Drawing of St. Herman of Alaska

Blessed Father Herman of Alaska

The First
Orthodox Catholic Saint
of America

Address of
the Great Council of Bishops
On the Glorification of
the Blessed Herman of Alaska

The Church in glorifying, that is canonizing, the Elder Herman, American Missionary Monk, adds his name to that great list of Saints of the Church of Christ. She proclaims a truth known for some time; witnessed to my many wonderous deeds and miracles. The Elder Herman who died as he lived in Christ, has in truth won favor in the eyes of God. The signs that witness to this are his good and pure life, with its many wonderous deeds and miracles, the continuing and uninterrupted living remembrance of Herman by the Faithful of the Church, and finally the miracles that have been recorded which are directly attributed to his intercession.

The Church now calls on all Her Faithful to acknowledge and affirm this truth. No longer does the Church pray for the repose of the soul of the servant of God, the Elder Herman. The Church now sings praises to the Almighty God thanking Him for the great gifts which He has manifested to us through the Elder Herman. Therefore he is listed as one of the venerable or righteous Fathers of the Church, the Blessed Elder Herman of Alaska. The Church now offers prayers to him, asking him to intercede on behalf of the Faithful before the throne of the Almighty God for the salvation of our souls.

While he still lived Father Herman himself foretold that his memory would be revived thirty years after his death. In 1867, the year that Alaska was purchased by the United States of America, exactly thirty years after his death the first brief life of Father Herman appeared and the monks of Valaam began to gather material for his life. In 1994 the Church of Russia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the American Mission on the soil of this new continent. On this occasion "The Life of the Monk, Herman, American Missionary" was published by the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg.

The basic source of this modest biography was the content of the letters exchanged between Valaam and new Valaam on Spruce Island. As late as 1823, thirty years after his arrival on Kodiak, Father Herman was writing to the Igumen Innocent, the successor to Father Nazary of the Hermitage of Valaam. In addition to this rich primary source, there were the personal observations of several of Father Herman's contemporaries, notably the writings of Simeon Janovsky, successor to Alexander Baranov as administrator of the American colony. Thus, a brief fifty seven years after his death, the Church of Russia formally acknowledged the growing veneration of Father Herman by the monks of Valaam, the natives of Alaska, and the Church in America.

While he still lived, the Aleuts of the region around Spruce Island, who knew him best, considered their beloved Father "Apa" a living saint of the Church. They brought to the attention of the rest of the Church the image of this truly remarkable missionary, teacher, and spiritual father after his death. They never ceased to venerate him, making pilgrimages to Spruce Island, visiting the chapel and his grave to pray for his intercession especially in time of need. Each new generation of Orthodox Catholics has rediscovered Father Herman and fallen in love with this true hero of the Church. The newest generation has found it easy to identify with the Elder Herman because of his contemporary Christian image.

The Blessed Herman's deeds of spiritual valor, his abiding devotion and his living faith are worthy of study, of remembrance, and of imitation. In reading his life we are moved by the warm Christian simplicity of his personality, his pure and unfailing faith in Christ, and his profound wisdom. Indeed he is the "North Star of the Church", guiding us by the example of his holy life and wondrous deeds. Father Herman came to America as a missionary, and apostle of the Gospel and of the True Faith. He had been preceeded by missionaries of grasping colonialism at its worst. Russian, English, French, Spanish, and American explorers and traders revealed in Alaska to the natives the worst possible image of western civilization. They exploited the natives and treated them with contempt. They exploited and wasted the land and its natural resources for their personal gain with almost complete lack of concern for the needs and rights of the natives. In a few years of relentless hunting and trading, they almost destroyed the largest herds of fur bearing seal in the world. They introduced into this land communicable diseases against which the natives had no immunity, and thus in a few disastrous epidemics great numbers died. They brought the curse of alcoholic drink to which the natives were especially susceptible. They cheated and robbed the natives, giving them inferior and often worthless goods in exchange for valuable furs, products and services. They gave the worst examples of moral corruption, for example the peace loving Aleuts were taught the ways of western warfare. The Russian colonial powers were relatively enlightened when compared with the others. Nevertheless, the members of the Mission found themselves defending the oppressed and exploited natives before the administrators of the colony. For their concern and intervention, the members of the Mission were persecuted, among them Father Herman.

The greatest spiritual antidote which redeems the negative contributions of the colonialists was the work of the missionaries with the natives. They brought the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own native tongue. In the process they gave them the gift of written languages and thus ensured the preservation of these languages. Father Herman, having lived the longest of all the members of the original Mission, and because of his unique Christian personality, made the single greatest contribution of all. In addition to the blessings of the evangelical teachings, he taught the natives the Orthodox Catholic way of life. His teaching was manifested by his own living example. He lived a life of prayer and of good works. He devoted long hours to teaching the basic precepts of the Christian faith to men, women, and children. He also taught the natives the art of agriculture, of carpentry and many practical crafts. He nursed the sick, especially during the great epidemics. He fought for the rights of the natives and intervened for them with great eloquence before the administrators of the American colony. Though persecuted by the administrators, he preserved and won the respect of the Russians and the love and devotion of the natives.

Today, as we look back, we are filled with pride and love for this humble monk, the least of the original American Mission, for his spiritual, moral and Christian acts and deeds. Father Herman's exemplary life helped to vindicate and almost expunge what would have otherwise been a very depressing story of a colonial power conquering a native people, exploiting them, and then abandoning them, having squeezed out all possible material value. The Church of America and Her Faithful now proclaim the Elder Herman to be the first Saint of the Orthodox Catholic Church in America. In doing this, the Church is reaffirming the goals of the original Mission to America, and She vows to continue the work of bringing the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith to the natives of America. In a time when we are deeply concerned for civil rights, for the freedom of the individual, for the respect and dignity of all people, especially the long suppressed and often ignored minorities -- this includes especially the Alaskan Indians, the Aleuts and the Eskimo -- we should always remember that Father Herman first championed all these causes within the context of the Christian Faith. He was a contemporary American. Though he loved his native Russia, he loved his adopted land even more. He championed her people. He was the good conscience of Russian Orthodoxy, and he must remain the good conscience of the Orthodox Catholic Church in America. The Blessed Herman of Alaska is a worthy patron of the newest of the Autocephalous Orthodox Catholic Churches. He is an intercessor for the unity of the Church of Christ, and helper in the new hour of trial and testing of the Church throughout the world.

Father Herman brought to America the best of the Russian traditions, as exemplified by such saints as Saint Vladimir of Kiev, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, Saint Anthony and Saint Theodosius of the Caves, Saint Alexander Nevsky, Saint Philip of Moscow, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, Saint Job of Pochaev, and Saint Seraphim of Sarov. He was followed by many great missionaries and teachers who looked to him for inspiration and prayed for his intercession. Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, on his arrival as the first Bishop of the American Church, prayed off Kodiak for Father Herman's intercession for a safe landing. His prayer was answered, and he later visited the grave of Father Herman on Spruce Island to pray for the repose of the soul of the Elder Herman. Patriarch Tikhon, when he was the Archbishop of the American Church, always remembered the Elder Herman in his sermons and prayers.

Spruce Island, where Father Herman lived and labored during the last years of his life, is the New Valaam, a place of spiritual refuge where the North Star of Orthodox Catholic spirituality in America will always shine brightly. At the reliquary of St. Herman of Alaska, the Church prays for God's guidance of His Church throughout the world, and especially in America, through the turbulent waters excited by the storms of our present life. We pray that the ship of the Church of Christ will bring us all to the safe harbor of His Eternal Kingdom.

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