48 - Glorification of St Herman, Aug 9, 2009

I Corinthians 3:9-17

Matthew 14:22-34

At the age of 16, Fr Herman entered monastic life. He first entered the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage not far from St Petersburg. While there, there appeared under his chin an abscess that swelled rapidly, disfiguring his face. It made swallowing difficult for Fr Herman and it emitted an unbearable stench. Young Fr Herman believed he was near death but did not appeal to a physician of this world. He locked his cell and fell before an icon of the blessed Panagia, our Most Holy Lady Theotokos. With fervent tears he prayed, asking of Her that he might be healed. He prayed the whole night. Then, he took a wet towel and with it he wiped the face of the Most Holy Mother and with this towel he covered the abscess. He continued to pray with tears until he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion on the floor. In a dream he saw the blessed Mother of God healing him.

When Fr Herman awoke in the morning, he found to his great surprise that he was fully healed. An abscess must break through or be cut open if there is to be any chance of healing; but the medical marvel of this healing is that the abscess had not broken through or been cut open. It left a small mark on Fr Herman’s throat as though it were an eternal reminder of the miracle.

Many thoughts come to mind as one reflects on this beautiful story in the life of our beloved patron, St Herman of Alaska. Such stories are not at all uncommon within the life of Christ’s Holy Church. They are concrete signs of Christ’s presence in His Holy Church. In His Holy Spirit, Our Lord Jesus Christ is near to us, everywhere present and filling all things; and in Christ, all the saints who have passed on are not at all separated from us by their death; for they have died in Christ and they have been united to His death that has destroyed death, so that in Christ they are near to us, surrounding us, lifting us up by their prayers. Such stories assure us that Christ sees us, He hears us, He knows us, and He is watching over us. For in the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church we have been made to be partakers of the divine nature and to become one with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the love of God the Father and in the communion, the love of the Holy Spirit; and to the degree that we abide in Christ to that degree and even more He abides in us.

But for many, the proclamation of God’s love for us, demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and in the countless miraculous stories of the saints that we hear tell of in the Church is received as nothing more than an empty religious assertion, and the stories as nothing more than pious tall tales. Therefore, let us attend to a deeper teaching contained in this beautiful story from the life of Fr Herman.

We read the Gospel story this morning of Christ walking on the water. It calls to mind the story of St Mary of Egypt walking across the water to meet Fr Zosimos. So, here we are not dealing with an isolated incident. We see the saints in whom Christ loves to dwell doing similar and even greater things, as Christ Himself promised His disciples. The faithful know that these stories are not legends or pious metaphors for some abstract religious meaning. They show forth a life and a manner of existence in Christ’s Holy Church that is altogether different from what the world knows and presumes to be normal.

There are profound depths of theological meaning in this morning’s Gospel, but here we will only walk on the surface of those depths to proclaim that Jesus’ walking on the water, together with the countless miraculous stories of His saints reveals that the way we live and exist in this world is not normal. It is abnormal, or rather, it is a fallen life. We were not made to exist the way we do now, in bodies that are crippled with all kinds of maladies and infirmities, in souls that are afflicted with all kinds of perversions and disorder. We were not made to be at the mercy of the elements, or to be servants of instinctual forces. We were not made to be ruled by gravity or governed by degeneration and corruption, or even to be subject to the laws of space-time. In Our Lord Jesus Christ and in the lives of His saints who, like Him, are known to have walked on water, to levitate while in prayer around the altar, to have performed miracles of healing, calmed storms, stopped flood-waters from rising, to have traveled in a trice distances that would otherwise take days (as we see, for instance, in the story of St Mary of Egypt) in short whose lives are filled with all kinds of wondrous, inexplicable and marvelous things that the rational intellect of worldly man finds incredible and dismisses as pious fabrication – in Christ and His saints we see Adam as he was made to exist in the beginning when God created Him, male and female, in the Image and likeness of God, and gave him dominion over all the earth and all its creatures. In other words, man was made by God to rule the world and the forces of nature; he was not made to be ruled by the world and the forces of nature. He was made to be King of the world, to be master of all things – not for the purpose of lording himself over the world, but for the purpose of offering the world and all that is in it as its High Priest to the God of Heaven so that through the loving co-operation of man, God could fill the world with Himself, pour out His Holy Spirit on all flesh and make everything alive in His Holy Spirit, living a life not of flesh and blood, but of the immortal, uncreated, eternal life of God, a life whose essential nature is communion in love.

All of this is to say that the ultimate reality in and for which man and the world were made is the love of God. The really real, that is to say, is love: the divine love of God. Think about it: is there any force in the world more healing than love? Do you know anything more immediately, more spontaneously, more intuitively than the experience of love?

Most of us know love from the love we have experienced in other people. And that in itself is profoundly therapeutic. But the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ who rests in His saints proclaims a much higher love, an immeasurably greater love –the love of God that was manifested on the Cross and that destroyed death by His death and that has raised us up above the world and nature to make us partakers of the divine nature in the life of God’s Holy Spirit. It is this love of God and the life that it gives that we see concretely demonstrated in Jesus walking on the water, in St Mary of Egypt walking on the water, in St Herman of Alaska being healed of his abscess, and in the miracles, signs and wonders performed by all the saints in whom Christ dwells.

There have been in the history of the world many wonderworkers who have even raised the dead. But what distinguishes the mighty acts of God and His saints is that they are acts that do much more than amaze us. They open our eyes and ears, our mind and heart onto the unfathomable depths of divine love, peering into which fills us with terror, like the disciples before the transfigured Lord on Mt Tabor; and the experience of which transfigures us from proud, self-absorbed men and women into penitent, broken-hearted and contrite men and women, hungering and thirsting no longer for the bread of anxious toil that the world gives in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, but for the Living Bread and the Living Cup that comes down from heaven and which is imparted to us in the grace of divine love that penetrates to the marrow of our being to cleanse us, to heal us in soul and body and to raise us up to become lovers of God, worshippers of God in Spirit and in Truth in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Love of God the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to the exhortation I wanted to bring to you this morning. Beloved faithful, hear the word of the Lord to St Peter as He stretches out His hand immediately to raise Him up from the sea of life surging with the storm of temptations: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Beloved faithful, where is our faith? That is to say, in our secret heart, what are we living for? What are we giving ourselves to? What do we really care about? When we are bored, or feeling discouraged or lonely, where do we turn in our secret heart for comfort? To the healing word of Christ in repentance, to the prayers and holy Scriptures of the Church, or to the images and deeds of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life? If the stories of miracles we read about in the Gospel of Christ and in the lives of the saints are not real to us, is it because we have allowed ourselves to become casual about the Christian Faith we received in our Holy Baptism? Is it because we have become indifferent to the Holy Spirit whose divine and immortal life we have received in the partaking of Christ’s Holy Body and Precious Blood in Holy Eucharist?

Beloved faithful, how can we experience the reality to which the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ bears witness, and which is verified again and again in the lives of His saints; how can we expect to come to know these as more than pious assertions or as interesting stories if we are not, in the words of St Herman of Alaska, training our mind and our heart every day, every hour and every moment on the Word of God that has been given to us in Christ’s Holy Church? Beloved faithful, let us be assured that Christ is in our midst, and in that belief, let us pass over in our secret heart from the life of the world to the life of the Church that has been given to us in her holy mysteries, and in the words of St Herman’s, “Let us from this day, from this hour, from this moment strive to love God above all else and to fulfill His Holy Will!” Amen.

On this day in 1970 our patron, St Herman of Alaska was canonized by the Orthodox Church. St Herman died at the age of 81 on Dec 13, 1837. One story in particular from the life of St Herman I want to share with you this morning because it dramatically illustrates the exhortation I wish to impart to you.