August 9: Herman of Alaska, Missionary to the Aleut, 1837

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Herman of Alaska
Herman of Alaska

Herman of Alaska, known in the Russian Orthodox Church as “St. Herman: Wonderworker of All America,” was the first saint to be canonized by the Orthodox Church in America.

Herman was born in Russia, near Moscow, in 1756. His baptismal and family names are unknown. He is known by his monastic name. Naturally pious from an early age, Herman entered the monastery at 17. He was never ordained. For many years he secured permission to live as a hermit, attending the liturgies of the monastery only on holy days.

In 1793, with a small group of colleagues, Herman set out to do missionary work in Alaska. They settled on Spruce Island, near Kodiak, and named their community “New Valaam” in honor of their home monastery. Herman lived and worked in the area for the remainder of his life.

He advocated for and defended the Aleuts against sometimes- oppressive authorities, particular Russian and European colonists with commercial interests. He cared lovingly and sacrificially for all who came to him, counseling and teaching them, and tirelessly nursing the sick. He especially loved children, for whom he often baked biscuits and cookies.

Even though Herman had minimal education outside of the monastic life, he was regarded among the native Alaskans as a great and compelling teacher. Over time he also developed a reputation as a teacher and possessor of wisdom among the more educated Russian and European settlers in the area. He so captivated his listeners that many would listen to him through the long hours of the night and not leave his company until morning. The people he served often referred to Herman as their North Star.

Herman died at Spruce Island on December 25, 1837, on the Gregorian calendar.

In the spring of 1969, the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America proclaimed Herman a saint and he was glorified in a solemn liturgy on August 9, 1970, at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral on Kodiak Island, Alaska, with simultaneous rites taking place at other Orthodox centers.

Collect of the Day

Holy God, we bless your Name for Herman, joyful North Star of Christ’s Church, who came from Russia to bring the Good News of Christ’s love to your native people in Alaska, to defend them from oppressors and to proclaim the Gospel of peace; and we pray that we may follow his example in proclaiming the Gospel; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, throughout all ages. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 1:1–10

2 Timothy 1:3–7

Luke 9:46–48

Psalm 148:7–14

Preface of Apostles

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

11 thoughts on “August 9: Herman of Alaska, Missionary to the Aleut, 1837

  1. I am delighted to see St. Herman considered in the ECUSA calendar, and I strongly recommend Fr. Michael Oleksa’s book, “Orthodox Alaska.: a theology of Mission.” The Orthodox missions in Alaska rejected the neo-gnostic fundamentalism so present in protestant mission that assumes that what is cultural is by definition pagan, evil, and antithetical to the Gospel; much of the Native cultural practices were ‘sained’ (to use the Celtic term) and incorporated as part of the Christian liturgical practice in Alaska.

  2. The verse from Timothy seems apt: “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” I had not heard of St. Herman before reading about him in HWHM and am very glad to know about his mission to the Aleuts.

  3. Great choice, although the Sirach reading and the psalm might better be used for a scientist or scholar . . .

  4. Collect: The reference ‘joyful north star of Christ’s Church’ seems odd. Is this an Orthodox Church/Alaskan appellation for Blessed Herman? And ‘defend them from oppressors’ … the bio mentions ‘oppressive authorities. Are these the oppressors mentioned in the collect? If they are not, perhaps the collect could utilize another term so that it makes sense without an explanation. I am reminded of the adage: A joke that has to be explained is not really a joke anymore.

    Apocrypha reading: The Sirach reading seems to fit well.
    Gospel: Three verses? That’s it? Alaska’s such a big state, and Herman gets just three verses of scripture? 😦

  5. To answer my own question re:North Star of Christ’s Church … yes, it is a title given to Blessed Herman, as the bio says. Duh.

    native people,. Aleut, native Alaskans: which is it?

    However, perhaps the collect could read:
    ‘Holy God, we bless your Name for Herman, known as the joyful North Star of Christ’s Church, who came from Russia to bring the Good News of Christ’s love to the Aleut people, to defend them from foreign colonists and to proclaim the Gospel of peace …

  6. I’ve alway (or at least for the last 50 years) been a fan of Herman of Alaska. Glad to see him in the calendar. I like the collect

  7. In line 3 of the second paragraph there is mention of the monastery. Do we know which one? if so, it should be named. Later there is reference to “their home monastery”, evidently Valaam. If we don’t know for certain that this was where Herman entered the religious life, I suggest a monastery would be appropriate.

    I find the phrase in paragraph 6 that he died “on December 25, 1837, on the Gregorian calendar” rather awkward. Maybe “…according to the Gregorian calendar, then still in use in Alaska”, or simply “…1837 (Gregorian calendar).” That date, being the Nativity of OBL, is of interest.

    Line 2 in the seventh paragraph needs a comma after “saint”. The reader needs a break there in this 49 word sentence! Better would be to substitute a period for “and”, and begin a new sentence with “He was glorified…”

    The text refers to “Aleuts”. In the caption to the Propers “Aleut” is left in the singular. Either way would work, but the usage should be the same, whether we are writing about the people (the Aleuts) or the ethnic group (the Aleut).

  8. This year (2011) at least his feast day falls on what the Anglican Cycle of Prayer lists as “International day of Worlds Indigenous People” – how very appropriate due to Saint Herman’s work protecting the Aleut.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s