From Saturday, August 8-Sunday, August 9, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon visited the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA, in order to celebrate the feast of Saint Herman of Alaska, and ordain Subdeacon John Thetford to the holy diaconate. On Saturday evening, His Beatitude presided at the celebration of the festal vigil. At the conclusion of vigil, he presented the Very Reverend Abbess Christophora a primatial gramota honoring and thanking her and the Sisterhood for their internet ministry work. His words appear below.
We celebrate today, with festive cheer and glorious hymns, a simple monk. We honor today, with loving veneration and songs of praise, a humble, quiet man.
This simple monk, this humble, quiet man is known, to those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to discern, as the Venerable Herman of Alaska. How remarkable that such a person, little recognized by the world and lacking in external distinctions, is being celebrated 226 years after the
beginning of his missionary activity on this continent, 184 years after his death, and particularly today, on the 50th anniversary of his glorification as a saint by the Orthodox Church.
He was clearly an intelligent man with some degree of education, as one can tell from his letters. He was physically strong and enjoyed good health, as we hear in the stories of his labors. He had the opportunity to travel to far off cities and further his education. He could have chosen any of a variety of careers, and become successful.
But rather than settling for such opportunities, the humble Herman laid aside the love of self, put all of his trust in God, and devoted himself to the search for the one thing needful. He made a conscious choice, not dictated by necessity or passionate desire, to struggle in order to acquire the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven, not as promises to be fulfilled in the distant future but as realities to be experienced in this very life.
Anyone who has made this choice, such as the monastics here at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, understands both the difficulty of the struggle and the joy of the experience. They understand it because the way we draw closer to a saintly person is the opposite of
the way we draw near to a worldly person.
It is, in many ways, much easier to draw near to a saint than to draw near to a prominent worldly person. To approach, to imitate, or even to speak with a famous or successful worldly person, one often has to rise to their exalted state of fame, fortune, or expertise: a small effort at any of those things often seems futile.
But to approach a saint, one does not rise, but rather goes down to try to plumb the depths of their humility. And even the smallest step or effort in this direction, that is to descend towards the profound humility of the saints, connects us to them and unites us to the One who is the source of that humility, our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what monastics try to do. Forsaking worldly goals, they have decided to come here and live the monastic life, seeking communion with our Lord Jesus Christ, striving for his humility through obedience and receiving his love through their life in community and their ministry of hospitality.
Indeed, monastics love the people who live in the world so much that they die to “this world”, in imitation of God’s Only Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given up for the salvation of the world.
Following the example of Saint Herman, the nuns of this monastery have always reached out to the community and world surrounding them with love and understanding.
Since its inception in 1968, this monastery has used the local language, made connections with the local community, and been a model community of Orthodox unity in America.
In more recent years, this monastery became one of the first Orthodox communities to engage Orthodox Christians nationally and internally via consistent live streaming of the Divine Services.
When the Coronavirus pandemic suddenly fell upon our country in March, many of our churches had no capability to stream, and many of our faithful were unable to participate in the services.
This is why thousands of Orthodox Christians around the country flocked to this monastery’s live stream, and found solace in joining their prayers alongside those of the nuns.
Indeed it seemed that the monastery church quickly became the largest live gathering, albeit a remote gathering, of Orthodox Christians anywhere in the country.
This unique ministry does seem to be a fitting imitation of Saint Herman of Alaska, for Saint Herman constantly connected with those far and wide through his unceasing holy prayers.
And so, it is fitting that on this feast today of St. Herman’s glorification, I present to Mother Abbess Christophora and the Sisterhood of this Holy Monastery a Primatial gramota in honor of their dedicated live streaming of the services, particularly in these last few months and as an encouragement to continue to offer, not only this liturgical service but to faithfully persevere in their life of prayer which sustains all of us.
May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the prayers of our Holy Father Herman of Alaska, always protect and preserve this Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration!
On Sunday morning, His Beatitude presided at the celebration of the festal Divine Liturgy. During the liturgy, he ordained Subdeacon John Thetford. Concelebrating with His Beatitude were Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, and Priest John Ketchum, Proistamenos of Kimissis tis Theotokou Parish, Racine, Wisconson, and Dn. John’s father-in-law, and Protodeacon John Oleynik.
Following the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude met with His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh and Archpriest William Evansky, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania, and discussed matters facing the Orthodox Church in America and the diocese. Additionally, he was able to meet with Dn. Peter Ilchuk, All-American Council Manager, and receive an status update on the All-American Council, scheduled for July 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. His Beatitude also met with Archpriest Thomas Soroka, Program Manager for the Departments of the Orthodox Church in America, and discussed the work of the OCA Departments. In the evening, His Beatitude had dinner with Mother Christophora and the Sisterhood of the Monastery.
As was reported earlier, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America at the spring meeting decided to postpone the celebrations for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly, and the glorification of St. Herman of Alaska that had been previously announced.