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The Greatest

The Greatest

Feast Day of St. Herman of Alaska


Luke 9:46-48


I had a broken hand, and I was a guest at a fundraising dinner.  I was hungry, so my heart sank when the entree arrived. It was a thick slab of pork that I could not hope to cut up with my damaged fingers.  Briefly I considered picking the meat up with my good hand and tearing off chunks with my teeth. But it was a classy party, the kind with multiple forks and crystal water glasses.


Next to me sat a woman I didn’t know very well.  I had heard she had once been a member of the Daughters of Charity, but that she had left the order years earlier and become a school teacher.  Subsequently she had married a man of great esteem in our community, a valued teacher and mentor, who had also previously been a monk.


Seeing my dilemma, this woman, Ellen, offered to cut my meat for me.  And I gratefully accepted. But almost immediately as she set to work I felt acutely embarrassed.  The small labor of love she had undertaken for me took awhile, and I watched her helplessly, feeling like a child.


While she cut the meat into bite sized pieces, Ellen distracted me with questions about my life.  Before I had broken my hand I had created a pen and ink drawing of a local street person for a poster advertising the annual ecumenical Good Friday Walk.  It was so gracious of me to have donated my wonderful art work, she said. Did this work sustain me? What else did I love?


Today’s Gospel reading for the Feast Day of St. Herman of Alaska is two short verses from Luke in which Jesus, understanding that his disciples aspired to be great men in his kingdom, set a little child before them and said, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”


St. Herman was a simple monk whose longing was to be a hermit.  He was sent to Alaska by the Russian Orthodox Church to convert the Aleut.  He became their advocate when they were pressed into slave-like servitude by the Russian-American Company.  Because of his support of them, he was abused, arrested and physically threatened, but he remained a voice for their fair treatment.  At the end of his life he was able once again to retire to a hermitage on a small island off Alaska’s southern shore. Despite the love of the Aleut people and other locals who sought him out, he was an obscure disciple.  Only a hundred and some years after his death was he re-discovered and named a saint.


I remember my mentors and teachers with a great deal of gratitude.  But when Ellen cut my meat for me I was called in a different way. In every one of our moments we have opportunities to serve one another in thousands of little ways.  Such acts do not bring us glory or put us high on the list of Most Valuable Christians. But they are the bricks and mortar of the kingdom of heaven on earth.


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