Saint Herman was the first Orthodox saint to be canonized in America and is considered the patron saint of North America by Orthodox Christians.
St. Herman was born in the 1750s in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow governate. No one knows St. Herman’s first and last name from before his tonsure as a St. Herman first entered the monastic life at Holy Trinity St. Sergius Monastery near Moscow. After five or six years, he transferred to Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga. At Valaam St. Herman was taught by Abbot Nazarius who was influenced by the hesychast spirituality of St. Paisius Velechovsky. This was a spiritual discipline of reciting the Jesus Prayer thousands of times a day (at least by monks and nuns. Those of us in the world can benefit by saying the Jesus Prayer on a lesser scale.) At Valaam St. Herman received permission from Abbot Nazarius to live as a hermit some distance from the monastery. While he was leading the solitary life, Metropolitan Gabriel offered to ordain St. Herman for the priesthood and make him head of the Orthodox mission to China. St. Herman refused and lived as a simple monk for the rest of his days.
Moving from one end of the Russian Empire to the other we arrive in Alaska, or Russian America. The Russian presence in Alaska begins with the discovery of Alaska in 1741 by Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov. This expedition took 1500 sea otter pelts which were sold to Chinese merchants for 1000 rubles each, obviously a very profitable transaction. Between 1741 and 1798 Russian merchants explored Alaska and the Aleutian islands. Sometimes the Russians fought against the natives, sometimes they intermarried with them. Gregory Shelikhov, a fur trader, subdued the natives of Kodiak Island and with Ivan Golikov founded the Russian American Company, a fur trading company.
Shelikhov founded a school for natives and many of them became Orthodox Christians. The Russian American Company asked the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to provide a priest for the natives. The Empress Catherine the Great decided to send a mission of ten monks from Valaam Monastery, including St. Herman. They arrived in Alaska in 1794 which marks the beginning of an official Orthodox presence in North America.
When the missionaries got to Kodiak they found that there were more problems than they had expected. The Russian American Company was abusing the natives. Among the Russians themselves alcoholism was widespread and many Russians had taken native mistresses. The monks defended the natives against the Russian American Company and became their protector. Nevertheless, the monks managed to baptize over 7,000 people. In 1807 St. Herman became the head of the mission, despite the fact that he was not a priest. The local population loved him and he ran the mission school. He was called Apa, which means grandfather in the Aleut language.
However, St. Herman still yearned for the solitary life. Around 1811-1817 St. Herman moved to Spruce Island, an island separated from Kodiak by about a mile. He lived a strictly ascetic life there, wearing only an inner and outer cassock and a deerskin smock even in the coldest weather. He slept on a wooden bench and used bricks for pillows. He had no blanket and used a wooden board to cover himself. Still, he had visitors and soon built a guesthouse and a school for orphans. The saint died on November 15, 1830. St. Herman was canonized by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1970, making St. Herman the first Orthodox saint to be canonized in America. His relics were moved from Spruce Island to Kodiak where they repose in Holy Resurrection Cathedral.
Every year in August pilgrims come to Kodiak for the St. Herman Pilgrimage. The presence of St. Herman is still palpable there and he is deeply loved by the native people of Kodiak, but also by many Christians around the world.
Troparion — Tone 7
Joyful North Star of the Church of Christ, Guiding all people to the Heavenly Kingdom; Teacher and apostle of the True Faith; Intercessor and defender of the oppressed; Adornment of the Orthodox 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 of the Akathist — 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, blessed Father Herman, on your evangelical your evangelical journey to America to proclaim 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!