June 30, 2020: 6th anniversary of the repose of Fr. Herman Podmoshensky
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to Reliable men who may also teach others.” St Paul’s letter to Timothy
The famous saying that Christian Life is caught not simply taught relates to this injunction from the apostle to his disciple. I remember a time in my life when I had just graduated college that I eagerly desired to receive such a transmission. Oh, to be entrusted with the sacred kerygma of the living and saving Gospel of Jesus Christ from someone in that line of succession: a man who had heard it from a man who had heard it from another all the way back to the Lord himself. My own fathers In the flesh had all but denied this possibility. A writer of the book called The History of the Evangelical Association, a German pietistic confession that my ancestors followed in the mid-nineteenth century proclaimed about the historical apostolic succession “There remains an unbridgeable chasm between the Roman Catholic Church and our own Protestant one, and who can bridge this unbridgeable chasm?”
They opted for a merely spiritual succession to solve the dilemma, an idea that in my time had morphed into a new theological delusion that the apostolic age and miracles associated with it were part of a dispensation which had passed away with the death of the last apostle. Miracles apparently were only for those who had direct contact with the Lord. It was a spiritual succession which relied too much on book learning and too often foundered on the waters of faulty human reason.
But I had found something else in college or rather I had met someone else: First through a book and then in person. I had just become an Orthodox Christian in 1993 and with the holy chrism still wet on my forehead, I had traveled to Boston on a hunch that the move would bring me closer to the heart of my desire: contact with a holy elder or if not with a holy elder, at least with some brother or sister, father or mother who had met one. At the time I first came to Boston, I was reading a book that had just been published in 1994 about the life of Father Seraphim Rose by Hieromonk Damascene. In it was described two self-proclaimed idiots, brothers with the same desire to meet a holy elder, a descendant of the Apostles and their way of life.
One brother was an American by birth, the one who became the Father Seraphim; the other, a Russian immigrant who first met Father Seraphim when he was traveling America with a slideshow on holy men and women he had personally met. I knew that Fr. Seraphim had reposed, but it seemed at this point in my reading of the book that the other brother Gleb was still alive. It was at that exact moment that I looked up from my reading and realized that the man speaking to us at that moment was Gleb who had become the Priestmonk Herman. He came to Boston and was teaching the faith to a parish here, hungry as I was to receive it.
But as impressive as father Herman was, it was not about him as much as it was the particular people he knew, especially one particular man: the one glorified in my life time as Saint Archbishop John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco, the wonder-worker and equal to the apostles whose memory is celebrated just two days from today on July 2nd. The Divine service we chant to the Saint tells his story the best:
Who can say that the grace-filled power of the first apostles has left the earth, who can claim that the sanctity of the ancient ascetics is seen no more? For Thou, O Lord, hast now raised up a new and glorious apostle, a new ascetic who hath overcome the enemy’s attacks and hath won the heavenly crown of victory...
Rejoice, O peoples of Serbia, China and the Philippines, and ye of Africa, France, Holland and America, for among you walked a living bearer of God, a saint enlightened by grace and touched by divinity, a visionary who beheld the realm outside of space and time, where he now doth pray for you.
As the services testify here was finally a man who did the works of an apostle and not just claimed to be an apostle; and here I was a baby Orthodox Christian listening to another father who knew him personally and would in time infuse my unworthy soul with a bit of that apostolic wonder. Glory to God for this golden chain of sanctity reaching all the way forward into our dark and confused modern world! By the prayers of holy Archbishop John, Lord Jesus Christ please make eternal the memory of my spiritual father Herman and thank him personally for my link to sanctity. Amen.