June 18, 2016
Eve of Pentecost
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. (I Peter 2:11)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36)
This world and all its lusts make us who live here forget that our true home lies elsewhere. Pilgrimage is the God-given tool for overcoming our excessive attachment to this world. On this Eve of the Feast, having arrived at the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity in North America, our small group of pilgrims assembles in the early morning around the relics of America’s first Orthodox saint, Herman of Alaska, to pray for the salvation of our souls. I am here in Kodiak, Alaska with my brother-in-law and a priest who has almost circumnavigated the globe from a city if Siberia just north of Mongolia. We are guests at St. Herman Seminary in an unfamiliar place, but the common love for St. Herman makes us feel right at home as we meet other pilgrims from places as far flung as ours.
A Russian woman from St. Petersburg came several years ago on pilgrimage to Kodiak Island. She loved it so much she decided to stay and now lives at the seminary working at the local college as a Russian teacher, at the seminary as a professor, and at the Baranov Museum as a guide. When she encountered our (mostly) Russian group, she was so ecstatic with pleasure that her seemingly hesitant Russian tongue made me at first think that the language was not native to her. To which she responded, “Ya Russkaya shzensheena” (I am a Russian lady).
My amazement was increased yesterday after returning to our flat and meeting a mountaineer from the Altai region of Siberia drinking tea with my brother-in-law. Altai is close enough to our batiushka’s (endearing term for priest) home in Kyakhta. that he and this man hit it off instantly. This Altai pilgrim had just come from staying on Spruce Island where he bushwhacked his way from Ouzinkie in the north, over Mt. St. Herman, all the way south to Monk’s Lagoon to spend the night in the austere surroundings of our saint’s earthly dwelling. He came for healing and to pray for the soul of his recently departed and only son, just seven months old… his son’s name was Herman.
The climax of our day came last evening when our professor bundled all four of us recently met pilgrims into her car to meet yet another Russian man, a descendant of a prominent Russian family who married the daughter of one of the native elders. The impromptu gathering around smoked salmon and salmon berry pie hearkened back to a time now distant when Alaska was a Russian colony. This venerable Russian elder relished the opportunity to speak the tongue of his fathers which he did with such confidence and gravity. I myself have almost spoken and translated more Russian here than when our family is in Russia.
And our professor/guide assures us that it is a growing trend. With the revival of faith in Russia, more and more pilgrims like our batiushka and our mountaineer are seeking out the land of St. Herman. Just this summer alone, Kodiak has seen Russian pilgrims from all over the motherland. For when love for God in His saints is involved no language or cultural barrier can prevail.
The Holy Spirit has descended! Spraznikom (Joyous Feast)! And may that same Spirit who overcame the confusion of tongues at Pentecost give all the courage to travel to places unknown.