By plane, auto and boat, a St. Vladimir's Seminary (SVOTS) delegation of three journeyed from New York to several destinations in Kodiak, Alaska, for an Alaskan pilgrimage. The ties between St. Vladimir's and St. Herman seminaries are deep and broad, and Alaskan ministry trips have become a Lenten tradition at St. Vladimir's. (Read about the historic and binding connections between the two seminaries here.)
Seminarians Fr. Theodor Svane of Norway and Bogdan Neacsiu of Romania joined the Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor/CEO, in several days of travel and ministry. Father Theodor kept a diary of the eventful trip.
Thursday, March 26
We got up early in order to catch the flight from Newark. We left the seminary at 4:30am and arrived 4:30 in Kodiak AK local time. This year has been particularly mild and only the mountaintops far away had snow. Nevertheless there was enough weather anyway, we had a lot of rain, wind, and fog and it felt just like home for someone from Norway.
We had a little time to settle down before we went to offer an Akathist to St. Herman in Holy Resurrection Cathedral, Kodiak. We concelebrated with Fr. Innocent Dresdow (Dean of the Cathedral), Fr. John Dunlop (Dean of St. Herman Seminary), and Fr. David Rucker. Father Theodor offered a reflection on the life of St. Herman and St. Trifon of Pechenga, both missionary saints from Vaalam. Saint Herman traveled all the way to Alaska while St. Trifon traveled to, and worked in, Northern Norway, Finland and Russia. Father Chad shared some words as well. Afterwards we had dinner with Fr. Innocent, Fr. John and his family.
Friday, March 27
Today we visited important places in Kodiak: St. Herman Harbor, Pillar Mountain, an old spruce forest, and a fish research facility. Later in the day Bogdan offered a presentation about Orthodoxy in Romania, and Fr. Theodor gave a talk about Orthodoxy in Norway for the seminarians, faculty, and friends of St. Herman's Seminary. We received good feedback and heard many good questions. Father Chad held a women's retreat afterwards and at night we gathered again in order to go to the banya (Alaskan Sauna) together with students from the seminary. We were "cooked" by the heat but survived, and slept really well that night!
Saturday, March 28
Originally we planned to go by boat to Spruce and St. Nilus Island to visit St. Herman's dwelling place and visit the monks and nuns there, but the weather was too rough. Instead we took a shorter trip with Fr. Innocent in his boat around the harbor and some smaller islands. Later we went to Miller's Point by car hoping to see the islands from there, but the fog was too thick. On the way back home we went on a short hike in the beautiful Arctic Rainforest and we even got lost as we tried to follow one of the trails. Thank God we were back in good time for Hierarchical Great Vespers followed by another trip to the banya.
Sunday, March 29
We started our day of departure with Hierarchical Liturgy in Holy Resurrection Cathedral, where Fr. Chad was the homilist. We also got to spend some time with the parishioners of the Cathedral at coffee hour, and with Bishop David of Alaska before we left. With looming thick fog we were not entirely sure if we would be able to leave as planned, but the fog cleared and we were able to leave on schedule. We arrived back at St. Vladimir's at 3:00 p.m. the next day.
The hospitality of the seminarians, faculty and people of Kodiak touched us. We met a native Orthodoxy that belonged to the region. Their saints had sanctified the land with their prayers and sacrifices. Visiting the relics of St. Herman was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. Reflecting on his and the other monks' enormous sacrifice as they journeyed across an entire continent to reach Alaska, we pray that God will grant to us the same faith and zeal that He gave them.