The Church has no power to 'make saints.' She can only recognize them and render them a proper homage." That is what Fr. John Meyendorff wrote in 1969 when the Russian Orthodox church announced that it was about to canonize Father German as a saint.
Father German was a simple monk without much formal education. He came from the merchant class in a town controlled by Moscow, but we do not know his original name. As was usual, he adopted a new name when he took his vows as a monk.
As a young monk, he showed an unusual degree of faith. For example, he once developed a potentially-deadly boil that swelled the entire right side of his neck and warped his face. He could barely swallow. Rather than ask a doctor to lance it, he shut himself in his little room and prayed to be healed. The next morning he woke to find only a small mark to show where the boil had been.*
Father German loved solitude and the beauty of nature. In solitude, his character deepened. Later, an associate wrote, "To us the memory of this man is sacred, and everything to do with him is dear to us." Why? Because Father German showed a depth of love and a clear spiritual insight which showed that he lived near to God.
One of the men who learned this was S. I. Ianovskii. At thirty, he was a worldly skeptic who had adopted the scoffing ideas of Voltaire. Father German walked a great distance on winter nights to talk with him. "To my great surprise, the simple, uneducated monk Father German, inspired by God's grace, spoke so skillfully, forcefully and convincingly and offered such proof, that no learning or earthly wisdom could stand against it! In fact, Father German had a great natural intellect...but the main thing was that he had God's grace!"
Father German was among those who went to Alaska to teach the Aleuts about Christ. In many ways he was the heart of the Orthodox mission to Kadiak; when he died it folded. Among his contributions was an orphanage for Aleutian children. However, much of his time was spent as a hermit on Spruce Island. Asked if he ever got lonely in the forest, he replied, "No, I am not alone; God is there as he is everywhere, and the Holy Angels are there. How can I be lonely?" Many miracles and accurate predictions were told of him. He also wrote wisely when occassion demanded he put pen to paper.
On this day, June 20, 1820, Father German wrote Ianovskii from the islands. "My opinions are based on the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, and they are aimed at those who are thirsting and searching for his eternal kingdom in heaven. Faith and love of Christ make a true Christian...The true Christian is a warrior, fighting his way through legions of unseen foes to his place in Heaven." Comparing the outer body to a dirty garment, he wrote, "...we have to shed this filth and clothe ourselves in new desires and new love for the coming ages, and thereby come to know our nearness or distance from the heavenly father..." Like a sick man who will do anything to get well, we should seek every means to rid ourselves of whatever keeps us from God, he added, and concluded, "I hope that you, with your sharpness of intellect and your ardent wish for joy in Heaven, may discover the path to Holy Truth, not only for yourself but for others."
*Consensus among the majority of theologians is that a Christian should use the natural means that God provides of getting food, spiritual nourishment, clothes and medical cure. However, God's Spirit may sometimes lead a person to seek his direct involvement in order that faith may be strengthened.
- Meyendorff, Fr. John. "Father German." http://www.holy-trinity.org/history/1969/ 2.11.meyendorff-german.html
- Richard A. Pierce, editor. The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837 with materials concerning the life and works of the monk German and ethnographic notes by Hieromonk Gedeon; translated by Colin Bearne. Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1978.
- Various paragraphs from internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007