Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Encomium to St. Basil the Great by St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Basil the Great (source)
An Encomium to St. Basil the Great by St. Gregory of Nyssa (his brother according to the flesh, and the spirit)
[M.788 & J.109] In a wonder manner God has established an order [taxis] and sequence [akolouthia] by the feasts we commemorate each year. For example, today we have already celebrated a feast and will mark this same observance at a later time. Our order of spiritual feasts which the great Paul has taught consists in having a knowledge of heavenly reality [cf. 1Cor 12.28, Eph 4.11]. He says that at the beginning the Apostles enjoyed an order which formed [M.789] prophets together with shepherds and teachers. The order of yearly celebrations concurs with this apostolic sequence. However, the first [order] does not concur with the others because the Only-Begotten Son's theophany through his birth from a virgin is instituted in the world not simply as a holy feast but as the holy of holies and feast of feasts. Therefore let us number those who follow this order which for us begins with the assembly of apostles and prophets. Indeed people like Stephen, Peter, James, John and Paul possess the apostolic and prophetic spirit after whom comes the pastor and teacher [didaskalos, Basil] who belongs to their order [J.110] which marks our present celebration. What, then, is this festival? Shall I speak of the name or the grace which suffices to reveal the man instead of the name? You know that there is a teacher and shepherd among the Apostles and comprehend the meaning of such titles. I am speaking about Basil, the vessel of election [cf. Acts 9.15], noted for his honorable life and preaching; from birth he was pleasing to God, possessed a venerable demeanor from youth, was instructed like Moses in all wisdom [cf. Acts 7.20 & 22], was nourished in sacred letters from his adolescence to manhood and continued to flourish and blossom. He instructed everyone in both divine and secular wisdom. As a brave, experienced man armed against adversaries with every kind of training, he defeated them through both disciplines, was victorious in each, confronted those who resisted the truth and who put forth writings of a heretical nature from Scripture, that is, a blending of Greek teaching with their own. Victory against such adversaries did not bring about their downfall but the resurrection; those vanquished by the truth are victorious and crowned against falsehood.
We are enjoying this present celebration which honors a genuine interpreter of the Spirit, a brave soldier of Christ [cf. 2Tim 2.3]. He who enjoys only second place with the Apostles loudly proclaims salvation and his forthright manner of speech contests on Christ's behalf. If Basil lived at the same time as Paul he would enjoy the same eminence as Sylvanus and Timothy. Furthermore, the following observation would not be far from the truth as we [J.111] understand it: the blessing of the saints is present in time. Time admits no distinction whether it is past or future when it is a question of virtue and evil; neither is it the same nor different because the good consists [M.792] in choice, not in time. But let us seek what belong to matters of faith and as well as reason. When the just man compares those wonders set before him, he will find one gift in both which belongs to the same spirit according to the analogy of faith [cf. Rom 12.6]. If we honor Paul who lived in the past and and Basil who lived many generations later, you can say that God's providence on our behalf is responsible and that both are not inferior in the order of virtue. For example, we have Moses, and much later Abraham; Samuel followed Moses and then Elias; next we have John [cf. Mt 11.11], Paul and finally Basil. Just as in former times there is no room for second place when it is a question of the saints who gave glory to God, so now let us be silent when it is question of virtue and a privileged place in time.
Our words bear testimony that God shows his providence on our behalf. As the prophet says, he [God] knew all things before they came into existence [Dan 13.43] and took into consideration the devil's wickedness which took root in the human race. [God] offered a remedy for illness in each and every age so that mens' sickness might not go unhealed and that this remedy might not be absent by which he wishes to support the human race. For example, when Chaldean philosophy prevailed, persons who determined the cause of beings by the stars' movement did not take into consideration the creative power of beings which transcended them [J.112]. Then Abraham, by using discipline as though it were a ladder, inquired into that which lies behind visible reality. By faith he contemplated the true God, directed his attention by forsaking his false native country [cf. Gen 12.1] and the relationship of sensible things to visible creation. I believe that we should consider the spirit and knowledge of Egyptians wizardry which cleverly deceived souls; Moses was certainly familiar with it yet his superior wisdom was able to destroy the Egyptians' false wisdom. Indeed Moses knew their cunning to which Scripture testifies because his power surpassed their treacherous witchcraft, and he destroyed the Egyptian cavalry by divine signs which came from above. You are acquainted with this through other examples and by the symbol of the rod [cf. Ex 7.9-12,15,17,19]. With the advance of time the Israelites were leaderless and committed a grievous error by uniting themselves with the local population. When Samuel was alive, he remained obedient and warded off any transaction with alien tribes. In the confused situation of that time the people opted for a king and he assembled the tribes with the intention of electing one.
[M.793] After many years Ahab and his wife [Jezebel] who had been taken captive, abolished the patriarchal decrees [cf. 1Kg 16.29+]; he was under his wife's control, fond of luxury, captive to her fraudulent practice of idolatry and caused the Israelites to apostatize. At this time God manifested Elijah who offered an antidote for their great illness. He neglected [J.113] to care for his body, kept his face unwashed and had a full head of unkempt hair which was in accord with his lifestyle. His countenance was venerable yet gloomy; he had thick eyelids and a cloak made of goatskin which was more becoming in that it offered bodily protection and provided shelter from heat and cold. When famine afflicted the people, [Elijah] used the opportunity to chastise Israel by striking their insolence, as it were, with a staff after which he cured the disease of idolatry by divine fire at the sacrifice.
Considerably later there appeared "in the spirit and power of Elijah" [Lk 1.17] through Zachary and Elizabeth one [John the Baptist] dwelling alone who summed all people in the desert through his proclamation. At that time the entire population was subject to judgment because they had shed the prophets' blood, a despicable act replete with every kind of defilement. [John] abolished this by preaching repentance and showered them with water of the Jordan by which he showed the way and confirmed divine power in them by an abundance of virtue.
At a later time what hindered Paul from attaining the highest degree of advancement [prokope] with regard to God [cf. Acts 9.18]? Did he not immediately become a lover of divine beauty once the scales fell off his eyes, a symbol of an enshrouded heart which cloaked and blinded the Jews' souls, and prepared the truth for them? Was it not a mystical cleansing which washed away his ignorance and filth of deception, having at once transformed him to a more divine state? [Paul] then put off this [J.114] crass, fleshly covering and was received into the heavenly chambers. Not being hindered by the body's weight and planted within that celestial paradise where he underwent an unutterable initiation by truth, [Paul] received the ability to speak about "the obedience of faith among the nations" [Rom 1.5]. In a short time he became a father of the entire world through spiritual afflictions, having been formed according to Christ into piety [cf. 1Cor 4.15]. If the progress of other holy persons in the spiritual sphere transcends time, then grace is clearly at work here. Perhaps we should now pay attention to a man of our own race, a great vessel of election, Basil, who is numbered among the saints. The passage of time has nothing to do with that sublime desire for God nor does it hinder the perfection of divine grace; time does not sabotage the goal of God's dispensation but contributes to an understanding of the mystery. Indeed no one is unfamiliar with the protection our teacher shows us at this time.
The preaching of Christ quenches mankind's vain idolatry and the proclamation of true religion enters the entire world which had already fallen into ruin so that Christ's name banishes from the world human deception which has held sway everywhere. The cunning inventor of evil [J.115] does not lack wicked intent by subjecting humanity to himself through his craftiness. Under the pretense of Christianity his own duplicity imperceptibly re-introduces through persuasive words accomplices who look to him that they might not reject creation; rather, they worship and honor it and consider God a created thing who assumed the name of a son. But if creation sprang from things which did not exist and the divine essence is alien to it, no one can correct this mistaken opinion except the name of Christ which creation adores [cf. Heb 11.3], serves, has salvation through hope and awaits judgment.
All human apostasy allows for evil, and people certainly have it in abundance. By this I mean Arius, Aetius and Eudoxius who induced many others to engage in idolatrous worship. As it is said, they are set against Christianity and afflict men with ailments who worship creation instead of the Creator [cf. Rom 1.25]. By the help of rulers their fraud is confirmed and every respectable leader is won over by such a disease. When people had fallen under the sway of such changes, a short time later God reveals the great Basil in the same way as Elijah with regard to Ahab; the priesthood had already collapsed but was taken up again as a light which illumined the faith through indwelling grace. Just as a torch shines at night for those wandering lost on the sea, so does the entire Church turn [J.116] to the right way and becomes united with her leaders, struggles with military commanders, speaks boldly [M.797] before rulers, cries out to the churches which are far off in imitation of Paul who is present by his letters and who flees conflict when he is not equal to the strength of his adversaries. He publically declared his hope for the kingdom which was far superior than what was proclaimed and obtained through his banishment one fatherland for his people while considering the entire earth as a form of banishment. Should he who died daily and always expended himself freely through death then fear death as destruction wrought by enemies? He whose misfortune cannot always imitate the martyrs' struggles on behalf of the truth has been united to one and the same death. His heart [literally, "liver"] began to erupt from his intestines when overcome with fright at some threat and scoffed it by saying "I give thanks to you whose will I am doing." For not without good reason is the heart located in the intestines; when you cast it out in a threatening situation, you are liberated from the contemptible body.
Is there anything which detracts from such a repute with regard to divine matters when compared with the other saints? Is the celebration inferior in comparison with the rest of the saints' festivals? Compare, if you will, one life with those who are holy. Paul loved God. Love is certainly the highest good from which is derived faith, hope, patient expectation, stability in every type of splendor and abundance in every spiritual gift [cf. Rom 8.25]. But let us examine Paul's measure with regard to love of God. Indeed you [J.117] ask whether it involves one's entire heart, soul and mind; it is a law equal only to God's unbounded love [cf. Dt 6.5; Mt 22.37-8]. Therefore he who fixes one's entire heart, soul and mind upon God and seeks nothing with regard to this life focuses his attention upon the unlimited bound of love. If anyone points out that the teacher concerns himself with anything of this world, that is, wealth, power, desire for empty glory (it is inappropriate to attribute such servile tendencies of pleasure to him), and should anyone discover such inclinations, they pose a clear threaten to love for God because the measure of desire has now been reduced from God to material things. But the enemy makes war against these and similar qualities; he banishes all feeling with regard to them and anything a person may hold as primary in one's life; [Basil] then [M.800] purifies the life we all hold in common by his teaching and personal example.
Clearly the best advantage for [human] nature is to have the measure of love for God in oneself. How can a person who loves God with his whole heart, soul and mind achieve a greater love? He simply cannot do it. If we have taught that love has one goal, namely, to love God with one's whole heart, Paul and Basil had loved God with their whole hearts, and one measure of love common to both would certainly not be a departure from the truth [cf. 1Cor 13.1-13]. But the Apostle says that love is greater than all good things, a fact which concurs with the admirable words of the Gospel; [J.118] he also says [love] is superior to prophecy and knowledge, firmer than faith, more durable than hope and always constant without which all our striving towards the good would be meaningless. The Lord says that every law and prophecy concerning the divine mystery hangs upon love and that it enjoys primacy among every benefit [cf. Mt 22.35-40]. If the great Paul is not inferior with regard to the excellence and preeminence of what has been established, then love directs and gives birth to everything else and by no means should be considered as inferior. Just as human nature shares in everything proper to its nature, so perfect love in oneself comprehends and sees everything; it has the shape of good qualities conformed to this prototype. Whether faith saves or whether we are saved through faith or await grace through patience, "love believes all things and hopes all things" as the Apostle says [1Cor 13.7]. We lack the time to examine every detail, but the fruit of love which is also the root is love itself which hastens to virtue, and nothing is lacking when in when we possess it.
The great Basil possessed this and lacked no good; if he has everything, indeed he is inferior to nothing. But another [Paul] speaks of when he was in the third heaven, was snatched away into paradise and heard unutterable things which no man could speak [cf. 2Cor 12.2-4]. Clearly flesh could not [J.119] receive such a favor, and [Paul] does not conceal his doubt: "I do not know whether I was in the body or outside the body; God knows." Should anyone dare to speak of this because he knows nothing according to the body, the invisible does not admit any such statement by reason of a contemplation which is incorporeal and [M.801] intellectual. [Paul's] writings were a testimony to these occurances. He had travelled from Jerusalem to Illyricum while preaching the Gospel in their midst [Rom 15.19] because it is necessary that Paul's message for which he was so zealous to be proclaimed throughout the entire world. We can omit further details about his life, that is, when he was crucified to the world and was powerful in weakness [cf. Gal 6.14]. Christ was the life of both men and death was their gain; to be dissolved in the Lord was more honorable than a fraudulent type of life [cf. 2Cor 12.9].
Can we compare John to the master [Basil]? He was first among those born of women and was endowed with something more excellent than prophecy, a fact which would be considered insane and impious should we compare his life with another person [Mt 11.9 & 11]. But [J.120] consideration of one man with another demonstrates a form of supreme blessedness. In this light, let us then continue with our remarks. John was not clothed in soft garments nor was the reed shaken by the wind; he prefers the desert to inhabited places and prefers to frequent such regions [cf. Mt 11.7-8]. If truth bears witness to our teacher, should we not consider him inferior to the great John when taking this observation into consideration? Who is unfamiliar of how he railed against every type of delicate, soft manner of life? In all things he pursued more difficult, strenuous work instead of pleasures: the sun's heat, cold, corporeal discipline by fasts and self-control, dwelling in cities as in a desert (nothing of life's circumstances has caused him harm) and making cities out of deserts. He did not allow his circumspect, stable mode of life to be disturbed nor on those occasions when he withdrew into solitude, was he stripped of what is considered necessary so that just as with Baptist's life, the desert became a city and attracted many people. He was not a reed easily inclined to contrary opinions but his life demonstrated that opinions did not move him. Right from the beginning he delighted in poverty, and his judgement became an unshakable rock. He desired to draw near to God through purity; his desire was a mountain, not a reed never bent to the hostile winds of temptations.
The Apostle alone was constant in [J.121] the love of God through his own words because neither life, death, anything present or to come, let alone anything created, could separate his heart from love of God [cf. Rom 8.38-9]. He evaluated himself in many ways according to virtue and in no way was his mind like an unstable reed; rather, it always remained immovable in what was beautiful. John freely spoke [M.804] to Herod, and [Basil] to Valens. Let us now compare each man's dignity. [John] lived in Palestine which was under Roman rule whose domain extended from the beginning of the sun's course in Persia to Britain and reached the furthest expanse of Oceanus(26). [John's] courage before Herod was not directed at his transgression against a certain woman but he chastised his desire as unlawful [Mt 14.4]. On the other hand, what was essence of the teacher's boldness with regard to Valens? If the faith is safe and not polluted, the transgression shows that the entire earth is guilty. Therefore by close examination let the just man rebut the authority of deeds by his own authority and the object of boldness with his own boldness. In this light the abomination girding Herod's body is a transgression of faith which offends human nature in its entirety. He persevered in boldness unto death and was banished because of it when the emperor imposed the punishment of a death sentence. However, John was believed to live after death, and Basil's enemies [J.122] allowed him to return from exile once the threat levelled against him was retracted.
Do we dare to proceed further by speaking of the exalted Elijah and to show that our teacher resembles him? But [Elijah] was whisked away in a fiery chariot, conduced by fiery horses and transported to the transcendent realm above [cf. 2Kg 2.11]. Let no one demand that human nature (it cannot remain unharmed in the midst of fire; divine power transports it above to that weightless realm from what is both heavy and earthly) can shut out by its own words heavenly support and close it again by its authority when it appears the right thing to do. For a considerable period of time he went without food except rye baked in ashes and conserved his strength for forty days [cf. 1Kg 19.6-8]. Let us move on from this example because it transcends human strength and human nature finds it difficult to imitate. Let us be silent about that small jar of flour and jug of oil, surmising only that it is crucial for sustenance; it supplied food throughout the famine which continued for three years and six months [cf. 1Kg 12-16, 18.1]. Power from above performs wonders according to its own way, and no one should attribute such wonders to human nature.
[M.805] What do the prophet's miracles and those of our teacher have in common? Both were zealous for the faith, abhorred [J.123] those who act contemptuously, loved God, desired Him who truly exists--not material things--and scrutinized everything. [Basil] also had a countenance which revealed his soul's intensity, possessed a simple dignity, had a silence more efficacious than words, esteemed everyone whether impressive in dignity or humble and manifested indifference to everyone. By such qualities the teacher imitated Elijah's miracles. Should anyone offer the example of a forty days fast, we can say that our teacher fasted throughout his entire life. His abstinence from food which lasted for a short time resembles [Basil's] which extended his entire life. On the other hand, that rye baked in ashes fortified the prophet for awhile whereas [Basil's] constitution could subsist on food which he had consumed beforehand. This is a sign because no person related to him can prepare food; rather, he is nourished by angels who bestowed satiety to the body by the food they provided. Thus when no innovation intervenes reason manages the measure of food and allows it to nourish the body; it does not follow the whim's of nature but the law of temperance.
The teacher's priesthood imitates in a mysterious fashion the prophet's in a three-fold [J.124] manner by faith when the heavenly fire illumines the sacrifices: Scripture has taught us in many places that fire is the Holy Spirit's power. The teacher neither relieved the earth from famine nor caused it. The great prophet called down a plague of drought upon the earth, and the cure of this wound was equal to the plague's grief by having banished it by a cure [cf. 1Kg 17.1, 18.1]. Should it be necessary to present any miracle of Elijah, then consider that the divine will threatened to bring misfortune, the drought lasted throughout the winter and fruit failed to blossom. The master supplicated God while the fear of threat remained and besought God with prayers; he implored relief from drought in order to ease sorrow. Although the great Elijah brought comfort in famine for one widow, our own age has a similar example in the teacher. When the famine was severe in the city in which [Basil] happened to be present and the entire region was afflicted, he sold his possessions and [M.808] exchanged money for food which was scare. Having prepared a great amount of food and set a table, [Basil] took into consideration the people who came from everywhere during the time of famine; this included the young people of the city and the Jews who equally shared his generosity. Indeed the only requirement was to fill the divine commandment through the jar or through any other occasion. He did not inquire into the source of consolation for those in need [J.125] but attended to the situation at hand. Elijah's ascent by means of fire transcends anything we can say. However, he did not disdain the other earthly form which was taken on high when it was glorified by heaven's lofty citizenship which the Spirit opens up by the chariot of virtues. Everything which the teacher has done well concurs with our remarks.
Is it necessary to speak boldly about Samuel? Yet in all things we attribute primacy to the prophet when mentioning two traits which also pertain to our teacher. The divine favor was present at both their births [cf. 1Kg 1.11, 20], for just as the mother of each was essential in this regard, so were their respective fathers. When a deadly illness gripped [Basil] during childhood, his father saw in a vision during sleep the Lord who in the Gospel bestowed the child to his care by saying "Go, your son lives" [Jn 4.50]. Imitating such faith, he perceived the fruit by faith which enabled his son to receive salvation from the Lord's love. Not only do we attribute one miracle to Samuel but another when both men zealously pursued the priesthood; both offered sacrifices of reconciliation to God for their enemies who sought destruction and for the defeat of heresies which alien tribes had adopted.
We have the example of the great Moses for every person [J.126] fond of virtue, and not would be wrong to consider his example as a lawgiver which was directed to this end. Therefore no one should show any trace of jealousy with regard to our teacher whose life imitated the lawgiver's. What do we mean? An Egyptian princess adopted Moses and raised him; she did not refuse her breasts for nourishment until [M.809] he attained childhood [cf. Ex 2.5-11]. This truth also pertains to the teacher: having been nursed by pagan wisdom, he he always grasped the Church's breast which enabled his soul to grow by doctrine and to keep it secure. Like Moses, he did not adhere to his mother's false teaching with which he was raised, nor did he pay this much consideration due his ashamed by it. Having shaken off the glory of all pagan learning, [Basil] was like a king; he adopted a humble life in the same way Moses preferred the Hebrews to Egyptian treasures. Although human nature in each man acted according to its respective role (for the flesh of each lusted against the Spirit, cf. Gal 5.17), [Moses] was not expert at the rational combat of the Egyptian whom he killed; rather, by fighting for something better he put to death that which was evil for the Hebrew. The Hebrew reasoning power had been purified and is uncontaminated. By mortifying his members on earth [Basil] imitates in soul the valor of Moses' combat which was effective against the Egyptian. We must pass over much of the historical account and not faithfully explain every detail which [J.127] pertains to Moses; the same applies to the teacher. Moses left Egypt after the Egyptian's death and dwelt alone for a long time [cf. Ex 2.11-15]. He forsook the city's tumult and the clamor of material attractions and engaged in divine philosophy in solitude. [Moses] was illumined by the bush [cf. Ex 3.2-5]. We may draw a comparison with his vision: at night [Basil] was illumined while at prayer in his house; an immaterial light filled the house by divine power which had no material source. Moses saves the people from the tyrant; this people testifies on our teacher's behalf who lead them through his priesthood to God's promise.
What need is there to speak of each detail, for example, when [Moses] lead the people through water, carried the torch of a column of fire by his words to many, saved them by the cloud of the Spirit and nourished them with heavenly food? How did he open the water with wood, a figure of the cross, when he touched it with his mouth? How did he give water to drink, imitating by its abundance the abyss' torrents, the tent of witness and the space in front of it which he had designed? [Moses] presented a fine teaching to the poor by his body, the poor in spirit [cf. Mt 5.3], that they might obtain [J.128] blessed poverty which bestows the grace of the true kingdom. For each soul he made as dwelling [M.812] the true tent inhabited by God by preaching and prepared in himself certain pillars (I mean rational pillars which support virtue's labor) and lavers to wash the soul of defilements and to cleanse the filth in their eyes. How many lampstands did he place in each soul by his preaching which illumined the darkness? He arranged thuribles for prayer and altars from pure, genuine gold, that is, from a true, pure disposition whose splendor the heavy, vain lead has dimmed. Why should I speak of the mystical ark whose tablets of the covenant the divine finger has written on each soul? I believe that careful attention to these matters shows that [God] made each person's heart an ark bearing the spiritual mysteries and has the law written through deeds by the Spirit's work (for this is the meaning of God's finger). It contains the ark of the priesthood which always brings forth fruit through participation in sacrifices and the jar which never lacks manna. The vessel of the soul did not contain heavenly food when sin hindered the flow of manna (manna is the heavenly bread). What need is there to speak in detail of the priestly stole [J.129] by which he adorned other persons through his own example? He always bore on his breast the ornament on which was written a name, inscription, manifestation and truth.
All these examples allow for a more careful exploration which figuratively signify how the teacher [Basil] was adorned and shared this same adornment with others. We know that he often entered the darkness where God resided [cf. Ex 20.21]. To other persons the mystagogy of the Spirit was made visible which was unseen and appeared within the darkness' embrace which concealed the word concerning God. Often he opposed the Amelekites by the shield of prayer. The true Jesus [Joshua] defeated the enemy by extending his hands [cf. Ex 17.8-14]. He abolished Balaam's numerous divinizations [cf. Num 22-4] which were not in accord with the true word; rather, persuaded by the empty teaching of demons, they were ineffectual against evil once the teacher's prayer changed a curse into blessing. We hastily mention these examples by way of recapitulation. The person unfamiliar with the saint's life accommodated to the truth his individual deeds and the effects of the enchantments; the teacher's faith brought an end to the evil wrought by sorcery because they were ineffective against persons who did not subscribe to them. But leaving aside all the accomplishments which each man had done, allow me to recall both. Each departed life and did not leave behind [M.813] a memorial of his bodily existence. Neither was Moses' tomb found nor was he encompassed by material wealth; [J.130] rather, upon his death he left behind no evidence of wealth which is usually the custom such as a burial mound, a sign of prosperity. History bears witness to this with regard to Moses, and his grave cannot be found even in our day [cf. Dt 34.5-6].
If we apply these observations to the distinguished Basil so that his life might not be distant when compared with persons of greatness, the sequence of feasts wonderfully now makes his festival present. It would be fitting to recall the noteworthy comments made concerning each man and to see how the appropriate arrangement of the saint's feastday allows us to celebrate it. Who can attribute the most suitable type of praise and tribute to him? I mean his fatherland, race, parental training, the education which made him grow in every area and strengthened him, thereby making him notable and renowned. But the greatness of all his visible attributes is to be spurned because such achievement results in the opposite; his strength does not consist in words which laud his great achievement and dignity. In order not to reject the inability to sing his praises and not to diminish his glory by praise, it would be better to remain silent rather to increase [J.131] admiration than to diminish praise through speech. What words can bestow more honor upon him? Who now is not familiar with this great man's physical integrity? He resisted it as though he had taken someone captive and always kept it chained by thoughts, was not beaten down by evil passions, whipped into mastery and tortured that servile body like a relentless master who gives no rest to a prisoner. In light of this it would be absurd to glorify anything related to the flesh through a noble birth. How can it bestow honor when [his] manner of life brings shame upon it? In the same way memory of one's genealogy is spurned together with lineage. Every type of sensible element constricts the person who exalts himself above the entire world because it prevents his elevation above heaven; instead, his attention is focused upon the soul and transcending the sensible world; he always strives to possess divine virtues with his thoughts and to be familiar with them, allowing his mind to be unimpeded by anything corporeal.
When would he have the time to name a [M.816] part of the earth after himself and be affiliated with honor through a particular location's value? He would be arrogant and undeserving of true praise if consumed by water, plants and clods of earth instead of true virtue which alone is the object of admiration. Truly every asset is not a result of free choice; even if such an attribute is especially lovely it bestows [J.132] no honor in accord with its nature. Therefore let us be silent with regard to ancestry, descent and similar things which pertain to natural circumstances. Should anyone bring to mind his ancestry and noble descent, this persons does so by his own free consent. What is the nature of Basil's nobility and ancestry? His race, familiarity with God and virtue are his fatherland. As the Gospel says [cf. Jn 1.12], the person who has received God also has the power to become a child of God. What more noble birthright is there with regard to God? He who is in virtue and has accrued it indeed makes it his own ancestry in which he flourishes. Discretion was his home, wisdom his possession, righteousness and truth and purity his lamp, and an conspicuous beauty which adorns the house proclaims the inhabitant instead of those persons who take pride in homes adorned with marble and gold. Should anyone honor such an ancestry and celebrate this descent, he will transform into praise anything which had been bestowed upon him. Earth, blood, flesh, wealth, dynasty and those wishing to testify by such splendors belong [literally, "are friends"] to the earth.
Should there be no room to accommodate praise to our remarks, [Basil] would decline such matters of attention and reject our skill. How can we recall him--if anyone should ask--if we do not mention his praises? How is the law [J.133] fulfilled which, as Moses says, obliges us to praise the just man [cf. Prov 10.7] if true praises are inadequate and are insulting and quite unremarkable? However, he lacks no praise even if our is unfruitful. What, then, is our intent? Who does not realize that any mention of deeds yoked to vanity is completely useless? Since deeds spoken are manifest in substance and truth, praise of speech which is fulfilled through deeds would be more honorable. What do I mean? That recalling his life improves our [M.817] mode of living. For just as a carving instrument used by the hand manifests a certain beautiful form, a seal impressed upon wax transforms its innate beauty through sculpting; it alters the seal's character, having received the impression by its own form (no one could represent through speech the attractive beauty of carving which shows the beauty formed in wax). Similarly, if anyone praises the teacher's virtue by mere words while another adorns his life through imitation, the latter would be certainly much more effective.
Brethren, having imitated his discretion by appropriating it, let us praise virtue according to his worthiness and fulfill all his wonderful deeds by sharing his wisdom. By praising poverty we become poor with regard to material wealth. [J.134] No one should speak of contempt for this world simply because it is laudable and glorious; rather, let one's life testify to such contempt with regard to what the world values. Do not merely say that he is dedicated but dedicate yourselves to God, and not only that he possessed the hoped for rest but that you treasure up this wealth like him. It certainly lies within your power. [Basil] stored up his own wealth in the treasure house of heaven, so imitate the teacher in this way [cf. Lk 6.40]. The disciple will be perfect when he resembles the master. In other occupations one is a disciple to a physician, geometrician, and a person studying rhetoric will be not be worthy of his master's art unless he admires this skill by speech, for he has not yet shown himself worthy of such respect. Allow someone to say to him, "How can you say that a physician is a master when he has no knowledge of his skill? How you say one is a geometrician when he has no knowledge of his craft?" But if anyone demonstrates expertise in what he has learned, his own knowledge will honor his master's instruction. Thus we who magnify the teacher Basil should reveal his teaching by our lives because his name honored God and men in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasios the Great, and Ambrose of Milan (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, December 23, 2013

St. Paisios on experiencing the Nativity of Christ

The Nativity of Christ (source)
Elder Paisios on experiencing the Nativity of Christ

Christ, with His great love and His great rejoicing shines upon the souls of the faithful with all of His holy feasts, and truly resurrects us, having lifted us up high spiritually. We only must participate and have a spiritual appetite to celebrate spiritually. Then we will feast spiritually and get drunk spiritually from the wine of Paradise that the Saints bring to us to treat us.

For us to experience the feasts, we must have our mind on the holy days, and not of the chores that we have to do for the holy days. Let us know about the events of every holy day, and say the [Jesus] prayer, glorifying God. Thus we will celebrate each feast with great reverence.

We should study and live the divine events continuously. When someone studies the events of every feast, naturally he will be moved, and he will pray with a special piety. Then, during the services, the nous is on the events that we are celebrating, and with reverence we will follow the hymns which are being changed. When the nous is on the divine meanings, man experiences the events, and is thus changed.

-Elder, after the Vigil for Christmas, do we sleep?
It is Christmas, and we are sleeping?! My mother said: “Tonight, only the Jews are sleeping.” Do you see, the night that Christ was born, the rulers were sleeping deeply, and the shepherds were “keeping watch”. They were protecting their sheep at night, playing the flute. Do you understand? The shepherds who were keeping vigil saw Christ.

-Elder, how was the Cave [where Christ was born]?
It was a cave within a rock and it had a manger, and nothing else. It was a place that a poor man would go and leave his animals. Panagia with Joseph, because all of the rooms were filled and they had nowhere to stay, took refuge in this cave. There was the mule and and the calf, who were keeping Christ warm with their breath! Does not the Prophet Isaiah say: “the ox knows its master, and the donkey its owner’s manger” (Isaiah 1:3).

-In one of the hymns, Elder, it says that the Most-Holy Theotokos, beholding the newborn Christ, “rejoiced, but also wept”. She was pondering: “I nurse You, Who feeds all things, and I hymn You, as my Son and my God? How can I have familiarity with You?”
These are mysteries of God, the very great condescension of God, which we cannot comprehend!

-Elder, how can we experience the event of the Nativity, that, in other words, “Today, Christ is born of the Virgin”?
For us to experience these divine events, the nous must be on the divine meanings. Then, man is changed. “A great and paradoxical wonder is completed today”, we chant. If our nous is there, on the “paradoxical”, then we will experience the great mystery of the Nativity of Christ.

I pray that your hearts become the Holy Manger, and that the All-Holy Infant of Bethlehem will give you all of His blessings.
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Words Volume VI “Regarding Prayer” (pg. 195-196). Edition of the Holy Hesychasterion “St. John the Theologian”, Souroti, Thessaloniki. Amateur translation of text from: source.
The Nativity of Christ (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

St. John of Kronstadt on approaching the Nativity of Christ

The Nativity of Christ (source)

By St. John of Kronstadt.
We are approaching, beloved brethren, the world-saving feast of the birth in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. For several days before the feast, the holy Church will celebrate this wondrous mystery in the spiritual hymns of her daily services. These hymns remind us of our divine birthright, and the squandering of our sonship through sin; of its restoration through repentance of our common spiritual kinship and of the spirit of love and care for one another.
In order that we celebrate this feast of God's limitless love and His extreme condescension, not in a worldly but, in a spiritual manner, let us briefly consider the following: Why did God become man while remaining God? And what does God's incarnation require of us?
Having set forth these two questions, I shall answer the first one with the words of the Archangel to Joseph, the betrothed of the Holy Virgin: God became man to save His people from their sin. (Mt 1:21). For this reason He is called Jesus, which means Saviour. And so, it was for our salvation that the Lord came to earth and became man, for the regeneration in us of the image of God which had fallen. The Son of God became the Son of  Man in order to make us sons of God who were the children of wrath and eternal damnation. In the words of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian: that we should be called the sons of God (I Jn 3:1); Now God became man, that He may make Adam a god. (Stichera for lauds of Annunciation).
O the unutterable love of God! O the unspeakable compassion of the Lord! And He, the Most Holy, did this: He deified mankind in His chosen ones, cleansed them from all evil both of soul and body, sanctified, glorified, led them from corruption to everlasting life, made them worthy to stand in blessedness before the terrible throne of His glory. And He deified us also, brothers and sisters;

 He gave us a new birth through water and the Holy Spirit, sanctified us, made us His sons, gave us the promise of eternal life and eternal blessings, surpassing all telling and imagining. And in confirmation, as a surety of the future blessings, He gave to us, still here on earth, the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts: God hath sentforth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Gal 4:6) writes the Apostle.
And so, my brothers, the feast of the Nativity of Christ reminds us that we are born of God, that we are sons of God, that we have been saved from sin and that we must live for God and not sin; not for flesh and blood, not for the luhole world which lies in evil and wickedness (I Jn 5:19), not for earthly corruption. We must live for an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Pet 1:4), and for which the Lord Himself will give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. (Isa 7:14).
You who are preparing yourselves to meet the feast of Christ's Nativity, ask yourselves: Have you preserved that spiritual birth from God which we each received in baptism? Are you always heedful of your Divine sonship and the sacred treasure of the Spirit which you acquired in baptism? Have you grown closer to God through faith and love, like His beloved children?
Have you loved one another as befits children of God? Have you despised ugly, evil and all-destructive sin? Have you loved truth and every virtue? Have you loved immortal and eternal life prepared in a land which will not pass away and to which we are called by Him Who now has come to our corrupt earth? These are questions which we must ask ourselves now and decide; our decisions cannot be only with our minds, but above all, with our hearts and with our very deeds.
In general, we should not allow ourselves to celebrate any Christian feast without seriously considering: What is its meaning and what is its purpose? 

What is our responsibility towards it? We must know the Christian meaning behind every feast. Then the feast will become profitable for our soul's salvation. Otherwise, the enemy of our salvation will snatch us and turn the feast of God into a feast of the flesh, of lawlessness, as so often happens.
Having resolved the first question on "why did God become man?", We came also to the resolution of the second: What does the Incarnation of the Son of God require of us? It requires of us to remember and hold in sacred honor the fact that we are born of God, and if we have sullied and trampled upon this birthright with our sins, we must restore it by washing it with tears of repentance; we must restore and renew within us the image of God which has fallen and the union with God of blessedness, truth and holiness which has been destroyed.
The incarnation of the Son of God requires from us, above all, mutual love, humility, that we help and serve one an¬other; for how can we not love one another when we see the love that God has towards us? How can we not be humble, seeing such humility, such voluntary condescension for our sake of the Son of God? How can we not help one another in every way possible, when the Son of God Himself came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many} (Mt 20:28).
Like the wisemen, let us, brothers, also prepare gifts for the new-born King. Instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh, let us bring Him the gifts of faith, hope, and love. Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

St. Silouan the Athonite on the Knowledge of God

Jesus Christ "Pantocrator" ("All-governing"), the Son of God, the Savior (source)
St. Silouan the Athonite on the Knowledge of God

THE Father so loved us that He gave us His Son; but such was the will of the Son too, and He became incarnate and lived with us on earth. And the holy Apostles and a multitude of people beheld the Lord in the flesh, but not all knew Him as the Lord; yet it has been given to me, a poor sinner, through the Holy Spirit to know that Jesus Christ is God.
The Lord loves man and reveals Himself to man. And when the soul beholds the Lord she humbly rejoices in the Master's compassion, and from that hour her love for her Creator is greater than her any other love: though she may see all things and love all men, yet will she love the Lord above all.

The soul suddenly sees the Lord and knows that it is He.

Who shall describe this joy, this gladness?

The Lord is made known in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit pervades the entire man - soul, mind and body.

After this wise is God known in heaven and on earth.

The Lord in His boundless mercy granted this grace to me, a sinner, that others might come to know God and turn to Him.

I write out of the grace of God.

Yea, this is truth.

The Lord Himself is my Witness.

The Merciful Lord gave the Holy Spirit on earth, and by the Holy Spirit was the Holy Church established.

The Holy Spirit unfolded to us not only the things of the earth but those too which are of heaven.

The Prophets, the beloved of the Lord, rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, wherefore the words that they spake were mighty and pleasant, for every soul would hear the word of the Lord.

Filled with love the holy Apostles went into all the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. When St Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not stay his preaching he answered:

'If I feared the cross I should not be preaching the Cross.'

In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.

The Lord is love; and He commanded us to love one another and to love our enemies; and the Holy Spirit teaches us this love.

The soul that has not come to know the Holy Spirit does not understand how it is possible to love one's enemies, and will not receive this commandment; but in the Lord is pity for all men, and he who would be with the Lord must love his enemies.

How may we know whether the Lord loves us or no?

Here are tokens: If you battle firmly against sin the Lord loves you. If you love your enemies you are even more beloved of God. And if you lay down your life for others you are greatly beloved of the Lord, who Himself laid down His life for us.

The man who has known the Lord through the Holy Spirit becomes like unto the Lord, as St John the Divine said: 'We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.' And we shall behold his glory.

Many numbers of people, you say, are suffering every kind of adversity and from evil men. But I entreat you: Humble yourself beneath the strong hand of God, and grace will be your teacher and you yourself will long to suffer for the sake of the love of the Lord. That is what the Holy Spirit, whom we have come to know in the Church, will teach you.

But the man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.

If you would know of the Lord's love for us, hate sin and wrong thoughts, and day and night pray fervently. The Lord will then give you His grace, and you will know Him through the Holy Spirit, and after death, when you enter into paradise, there too you will know the Lord through the Holy Spirit, as you knew Him on earth.

We do not need riches or learning in order to know the Lord: we must simply be obedient and sober, have a humble spirit and love our fellow-men. The Lord will love a soul that does this, and of His own accord make Himself manifest to her and instruct her In love and humility, and give her all things necessary for her to find rest in God.

We may study as much as we will but we shall still not come to know the Lord unless we live according to His commandments, for the Lord is not made known through learning but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and scholars have arrived at a belief in the existence of God, but they have not come to know God.

To believe in a God is one thing, to know God another.

Both in heaven and on earth the Lord is made known only by the Holy Spirit, and not through ordinary learning. Even children, who have no learning at all, come to know the Lord by the Holy Spirit. St John the Baptist felt the presence of the Lord while still In his mother's womb. St Simeon Stylites was a seven-year-old boy when the Lord appeared to him and he knew Him; St Seraphim a grown man of twenty-seven when the Lord showed Himself to him during the Liturgy; and another Simeon was stricken with years when he received the Lord in his arms in the temple, and knew Him.

Some there are who spend their whole lives in trying to find out about the sun, or the moon, or in seeking like knowledge; yet this is of no profit to the soul. But if we take pains to explore the human heart this is what we shall see: the kingdom of heaven in the soul of the saint, but in the soul of the sinner are darkness and torment. And it is good to know this because we shall dwell eternally either in the kingdom or in torment.

Just as the love of Jesus Christ is beyond our understanding so we cannot conceive of the depth of His suffering, because our own love for the Lord is so infinitely small. But with greater love comes more understanding even of the Lord's sufferings. There is love in small degree, medium love and perfect love; and the more perfect our love the more perfect our knowledge.

We are able to treat of God only in so far as we have known the grace of the Holy Spirit; for how can a man think on and consider a thing that he has not seen or heard tell of, and does not know? Now the Saints declare that they have seen God; yet there are people who say that God is not. No doubt they say this inasmuch as they have not known God, but it does not at all mean that He is not.

The Saints speak of that which they have actually seen, of that which they know. They do not speak of something they have not seen. (They do not tell us, for instance, that they have seen a horse a mile long or a steamer ten miles long, which do not exist.) And I think that, if God were not, there would be no intimation of Him on earth; but people want to live after their own fashion and consequently they declare that God is not, and in so doing they establish that He is.

Even the souls of the heathen sensed that God is, though they were ignorant how to worship the true God. But the Holy Spirit instructed the Prophets of old and after them the Apostles and then our holy Fathers and bishops, and in this wise the true faith came down to us. And we knew the Lord by the Holy Spirit, and when we knew Him our souls were confirmed in Him.

The Lord loves us so dearly that it passes description. Through the Holy Spirit alone can the soul know His love, of which she is inexpressibly aware. The Lord is all goodness and mercy. He is meek and gentle, and we have no words to tell of His goodness; but the soul without words feels this love and would remain wrapped in its quiet tranquility for ever.

Christ said: 'I will not leave you comfortless', and we see, in truth, that He did not forsake us but gave us the Holy Spirit.

O ye peoples of the earth, fashioned by God, know your Creator and His love for us! Know the love of Christ, and live in peace and thereby rejoice the Lord, who in His mercy waits for ill men to come unto Him.

Turn to Him, all ye peoples of the earth, and lift your prayers to God. And the prayers of the whole earth shall rise to heaven like a soft and lovely cloud lit by the sun, and all the heavens will rejoice and sing praises to the lord for His sufferings whereby He '.saved us.

Know, all ye peoples, that we are created for the glory of God in the heavens. Cleave not to the earth, for God is our Father and He loves us like beloved children.

O Lord grant to all nations to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit. As Thou didst give the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and they knew Thee, so grant to all men to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit.
From: St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos - The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, Sofronii (Archimandrite), trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) pp. 19-23. (source)
St. Silouan the Athonite (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Why are vigil lamps lit before icons?

The wondrous icon of Panagia Gorgoepikoos ("Quick-to-hear") with vigil lamps that ever burn before it (source)
St. Nikolai Velimirovic: Why are vigil lamps lit before icons?
1. Because our faith is light.  Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12).  The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

2. In order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

3. In order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matt. 5:16).

4. So that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.

5. So that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.

6. So that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God's will.

7. In order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God's grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues.  All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.

8. In order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: And God said, let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3).  And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ's truth would shine within us.  From this light of Christ's truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

May the Light of Christ illumine you as well!

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, December 13, 2013

St. Herman of Alaska, the Venerable Wonderworker, and First Saint of America

St. Herman of Alaska, the Venerable Wonderworker, and First Saint of America - Commemorated December 13, November 15 and August 9 (source)
A spiritual mission was organized in 1793 with volunteers from the monks of the Valaam Monastery. They were sent to preach the Word of God to the native inhabitants of northwestern America, who had come under the sovereignty of Russia only ten years before. St Herman was one of the members of this mission.
St Herman came from a family of merchants of Serpukhov, a city of the Moscow diocese. His name before he was tonsured, and his family name are not known. There is a possibility, however, that his baptismal name was Gerasimus. He had a great zeal for piety from his youth, and he entered monastic life at sixteen. (This was in 1772, if we assume that Herman was born in 1756, although sometimes 1760 is given as the date of his birth.) First he entered the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage which was located near the Gulf of Finland on the Peterhof Road, about 15 versts (about 10 miles) from St Petersburg. He also spent time at at Sarov, where he first met Fr Nazarius, who became his Elder at Valaam. Later, St Herman followed him to Sanaxar where St Theodore (February 19) was their igumen.

St. Herman of Alaska (source)
While at the St Sergius Hermitage, Father Herman was healed by the Mother of God after an abcess appeared on the right side of his throat under his chin. The swelling grew rapidly, disfiguring his face. It became difficult for him to swallow, and the odor was unbearable. In this critical condition Father Herman awaited death. He did not appeal to the physicians of this world, but locking his cell he fell before an lcon of the Queen of Heaven. All night long, with fervent tears, he prayed that he might be healed. Then he took a wet towel and wiped the face of the Most Holy Theotokos with it. Then he covered the swelling with this towel. He continued to pray until he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion on the floor. In a dream he saw the Virgin Mary healing him.
When Herman awoke in the morning, he found to his great surprise that he was fully healed. The swelling had disappeared, even though the abscess had not burst, leaving only a small mark as a reminder of the miracle. Physicians to whom this healing was described did not believe it, arguing that it was necessary for the abscess to have either burst of its own accord or to have been cut open. But the words of the physicians were the words of human experience, for where the grace of God operates there the order of nature is overcome. Such occurrences humble human reason under the strong hand of God’s mercy.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
For five or six years Father Herman continued to live in the St Sergius Hermitage, and then he transferred to the Valaam Monastery, which was widely scattered on the large islands in the waters of the great Lake Ladoga. He came to love the Valaam haven with all his soul, as he came to love its unforgettable Superior, the pious Elder Nazarius, and all the brethren. He wrote to Father Nazarius later from America, “Your fatherly goodness to me, the lowly one, will never be erased from my heart. Neither the terrible, impassable Siberian wilderness, nor the dark forests, nor the rapids of the great rivers, nor the mighty ocean can quench these feelings. In my mind I imagine my beloved Valaam, looking to it beyond the great ocean.” He praised the Elder Nazarius in his letters as, “the most reverend, and my beloved father.” (Batushka) and he called the monks of Valaam “my beloved and dearest brethren.” He called the place where he lived in America, desolate Spruce Island, “New Valaam.” As we can see, he always remained in spiritual contact with his spiritual homeland, for as late as 1823, that is after living in America for almost thirty years, he wrote letters to the successor of Father Nazarius, lgumen Innocent.
Father Barlaam, later lgumen of Valaam, and a contemporary of Father Herman, who was tonsured by Father Nazarius, wrote of Father Herman.
“Father Herman went through the various obediences here, and being ‘well disposed toward every thing’ was in the course of events sent to Serdobol to oversee there the work of quarrying marble. The brethren loved Father Herman, and impatiently awaited his return from Serdobol. Recognizing the zeal of the young hermit the wise Elder, Father Nazarius, blessed him to live in the wilderness. This wilderness was in the deep forest about a mile from the monastery. To this day this place has retained the name ‘Herman’s Field.’ On holy days, Father Herman returned to the monastery from the wilderness.
At Little Vespers he would stand in the choir and sing in his pleasant tenor the responses with the brethren from the Canon, ‘O Sweetest Jesus, save us sinners. Most Holy Theotokos, Save us,’ and tears would fall like hail from his eyes.”
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
In the second half of the eighteenth century the borders of Holy Russia expanded to the north. In those years Russian merchants discovered the Aleutian Islands which formed in the Pacific Ocean a chain from the eastern shares of Kamchatka to the western shares of North America. With the opening of these islands there was revealed the sacred necessity to illumine with the light of the Gospel the native inhabitants. With the blessing of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Gabriel gave to the Elder Nazarius the task of selecting capable persons from the brethern of Valaam for this holy endeavor. Ten men were selected, and among them was Father Herman. The chosen men left Valaam for the place of their great appointment in 1793. The members of this historical mission were: Archimandrite Joseph (Bolotoff), Hieromonks Juvenal, Macarius, Athanasius, Stephen and Nectarius, Hierodeacons Nectarius and Stephen, and the monks Joasaph, and Herman.
As a result of the holy zeal of the preachers the light of the evangelic sermon quickly poured out among the sons of Russia, and several thousand pagans accepted Christianity. A school for the education of newly-baptized children was organized, and a church was built at the place where the missionaries lived. But by the inscrutable providence of God the general progress of the mission was unsatisfactory. After five years of very productive labor, Archimandrite Joasaph, who had just been elevated to the rank of bishop, was drowned with his party. (This occurred on the Pacific Ocean been Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands. The ship, Phoenix, one of the first sea-going ships built in Alaska, sailed from Okhotsk carrying the first Bishop for the American Mission and his party. The Phoenix was caught in one of the many storms which periodically sweep the northern Pacific, and the ship and all hands perished together with Bishop Joasaph and his party.) Before this the zealous Hieromonk Juvenal was granted the martyr’s crown. The others died one after another until in the end only Father Herman remained. The Lord permitted him to labor longer than any of his brethren in the apostolic task of enlightening the Aleutians.
A recent picture of the wondrous Spruce Island, Alaska, where St. Herman made his home (source)
In America Father Herman chose as his place of habitation Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. This island is separted by a strait about a mile and a quarter wide from Kodiak Island on which had been built a wooden monastery for the residence of the members of the mission, and a wooden church dedicated to the Resurrection of the Savior. (New Valaam was named for Valaam on Lake Ladoga, the monastery from which Father Herman came to America. It is interesting to note that Valaam is also located on an island, although, this island is in a fresh water lake, whereas, Spruce Island is on the Pacific Ocean, although near other islands and the Alaskan mainland.)
Spruce Island is not large, and is almost completely covered by a forest. Almost through its middle a small brook flows to the sea. Herman selected this picturesque island for the location of his hermitage. He dug a cave out of the ground with his own hands, and in it he lived his first full summer. For winter there was built for him a cell near the cave, in which he lived until his death. The cave was converted by him into a place for his burial. A wooden chapel, and a wooden house to be used as a schoolhouse and a guest house were built not too distant from his cell. A garden was laid out in front of his cell. For more than forty years Father Herman lived here.
St. Herman ringing the bells (source)
Father Herman himself spaded the garden, planted potatoes and cabbage and various vegetables in it. For winter, he preserved mushrooms, salting or drying them. He obtained salt from sea water. It is said that a wicker basket in which the Elder carried seaweed from the shore, was so large that it was difficult for one person to carry. The seaweed was used for fertilizing the soil. But to the astonishment of all, Father Herman carried a basket filled with seaweed for a long distance without any help at all. By chance his disciple, Gerasimus, saw him one winter night carrying a large log which normally would be carried by four men; and he was bare footed. So the Elder worked, and everything that he acquired as a result of his immeasurable labors was used to feed and clothe orphans, and also for books for his students.
His clothes were the same for winter as for summer. He did not wear a shirt; instead he wore a smock of deer skin, which he did not take off for several years at a time, nor did he change it, so that the fur in it was completely worn away, and the leather became glossy. Then there were his boots or shoes, cassock, an ancient and faded cassock (riasa) full of patchwork, and his klobuk. He went everywhere in these clothes, and at all times; in the rain, in snowstorms, and during the coldest freezing weather. In this, Father Herman followed the example of many Eastern Ascetic Fathers and monks who showed the greatest concern for the welfare and needs of others. Yet, they themselves wore the oldest possible clothes to show their great humility before God, and their contempt for worldly things.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
A small bench covered with a time-worn deerskin served as Father Herman’s bed. He used two bricks for a pillow; these were hidden from visitors by a skin or a shirt. There was no blanket. Instead, he covered himself with a wooden board which lay on the stove. This board Father Herman, himself called his blanket, and he willed that it be used to cover his remains; it was as long as he was tall. “During my stay in the cell of Father Herman,” writes the creole Constantine Larionov, “I, a sinner, sat on his ‘blanket’-and I consider this the acme of my fortune!” (‘creole’ is the name by which the Russians referred to the children of mixed marriages of native Indians of Alaska, Eskimo and Aleuts with Russians.)
On the occasions when Father Herman was the guest of administrators of the American Company and in the course of their soul-saving talks he sat up with them until midnight. He never spent the night with them, but regardless of the weather he always returned to his hermitage. If for some extraordinary reason it was necessary for him to spend the night away from his cell, then in the morning the bed which had been prepared for him would be found untouched; the Elder not having slept at all. The same was true in his hermitage where having spent the night in talks, he never rested.
The Elder ate very little. As a guest, he scarcely tasted the food, and remained without dinner. In his call his dinner consisted of a very small portion of a small fish or some vegetables.
His body, emaciated as a result of his labors, his vigils, and fasting, was crushed by chains which weighed about sixteen pounds. These chains are kept to this day in the chapel.
The chains that St. Herman wore in asceticism (source)
Telling of these deeds of Father Herman, his disciple, the Aleut lgnaty Aligyaga, added, “Yes, Apa led a very hard life, and no one can imitate his life!” (Apa, Aleutian word means Elder or grandfather, and it is a name indicative of the great affection in which he was held).
Our writing of the incidents in the life of the Elder deal, so to speak, with the external aspects of his labor. “His most important works,” says the Bishop Peter, “were his exercises in spiritual endeavor in his isolated cell where no one saw him, but outside the cell they heard him singing and celebrating services to God according to the monastic rule.” This witness of the Bishop is supported by the following answers of Father Herman, himself, “How do you manage to live alone in the forest, Father Herman? Don’t you ever become lonesome?” He answered, “No I am not there alone! God is here, as God is everywhere. The Holy Angels are there. With whom is it better to talk, with people, or with Angels? Most certainly with Angels.”
St. Herman of Alaska with Aleut children (source)
The way in which Father Herman looked upon the natives of America, how he understood his own relations with them, and how he was concerned for their needs he expressed himself in one of his letters to the former administrator of the colony, Simeon Yanovsky.
He wrote, “Our Creator granted to our beloved homeland this land which like a newly-born babe does not yet have the strength for knowledge or understanding. It requires not only protection, because of its infantile weakness and impotence, but also his sustenance. Even for this it does not yet have the ability to make an appeal on its own behalf. And since the welfare of this nation by the Providence of God, it is not known for how long, is dependent on and has been entrusted into the hands of the Russian government which has now been given into your own power, therefore I, the most humble servant of these people, and their nurse (nyanka) stand before you in their behalf, write this petition with tears of blood. Be our Father and our Protector. Certainly we do not know how to be eloquent, so with an inarticulate infant’s tonque we say: Wipe away the tears of the defenseless orphans, cool the hearts melting away in the fire of sorrow. Help us to know what consolation means.”
The Elder acted the way he felt. He always interceded before the governors in behalf of those who had transgressed. He defended those who had been offended. He helped those who were in need with whatever means he had available. The Aleuts, men, women and children, often visited him. Some asked for advice, others complained of oppression, others sought out defense, and still others desired help. Each one received the greatest possible satisfaction from the Elder. He discussed their mutual difficulties, and he tried to settle these peacefully. He was especially concerned about reestablishing understanding in families. If he did not succeed in reconciling a husband and wife, the Elder prevailed upon them to separate temporarily. The need for such a procedure he explained thus, “it is better to let them live apart, or believe me, it can be terrible if they are not separated. There have been incidents when a husband killed his wife, or when a wife destroyed her husband.”
Father Herman especially loved children. He made large quantities of biscuits for them, and he baked cookies (krendelki) for them; and the children were fond of the Elder. Father Herman’s love for the Aleuts reached the point of self-denial.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
A ship from the United States brought to Sitka Island, and from there to Kodiak Island, a contagious disease, a fatal illness. It began with a fever, a heavy cold, and difficult respiration, and it ended with chills; in three days the victim died. On the island there was neither a doctor nor medicine. The illness spread rapidly through the village, and then throughout the nearby areas. The disease affected all, even infants. The fatalities were so great that for three days there was no one to dig graves, and the bodies remained unburied. An eyewitness said, “I cannot imagine anything more tragic and horrible than the sight which struck me when I visited an Aleutian ‘Kazhim’. This was a large building, or barracks, with dividing sections, in which the Aleuts lived with their families; it contained about 100 people. Here some had died, their cold bodies lay near the living; others were dying; there were groans and weeping which tore at one’s soul.”
“I saw mothers over whose bodies cold in death crawled a hungry child, crying and searching in vain for its food...My heart was bursting with compassion! It seemed that if anyone could paint with a worthy brush the full horror of this tragic scene, that he would have successfully aroused fear of death in the most embittered heart.” Father Herman, during this terrible sickness which lasted a whole month, gradually dying out towards the end, visited the sick, never tiring. He admonished them in their fear, prayed, brought them to penance, or prepared them for death. He never spared himself.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
The Elder was concerned in particular for the moral growth of the Aleuts. With this end in mind a school was built for children-the orphans of the Aleuts. He himself taught them the Law of God and church music. For this same purpose he gathered the Aleuts on Sunday and Holy Days for prayer in the chapel near his cell. Here his disciple read the Hours and the various prayers while the Elder himself read the Epistle and Gospel. He also preached to them. His students sang, and they sang very well. The Aleuts loved to hear his sermons, gathering around him in large numbers. The Elder’s talks were captivating, and his listeners were moved by their wonderous power. He himself writes of one example of the beneficial results of his words.
“Glory to the holy destinies of the Merciful God! He has shown me now through his unfathomable Providence a new occurence which I, who have lived here for twenty years had never seen before on Kodiak. Recently after Easter, a young girl about twenty years of age who knows Russian well, came to me. Having heard of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of Eternal Life, she became so inflamed with love for Jesus Christ that she does not wish to leave me. She pleaded eloquently with me. Contrary to my personal inclination and love for solitude, and despite all the hindrances and difficulties which I put forward before accepting her, she has now been living near the school for a month and is not lonesome.”
“I, looking on this with great wonder, remembered the ‘words of the Savior: that which is hidden from the wise and learned is revealed to babes.” (Matt. 11:25)
This woman lived at the school until the death of the Elder. She watched for the good conduct of the children who studied in his school. Father Herman willed that after his death she was to continue to live on Spruce Island. Her name was Sophia Vlasova.
Yanovsky writes about the character and the eloquence of the talks of the Elder in this way:
“When I met Father Herman I was thirty years old. I must say that I was educated in the naval corps school; that I knew many sciences having read extensively. But to my regret, the Science of sciences, that is the Law of God, I barely remembered the externals—and these only theoretically, not applying them to life. I was a Christian in name only, but in my soul and in reality, I was a freethinker. Furthermore, I did not admit the divinity and holiness of our religion, for I had read through many atheistic works. Father Herman recognized this immediately and he desired to reconvert me. To my great surprise he spoke so convincingly, wisely—and he argued with such conviction- that it seemed to me that no learning or worldly wisdom could stand one’s ground before his words. We conversed with him daily until midnight, and even later, of God’s love, of eternity, of the salvation of souls, and of Christian living. From his lips flowed a ceaseless stream of sweet words! By these continual talks and by the prayers of the holy Elder the Lord returned me completely to the way of Truth, and I became a real Christian. I am indebted for all this to Father Herman he is my true benefactor.”
“Several years ago,” continues Yanovsky, “Father Herman converted a certain naval captain G. to Orthodoxy from the Lutheran Faith. This captain was well educated. Besides many sciences, he was well versed in languages. He knew Russian, English, German, French, Italian and also some Spanish. But for all this he could not resist the convictions and proofs of Father Herman. He changed his faith and was united to the Orthodox Church through Chrismation. When he was leaving America, the Elder said to him while they were parting, “Be on guard, if the Lord should take your wife from you then do not marry a German woman under any circumstance. If you do marry a German woman, undoubtedly she will damage your Orthodoxy.” The Captain gave his word, but he failed to keep it. The warning of the Elder was prophetic. Indeed, after several years the Captain’s wife did die, and he married a German woman. There is no doubt that his faith weakened or that he left it; for he died suddenly without penance.”
Further on Yanovsky writes, “Once the Elder was invited aboard a frigate which came from St Petersburg. The Captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than twenty-five officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. In the company of this group sat a monk of a hermitage, small in stature and wearing very old clothes. All these educated conversationalists were placed in such a position by his wise talks that they did not know how to answer him. The Captain himself used to say, ‘We were lost for an answer before him.’
“Father Herman gave them all one general question: ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered ... Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘It is not true,’ Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion—that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’ ”
All said, “Why, yes! That’s self-evident!” Then the Elder asked, “But do you love God?” They all answered, “Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?” “And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely,” Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. “if we love someone,” he said, “we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?” They had to admit that they had not! “For our own good, and for our own fortune,” concluded the Elder, “let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!” Without any doubt this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.
“in general, Father Herman liked to talk of eternity, of salvation of the future life, of our destinies under God. He often talked on the lives of the Saints, on the Prologue, but he never spoke about anything frivolous. It was so pleasant to hear him that those who conversed with him, the Aleuts and their wives, were so captivated by his talks that often they did not leave him until dawn, and then they left him with reluctance;” thus witnesses the creole, Constantine Larionov.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
Yanovsky writes a detailed description of Father Herman. “I have a vivid memory,” he said, “Of all the features of the Elder’s face reflecting goodness; his pleasant smile, his meek and attractive mien, his humble and quiet behavior, and his gracious word. He was short of stature. His face was pale and covered with wrinkles. His eyes were greyish-blue, full of sparkle, and on his head there were a few gray hairs. His voice was not powerful, but it was very pleasant.” Yanovsky relates two incidents from his conversations with the Elder. “Once,” he writes, “I read to Father Herman the ode, ‘God,’ by Derzhavin. The Elder was surprised, and entranced. He asked me to read it again. I read it once more, “Is it possible that a simple, educated man wrote this?” he asked. “Yes, a learned poet,” I answered. “This has been written under God’s inspiration,” said the Elder.
St. Peter the Aleut (source)
“On another occasion I was relating to him how the Spanish in California had imprisoned fourteen Aleuts, and how the Jesuits (actually Franciscans) were forcing all of them to convert to Catholicism. But the Aleuts would not agree under any circumstances, saying, ‘We are Christians.’ The Jesuits argued, ‘That’s not true, you are heretics and schismatics. If you do not agree to accept our faith then we will torture all of you to death.’ Then the Aleuts were placed in prisons two to a cell. That evening, the Jesuits came to the prison with lanterns and lighted candles. Again they tried to persuade two Aleuts in the cell to accept the Catholic Faith. ‘We are Christians,’ the Aleuts replied, ‘and we will not change our Faith.’ Then the Jesuits began to torture them, at first the one while his companion was a witness. They cut off one of the joints of his feet, and then the other joint. Then they cut the first joint on the fingers of his hands, and then the other joint. Then they cut off his feet, and his hands. The blood flowed, but the martyr endured all and firmly repeated one thing: “I am a Christian.’ He died in such suffering, due to a loss of blood. The Jesuit also promised to torture his comrade to death the next day.
But that night an order was received from Monterey stating that the imprisoned Aleuts were to be released immediately, and sent there under escort. Therefore, in the morning all were sent to Monterey with the exception of the dead Aleut. This was related to me by a witness, the same Aleut who had escaped torture, and who was the friend of the martyred Aleut. I reported this incident to the authorities in St Petersburg. When I finished my story, Father Herman asked, ‘What was the name of the martyred Aleut?’ I answered, ‘Peter. I do not remember his family name.’ The Elder stood reverently before an icon, made the Sign of the Cross and said, “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for usl”
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
In order to express the spirit of Father Herman’s teaching, we present here a quotation from a letter that was written by his own hand.
“The empty years of these desires separate us from our heavenly homeland, and our Love for these desires and our habits clothe us, as it were, in an odious dress; it is called by the Apostle ‘the external (earthy) man.’ (I Cor. 15:47). We who are wanderers in the journey of this life call to God for aid. We must divest ourselves of this repulsiveness, and put on new desires, and a new love for the coming age. Thus, through this we will know either an attraction or a repulsion for the heavenly homeland. It is possible to do this quickly, but we must follow the example of the sick, who wishing for desired health, do not stop searching for means of curing themselves. But I am not speaking clearly.”
Not desiring anything for himself in life; long ago when he first came to America having refused, because of his humility, the dignity of hiero-monk and archimandrite; and deciding to remain forever a common monk, Father Herman, without the least fear before the, powerful, strove with all sincerity for God. With gentle love, and disregarding the person, he criticized many for intemperate living, for unworthy behavior, and for oppressing the Aleuts. Evil armed itself against him and gave him all sorts of trouble and sorrow. But God protected the Elder. The Administrator of the Colony, Yanovsky, not having yet seen Father Herman, after receiving one of those complaints, had already written to St Petersburg of the necessity of his removal. He explained that it seemed that he was arousing the Aleuts against the administration. But this accusation turned out to be unjust, and in the end Yanovsky was numbered among the admirers of Father Herman.
Once an inspector came to Spruce Island with the Administrator of the Colony N. and with company employees to search through Father Herman’s call.
This party expected to find property of great value in Father Herman’s call. But when they found nothing of value, an employee (of the American Company), Ponomarkhov, began to tear up the floor with an axe, undoubtedly with the consent of his seniors. Then Father Herman said to him, “My friend, you have lifted the axe in vain; this weapon shall deprive you of your life.” Some time later people were needed at Fort Nicholas, and for that reason several Russian employees were sent there from Kodiak; among them was Ponomarkhov; there the natives of Kenai cut off his head while he slept.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
Many great sorrows were borne by Father Herman from evil spirits. He himself revealed this to his disciple, Gerasim. Once when he entered Father Herman’s cell without the usual prayer he received no answer from Father Herman to any of his questions. The next day Gerasim asked him the reason for his silence. On that occasion Father Herman said to him, “When I came to this island and settled in this hermitage the evil spirits approached me ostensibly to be helpful. They came in the form of a man, and in the form of animals. I suffered much from them; from various afflictions and temptations. And that is why I do not speak now to anyone who enters into my presence without prayer.” (It is customary among devout laymen, as well as clergy, to knock and say, “Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.” After hearing the response, “Amen,” one would enter and venerate the icon in the room and say a prayer before greeting the host).
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
Herman dedicated himself fully for the Lord’s service; he strove with zeal solely for the glorification of His Most Holy Name. Far from his homeland in the midst of a variety of afflictions and privations Father Herman spent several decades performing the noblest deeds of self-sacrifice. He was privileged to receive many supernatural gifts from God.
In the midst of Spruce Island down the hill flows a little stream into the sea. The mouth of this stream was always swept by surf. In the spring when the brook fish appeared the Elder raked away some of the sand at its mouth so that the fish could enter, and at their first appearance they rushed up the stream. His disciple, lgnaty, said, “it was so that if ‘Apa’ would tell me, I would go and get fish in the streaml” Father Herman fed the birds with dried fish, and they would gather in great numbers around his call. Underneath his cell there lived an ermine. This little animal can not be approached when it has had its young, but the Elder fed it from his own hand. “Was not this a miracle that we had seen?” said his disciple, lgnaty. They also saw Father Herman feeding bears. But when Father Herman died the birds and animals left; even the garden would not give any sort of crops even though someone had willingly taken care of it, lgnaty insisted.
On Spruce Island there once occurred a flood. The inhabitants came to the Elder in great fear. Father Herman then took an icon of the Mother of God from the home where h his students lived, and placed it on a "laida" (a sandy bank) and began to pray. After his prayer he turned to those present and said, "Have no fear, the water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands." The words of the Elder were fullfilled. After this he promised the same aid from this holy icon in the future through the intercessions of the Most Immaculate Queen. He entrusted the icon to his disciple, Sophia; in case of future floods the icon was to be placed on the "laida."
Recent picture of "Icon Bay", where St. Herman placed the icon of the Theotokos and prevented the tidal wave, through his prayers (source)
At the request of the Elder, Baron F.P. Wrangel wrote a letter to a Metropolitan - his name is not known - which was dictated by Father Herman. When the letter was completed and read, the Elder congratulated the Baron upon his attaining the rank of admiral. The Baron was taken aback. This was news to him. It was confirmed, but only after an elapse of some time and just before he departed for St. Petersburg.
Father Herman said to the administrator Kashevarov from whom he accepted his son from the font (during the Sacrament of Baptism), "I am sorry for you my dear 'kum.' It's a shame, the change will be unpleasant for you!" In two years during a change of administration Kashevarov was sent to Sitka in chains.
Once the forest on Spruce Island caught fire. The Elder with his disciple, Ignaty, in a thicket of the forest made a belt about a yard wide in which they turned over the moss. They extended it to the foot of the hill. The Elder said, "Rest assured, the fire will not pass this line." On the next day according to the testimony of lgnaty there was no hope for salvation (from the fire) and the fire, pushed by a strong wind, reached the place where the moss had been turned over by the Elder. The fire ran over the moss and halted, leaving untouched the thick forest which was beyond the line.
The Elder often said that there would be a bishop for America; this at a time when no one even thought of it, and there was no hope that there would be a bishop for America; this was related by the Bishop Peter and his prophecy was fulfilled in time.
"After my death," said Father Herman, "there will be an epidemic and many people shall die during it and the Russians shall unite the Aleuts." And so it happened; it seems that about a half a year after his passing there was a smallpox epidemic; the death rate in America during the epidemic was tremendous. In some villages only a few inhabitants remained alive. This led the administration of the colony to unite the Aleuts; the twelve settlements were consolidated into seven.
"Although a long time shall elapse after my death, I will not be forgotten," said Father Herman to his disciples. "My place of habitation will not remain empty. A monk like myself who will be escaping from the glory of men, will come and he will live on Spruce Island, and Spruce Island will not be without people."
(This prophecy has now been fulfilled in its entirety. Just such a monk as Father Herman described lived on Spruce Island for many years; his name was Archimandrite Gerasim, who died on October 13, 1969. This monk took on himself the responsibility of taking care of the Chapel under which at first was buried the Elder Herman. Metropolitan Leonty soon after his elevation to the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church in America made a pilgrimage to Spruce Island, and the grave of Herman.)
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
The creole Constantine, when he was not more than twelve years old, was asked by Father Herman, "My beloved one, what do you think; this chapel which they are now building, will it ever stand empty?" The youngster answered, "I do not know, 'Apa.' "And indeed," said Constantine, "I did not understand his question at that time, even though that whole conversation with the Elder remains vivid in my memory." The Elder remained silent for a short time, and then said, "My child remember, in time in this place there will be a monastery."
Father Herman said to his disciple the Aleut lgnaty Aiigyaga,
"Thirty years shall pass after my death, and all those living on Spruce Island will have died, but you alone will remain alive. You will be old and poor when I will be remembered." And indeed after the death of Father Herman thirty years passed when they were reminded of him, and they began to gather information and facts about him; on the basis of which was written his life.
"It is amazing," exclaims lgnaty, "how a man like us could know all this so long before it happened! However, no, he was no ordinary man! He knew our thoughts, and involuntarily he led us to the point where we revealed them to him, and we received counsel from him!"
"When I die," said the Elder to his disciples, "you will bury me alongside Father Joasaph. You will bury me by yourself, for you will not wait for the priest! Do not wash my body. Lay it on a board, clasp my hands over my chest, wrap me in my 'mantia' (the monk's outer cloak), and with its wings cover my face and place the 'kiobuk' on my head. (The 'klobuk' is the monastic head-dress.) If anyone wishes to bid farewell to me, let them kiss the Cross. Do not show my face to anyone..."
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
The time of the Elder's passing had come.
One day he ordered his disciple, Gerasim, to light a candle before the icons, and to read the Acts of the Holy Apostles. After some time his face glowed brightly and he said in a loud voice, "Glory to Thee, O Lord!" He then ordered the reading to be halted, and he announced that the Lord had willed that his life would now be spared for another week.
A week later again by his orders the candies were lit, and the Acts of the Holy Apostles were read. Quietly the Elder bowed his head on the chest of Gerasim; the cell was filled with a pleasant smelling odor; and his face glowed, and Father Herman was no more! Thus in blessedness he died, he passed away in the sleep of a righteous man in the 81st year of his life of great labor, the 25th day of December, 1837. (According to the Julian Calendar, the 13th of December 1837, although there are some records which state he died on the 28th of November, and was buried on the 26th of December).
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
Those sent with the sad news to the harbor returned to announce that the administrator of the colony Kashevarov had forbidden the burial of the Elder until his own arrival. He also ordered that a finer coffin be made for Father Herman, and that he would come as soon as possible and would bring a priest with him. But then a great wind came up, a rain fell, and a terrible storm broke. The distance from the Harbor to Spruce Island is not great - about a two hour journey - but no one would agree to go to sea in such weather. Thus it continued for a full month and although the body lay in state for a full month in the warm house of his students, his face did not undergo any change at all, and not the slightest odor emanated from his body. Finally through the efforts of Kuzma Uchilischev, a coffin was obtained. No one arrived from the Harbor, and the inhabitants of Spruce Island alone buried in the ground the remains of the Elder. Thus the words which Herman uttered before his death were fulfilled.
After this the wind quieted down, and the surface of the sea became as smooth as a mirror.
One evening from the village Katani (on Afognak) was seen above Spruce Island an unusual pillar of light which reached up to heaven. Astonished by the miraculous appearance, experienced elders and the creole Gerasim Vologdin and his wife, Anna, said, "it seems that Father Herman has left us," and they began to pray. After a time, they were informed that the Elder had indeed passed away that very night. This same pillar was seen in various places by others. The night of his death in another of the settlements on Afognak was seen a vision; it seemed as though a man was rising from Spruce Island into the clouds.
The grave of St. Herman today. The wondrous soil has been sanctified by his Holy Relics has and continues to heal many who suffer. (source)
The disciples buried their father, and placed above his grave a wooden memorial marker. The priest on Kodiak, Peter Kashevarov, says, "I saw it myself, and I can say that today it seems as though it had never been touched by time; as though it had been cut this day."
Having witnessed the life of Father Herman glorified by his zealous labors, having seen his miracles, and the fulfillment of his predictions, finally having observed his blessed falling-asleep, "in general all the local inhabitants" witnesses Bishop Peter, "have the highest esteem for him, as though he was a holy ascetic, and are fully convinced that he has found favor in the presence of God."
In 1842, five years after the passing away of the Elder, Innocent, Archbishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutians, was near Kodiak on a sailing vessel which was in great distress. He looked to Spruce Island, and said to himself, "if you, Father Herman, have found favor in God's presence then may the wind change!" It seems as though not more than fifteen minutes had passed, said the Bishop, when the wind became favorable, and he successfully reached the shore. In thanksgiving for his salvation, Archbishop Innocent himself conducted a Memorial Service over the grave of the Blessed Elder Herman.
In 1970, the Orthodox Church in America glorified the monk Herman as the Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of All America.
For the Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska, see here.
St. Herman of Alaska (source)
Troparion — Tone 7
O joyful north star of the Church of Christ, / Guiding all men to the Heavenly Kingdom; / Teacher and apostle of the true faith; / Intercessor and defender of the oppressed. / Adornment of the Orthodox Church in America, / Blessed Father Herman of Alaska, / Pray to our Lord Jesus Christ / For the salvation of our souls!
Troparion — Tone 4
O blessed Father Herman of Alaska, / North star of Christ’s holy Church, / The light of your holy life and great deeds / Guides those who follow the Orthodox way. / Together we lift high the Holy Cross / You planted firmly in America. / Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ, / Singing his holy Resurrection.

Kontakion — Tone 3
The eternal light of Christ our Savior, / Guided you, O blessed father Herman, / On your evangelical journey to America, / Proclaiming the Gospel of peace. / Now you stand before the throne of Glory; / Intercede for your land and its people / Peace for the world and salvation for our souls!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!