KMXT’s Mitch Borden
Every year, people from all over the world come to Kodiak to honor Saint Herman of Alaska, who’s a saint in the Orthodox Church. This year the pilgrimage couldn’t make it to its final destination on Spruce Island because of bad weather. KMXT went to find out how this affected the journey of those who came out for this annual tradition.
Today is the last day of the pilgrimage honoring Saint Herman of Alaska.
Pilgrims come from all over to pay homage to this holy figure. They should be on the densely forested Spruce Island. That’s where St. Herman lived out the last years of his life. But this year they couldn’t make it out because fog, rain, and rough seas.
Instead, they’re here at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak for a traditional Russian Orthodox service. The smell of incense fills the sanctuary. Two pedestals are covered with thin candles that illuminate the service. It’s pretty crowded, people wander in and out and there’s a wooden box in the middle of the room decorated with crosses. It sort of looks like a coffin.
In it are the relics, robes, and bones of St. Herman. When some people approach the box they kiss it, fall to their knees, and bow.
Although the weather prevented the pilgrimage from finishing as planned, Erik Bohlin is still having a great time. He traveled from the state of Washington.
“Well Pilgrimages are like life, there’s twists and there’s turns and there are ways that are unexpected.”
Bohlin thinks obstacles are a natural part of any journey and he’s not going to let this one affect his experience, especially since today is his birthday.
“If it was an easy thing to do and if it was sunshine and you got to do everything you want it really wouldn’t be a pilgrimage, you know.”
Saint Herman came to Alaska in the late 1700s. He was a monk in the Russian Orthodox Church who traveled to Kodiak with other missionaries to spread their faith.
Metropolitan Tikon is the head of the Orthodox Church in America and Canada. This is his fourth time making the trip to Kodiak. He says St. Herman is one of the church’s most well-known saints. Not only because of his faith, but because of his kindness.
“You know he was not just spreading the gospel but also helping a lot locally with the native people. Both protecting them from hardships they were enduring from the Russian traders. So saint Herman became a defender of their rights as human beings”
Herman eventually moved to Spruce Island, which isn’t that far from Kodiak. He built an orphanage there and lived a humble life of prayer. Going to this place is always special for Tikon, and he’s a little disappointed they didn’t make it out to the island. But he’s still satisfied with this year’s pilgrimage.
“I think in spite of not going to Spruce Isle it felt very much like coming home.”
After the service, people gather in the basement of the church to share one final meal together. Standing in a doorway eating his food, Father Gregory Madlom reflects on his first pilgrimage.
Borden: “Could you describe what it was like being in front of his relics?”
Madlom: “No…No…I realized he was a man of prayer and sometimes I wish I was more of that, his presence was and invitation.”
At the heart of this tradition is a celebration of a man who embodied his beliefs and faith. This journey meant a lot to those who made it, even though it didn’t finish the way they wanted. Madlom and his wife have a long trip back home to Wisconsin, but he says he feels energized.
“We drove 3,500 and we will drive back with a renewed sense of faith.”
A few days after the official pilgrimage ended, the weather did clear up and a group was able to make it out to Spruce Island to see where St. Herman lived for 40 years.