Posts tagged Alaska
Herman, A Wilderness Saint: From Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska is a new book that I think will be of interest to many readers of this web site. It has been translated from Russian and contains material not previously available in English, which only became accessible in Russia after the fall of communism. Through its use of primary sources such as letters and reports, St. Herman’s life and character is revealed with startling clarity, together with many aspects of the wider Russian ecclesiastic mission to America of which he was an integral part. The three appendices bring the story of New Valaam up to our own time, offer details of the saint’s canonization by both the OCA and ROCOR in 1970 and provide more biographical background to some of the eyewitnesses to the saint’s life. The primary text is supported by easily referenced endnotes and rounded off by an index.
Of particular note for readers of this web site following previous articles published here will be the account of the martyrdom of St Peter the Aleut with a brief discussion of its historicity.
Further information about the book and how to order it in either print or digital formats can be found here. The monastery also published an earlier edition of this book in Russian, details of which may be found here. A look inside preview is available courtesy of Amazon here.
After the death of St. Philaret Drozdov, St. Innocent, the former missionary to Alaska and Siberia, was chosen to be his replacement as Metropolitan of Moscow. Below is his first pastoral address as Metropolitan, given in Moscow’s Dormition (Assumption) Cathedral on May 26, 1868 — 142 years ago today. The address was printed in the English-language Orthodox Catholic Review (Vol. 2, 1868, edited by the English convert J.J. Overbeck).
“Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Thus the Apostles were accustomed, according to the commandment of the Lord, to greet the Churches, and thus also the pastors of the Church following their example greeted their flocks, when entering into spiritual communion with them. By the same law, I also, their most unworthy successor, am emboldened to greet you with these very same words, my brethren, and henceforward beloved brethren and children in the Lord, entering as I am into communion with you.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
But who am I daring to take upon myself the voice and authority of my predecessors?
A disciple of a distant age, of a distant region, and one who has passed more than half his life in a still more distant land; one, but a humble labourer on a small field of Christ’s; a teacher of infants in faith. And is it for the least of labourers to become a labourer in a great, glorious and ancient vineyard of Christ? Is it for such a teacher to instruct a fold which sends teachers and instruction, ay, teachers of teachers, to all the ends of Russia?
True it is, that I might well say the same in every other place, to which I might have been called; — but the gravity of the question is enhanced in this case by the fact – after whom I am placed here? Who was my predecessor and who am I? No comparison can be made here. Or every comparison will be far from advantageous to me, in some respects against me. I understood all the weight and sadness, bitterness of such comparisons – natural, unavoidable, most just comparisons; they are not idle talk. I understood also how elevated, how difficult are the duties of this position, and it behoves me consequently to decline, at least I might have declined this honour, having besides a visible motive for doing so. But who am I to oppose God – our Heavenly Father, without whose will not even a hair of our head may fall? Who am I to contradict the earthly king whose heart is in the hand of God? Nay, I said to myself: let what the Lord wills be with me: I will go whither I am ordered. And lo! I am come.
Bless me then, O Lord, to enter upon my work. Lord, I am Thine, and I will be Thine for ever and everywhere; do Thou with me as Thou willest in this life and in the life to come, that I may become here but a simple instrument in Thy hands!
O most holy Lady, Mother of God, my aid, — do not deprive me here of Thy help, protection, intercession and prayers. Ye Saints of Christ, Peter, Alexis, Jonas, and Philip, and all ye Saints resting here receive me into your prayers – me, your most unworthy successor. Brethren and fathers! Most especially you, illustrious teachers and fathers. It was not such an unlettered Archpriest it behoved you to have. But bear with me in Christ’s love, — receive me into your family prayers, more especially pray, that false doctrine and carnal wisdom may not creep into the midst of Orthodoxy, on account of my ignorance. … I pray ye all, brethren and children, pray for me, a sinner. “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
St. Innocent served as Metropolitan of Moscow from 1868 until his death in 1879.
A young filmmaker, Dmitry Trakovsky, is working on a really exciting project: a documentary on the Orthodox Yup’ik people of Alaska. Here’s how Trakovsky describes the film on his fundraising page at Kickstarter.com:
This feature-length documentary embarks on a voyage down the murky waters of the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers of southwestern Alaska, to the native homeland of the Yup’ik people. It begins during the summer months in the rough frontier town of Bethel, where I board a service barge to observe a Yup’ik sailor as he delivers goods to villages along the Kuskokwim River. The camera will take in a remarkable setting: the vast, empty, treeless Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. In indigenous villages along the river, century-old Russian Orthodox churches rise above the tundra. Yup’ik, rather than English, is the spoken language in most of these settlements.
After days in the barge getting to know the sailor and his world, I disembark in the village of Kwethluk. This hamlet encapsulates both the wealth and strife of the local culture. The Yup’ik speak the language of their ancestors, they hunt and fish in accordance with ancient rites, they follow the religion imported by Russian missionaries centuries before. However, modern difficulties complicate their way of life. Drug and physical abuse is common. Alcoholism is epidemic. In this area in particular, one in sixty-five residents is a registered sex offender.
In Kwethluk, I follow a young orthodox priest through his daily routines, observing a hybridized religion that has come to be a major part of Yup’ik life. In this sequence, I attempt to capture the unique quality of existence in this corner of the world. What is it like to be part of this uncommon American community, hundreds of miles from the nearest McDonalds? What does a child feel growing up in Kwethluk, playing with friends in the muddy streets, exploring the endless tundra on bright arctic nights? Primarily, my focus is on discovering a psychological world that has been formed by an unparalleled mix of factors. The striking surroundings, subzero temperatures, long summer nights, endless winter darkness, adopted Russian religion, timeless Yup’ik traditions and, most recently, modern technology all combine to evoke an inner reality unlike any other.
During the winter, I will visit a family in a town on the Yukon River that lost a son to suicide years earlier. Outside, the tundra is frozen over, and the viewer is confronted with a dark hour in the history of one of America’s most exceptional societies. The suicide rate among young men in this region has reached epidemic proportions – it is ten times the national average. Will the Yup’ik spirit persevere in the face of this mysterious tragedy? What is the root of these suicides? Is it alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of opportunity, cultural dissolution, or something else? In exploring these questions, the doc will present an image of the hopes, values, and personalities of the Yup’ik people as they flourish and suffer in their environment.
To learn more, I’d recommend reading a recent article in the Anchorage Daily News, and checking out this excellent gallery of photos taken by Trakovsky. He’s looking to raise $3,000 over the next week — a ridiculously modest sum, as far as movies go. He’s got some pretty neat incentives for donors, including an advance DVD copy of the film if you donate as little as $35. To learn more — and to make a donation — check out his Kickstarter page.
It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the earliest descriptions of Orthodox worship in Alaska comes not from the pen of a Russian missionary or fur trader, but from that of a young Anglo-American explorer who visited the “Great Land” in 1778, sixteen years before the first missionaries arrived in Kodiak. His name was John Ledyard, born in the small town of Groton, Connecticut, in 1751.
Having dropped out of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, he embarked upon a life of travel. After a brief visit to the British colony of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, he made his way to England and joined the British navy. One month before his fellow countrymen were to declare their independence from Great Britain, Ledyard set sail from London in June 1776 in the service of Captain Cook, bound for the Pacific as a member of the Royal marines.
By the summer of 1778 the expedition had reached southwest Alaska and in October of that year they came to Unalaska in the Aleutian islands of southeast Alaska. At the recommendation of John Gore, the first lieutenant of his ship The Resolution, Ledyard went on shore and traveled for several days. Ledyard describes Gore as his intimate friend and a native of America as well as myself. Gore was most likely a Virginian.
During the second evening on shore Ledyard met Russians for the first time, in the company of the native Aleutians. After enjoying a feast of whale meat, salmon and halibut he went to rest for the night. He writes:
After I had lain down, the Russians assembled the Indians in a very silent manner, and said prayers after the manner of the Greek Church, which is much like the Roman.
I could not but observe with what particular satisfaction the Indians performed their devoirs to God, through the medium of their little crucifixes, and with what pleasure they went through the multitude of ceremonies attendant on that sort of worship. I think it is a religion the best calculated in the world to gain proselytes, when the people are either unwilling or unable to speculate, or when they cannot be made acquainted with the history and principles of Christianity without a former education.
This was not to be Ledyard’s only encounter with Orthodox Christianity. After escaping the service of the British in Long Island in 1782 he remained on the east coast of the newly independent United States for barely two years, before heading to Paris in 1784. There, in June 1786 he met Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister to the French court. Jefferson later recounted:
Ledyard had come to Paris in the hope of forming a company to engage in the fur trade of the Western coast of America. He was disappointed in this, and being out of business and of a roaming, restless character, I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent, by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamchatka, and procuring a passage there in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to America; and I undertook to have the permission of the Empress of Russia solicited.
Had Ledyard succeeded in making the journey Jefferson outlined his place in history would probably rival, if not exceed that of Lewis and Clark who were to follow a similar mandate from Jefferson some twenty years later. Ledyard set out on his monumental journey and made it as far a Yakutsk in eastern Siberia, a journey of some 7500 miles overland and within several hundred miles of the Russian Pacific coast. There he was arrested as a spy and forced to return via St. Petersburg to London!
Whilst on this trip Ledyard had several meetings with Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk, Siberia. At this point Shelikhov had returned to Siberia after founding the Russian settlement of Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in 1784. It was the Shelikhov-Golikov company that would later sponsor sending the future St Herman and other Russian Orthodox missionaries to Kodiak in 1794. (Although it should be noted that Shelikhov asked for only one priest to be sent to the fledgling settlement at Three Saints Bay.) Ledyard’s interest in the Pacific north-west fur trade was most probably what led to his expulsion from Russia. Catherine the Great was eager to integrate Russian America into her empire in the face of emerging competition from the Americans, British and Spanish. It is in this context the Orthodox mission six years later arises. Ledyard also records meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop in Irkutsk and visiting the village of St. Nicholas, with its church of that dedication on the shores of nearby Lake Baikal.
After his return to London the ever-restless Ledyard set out to visit Egypt, traveling there via Paris, where he met again with Jefferson and also Lafayette. He subsequently wrote to Jefferson from Cairo:
The city of Cairo is about half as large in size as Paris, and is said to contain several hundred thousand inhabitants. You will therefore anticipate the fact of its narrow streets and high houses. In this number are contained one hundred thousand Copts, or descendents of the ancient Egyptians. These are likewise Christians, and those of different sects, from Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo and other parts of Syria.
After extensive travels throughout Egypt Ledyard wrote the last letter of his life (still extant) to Jefferson on November 15, 1788. Shortly after this he died of a fever in his thirty-eighth year and was buried in Cairo. The account of his travels with Captain Cook was published in Connecticut in 1783. This is the first work ever published in America to be subject to copyright law.
As a publisher myself, who was born in the British crown colony of Gibraltar and spent a portion of childhood in Ledyard’s home town of Groton, Connecticut, it is hard not to identify with him. Even more so after having made three trips to Alaska, visited the grave of Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk and celebrated the feast of Pentecost 1988 in the church of St. Nicholas, on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, April 9, 2012
March 29, 1859: Fr. Peter Ekaterinovsky (aka Lysakov) was consecrated in Irkutsk, in Siberia, and given the title Bishop of New Archangel (Sitka), Alaska. He was about 38 years old. His predecessor was St. Innocent Veniaminov, who had initially been based in Sitka as diocesan bishop. In 1852, the diocesan seat was moved to Siberia, leaving Alaska without a resident bishop. Eventually, the Russian Holy Synod rearranged things, allowing for an auxiliary bishop in Sitka, which is how we get to Bishop Peter’s consecration. Prior to that, Bishop Peter had been the rector of the Orthodox seminary in Sitka, so he was a natural choice for the new auxiliary post. As bishop, he continued St. Innocent’s missionary work; according to the book Orthodox America, he opened two new missionary schools and extended mission activity to the Bering Straits. Also, according to his entry on OrthodoxWiki, he initiated an investigation into the life of St. Herman of Alaska, which ultimately culminated in St. Herman’s canonization a century later. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire, and Bishop Peter was appointed Bishop of Irkutsk. He went on to serve as a diocesan bishop, Holy Synod official, and monastery administrator before his death in 1889.
March 31, 1879: On Holy Saturday, St. Innocent, by now the Metropolitan of Moscow, died. Rather than try to summarize his life in a paragraph (a nearly impossible task), I would recommend reading this excellent homily on St. Innocent by another great American missionary, Fr. Sebastian Dabovich.
April 1, 1959: Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis was enthroned in New York as the primate of the Greek Archdiocese.
March 26, 1965: The famous cover of LIFE magazine, featuring Martin Luther King and Archbishop Iakovos, was published. The photo was taken during the famous civil rights march to the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama. In an earlier march, a Unitarian minister who participated was beaten to death, and Iakovos joined the next march in response to the murder. Iakovos’ involvement in the King march was featured prominently in Dr. Albert Raboteau’s 2006 “Orthodoxy in America” lecture at Fordham University, the text of which is available online.
March 29, 2000: The OCA Holy Synod proclaimed Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny to be a saint. He was consecrated on May 13.
Also, a bit of a programming note: I wasn’t able to record this as a podcast this week — time just got away from me. Sorry about that!