During our Alaska trip last month, Jeremy and I visited Kodiak Island, whose cathedral contains the relics of St. Herman of Alaska, who was a Russian missionary to America in the late 18th and early 19th century. St. Herman lived on nearby Spruce Island, home today to an Orthodox skete populated by two monks, Fr. Andrew and Fr. Martirius. When we got to Kodiak, we set about trying to figure out how to get to Spruce Island. It's a very holy place in Orthodoxy, but difficult to get to unless you have a boat of your own, or want to pay to charter a float plane. We managed to find a priest on Kodiak Island the day we arrived. He told us that, as it turned out, he was going to Spruce Island with one of the monks to celebrate the feast day of St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco, another great American saint. We showed up at the fuel dock at 6:30, and as it happened, there was room for us on the skiff. Here, Jeremy is helping Fr. Andrew push off.
We set out for the hour-long skiff ride to Monk's Lagoon.
On the way, we spied a whale. That's his tail under all that water.
Our first glimpse of Monk's Lagoon. The monks don't actually live on this part of the island (though St. Herman did), but there is a small house with a kitchen and a chapel on the beach.
Fr. Andrew pulls the Archangel ashore. Fr. Andrew, a Californian, used to be a surfer and once traveled the world in search of the perfect wave.
When we landed, we found that there were a few other pilgrims on the island. We walked through the woods to the main chapel for Saturday evening vigil. That's Martha and Julie in front of the church. To the right of Julie, you can see a small trap door. St. Herman used to be buried under the chapel, before they moved his relics to Kodiak Island. Pilgrims go in through the trap door to pray to the saint.
This is what's inside.
The inside of the church. Notice the light through the window; it's 10:30 p.m. when I took it.
After the service, the nuns took me back to their island, where the two of them live, to spend the night in their cozy guest room. (Jeremy stayed on Spruce Island with the men, and had to sleep on the wood floor of the house on the beach at Monk's Lagoon). This was the moon we saw on our way to the island. This picture does not come close to doing it justice. It was after midnight.
I had a chance to explore the nuns' island the next morning, before the monks picked us up in the skiff to go back to Spruce Island for the liturgy. This is their chapel, which Fr. Andrew and Fr. Martirius built.
The view from the guest house, and the nuns' garden.
On the way, Fr. Martirius checked his gillnet, to see whether he'd caught any fish for lunch. Unfortunately, all the gillnet caught was seaweed.
Once back on Spruce Island, Jeremy and I went to check out the chapel dedicated to the Meeting of the Lord.
Some of the icons inside the chapel.
Jeremy chats with Mother Naila after the liturgy.
The walk back to Monk's Lagoon.
Propane tanks become church bells. Monks are resourceful!
Fr. Andrew and Fr. Martirius return after another trip out to the gillnet, which, again, was empty.
Jeremy shows me where he slept the night before.
I fill up a bottle at St. Herman's spring.
Jeremy takes a drink.
We get ready to go, and Jeremy chats with Fr. Martirius (a former skateboarder who still wears Vans under his cassock) on the beach.
We get ready to go.
Last glimpse of Monk's Lagoon.
Martha, Fr. Martirius, me, Mother Nina and pilgrim Paul on the Archangel.
There was another whale out there, but I wasn't quick enough to catch it.
Jeremy and I get dropped off back on Kodiak Island. The end!