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.