St. Herman was born just outside Moscow around 1758. As a teenager he entered the monastic life near St. Petersburg. We do not know the name his parents gave him, but when he was tonsured he was given the name we know him by today. When he was about 21 years old Father Herman was transferred to Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga in Russian Finland. He was very popular among his monastic brotherhood, but he preferred life in a hermitage deep in the forests of the island. He came to the monastery on Sundays and feasts and sang at the divine services in a pleasant tenor voice.In 1793 Herman was chosen to be part of a missionary team of nine monks who were to travel across Russia and Siberia in order to begin the evangelization of Russian America (i.e., Alaska). They journeyed for nearly a year and landed on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. They opened a school for the Aleuts and tried to minister to the Russians who were there as part of the Russian-American Company (fur traders).
Father Herman chose Spruce Island (off the coast of Kodiak about one mile) as his own home. He called it New Valaam. It was from here that he ventured out in his missionary activities. He once wrote “I am not alone. God is here, just as He is everywhere. The holy angels are also here…” He is also known for these words: “For our good and for our happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should try to love God above all else and carry out His teachings.”
After 43 years in Alaska Father Herman’s end drew near. He told his flock of Aleuts, “Bury me yourselves, and do not wait for the priest. Do not wash my body. Lay it on a board, clasp my hands over my chest, wrap me in my outer cloak, and cover my face. Place my klobuk on my head. If anyone wishes to bid farewell to me, let them kiss the Cross I wear. Do not show my face to anyone.”
Just before he died, Father Herman asked one of his spiritual children to light the candles and read from the Acts of the Holy Apostles. The cell filled with a wonderful, fresh floral scent. The face of the elder glowed, and in his blessedness, Father Herman fell asleep in the Lord on December 13, 1837 at about the age of 80. His spiritual children kept his body lying in state at the orphanage for a number of weeks. His body did not begin to corrupt. The wonderful floral fragrance lingered in the air; his face remained serene. Eventually they buried him on Spruce Island and placed a wooden marker above his grave.
In 1970 he became the first saint to be glorified on this continent. St. Herman, Elder and Wonderworker of Alaska currently lays in state in Holy Resurrection Church on Kodiak.