Life of St. Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman was born in Serpukhov, Russia around the year 1756. He became a monk at the age of 16; first at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage and then later at the Valaam Monastery. In 1793 Metropolitan Gabriel of Novgorod and St, Petersburg asked Igumen Nazarii to choose a group of monks from Valaam Monastery who would form a missonary team. The task of this mission team was to travel across Russia and Siberia and to begin evangelization of Russian America (Alaska). Other members of this missonary team were Archimandrite Joasaph, who was the priest-in-charge, Hieromonks Juvenaly, Macarius, Athanasius, Stephen and Nectarius, Hierodeacons Nectarius and Stephen, and Monks Joasaph and Herman.
On September 24th, 1794, after journeying for nearly a year, the group of eight monks arrived on Kodiak Island. A bilingual school (Russian and Aleut) was established for the natives. Some of the team traveled to other parts of Alaska taking the Gospel to the people who lived in these other areas. So at times it was necessary for Father Herman to keep charge of the Kodiak Mission and administer the school. Between 1808 and 1818 Father Herman left Kodiak in order to live on Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. He remained on Spruce island for the remainder of his blessed life, where he cared for orphans, ran a school for native children and continued his missionary work.
Father Herman wore the the simplest of clothes under his cassock and ate very little living a strict ascetic life. Father Herman devoted all of his free time to prayer and singing of services. When asked if he was lonely on Spruce Island, Father Herman replied, "No, I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere."
Father Herman was once invited aboard a ship that had docked in Kodiak and during a conversation with those on board he asked them what it was that would bring them the most happiness. Some wanted wealth, others wanted a top ranking job in the Navy another wanted a beautiful wife etc. "What could be better, higher, more worthy of love and more splendid than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who created the world, adorns, gives life, sustains, nourishes and loves everything - Who is Himself love. Should we not love God above all things, and wish for and seek Him?"
The reply was, "Why that's obvious, how can we not love God?" And Father Herman responded "I, a poor sinner, have been trying to learn how to love God for more than 40 years, and I cannot say that I yet love Him properly. If we love someone, we always remember them, we try to please them continually. Day and night we are concerned about them. Our mind and our heart is concerned with the object of our love. How do you love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and keep His commandments?" The crew admitted that they did not. "Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!"
Father Herman reposed on December 13th, 1837. Although he was revered as a saint by the native people of Alaska he was offically glorified as a saint in the Orthodox Church on August 9th, 1970. His relics remain to this day in Holy Resurrection Cathedral on Kodiak Island. A Pilgrimage is held every year in August to celebrate St. Herman of Alaska.