In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This morning I’d like talk about St. Herman of Alaska. Today is his feast day, and as American Orthodox Christians we certainly should know about our first canonized saint, St. Herman. And I think we can learn a lot from the way he lived his life – calling people to Christ in an authentic and personal way.

St. Herman came to Alaska as part of the original Russian Orthodox Mission Team in 1794. This team of 10 came from Valaam Monastery – all of these men who were to become missionaries and convert so many of the Alaskan natives were monastics (in other words, they weren’t parish priests or bishops or what we would think of as evangelists – they were ‘ordinary’ Orthodox monks). The Mission Team came to Alaska to minister to the Russian fur traders who were livings there (primary job), and also to offer the Orthodox Faith to the people of Alaska. They took both parts of their assignment very seriously – and when it became evident that many of the fur traders (and the managers of the Russian American Company) were not very interested in living an Orthodox life, the efforts of the team became almost wholly missionary in focus. And the way these man shared the Gospel with the Alaskan peoples should serve as a model of the mindset that we all need to have when attempting to share Christ with others. They lived with the people, they got to know them and their customs and their history, they learned the language and translated the Scriptures and the services…they didn’t just arrive as outsiders bringing salvation. They entered into personal relationships in order to share the Truth about a personal God.

St. Herman lived in Alaska from the time he arrived until his death – he was the last survivor of the original missionaries – the others had died, been martyred, or returned to Russia. The natives in Alaska revered St. Herman because one of the things that he felt very strongly about was protecting the natives from abuse and exploitation by the Russian fur traders. He wrote letters back to his monastery and to civil authorities in Russia to document how the natives were mistreated by the Russians. We have several of his letters still – letters that alienated him from his people (Russians), and endeared him to the natives of Alaska. He didn’t worry about how the authorities over him would react, he told the truth, and he looked out for the people that were being taken advantage of. St. Herman lived on Spruce Island – where he built a monastic cell, and a chapel, and a school. The native children would come over to the island and he would teach them Russian, math, church music, and about the Christian faith – he was educating the people to better deal with their new interactions with outside cultures, and at the same time introducing them to Christ. He grew a garden, and from that garden he ate, and he also provided for the orphans. He built a guesthouse, and people came to visit him, seek his counsel (since they knew he was willing to defend them and to intercede with the trading company for them), and just to be with him. At one point many of the natives of Kodiak were dying in an epidemic, and St. Herman stayed with the ill, caring for them, and offering prayers for them constantly for the month-long duration of the illness. The orphans of this epidemic were especially close to St. Herman, because they saw how he loved and took care of these people who were dying.

St. Herman loved people – not just his people, not just Orthodox people, not just friends – he loved people as Christ loved people. He gave himself freely to the Alaskan people, and because of this, many people came to Christ through his example and his teaching. We see an example in St. Herman of how our lives as Christians are to be lives of love – love for God, and love for our fellow man. St. Herman said “if we love someone, we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way [we] love God? Do [we] turn to Him often? Do [we] always remember Him? Do [we] always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments? For our own good, and for our own fortune, let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!” St. Herman’s life was about God, and about the people.

Christianity is not about numbers, it’s certainly not about money or pride, and not even about being right – it’s a life of love for a people, and through that love the people were brought into direct contact with Christ. We see this in all of our saints, even from our Lord who healed people and asked them not to tell. The Scriptures say He was moved to compassion by their suffering and He healed them. He loved the people, and this sincere love moves people to seek its source, which gives us the opportunity to preach Christ. May we also be moved to love like St. Herman loved – that’ll do far more than special events or religious dialogues to bring people to the knowledge of God.

Holy Father Herman of Alaska, pray to God for us!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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