We greet the departure from this life of Reader Herman Squartsoff with a profound sense of loss, but also with deep gratitude for his life and ministry. Working with Reader Herman for close to eighteen years as “his priest” (as he called me, unworthy as I am) has been an honor and true blessing. We shared many joys and sorrows together from burying village elders to baptizing babies and joyfully celebrating our Lord’s Holy Resurrection—followed by delicious duck soup. He was always a warm and generous host in the village and we spent a lot of time together around the kitchen table. Reader Herman was probably the most generous man I have ever met. He would literally give you the shirt off his back if you needed it: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Mt. 5:42) He would often give hundred dollar bills to unsuspecting seminarians with children. He would take village students on welcome fishing trips and hunting expeditions to get a breather from the big city life of Kodiak.
He was a friend and confidante but also a true mentor, teaching a young, newly-ordained priest about Christ and the traditions of village Alaska. He was a fantastic teacher who could introduce a new world and way of life not by complicated words but by being a living example of what is Good, True and Beautiful. He taught me as a novice priest, but also was a good father to his children. Whenever I found myself in struggles and difficulties he would help and encourage me like a father or older brother. We served our first funeral together on Afognak Island for a long lost man whose bones had been discovered by an archaeologist. We served Divine Liturgy one Ascension in the sunny and peaceful forests of Monk’s Lagoon with a sizeable number of villagers. Some years, he would serve the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete virtually alone in the Church. Last year we did not serve together for Holy Week and Pascha, because he served in the priestless village of Karluk, so that they to could experience the joy of Our Lord’s Resurrection.
Herman came from an Orthodox family from Spruce Island. He could date his Russian-Alutiiq family back to St. Herman’s time on the island. His father was the Starosta for Nativity of Our Lord Church, which he served his whole life. Herman was raised in the Orthodox faith by pious parents. Herman was reader in Ouzinkie following the death of the ever-memorable Ilarion Ellanak who taught Herman the order of services. Herman felt himself to be the caretaker of the traditions of these elders, but also knew how important is to pass the Orthodox faith to the new generation. Herman knew he lived in a holy place blessed by St. Herman, but also a place that experienced particular struggles and spiritual temptations. He attended St Herman Seminary where he learned more about services and the Orthodox Faith, and after two years of studies remained another year as seminary cook.
Not only was Reader Herman a man of God, but also a traditional village man. He was a skillful hunter and fisherman. From sun up to sun down he led an active, purpose-filled subsistence lifestyle rooted in prayer. He chopped wood, smoked fish, shot rifles, captured octopi, baked pirog, collected birds’ eggs from remote islands, drove skiffs and mended fishing nets. His days, months and years followed the traditional rhythms of the liturgical year and hunting and fishing cycle. He sat on the Native Corporation Board and ran a charter business. He was good at all these things, but his first love was Christ and His Church. He was well aware of his spiritual struggles and imperfections. Many times he exhibited profound repentance.
Reader Herman’s deep concern was for the future of the Church and his village. Like St. Herman of Alaska, he was not afraid to bluntly speak difficult truths if it would help his people or the Church. He was not always popular because he would stubbornly stand for Christ and the Church in the face of growing apathy, greed and secularization. He would often quote the frightening words from St. Matthews Gospel: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt. 24:12) He felt that Orthodox Christianity should stand at the heart of the community. When he was village health aide, he placed icons in all the village clinic’s rooms. Together we anointed and blessed the newly constructed Ouzinkie Native Corporation building. Herman taught that Christ should be everywhere throughout the community—He is not bound by the four walls of the church structure. He felt we need to bring Christ into our everyday lives and not act like “Sunday Only” Christians. He deeply believed we need to transmit Christ and the Orthodox faith to our youth. Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8) and to be faithful to our past we must give to future generations. He helped start the village’s St. Peter the Aleut Youth Camp for this very purpose. He wanted to make sure the village never drifted from its Orthodox Christian roots. He wanted to make sure future generations would enjoy the blessings of the subsistence lifestyle that he, his parents and grandparents had enjoyed.
Christ said the words, “Well done good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Mt. 25:23) I believe Herman was a good and faithful servant who taught us by his words and deeds to love God and our neighbors. He taught not by complicated words and phrases, but by faith and generosity rooted in prayer and the Church’s liturgical and spiritual life. We pray that now he is rejoicing in Christ’s Kingdom with his beloved St. Herman and all the saints. May his memory be eternal!
Archpriest John Dunlop
Dean ~ Saint Herman Seminary