Monday, December 14, 2015

St Herman of Alaska: 'Crucial to the celebration of Christmas, especially in America'

Dear Parish Faithful,

Yesterday, December 13, we celebrated and commemorated Blessed Fr. Herman of Alaska.  He arrived in Alaska in 1794, and remained there until his repose in the Lord on December 13, 1837.  He was officially glorified by the Church on August 9, 1970. 

While working primarily with the Aleut Indians, he remained a simple monk (he was never ordained) and was a teacher, pastor and spiritual guide for them.  His most famous words are often found on his icons written on a scroll that he is shown holding in his hands:  "From this day forward, from this hour, from this moment, let us love God above all else." Very simple, but also challenging and elusive.  To love God "above all else"  may be our desire but so many things get in the way of it!

The Scriptural readings appointed to be read on the day of commemorating St. Herman, reveal to us how the saints - men, women and children - appeared to accomplish the "impossible," for these words of the Apostle Paul and Christ Himself, are believed to have been embodied in the lives of the saints:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  (GAL. 5:22-6:2)
... And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:  "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.   (LK. 6:20-23)

Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Winter Pascha, wrote the following about Blessed Fr. Herman:

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 to 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 example of this man is crucial to the celebration of Christmas - especially in America.

What Fr. Thomas wrote was certainly true of Blessed Fr. Herman, and by way of extension these words accurately describe the perception that many of "this world" will have toward the saints of God - "losers" with very little to show for themselves. Yet, how the Gospel overturns the ways of the world!  And still it is the world that has such a strong pull on our desires and goals.  Truly, the ways of the human heart are mysterious.

The saints give us insight to this "other way" of the Gospel, offering us inspiration and flesh and blood examples of an evangelical life as we continue the North American legacy of Blessed Fr. Herman into the 21st century.

Our parish website has a wealth of material about St. Herman of Alaska.  Here is the link to all of those wonderful resources for your convenience:

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