When the plans were made for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Canonization of Saint Herman the Wonderworker of Alaska, there were great hopes for a large and glorious celebration. A local committee was organized under the leadership of Matushka Marilyn Kreta appointed by His Eminence Archbishop David for the task. Plans were made for multiple groups of Pilgrims to visit during the summer months from every diocese in the OCA. The Pandemic changed all of that. By the time the official Pilgrimage was approaching, any visitor from outside Alaska would need to quarantine for fourteen days or have a COVID-19 test result before they traveled to Kodiak.
Social distancing guidelines and masks were the order of the day, limiting even the number of people who could stand inside Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak for the services. Logistics became a challenge for Father Innocent Dresdow, Dean of the Cathedral in Kodiak who organized the services and travel to Spruce Island. To top it off, the weather report for the weekend was rain, winds and high waves on the seas. It was beginning to look like a trip to Saint Herman’s grave site on Spruce Island was going to be questionable as well.
The Pilgrimage always falls on August 7 to 9 each year, beginning with an Akathist to Saint Herman and Bishop’s Tea the evening of the seventh. On the eight or ninth, depending on the day of the week and the weather, a trip is planned to Spruce Island by boat and a hike of the trail from Monk’s Lagoon to the Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam Chapel built over the grave site of Saint Herman. Since Saint Herman’s Feast Day fell on a Sunday this year, it was planned to travel to Spruce Island on Saturday, August 8, weather permitting.
Due to the pandemic, there was no Bishop’s Tea after the Akathist this year. In fact, there could be no banquet either due to the virus issues. On Saturday, the women of the Cathedral prepared bag lunches for the Pilgrims to enjoy following the Divine Liturgy on Spruce Island.
To the delight of everyone there, the weather changed completely on the seventh and it was sunny and calm on the eighth, perfect weather for a voyage to visit Saint Herman’s home on Spruce Island. Thanks to the charity of several of the boat skippers in Kodiak, transportation to the island was no issue with everyone being able to make the trip with relative ease. In addition to the Pilgrims from Kodiak, we were joined at Spruce Island by faithful from Ouzinkie and Port Lions. In all nearly eighty Pilgrims were present for the Divine Liturgy on Spruce Island.
Serving at the Divine Services were a small, but joyous group of Clergy, all from the Diocese of Alaska. Headed by Archbishop David and assisted by the Chancellor and Cathedral Dean Archpriest Innocent Dresdow; former Seminary Dean, Archpriest John Dunlop; former Chancellor Archpriest Thomas Andrew – now retired; a newly assigned priest to Assumption of the Holy Virgin Parish in Kenai, Archpriest Peter Tobias; Priest Andrew Wassillie of Saint Herman Church in Fairbanks; Priest Stephen Wood of the Kodiak Deanery; Deacons Irenaious Anderson and Innocent Philo of the Cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Deacon Peter Kamilos and his Administrative Assistant Thomas Rivas. Choir duties were shared by Mary Erica Johnson and Seraphima Anaya. Originally, Matushka Marilyn Kreta was going to assume the duties of directing but the virus prevented her from being involved. While the vast majority of the Pilgrims were local people, there was one couple of note from Holy Cross Theological School in Massachusetts who were there on their honeymoon.
On Saturday evening, after a safe return from Spruce Island, Vigil for the Feast of Saint Herman was held in the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak. The relics of Saint Herman were moved from the reliquary to the center of the church for the weekend and were opened for veneration during the vigil. A large tent was erected outside with a speaker positioned for those who could not enter the Cathedral due to social distancing to hear the services. Everyone was able to enter and venerate the relics and receive an anointing with oil from Saint Herman’s lamp.
Following the Liturgy on Sunday, His Eminence, Archbishop David presented a Synodal Gramota to Father Innocent Dresdow and the parishioners of Holy Resurrection Cathedral for their continued care for Saint Herman’s relics and annual preparation for the Pilgrimage. A final prayer was said for all the Pilgrims for a safe journey to their home.
In his remarks at the Liturgy on Saturday on Spruce Island, His Eminence reminded everyone of the importance of remembering that most things related to the Pilgrimage are outside of our control such as the weather, and this year the Pandemic. But perhaps that is how Saint Herman wanted it. Here is how he said it:
In closing there is one other thought which came to me as I prepared these lines. When Saint Herman died, he could not have the burial that everyone else wanted to give him. I am sure they had made grandiose plans to carry out when the time came. Instead, there were met with tempest tossed waves that prevented them from even getting to his humble location for forty days. Today, in the midst of this pandemic that has stymied a great deal of travelers from even trying to come to Alaska, let alone Spruce Island, I wonder if the wishes of the good saint are not being fulfilled in this somehow. We had made great plans for this day. All the members of our Holy Synod were coming to Alaska. There were going to be Pilgrims from every diocese in the OCA arriving in Kodiak at different times all summer so everyone who wanted to could have their own time with the saint. But none of that happened nor could it happen. Factors outside of our control changed it all, just as it did when he finished his earthly life. In some small way, perhaps Saint Herman is pleased with our Pilgrimage as it is, much more than had it been in any other way.
Holy Father Herman, pray unto God for us. Amen.