St. Herman of Alaska, and the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field;  it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Icon by Fr. Vladimir
Icon by Fr. Vladimir

Our blessed St. Herman, whom we remember today, stands as a witness to the truth of this parable.

We don’t know for sure when he was born, or even what his baptismal name was. He wasn’t a bishop, priest or deacon, and he didn’t establish great programs, or build big Churches like many others. Indeed by the world’s standards he was as tiny and seemingly insignificant as a mustard seed.

But we do know that as a missionary in Alaska in the late 1700’s, he prayed, he loved and cared for anyone and everyone. Always blessing, and extolling the mercy of God for man and beast, from his tiny dug out cell on Spruce Island. And it is in these actions, that his life grew like the mustard seed to shelter not only the first peoples of Alaska from this age which is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31), not only the faithful Orthodox Christians of America, but the whole of our continent.

photobyroshakIt is providential that on this day the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann pass away thirty years ago.

It is not an overstatement to say that Fr. Alexander (along with few others) was a profound Christian witness here in North America. Bringing the rich world of Orthodoxy theology, liturgy and life, to the Western man and woman longing for substance and not just “religion” in their faith. When he started his work in North America (St. Vladimir’s Seminary) the thought that Orthodoxy could be anything more then a “cultural characteristic” for new Canadians and Americans from Eastern Europe was unheard of. Yet with determination, he  cultivated a perspective that saw Orthodoxy becoming as organic and natural in North America as  baseball/hockey and apple pie, and poutine. In the thrity years since his repose, so much has changed, in our Church, our diocese, even our little St. Nicholas. And much of that change bears his marks.

Both St. Herman, Fr. Alexander offered to God the seemingly impossible, their lives. That beyond their own culture, context and generations, they could  make visible the saving love of the Lord for all . For this we thank the Lord with our whole heart.

Pray to God for us Holy Father Herman.