First Saint of the North American Thebaid
Saint Herman of Alaska, America’s first canonized saint, was an Orthodox Christian monk of holy life who lived in Valaam Monastery in Russia.
In 1794, along with nine other monastics he was sent to Alaska to evangelize the natives there. In time St. Herman would become the sole survivor of the original missionaries.
Throughout his long life he cared for the natives of the Kodiak area, nursing them in their illnesses, educating them, and defending them from the abuse of the Russian fur-traders. By his meekness and firm faith he won the love and respect of all who came to know him, and inspired many to follow Christ. Eventually settling on nearby Spruce Island, he lived a mostly eremitic life, while also establishing an orphanage for the children of parents who had died during epidemics.
By the power of God, St. Herman was able to see into the hearts of others, as well as into the future. He worked miracles during his life, such as stopping a forest fire and a tsunami by his prayers. To this day he remains a wonderworker, healing the souls and bodies of those who ask for his intercessions before the throne of God.
The Importance of St Herman for Orthodox Christians in America Today
When we really stop to reflect upon what Blessed Father Herman accomplished in Alaska — and what his significance is for us today — we should be stunned by his humility, his selflessness, and his simple and pure dedication and obedience to his original mission to bring the Orthodox Faith to his new land.
The greater part of his forty-plus years in Alaska he lived alone, tirelessly caring for the native Alaskan peoples who, seeing the Love of Christ embodied in their beloved “Apa” (grandfather) became themselves pious and faithful Orthodox Christians. We should be similarly moved and converted in our hearts by Elder Herman’s witness. As one monastic writer in North America has put it:
The first saints God raises up in a country contain a special message about what Orthodoxy must be like for that nation. Thus, Sts. Boris and Gleb for Russia—the passion bearers. And it is not a coincidence that Holy Russia begins with passion bearers and ends with passion bearers (the royal martyrs) and a whole host of New Martyrs!
So what is the lesson the Lord wants American Orthodox like us to learn from St. Herman? He was a meek and humble monk, not even a priest, but a strong witness against injustice and a confessor of the true Faith. These are the qualities, I believe, that Orthodoxy in America must emulate. But so far, we aren’t. We are obsessed with jurisdictional administrative issues, while the inner life of the Church—which leads to repentance and deification through humility—is largely neglected at the official, organizational, level…
We need a ‘revival’ inspired by St. Herman!
— Schema-Hieromonk Ambrose (Young)
Therefore, let us persevere in our faith and in doing good, being inspired in the depths of our hearts by our beloved Elder and Wonderworker, St Herman of Alaska, that we may embody his teaching:
From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and strive to fulfill His holy will!
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