The 35th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Herman of Alaska
St. Innocent Cathedral
Dear Vladyka, Metropolitan Herman, Venerable Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Brothers and Sisters, Beloved in Christ:
It is a great joy for me and our delegation to be with you today during my first official visit as Primate of the Orthodox Church of Finland to the Orthodox Church in America. It is also a great pleasure to begin the formal part of this pilgrimage here in Alaska which is so deeply related to the history of Valamo monastery and Karelian Orthodoxy.
These days we shall commemorate those holy events 35 years ago when Archbishop Paul, of blessed memory, took part in the festal canonization of St. Herman here in Alaska. He returned to Finland not only with the good wishes of Alaskan and other American Orthodox Christians, but also with a burning heart like the disciples after meeting the Lord on their way to Emmaus.
Archbishop Paul’s pilgrimage marked a new beginning in the relations between our churches. We had already had a student at St Vladimir’s Seminary in 1968, but now there was a totally new enthusiasm. More students were sent to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and eventually Bishop of Alaska, later Metropolitan Theodosius came to Finland in 1977, when the new Church of our Valamo Monastery was consecrated.
Your journey, dear Vladyka, to Finland in last December will always remain in our minds as a visit of a dear friend. You, together with other hierarchs and clergy, opened yet a new page in our Churches’ mutual relations and we pray to God that these relations will grow and become stronger year by year.
Archbishop Paul’s friendship with the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann later had a strong impact on the life of our Church. Paul, being fluent in Russian, had read books published in Paris by famous Ã©migrÃ© theologians. With Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s influence, the Archbishop became a fervent advocate of meaningful liturgical life as one of the main weapons the Church has in Her struggle against secularism. Fr Schmemann was invited to our Clergy gathering in 1978 and his impressive teaching was well received.
Thus the rediscovering of our own liturgical heritage, which had begun in pre-revolutionary Russia in the early 20th Century, came, as guided by God, through the New Continent to Finland for the welfare of our Holy Churches.
I have personally witnessed the significance of this liturgical renaissance in the life of our Church for over 30 years. I graduated from our Seminary in 1972, two years after the canonization of St. Herman. Next year, I was ordained to the priesthood and, in 1979, I became a bishop and served almost a year as the assistant bishop to the Archbishop. It was then that I had an opportunity to learn personally so much from Archbishop Paul.
One can say that most aspects of our Church’s life today reflect the deep spiritual and liturgical legacy of Archbishop Paul. His successor, Archbishop John, in retirement the Metropolitan of Nicea, also has helped us all to understand the richness of the patristic tradition. Thus our mission, diaconia, work with the recent migrants, youth work and theological education all follow the guidelines emerging from spirituality, Eucharistic ecclesiology and appreciation of the patristic fathers.
The two Churches in America and Finland share the same Western environment. We face the same kinds of challenges and we both base our life on sober spirituality, which, while remaining faithful to the pure Orthodox Tradition, nourishes our generation in the same manner as generations before us. This should never mean stopping and becoming a prisoner of the customs made by man, but, in order to shine as the Light of the World, the Orthodox Church must constantly strive to uphold honesty and openness. If we are serious in proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world, we should have no reason to hide anything in the life of His Body, the Church. I understand that transparency is not a traditional word in our vocabulary but, in order to be trustworthy and reliable in a modern society, we have to learn this lesson also. Unfortunately the history of the Church seems to indicate that Orthodoxy has felt more at home in totalitarian than in pluralistic societies. It is our challenge in America and Finland to change this course of history. We cannot simply command silence of the powers of this world who believe in a different way, but we can hold up that which in our Tradition is pure and holy.
Therefore, today, as we begin this pilgrimage with great spiritual joy and expectations, we ask for the intercessions of the Holy Elder Herman. We also turn to the Most Holy Theotokos asking Her to help us in our weakness. Our Lady of Valamo has been a special source of grace for the Karelian people since 1878 when the priest-monk Alipi painted this icon in Old Valaam. The icon was recognized as miraculous already by the end of the 19th century. This is the first time ever that this venerable icon has been taken out of Finland.
Your Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska, my beloved Brother in the Lord:
In the name of the Orthodox Church of Finland, let me present this copy of Our Lady of Valaam to the diocese of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska. Please, receive this Holy Icon as a spiritual bond that will ever unite our Churches.