The Monk German (Herman) of Alaska, Apostle to America,

Commemorated on July 27

      The Monk German (Herman) of Alaska, Apostle to America, was born in the city of Serpukhov, nigh to Moscow, in the year 1757 into a merchant's family. His worldly name and family name are unknown. At sixteen years of age he entered upon the path of monasticism. At first the monk did his obedience at the Sergiev-Trinity monastery, situated in the environs of Peterburg on the shore of the Bay of Finland (the monastery belonged to the Sergiev-Trinity Lavra).
      The future missionary pursued asceticism at the monastery for about five years. Wanting complete solitude and silence, the Monk German settled at Valaamo. The Valaamo monastery, situated on the islands of Lake Ladozh (Ladoga), was cut off from the outer world for 8 months of the year.
      After careful testing by various obediences the hegumen Nazarii gave blessing to the youthful ascetic for constant life in the forest, in a solitary wilderness. On feastdays, having come back to the monastery, the monk did choir obedience (he had a fine voice). Saint German took monastic vows at the Valaamo monastery.
      It seems probable, that Saint German arrived at Valaamo in the year 1778. In this year the Monk Seraphim arrived at the Sarov monastery. The monastic life of the Monk German brings to mind the deeds of solitude of his great contemporary the Sarov wonderworker. Like the Monk Seraphim, the Valaamo ascetic distinguished himself with an exceptional and pervasive knowledge of the spirit and books of Holy Scripture, the works of the holy fathers and teachers of the Church.
      The spiritual guide and father confessor of the future missionary was the hegumen Nazarii, a Sarov elder (starets), who introduced the Sarov ustav (rule) at Valaamo. By such manner, the grace-bearing methodology of Sarov asceticism in which was accomplished the spiritual growth of the Monk German at Valaamo became an integral part of his soul and made him related and exceptionally close in spirit to the Monk Seraphim, the Sarov Wonderworker. There is an account, that the Monk Seraphim made use in his turn of the guidance of the starets Nazarii during the time of his living at Sarov.
      After a 15 year stay of the Monk German at Valaamo, the Lord summoned the humble monk to apostolic service and sent him to preach the Gospel and baptise the pagans of the sparsely populated and austere territory of Alaska and the islands of North America bordering on it. For this purpose there was organised in the year 1793 a spiritual Mission receiving the title Kodiaksk, with its centre on the island of Kodiak. Archimandrite Joasaph (Bolotov), a monk of Valaamo monastery, was appointed leader of the Mission. Amidst the number of other co-workers of the Mission were also five other monks of Valaamo monastery including among them the Monk German, whom the Lord gave blessing to labour at evangelisation longer and more fruitfully, than some other members of the Mission.
      Upon arrival on Kodiak Island the missionaries quickly set about the construction of a church and the conversion of the pagans. "The year 1794, September I live with 24 on the island of Kodiak. All glory to God, more than 700 Americans are baptised, more than 2,000 marriages joined together, a church built, and as time allows we shall make another, then two, and then it will be necessary to make five" remarks the archimandrite Joasaph in one of his letters.
      Father German at this new place bore the obedience of baker and concerned himself with the domestic cares of the Mission.
      Under the guidance of Archimandrite Joasaph (afterwards a bishop), the Mission was short-lived: during the time of a storm (in 1799) His Grace Joasaph with his companions perished in the waves of the ocean. To assist the missionaries remaining alive there was dispatched only one priest-monk from the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, Gedeon. He headed the Mission for some time. He was concerned with the building up of a school for the children of the baptised Aleuts. In the year 1807 Priest-monk Gedeon left forever from the settlement of the missionaries, having placed all the responsibilities on the Monk German, who until the end of his life remained a spiritual father, pastor, and guardian of human souls entrusted to him by the Mission. They wanted to ordain the monk to the dignity of priest-monk and make him archimandrite, but the humble monk refused thus to be elevated and until the end of his days he dwelt as a simple monk.
      For the local inhabitants, the Monk German was a true good pastor and he defended them, insofar as he was able, from evil and plundering persons, who saw the island people only as an object for merciless exploitation. It would be no wonder, if the newly-converted repudiated their faith of the new-comer, who came most frequently in the role of exploiter and oppressor (having come for the purpose of mercantile profit), returning to their own superstitions. That this did not happen is due to the great merit of the Monk German. Firmly and insistently, having no power save for his intense faith, the starets continued on with his defense of the outraged and the oppressed, seeing in this his duty and calling, the essence of which he wonderfully expressed with the simple words: "I am the most humble servant and nurse of the local peoples".
      The secret labours and cell prayers of the elder remained unknown to the world, but are seen as a light surrounding his grace-bearing life, having gone through conditions of complete self-renunciation, non-avariciousness and austere disregard for all comforts. His clothes were quite poor and very decrepit. By his whole appearance and all his habits, starets German in life reminded his contemporaries of the ancient hermits, glorified by the deeds of abstention and saintliness. In conversation the elder produced in irresistible impression on listeners. Those who conversed were particularly struck by the clarity of his mind, and his distinctness and rapidity of his discernment. The Divine grace, permeating the soul of the Monk German, transformed the hearts of people having contact with him. Vividly testifying about this occurrence was S. I. Yanovsky, governor administrator of the Russian-American Company, having entered upon his duties in the year 1817. Semen Ivanovich Yanovsky, an aristocrat by birth, was a man of manifold education and scholarship, but his religio-philosophic outlook consisted in the fashionable deism of the period. (Deism a religio-philosophic teaching, which spread about in the XVII-XVIII Centuries, conceived of the existence of God only as a first-principle of the world and denied the existence of God as Person).
      Christianity in its essence he did not know (although he was formally accounted a christian). Orthodoxy, the Church, the Sacraments were for him mere notions, not worthy of serious consideration. The Monk German spoke much with him. S. I. Yanovsky afterwards wrote: "By such constant conversations and prayers of the holy elder, the Lord turned me completely around onto the way of truth, and I was made into a real Christian". He termed the starets "an holy man", "a great ascetic", and like a precious gem he kept his own letters from the Monk German. Many others of his contemporaries also experienced such reverence towards the person of the saint. Father German at first lived nearby the Mission temple on Kodiak, but later he settled on Elov (Spruce) Island, which he called "New Valaamo". Spruce Island was the final refuge in the multi-laboured apostolic wanderings of the holy elder.
      The Monk German foretold to his spiritual children the time of his death and gave instructions how to bury him. On 13 December 1837 he requested candles be lit before the icons and to read the Acts of the Holy Apostles. During the time of the reading about the labours of the holy evangelists, the holy starets German passed over from earthly labours to heavenly rest, in his 81st year of life. Over the grave of the elder was at first constructed a simple wooden memorial, and afterwards was erected a modest wooden church, dedicated in the name of the Monks Sergei and German, Wonderworkers of Valaamo.
      In this church is preserved an old-fashioned depiction of the Monk Seraphim of Sarov. This was situated in the cell of the Monk German during his lifetime: the elder loved and respected his celebrated contemporary and was of one accord with him in the great task in the fields of the Lord. It pleased the Lord to simultaneously bestow blessing on the great deeds of service to people of these two reverent lovers of silence and of mental action. The Monk German responded with love to the needs and sorrows of people during the days of his earthly life. And he does not leave in their misfortune those calling on him even after his death. The most famous case of the prayerful intercession of the Monk German is located in the autobiography of the first Orthodox Bishop in America Sainted Innocent (Comm. 31 March and 23 September). In the year 1842 the sainted bishop on the brig "Okhotsk" was headed for Spruce Island. Because of a storm the ship was not able for a long while to come into port, and the lives of the crew and passengers was in peril. Sainted Innocent turned with prayer to the Monk German: "If thou, Father German, art pleasing to the Lord, then allow the wind to shift". And there passed not even a quarter of an hour as the wind shifted and became fair. And shortly thereafter the sainted bishop, having been saved from the storm, served a panikhida on the grave of the Monk German. In the 1860's the Russian Orthodox Church learned about the great local veneration of the memory of the elder German at Kodiak. In 1867 one of the Alaskan bishops compiled a record of his life and miracles. The first public report about Father German was published at Valaamo monastery in Finland in 1894. In the 1930's another Russian Orthodox monk archimandrite Gerasim (Shmal'ts) arrived on Elov (Spruce) Island and for a long time he lived there, as did the Monk German an hundred and some years before him. Before his death in 1969, archimandrite Gerasim uncovered the remains of his famous predecessor and built there a small chapel. The healings, connected with the prayerful intercession of Saint German, have been recorded during the course of a long period (from the time of his life through 1970). In March 1969 the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church in America under the presiding of the Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, Irenei made the glorification of the Alaskan monk. The Church through this canonisation formally stamped with its seal that which many native Alaskans always knew: the Monk German worthily achieved his Christian calling and now continues to intercede before God for the living.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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The Monk German
(Herman) of Alaska, Apostle to America,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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