Metropolitan HERMAN: A Tribute Sermon by Bishop DANIEL (Brum)

Metropolitan HERMAN: A Tribute
Sermon of Bishop DANIEL (Brum)

The sermon which follows was delivered during the Divine Liturgy served prior to the internment of His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN (Swaiko) on Friday September 16th.1

Sermon Offered by The Right Reverend DANIEL of Chicago
on the Occasion of the Requiem Divine Liturgy of
His Beatitude The Most Blessed Metropolitan HERMAN
Saint Tikhon Monastery Church – September 16, 2022

The Lord God has called His Beatitude The Most Blessed Metropolitan Herman, former Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All America and Canada from this life to Himself. He has called him from this valley of tears to that “place of brightness, place of refreshment, place of repose, where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.” And so we gather today in this sacred temple where he himself prayed so many years throughout his long life to sing him away into the Kingdom, to give thanks for his life of service, and to pray for him, asking that the Lord will pardon any transgressions, whether voluntary or involuntary, and that the Lord our God remember his episcopate in His Kingdom.

We have just heard from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John which relates the Lord’s beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, the Mystery of His Body and Blood. And so, together we reflect upon this passage and to apply it to our lives… and to this very hour and moment. But in order to do this, I feel it also necessary and appropriate to recall the life we gather to honor and the life of service for which we gather to give thanks. I also feel it very appropriate this morning to speak words of eulogy, “a good word” a “word of praise” for His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, the newly-departed Servant of God.

And in doing this, I want to first recognize the reason we are all here: we are here because of the relationships, many and varied, that we have with this man, this bishop, who served the Church throughout the years: he was a member of a family, and uncle, a godfather, a brother bishop, a diocesan bishop, and the primate of The Orthodox Church in America. He was a spiritual father and a mentor to countless numbers throughout the years. How many here today were his spiritual sons or daughters? How many of you did he teach, both in and outside of the classroom? How many here did he baptize, crown in marriage, or ordain? To how many was he a confessor, a collaborator in the work of the Church, or even a friend? How many did he encourage in their spiritual journey and how many did he challenge to always do greater and better things for the Lord and for the Church? In his 58 years of ordained service to the Church, even more if we consider his dedication to the Church before his ordination to the Holy Priesthood in 1964 and his consecration to the episcopate in 1973, Metropolitan Herman touched many lives. Certainly there are also those here this morning who never really knew him or who knew him only from afar: seminarians, for example, who likely knew him in his later years mostly as a fellow-worshipper in this monastery church. But he touched the lives of even those who did not know him as he offered his prayers for the whole Church.

I am honored to include myself among those of you who knew him personally or as the bishop, archbishop, and Metropolitan who served the Orthodox Church in America. I ask you to please bear with me as I relate, albeit briefly, my personal insights into the life of the man whom we entrust today to God’s mercy.

I served as His Beatitude’s secretary from the day of his election as Primate in July 2002. I continued in that role until I returned to parish life in 2006. For those four years, I was in contact with him often, especially when he would be in residence at the chancery in Syosset. Sometimes we communicated on a daily basis, sometimes with less frequency, depending upon his secretarial needs. As a result of this interaction, I came to know his way of thinking, what kind of response he might have to a given situation, a sense of how he might answer questions or pastoral issues that came before him, and his overall approach to and his commitment to the primatial ministry. The commitments of his time and energies, his focus, and his dedication to the Church were clear to me as I saw his day-to-day workings. This was particularly clear in his dedication to the life of this Holy Monastery and to the life and mission of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. But truly also to the whole Church, beginning with his leadership of the Holy Synod and continuing to all the Church’s works institutions and works. And to the overall mission of the entire Orthodox Church in America.

I also occasionally accompanied him on various primatial visits, both here in North America and abroad and was a firsthand witness to his role as the representative of our Church. My relationship with Metropolitan Herman at this time was a very formal one, one in which I respected him both as my bishop and my boss. But, as formal as that relationship was, I was able to gain some insight into not just the office, but also the man., the hierarch. Someone whose first commitment was always to the Church and his understanding of how he could best serve the Church. No matter what any detractors might say: his first love was for Christ’s Holy Church.

I also came to know His Beatitude in another way, after his retirement from the primatial office in 2008. As some of you might know, he began to spend the winter months in the sunny warmth of Arizona, where I was assigned to Saints Peter and Paul Church in Phoenix. He and Martin, his ever-loyal and always attentive friend and assistant, would spend several weeks there in the Valley of the Sun and would attend the Divine Services at the parish church. In the earliest years of his annual visits, His Beatitude served at the Altar, then, as time and age took its toll on him, he would assist by praying in the Altar. Then, when confined to a wheelchair, he would pray in the Altar as well, assisted by Martin and the servers in the altar, who were always lovingly attentive to him.

Throughout those years, His Beatitude, humbly showed himself to be an obedient son of the Church he loved. He never complained about anyone or anything. He never spoke badly of anyone. He never relived the past. Not one prone to show emotions, he showed himself definitely to be a man who was at peace with the world, with his situation, with his health and physical limitations. I witnessed him then as a man of faith, again, whose first prayer was always on behalf of the Church. Metropolitan Herman came to be a beloved “snowbird” parishioner at our parish, especially loved by those with whom he spent time at the coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy, though, of course, he always requested a Pepsi. Not coffee, but Pepsi. Throughout the years, we celebrated many of his birthdays… just as we would that of any other beloved member of the parish community.

In this brief recollection of my over twenty years relationship with Metropolitan Herman, I hope that some of you were able to see in them a part of your own relationships with him, or at least to a better understanding of him and appreciation for him. Some knew him as a priest, seminary teacher, Diocesan Bishop, archbishop, Metropolitan and so on. The formal obituary posted on the website spoke of these and many others aspects of his life, the many titles he carried, and of the various areas of his service through the years, in virtually every area of Church life and throughout the entire Church. Most Notably: his dedication to the Sanctity of Life. In this, he was a real forerunner for all of us in this essential area of contemporary Christian witness.

But even all of these relationships and titles and functions and commitments do not sum up who Metropolitan Herman was for us. His life and his legacy is so much more than these. In reflecting upon his life and what I think we should all learn from it is based upon his faith; it is his example of faith, an example of hearing and understanding and living the Gospel that is his greatest legacy.

The words we heard proclaimed in the Gospel just now were words in which he believed completely. I have no doubt of that.

I am the Bread of Life. This is the bread which comes down from heaven. I am the living bread. It is my flesh that I give for the life of the world. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up at the last day (from John 6:48-54).

One could witness complete faith in these words – these promises spoken by the Lord- every time His Beatitude celebrated the Divine Liturgy. He was never more at home, never more comfortable, never more himself than when he stood in front of the Holy Altar and offered the bloodless sacrifice. He had no doubt that the Lord was true to His word and was fulfilling his promises each time he celebrated and each time he communed of the Holy Mysteries. Especially that promise of eternal life: “He who eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up at the last day.” This was evident even at the very end of his life when he asked to partake of the Holy and Precious Body and Blood of Christ on his deathbed… as a fulfillment of his life of faith and as a help to him on his final journey as he left this earth-bound life.

And so, today we give thanks for the many ways in which the Lord blessed us through the ministry of Metropolitan Herman. We give thanks, knowing of his faith and knowing what his real legacy is, what he really says to us as he leaves this life. The lesson he taught us about love for and dedication to the Church. The example of living humbly and prayerfully, as he did so powerfully at the end of his life. As he taught us in these last years. And we recommit ourselves to the same faith as we today are nourished with the Bread come down from Heaven.

I recently came across an old copy of the book “Orthodox America, 1794-1976.” In that book, sometime known as the “Red Book,” on page 227, you will find a photo of the Holy Synod in 1976: In the front row, Metropolitans Ireney and Metropolitan Vladimir, formerly of Tokyo; Archbishops Kiprian, Valerian, Sylvester, John (Garklavs) and John (Shahavskoy); and in the last row, Bishops Theodosius, Dmitry, Jose, and Gregory…And in the very back row, in the last and least place according to ranking is a young Bishop Herman. The youngest in terms of consecration and now the last of that most impressive and august body to repose. This photo speaks volumes about that era, about those men, among them Metropolitan Herman.

And so, we also honor Metropolitan Herman and pray for him as the last of an era and generation of bishops that lived and served in the both the Metropolia and in the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. We are grateful to him and those who have gone before us in serving the Church. And we realize and acknowledge that the legacy he and they leave us is the very work to which they dedicated themselves and to which we all are called: the life, the work, and the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of the One Come down from Heaven who nourishes us with His Most Pure Body and Most Precious Blood,. The one who promises that he will rise us up at the last day and grant us the gift of eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.

May the Lord receive His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman into his Heavenly kingdom. May He grant him rest with the saints. May his memory be eternal!

1. This is published with the blessing of his Grace and should not be republished without his blessing.

Metropolitan Herman: In memorandum

What is being published here is a eulogy written by Subdeacon Martin Paluch who spent 57 years as klenik (cell servant or personal assistant) to His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman:

Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces, Fathers, Matushki, Family and dear friends of our most beloved Metropolitan Herman:

From the book of Hebrew’s chapter 13:7-8 (verses from Lazurus Saturday Epistle reading) one can read:

“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

I have given much thought and meditated over these words spoken by St. Paul to the Hebrews and will attempt to give an answer to those gracious words; “how fortunate Vladika was to have you Martin and thank you for taking care of our beloved Metropolitan Herman”. (that so often have been offered to me these past dozen or so years)

I wish to begin with words often used by Metropolitan Herman:
We must, “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. And to love our neighbor as we love our self.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

How did His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman understand and teach these words?

The Spirit of these words from the Gospel of Matthew, spoken by our Lord himself exampled the very life of Metropolitan Herman from the moment of his ordination to Priesthood until his last breath, and it was the Holy Spirit that gave him the strength to continue to work on his own salvation and to further build up especially these holy grounds, this righteous place in South Canaan for you and me, and all those many God fearing people searching to be spiritually comforted.

Metropolitan Herman followed the teachings and imitated the ways of Sts. Peter, Paul and perhaps all the Apostles. To the Americans, Russians, Greeks, Albanians, converts and all people he delivered only one message, that of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church! He never neglected the commands of the Church nor would he add or detract from the Sacred teachings or order of the Liturgy without the unified approval of every member of the Holy Synod for that was the Oath of Ordination that he had taken.

I knew him as:
as a Priest
as a Monastic and Deputy Abbot
as Abbot
as a Bishop and
as a Metropolitan

I knew of his visitations as a Bishop in his diocese
In the dioceses which he was locum tenants of throughout America
His visitations to Russia, Bulgaria, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Jerusalem, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Japan,
Africa and so many places throughout North America.

And now I will begin with my first encounter with this true imitator of our Lord!

The students of my class of 1969 came to St. Tikhon’s in 1965 to become priests so as to change the world and make Orthodoxy what it should be, or so we thought. As young students we had not fully realized that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow!

As we entered St. Tikhon’s doorway we would quickly recognize that in the chair behind the office desk was a person who loved and honored God more than we, a person dedicated to helping his fellow man more than we, a welcoming priest of God who deeply cared for those entrusted to him, who would anoint with oil the weak, the infirmed, and as a good shepherd would dutifully watch over the first, the last and give special attention to the one wandering away.

This man was truly married to the Church! He took that cross of Christ and carried it in love and service, as long and as far as the strength in his body would permit. He had no desire for wealth, prestige or power because he had already found and recognized the pearl of greatest value, that is Christ, which he had promised to follow and serve all the days remaining in his earthly life.

In our secular world, we give honor to those institutions and organizations that outwardly show works of charity. We can witness and are moved by advertisements on TV that speak of feeding a hungry child, opening hospitals and providing necessary services that would make a difference and so we willingly give!

On the other hand, the Gospel teaches and strongly encourages us to take notice of poor Lazarus waiting at the gate, the man beaten by robbers, those struggling to make ends meet and those who are in want and perhaps just need a little compassion, mercy or forgiveness.

Chapter 6 of Mathew’s Gospel begins with: “and when you do acts of charity do not be as the Scribes and Pharisees for they love to have men see their works, but you let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing…”

As a student, how well I remember the time Father Joseph Swaiko, (Metropolitan Herman) received an urgent call and asked me to get his car and drive him to a place on route 196 about 15 miles from the Seminary. I asked where are we going? He replied, “we will know when we get there! Look for a person selling things close to the road.” Upon arriving and to my surprise, he said turn in this driveway and stop. He got out and spoke to the man, the wife and three young children who were trying to sell their possessions. You see, they had left New Jersey, towing a smaller car in search of a job when the motor in their van had blown apart. This left them with having to sell most of their personal items in hopes of earning enough money to make it to California where they had relatives who were willing to help them out. For now, they were living in their Van, trying to collect enough money by selling what they owned along with the van that needed a new motor. Metropolitan Herman put them up in an old house that he had purchased from a Russian parishioner who begged him to buy (the house) because of her failing health, and she needed money to go live with her daughter in Florida. At that time, Metropolitan Herman did not have money to buy the house but had me drive him to the bank for a personal loan. After a few days, Metropolitan Herman found a buyer for the van with the blown motor and gave them his own personal money, enough to buy food for the family and gas to reach California.

On another of many such occasions:
One Sunday afternoon, Pavlina, a women in her 80s appeared on our doorstep, she spoke some English but mostly Russian. She had come from the Cathedral in New York City. This poor lady lost her only son some year’s back; she was a Lazarus holding all that she had ever possessed in two shopping bags. She said she lost her place of stay at the Cathedral and that you as a Bishop must help me. As days rolled into weeks and weeks became months that turned into years one could see Bishop Herman ministering to her with that same love and care that can be read about in the lives of some of the great saints of the past.

I also drove him to hospitals, to prisons, to nursing homes and even to distant farms where he would dutifully take the most precious body and blood of our Lord and Savior and stay for a time to listen and to offer comforting and loving words given to him by the Holy Spirit.

These few examples were not the only occasions on which my eyes were blessed to see his great love in action imitating those simple instructions given by God throughout Gospels.

He never saw himself as a miracle worker, however many were touched through his fervent prayers to God on their behalf. I personally witnessed and spoke with people who testified what took place in their life as a result of an encounter with this blessed man of God. From my room at night, I would often hear the phone ring at 1, 2 3 and 4 am in the morning and be answered quickly by Metropolitan Herman. Sometimes the call would last for more than an hour and in the morning, I would ask who called? He would answer; the caller was pleading for help, or was in trouble with the law, was going to commit suicide, wanted to have an abortion, was attempting to harm someone, or was in desperation and searching for someone who would listen.

Saint Tikhon’s Center of Orthodoxy

To speak about St. Tikhon’s without mentioning Metropolitan Herman would surely dismay many alive today and displease those who have now taken up residency in St. Tikhon’s Cemetery especially the monks, the priests, past members of the Holy Synod, administration and parishioners who walked, talked and worked with him.

He would often in his sermons remind us that unless God build the house, those who build labor in vain.

In 1965 one could hardly imagine that such a complex would be built as we see here today at St. Tikhon’s. Why at that time there was even serious talk to close this solitary place. How well I remember back then in the early years of my life at St. Tikhon’s where in was a dilapidated barn, a two story garage structure, a possibly three story house if one were to include the semi-finished attic, another old structure with some 27 rooms used for student housing that included 4 classrooms, kitchen, dining room, a small library and a small Chapel. Across the street were the Church, the Monastic quarters, one garage with 3 bays, an old wooden bell tower that had stones for its foundation, a small dining room known as the Trapeza, another larger house below the cemetery known as the Vecherny Zvon, and a cemetery by the Church. All of this covered about 10 acres of ground of the approximately 260 acres owned by St.Tikhon’s. At that time, the value of St. Tikhon’s set by the insurance company was less than $2 million. Today its value is more than 17 million.

Back in those early days were 8 older monks at the Monastery, whom I knew well, who were constantly praying that God would send someone to help them with their struggles and especially breathe some new life much like Elijah did in the OT into these holy grounds that had been anointed so many years ago.

Joseph Swaiko, (Metropolitan Herman) upon arriving sensed that St. Tikhon’s was a strong ship blessed by God many years ago, and that the Monastic brotherhood with very little at hand to work with, had marvelously kept it well preserved. Perhaps with a little attention, building upon what they had already sanctified, could be made to set sail and take its people through the turbulent waters of this world into more peaceful waters of everlasting joy. All this ship needed was a God-fearing leader who believed that it was God building it.

But who would be willing to give up all worldly cares much like those who came before to embark upon such a wearisome task? This would take a person of great faith, humility and love for God and for those who were caring as best they could with that which was planted on these holy and consecrated grounds.

With prayers and supplication to God, the Monastic Brotherhood would warmly welcome such a person in the name of Fr. Joseph Swaiko. He unselfishly and prayerfully said yes to God; and gave up all worldly cares. He took the plow given to him and began to cultivate the soil, nourish the ground and plant the seeds which were placed in his care by the elderly monks still living, and through the prayers of those who have long left this world. Humbly and with the love of God in his mind and heart, he began to minister to those whom God had already sent and would send to him.

He offered his own meager funds, when that was not enough he was able by the grace of God to convince wealthier people to take up the cause for our Lord and support this Center of Orthodoxy. Many were moved to tears by the example that he set and by the deeply spiritual and simple instructions in his sermons. And so began the rekindling and caring by all who were and would be sent by God to build what we see here today.

Blessed are the peacemakers:

One day a young monk who has peacefully left this world got into an argument and threw his keys at Metropolitan Herman. At that time Bishop Herman said, “You are full of darkness, go out of my house!” In a rampage the monk left! After three days the monk returned and begged Bishop Herman for forgiveness, without hesitation Bishop Herman gave him his blessing and restored him to his former position. From then on, this monk would come to see Bishop Herman every day after Liturgy for an hour or so and together penned many books including, “These truths we hold, and the Book of Needs”. So grateful was the young monk that he would not credit this or any book with his own name but merely the phrase, “by a Monk or St. Tikhon’s Monastery”. I would add also that this monk had a low tolerance and constantly was annoyed by the noise of children especially in church. After this incident the monk was no longer tormented by noise and would often ask me during camp season, when are you bringing the camp children to my Skete?

Luke 11:49
Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will persecute.’

While Metropolitan Herman was alive, he was accused of the “sin of omission”. I witnessed an attorney calling him a liar and others trying to force him to reveal a confession. He was ridiculed, mocked, and for more than three years forced into exile from these holy grounds. Some even tried to erase his name and memory from the history of the church. Yet throughout all of these temptations he remained loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, and would only say, that he was comforted to know that God would be his judge and not man.

Through all the trials and tribulations, he stood firm as an imitator of Christ and would not condemn nor lift his hand against his brother bishop in Christ or anyone else, for that would have surely divided the Church. He accepted the cross placed upon his already frail shoulders and glorified God even more for allowing him in his last days to be tested by the fire of suffering.
A whole generation of people, deacons, priests and bishops during his time bear witness to the wonderful, good works and moral life exemplified by this humble man of God. Wherever he went, to whatever audience was placed before him his actions were always beholding to the image and likeness of his Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

His entire life was one of prayer to God and I don’t suppose that will change now that he has left this earthly world. He will continue to keep praying especially for all of us and why? Because that is what he did all his life! He was filled with the grace, love and fellowship to which he was consecrated by the laying on of hands, that most holy and precious Apostolic Succession given by Christ to those whom He has chosen.

Our Lord instructs us in the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, chapter 7 verse 34 with these words: “do not Judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to many who have watched me care for him and who have expressed gratitude by blessing me with such tender words as “he is most fortunate to have you to help him”. However, to me who knew him better than anyone else and with gratitude I must answer; it was I who gained and was most fortunate to have him, this man of God who by his very own lifestyle and example changed my way of life and that of so many others.