Alaska

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon presided at the 47th annual Saint Herman Pilgrimage here August 7-9, 2017.  Also present for the liturgical services and festivities was His Grace, Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa.

The pilgrimage opened on Monday evening, August 7, with the celebration of the Akathistos Hymn in honor of Saint Herman at Kodiak’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral, in which his relics are enshrined.

The following morning—Tuesday, August 8, the Feast of Saint Jacob Netsvetov—the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the cathedral.  Bishop Daniel delivered the homily.  Later that day, the Vigil for the Feast of Saint Herman was celebrated, and the many pilgrims who attended were blessed with the opportunity to venerate his relics.  At the banquet that followed, pilgrims shared moving accounts and stories of their pilgrimage experiences.  This year, there were numerous international pilgrims, including two priests from Sergiev Posad and Sofrino, Russia as well as faithful from Australia.  In addition to many clergy and laity from the Orthodox Church in America, specifically from the Diocese of Alaska, numerous clergy and faithful from the Antiochian and Serbian Churches, as well as the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, participated.

Alaska

Pilgrims awoke on the Feast of Saint Herman—Wednesday, August 9—to inclement weather, which precluded travel to Spruce Island, the site of Saint Sergius and Herman of Valaam Chapel and the original grave of Saint Herman.  Traditionally, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy is celebrated on Spruce Island; given the circumstances, it also was celebrated at Kodiak’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral.  Metropolitan Tikhon delivered the homily, the text of which appears below.

A photo gallery of the pilgrimage is available on the OCA web site and Facebook page.

Metropolitan Tikhon’s Homily for
the Feast of the Glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska
47th Annual Pilgrimage, Kodiak, AK
August 9, 2017

Alaska

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We have gathered in this beautiful and historic cathedral to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the 47th anniversary of the glorification of Saint Herman and of the granting of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America. This year, in particular, marks the 150th anniversary year of the sale of Alaska by Russia to the United States.

Our countries were very different places 47 and 150 years ago. When Alaska was sold to the US in 1867, Russia was under the tsars, the Russian serfs had only recently been emancipated (in 1861), the US had just finished a bloody civil war and American slaves too had just been emancipated. And when Saint Herman was glorified in 1970, it was still the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was in full force and the Church was under persecution.

The external conditions of our world have radically changed, and yet we are here to honor a saint who represents unchanging holiness. Saint Herman’s path to holiness is in a direct line from the Gospels, through the desert fathers, to Mount Athos, to Valaam, to Kodiak. He represents an unbroken tradition that we have not only inherited, but are also called to follow.

Saint Herman’s abbot was Saint Nazarius of Valaam Monastery, who blessed him and the other monks on their missionary journey to Alaska.  Nazarius went later to the Monastery of Sarov, where the future Saint Seraphim was also living.  They were all drinking spiritually from the same fountain, which are the scriptures and the teachings on prayer and the spiritual life handed down from the fathers—but above all, the scriptures.  In a letter written in 1820, Saint Herman, a simple monk, said, “Without exalting myself to the rank of teacher, nonetheless, fulfilling my duty and obligation as an obedient servant for the benefit of my neighbor, I will speak my mind, founded on the commandments of Holy Scripture, to those who thirst and seek their heavenly homeland.”

Saint Seraphim of Sarov, at around the same time, talked about the scriptures at the heart of Christian life. “One must practice reading the New Testament and the Psalms. By so doing the mind is enlightened and undergoes a divine change. One should train himself in this that the mind swims… in the Law of the Lord, the law which must guide and direct our lives.”

Today’s readings from Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians and Saint Luke’s Gospel give us the straight path of this way to Christ followed by Saint Herman and Saint Seraphim. It is a narrow path, like the path that leads from the beach on Spruce Island to the chapel over the ground where Saint Herman’s earthly remains were buried.

The first aim is to always have Christ before our eyes.  If we do this, then the Holy Spirit will come to dwell in us, like the seed of a fruit tree. And what is the fruit that this seed produces? Listen to Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “[The] fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Our inner life is a deep mystery, like the inner changes of a seed buried in the ground. But the fruit it produces is above ground and can be seen by all. Where there is this fruit that is evidence of a seed of the Holy Spirit dwelling within that has sprouted and grown.

But the growth is not automatic. The inner seed of the Holy Spirit must be nurtured, the ground tilled, the weeds removed, the plant protected. And this is the work of the ascetic life. The word “ascetic” is associated with monks and nuns, but it all it means in Greek is “training.”  All Christians in all walks of life, married or unmarried, are called to go into inner training, inner askesis.  This is what St Paul means when he says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  He goes on to say that this training comes in very practical ways through our relations with other people. To live in training, to live in the ascetic life, we are to have “no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” No conceit, no provoking, no envy. This is not easy to do, and we are trained and tested in this every single day.

And we fail every day.

Which brings Saint Paul to the next part of the training. “Brethren,” he says, “if someone 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 fulfil the law of Christ.”  When we live in a close community, it is easy to notice the failings of others in their Christian life. We should not be too hard on them, but be mindful of Saint Paul’s advice: we should remember that we are human too and easily fail. These are opportunities for us to be forbearing and forgiving and gentle, above all by looking to Christ, Who loved us, forgave us, and gave Himself up for us even while we were sinners. This is how we should also “bear one another’s burdens.”

We would all like to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  But perhaps we think it’s too much work, or that we have too many spiritual illnesses in the way.  Or that the people around us make it impossible. Listen to the Gospel: people came to Jesus to hear him and be healed of their diseases.  “And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all the crowd sought to touch Him, for power came forth from Him and healed them all.”

The healing Gospel of Christ is for you, for me, for all who wish to live a different way—a way that is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  The power of Christ can make this possible even when we think it’s impossible. Do you feel poor? The gospel is for you.  Do you feel hungry? The Gospel is for you.  Are you weeping inside? The Gospel is for you.

Jesus promised his Kingdom of love, joy and peace to all who follow Him. It isn’t easy to follow Christ, and not just because there is training to do.  It’s a paradox of this world that our efforts to follow Christ, to do good and to love others are regularly met with envy, slander, anger and hostility. Saint Herman himself faced this repeatedly here in Kodiak, especially from his own fellow Russians and from Church people.  In a letter written in 1818 he said, “In all my life here, from my own Russians I have seen more scorn and reproach and mockery, to which I have already become accustomed, and from such custom I think that in actual fact my lowliness is such.” Saint Seraphim faced similar trials from his own people.

But we should be of good courage. Our Lord Jesus Christ ends today’s Gospel with the encouragement that strengthened Saint Herman and all the saints.  “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.”

Brothers and sisters, imitating Saint Herman, let us recommit ourselves to the Gospel way of Christ, and “from this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and fulfill His holy will.”

Christ is in our midst!