The 35th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Herman of Alaska
Holy Resurrection Cathedral
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, as we celebrate the memory of St. Herman of Alaska, we have heard both in the Epistle and the Gospel words which speak directly about the Saint:
Isn’t this precisely what St. Herman manifested in his words and deeds:
love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control…
And isn’t it true that in his saintly way of life he crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.
He lived in the Spirit and also walked in the Spirit.
He was poor and therefore his is the kingdom of God.
He hungered and was filled.
He wept, and he shall laugh.
Truly, his reward is great in Heaven.
In the middle of the feast of St. Herman we have an opportunity to contemplate how we could become like him and finally like Christ.
I want to point out one aspect of his saintly life. It is the way St. Herman experienced the reality around him when he came to Alaska from Lake Ladoga in Karelia. He left almost everything behind and entered a new world like millions of people do today. The one thing St. Herman did not leave behind, but rather brought it with him, was his faith. He could not possibly bring all North Russian customs here, but he brought what was essential in the Orthodox faith.
Here we can refer to another saintly figure, now from the Old Covenant, namely Abraham. He also left almost everything behind and carried in his heart only that which was essential. In the new country he also integrated into the local culture and was able to plant the seed of faith to the hearts of those around him. Abraham was capable of discerning the spirits and therefore he is constantly referred to in Orthodox hymnography.
Elder Herman could become a saint only by making the difference between the essential and non-essential. He did not make the Alaskan people culturally Russians, but he was able to pass on to their souls that, which was most essential and pure in Russian monasticism: love for God and love for neighbour. Being a monk he had to be strict with himself, but merciful to others. He did not turn Alaska into a large monastic community but he could offer the people a message of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control—in the words of St. Paul.
The way St. Herman preached and acted must have been impressive. Certainly it was effective. He is an example of the Orthodox way of life. And it is a constant challenge to our Church to find ways to pass this very experience on. It has to be from a living person to another living person, because our relationship with the living God is also a personal relationship.
St. Herman’s example cannot be put into dogmatic texts. Consequently the experience and how it is handled, is a living process at risk of growing in the wrong direction. This would lead into a kind of experiential heresy which is more difficult to recognize than a traditional dogmatic heresy. As Orthodox Christians we ought to be constantly vigilant as to how we relate with the people and the world around us. We must not be in a vacuum. Neither must we accept everything the world offers. Yes, it is a sinful world, and yet God has loved it so much as to give His only-begotten Son for the life of the same world!
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters:
- this very day let us once again accept the baptismal garment put on us in our baptism
- this very day let us receive the Holy Spirit once given to us in Chrismation
- this very hour let us once again become disciples of St. Herman.
- this very hour let us receive the Body of Christ
From this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and fulfil His holy will.