Saint Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
Herman may be spelt German, Germaine, Germanus.
Saint Herman of Alaska (about 1750-1836)
Saint Herman of Alaska never lived in or set foot on Canadian territory as such. However, there were no official borders in his days. Moreover, everything that emanated from him in terms of the establishment of the Orthodox Christian Way in North America has had a profound effect in Canada. Saint Herman himself has served as a sort of model for many monks who have tried to follow his example in Canada as they try to live their lives in Christ. His gentle approach and ascetic life earned him the love and respect of both the native Alaskans and the Russian colonists. He is considered by many Orthodox Christians to be the “patron saint” of North America.
There are several versions of Saint Herman’s early life. His official biography, published in 1867 by the Valaam Monastery (on Lake Ladoga), states that his pre-monastic name is unknown, and that he was born into a merchant’s family in Serpukhov, a city in the Moscow Governorate (Province). He later became a novice at the Trinity-Saint Sergius Hermitage which was located near the Gulf of Finland on the Peterhof Road, about 15 versts (about 16 km) from Saint Petersburg. The biography given at the website http://www.pravoslavie.ru reflects this. Many details from this site are included in this article.
Miraculous Healing of Father Herman
At the Saint Sergius Hermitage, there occurred the following incident to Father Herman. On the right side of his throat, under his chin, there appeared an abscess. The swelling grew rapidly, and disfigured his face. It became difficult for him to swallow, and the odour was unbearable. In this critical condition Father Herman awaited death. He did not appeal to a physician of this world ; but locking his cell, he fell down before an Icon of the Queen of Heaven. With fervent tears he prayed, asking of her that he might be healed. He prayed the whole night. Then he took a wet towel, and with it wiped the face of the Most Holy Mother, and with this towel he covered the swelling. He continued to pray with tears until he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion on the floor. In a dream, he saw the Virgin Mary healing him.
When Father Herman awoke in the morning, he found to his great surprise that he was fully healed. The swelling had disappeared, even though the abscess had not broken through, leaving behind but a small mark as though a reminder of the miracle. Physicians to whom this healing was described did not believe it, arguing that it was necessary for the abscess to have either broken through of its own accord or to have been cut open. However, the words of the physicians were the words of human experience ; for where the Grace of God operates, there the usual order of nature is overcome. Such occurrences humble human reason under the strong hand of God’s Mercy.
After about 5 or 6 years, the Novice Herman then went on to Valaam and to the monastery there, in order to become a full monk.
Alternative early biography
However, according to Sergei Korsun, a modern biographer of Saint Herman, some of the details were based on erroneous information provided by Simeon Yanovsky, a former administrator of the Russian-American Company in Alaska, who had confused Saint Herman’s biographical information with that of another monk, Joseph (Telepnev). (Simeon Yanovsky, following Staretz Herman’s example, later entered the life of monastic repentance, and became the schemamonk Sergius in the Saint Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery, southwest of Moscow.)
According to Ferdinand von Wrangel, another former administrator of the RAC, the Monk Herman was originally from Voronezh Governorate (Province), and from a prosperous peasant family. He spent time in the military, but then later became a monk at the Sarov Monastery. This testimony, along with the memoirs of Archimandrite Theophan (Sokolov), and a letter written by the Monk Herman himself present compelling evidence that the Monk Herman actually began his monastic life at Sarov as a novice, and later received the full tonsure at Valaam. Nevertheless, this information need not at all exclude time spent at the Trinity-Saint Sergius Hermitage near Saint Petersburg.
The Valaam Monastery and Lake Ladoga are in the midst of a historical Karelian-Finnish-speaking region. Therefore, the spelling “Valamo” is often seen, which is the Finnish spelling of the name of this island and monastery.
This information would identify him with a young military clerk named Egor Ivanovitch Popov from the Voronezh Governorate (Province), who was tonsured to be a monk and was given the name Herman at Valaam Monastery in 1782.
Father Herman’s Life at Valaam
The Valaam Monastery was widely scattered on the large islands in the waters of the great Lake Ladoga. He came to love the Valaam haven with all his soul, as he came to love its unforgettable Abbot, the pious Abbot Nazariy, who was himself previously from the Sarov Monastery, and who was influenced by the hesychastic tradition of Paisius Velichkovsky. Father Herman came likewise to love all the brethren. Later, he wrote to Father Nazary from Alaska :
Your fatherly goodness to me, humble one, will be erased out of my heart neither by the terrible, unpassable Siberian lands, nor by the dark forests. Nor will it be wiped out by the swift flow of the great rivers ; nor will the awful ocean quench these feelings. In my mind, I imagine my beloved Valaam, looking to it beyond the great ocean. He praised the Elder Nazary in his letters as, 'the most reverend, and my beloved father' ('batiushka') ; and the brethren of Valaam he called, 'my beloved and dearest'. The place where he lived in Alaska, the deserted Spruce Island, he called 'New Valaam'. As we can see, he always remained in spiritual contact with his spiritual homeland ; for as late as 1823 (that is after 30 years of his life within the borders of Alaska), he wrote letters to the successor of Father Nazariy, the Igumen Innocent.
Father Varlaam (later Igumen of Valaam), a contemporary of Father Herman, who accepted his tonsure from Father Nazariy, wrote thus of the life of Father Herman :
Father Herman went through the various obediences here, and being 'well disposed towards every thing', was in the course of events sent to Serdobol to oversee there the work of quarrying marble. The Brothers loved Father Herman, and awaited impatiently his return to the cloisters from Serdobol. Recognising the zeal of the young hermit, the wise elder, Father Nazary, released him to take abode in the wilderness. This wilderness was in the deep forest about a kilometre from the cloister : to this day, this place has retained the name 'Herman'. On holy days, Father Herman returned to the monastery from the wilderness. Then it was, that at Little Vespers he would stand in the choir and sing in his pleasant tenor the responses with the brethren from the Canon, 'O Sweetest Jesus, save us sinners. Most Holy Theotokos, save us', and tears would fall like hail from his eyes.
The Monk Herman (as the other monks) was given various obediences, and it is reported that he was well-liked by the brethren. However, he desired a more solitary life, and with the blessing of Abbot Nazariy, he became a hermit. As Father Varlaam wrote, his hermitage later became known as “Herman’s field” or “Germanovo”. It was about 2 km distant from the main monastery buildings. Metropolitan Gabriel of Saint Petersburg offered to ordain the Monk Herman to the Holy Priesthood and to send him to become the head of the Russian Orthodox Mission in China ; but, preferring the solitary life, he refused the offer. He also refused a second time in 1808, and he remained as a simple monk.  Years after he left for North America, the Monk Herman continued to keep in touch with his spiritual home ; and in a letter to Abbot Nazariy wrote, “in my mind I imagine my beloved Valaam, and constantly behold it across the great ocean.”
[[[File:Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam.jpg]] Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam
Mission in Alaska
In the second half of the 18th century, the borders of Russia expanded to the north and to the east. In those years, Russian merchants discovered the Aleutian Islands which formed in the Pacific Ocean a chain from the eastern shores of Kamchatka to the western shores of North America. The Russian colonisation of North America began when Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov discovered Alaska in 1741. That expedition acquired 1,500 sea otter pelts, which Chinese merchants bought for 1,000 rubles each at their trading post near Lake Baikal. This spurred a “fur rush” from 1741–1798, in which frontiersmen known as "promyshlenniki" explored Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, and who alternately fought and intermarried with the native peoples. Grigory Shelikhov, a fur-trader, subjugated the native population of Kodiak Island ; and, with Ivan Golikov, he founded a fur-trading company which eventually received a monopoly from the Imperial government. This monopoly became the Russian-American Company. Grigory Shelikhov founded a school for the natives, of whom many were converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity. 
With the opening of these islands, there was also revealed the sacred necessity to illumine with the light of the Gospel the native inhabitants. It was Grigory Shelikhov, the founder of the Kodiak Island settlement, who invited the first Russian Orthodox missionaries to the New World.
Messrs. Shelikhov and Golikov appealed to the Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to provide a priest for the natives. The Empress Catherine II decided instead to send an entire missionary team to North America. She entrusted the task of recruiting missionaries to Metropolitan Gabriel of Saint Petersburg, who sent ten monks from Valaam, including the Monk Herman. The members of this historical mission were : Archimandrite Joasaph (Bolotoff) ; the Hieromonks Juvenaly, Makary, Athanasy, Stephan and Nektary ; the Hierodeacons, Nektary and Stephan ; and the Monks Joasaph and Herman. The missionaries departed from Saint Petersburg in 1793 and they arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794.
The First Mission to North America
The Monk Herman and the other missionaries encountered a harsh reality at Kodiak which did not correspond to Shelikhov’s rosy descriptions. The native Kodiak population, called “Americans” by the Russian settlers, were subject to harsh treatment by the Russian-American Company. The company was being overseen by Shelikhov’s manager, Alexander Baranov, who later became the first governor of the colony. The men were forced to hunt for sea otter even during harsh weather, and women and children were abused. The monks were also shocked at the widespread alcoholism within the Russian population, and the fact that most of the settlers had taken native mistresses. The monks themselves were not given the supplies that Shelikhov had promised them, and they had to till the ground with wooden implements. Despite these difficulties, as a result of the holy zeal of the preachers, the light of the evangelical preaching quickly poured out to the local peoples, and soon over 7,000 natives in the Kodiak region were baptised as Orthodox Christians. A school for the education of newly-baptised children and adults was organised, and a church was built at the place where the missionaries lived (a monastery). The Monk Herman was assigned to work in the bakery, and he acted as the mission’s steward (“ekonom”).
The monks became the defenders of the native Kodiak population. Monk Herman was especially noted for his zeal in protecting them from the excessive demands of the RAC, and Mr. Baranov disparaged him in a letter as a “hack writer and chatterer.” A contemporary historian compares him to Bartolomé de las Casas, the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic friar who defended the rights of native South Americans against the Spanish.
Nevertheless, by the inscrutable Providence of God, the general progress of the mission was unsatisfactory. After 5 years of very productive labour, Archimandrite Joasaph, who had just been ordained in Irkutsk to the Holy Episcopate, was drowned with his party. This occurred on the Pacific Ocean between Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands. The ship, "Phoenix", one of the first sea-going ships to be built in Alaska, sailed from Okhotsk, carrying the first bishop for the Russian American Mission, and his companions. The "Phoenix" was caught in one of the many storms which periodically sweep the northern Pacific, and the ship and all hands perished, including Bishop Joasaph and all his party. Before this, the zealous Hieromonk Juvenaly had been granted the martyr’s crown. The others died one after another or left for Russia, until in the end, only Father Herman remained. The Lord permitted him to labour longer than any of his brethren in the apostolic task of enlightening the Aleutians.
After over a decade spent in Alaska, Monk Herman became the head of the mission in 1807, even though he was not a priest. The local population loved and respected him, and he even had good relations with Mr. Baranov. Father Herman (tonsured monks are often referred to as “father”) ran the mission school, where he taught ecclesiastical subjects such as singing and catechism alongside reading and writing. He also taught agriculture on Spruce Island. However, because he longed for the life of a hermit, he soon retired from active duty in the mission and moved to Spruce Island. Those who seek such solitude do so not because they are anti-social, but rather because their love for our Saviour is so deep, focussed and intense, that they wish to be able to live in the Presence of this love of Christ, and in loving and obedient communion with our Saviour. They wish to have minimal interruptions. As we see with Starets Herman, and with other such hermits, their love for the Lord is expressed in a multitude of ways in their relationships with human beings and with all God’s creatures.
Life on Spruce Island
Father Herman moved to Spruce Island between 1811 and 1817, where he spent the rest of his life. The island is separated from Kodiak by a strait between 1 and 2 km wide, making it ideal for hermit life. Spruce Island is not large, and it is almost completely covered by a forest. Almost through its middle, a small brook flows to the sea. With his own hands, Father Herman dug a cave into the ground, and in it he lived his first full summer. In time, the cave was converted by him into a place for his burial. For winter, there was built for him a cell near the cave, in which he lived until his death. There had been built a wooden monastery for the residence of the members of the mission, and a wooden church dedicated to the Resurrection of the Saviour. Soon, there was also included a school for orphans. A garden was laid out in front of Father Herman’s cell. For more than 40 years, Father Herman lived there. He named his hermitage “New Valaam”. New Valaam was named for Valaam on Lake Ladoga, the monastery from which Father Herman came to America. It may be interesting to note that Valaam is also located on an island. Although this island is in a fresh water lake, Spruce Island is in the Pacific Ocean. Like the Valaam Archipelago in Lake Ladoga, Spruce Island is quite near to other islands and to the Alaskan mainland.
Father Herman’s Way of Life
Starets Herman himself spaded the garden and planted potatoes, cabbage and various vegetables in it. For winter, he preserved mushrooms, which he salted or dried. The salt was obtained by him from ocean water through evaporation. It is said that a wicker basket, in which the Elder carried seaweed from the shore, was so large that it was difficult for one person to carry. The seaweed was used for fertilising the soil. Nevertheless, to the astonishment of all, Father Herman carried the basket filled with seaweed for a long distance without any help at all. Unexpectedly, his disciple, Gerasim, saw him one winter night carrying a large log which normally would be carried by 4 men. He was walking bare-footed. Thus the Elder worked, and everything that he acquired as a result of his immeasurable labours was used for the feeding and clothing of orphans, and also for books for his students.
Father Herman’s clothes were the same for winter as for summer. He did not wear a shirt ; instead, he wore a smock of deer skin, which he did not take off for several years at a time, nor did he change it, so that the fur in it was completely worn away, and the leather became glossy. Then there were his boots or shoes, cassock (“podriasnik”), an ancient and faded outer cassock (“riasa”) full of patchwork, and his headdress (“klobuk”). He went everywhere in these clothes, and at all times : in the rain, in snowstorms, and during the coldest freezing weather. In this, Father Herman followed the example of many eastern ascetic fathers and monks who showed the greatest concern for the welfare and needs of others. Yet, they themselves wore the oldest possible clothes. This was done not merely to show their great humility before God, and their contempt for worldly things. That would be a sign of pride. Rather, he and they would do this simply because they no longer cared about worldly things. They simply neglected to be bothered with such details because their love for the Lord always came first, and their care for others came far before their concern for themselves and their appearance.
A small bench covered with a time-worn deerskin served as Father Herman’s bed. He used 2 bricks for a pillow ; these were hidden from visitors by a skin or a shirt. There was no blanket. Instead, he covered himself with a wooden board which lay on the stove. Father Herman called this board his blanket, and he willed that it be used to cover his remains ; it was as long as he was tall. “During my stay in the cell of Father Herman”, wrote the creole Constantine Larionov, “I, the sinner, sat on his ‘blanket’ — and I consider this the acme of my fortune !” (“Creole” is the term by which the Russians referred to the children of mixed marriages of the native indigenous peoples with Russians.)
On the occasion, Father Herman was the guest of administrators of the Russian American Company, and in the course of their soul-saving talks, he sat up with them until midnight or later. However, he never spent the night with them. Rather, regardless of the weather, he always returned to his hermitage afterwards. If, for some extraordinary reason, it was necessary for him to spend the night away from his cell, then in the morning the bed which had been prepared for him would be found untouched. The elder would not have slept at all. The same was true in his hermitage where, having spent the night in talks, he never rested.
The Elder Herman ate very little. As a guest, he scarcely tasted the food, and he remained without dinner. In his cell, his dinner consisted of a very small portion of a small fish or some vegetables.
Father Herman’s body was emaciated as a result of his labours, his vigils and fasting, and it was crushed by chains which weighed about 7 kg. These chains are kept to this day in the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak.
Telling of these deeds of Father Herman, his disciple, the Alutiiq (Aleut) Ignatiy Aligyaga, added, “Yes, Apa led a very hard life, and no one can imitate his life !” (“Apa” is an Aleutian word means elder or grandfather, and it is a name indicative of the great affection in which he was held.) It can be helpful to understand that the word "Aleut" properly refers to the people of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands, rather than to the people of southern coastal Alaska and the Kodiak region.
Our writing of the incidents in the life of the Elder deal, so to speak, with the external aspects of his labour. “His most important works”, wrote Bishop Peter, “were his exercises in spiritual endeavour in his isolated cell where no one saw him ; but outside the cell, they heard him singing and celebrating services to God according to the monastic rule”. This witness of the bishop is supported by the following answers of Father Herman, himself, to the question : “How do you manage to live alone in the forest, Father Herman ? Don’t you ever become lonesome ?” He answered : “No. I am not there alone ! God is here, as God is everywhere. The Holy Angels are here. With whom is it better to talk — with people, or with angels ? most certainly with angels”.
Father Herman and the Natives
Father Herman himself, in one of his letters to the former administrator of the colony, Simeon Yanovsky, expressed the way in which he looked upon the natives of Alaska, how he understood his own relations with them, and how he was concerned for their needs. He wrote :
Our Creator granted to our beloved homeland this land which, like a newly-born babe, does not yet have the strength for knowledge or understanding. It requires not only protection, because of its infantile weakness and impotence, but also His sustenance. Even for this, it does not yet have the ability to make an appeal on its own behalf. And since the welfare of this nation by the Providence of God (it is not known for how long) is dependent on and has been entrusted into the hands of the Russian government, which has now been given into your own power, therefore I, the most humble servant of these people, and their nurse ('nyanka'), stand before you on their behalf, write this petition with tears of blood. Be our father and our protector. Certainly, we do not know how to be eloquent ; so with an inarticulate infant’s tongue, we say : 'Wipe away the tears of the defenceless orphans ; cool the hearts melting away in the fire of sorrow. Help us to know what consolation means'.
The Elder acted the way he felt. He always interceded before the governors on behalf of those who had transgressed. He defended those who had been offended. He helped those who were in need with whatever means he had available. The Aleuts — men, women and children — often visited him. Some asked for advice ; others complained of oppression ; others sought out defence ; and still others desired help. Each one received the greatest possible satisfaction from the Elder. He discussed their mutual difficulties, and he tried to settle these peacefully. He was especially concerned about re-establishing understanding in families. If he did not succeed in reconciling a husband and wife, then the Elder prevailed upon them to separate temporarily. The need for such a procedure he explained thus :
It is better to let them live apart, or, believe me, it can be terrible if they are not separated. There have been incidents when a husband killed his wife, or when a wife destroyed her husband.
Father Herman especially loved children. He made large quantities of biscuits for them, and he baked cookies (“krendelki”) for them ; and the children were fond of the Elder. Father Herman’s love for the Aleuts reached the point of self-denial.
Despite his solitary life, Father Herman was visited by many people. He received many visitors (especially native Aleuts, also called Unangans) on Sundays and feast-days. Father Herman had a few disciples, including the Creole orphan Gerasim Ivanovich Zyrianov, a young Aleut woman named Sofia Vlasova, and others. Entire families eventually moved nearby in order to be closer to the Starets (Elder), who brought the Lord’s healing to them, and he also helped to sort out their disputes. Father Herman deeply loved the native Aleuts. He often stood up for them against the excesses of the Russian-American Company.
A decimating Epidemic
A ship from the United States brought a contagious disease (most often fatal) to Sitka Island (the town was at that time called "New Archangel") ; and from there it carried it to Kodiak Island. The disease began with a fever, a heavy cold, and difficult respiration, and it ended with chills ; in three days, the victim died. On the island there was neither a doctor nor medicine. The illness spread rapidly through the village, and then throughout the nearby areas. The disease affected all, even infants. The fatalities were so great that for 3 days there was no one to dig graves, and the bodies remained unburied. An eyewitness said :
I cannot imagine anything more tragic and horrible than the sight which struck me when I visited an Aleutian ‘Kazhim’. This was a large building, or barracks, with dividing sections, in which the Aleuts lived with their families ; it contained about 100 people. Here, some had died. Their cold bodies lay near the living ; others were dying ; there were groans and weeping which tore at one’s soul. I saw mothers over whose bodies cold in death crawled a hungry child, crying and searching in vain for its food. [...] My heart was bursting with compassion ! It seemed that if anyone could paint with a worthy brush the full horror of this tragic scene, that he would have, successfully aroused fear of death in the most embittered heart.
This terrible sickness lasted a whole month, and gradually disappeared towards the end. During all this time, Father Herman, never tiring, visited the sick. He admonished them in their fear, prayed, brought them to penance, or prepared them for death. He never spared himself. Starets Herman was, indeed, the only Russian to visit them, to care for them, to console them dying. 
Father Herman as a Spiritual Teacher
The Elder was concerned in particular for the moral/ethical growth of the Aleuts. With this end in mind, a school was built for children, the orphans of the Aleuts. He himself taught them the Law of God (that is, catechism) and church singing. For this same purpose, he gathered the Aleuts on Sundays and Holy Days for prayer in the chapel near his cell. He would show them how to worship under circumstances when no priest is available. Here, his disciple read the Canonical Hours and the various prayers, while the Elder himself read the Epistle and the Gospel portions appointed for the day. He also preached to them. His students sang, and they sang very well. The Aleuts loved to hear his homilies, and they gathered around him in large numbers. The Elder’s talks were captivating, and his listeners were moved by their wondrous power. The Elder Herman, himself, wrote about one example of the beneficial results of his words :
Glory to the holy destinies of the Merciful God ! He has shown me now through His unfathomable Providence a new occurrence which I, who have lived here for 20 years, had never seen before on Kodiak. Recently, after Pascha, a young girl about 20 years of age who knows Russian well, came to me. Having heard of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of Eternal Life, she became so inflamed with love for Jesus Christ that she does not wish to leave me. She pleaded eloquently with me. Contrary to my personal inclination and love for solitude, and despite all the hindrances and difficulties which I put forward before accepting her, she has now been living near the school for a month, and is not lonesome. I, looking on this with great wonder, remembered the words of our Saviour : '“That which is hidden from the wise and learned is revealed to babes”' (Matt. 11:25).
This woman lived at the school until the death of the Elder. She supervised the good conduct of the children who studied in his school. Father Herman willed that after his death she was to continue to live on Spruce Island. Her name was Sophia Vlasova (see http://www.fatheroleksa.org/).
Simeon Yanovsky wrote about the character and the eloquence of the talks of the Elder thus :
When I met Father Herman, I was thirty years old. I must say that I was educated in the naval corps school ; that, having read extensively, I knew many sciences. But to my regret, of the Science of sciences, that is the Law of God, I barely remembered the externals — and these only theoretically, not applying them to life. I was a Christian in name only, but in my soul and in reality, I was a free-thinker. Furthermore, I did not admit the divinity and holiness of our religion, for I had read through many atheistic works. Father Herman recognised this immediately, and he desired to reconvert me. To my great surprise, he spoke so convincingly, so wisely — and he argued with such conviction — that it seemed to me that no learning or worldly wisdom could stand one’s ground before his words. We conversed with him daily until midnight (and even later), of God’s love, of eternity, of the salvation of souls, and of Christian living. From his lips flowed a ceaseless stream of sweet words ! By these continual talks, and by the prayers of the holy Elder, the Lord returned me completely to the way of Truth, and I became a real Christian. I am indebted for all this to Father Herman. He is my true benefactor.
Simeon Yanovsky continued :
Several years ago, Father Herman converted a certain naval captain G. to Orthodoxy from the Lutheran Faith. This captain was well educated. Besides many sciences, he was well-versed in languages. He knew Russian, English, German, French, Italian and also some Spanish. However, for all this, he could not resist the convictions and proofs of Father Herman. He changed his faith and was united to the Orthodox Church through Chrismation. When he was leaving America, the Elder said to him while they were parting, 'Be on guard ; if the Lord should take your wife from you, then do not marry a German woman under any circumstance. If you do marry a German woman, undoubtedly she will damage your Orthodoxy'. The Captain gave his word, but he failed to keep it. The warning of the Elder was prophetic. Indeed, after several years the captain’s wife did die, and he married a German woman. There is no doubt that his faith weakened, or that he left it ; for he died suddenly, without penance.
Further on, Simeon Yanovsky wrote this :
Once, the Elder was invited aboard a frigate which came from St. Petersburg. The captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than 25 officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. In the company of this group sat a monk of a hermitage, small in stature and wearing very old clothes. All these educated conversationalists were placed in such a position by his wise talks that they did not know how to answer him. The captain himself used to say : ‘We were lost for an answer before him’. Father Herman gave them all one general question : ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness ?’ Various answers were offered [...] Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain ; and so forth, in the same vein. ‘Is it not true’, Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion — that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love ?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so !’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men ? Should we not then love God above everything, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out ?’ All said, ‘Why, yes ! That is self-evident !’ Then the Elder asked, ‘But do you love God ?’ They all answered, ‘Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God ?’ ‘And I, the sinner, have been trying for more than forty years to love God ; I cannot say that I love Him completely’, Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. ‘If we love someone’, he said, ‘we always remember them ; we try to please them. Day and night, our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God ? Do you turn to Him often ? Do you always remember Him ? Do you always pray to Him and fulfil His holy commandments ?’ They had to admit that they had not ! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune’, concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfil His Holy Will !’ Without any doubt, this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.
The creole, Constantine Larionov, wrote :
In general, Father Herman liked to talk about eternity, salvation, the future life, our destinies under God. He often talked about the lives of the Saints, about the Prologue ; but he never spoke about anything frivolous. It was so pleasant to hear him that those who conversed with him (the Aleuts and their wives) were so captivated by his talks that often they did not leave him until dawn, and then they left him with reluctance.
A Description of Father Herman
Simeon Yanovsky wrote a detailed description of Father Herman. He said :
I have a vivid memory of all the features of the Elder’s face reflecting goodness ; his pleasant smile, his meek and attractive mien, his humble and quiet behaviour, and his gracious word. He was short of stature. His face was pale and covered with wrinkles. His eyes were greyish-blue, full of sparkle, and on his head there were a few gray hairs. His voice was not powerful, but it was very pleasant.
Simeon Yanovsky related this incident from his conversations with the Elder :
Once, I read to Father Herman the ode, ‘God’, by Derzhavin. The Elder was surprised, and entranced. He asked me to read it again. I read it once more, ‘Is it possible that a simple, educated man wrote this ?’ he asked. ‘Yes, a learned poet’, I answered. ‘This has been written under God’s inspiration’, said the Elder.
The Martyrdom of Peter (Cungagnac) the Alutiiq (Aleut)
Saint Peter (Cungagnac) the Alutiiq was a native of Kodiak Island. He had been baptised by the monks of Father Herman's missionary party, and in Holy Baptism, he had received the Christian name Peter. He is mentioned in the "Life of Saint Herman of Alaska" (see  OCA Life of Saint Herman). Otherwise, we know very little about the Holy Martyr Peter, except that he was from Kodiak, and that was arrested and put to death by the Spaniards in California because he refused to convert to Roman Catholicism. The circumstances of his martyrdom recall the torture of Saint James the Persian. Both in his sufferings, and in his steadfast confession of the Faith, Saint Peter is the equal of the martyrs of old, and also of the New Martyrs who have shone forth in more recent times. Now, he rejoices with them in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying God : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
Simeon Yanovsky wrote about another conversation with Starets Herman :
On another occasion, I was relating to him how the Spanish in California had imprisoned 14 Aleuts, and how the Jesuits (actually Franciscans) were forcing all of them to accept the Roman Catholic faith. However, this Aleut would not agree under any circumstances, saying, ‘We are Christians’. The Jesuits protested, ‘That is not true ; you are heretics and schismatics. If you do not agree to accept our faith, then we will torture all of you’. Then the Aleuts were placed in cells until evening, 2 to a cell. At night, the Jesuits came to the prison with lanterns and lighted candles. They began to persuade the Aleuts in the cell once again to accept the Roman Catholic faith. ‘We are Christians’, was the answer of the Aleuts, ‘and we will not change our Faith’. Then the Jesuits began to torture them, at first the one, while his companion was the witness. They cut the toes off his feet, first one joint and then the other joint. And then they cut the first joint on the fingers of the hands, and then the other joint. Afterwards, they cut off his feet, and his hands ; the blood flowed. The martyr endured all, and he steadfastly insisted on one thing : ‘I am a Christian’. In such suffering, he bled to death. The Jesuit promised to torture to death his comrades also on the next day. But that night, an order was received from Monterey, stating that the imprisoned Aleuts were to be released immediately, and sent there under escort. Therefore, in the morning, all were dispatched to Monterey with the exception of the martyred Aleut. This was related to me by a witness, the same Aleut who was the comrade of the tortured Aleut. Afterwards, he escaped from imprisonment, and I reported this incident to the supreme authorities in St. Petersburg. When I finished my story, Father Herman asked, ‘And how did they call the martyred Aleut ?’ I answered, ‘Peter ; I do not remember his family name’. The Elder stood up before an icon reverently, made the sign of the Cross, and pronounced, ‘Holy newly-martyred Peter, pray to God for us !’
The Spirit of Father Herman’s Teaching
In order to express the spirit of Father Herman's teaching, we present here a quotation from a letter that was written by his own hand :
The empty years of these desires separate us from our heavenly homeland, and our love for these desires and our habits clothe us, as it were, in an odious dress; it is called by the Apostle 'the external (earthly) man' (I Cor. 15:47). We who are wanderers in the journey of this life call to God for aid. We must divest ourselves of this repulsiveness, and put on new desires, and a new love for the coming age. Thus, through this we will know either an attraction or a repulsion for the heavenly homeland. It is possible to do this quickly, but we must follow the example of the sick, who wishing for desired health, do not stop searching for means of curing themselves. But I am not speaking clearly.
Starets Herman did not desire anything for himself in life. Long ago, when he first came to Alaska (having refused, because of his humility, the dignity of Priest-Monk and archimandrite, and having decided to remain forever a common monk), Father Herman, without the least fear before the powerful, strove with all sincerity for God. With gentle love, and disregarding the person, he criticised many for intemperate living, for unworthy behaviour, and for oppressing the Aleuts. Evil armed itself against him, and gave him all sorts of trouble and sorrow. Nevertheless, God protected the Elder. The Administrator of the Colony, Simeon Yanovsky, when he had not yet seen Father Herman, after receiving one of those complaints, had already written to St. Petersburg about the necessity of his removal. He explained that it seemed that the monk was arousing the Aleuts against the administration. However, this accusation turned out to be unjust, and in the end Administrator Yanovsky was numbered among the admirers of Father Herman.
Once, an inspector came to Spruce Island with the Administrator of the Colony "N"., and with company employees to search through Father Herman’s cell. This party expected to find property of great value in Father Herman’s cell ; but when they found nothing of value, an employee of the Russian American Company, Ponomarkhov, began to tear up the floor with an axe, undoubtedly with the consent of his seniors. Then Father Herman said to him : "My friend, you have lifted the axe in vain ; this weapon shall deprive you of your life". Some time later, people were needed at Fort Nicholas. For that reason, several Russian employees were sent there from Kodiak, and among them was Ponomarkhov ; there, the natives of Kenai cut off his head while he slept.
The Temptations of Father Herman
Many great sorrows were borne by Father Herman from evil spirits. He, himself, revealed this to his disciple, Gerasim. Once, when he entered Father Herman’s cell without the usual prayer, he received no answer from Father Herman to any of his questions. The next day, Gerasim asked him the reason for his silence. On that occasion, Father Herman said to him, "When I came to this island and settled in this hermitage, the evil spirits approached me ostensibly to be helpful. They came in the form of a man, and in the form of animals. I suffered much from them : from various afflictions and temptations. That is why I do not speak now to anyone who enters into my presence without prayer". (It is customary amongst devout laymen, as well as clergy, to say out loud a prayer, and upon hearing a response ending with “Amen”, to enter the room and go first to the icon to reverence it, and to say a prayer before greeting the host.)
Spiritual Gifts from God
Father Herman dedicated himself fully to the Lord’s service ; he strove with zeal solely for the glorification of His Most Holy Name. Far from his homeland, in the midst of a variety of afflictions and privations, Father Herman spent several decades performing the noblest deeds of self-sacrifice. He was privileged to receive many supernatural gifts from God.
In the midst of Spruce Island, a little stream flows down the hill into the sea. The mouth of this stream was always swept by surf. In the spring, when the brook-fish appeared, the Elder raked away some of the sand at its mouth so that the fish could enter, and at their first appearance they rushed up the stream. His disciple, Ignatiy, said, “it was so that if ‘Apa’ would tell me, I would go and get fish in the stream”. Father Herman fed the birds with dried fish, and they would gather in great numbers around his cell. Underneath his cell there lived an ermine. This little animal cannot be approached when it has had its young, but the Elder fed it from his own hand. “Was not this a miracle that we had seen ?” said his disciple, Ignatiy. They also saw Father Herman feeding bears. However, when Father Herman died, the birds and animals left ; even the garden would not give any sort of crops although someone had willingly taken care of it, Ignatiy insisted.
On Spruce Island, there once occurred a flood. The inhabitants came to the Elder in great fear. Father Herman then took an icon of the Mother of God from the home where his students lived, placed it on a “laida” (a sandy bank), and he began to pray. After his prayer, he turned to those present and said, “Have no fear, the water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands”. The words of the Elder were fulfilled. After this, he promised the same aid from this holy icon in the future through the intercessions of the Most Immaculate Queen. He entrusted the icon to his disciple, Sophia. In case of future floods, the icon was to be placed on the “laida”.
At the request of the Elder, Baron F P Wrangel wrote a letter which was dictated by Father Herman to a Metropolitan (his name is not known). When the letter was completed and read, the Elder congratulated the Baron upon his attaining the rank of admiral. The Baron was taken aback. This was news to him. It was confirmed, but only after an elapse of some time, and just before he departed for St. Petersburg.
Father Herman said to the administrator Kashevarov from whom he accepted his son from the font (during the Mystery of Baptism), “I am sorry for you, my dear ‘koum’ (the term for the relationship between sponsors in Holy Baptism and the family of the baptised). It is a shame ; the change will be unpleasant for you !” In 2 years, during a change of administration, Kashevarov was sent to Sitka in chains.
Once, the forest on Spruce Island caught fire. The Elder with his disciple, Ignatiy, made a belt about a yard wide in a thicket of the forest, in which they turned over the moss. They extended it to the foot of the hill. The Elder said, “Rest assured, the fire will not pass this line”. On the next day, according to the testimony of Ignatiy, there was no hope for salvation (from the fire) and the fire, pushed by a strong wind, reached the place where the moss had been turned over by the Elder. The fire ran over the moss and halted, leaving untouched the thick forest which was beyond the line.
The Elder often said that there would be a bishop for America : this, at a time when no-one even thought of it, and there was no hope that there would be a bishop for America. This was related by the Bishop Peter, and his prognostication was confirmed in time. “After my death”, said Father Herman, “there will be an epidemic, and many people shall die during it, and the Russians shall unite the Aleuts”. Thus, it happened ; it seems that about a half a year after his repose, there was a smallpox epidemic. The death rate in America during the epidemic was tremendous. In some villages, only a few inhabitants remained alive. This led the administration of the colony to unite the Aleuts ; the 12 settlements were consolidated into 7.
“Although a long time shall elapse after my death, I will not be forgotten”, said Father Herman to his disciples. “My place of habitation will not remain empty. A monk like myself, who will be escaping from the glory of men, will come and he will live on Spruce Island, and Spruce Island will not be without people”. This prognostication was confirmed in its entirety. Just such a monk as Father Herman described lived on Spruce Island for many years : Gerasim (Schmaltz), who reposed on 13 October, 1969. This monk took on himself the responsibility of taking care of the chapel under which at first was buried the Elder Herman. Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich), soon after his elevation to the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church Greek Catholic Church in North America made a pilgrimage to Spruce Island, and to the grave of Herman.
Saint Herman’s Prognostications (prophecies) about the Future
The creole Constantine, when he was not more than 12, was asked by Father Herman : “My beloved one, what do you think : this chapel which they are now building — will it ever stand empty ?” The youngster answered : “I do not know, ‘Apa’”. “Indeed”, said Constantine later, “I did not understand his question at that time, even though that whole conversation with the Elder remains vivid in my memory”. The Elder remained silent for a short time, and then he said : “My child, remember, in time in this place there will be a monastery”.
Father Herman said to his disciple the Aleut Ignatiy Aligyaga : “30 years shall pass after my death, and all those living on Spruce Island will have died, but you alone will remain alive. You will be old and poor when I will be remembered”. Indeed, after the death of Father Herman, 30 years passed when people were reminded of him, and they began to gather information and facts about him, on the basis of which was written his life. “It is amazing”, exclaimed Ignatiy, “how a man like us could know all this so long before it happened ! However, no, he was no ordinary man ! He knew our thoughts, and he involuntarily he led us to the point where we revealed them to him, and we received counsel from him !”
“When I die”, said the Elder to his disciples, “you will bury me alongside Father Joasaph. You will bury me by yourself, for you will not wait for the priest ! Do not wash my body. Lay it on a board, clasp my hands over my chest, wrap me in my ‘mantia’ (the monk’s black outer cloak), and with its wings cover my face and place the ‘klobuk’(monastic head-dress consisting of a brimless hat-and-veil) on my head. If anyone wishes to bid farewell to me, let them kiss the Cross. Do not show my face to anyone”.
The Repose of Father Herman
The time of the repose of the Starets had arrived. One day, he directed his disciple, Gerasim, to light a candle before the icons, and to read the Acts of the Holy Apostles. After some time, his face glowed brightly and he said in a loud voice : “Glory to You, O Lord (Slava Tebe, Gospodi) !” Then he ordered the reading to be halted, and he announced that the Lord had willed that his life would now be prolonged for another week. A week later, again by his direction, the candles were lit, and the Acts of the Holy Apostles were read. Quietly, the Elder bowed his head on the chest of Gerasim. The cell was filled with a pleasant-smelling odour ; his face glowed, and then Father Herman was no more ! Thus, in blessedness he reposed in Christ. He fell asleep in the odour of sanctity, sleeping the sleep of a righteous man in the 81st year of his life of great labour, the 25th day of December, 1837. (According to the Julian Calendar, 13 December, 1837 ; however, other records state that he reposed on the 28/15 November, and was buried on the 26/13 of December.)
Those who were sent with the sad news to the harbour returned to announce that the administrator of the colony, Kashevarov, had forbidden the burial of the Elder until his own arrival. He also ordered that a finer coffin be made for Father Herman, that he would come as soon as possible, and that he would bring a priest with him. Then a great wind came up, rain fell, and a terrible storm broke. The distance from the harbour to Spruce Island is not great — about a 2-hour journey — but no-one would agree to go to sea in such weather. Thus it continued for a full month. Although the body of Father Herman lay waiting for a full month in the warm house of his students, his face did not undergo any change at all, and not the slightest odour of decomposition emanated from his body. Finally, through the efforts of Kuzma Uchilischev, a coffin was obtained. No-one arrived from the harbour, and the inhabitants of Spruce Island alone buried in the ground the remains of the Elder. Thus, the words which Starets Herman uttered before his death were fulfilled. After this, the wind quieted down, and the surface of the sea became as smooth as a mirror.
On one particular evening, from the village Katani on Afognak) was seen above Spruce Island an unusual pillar of light which reached up to heaven. Astonished by the miraculous appearance, experienced elders and the creole Gerasim Vologdin and his wife, Anna, said : “It seems that Father Herman has left us”, and they began to pray. After a time, they were informed that the Elder had indeed reposed in Christ that very night. This same pillar was seen in various places by others. The night of his death, in another of the settlements on Afognak, was seen a vision : it seemed as though a man were rising from Spruce Island into the clouds.
The disciples buried their father, and placed above his grave a wooden memorial marker. The priest on Kodiak, Peter Kashevarov, said : “I saw it myself, and I can say that today, it seems as though it had never been touched by time, as though it had been cut this day”.
Having witnessed the life of Father Herman glorified by his zealous labours, having seen his miracles, and the fulfilment of his predictions, and, finally, having observed his blessed falling-asleep, “in general all the local inhabitants”, witnessed Bishop Peter, “have the highest esteem for him, as though he were a holy ascetic, and are fully convinced that he has found favour in the presence of God”.
In 1842, 5 years after the repose of the Elder Herman, the Archbishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutians, Innocent (Veniaminov) was near Kodiak on a sailing vessel which was in great distress. He looked to Spruce Island, and said to himself, “if you, Father Herman, have found favor in God’s Presence, then may the wind change !” “It seems as though not more than 15 minutes had passed”, said the Bishop, “when the wind became favourable, and he successfully reached the shore”. In thanksgiving for his salvation, Archbishop Innocent himself conducted a Memorial Service (Panikhida) over the grave of the Blessed Elder Herman. The long-lasting influence of Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska is clearly a personal one. The Archpriest Michael Oleksa has written many books on Orthodox life in Alaska, which refer to this influence. The indigenous peoples (particularly the Unangans) have inherited not only knowledge about Saint Herman, but also a personal relationship with him, in whom they see Christ Himself in our midst.
On 11 March, 1969, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America (one year later to become The Orthodox Church in America) formally declared their intention to glorify Father Herman, “as a sublime example of the Holy Life, for our spiritual benefit, inspiration, comfort, and the confirmation of our Faith”.
On 9 August, 1970, Metropolitan Ireney of the OCA, and Archbishop Paul (Olmari) of Finland, together with other hierarchs and clergy, presided over the service of glorification, which was held at Holy Resurrection Church on Kodiak Island. The relics of our Holy Father Herman were transferred from his grave underneath the Chapel of Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam on Spruce Island, to the Temple of the Holy Resurrection on Kodiak Island. In part, this transfer was for the sake of taking proper care of these holy relics and making them more readily available for veneration by pilgrims. It is never to be assumed that one can make it at will to Spruce Island, even nowadays.
On the same date, the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia also glorified Starets Herman at the Holy Virgin Cathedral “Joy of All Who Sorrow”) in San Francisco. In both places, at the all-night vigil, the canon to Saint Herman was read for the first time. Two or 3 similar liturgical services were composed for the liturgical services of Saint Herman’s feast-day, one of them by the monks of the ROCOR.
There are several feast days throughout the year on which Saint Herman of Alaska is commemorated. Since there are two different calendars currently in use among various Orthodox churches, two dates are listed : the first date is the date on the Julian Calendar, the second date (after the slash) is the same day Revised Julian Calendar (not the “Gregorian Calendar“) :
27 July/9 August — Glorification : This is the anniversary of the joint-glorification of Starets Herman of Alaska as a saint in 1970.
15/28 November — Repose : This is the anniversary of the actual falling-asleep in Christ of Saint Herman.
13/25 December — Repose : Due to an error in record keeping, this was originally thought to be the day of Saint Herman’s repose. Because of the long-established tradition of celebrating his memory on this day, it has remained a prominent feast-day. It is more likely, however, that this is the day on which he was interred. For those Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian Calendar, this day falls on 25 December of the Revised Julian Calendar.
Second Sunday after Pentecost : This is the Sunday of the Synaxis of the Saints of North America (a moveable feast of the ecclesiastical year, the date which changes from year to year, in accordance with the Paschal Cycle).
The major portion of Saint Herman’s relics is preserved at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak, Alaska. The site of the interment of Saint Herman, the Saints Sergius and Herman Chapel, Spruce Island, Alaska is an important pilgrimage site. From here, the devout often take some soil from Saint Herman’s grave, and some water from the nearby spring named in his honour. A portion of his relics is enshrined at the Saint Ignatius Chapel at the Antiochan Village in Pennsylvania (a conference and retreat centre of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America).
With the blessing of Metroplitan Theodosius in particular, many parishes and monasteries in North America are blessed to have a small portion of the relics of Saint Herman of Alaska. Most often, the relic is embedded in an icon of the holy man.
Other facts and events
In 1963, with the blessing of Saint John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, a community of Orthodox booksellers and publishers called the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood was formed to publish Orthodox missionary information in English. The Brotherhood did much to advance the cause of Saint Herman’s glorification in the ROCOR. Saint Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska was founded in 1972, and it was named in honour of Saint Herman, as are numerous parish churches throughout the world.
On Tuesday, 4 August, 1970, the 91st Congress of the United States acknowledged the Glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska with a speech in the Senate, and his biography was formally entered into the Congressional Record.
In 1993, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Rus’ visited Kodiak in order to venerate the relics of Saint Herman. He left as a gift an ornate lampada (oil lamp) which burns constantly over the reliquary. Pilgrims from all over the world are anointed with holy oil from this lampada. The patriarch, together with Metropolitan Theodosius, also travelled to Spruce Island by helicopter (the weather did not permit travel by sea).
Saint Herman of Alaska is also honoured with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA), on 9 August.
The Life of Saint Herman of Alaska - A Chronology : (See Chronology) 1755 Birth in Serpukhov to an unknown family ; or, birth in Voronezh as Egor Ivanovitch Popov, to a prosperous peasant family. 1771 First, he entered the Sarov Monastery. Then he entered the Monastery of Saint Sergius, near Saint Petersburg. 1776-1777 Attracted by the spiritual fame of Abbot Nazariy, the novice Egor entered the ancient Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga in Russian Finland. 1793 The Monk Herman volunteered to be part of the mission to Russian America being recruited by Abbot Nazariy at the direction of Metropolitan Gabriel of Saint Petersburg. 12 Dec., 1793 The 8 monks from the Valaam, Koniev, and Saint Alexander Nevsky Monasteries departed from Saint Petersburg, bound for Kodiak, Alaska. 24 Sep., 1794 The arrival in Kodiak of the first formal Orthodox mission, known as the 'Kodiak Mission'. Their journey is the longest known missionary journey in the history of the Orthodox Church. 21 Nov., 1794 Founding of Holy Resurrection Church, Kodiak. 1795 Priest-monk Makarios was sent to the Aleutian Islands ; the Priest-Monk Juvenaly was sent into the interior of the mainland. The same year, Father Juvenaly was martyred at Lake Iliamna (or, preferably, at Quinhagak on the west coast). 1796 The Priest-monk Makarios returned to Saint Petersburg with some Aleuts, in order to complain of the brutality of the Russian traders and hunters towards the Aleut people. 1799 The head of the Kodiak Mission, Archimandrite Joasaf, returned to Irkutsk in Siberia, and he was consecrated Bishop of Kodiak. Deacon-Monk Steven and two unnamed cantors accompanied him ; on the return trip they were joined by the Priest-Monk Makarius. They all perished in a shipwreck on the high sea. A third cantor was drowned at a later, undetermined date. The Kodiak Mission, five years after its arrival, included one priest ; one deacon, and two monks. 1800 The head of the Russian establishment, Alexander Baranov, in a letter addressed to the 'Monk-Steward Herman', forbade the missionaries to have any contacts with the native peoples. He blamed the missionaries for native unrest, and he accused them of trying to stir up a revolt of the natives against the Russians. 1801 The missionaries attempted to proclaim the oath of allegiance to the emperor, against the wishes of Alexander Baranov. At the end of a violent scene, in which Saint Herman attempted to intervene, Mr. Baranov ordered them to their home, placed them under virtual house-arrest, and forbade the natives to see them. For more than a year, there were no public services in Kodiak. The missionaries sent a collective complaint to the Holy Synod in Saint Petersburg. 1804 Arrival of Father Gideon from Saint Petersburg, who was charged to oversee the Kodiak Mission and to restore order. 1806 The Deacon-Monk Nectarius left Alaska. 1807 Father Gideon left Alaska. 1808-1818 At some undetermined date within this ten-year period, Father Herman left Kodiak and established himself on Spruce Island, just off the Kodiak coast. 1811 The Holy Synod in Saint Petersburg closed the Kodiak Diocese. The Bishop of Irkutsk was given responsibility for Alaska, and the missionaries henceforth depended directly on him. 1816 Arrival in Sitka of the first parish priest, Father Alexis Sokolov. Martyrdom of Peter the Aleut in California at the instigation of Roman Catholic missionaries. 1819 Simeon Yanovsky, son-in-law of Alexander Baranov and his successor as general manager of the Russian American Company, a freethinker, met Father Herman and he was converted. He became Father Herman’s spiritual son. Epidemic at Kodiak. Father Herman ministered to the sick and dying at great personal risk. 1820 Formal closure of the Kodiak Mission. A 20-year-old Aleut woman, Sophia Vlassova, became Starets Herman’s disciple, and she worked at the school which he established. A priest sent out from Irkutsk dealt brutally with Father Herman. He tore up his cabin in search of alleged treasure hoarded by the saint. A new period of persecution by the Russian government and business began. 1823 Death of the monk Joasaf at Kodiak. 1824 Arrival of the young priest, John Veniaminov and his family at Unalaska (Aleutian Islands). Arrival in Kodiak of the priest, Frumentiy Mordovsky ; departure of Father Athanasius. 1825 Arrival at Attu (Aleutian Islands) of the first Aleut priest, Jakob Netsvetov, one of the greatest Orthodox missionaries in Alaska. 1831 The administrator of the colony, Ferdinand von Wrangel, met Starets Herman in Kodiak ; the persecution ended. 1834 Father John Veniaminov was transferred to Sitka, and he began his mission amongst the Tlingit peoples, whom he admired and respected. 13 Dec., 1837 Starets Herman reposed on Spruce Island, where he was buried by his faithful disciples. 1867 Bishop Peter of Sitka gathered information in the first formal inquiry into Starets Herman’s life. 1894 The first official biography of Starets Herman was published by the Valaam Monastery. 1903 The Great Russian Encyclopædia compared Starets Herman to the Desert Fathers of the Church. 1969 The Great Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America announced its intent to glorify Starets Herman. 9 Aug, 1970 Starets Herman was glorified in services conducted at the Church of the Holy Resurrection, Kodiak, Alaska, and simultaneously at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in San Francisco, California.
Akathist to Saint Herman of Alaska by Archpriest Lawrence R Farley Kontakion 1 (Tone 4) O holy Father Herman of Alaska, advocate of the oppressed, and protector of defenseless orphans : cool the heat of sorrow which melts our hearts, wipe away our tears and grant us to know the meaning of consolation. Pray for us your children that with new strength we may glorify God and sing to you : Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Ikos 1 The Lord of Hosts chose you, O holy Father Herman, to be His warrior in the far north, fighting your way through the regiments of the unseen enemy and leading us, your fellow soldiers, to our heavenly homeland. Now that Christ has crowned you with the laurels of victory, we offer you these songs of praise : Rejoice, struggler against world rulers of this present darkness ! Rejoice, victor over the spiritual hosts of wickedness under heaven ! Rejoice, warrior triumphant over the forces of evil ! Rejoice, athlete who vanquishes the demonic adversary ! Rejoice, valiant pilgrim journeying through this life to life eternal ! Rejoice, unerring guide to our homeland in heaven ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 2 Aflame with love for the souls of the lost, O holy Father Herman, you left Valaam monastery with nine others of the angelic life, traversing all the Russian lands to bring the Gospel to those at the ends of the earth. Zeal for the salvation of America hastened your steps as you travelled and sang to God : Alleluia ! Ikos 2 Arriving at Kodiak Island, with your fellow missionaries you built the Church of the Resurrection for the worship of the Saviour of all, and worked in humility in the bakery, caring for the needs of your brothers. Glorifying God for your perseverance and humility, we cry aloud to you : Rejoice, you whose prayers fill the hungry with food ! Rejoice, you whose words bring us the Bread of Heaven ! Rejoice, lowly Herman, for your lowliness has brought you to the Heights ! Rejoice, humble monk, for your humility has exalted you to heaven ! Rejoice, worshipper of the risen Christ, for your prayers sustain us all ! Rejoice, friend of the heavenly saints, for your love brings us home to God ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 3 Driven from Kodiak by those who would exploit the newly-converted children of God, O holy Father Herman, you retired to Spruce Island, digging a cave for your dwelling with your own hands and establishing your hermitage of New Valaam. United in bonds of love to your abbot Nazarius and his monks in far-away Russia, you nursed the souls of your converts in Alaska, teaching them to sing to God : Alleluia ! Ikos 3 Working with your spiritual daughter Sophia, and upheld by the divine wisdom, O holy Father Herman, you taught the children at your school, and sustained with love all who came to you, inspiring them with your holy joy. For forty years you lived among them as their advocate and protector, a sign of God’s compassion for all men. Trusting in your constant love, we lift up our voices and say : Rejoice, Grandfather to little children ! Rejoice, Father to all who seek your aid ! Rejoice, gentle embrace of the Good Shepherd ! Rejoice, healing touch of the mighty Saviour ! Rejoice, Shield to those attacked by the foe ! Rejoice, Shelter for those who take refuge in Christ ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America! Kontakion 4 O blessed Elder of the north, you saved from disaster those who trusted in you, for when they were menaced by a flood, you put an icon of the Theotokos on the beach, declaring that the waters would go no further than that place; and so it came to pass. Marvelling at your faith and your miracles, we glorify God, singing to you : Alleluia ! Ikos 4 When a forest fire threatened your beloved children, O holy Father Herman, you dug a trench, and said, ‘Be at peace; the fire will not cross this line’; and your words were fulfilled. Seeing how God is wonderful in His saints, we bring to you these praises : Rejoice, you whose faith is stronger than raging forest fire ! Rejoice, you whose prayers save us from the eternal fire to come ! Rejoice, bringer of peace to the anguished and anxious ! Rejoice, giver of joy to the hopeless and despairing ! Rejoice, our bulwark against disaster and ruin ! Rejoice, our intercessor and friend to those in need ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 5 Like a desert-dweller of old, O venerable Elder, you subdued your flesh by wearing heavy chains, having only a rough board for your blanket, and none could imitate your deeds. Your hard life brought you the grace of the Spirit, and overflowing with divine grace, you sang to God : Alleluia ! Ikos 5 Through the grace given to you, O holy Father Herman, you made the wilderness a Paradise, for you tamed the wild animals, feeding both the ermine and the bear with your hands. Through you the monastic desert flowers again in the New World, adorning the Church here with divine beauty, and causing us to sing : Rejoice, you who taught us to seek the joys above ! Rejoice, you whose prayers now help us toiling here below ! Rejoice, you who warred mightily against the demons who assailed you ! Rejoice, you whose intercessions rescue us from every attack of the foe ! Rejoice, example for monastics striving in solitude ! Rejoice, help of all Christians struggling in the world ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 6 Though living in solitude in the forest of Spruce Island, O holy Father Herman, you were never alone, for you had God and His holy angels as your companions. Hidden from the eyes of men, you poured out your soul to the God of heaven in prayers and psalms and freely conversed with the angels, who joined you in your praises, crying : Alleluia ! Ikos 6 Like a treasure hidden in a field, O holy Father Herman, you remained hidden in the forest of Spruce Island, singing aloud to the Holy Trinity and turning the unkempt woodland into a temple of God. All the trees of the forest sing for joy with you, as from the ends of the earth you cry, ‘Glory to the Righteous One !’ Inspired by your praises, we also cry out : Rejoice, converser with angels and benefactor of men ! Rejoice, faithful intercessor and devotee of Christ ! Rejoice, God’s treasure, hidden in the far north ! Rejoice, citizen of the Kingdom, dwelling in the heavenly Zion ! Rejoice, joy of all the earth, adornment of the Church ! Rejoice, stronghold of the weak, protection of all who seek your intercession ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 7 Although those who exploited and hurt your poor American children persecuted you as well, O holy Father Herman, you never abandoned those who took refuge in your love. Rather, you remonstrated with the ones who were glorious on the earth, and ceaselessly cried to the God of heaven. Now that God has heard your prayers and vindicated you, you hear from all your Church the song : Alleluia ! Ikos 7 Although those who persecuted you deprived you even of paper for keeping Church records, O holy Father Herman, your many accomplishments and great deeds are written in heaven. Those you baptized acclaim you in the Kingdom; the many whose tears you wiped away give thanks to God for you before His throne. Joining with these multitudes in heaven, we on earth offer these praises : Rejoice, gentle shepherd of the lambs of Christ ! Rejoice, mighty champion of the children of God ! Rejoice, for you spoke truth to the powerful of the land ! Rejoice, for your courage gave new hope to the oppressed ! Rejoice, comforter of orphans and teacher of the truth ! Rejoice, light to those who seek the pathway to heaven ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 8 You walked among the worldly-wise as a spiritual man, O holy Father Herman, for God gave you a mouth and a wisdom which none of them could refute or resist. In the midst of Russian sailors, you spoke the Gospel with such power that all were at a loss before your wisdom, and you taught them to love God above all else. Glorifying God who makes foolish the wisdom of the world, we sing aloud : Alleluia ! Ikos 8 God gave you His little ones, the humble of the earth, O holy Father Herman, that you might teach them His ways and guide them to heaven. You were a blazing light to those in darkness, a patient instructor in righteousness, a rescuing hand for those sinking in error. We who love the Orthodox Way you brought to Alaska turn to you and say : Rejoice, you who love the Law of God ! Rejoice, you who proclaim the Gospel of the Lord ! Rejoice, for your testimony makes wise the simple ! Rejoice, for your teaching restores our souls ! Rejoice, delight of little orphans ! Rejoice, boast of aged elders ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 9 The feet which carried you across the Russian continent were beautiful, O holy Father Herman, for you came bearing Good News of Christ’s salvation. Over seven thousand received baptism when your Mission came to Alaska, and still you reached out to bring more lost sheep into the Lord’s saving fold. This mighty throng now stands before the throne of God, praising His grace and singing : Alleluia ! Ikos 9 The heavens are telling the glory of God, and we who have witnessed your life also proclaim your wonders, O holy Father Herman. As God’s handiwork, you revealed to all His power to sanctify those who seek Him, and like the apostolic fishermen of old, you caught many souls in your Alaskan net. We who have inherited your apostolic mission now cry to you : Rejoice, you whose words gather the scattered children of God into the one fold of Christ ! Rejoice, you who pastor with skilled hands the flock of the Lord ! Rejoice, trumpet of the far north, sounding abroad the glory of the Father ! Rejoice, proclaimer of divine pardon, calling all to the embrace of Jesus ! Rejoice, for you brought to Alaska the eternal and saving Gospel ! Rejoice, for you revealed the universal Kingdom at the ends of the earth ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 10 When the time for your death drew near, O wonder-working Father Herman, you foreknew that day and hour, and told your disciple Gerasim. For after lighting the candles and reading the Acts of the Apostles, you commanded that the reading be stopped, saying that God had granted you another week of life. Then, after that week, you commanded the candles to be re-lit and the Acts of the Apostles read again, and so you reposed in the Lord as you had said. Seeing your radiant face and smelling the sweet fragrance of your departure, Gerasim sang to God : Alleluia ! Ikos 10 When giving orders regarding your burial, O holy Father Herman, you commanded that your holy face be covered with your mantle, in your humility not wishing that anyone should see your face. Even in death your preached the Cross of Christ, for you ordered that the Cross be placed in your hands for the mourners to kiss at your funeral. Now that you stand as our intercessor in heaven, your face is always turned to us, and we your suppliants lift high the Cross you proclaimed, saying : Rejoice, prophet and foreseer of the things to come ! Rejoice, messenger and herald of the blessings of God ! Rejoice, sweet fragrance of the Kingdom of Christ ! Rejoice, radiant light of the uncreated Trinity ! Rejoice, for you walked in humility to the end ! Rejoice, for you preached the Cross without ceasing ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 11 At the time of your blessed death, O venerable Father Herman, a light was seen over Spruce Island that reached to heaven, and those who knew your holy life perceived that you had left them. Having illumined us through your teachings and shining example, you illumined us also through your death, lighting up the sky as you ascended to heaven. Glorifying God who has glorified you, we lift up the song : Alleluia ! Ikos 11 O wonderworker of the north, your holy relics remained incorrupt in the warm chapel for many days where you lay, witnessing to the truth of your Gospel and of your enduring love for us. From your burial place on Spruce Island your relics and your prayers continued to be a source of miracles, and we praise God for your intercession, bringing our songs : Rejoice, you who stand before the throne of God in glory ! Rejoice, you who never forsake your people on earth ! Rejoice, unfailing physician of our souls and bodies ! Rejoice, faithful intercessor of the Orthodox Church ! Rejoice, for you remain with those who love you ! Rejoice, for you lead us all to heaven above ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 12 A few years after your repose, O holy Father Herman, you saved the missionary Saint Innocent from a storm at sea. For as he neared Kodiak, his ship was caught in a tempest, and he feared that he would perish in the stormy waters, just as his predecessor Bishop Joasaph did before him. Looking toward Spruce Island, he invoked your prayers, asking that the wind might change, and it did within a quarter of an hour. We who are caught in the storms of life also call out to you, crying : Alleluia ! Ikos 12 We who follow the Orthodox Way you planted in North America praise God for the gift of your holy relics and your ceaseless prayer. Having transferred your sacred body to Kodiak, the Church now celebrates your memory with joy and splendour, exulting that God still works wonders through you. Grateful to the Lord for your presence among us, we offer you these hymns : Rejoice, confirmation of the truth of God ! Rejoice, image of the beauty of holiness ! Rejoice, for you laid the foundation of Orthodoxy in the new world ! Rejoice, for you challenge and inspire us to continue your holy work ! Rejoice, boast and crown of all Orthodox Christians ! Rejoice, first saint of our land ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! Kontakion 13 O holy Father Herman of Alaska, joy of our hearts and blessing of God to us, accept these humble prayers and pray for us before the throne of God. Grant that through your intercessions we also might stand before His throne, and with you exult in endless joy before Him, singing forever and ever : Alleluia ! (thrice) Then : Ikos 1 The Lord of Hosts chose you, O holy Father Herman, to be His warrior in the far north, fighting your way through the regiments of the unseen enemy and leading us, your fellow soldiers, to our heavenly homeland. Now that Christ has crowned you with the laurels of victory, we offer you these songs of praise : Rejoice, struggler against world rulers of this present darkness ! Rejoice, victor over the spiritual hosts of wickedness under heaven ! Rejoice, warrior triumphant over the forces of evil ! Rejoice, athlete who vanquishes the demonic adversary ! Rejoice, valiant pilgrim journeying through this life to life eternal ! Rejoice, unerring guide to our homeland in heaven ! Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! And again : Kontakion O holy Father Herman of Alaska, advocate of the oppressed, and protector of defenseless orphans: cool the heat of sorrow which melts our hearts, wipe away our tears and grant us to know the meaning of consolation. Pray for us your children that with new strength we may glorify God and sing to you : Rejoice, O Father Herman of Alaska, joyful defender of your Church in North America ! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Notes : Kontakion 1 : Compare St. Herman’s letter to Governor Yanovsky: ‘…[we ask you to] wipe away the tears of defenseless orphans, cool the heat of sorrow in melting hearts, grant us to know the meaning of consolation…’ Ikos 1 : From the writings of Saint Herman : ‘A true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the words of the Apostle, our homeland is in heaven, and about the warrior he says, “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the world-rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness under heaven”…we who travel on the journey of this life…ought to divest ourselves of (sin)…’ Also, the book ‘Writings of Rev. John Bunyan’ (author of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’) was found in Saint Herman’s library ; compare ‘valiant pilgrim’ in the Ikos. Ikos 2 : Saint Herman signed his letters as ‘lowly Herman.’ Ikos 3 : Saint Herman’s people referred to him as their ‘apa’ or ‘grandfather.’ Kontakion 5 : Saint Herman’s disciple, the Aleut Ignatius Aliaga, said, ‘Yes, Apa [Grandfather] conducted a hard life, and no one can imitate it.’ Kontakion 6 : Father Herman was once asked, ‘How do you manage to live alone in the forest? Don’t you get bored ?’ He replied, ‘No, I’m not alone there ! There is God, and God is everywhere ! There are holy angels ! With whom is it better to converse, angels or people ? Angels, of course !’ Ikos 6 : ‘A treasure hidden in a field,’ Mt. 13:44; ‘all the trees of the forest sing for joy,’ Ps. 96:12 ; ‘from the ends of the earth we hear songs, “Glory to the Righteous One!,”’ Is. 24:16 ; ‘Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion in the far north…God has made Himself known as a stronghold,’ Ps. 48:2-3. Kontakion 7 : from the ‘Alleluia’ of Holy Week: ‘Bring more evils on them, O Lord; bring more evils on the ones who are glorious on the earth.’ Also, Saint Herman wrote to his abbot Nazarius : ‘…all the merchants (here) care about is money and they hurt the poor Americans.’ Kontakion 8 : The Lord said to His disciples, ‘will give you a mouth and a wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute ;’ Lk. 21:15. Saint Herman’s Russian convert, Yanovsky, wrote : ‘Father Herman…desired to convert me. He spoke so powerfully and argued so convincingly that it now seems to me that no education and earthly wisdom could withstand his words.’ The captain of a Russian frigate admitted, ‘Before him we were at a loss what to answer, like fools !’ Saint Herman urged the sailors, ‘From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all else.’ Saint Paul wrote, ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world ?’ 1 Cor.1:20. Ikos 8 : ‘The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple’ Ps. 19:7. Kontakion 9 : ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News of good things !’ Rom. 10:15, Is. 52:7. Ikos 9 : From the Prokeimenon for the apostles: ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork,’ Ps. 19:1. Also, the OCA was once referred to simply as ‘the Mission.’ And, from Jn. 11:52 : ‘[Christ would die] to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.’ Kontakion 11 : It was reported by Gerasim Vologdin and his wife Anna, who saw the light over Spruce Island, ‘It looks as if Father Herman has left us!’ This service can be found in ‘The Canadian Journal of Orthodox Christianity’ Volume II, No 1, Winter 2007.
1. Walsh, p. 261.
2. "Little Russian Philokalia", p. 21.
3. Korsun, p. x.
4. Korsun, p. xi.
5. Korsun, p. 5.
6. Korsun, pp. 7-9.
7. a b c d “German Alyaskinsky”.
8. Korsun, pp. 9-10.
9. "Little Russian Philokalia", p. 22.
10. "Little Russian Philokalia", p. 153.
11. Oleksa, pp. 81-88.
12. Korsun, pp. 11-12.
13. Oleksa, pp. 89-93.
14. Korsun, pp. 13-14.
15. a b Oleksa, p. 109.
16. Korsun, pp. 29.
17. Oleksa, p. 108.
18. Korsun, p. 24.
19. Korsun, pp. 24, 50.
20. Korsun, p. 50.
21. Korsun, p. 55.
22. Korsun, p. 68.
23. Korsun, p. 76.
24. Korsun, p. 89.
25. Korsun, p. 92.
26. Oleksa, pp. 118-120.
27. Korsun, pp. 124-126.
28. “Little Russian Philokalia”, p. 28.
29. Although his official hagiography states that he died on 13 December, 1837, this was a mistake, and the correct date is given according to the dispatch by the company manager Kupreyanov to the bishop of Irkutsk. See Korsun, p. 146.
30. “Address of the Great Council”.
31. “Hierarchs and Clergy”.
32. Korsun, pp. 184-185.
33. Korsun, pp. 179-184.
34. “Second Sunday after Pentecost”
35. “Antiochian Village”
36. Congressional Record
37. “Herman of Alaska”
See also :
“Address of the Great Council of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America 11-13 March 1969, Concerning The Canonization of the Spiritual Father Herman of Alaska”. Orthodox Church in America. .
“Antiochian Village : St. Herman”. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. .
91st Congress. “Congressional Record”. Vol. 116, No. 133 91st Congress.
“Herman of Alaska: Missionary 1837”. The Episcopal Church. .
“Hierarchs and Clergy celebrating the Services of Canonization of St. Herman of Alaska”. Orthodox Church in America. .
Korsun, Sergei, “Herman: A Wilderness Saint” (Jordanville, NY : Holy Trinity Publications, 2012). ISBN 978-0-88465-192-5.
Kovalskaya, E. Yu, “German Alyaskinsky” (in Russian), Pravoslavnaya Entsiklopediya. .
“Little Russian Philokalia”, vol. III: St. Herman (Platina, CA : St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1988). ISBN 0-938635-32-8.
Oleksa, Michael, “Alaskan Missionary Spirituality” (Mahway, NJ : Paulist Press, 1987), pp. 3-35. 
Oleksa, Michael, “Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission” (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998). 
“Second Sunday after Pentecost: The Commemoration of All Saints of North America”. Orthodox Church in America. .
Tarasar, Constance J, ed., "Orthodox America 1794-1976 : Development of The Orthodox Church in America" (Syosset, NY : The Orthodox Church in America Department of History and Archives, 1975). ASIN : B000ZLZAUE.
Walsh, Michael J., “A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West” (Collegeville, MN : Liturgical Press, 2007). ISBN 978-0-8146-3186-7.
Additional information :
‘St Herman's Later Life : an Eye-witness Account’ in “Canadian Orthodox Messenger” (Summer, 1993), Supplement between pp. 6-7.