Posts tagged Missions
Editor’s note: We first published this article nearly a year ago, but today is St. Herman’s feast day on the New Calendar, and it seemed appropriate to reprint this early Life. The author, Vera Vladimirovna Johnston, was born in the Russian Empire, married an Englishman, and eventually moved to New York. Her own story is extremely fascinating, and we discussed it in some detail in August. This article originally appeared under the title “Herman — Russian Missionary to America,” in a publication called The Constructive Quarterly 7:1 (March 1919). That is, it was written for an audience of literate Christians of various denominations, rather than specifically for Orthodox readers. I have not edited the text at all; any misspellings are in the original.
A Russian missionary to America! Yes, indeed, a servant of God, lowly and simple of heart, who attained to such perfection of spirit that in our day and generation there are many in Alaska and throughout the Orthodox parishes in the United States who think that Herman, the humble monk, should be and will be canonized—a saint of the Church.
In the second half of the eighteenth century the northern boundaries of Russia came so close to America that Russian pioneers reached the Aleutian Islands. Towards the end of the reign of the great Catherine, when Gabriel was Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, it was arranged that the light of Christ should be brought to the inhabitants of these inhospitable islands, which were inaccessible part of the year. Ten recluses of the Valaam Monastery were chosen and in 1794 started for far-off America.
The letters written home to the Prior of Valaam by some of the members of the mission were full of quaint descriptions and observations of the wonders met with in Siberia and in the cold regions of the Pacific Ocean: sea monsters, and the not less monstrous aboriginal Red men, who fought the Russian sailors by night, with queerly carved and painted masks of animals on their heads. Some of these letters are well worth reading after the lapse of 125 years.
However, the mission landed at last, and the success of these preachers of the Gospel among the new sons of the Russian Empire was great. Many thousands became Orthodox Christians, the word taking such deep root in their hearts that time and vicissitudes have done little to sap its vitality even to this day; a school was founded, a church was built, round which were grouped the dwellings of the new converts and their spiritual fathers. Yet the general success of the mission did not continue very long. After five years the Archimandrite Joasaph, head of the mission, who about this time became a bishop, was drowned off the coast of Alaska with other members of the mission; the hieromonk Juvenalius “won the crown of martyrs,” having been killed by the arrows of the natives; and one after another the missionaries disappeared, until only Herman was left.
The Yelovoi Ostrov—Spruce Island—was Herman’s dwelling place. It faces Kadiak, where stood the original church and mission house, and is separated from it by a channel a mile and a half wide, which is so rough at times that Yelovoi becomes entirely inaccessible. The island is thickly covered with fir trees, and there is a swift stream of fresh water on it, so that one is never out of hearing of the murmur of the stream and the noise of rushing tumbling breakers on the stony beach. And it was in this sylvan and watery solitude that the Russian monk worked in America.
Retiring into this wilderness, Herman first of all dug with his own hands a cave, in which he lived until a wooden cell was built for him; but the cave he preserved in good condition during all the forty years he stayed on Yelovoi, retiring there for prayer at times, and destining it for the grave in which his frail old body should find rest at last. Later a small wooden chapel was built next to his cell and a bigger one for the school children.
For more than forty years Herman worked incessantly. He was the first to introduce various European vegetables into these regions. When he was not praying or teaching, he was digging, planting, weeding, watering; and the wild little island produced vegetables on quite a large scale—good potatoes and cabbage. He was an expert at finding edible fungus crops in the thickets beneath the trees; and he pickled great quantities of mushrooms, obtaining salt from the seawater. He carried to his vegetable beds fertilizing seaweed in such a huge basket that it was not easy to lift it even when empty; yet at times the frail old monk transported several of these basketfuls daily, though the distance to the seashore was quite considerable. The endurance and vigour of his emaciated body were incredible, his contemporaries say; for instance, one snowy winter’s night, young Jerassimos, one of his disciples, by chance saw Apa (Grandfather) Herman walking barefooted in the woods, carrying with unbent shoulders a tree so big that Jerassimos said not even four strong men could have borne it. And all this was done to supply food, fuel, clothing, and even school books, for the many Aleutian children of whom he took care. And as if all this was not enough, whenever sufficient sugar and flour could be obtained, Herman made cookies and little cakes for the children, who adored him.
His own food consisted only of a very small piece of fish or a little boiled vegetable. He wore the same light clothes summer and winter. He slept on a wooden bench covered with a doe’s skin, which as years went on had no hair left on it at all, becoming simply a thin piece of leather. Two bricks, carefully concealed from visitors, were his pillow; and instead of a blanket he used a piece of board, which still covers his body in the cave which is his grave. But such as it was, Apa Herman loved his wilderness home. He was a frequent visitor of the Russian officials on the shore, but he always returned home for the night, even if it was very dark, or foggy, and if the sea rolled heavy waves. On the rare occasions when it was necessary to stay away for the night, and his hosts put him in a comfortable bedroom, in the morning it would be discovered that the bed had not been touched, and indiscreet people would have seen him at all hours of the night kneeling in prayer.
Even in his youth he had never looked very robust, for he was sparely built, but not tall; yet in addition to all the physical and moral self-imposed fatigue, he always wore heavy chains on his body, thus inflicting on himself further mortification of the flesh. His nearest disciple in the Aleutian Island, whose name was Ignatius Aligyaga, was often heard in later times to say: “Yes, Apa led a hard life, and no one could follow him.”
Yet, for all the incessant labour of his outward life, his inner life was the more intense of the two, and far the more important in his own eyes. Bishop Peter, who knew Herman well, wrote that his principal concern was “the exercise of spiritual achievements, in the isolation of his cell, where no one could see him.” And this statement is further confirmed by what Herman himself said when somebody asked him whether he did not feel dull, being so much alone in the woods. “No, I am not alone. God is there as He is everywhere. Holy angels are there. Then how can I feel dull? With whom is it better and pleasanter to converse, with men or with angels?”
Herman’s attitude towards the aboriginal inhabitants of Alaska and the way in which he understood Russia’s relation to them is well worth attention. He wrote to the Governor of the colony: “The Lord gave this land to our beloved mother country like a new-born babe, who has not as yet any faculty to acquire knowledge, nor the sense to do so; because of its lack of strength and its infancy, it not only needs protection, but even support; but this it has as yet no ability to ask of anyone. And as Providence has made the prosperity of this people to depend, until some unknown date, on the Russian authorities … I, the humble servant of the people of this land, and their nurse, standing before you on behalf of all, do implore you, writing with tears of blood. Be our father and our benefactor. It is needless to say we have no eloquence. But with our inarticulate infant tongues we say to you: ‘Wipe the tears of defenceless orphans, cool the hearts which are melting in the fire of sorrow, help us to understand what joy is.’ “
Herman’s self-abnegation in his devotion to the Aleutian people was complete. A ship from the United States brought to Sitka a very contagious fatal disease, which spread from there to Kadiak. The plague ran its deadly course in three days. There were no doctors and no drugs on the island. The mortality was such that dead bodies lay unburied for days. Herman wrote of it in the following words: “I can imagine nothing more sad or more horrible than the sight I beheld on visiting an Aleutian kajem. It is a big barn or barrack with bunks, in which the Aleutians live with their families. It held about one hundred people. Some were dead and were cold already, but lay side by side with the living; some were in their last agony; their moaning and screaming were enough to rend one’s soul with pity. … I saw mothers over whose dead bodies crawled little hungry babies.”
And throughout this terrible epidemic, which lasted for a whole month, gradually declining, Herman never gave a thought to his own discomfort or danger. He stayed most of the time with the sick, tending them, praying with them, comforting them or preparing them to die as Christians should.
Herman’s concern for the moral growth of the Aleutians was deep. He read and explained to them the Scriptures. And their progress in singing in Church was quite remarkable. The Aleutians liked his lessons and his preaching, and flocked to his island in great numbers. His talks delighted them, and through them a miraculous influence was exercised over his unlettered listeners. Here is one instance which has reached us in his own description:
“Glory be to the holy ways of God’s compassion! His Providence, which passes understanding, has manifested to me something which I never saw before in all the twenty years I have spent in Kadiak. A little after Easter a certain young woman who can speak Russian well came to me. She did not know me before, had never seen me, but when she came and heard about the Incarnation of the Son of God, and about life eternal, she was consumed with such ardent love for Jesus Christ, that she will not leave me and has persuaded me, in spite of my preference for isolation, in spite of all the obstacles and hardships I represented to her, to receive her. And now for more than a month she has lived in the school and does not seem homesick. Wondering at this greatly, I recall the words of our Saviour, that much is revealed to babes which is hidden from the wise and the prudent.” This Aleutian woman, who was baptized Sophia, stayed on the island of Yelovoi, taking care of the school children, long after the death of the recluse.
Here is further testimony to the work of grace in the hearts of the people, made accessible to them by the simple words of Herman. This testimony comes from the Russian Governor of the colony, who was a man of high social standing at home, well acquainted with the ways and opinions of the great European world. Governor Janovsky writes: “I was thirty when I met Father Herman. I must mention at once that I was educated in the School of the Naval Corps, that I was acquainted with many sciences and had read a good deal. But unfortunately I had but a very superficial understanding of the science of all sciences, the Law of God, and that only theoretically, never applying it to life; in fact, I was a Christian in name only, in thought and deed I was an atheist. My rejection of the holiness and divinity of our religion was only the greater because I read quantities of agnostic literature. It was not long before Father Herman became aware of this. . . . To my great surprise he spoke with much force and intelligence; his arguments were so convincing that, even as I recall them now, it seems to me that no learning and no worldly wisdom could withstand him. Daily we discussed till midnight and even later the subjects of divine love, eternity, the salvation of the soul and Christian living. His delightful talk poured forth freely, unhindered.” In after life Governor Janovsky became known for his truly Christian disposition. He concludes his reminiscences as follows: “For all this I am indebted to Father Herman: he is my true benefactor.” The same official left a description of Herman’s external appearance. “I remember very vividly,” he says, “the Father’s pleasant features, luminous with grace, his pleasing smile, his gentle attractive eyes, his humble quiet disposition and kindly address. He was not tall; his face was pale and covered with innumerable fine wrinkles; his eyes sparkled with inner light . . . and his speech was never loud, but very agreeable.”
From one source and another there is a very considerable record of the life of this quiet kindly Apa of the Aleutian Islands. But perhaps the surest indication of his coming though delayed canonization is in the fact that, having died in his eighty-first year on December 13, 1837, he is still remembered by the descendants of those who were his spiritual children in the true’ sense. The healing and miracle working power of prayer at his poor grave, most of the time snowed up and inaccessible, still prevails in that little known, northernmost corner of America.
Monk Herman died fully prepared, having arranged for all the details and foretold many of the circumstances of his death. On the evening of his death some Russian Creoles and Aleutians saw a pillar of light ascending from the island of Yelovoi, brighter and more distinct than any northern lights. Some of the beholders are recorded as having said: “Father Herman has left us.” And many on Kadiak, Athognak and other islands stretching from America to Asia knelt down and prayed in their simple faith, seeking consolation in their bereavement.
Many are the records of the good deeds and the verified prophecies of this unusual Russian life spent in the service of Americans. But perhaps his own commentary on his life can best show what he really was and what were his aspirations. “The hollow desires of this life draw us away from our heavenly native land; love of these desires and habits clothes our souls as with an unclean garment; the Apostles called this the ‘outer man.’ We, in our wanderings through life, calling on God for help, ought to lift this uncleanness from ourselves, clothing ourselves with new desires and a new love of the future life, and thus judge of our drawing near to our heavenly native land or away from it. It is impossible to do this in haste, but we may follow the example of sick people who desire a glad recovery, and never give up their search for a cure. I can speak suggestively only.”
Editor’s note: The following interview, with Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, originally appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and was reprinted in the Macon (GA) Telegraph on July 31, 1903. We’re reprinting it here in full.
Abbot Sebastian Dabovich, a priest high in the circles of the orthodox Russian church, passed through Seattle yesterday on his way to inspect the mission of that church in Alaska. The abbot is an authority on the Russian church in Alaska, and spoke very interestingly of the work there in an interview. He said:
Next to the Roman Catholics the Russian [Church] has the greatest number of communicants of any church in the civilized world. On the coast the two great strongholds of the Russian church are in Alaska and a section of California. Last year I made a trip of 6,000 miles in and along the Alaskan coast, inspecting our mission stations.
On this trip I go to consecrate a new church in Douglas Island, opposite Juneau, the communicants of which are mostly miners of the Slavonic race. From there I go to Sitka to look after the work. On the whole, the trip will be largely in the nature of a rest for me.
The work of our missions in Alaska is a continually growing one, and owing to the great floating population of that country, a work that is continually changing to meet the new demands.
The majority of native Alaskans are Christianized. Our own church has been organized in Alaska for nearly 110 years. Since the country has been occupied by the United States the Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and several other missionaries have come to spread Christianity.
The Russians of Alaska in early days had some land grants in California, and they occupied the whole of what is now known as Sonoma county. From here they shipped wheat and fruit to Alaska. The quality of fruit, which took a prize in the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893, came from Sonoma, and it was planted by the Russians, the seeds having been brought across Siberia from the Caucasian country and elsewhere.
Long before any one dreamed of a city of San Francisco there in San Francisco bay, in the little town of Sausalito flourished an iron foundry and machine shops. There in Sausalito the Russians built the first steamer that ever steamed to the north on the Pacific ocean. The engineer that brought the first steamer to Alaska is still living, now an old cripple of more than ninety years. He is an old Alaskan Creole, and lives with a son in Sedovia, Alaska.
On entering the old Russian capital of Sitka, the first building which attracts attention is the cathedral of St. Michael’s. The clock in the tower of this old church was made and put in its present position by Innocentius, the first bishop of Alaska.
Consecrated for a great work he [Innocent] was as prompt to set about it as he was earnest in his labor. Stourdza’s “Remembrancer” contains a number of letters from Innocent to the revered Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. Mouravieff well says of these that, “describing apostolic labors carried on for so many years for the conversion of savages in Northeastern Siberia and in Russian America they would furnish a series of Lettres Edifiantes as interesting as any of those in which the Jesuits so delight.”
We have space here to give translations of but a few extracts from these.
The first of the series tells of his arrival in America as Bishop and of the beginning of his work there.
April 30, 1842
At last, thank the Lord God, in America! I must now tell you of my voyage, my arrival, etc.
On the 20th of August, 1841, we sailed from the mouth of the Ochot River, in the brig Ochotsk, under most favorable circumstances, and directed our course towards one of the Kourile islands named Simousir, which we reached September 2d. On the evening of that day we left the island and sailed for Sitka. For about twenty days the winds were favorable, the weather clear and warm, so that September 21st we were but 500 miles from Sitka, about 4,000 from Ochotsk. The weather was so pleasant that we held services every holyday, not in the cabin, as is usually the case, but on deck. September 25th, St. Sergius’ Day, about 4 p.m., but at Moscow about 4 a.m., we sighted Mt. Edgecumbe, near New Archangel, and the next day, September 26th, the day on which we commemorate the death of the Beloved Disciple of Christ, a day on which the Church prays that the darkness which has so long covered the heathen may be dispersed, we entered the harbor of Sitka, and dropped anchor about 4 p.m. Saturday, September 27th, I went ashore, where I was received by all the chief authorities, the officials and the entire body of the Orthodox, amongst whom were some baptized Koloshes standing by themselves. In a partly official dress I went to the Church, where I delivered a short address to my new flock and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord God. September 28th, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy.
The Church, at New Archangel, which is growing old and will need to be rebuilt in four or five years I found otherwise in fair condition and handsomely ornamented as if they really expected a Bishop to come. But all this is to be ascribed to the zeal of the principal warden, Etolin, who from the time of his coming to the colony has been earnest to have the church in good order.
Our doings since we came to Sitka have not yet been very important.
1st. A mission has been sent to Noushstan which will reach its place of destination not sooner than the middle of June next. The priest in charge is full of hope, though he is not one of the most learned of men. We have furnished him with full instructions and with everything we could provide.
2d. December 17th, a sort of theological school was opened, containing, now, 23 persons, Creoles and natives. The monk M., a student of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, has it in charge.
3d. The theological student J.T. was sent to Kadiak [sic] to learn the language and in four months has had wonderful success. He is a person of decided ability.
4th. The monk M. has been preaching to the Koloshes, and not without success. I hardly dare say how great the success may be. He has about 80 candidates for Holy Baptism and asks it for them, but I do not care to be over hasty with them; the more and the better they are taught the more they can be depended on.
5th. I went this Spring to Kadiak to examine into the affairs of the Church there and was comforted beyond expectation. The report of my arrival in America, the zeal and piety of their priest and the Christian co-operation of the Governor, Kostromitinoff, have all been most useful to the Kadiaks. Poor things, until now they had heard little of what is good, and, as they said, they now begin to go from darkness to light. Previously perhaps scarcely one hundred of them came to church, even irregularly, and they knew scarce anything of devotion. Now the church is full every holyday, and Lent was kept by more than four hundred of them, some coming from distant places. The iniquity of cohabiting in unblessed marriages, formerly common, is now at an end. Things had fallen into such a neglected state that of the 3,700 souls reported in the census of 1841 there were more than 1000 unbaptized. There are now about 100 children unbaptized between the ages of two and nine. And how many such died, especially at the time of the small-pox, which took the lives of over 2000.
The next letter from which we quote shows Innocent’s care for the young.
April 5, 1844
On the eleventh of January I began to assemble about me, in my chapel, all the children, both boys and girls, who do not belong to the schools and to teach them the law of God. The children here (at Sitka), between the ages of one and eighteen, are very numerous. In the Theological school, in the Company’s school, and in two girls’ schools, there are about one hundred and forty scholars, and yet I gathered about one hundred and fifty others. The girls I taught on Tuesday, the boys on Wednesday.
About two years ago, in all our American Churches, and also in the Cathedral of Kamchatka, the priests in charge of the Churches assembled the children of both sexes in Church once or twice a week and taught them the law of god and their duties in general. And I am happy to say that this year, if the priests in all the Churches of the Diocese have not kept up that custom, yet the greater part of them are diligent in this part of their work.
At this time the children receiving instruction in the Churches throughout the Diocese must number about four hundred, besides the scholars in the schools, who would swell the number to more than six hundred or the thirty-fifth part of all the inhabitants.
In another part of the same letter he speaks of the Koloshes,
The Koloshes, our neighbors, thank God, continue to come to Holy Baptism. In Easter week thirty-five of them were baptized, at their own request, and at no one’s persuasion. In the Lent just past those already baptized, who all lived near the fort, were very particular in keeping the fast and that without any special suggestion on my part — indeed they were not a whit behind the Russians in their observance.
[Hale continues, quoting from another letter of St. Innocent to St. Philaret:]
The word of truth begins to extend more and more in the northern coasts of America. The priest Golovin was in those parts last year, 1844, and during his stay there had an opportunity of seeing, in their settlements, almost all of those baptized by him on the occasion of his first visitg, the year previously, and, thank God, if not all, still a good part of them remembered and tried to fulfil the promises made at their baptism, and some of those most penetrated with the word of truth have tried to bear testimony of Christianity to their heathen friends and have persuaded many of them to be baptized. The Kvichpak Church, in September, 1844, numbered more than two hundred and seventy natives and thirty foreigners, whilst in 1843 there were of the Christians there thirty foreigners and four natives, the same of whom the Holy Synod told me when I was in St. Petersburg. One of these especially very heartily co-operated with the priest. The natives expressing with one mouth a desire to have a priest living amongst them it only remained for me to proceed to the founding of an independent mission there and, thank God, the mission is already organized and has gone there this year. The priest Jacob Netchvatoff is in charge of this mission, the same whom I wished to send to the Kenae mission and who was reported as belonging to it, but as the work in the north was more important I sent him to the Kvichpak mission. To the Kenae mission has been sent the Monk Nicholas (a deacon), who has gone there this year.
This year, 1845, after leaving Petropaulovsky, where I arrived by the mercy of God, June second, I expect to visit the Aleoutine Islands and next summer to take a sea voyage to Kamchatka.
[And another letter:]
May 1, 1848
From reports received by me last September from Kenae and Kvichpak missionaries it is clear that the Lord does not cease to bless their labors with visible success. The missionaries too, labor with all zeal and judgment, not striving to increase unduly the number of the baptized, on the contrary they exercise great circumspection in receiving those who come to them desirous of Holy Baptism. The Kenae in general receive Christianity with gladness and in a spirit of obedience to God’s law. They listen to instruction with untiring attention, fulfil their Christian duties heartily and with all care and, what is very noteworthy, on a single expression of the missionary’s wish they give up their national dances and songs, replacing the latter with our hymns, so far as they are translated into their language.
All of their former Shamans have been baptized, and the greater part of them show themselves to be very good Christians. Some of them, on a very slight hint from the missionary, cut off their hair (which previously they had highly prized), in token that they not only followed, but were glad to fulfil, their missionary’s teachings.
The word of God sown by the missionaries on the border of the ocean has been conveyed without any direct instrumentality of theirs, by those converted from heathenism, to a people living at the extreme north part of the continent of America, called Koltchans, who had never seen a missionary.
The Kenae missionary writes that, in the Spring of last year, 1847, there came to one of the Kenae villages some families of Koltchans with the intention of going to the mission to be baptized, but were not able to go by boats. The Kenae who saw them said that, when they prayed, some of the Koltchans who came to them burst into tears, and said: “God has forsaken us, and does not call us to him. How shall we die, for there evil awaits the unbaptized!” The missionary was not able to visit these Koltchans, and fulfil their pious wish, having the charge also of hte Noushagin Mission, which now, from the lack of men suitable for missionaries, was dependent upon the Kenae missionary. Their former missionary, the Priest Paitchelin, on account of illness, has been compelled to go to the Kadiak Church. In the summer of the year 1846 there came in boats to the redoubt at the upper part of the River Kouskokvim a number of Koltchans and their families, 54 persons in all, desiring to receive Holy Baptism. They received it at the hands of a layman, the person who was in charge of the redoubt, for the missionary was not and could not be there at that time, owing to his having so much other needful work. In the summer of 1847 these same newly baptized persons again came to the redoubt to see the priest, and with them there came also other Koltchans, about sixty in number, who also wished to be baptized, but, for the same reason as before, were unable to see the priest, and were baptized by the layman already mentioned.
The selection from Innocent’s letters published in Stourdza’s “Remembrancer” makes no further mention of the Koltchans, but we may surely believe that they were not left to walk in darkness, “for God ever provideth teachers for them that would learn of Him, and maketh known the way of truth to them that love the truth.”
The good Bishop has little to say of himself in his letters. As to what he did, we must learn from others. He was not only, in his vast diocese, the chief of the missionaries, but the chief missionary; not only a spiritual governor but a model of faithfulness and zeal. We are told that he became master of six dialects, spoken in the field committed to his charge. He himself translated, and assisted others in translating, large parts of God’s Word and the Liturgy of his Church for the use of the natives. For forty-five years, ten of them as Bishop of Kamchatka, eighteen more as its Archbishop, he labored on, in season and out of season. Towards the close of 1867 God called to Himself one of the most remarkable prelates of modern days, Philaret of Moscow, who lived to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his Episcopate, and then “fell asleep.” The writer was, a few weeks after, in Moscow, where speculations were rife as to who could worthily follow such a man. When it was announced that Innocent of Kamchatka had been chosen to the vacant See, there was a general satisfaction. It could not be said of him that nearly half a century of toil and exposure had left his natural force unabated. But, though he had passed the limit of three score years and ten, he entered upon his new duties with earnestness. Assisted in the administration of his diocese by two efficient Vicar Bishops, one of whom, Leonide, has recently died, just after his promotion to the Archi-episcopal See of Yaroslav, and yet by no means leaving all to them, he has been diligent in using his vast influence for the good of his whole church. Withdrawn, like Selwyn, from the missionary field, like the Bishop of Lichfield he labors as heartily as ever for the missionary cause. He feld that the missionary work which had been carried on so well by individual zeal, could be prosecuted more effectively by organized efforts. He knew, too, that the Church of Russia had need, for its own sake, to be heartily interested in the missionary cause, as has any church on which God has laid the duty of laboring rather than of suffering for Him. And so he brought about the foundation of the Orthodox Missionary Society, in behalf of which he issued the following pastoral [letter]:
November 21st of this year, 1869, the approval of the Czar was given to the Constitution of the Orthodox Missionary Society, under the august patronage of Her Imperial Highness, the Empress Maria Alexandrovna. By virtue of this Constitution the Council of the Society belongs to Moscow and to me has been committed the duty of being its President. It has pleased God that here, in the centre of Russia, in my declining years, I should still take part in missionary work, to which, by the will of Divine Providence, on the most distant borders of our country almost the whole of my life was dedicated from early youth.
The object of the Missionary Society is to aid Orthodox Missions in the work of converting to the Orthodox Faith those not Christians, living within the borders of our country, and of building up those so converted in the truths of our holy religion as well as in the practice of the duties of the Christian life. Of such persons we have as fellow-countrymen many millions untaught in the holy truths of the faith, or needing to be built up in them. Compared with the number of these our missions are very small, and what we have need means to support and extend their work.
How holy a work this is, how very necessary for our Orthodox Church and Empire, must be self-evident to you. The true source of means for the development of this work must be found in the sympathy and zeal in its behalf of all Orthodox Christians. The Missionary Society is founded for all, rich and poor, who are ready to aid in this great work, which asks for and which needs them.
As your chief pastor and as the President of the Society I ask and pray Christ-loving Moscow, with my people and clergy, not to leave me in this holy work without their sympathy and co-operation. In a short time, please God, I hope to meet my beloved flock, that together we may offer up to the Lord our prayers for His blessing upon the Orthodox Missionary Society, in the work it is undertaking, and may hold at Moscow the first public meeting of the Society.
INNOCENT, Metropolitan of Moscow, President of the Orthodox Missionary Society
It is the purpose of the writer, God willing, on another occasion to give a somewhat detailed account of this Orthodox Missionary Society and of the work carried on by it, already extending beyond the wide borders of the Russian Empire, its primary field of action.
As we look back on the record of Innocent’s labors let us bless God for the good example of His faithful servant and pray Him to crown with His richest blessing the close of such a life.
Editor’s note: Last week, we presented the first part of the first biography of St. Innocent, written by the Episcopalian clergyman Charles R. Hale. What follows is Part 2, which details the introduction of Orthodoxy to Alaska and the priestly ministry of Fr. John Veniaminoff, the future St. Innocent. Tomorrow, we will publish the last section of Hale’s article, which focuses on St. Innocent’s tenure as a bishop.
“Who in the West,” asks Mouravieff, “hears anything of the truly apostolical labors of the Archbishop of Kamchatka, who is ever sailing over the ocean, or driving in reindeer sledges over his vast but thinly settled diocese, thousands of miles in extent, everywhere baptizing the natives, for whom he has introduced the use of letters, and translated the Gospel into the tongue of the Aleoutines?” Few, indeed, have heard, doubtless there are many who would be glad to hear.
The present Metropolitan of Moscow, late Archbishop of Kamchatka, has been called “the Russian Selwyn,” but he began his missionary labors much earlier than the late [Anglican] Bishop of New Zealand, and has been called to a yet higher position of dignity and influence in his own Church, than that held by the Bishop of Lichfield. John Veniaminoff was born August 20 (September 1, o.s.), 1797, was educated in the Seminary of Irkutsk, from which he graduated in 1817, and entered upon the sacred ministry in May of that year. He was advanced to the priesthood in 1821. December 15 (27 o.s.), 1840, Innocent, for by this name he is henceforth known, was consecrated, by the Episcopal members of the Holy Synod, in the Kazan’s Cathedral at St. Petersburg, to the newly founded Bishopric of Kamchatka. In 1850, his See was made Archi-episcopal. Early in 1868 he succeeded the honored Philaret as the Metropolitan of Moscow. It is a curious coincidence that Bishop Selwyn was consecrated but a few months later than he, October 17, 1841; and the appointment of Innocent to Moscow was announced within a very few days of the time when the Bishop of Lichfield entered upon his new charge, January, 1868.
Of the first two years after his ordination to the priesthood, in which he seemed to have been engaged in parish work in the Diocese of Irkutsk, we have no record. But in 1823 he offered himself as a missionary and was sent by his Bishop to Ounalashka [Unalaska]. Let us preface the story of his labors there, as he himself does, by a brief account of earlier work in the same region. In doing this we translate from his own words, for lack of space however greatly abreviating [sic] his narrative.
How attractive his exordium:
Knowing how pleasant it is for the true Christian to hear of the propagation of Christianity among nations previously unenlightened by the Holy Gospel, I have determined to set forth what I know concerning the propagation and establishment of Christian truth in one of the most remote parts of our country, where, by the will of God, I have been led to spend many years.
Then he goes on to show how
The Christian religion crossed to the shores of Russian America with the first Russians who went to establish themselves in those parts. Among those who sought at once to establish a new industry for Russia, and to acquire gain for themselves, there were those who resolved, at the same time, upon the establishment of Christianity amongst the savages with whom they dwelt. The Cossack, Andrean Tolstich, about 1743 discovering the island known under the name Andreanoffsky, was probably the first to baptize the natives. In the year 1759, Ivan Glotoff discovering the island of Lisa, baptized the son of one of the hereditary chiefs of the Lisevian Aleoutines. He afterwards took the young man to Kamchatka, where this first fruits of the Ounalashka Church spent several years and studied the Russian language and literature and then, returning to his native country, with the position of chief Toen (Governor) conferred upon him by the Governor of Kamchatka, helped greatly by his example, in the propagation of Christianity.
The good missionary confesses that self-interest had something to do with the desire, on the part of many of the first settlers, for the spread of Christianity among the savages, they thinking that thus they would be able to establish better relations with the natives. When we think of the way in which Americans and English have too often acted toward the savage tribes with whom they have been brought into contact, instead of blaming the defective motive, on the part of some, we may rejoice that, in this instance: “The desire of Russians for gain served as a means for diffusing the first principles of Christianity among the Aleoutines, and aided the labors of the missionaries who came after.”
Mr. Shelikoff, founder of the American company:
Among his many plans and projects for the advancement of the interests of the American part of our territory, had in view especially the propagation of Christianity, and the founding of Churches. On which account, on his return from Kadiak [sic] in the year 1787, he laid a memorial in regard to this before the Government and begged it to found an Orthodox Mission, of which he and his associate Golikoff took upon them the expense both of establishment and sustaining. As a result of his intercessions there was founded at St. Petersburg a mission of eight monks, under the lead of Archimandrite Joseph, for the preaching of the word of God among people brought under Russian dominion. Well provided for by Shelikoff, Golikoff, and other benefactors, the mission set out from St. Petersburg in the year 1792, and in the following autumn arrived at Kadiak.
At once they entered upon their work, beginning on the Island of Kadiak. In 1795, Macarius went to the Ounalashka district on a missionary tour, and Juvenal visited the Tehougatches, and crossed over the Gulf of Kenae, both being everywhere warmly received by the natives. The year after, Juvenal, in the neighborhood of the lake of Pliamna, or Shelikoff, “finished his apostolic labors with his life, serving the Church better than any of his associates.” Many years afterward, the circumstance[s] of his martyrdom were related by the natives. Some other members of the mission gave special attention to the education of the children, one of them, Father German [Herman], founded an Orphan Asylum, of which he remained in charge until his death in 1837.
Shelikoff realized the importance of having the work properly organized, and so he was not content with such a mission as was sent out. “He urged the founding of a Bishopric in Russian America, under the charge of its own bishop. He fixed upon Kadiak as a the proper residence of a bishop, estimating the population of that island as about fifty thousand. In consequence of his entreaties, and in consideration of the number of inhabitants,” an Episcopal See was founded, and Joseph, Archimandrite of the mission, was summoned to Irkutsk, and there consecrated, in March 1799, by the Bishop of Irkutsk, and there consecrated, in March 1799, by the Bishop of Irkutsk, to be the first Bishop of “Kadiak, Kamchatka and America.” The new Bishop, as he returned homeward, was lost at sea, in the ship Phoenix, with all who accompanied him, including the priest Macarius and the deacon Stephen, who had come with him from St. Petersburg, when the mission was founded.
Soon after this Shelikoff died, and all thought of extending the mission, and of setting up a Bishopric, seemed lost sight of for years. In the whole colony there was but one missionary priest, until in 1816, in response to the entreaties of Baranoff the Governor, Michael Sokoloff was sent to Sitka.
A fact in this connection, not generally known, may here be mentioned that a Russian settlement, under the name of Russ, was made, under the auspices of Baranoff, in California, on the coast about forty miles northwest of San Francisco. A number of Indians here became members of the Orthodox Church, and when the colony was removed to Sitka, went northward with it. Of these Indian converts or their descendants there were in 1838 nine still living at Sitka. In 1821 new privileges were granted to and new regulations made for the Russian American Company, and the duty was laid upon it of maintaining a sufficient number of priests for the colony. Accordingly three were obtained from Irkutsk, in 1823 John Veniaminoff for Ounalashka, in 1824 Frumentius Mordovsky for Kadiak and in 1825 Jacob Netchvatoff for Atcha.
Veniaminoff entered upon his work with enthusiasm and a hearty liking for those among whom he was to labor. He recounts how Father Macarius and others who had preached the Gospel amongst them
did not present to them with fire and sword the new faith, which forbade them things in which they delighted — e.g., drunkenness and polygamy, but notwithstanding this the Aleoutines received it readily and quickly. Father Juvenal remained in the Ounalashka district but one year, and voyaging to distant islands, and travelling from place to place with only one Russian attendant, the Aleoutines whom he had baptized, or whom he was preparing for Holy Baptism, conveyed him from place to place, sustained him and guarded him without any recompense or payment. Such examples are rare.
Although the Aleoutines willingly embraced the Christian religion, and prayed to God as they were taught, it must be confessed that, until a priest was settled amongst them, they worshipped one who was almost an unknown God. For Father Macarius, from the shortness of time that he was with them, and from the lack of competent interpreters, was able to give them but very general ideas about religion, such as of God’s omnipotence, His goodness, etc. Notwithstanding all of which, the Aleoutines remained Christian, and after baptism completely renounced Shamanism, and not only destroyed all the masks which they had used in their heathen worship but also allowed the songs which might in any way remind them of their former belief to fall into oblivion. So that when, on my arrival amongst them, I through curiosity made enquiry after these songs, I could not hear of one. And as to superstitions, from which few men well taught in Gospel truth are quite free, many which they had they quite gave up, and others lost their power over them. But of all the good qualities of the Aleoutines, nothing so pleased and elighted my heart as their desire, or, to speak more justly, their thirst, for the word of God, so that sooner would and indefatigable missionary tire in preaching than they in hearing the word.”
But Veniaminoff’s missionary service was not with the peaceful Aleoutines only. There was a fierce tribe, the Koloshes, who, to use his words, when first met with, in 1804, “like fierce wild beasts hunted the Russians to tear them in pieces, so that these had to shut themselves up in their fortresses or go out in companies.” And even in 1819 they still looked “on Russians as their enemies, and slew such as they could take by night, in revenge for the death of their ancestors slain in contests with them.”
To these he resolved to carry the Gospel. To this end he came to Sitka, in the neighborhood of which the Koloshes lived, towards the close of 1834. That Winter and the ensuing Spring imperative duties detained him among the Aleoutines at Sitka. When Summer came, he found that the Koloshes had left their settlements and were scattered in different parts for the purpose of fishing. Veniaminoff confesses, too, that he had a shrinking from meeting these hostile savages. Ashamed of himself for what he felt to be cowardice he resolved that immediately upon the close of the Christmas holidays he would take his life in his hand and go.
“Let no one wonder,” he goes on to say, “at the decrees of Providence.”
Four days before I came to the Koloshes the small-pox suddenly broke out amongst them and first of all at the very place where I had expected to make my first visit. Had I begun my instruction of the Koloshes before the appearance of the small-pox they would certainly have blamed me for all the evil which came upon them, as if I were a Russian shaman or sorcerer who sent such a plague amongst them. The results of such inopportune arrival would have been dreadful. The hatred towards the Russians, which was beginning to wane, would have become as strong as ever. They would perhaps have killed me, as the supposed author of their woes. But this would have been as nothing in comparison with the fact that my coming to the Koloshes just before the small-pox would probably have caused the way to be stopped for half a century to missionaries of God’s word, who would always have seemed to them harbingers of disaster and death.
But, Glory be to God who orders all things for good! The Koloshes were not now what they were two years previously (when he had meant to come among them). If they did not immediately become Christians they, at least, listened or began to listen to the words of salvation. Few were baptized then, for, while I proclaimed the truth to them, I never urged upon them or wished to urge upon them the immediate reception of Holy Baptism, but, seeking to convince their judgment, I awaited a request from them. Those who expressed a desire to be baptized I received with full satisfaction. I always obtained from the Toens (or chiefs) and from the mothers of those desiring to be baptized a consent which was never denied, and this greatly pleased them.”
Veniaminoff introduced inoculation amongst the Koloshes, and the good they saw ensuing from this “greatly changed their opinion of the Russians and of their shamans (or magicians). They neither forbade nor did anything to hinder the reception of Holy Baptism by those desiring it. Instead of despising or avoiding those baptized they looked on them as persons wiser than themselves and almost Europeans.”
After sixteen years of missionary toil Veniaminoff was sent to St. Petersburg to plead for help for the mission. The Czar Nicholas proposed to the Holy Synod to send one who had proved so faithful a priest back to the scene of his labors as a Bishop, for Episcopal supervision was manifestly greatly needed. “Your Majesty must consider,” suggested some members of the Synod, “that, though he is no doubt an excellent man, he has no Cathedral, no body of clergy and no Episcopal Residence.” “The more then, like an Apostle,” replied the Czar, “Cannot he be consecrated?” The objections of those prelates remind us of some that have more recently been heard nearer home. It is to be hoped that, where the need of a Bishop is evident, such objections may soon be things of the past.
As has been already stated the good missionary priest was, December 15 (27 o.s.), 1840, consecrated in St. Petersburg to be Bishop of Kamchatka, with the name, by which he will hereafter be known, of Innocent.
Editor’s note: The first biography of St. Innocent of Alaska was not written by an Orthodox author, but by an Episcopalian, Charles R. Hale, in 1877 (a year before St. Innocent’s death). Hale (1837-1900) was an Episcopal priest (and later a bishop) who had great affection for the Orthodox Church. For a good summary of Hale’s life and his connection to Orthodoxy, click here.
Today, we’re presenting the first part of Hale’s biography of St. Innocent. Next week, we’ll publish Part 2, and in the future, we’ll offer more of Hale’s writings on Orthodoxy. This biography originally appeared in the journal American Church Review (July 1877).
It has long been the habit of persons unfriendly to the Orthodox Churches of the East to speak of them as well night dead Churches. The charge has been but too eagerly repeated by such as, determined upon a certain course of public policy, through a blind selfishness which must surely bring, if persisted in, a dread Nemesis, were not inclined to think well of Eastern Christians, whom it would have been inconvenient to recognize as brethren. A favorite specification in the accusation brought against Christians of the East has been, that they were utterly wanting in a missionary spirit. In these days, we know something of what enslavement to the Turk involves. And what, in common justice, to say nothing of Christian charity, have we a right to expect from those groaning under such bondage? Does not Mouravieff’ well demand, as to these, in Question Religieuse d’Orient et d’Occident,
Have we the conscience to ask that they should make converts, when, now for more than four hundred years, they have been struggling, as in a bloody sweat, to keep Christianity alive under Moslem tyranny? And, in that time, how many martyrs, of every age and condition, have shed a halo around the Oriental Church? No less than a hundred martyrs of these later days are commemorated in the services of the Church, and countless are the unnamed ones who have suffered for the faith, in these four hundred years of slavery. In 1821, Gregory, Patriarch of Constantinople, was hung at the door of his cathedral, on Easter Day. Another Patriarch, Cyril, they hung at Adrianople. Cyprian, Archbishop of Cyprus, with his three Suffragan Bishops, and all the Hegumens of the Cyprian monasteries, were hanged upon one tree before the palace of the ancient kings. Many other prelates and prominent ecclesiastics were put to death in the islands and in Anatolia. Mount Athos was devastated. And yet, none apostatized [sic] from the faith of Christ.
Are not such martyrdoms the best way of making converts? It was thus that, in the first three centuries, the Church was founded in those lands. How can it be said that, among people who could so die for the faith, there was no real spiritual life? Has not the Greek Church shown by her deeds the steadfastness of her faith? The kingdom of Greece, in its fifty years of independence, has labored nobly to repair the desolations of many generations. But surely we, who find excuse in the circumstances of the times for the apparent lack of interest of the American [Episcopal] Church in the missionary cause during the first half century of our separate national life, must readily admit that the Hellenic Church has had and still has ample scope for her energies at home.
We come now to the Church of Russia, and what do we find? A large part of what now makes up the Russian Empire was, when it became such, inhabited by Mahometans and heathen. Yet everywhere the Gospel is, and long has been, preached, and God’s blessing has manifestly followed the proclamation of His word. Says Mouravieff, to quote again from Question Religieuse, etc.:
The loving principles of the extension of Christianity are at work here. The Russian Church, as dominant throughout a great empire, diffuses gradually the light of Christ’s Gospel within her own borders. Her more immediate duty is to labor for the conversion of the heathen, Jews, Mahometans and schismatics, who belong to her, scattered over the one-ninth part of the habitable globe. In those dioceses where there are heathen or Mahometans, the languages spoken by them are taught in the theological seminaries, so that, not only those specially devoted to the work, but the parochial clergy also, may be enabled to act as missionaries. Russia has sowed the seeds of Christianity over a vast field, ever establishing new parishes, which most naturally become also mission stations. In this mode of working, there is little to excite attention, or to create talk. When and how have so many of our heathen become Christians? It is not every one who knows. But multitudes of these are now enjoying the blessings of Christianity and civilization. There is yet, however, much to be done for the conversion and establishment in the faith of many tribes, who are more or less in darkness, and the Church still labors for and with them.
But the missions of the Russian Church are not confined to the heathen or false believers within her own borders. For many years she has had a mission at Pekin [Beijing], and the most successful mission work in Japan would seem to be that carried on by her.
If information in regard to Russian missionary work is not forced upon the attention it is yet not unattainable to those who seek for it. The literature of Russian missions is not a small one. The writer, in giving at the head of this paper a list of works now before him, has mentioned but a small part of those bearing on the subject. Let us cast a hasty glance at these. We shall find them filled not so much with talk about missions as with records of faithful missionary work. In the work first mentioned on this list, Mouravieff gives a Compte Rendu d’une Mission Russe, dans les Monts Altai. This paper, one of those translated by Neale, in “Voices of the East,” under the title The Mission of the Altai, describes a most effective work, begun in 1830 and still carried on, amongst wild nomads in the southern part of Siberia.
In the “Remembrancer of the Labors of Orthodox Russian Evangelizers,” Alexander S. Stourdza, a pious layman, began to give a record of missionary work done by the Russian Church, between 1793 and 1853. Mr. Stourdza died in 1854, leaving his work far from complete. The fine octavo volume before us was all that he was enabled to finish. In it he tells of the conversion of two tribes of the Caucusus, about the year 1820. Then he gives the journal of the Archimandrite Benjamin, an earnest missionary among the Samoyedes of Northern Russia, describing their conversion between the years 1825 and 1830. To follow extracts from the journals of other missionaries, two of these being Archimandrite Macarius, the founder of Mission of the Altai and the Arch-priest Landyscheff, who succeeded him in its charge. Then we have described to us the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Russian America, and a selection of letters are published fro the author of that account, Innocent, Archbishop of Kamchatka, to Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, to whom Innocent has now succeeded. The remainder of the work tells of missionary labors in the Aleoutine Islands and in Northwestern and Central Siberia. The other publications give more recent missionary intelligence and tell of the present condition of the missionary work.
From such a mass of interesting material it is difficult to make a selection. In setting forth, however, the story of that missionary hero, Innocent, now Metropolitan of Moscow, but for many years Archbishop of Kamchatka, the writer thinks that his subject will be one more than ordinarily attractive to American Churchmen. As Mr. Stourdza believed he could best make his great work of value if, “instead of an artificial narriative, he set before his readers the doings of Russian evangelists, as told at different times, and, for the most part, in the letters of the missionaries themselves, without embellishment or eulogies,” so the aim of the present writer will be to present in a summary form a translation of authentic documents, with the needful connecting and explanatory remarks rather than to tell the story for himself.