Grand Banquet speech on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Herman of Al

The 35th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Herman of Alaska

Grand Banquet

Kodiak, Alaska

Dear Vladyka Metropolitan Herman, Venerable Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Brothers and Sisters, Beloved in Christ:

I want to thank You, dear Vladyka Herman, Your Grace bishop Nikolai and all of you for these ever-memorable days we have spent here in Alaska. There is no doubt that Alaska and you all will always remain in our memories.

At the beginning of this pilgrimage in Anchorage, I described how Archbishop Paul brought great blessings from Alaska to Finland after the canonization of St. Herman in 1970. I dare say that we also have received enormous spiritual gifts here and it will be only with the help of Almighty God that, unworthy as we are, we may be able to communicate even part of these blessings to our flock in Finland.

It has been a joy to pray together, glorify God together, travel together and meet with so many wonderful people. Although eventually we have to return home, our hearts will remain here in Holy Alaska. However, as Orthodox Christians we believe that where there is something that is genuine, pure and truly beautiful, it is actually a reflection of the Paradise lost. But we do have a memory of it in our souls and therefore we are capable of recognizing the shining of eternal light when we are blessed to see it. This is precisely what we have experienced here.

There are many things I like in Alaska. One is the Northern land which I am so familiar with, having served as a bishop in Lapland 16 years. O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your riches.

There are certain similarities also in social changes. We also have regions where young people move away because of unemployment. Alcoholism and general pessimism tempt people of all ages. Here we have seen that the Orthodox Church makes a real effort to be with the people, supporting them and encouraging them in their everyday life.

But perhaps the most important similarity has to do with the cultural minorities. As Orthodox Christians we in Finland and you in the USA are minorities. However, within our Churches we have other minorities like recent immigrants or native tribes. In Lapland we have a small but active group of Sami people who live in the far north, actually in three countries: Finland, Norway and Russia. Like Alaskan tribes they also have preserved their original culture and Orthodox faith as a part of it. As the bishop of Northern Finland and now as the Archbishop I have taken their cause very seriously. I constantly remind our state authorities about the necessity of supporting cultural diversity. The ecologists speak about bio-diversity, emphasizing the importance of the smallest species for the well-being of the whole ecosystem. It is equally necessary to take care of the small cultures in order to keep the whole society healthy and dynamic. We Orthodox should support those cultural minorities that God has entrusted to us. St. Herman himself is an example of respect and love towards those who in many ways were quite different from what the Elder was used to in Karelia.

When we think of the future cooperation between our Churches, we should not forget Alaska. We have already had Alaskan clergymen visiting Finland twice and I ask His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, to bless these contacts in the future.

With good will, we can find also other ways to bring Alaskan and Finnish Orthodox together. I wonder if a kind of exchange program could be created between our Theological Schools—St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s Seminary but also with the Seminary here in Alaska and our Faculty and Seminary in Finland. These types of contacts always serve in strengthening Orthodox unity.

By the way, I know that many American Orthodox pilgrims travel through Finland to Russia and I would like to invite them to visit also our monasteries and excellent Church museum and Church Centre in Kuopio where I live.

Dear Vladyka Metropolitan Herman, Venerable Hierarchs. On behalf of our delegation I want to thank you for this pilgrimage here in Alaska. We have learned so much. We have seen so much. We have received so much love that we have no words to describe it.

We give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His love endures for ever more!