Orthodox America

  The Monks of Valaam – Mt. Athos of the North

The frightful places of Siberia cannot destroy, the black forests cannot hide, the mighty rivers cannot efface, the stormy ocean cannot put out the warm affection that I have for my beloved Valaam. (From a letter of St. Herman written from Alaska, 1795 to his beloved Elder, Abbot Nazarius).

I suppose that it is sometimes better to fall oneself and rise, than to judge one’s neighbor; because one who has sinned becomes hardened in an illusion about himself and in pride. Therefore everyone must guard himself, as much as possible, so as not to judge…Strive to receive justification before the Almighty, saying ever these words to yourself: “Who am I to judge my neighbor!  The Counsels of Elder Nazary

    Nearly two thousand years ago the Apostle Andrew planted the cross of Christ on an island in a lake in the northern part of what later came to be called Russia. For nine long centuries the Gospel of Jesus Christ was somehow kept alive there, in spite of surrounding pagan tribes, until the arrival of two Greek missionaries, Saints $ergius and Herman, who firmly established monastic life on this island and on others nearby. Known to us as the great Monastery. of Valaam~ it became "a vital part of the 'Northern Thebald ,' whither young ascetics came and from whence they went out to spread the Valaam ideal throughout Northern Russia .... Their influence was immense in the building of Holy Russia, when daily life was lived according to the ascetic principles of the Christian world-view."*

    These ascetics are proper models and objects of admiration for Orthodox Christians both young and old--but particularly for young men and boys, who so desperately need the example of these many warriors of Christ. And here at Valaam, indeed, are a whole line of such heroes, even up to our own times: Men like St. Juvenal, a member of the Valaam mission to America in the 18th century (which also included the patron saint of this land, St. Herman of Alaska), the first martyr of America. Men of quiet simplicity, meekness, and above all, sobriety--in fact a22 of the qualities so completely missing from 20th century manhood! One lesser known but quite wonderful example of this is Hieromonk Eulogius, who reposed as recently as 1969. He "spent 69 years with the Valaam brotherhood, laboring in all possible obediences and workshops, always simple, diligent-and meek...always loving, understanding and alert. And God rewarded His faithful slave even in this life not only with long years (almost a century), but also with the gift of unceasing prayer when he was seen enveloped in uncreated light."

    To mark the millenium of Valaam Monastery, the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood has devoted its 1982 Calendar to these Great heroes. Long known for bringing the faces of saints and righteous ones to readers of their publications

(books, a bi-monthly magazine, a yearly calendar, etc.), as well as edifying articles and lives of saints, the Brotherhood has outdo n e itself with this year's Saint Herman Calendar'.

    Not only does the Calendar contain the usual record of daily commemorations of saints, together with the appointed daily readings from Scripture, but this year's Calendar also features numerous actual photographs of many of the righteous monks of Valaam. What a priceless treasure! On pare after page we look into the faces of these stupendous men of the Spirit! And each face is a true revelation of Heaven here below.

    Faces like those of Schema-Abbot John, whose letters, published after his death in a book called Christ is In Our Midst (reviewed in "Orthodox America", Vol. I, no. 4), and Schema-Hieromonk Michael, the great recluse of Valaam, several of whose sayings are printed in this Calendar, including the following prophesy about the end of the world:

     "There are still recluses and those Who have withdrawn themselves into the deep unknown places~ But when the end will come to the last monastery, and the Divine Liturgy will be no longer celebrated--then only will the end come."

    The faces of these angels-in-the-flesh, and many, many others, each one accompanied by a brief biography, are found in this year's Calendar. They provide us with a true "roll-call" of Orthodox warrior-heroes of the monastic life, the very sight of whom can nourish our feeble hearts and souls, for these faces--until now almost completely unknown and hidden from the world--are the faces Of friends as well as spiritual athletes and victors.

     May no Orthodox home be without this treasure-filled Calendar. May no Orthodox home be without love and admiration for these heroes of the spiritual life. And may our impoverished youth not be deprived of seeing these remarkable faces--the faces of saints for our times!