Commemoration of the memory of the Venerable Father Herman of Alaska.
In 1741, Vitus Jonassen Bering, the captain of the Russian Navy, of Danish origin (known in Russian as Ivan Ivanovich Bering), claimed Kodiak Island for the Russian crown.
It took more than fifty years for the Russian imperial authorities to send an Ecclesiastical Mission from Saint Petersburg to Alaska. St. Herman was a member of this mission, organized by Metropolitan Gavriil (Petrov), a hierarch who published the Dobrotoliubie (a collection of the writings of Byzantine monastic fathers, equivalent to the Greek Philokalia).
Alaska was a remote corner of the Russian Empire. The boundaries of the Russian territories there did not correspond to today’s northern border, but were limited to Sitka (Novo-Arkhangelsk) and the Aleutian Islands. These areas were mostly lucrative as sources of “soft currency”: precious furs. There was competition between the British Hudson Bay Company (in Canada), Americans (all over the area), and Russians in Alaska and Northern California.
In such circumstances, the indigenous population was brutally exploited by all the three powers. St. Herman sided with the locals, defending them from abuses by his own kinsmen. Somehow, the Oscar-winning movie The Mission, about a rebellious Jesuit mission in Paraguay, comes to mind when I read about St. Herman.
Saint Herman was born in the 1750s. We do not know much about the saint’s background except that he entered monastic life in the famous Sarov Hermitage (he was a contemporary of St. Seraphim). He refused ordination to the priesthood but became a teacher of the Christian life to the indigenous people.
St. Herman represented the best traditions of the Russian missionaries, who would come to die with the people to whom they ministered. St. Herman died on Spruce Island, not far away from Kodiak. Toward the end of his life, he was, probably, totally blind. Somehow it took a few weeks for the clergy at the church that he established in Kodiak to celebrate his funeral.
E.Iu.Koval’skaia, “German,” Pravoslavnaia entsiklopedia.