Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28 - Herman of Alaska, Missionary, Evangelist, Monk

Herman could hardly believe what he was hearing and Herman was used to incredible stories. As a younger man in Russia he had experienced a terrible throat infection that was quickly
rendering him mute. Day by day, his friends and family became increasingly uncomfortable with his voice devolving into series of croaks and sputters. He spent days in prayer for the health of his voice and throat but nothing seemed to happen. His family and friends prayed for him, as well. The thought of a monastic like
Herman becoming mute was more than a little frightening--a learned man of prayer and words without a voice seemed especially tragic. Yet, it still seemed as if his prayers remained unanswered. As days passed, Herman's prayers became increasingly wordless and more and more desperate. One night he prayed before retiring for the night and felt an unmistakably odd sensation of hopeless desperation and faint, white-hot hope. Moving his lips in silence, he prayed: "Thy will be done." As he slept, a vision of the virgin Mary came to him and touched his ailing throat. A brief flash of pain and relief surged through him and he awoke with a start. "Was that a dream?" he asked himself aloud. In surprise, he heard his own voice and gratefulness flooded through his body. He had been miraculously healed. It was incredible--truly hard to believe.

Yet, Herman could not believe that other men claiming the yoke of Christ would mistreat the Aleutian people so cruelly. They had arrived and insisted that they convert to their particular doctrinal position upon penalty of death. This was especially tragic for Herman since he had been sent as a missionary to Alaska from Russia to bring the Aleutian people the faith they were now being asked to suffer for. He had arrived with other missionaries to live and make room for a monastery among the Aleuts. They had been welcomed tentatively at first but had proven their love and compassion for the Aleuts and had become welcome dwellers in the often unforgiving wilds of Alaska. Regrettably, some of Herman's companions had gone back to Russia for a variety of reasons. Others had been martyred. Herman had stayed and made himself a more permanent resident. He had experimented in the Alaskan soil and found a way to grow a garden. Now, only Herman remained as Orthodox monastic at the New Valaam monastery. His brothers and colleagues were now Aleutian converts. It was these men that were now in the grips of the others and facing martyrdom. It was one of these men who was telling him the incredible story.

"They threatened us with torture," said the escapee, "and then they followed through and started cutting off our fingers and toes one by on." Herman shook his head sadly. "They insisted that we could go free if we'd only 'convert,' but Peter kept insisting that he was already a Christian," continued the escapee. At the mention of Peter's name, Herman called up the image of his dear brother in his mind.

"What did they do to Peter?" asked Herman.

"They... they..." stuttered the escapee,"...they killed him because he refused to say anything but 'I already am a Christian.'" A bright light seemed to shine in Herman's eyes at this statement. He nodded vigorously and walked swiftly to the iconostasis of the monastery.

Kneeling in prayer, he crossed himself and cried out loudly in a mixture of joy and sorrow: "Pray for us new martyr Peter." His brother and sisters followed in his footsteps as they reflected upon the faithful death of their brother at the hands of the misguided.

Years later, Herman called for the Acts of the Apostlesto be read so that he might hear them at his death. One of the men he had guided to the Faith read the whole of the book in Herman's hearing and then turned to see if Herman needed anything else. Herman smiled and embraced his friend and colleague. Then, he died in the arms of his beloved friend. It was many weeks before a priest could come to officiate a funeral for Herman--he had remained alone as a missionary in the New World and found faith, hope, and love in the forbidding Alaskan wilderness.

2 comments:

Brendan said...

The story seems broken and perhaps misprinted, like a copy paste error. It doesn't have continuity in the story. Was this the intended story?

Joshua Hearne said...

Not sure what happened, Brendan. Thanks for alerting me--when I get a chance I'll give it a closer look and see if I've goofed something up. Is there a place that seems particularly broken to you (to speed up my review)?