“He kindles its very snows with his warm zeal…”

Image of St. Innocent from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Image of St. Innocent from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery

On my Ancient Faith Radio podcast, I’m in the midst of a three-part interview series with Eric Peterson on the subject of Alaskan Orthodox history. Today, AFR aired Part 2 of that series, focusing on the period from 1824 (St. Innocent) to 1867 (the sale of Alaska to the United States).

Below is an article that originally appeared in a Protestant religious journal called The Pacific, and was reprinted in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin on April 29, 1864:

The people of California have reason to know that there is such a region as Russian America, because Sitka supplies them with ice. They do not realize that in those cold, waste, inhospitable lands, dwell a population of 60,000 human beings. It is a comfort to know that there are Christians, not indeed of our sort, but Christian, nevertheless we hope, who care for these Esquimaux souls. Priest Benjamin [i.e., Veniaminoff], now Archbishop of Kamchatka, and resident there, commenced missionary work, in 1823, on one of the Aleutian Islands. He learned the language of those tribes, translated portions of the Scriptures and other religious books, and taught the islanders to read and write. From 1830 onward, those people rapidly became Christians. After a time the priest removed to Archangel, on the island of Sitka. Other missionaries succeeded him. One, Sitziazen by name, baptized 530, and the number annually baptized since, has been about 40; the whole number of converts has been estimated at 4,700. Greater success has attented the work on Cook’s Sound, farther northwest. A Missionary, by the name of Netzvetoff, has labored with the tribes so far up as Bhering’s Straits. In all these colonies of Russian America, there were in 1860, seven parish churches served by 27 priests. There were besides 35 chapels. The old priest Benjamin, now called Innocent I., visits every part of this cheerless diocese, and kindles its very snows with his warm zeal. There is one great fact for encouragement in these Missions of the Russian church. The Bible is translated into the language of the people, and they are urged to read it. Doubtless the Russian church keeps too much the traditions of corrupted ages, but we may well rejoice in the knowledge that the Missionary spirit, carrying the Bible to the savage tribes of our borders, is thus active and vigorous. The established church in Russia, is a component part of the “Greek Church.”