Saint Herman of Alaska

St. Herman of Alaska

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Grant me, O Son of the Good One, that for which my mind years, and join to it that which is pleasing to Thy will. Grant that I may choose to do good and in no way deviate from Thy will. Do not permit me to be a wicked and hypocritical disciple who violates Thy Commandments. Protect me from thinking that I can walk along Thy path merely for the sake of appearance and thus by my hypocrisy deceive those who see me, inciting them to proclaim me blessed. Grant that my heart might please Thy greatness in secret, and that my just life might glorify Thee publicly. May truth be a mistress to guide Thy worshipper; may it preserve me in chastity both near and far. Deliver me from the misfortune of knowing Thy law, yet lacking the desire to please Thee. Vouchsafe me the company of people who are simple, but experienced and wise in the performance of virtues. My flesh is weak. Fortify it with Thy strength. Help me, break the arrows of the cunning enemy, and number me among the hosts of Thine heirs. Grant me, O Lord, ever to be among Thy dominion and to do what is pleasing to Thee. And whenever I begin something good, do Thou, O Lord, give me strength to complete it. I know, O Lord, that I have sinned against Thy will. Clearly do I see that I have transgressed Thy commands. But do Thou, Who makes Thy sun to shine on the bad and the good, deign also to shine Thy Light in my clouded mind. And sins -- those murderers and robbers who have taken up residence inside of me--will be driven out by this Thy Light. The Evil One sees in me no wickedness that did not come from him, for it is because of him that I have become wicked. I am, however, conquered by him through my own free will. The Evil One has entangled me because I myself instructed him to do so. The slothful and the timid run from Thy yoke; Thy love shames the negligent. Praise be to Thy goodness, to that mother of all teachers. The blows that they deliver to bring the stubborn to their senses are perhaps quite painful, yet sympathetically do they offer healing to the penitent.

Worthy of veneration are Thy Father and Thy Holy Spirit, Who rejoices at our return!

[A Spiritual Psalter of Reflections on God by Saint Ephraim the Syrian]


On June 19th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Jude (Thaddeus) the Apostle and Brother of Our Lord; Saint Paisios the Great of Egypt; Saint John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco.

THE HOLY APOSTLE JUDE (THADDEUS). One of the Twelve Apostles, he was the son of Joseph and Salome (not the Salome form Bethlehem, but another), and brother to James the Lord's Brother. St. Joseph the Carpenter had four sons by Salome: James, Hosea, Simon and Jude. Jude is often called 'Jude the brother of James', to note his relationship with his brother (St. Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Saint Jude begins his Epistle: "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James". Although he could call himself the Lord's brother, just as James did, he did not do so. This was out of humility and out of shame, because he did not believe in Christ the Lord at the very beginning. When the aged Joseph desired to give Jesus His portion of the property before his death, just as he was doing for his other children, all of them were against it, including Jude, and only James voluntarily shared out his portion and laid some aside for Jesus. Jude is also called Levi and Thaddeus. There is another Thaddeus, or Jude, one of the Seventy (see August 21st), but this Thaddeus or Jude was one of the Great Apostles. He preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Idumea, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Armenia. At Edessa, the city of Abgar, he continued and developed the preaching of the other Thaddeus. While he was preaching in the region around Ararat, he was seized by the pagans, crucified and shot through with arrows, that he might reign forever in the Kingdom of Christ.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Apostles and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: I Jude 1:1-25
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 14:21-24


"The study of inspired Scripture is the chief way of finding our duty, for in it we find both instruction about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing, as some breathing images of godly living, for the imitation of their good works. Hence, in whatever respect each one feels himself deficient, devoting himself to this imitation, he finds, as from some dispensary the due medicine for his ailment". (Saint Basil the Great)


"Let your light so shine before men..." (St. Matthew 5:16)

Saint Herman of Alaska, the first "American" Saint, was the first to bring Orthodoxy to this continent. He came to America as a young monk in 1794 as part of the original Russian Orthodox mission to Alaska. He lived there until his repose, and for more than four decades taught the natives by word and example. With his own severe asceticism a secret, he ministered to both physical and spiritual needs of the people. And his memory is preserved, fresh and personal, among their descendants to this day. Ironically, however, he is unknown to so many other Americans. By his prayers may we, also, truly receive the Gospel he brought and follow the way that he taught.

In 1793 an ecclesiastical mission was composed in Valaam Monastery and sent to preach the Word of God to the natives of Northwestern America, who ten years before had come under Russian rule. Among the members of this mission was the Monk Herman (Greek, Germanos), the future Elder [Geronda] of Spruce Island.

Monk Herman came from a merchant class family in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow diocese. We do not know what he was called before his monastic tonsure, nor do we know what his last name was. From his very young years he had shown a great zeal for living a pious way of life, and became a monk sixteen years after his birth. At first he entered the Holy Trinity Sergius Hermitage, located on a Finnish bay on the Peterchoff road about twelve miles from Petersburg. At that time St. Sergius Hermitage was most likely what Father Herman, a native of the Moscow territory, had visited Moscow and made pilgrimages to St. Sergius Moscow Lavra. There he would have had occasion to find out about a holy branch of the holy Lavra, Holy Trinity--St. Sergius Petersburg Hermitage.

Father Herman lived at St. Sergius Hermitage for some five or six years. Then he moved to Valaam Monastery, which is situated on the archipelago of the majestic islands amid the waters of Ladoga Lake. With his whole soul he came to love Valaam Monastery, its unforgettable Abbot, the great Elder Nazarius and all its brethren. Having tested the zeal of the young ascetic, the wise Elder Father Nazarius blessed him to go and live alone in the desert. This desert was located in a dense forest, about a mile's distance from the monastery and it has until now retained the name hermanova-later know as Herman's field. On feast days Father Herman would come from his desert to the monastery. During vespers, he would stand in the cliros, he would sing in a pleasant tenor voice the refrain of the canon "Sweetest Jesus, save us sinners," "O Most Holy Theotokos, save us", and the tears would pour out of his eyes like water out of a bucket.

In the second half of the last century the boundaries of Holy Russia on the North were being enlarged with the activity of Russian promyshleniki (scouts and pioneers). The Aleutian islands were discovered. The Aleutian are a chain of islands that stretch from the Eastern border of Kamchatka to the Western shore of Northern America. Having discovered these islands, it was found there was a holy need for the evangelical enlightenment of the native inhabitants there. Metropolitan Gabriel, with the blessings of the Synod, entrusted Elder Nazarius with the holy task of selecting capable men from the Valaam brethren. Ten men were chosen, and one of their number was Father Herman. In 1794 the chosen men left Valaam Monastery for their appointed destination. The evangelizers quickly spread the evangelical light with holy zeal among the newest sons of Russia. Several thousands of people accepted Christianity. A school was founded to educate the newly baptized children. A church was built where the missionaries lived. But by the unfathomable ways of God the general success of the mission was not long standing. After five years of greatly profitable activity the head of the mission and his whole entourage were drowned. (The head of the mission was Archimandrite Ioasaph, who had been to the rank of a bishop). Before him, the zealous Hieromonk Juvenaly had been granted the crown of martyrdom. The others, one after another, left the mission. Finally, only Father Herman remained. Grace as given to him to labor longer than all his brothers in enlightening the Aleuts.

We mentioned before that the place where Father Herman lived in America was Spruce island, called by him "New Valaam". This island is separated from Kodiak Island by a strait that is two miles wide. A wooden monastery is located on Kodiak for the placement of member of the mission and a large wooden church built in the name of Christ's Resurrection. Spruce Island in itself is not large and is all covered with forest. A small river runs from the middle of the island and empties into the sea. Father Herman chose this picturesque island by himself as a place for his seclusion. He dug a cave in the ground there with his hands and spent his first whole summer in it. By winter's onset the Russian American Company built a cell for him near his cave. He lived in this cell until his death, and asked that the cave be his grave on repose.

His clothing was the same winter and summer. He did not wear a shirt. Instead he wore a form of deerskin shirt without sleeves, which, for more than eight years, he would not take off and could not change. Consequently all the fur wore and it became soiled. In addition he wore his shoes, his cassock, his faded and patched mantle, and his klobuk (monk's hat). He walked everywhere n this clothing in all types of weather in rain, snow, winter storms, and in severe frost.

His bed was a medium-sized bench, covered with deer skins whose fur had worn out with time. For his pillow he had two bricks which were hidden under the deer skins and were thus not noticeable to visitors. He had no blanket, a wooden board, which he would lay on his stove, replaced it. Father Herman called this board his blanket and willed to have his dead body covered with it. It was fully his size.

The Elder ate very little. When visiting as a guest, he would barely taste the food set before him and would go without dinner. In his cell, a very small portion of fish and some vegetable made up his meal. His body, worn out by labor, and vigils, was weighed down by fifteen-pound chains that he wore. These chains are to this day treasured in the chapel where, it has been said by some, they were found behind an icon of the Mother of God at the Elder's death; another explanation is that they fell out from behind the icon at his death.

An infection of deadly sickness and sores was brought by a ship from the United States to the island of Sitka and, from there, to the island of Kodiak. This sickness would begin with a fever and a very runny nose coupled with shortness of breath, and would end in spasms, with the victim dying within three day's time. Since there were no doctors or medicines on the island, the sickness spread through villages, quickly embracing the entire region. It affected all, even infants. The death toll was so great that for three days there was no one to dig graves and the unburied bodies were laying everywhere! An eyewitness said, "I cannot imagine anything more sorrowful or more horrible than the sight I was struck with when I visited an Aleut dwelling place. Father Herman, tirelessly visited the sick the entire time the sickness lasted, a whole month with a gradual decline; begging them to be patient, to pray, to bring forth repentance, or to prepare themselves for death."

Perhaps the best known saying of Saint Herman's was given to his fellow Russians. In a conversation with a group of sailors, he quizzed them on their love of God. When they all glibly claimed to love God, he responded: "And I, a sinner, have tried to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that perfectly I love him." But he later added, "At least let us make you a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His holy will!"

From the Treasury of Saint Herman's Spirituality: The Way of a Christian

Without exalting myself to the rank of teacher, nonetheless, fulfilling my duty an obligation as an obedient servant for the benefit of my neighbor, I will speak my mind, founded on the commandments of Holy Scripture, to those who thirst and seek for their eternal heavenly homeland.

A true Christian is made by faith and love of Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the word of the Savior Himself. He said: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety and nine just ones." Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet, He said to the Pharisee Simon to one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be demanded. From these judgments a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and not in the least accept the torment of despair. Here one needs the shield of faith.

Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the word of the Apostle, our homeland is in heaven, and about the warrior he says we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).

The vain desires of this world to separate us from our homeland, love of them and habit clothe our soul as if in a hideous garment. This is called by the Apostle the outward man. We, traveling on the journey of this life and calling on God to help us, ought to be divesting ourselves of this hideous garment and clothing ourselves in new desires, in a new love of the age to come, and thereby to receive knowledge of how near or how far we are from our heavenly homeland. But it is not possible to do this quickly, rather one must follow the example of sick people, who, wishing the desired health, do not leave off seeking means to cure themselves.

The Providence of God

A terrible accident has a power to awaken us to the realization of the existence of various calamities and dangers surrounding us, from which the Providence of God preserves us. At the same time it convincingly persuades us to acknowledge our own infirmity and weakness and to seek the Father's protection and His most powerful defense, which affirms us in the Wisdom and the Word of God, which came down from above by the will of the Heavenly Father under a curtain of flesh like ours, woven by the Divine Might from the Immaculate Virgin, for our salvation. He became man and taught us to pray that we be not led into temptation. This reminds us from what Father we have our existence, and this in turn should make us seek our Heavenly Father and our eternal inheritance.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George