Monday, August 10, 2015

St Herman of Alaska: A 'nobody' who became a 'somebody'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

We served the Akathist Hymn to St. Herman earlier this morning, as we commemorate his glorification/canonization on August 9. 

At the Liturgy yesterday morning I reminded everyone that this was the forty-fifth anniversary of his official glorification which occurred in Alaska on August 9, 1970.  This Service of Glorification was the first major action of the OCA's Holy Synod, which only four months earlier, on April 10, 1970 received its status as an autocephalous Church.  We have an almost inexhaustible collection of resources on our parish website - books, icons, even YouTube videos!  Please spend some time with St. Herman there.

We need to know our North American saints as well as possible.  No better place to begin than with the humble yet holy elder and wonderworker of Alaska - the Venerable Fr. Herman!  As I said yesterday, Blessed Fr. Herman was a "nobody" (in the eyes of the world) who became a "somebody" (his name written in the Book of Life).  As Fr. Hopko of blessed memory expanded on this theme in his inimitable style:

By American standards, Saint Herman of Alaska, like the Lord Jesus Himself, was a miserable failure.  He made no name for himself.  He was not in the public eye. He  wielded no power.  He owned no property. He had few possessions, if any at all.  He had no worldly prestige.  He played no role in human affairs. He partook of no carnal pleasures.  He made no money.  He died in obscurity among outcast people. 
Yet today, more than a hundred years after his death, his icon is venerated in thousands of churches and his name is honored by millions of people whom he is still trying to teach and seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness which has been brought to the world by the King who was born in a cavern and killed on a cross.  (The Winter Pascha, p. 47-48)

There are so many current "somebodies" today who are making a name for themselves by various methods:  endlessly talking and twittering in an effort toward self-promotion.  To say something provocative, controversial or politically incorrect is to almost insure coverage on the national news or on talk radio and other sources of social media. It is getting difficult (because it is all so tedious?) to keep up with it all.  Who said what about whom, etc.?  Who has managed to be the most offensive? These statements and the ensuing debates often inflame and provoke passionate responses - if not our actual "passions."  

This is true of politicans, entertainers, professional athletes and other figures in the public eye.  There are even faces that seem ubiquitous and who are "famous for being famous" and not much else.  Their fame may last more than the now-proverbial fifteen minutes, but one has to wonder about any long-lasting fame or, more importantly, about the over-all quality of what they are promoting.  How long before today's "somebodies" are tomorrow's "nobodies?" In all of this "noise" just what are we being taught to seek?  Certainly not the kingdom of God as taught by St. Herman!

I am not counseling passive withdrawal from some of the current issues that we need to respond to thoughtfully and carefully.  We live at a certain point in history and as "historical beings" we cannot but enter into the current debates that will shape our culture and society for the future. In fact, withdrawal from the debates swirling around the burning moral and ethical issues of the day can even be irresponsible. 

But when someone like St. Herman enters into the conversation, because we encounter him within the life of the Church - our true "home" - then we begin to understand  the overwhelming importance of the eternal questions that will shape our destiny, as our response to those questions will shape our apprehension of the world.  Then "fame" recedes in importance before the goal of truth and holiness.  

Then we understand that the scandal and madness of the Cross far exceeds the "wisdom" of the world.  For we follow the One "who was born in a cavern and killed on a cross."

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