Spruce Island is known as the home of St. Herman (1730 – 1837), the first Saint to be canonized on American soil by the Orthodox Church.
There are two monasteries on Spruce Island; St. Michael’s Skete and St. Nilus Skete are home to Russian Orthodox monks and nuns, respectively.
Saint Herman of Alaska was born in 1756 or 1760 in Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese of Russia. He took the name Herman when tonsured a monk in the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage, near the Gulf of Finland, about 10 miles from St. Petersburg. He then transferred to the Valaam Monastery on the islands of Lake Ladoga. He was allowed later to live in the wilderness, a hermit alone in prayer, returning to the monastery only for the services of holy days.
In 1793, Father Herman, with Father (later, St.) Juvenaly and others, were chosen to do missionary work in Alaska. By zeal and the grace of God, they brought to the Faith several thousands of Native Alaskans. However, as time went by, the missionary party was slowly cut down. Some drowned in a ship at sea. Father Juvenaly was martyred at the hands of fearful Alaskans. Eventually, only Father Herman alone, of the original party, remained.
Father Herman settled on Spruce Island, and named it, “New Valaam,” in honor of his beloved Valaam Monastery. He dug a cave out of the ground with nothing but his hands, and lived there until a cell could be built, in which he then lived until his death. He grew his own food, not only for himself but for all he cared for, digging the earth, planting, carrying heavy loads of seaweed to fertilize the earth. He was a great ascetic; he was always barefoot even in these lands of the far North, and wore only a deerskin smock, a podrasnik and a patched rassa (inner and outer cassock), and his klobuk (monastic hat). He slept very little, and only on a wooden bench with no cushion, used bricks for a pillow, and covered himself with no blankets, but only a board.
He advocated for and defended the Aleuts against sometimes oppressive authorities. 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.
He was a great and compelling teacher, not only to Aleuts but also to highly educated and “free-thinking” Russians and Europeans who happened to travel there, and this humble monk humbled these “great ones” by his knowledge and wisdom, converting many to the true Faith. Often Aleuts were so captivated that they stayed up with him all night, not leaving until dawn.
The elder was given great spiritual gifts by God. He often foreknew the future, telling people of events that would happen many years later, and which were shown to have come true. By his prayers, God averted forest fires from crossing a line Father Herman made, and stopped a flood from rising past the position where Father Herman had placed an icon of the Mother of God and prayed.
Father Herman reposed in the Lord in his sleep on the 25th day of December (December 12th on the ancient Calendar of the Church), in 1837. He continued to work miracles after his death, answering the prayers of the faithful in intercession for them before God.
Holy St. Herman, pray to God for us.
Troparion in Tone IV:
O venerable Herman, ascetic of the northern wilderness and gracious advocate for all the world, teacher of the Orthodox Faith and good instructor of piety, adornment of Alaska and joy of all America: entreat Christ God, that He save our souls.
Kontakion in Tone VIII:
O beloved of the Mother of God, who received the tonsure at Valaam, new zealot of the struggles of the desert-dwellers of old: wielding prayer as a spear and shield, thou didst show thyself to be terrible to demons and pagan darkness. Wherefore, we cry out to the: O venerable Herman, entreat Christ God that our souls be saved!
For more reading about St. Herman:
(A beautifully carved wooden reliquary in the Resurrection Church contains the coffin with Father Herman’s relics. On top of the reliquary are: a large icon of the saint (center); as well as the “paramon” cross and metal chains (on the left) that he wore (shown in the icon at the top); and his klobuk (monk’s hat) (in the glass box on the right). Also to be found at this church is Father Herman’s hand cross, which he is shown holding in the icon at the top}.