery of Valaamo was one of the first Russian Orthodox missionaries who arrived in Alaska in 1794. He remained for forty years on Spruce Island, near the Island of Kodiak, in the spiritual work of apostolic service among the natives whom he illumined by the light of the truth of the Gospel.
The Venerable Spiritual Father Herman was born in 1760 in the town of Serpoukhov in the County of Moscow. As a sixteen year old youth, he left for the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near Petersburg where he became a monk, and where he was considered worthy to receive miraculous healing from a critical ailment while praying before the icon of the Mother of God. After having spent approximately six years at the Saint Sergius Hermitage, he departed for the Valaamo Monastery where he received as his Spiritual Father and guide the charismatic lgumen Nazaryi, who had been called to Valaamo from Sarov. Having such a guide, the future Spiritual Father Herman, while still at Valaamo, took upon himself physical and spiritual tasks, and later received the blessing to continue his spiritual feats in a hermitage which has since been called the Herman Hermitage.
The Blessed Father Herman labored in Alaska longer than all his devoted co-workers in the field of enlightening the pagans. His personal piety, which found its expression in continual prayer, severe fasting and the use of a rigid wooden bench as his bed, caused astonishment. But, still more important, Our Lord God gave him the great gift of compassionate love for those whom he led to Christ.
The Spiritual Father Herman gave forty years of his life to the service of people. He baptized them, taught them, prayed for them and interceded before the authorities for those who had been unjustly treated. His heart was filled with tenderness towards children. He founded an orphanage, a school for them; he was constantly concerned about them and gave them bread. The children themselves were attracted towards their Holy "Apa" (Grandfather).
People were healed from their infirmities through his prayers. This grace of God did not cease after his departure from this life. In a short encylical it is impossible to describe in detail all the deeds of his holy life in Alaska. Those who met him once, those who had contact with him could never forget him. He is remembered by hierarchs; priests and believers living in America today remember him as an intercessor before God.
The day of his death was foreannounced from above to the Venerable Spiritual Father Herman; he knew the day of his wish. The Acts of the Apostles were read. The knowledge of the day of one's death has always been considered by the Church as one of the signs of the holiness of the deceased. The remains of the Spiritual Father Herman were preserved until this time at the very place of his death, Spruce Island.
We believe that it was the will of God to reveal to us on this continent, and in this country, the Blessed Spiritual Father Herman as a sublime example of the Holy Life, for our spiritual benefit, inspiration, comfort and the confirmation of our Faith.
Therefore, we the Bishops of the local Orthodox Church of America, the beginning of which was laid in Alaska, have decided by the manifest will of the Holy Spirit, and our Archpastoral action, to canonize the Spiritual Father Herman of Alaska of blessed memory, and to enter his name in the catalog of Saints of our local Church in America.
Through the Prayers of Our Holy Father Herman of Alaska, God grant us to fulfill his holy will in every place of his dominion.
VENERABLE FATHER HERMAN, PRAY TO GOD FOR US.
The Members of the Great Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (The Metropolia):
+ IRENEY, Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
+ JOHN, Archbishop of Chicago and Minneapolis
+ JOHN, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western United States
+ NIKON, Archbishopof Brooklyn
+ SYLVESTER, Archbishop of Montreal and Canada
+ AMVROSSY, Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia
+ KYPRIAN, Bishop of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
+ THEODOSIUS, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
+ JOASAPH, Bishop of Edmonton
Given at The Metropolitan's Residence
Syosset, Long Island, New York 11 March 1969
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And on the day of the canonization itself, Met. Theodosius (at that time the bishop of Alaska) wrote the following epistle in St. Herman's honor:
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Today is the Feast of the Orthodox Faith in North America.
Today we are summoned by the Holy Spirit Himself Who has sustained the memory of the simple monk, Herman, in the hearts of the Alaskan Orthodox faithful.
Today it is given us to see the undistorted image of God in the humble face of our brother, Herman of Alaska.
Beloved Brethren in Christ!
A man of peace in the midst of terrible violence, the monk Herman grants us the image of the truly Christian response to the violence and spiritual collapse of our own age.
St. Herman, wonderworker of-Alaska and All America, spiritual physician, averter of disasters by prayer, teacher of the oppressed and their benefactor, pray now for the Orthodox Church in America, your spiritual child!
May Your truly wonderful example and Your truly effective prayers sustain our faith in purity, save us from the temptations of strange creeds and false idols, and strengthen us all for the time of testing which God in His mercy now grants us, His new Church.
Let us all seek and find in St. Herman of Alaska our true way in this time.
Let us seek out his prayers for us. Let us read and contemplate in the depths of our hearts the gracious life of our heavenly patron. May we rededicate ourselves now at this time of founding to the acquisition of the Holy Spirit which is the permanent goal of Orthodox life, as St. Herman's contemporary and fellow-student, St. Seraphim of Sarov, taught.
And as St. Herman himself said, "From this time forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all."
Bishop of Sitka and All Alaska
August 9, 1970