St. Herman of Alaska

St. Herman

How can St. Herman intercede for us? 

From an early age, St. Herman lived a devout Orthodox life. He was extremely selfless and humble, often known as the “Wonderworker of All America.”

Pray to St. Herman for strength in spreading the Word of God and in living out the faith, especially in selfless and humbling ways. 

The Life of St. Herman

St. Herman of Alaska was born in 1756 in Serpukhov, Russia to a pious merchant family; he entered monastic life at the age of sixteen at Trinity-Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg, Russia. While there, an abscess appeared on his throat, but the Mother of God appeared to him and healed him in a dream after fervent prayer to her. He was tonsured a monk in 1783 with the name of Herman and was received into Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga. After some time, he was allowed to withdraw from the monastery to the life of a hermit in the forest, only coming to the monastery for feast days. 

In 1793, in response to the request by the Russian American Commercial Company for missionaries to Alaska, Valaam Monastery was told to select a company of their best monks to travel to America; ten were chosen, among them St. Herman. The Company crossed all of Siberia and almost a year later, reached Kodiak Island in September 1794. The missionaries set about their work and found the native Aleut Indian people so receptive to the Gospel of Christ that in the first year, about 7,000 were baptized and 1,500 marriages were performed. 

Despite several hardships, the missionaries covered huge distances on foot and in boats to reach the scattered fishing settlements of the Aleuts. They found a warm reception, but many of the pagan shamans opposed their message and sometimes stirred the people against them. In time, several of the company died at sea and several more abandoned the mission in discouragement, leaving the monk Herman alone. He settled on Spruce Island, a tiny, forested island, which he called the “New Valaam,” near Kodiak and once again took up the hermit’s life, dwelling in a small cave he dug himself in the forest. He spent his days in prayer and mission work, and denied himself every fleshly comfort; he fasted often and lived off of a diet of blackberries, mushrooms, and vegetables. 

Despite these privations, he founded an orphanage and a school for the natives of the island, cared for the sick in epidemics, and built a chapel where he conducted divine services attended by many.  Anything he acquired was given for feeding and clothing the orphaned children or for getting them books. His clothes were the same for all seasons: he wore a smock of deer skin, boots, cassock, and a headdress, showing his great humility for God and his detachment from worldly items. Again, he showed this when it was discovered that a bench covered in deerskin was used as his bed, two bricks as his pillows, and a wood board  as his blanket. 

He was not a priest, but God made up the lack in miraculous ways. At Theophany, angels descended to bless the waters of the bay, and the saint would use the holy water to heal the sick. When asked if he was ever lonely or dejected in solitude, he would reply, “I am not alone, God is here as everywhere and the angels, too. There is no better company.”

St. Herman reposed in peace on Spruce Island at the age of 81 in 1836. At the moment of his departure, his face was radiant with light, and the inhabitants nearby saw a pillar of light rising above his hermitage. His last wish was to be buried on Spruce Island. When some of his well-intentioned disciples attempted to take his relics back to Kodiak to be buried at the church there, a storm rose up and continued unabated until they abandoned the plan and buried him as he desired. 

He was officially glorified in 1970; he was the first canonized American saint. 

Adapted from “Glorification of Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of All America”

Feast Day: August 9th

Discussion Questions

  1. When St. Herman was asked about his solitude, he replied, “I am not alone, God is here as everywhere and the angels, too. There is no better company.” In what ways can we practice solitude, focusing more on our relationship with “the better company,” the Lord, and the angels?
  2. Soon after he became a monk, St. Herman was sent to do missionary work in America; he continued to do this until he fell asleep in the Lord. What can we do to be more selfless during our college years? How can that be continued that after college? 
  3. St. Herman denied every fleshly comfort and detached himself from worldly items. What challenges do we face in a materialistic society and world? How can we turn away from that and direct ourselves to a more holy life? 

Learn his Troparion

“O venerable Herman,  ascetic of the northern wilderness and gracious advocate for the world, teacher of the Orthodox faith and good instructor of piety, adornment of Alaska and joy of all America, entreat Christ God that He may save our souls.” (Tone 4)

 

Pray to him

O Blessed Hermit of Spruce Island, good teacher of the faith in the Holy Trinity, and our Spiritual Father, intercede before the throne of the Almighty God, for peace within the Church, the dispelling of all disunity, faithlessness, and discord. 

O Holy Father and Patron of the Church in America: Be a physician to the weak in faith; be a support to the fallen; be a defender to the defenceless; be a bulwark of strength to the weary in spirit; be a guide to the travelers by sea, by land and by air; be our heavenly intercessor. 

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska, together with all the Saints and the Heavenly Hosts, pray to God that on each of us He will bestow wisdom for our mind, strength for our will, light for our spirit, enabling us to attain to the true peace of life which is from God alone. 

From St Michael’s Orthodox Church, Jermyn, PA

Bonus!

Chant His Akathist Hymn!

Akathist Hymn to St. Herman of Alaska

Related Saints

St. Innocent

St. Mardarije

St. John Maximovitch

St. Paisios

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