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Wonderworker Saint Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska.
Saint Herman of Alaska.

On December 25th (the 12th, old style) the Church commemorates the wonderworker Saint Herman of Alaska.

Saint Herman was born in 1756 in Russia, in a merchant family living in the city of Serpukhovo. His original name is unknown. At the age of 16 he entered a monastery near St. Petersburg, and 6 years later he moved to the island of Valaam and become a monastic under the name of Herman.

In 1793, under the rule of the great elder abbot Nazarius, an important event occurred on Valaam: a group of missionaries was sent from there to the Aleutian Islands, which had been discovered by Russian fur-traders, to preach Christianity to the native pagans.

The young monk Herman became a member of this mission. The missionaries settled on Kodiak Island, built a church and began their apostolic endeavor. In the beginning everything went well: the Aleuts became baptized by the thousands and the mission flourished. However, it so happened that eventually all the missionaries, with the exception of St. Herman, either died or returned to Russia.

Finding himself alone, the venerable saint settled on a small wooded island called Spruce Island and began to lead an ascetic life. His disciple, the Aleut Ignaty Aligiaga, used to say: “Yes, ‘Apa’ (‘Grandfather’, as the Aleuts called St. Herman) led a very difficult life, and no one could imitate his endeavor.” St. Herman was asked: “How can you live alone in the woods?” He replied: “But I am not alone there! I have God there with me, I have His holy angels! How can I be bored with them? With whom does it give greater joy to converse - with people or with angels? With angels, of course!”

The saint tenderly loved the poor Aleuts like children, and always took care of them and interceded for them. An ascetic life and constant prayer uncovered within him many gifts of grace: he clearly saw the hidden thoughts of men. The Aleuts came to him in droves - for advice, guidance, prayer, help in misfortune, intercession before authorities. He provided help and comfort to everyone.

When Kodiak Island was devastated by a terrible epidemic, St. Herman moved over there, cared for the sick, prayed with them and prepared them for passage to eternity. A month later the epidemic ended, but there were many orphans left. The saint founded an orphanage for them on Spruce Island, and used all the resources he could earn to support them.

St. Herman was greatly grieved by the fur-trading company which ruled the colony. These were harsh and cruel people who cared only for profit. They treated the poor defenseless Aleuts inhumanly. Immediately after its arrival, the mission had taken up the defense of the local populace. St. Herman continued to do the same, and earned many enemies and woes for his efforts. But he paid no attention to such impediments. To his divine influence were subjected not only the trusting simple souls of the Aleuts, but also the Russian fur-traders, who often had little or no under-standing of Christian life. The colony governor, Yanovsky, an unbeliever who was initially hostile to the saint, underwent a complete transformation under the divine influence of St. Herman and became his spiritual son, and afterwards entered a monastery in Russia.

One time a Russian military ship steamed into Kodiak Island and the saint was invited to talk to the ship’s officers. There were over 25 of them. The elder asked them: “Gentlemen, what do you love more than anything else and what do you wish for your happiness?” The replies were all in a similar vein: some wanted wealth, others - glory, still others - a beautiful wife, others - captainship of an admirable vessel… The elder asked again: “Is it not true that each one of you wishes that which he considers to be the most worthy of love?” They replied: “Yes, surely!” The saint continued: “But wouldn’t you say that the most worthy of love is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who created us, gave life to all creation, nourishes us and takes care of us? And shouldn’t we love Him more than anything else?” Everyone replied: “Most certainly! It goes without saying!” Then the elder asked: “But do you truly love God?” All the officers replied: “Of course we love God! How can one not love God?” The holy elder rejoined: “Yet I, a sinner, have been trying for forty years to love God, and I still cannot say that I love Him with a perfect love! If we love someone, we always remember that person, try to give him joy, think of him day and night. Do you love God in such a manner, gentlemen? Do you often turn to Him? Do you always think of Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His commandments?” The officers were forced to admit that they did not. “For our own good and benefit, - the holy elder concluded his instruction, - let us at least promise to try to love God more than anything else, and to obey His holy will!”

St. Herman’s influence spread even to other creatures. A group of ermine lived near his cell. These animals are known to be extremely timorous. However, they ran up to the saint and ate out of his hand. St. Herman was also seen feeding a bear.

One time the ocean raged so fiercely that the waves threatened to engulf the island. The inhabitants ran to the saint in great fear. But he carried out an icon of the Mother of God, placed it in the face of the approaching waves and got down on his knees. After a brief prayer he said: “Do not be afraid, the water will not rise above the place where the holy icon is standing!” And so it was. Afterwards St. Herman advised the inhabitants to carry out the icon and place it in the face of the approaching waves every time a flood threatened the island. The Aleuts did as he said and the waves always stopped.

Another time the island forest caught fire. St. Herman drew a long boundary and said: “Do not worry, the fire will not go beyond this boundary.” And indeed, the raging fire approached the boundary, then turned to run along it and died down.

St. Herman foretold that he would be buried by his disciples and the inhabitants of Spruce Island in the absence of a priest. This prophecy was also fulfilled. The day arrived when he ordered his disciple Gerasimus to light the candles and read the Acts of the Apostles. Suddenly a smile lit up the saint’s face and he said that the Lord would extend his life for another week. Exactly a week later he again ordered the candles to be lit, and Gerasimus again read the Acts of the Apostles. St. Herman quietly bowed down his head, while his face shone with joy, and peacefully departed to the Lord on December 12 (25), 1837, at the age of 81. For a whole month he was not buried while the arrival of a priest was awaited. However, such a storm raged over the sea that the priest could not come. Finally the Aleuts buried the saint themselves, according to his prophecy.

In 1841 St. Innocent, the future Metropolitan of Moscow, at that time still a missionary, was caught in a storm on his way to Kodiak. Gazing in the direction of the Spruce Island, he said: “If you, Father Herman, have found favor in the eyes of the Lord, change the direction of the wind.” A quarter of an hour later the sea was becalmed. Afterwards the grateful traveler served a panikhida at the elder’s grave.

On August 9 (July 27) 1970 the holy relics of St. Herman, the wonderworker of Alaska, were uncovered and he was glorified.

Abbess Taisiya, “The Lives of Russian Saints”.

Saint Herman’s precepts.
1. Have a constructive faith!

“It is faith and love for Christ which make a true Christian. Our sins do not impede our Christianity according to the Saviour’s own words. He said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but to save the sinners”; “there is greater joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous ones.” Also to the fallen woman who fell at His feet He said: “A great debt is forgiven the one who loves greatly, while the one who loves little is pressed even for a little debt.” With such musings should a Christian bring himself into a state of hope and joy, and should never give himself over to despair.”

2. Wage a continuous battle!

“It is not by the huge waves of the sea that we are overcome, but, in the words of the apostle, we suffer and wander through the corrupt and greatly-troubled world. Although we do not have the divine grace which the holy apostles possessed, yet our warfare is against the same principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the wicked spirits in high places, who try to hinder, restrain and impede all travelers bound for the Heavenly Realm. In the words of the holy apostle Paul, “our enemy the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour.” For the one who loves God, sin is like an arrow sent by the enemy on a field of war.”

3. Have a purpose in life!

“A true Christian is like a warrior making his way thorough unseen enemy hosts towards his heavenly homeland. The empty desires of our age alienate us from the heavenly homeland. Love for these desires and the habit of them clothe our soul in vile vestments. The apostles call them “the external man.” We, while traveling on the journey of our earthly life and appealing to God for help, must strip off that vileness and clothe ourselves in the new desires and the new love of the future age, and by such means measure our approach to or alienation from the heavenly homeland. But it is impossible to do it quickly, and we should follow the example of the sick, who, wishing to attain good health, do not cease searching for means of treatment.”

Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 22, 1999.

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