Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Herman, the Wonderworker of Alaska

Never underestimate the power of reading aloud. I don’t believe we outgrow the enjoyment, the wonder and connection with others through storytelling. I am so glad my children still enjoy this and that my husband & I read to each other on occasion, too.

We’ve just finished reading Father Herman, Alaska’s Saint by Frank Alfred Golder with papercut illustrations by Nikki McClure. F.A. Golder, in the early 20th century, provided the first English account of the life of St. Herman (1757 - 1836) and even though this book is rather brief (68 pages), it provides powerful inspiration to the soul to learn of a saint so close to our own time. The papercut illustrations are a unique and expressive compliment to the Life documented within the pages.

Father Herman was born near Moscow, Russia in the mid 18th century and as a young man of 16 years, entered the monastic life at Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery near St. Petersburg. It was here that Fr. Herman claimed to have been miraculously healed of an abscess beneath his chin, after seeing a vision of the Theotokos and praying before her icon during the night.

A few years later, Fr. Herman transferred to Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island in Lake Ladoga, Russia. It is written that he loved the solitude and beauty of Valaam and I particularly enjoyed F.A. Golder’s description of Herman (as taken from his visit to Valaam Monastery in 1914) :

“Fr. Herman’s attractive personality and kindly ways soon made him a favorite with the other monks, so much so that even to this day they speak of him as the holiest among them. They point to a place named after him, Germanova, where he was wont to wander off and pray

for days at a time until the brothers had to go and bring him back. They tell of his religious ardor, of his gentleness, and of his sweet tenor voice, which was like that of an angel. Fr. Herman had the soul of a poet and there was much about the monastery that appealed to his sense of beauty...flowery fields, shady forests, wild birds and snow-clad trees, ice-covered lake, the mighty wind and raging storm..”

While at Valaam Monastery, Fr. Herman was selected by the Holy Synod along with 9 other monks and deacons to be on the first missionary expedition to preach the Gospel to the Alaska natives. They set out from Moscow on January 22, 1794 and after crossing Siberia to Okhotsk, finally arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794.

The mission was very successful, as the Orthodox missionaries were bringing the light of Christ to the natives and showed much love and respect for these people, the Alutiiqs. They soon found themselves in the role of protector, however, as those bitterly opposed to the mission, chiefly the Russian American Company, were abusive to the native people and sought to drive the missionaries out.

By 1806, the conditions set forth by Baronov’s Russian American Company became so cruel and abusive that all the missionaries were either killed, demoralized or fled to other places....save one.

Fr. Herman remained.

“Trials and tribulations made him only stronger, and he would under no circumstances desert his people and let them slip back into the power of the devil.” F.A. Golder

He did, however, realize that the cause of Christ could be advanced more quickly away from Baranov, and so, he opened a new mission on the uninhabited island of Elovoi (Spruce) which he named New Valaam in memory of his beloved monastery in Russia.

This book is such an engaging read; Part II contains documented miracles attributed to Saint Herman that have kindled my own desire to make a pilgrimage to Spruce Island.

Map highlighting Kodiak Island and surrounding islands. Spruce Island is located to the east of Kodiak and south of Afognak Island.

In 1970, Herman became the first saint to be glorified concurrently by the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He is affectionately known as the Wonderworker of Alaska and America’s first Saint and remembered by the Church on August 9 and December 13.

*Icon may be found at Come and See Icons

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful for the Animals

Last week we had to say good-bye to a dear pal, a member of our family, ...a loyal dog.

Jasper had been with us 15 years and the older I become, the more I marvel at the swiftness of time. I remember clearly bringing him home from the animal shelter that chilly spring morning in 1995. His small puppy feet rested securely in my lap on the drive back to our new house. My husband & I wondered if there might be something wrong with the little fellow, as he seemed so docile and serious, the last of the litter to find a home.

Our doubts were quickly erased when he stepped foot in the family room, as he pranced around under the watchful eye of our cat, Irish. He brought us so much joy & unconditional love. This unlimited love is one of the greatest blessings from heaven. Equally, the lessons of devotion, loyalty and companionship have not been lost on our family over the years.

Jasper welcomed both of our children into the world, providing a warm hello when they arrived home from the hospital as newborns and without resentment, shared his long- solo spotlight with each of them.

He served faithfully as a certified therapy dog, visiting an area nursing home from 1999 to 2002 and was particularly fond of “Emma” who would invite him onto her bed and stroke his head as he laid comfortably beside her. In these precious moments, it was easy to see one of the many ways in which God extends his grace and mercy to humans through His gift of animals.

Thank you, Japser, for the wonderful memories...and thank you, dear God, for the dream given to me last night -- the one where I saw Jasper in his youth, playing & running outdoors...and looking back towards us with smiling eyes to make sure we were following.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Way of Peace

Down in the marshes

Of quickening sand where

Circumstance and storm clouds brood,

A foul gale gripped mind and soul.

Turbulent waters shrieked a chorus of chaos

And reeling, I saw the abyss.

A flash of thought, an angel above

Beckoned both mind and heart

To ask for the grace and employ the defense

That liberates light from dark-

And there it was! from the quickening sands

Crystal clear notes above the melee, leading

to inexplicable light.

The path of peace, the unexplainable rest

...wonder of wonders,

began in the heart of the mire.

I walked on the path and looked all around,

Amazed at the place I was given-

Hearing the waters seemed sweet to me now,

And the chasm was nothing to fear.

My fellow blogger, Willow, inspires me to write poetry...

This one comes from recent life trials and the peace I am often granted, right in the center of chaos and fear.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid." Jesus Christ, from St. John 14:27

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Greatest Generation

With Veterans Day fast approaching my thoughts are on our Greatest Generation, those amazing men & women of the ‘30s & 40s and the lessons they have for us today.

They are a strong-willed people, not giving up when the stock market crashed, thus leaving a quarter of our nation unemployed. Those who could, found menial jobs that required a tenth of the skills they possessed, but took them without complaint. It meant bread on the table. And they were thankful for it. They persevered, often at great cost to those held most dear. Families were separated in order to search for work and boys swiftly became men, working wherever they could to feed young brothers & sisters. Theirs is the motto, "Waste not, want not."

They are a resilient people, those who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II.

They are a conservative and innovative generation...they knew how to grow their own food, lend a hand, work hard and still find time to visit with neighbors over the fence. Victory Gardens were planted all around, not just at private residences but in public squares as well to reduce the demand on public food supplies; imagine that, self-reliance rather than looking to government to meet a need.

The women enjoyed raising their families, finding great satisfaction in making a house a home, cooking - the kind of meals that took most of the day - and making due while the men were at war. And not just getting by, that is, keeping the children clothed and fed, but helping in the war effort by working long hours in factories to maintain a supply of heavy equipment and ammunition. And yes, they were most likely underpaid compared with their male counterparts, but this didn’t deter them from a role they felt necessary to help America win the war.

They are a patriotic people, possibly the most American loving generation we’ve seen since the mid 18th century. They know the value of a dollar, good tilled earth and honest work. And they love America because they have ingrained on their hearts the blood sacrificed for it in the World Wars, never losing the vision of this great nation given to us by our forefathers. This is the generation that knows what the US Constitution actually says, flies the US flag proudly and cries when the National Anthem is played. This generation gave us boys who would lie about their age in order to enlist, their desire so great to see the world and have a chance to defend the country they loved. These men & women understand what love and sacrifice is because they lived it. They didn’t have the comforts and distractions we have today, they are a people of mettle.

They are a generation that champions life. If you’ve never watched a documentary interviewing servicemen who were there when Dachau was liberated and learned of the Auschwitz liberation by the Red Army...do so. It is worth your time to contrast the views of Americans when they became a witness to the Holocaust, verses those of Stalin, who also helped to overthrow the Third Reich. This generation promotes, preserves and values innocent life.

My hat is off to you, men and women of the Greatest Generation. I am thankful that some of you are with us still. May we of younger generations learn from your lives and honor the sacrifices you made by upholding your greatest virtues: strength, resilience, perseverance, courage and love for the United States of America.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wisdom from George MacDonald

I have a particular fondness for George MacDonald, the 19th century Scottish author and poet. The strength and wisdom of his words caused renowned author C.S. Lewis to proclaim, "I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself."

It's remarkable to me, being the philosopher and minister that he was, that he was raised in an atmosphere of Calvinism, and yet he never accepted some aspects of this doctrine, such as predestination and atonement.

A few favorite quotes/excerpts from George MacDonald:

The Birth of Persecution

"Clara's words appeared to me quite irreverent... but what to answer here I did not know. I almost began to dislike her; for it is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors." -Wilfred Cumbermede, Chapter 18

Sacred Idleness

"Work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected." -Wilfred Cumbermede, Chapter 55

With regard to this sacred idleness, I am wondering, what do you, dear reader, do to cultivate this quiet time? The bane of our age is busyness and relationships suffer for it. For my own part, I'm aware of it, but struggle with knowing how to slow down, how to jump off the cycle and cultivate silence. Disconnecting from the internet maybe?

I'd love to hear from you.

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