Protodeacon Nicholas sat on a folding chair in front of the iconostasis after Liturgy.
He’d already shed his vestments, the sticharion and broad orarion with the words “Holy, Holy, Holy” embroidered in gold against it’s deep maroon background. In his hands was a small box, lined with red velvet and containing a relic of St. Herman, the Wonderworker of Alaska.
We processed as was typical for a Sunday morning after the Divine Liturgy, toward the east, toward the cross held in the hand of our priest. Some, as was usual, briefly broke from the line to venerate the festal icon in front of the Royal Doors.
On this day it was an icon of the Saints of North America, the patrons of our parish. My memory may fail me here but I seem to think there were a few more that stepped away from line that day, perhaps those who did crossed themselves a tiny bit more slowly, bowed just a bit deeper, lingered just a moment longer after kissing the icon. We went forward, kissed the cross in Father’s hand as he said to each of us, “Christ is in our midst.”
“He is and ever shall be,” I dutifully said when it was my turn to hear Father’s salutation.
After I kissed the blessing cross and Father’s hand and exchanged a few words (“How’s work?” “It’s going alright, Father.” “Your daughter Tabitha’s birthday is coming up, yes?” “Yes Father, we’re excited to celebrate it.”). I turned, not to the table with blessed bread as was typical, but to Deacon Nicholas, on a folding chair, with a little box in his hand.
“We’ve brought out the relic of Saint Herman,” Father said, after I looked back at him, no doubt with a quizzical look upon my face. I hadn’t known our church was in possession of such a thing. Father leaned in and whispered, “You kiss it, like an icon, and ask Saint Herman to pray for you.” I stepped toward Fr. Nicholas and venerated the relic of Herman the Wonderworker. As I did—as if in but an instant—I recalled all that I knew of him.
I knew a few things about Saint Herman: that he was born in the 1750s; that he had been tonsured as a monk in his late twenties or early thirties. After some time in obedience at the Valaam Monastery he received a blessing to become a hermit, taking up residence a few miles from the monastery proper. He was selected to take part in Catherine the Great’s mission to Alaska, arriving in 1794. I remembered the stories of his kindness to the native Alaskan peoples, his teaching of the faith, and the baptism of the thousands who converted to the Orthodox Christian faith.
What was most striking to me was remembering both the simplicity and humility of his life. He wore unadorned clothing of deerskin, worked hard growing vegetables for the native people, and ate very little himself. The times he was not working, teaching, or counseling, he spent in solemn prayer and vigil.
Approaching the deacon, I crossed myself and venerated the relic of the saint. I experienced something—not a flash of light or a “beatific vision”—but a closeness to the holy departed servant of God. Intellectually I had already accepted the the idea that departed saints hear our prayers and intercede for us, but I don’t think it was until that moment I really believed it.
Holy Father Herman, pray to God that our souls may be saved.