Posts tagged Missions
Recently, I happened to revisit an essay by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, published in St. Raphael’s Al Kalimat (The Word) magazine. I don’t have the precise date, but I think it was written in 1907. The whole article is on the subject of “Church Unity” — what, today, we would call “ecumenism.”
Irvine’s ecclesiology is interesting. Focusing just on his terminology, it is easy to mistakenly think that he has a rather “liberal” position on ecumenism. He speaks of Orthodoxy as being a “portion of the Church of Christ,” and he makes multiple references to the “undivided Church,” which implies that the Church was “divided” after 1054. But, when reading this sort of thing, it is essential to remember that Irvine was the product of late 19th century Anglicanism. While his underlying ecclesiology is indeed Orthodox, his vocabulary retains traces of Anglican ecclesiology, which can lead to confusion.
As a practical matter, Irvine was uncompromising. Unity, in Irvine’s view, meant that other Christian bodies had to conform to the Orthodox standard. The Orthodox Church, writes Irvine, is “the only one which has a right to dictate conditions of Unity if any approachment should be made to her.” Irvine flatly rejected any notion of papal supremacy: “The Church of Christ will never be brought together either under the lash of the Roman Curia or by the wiles of the need of an earthly universal, visible head, or on the ground of Papal claims to a Divine right of existence.” In fact, Irvine was so opposed to any compromise with Rome that he actually considered the fall of Constantinople, while tragic, to be ultimately providential:
We regard the destruction of the Eastern Empire by the Turk and Mahamadon as a providence of God to protect the Holy Eastern Church from the influence which might have been brought to bear upon her by the West. He knew what the result would be if there would not have remained any portion of His Holy Church steadfast “in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” There would have been left no part of His Church true to Antiquity if the East had followed in the wake of the West in adding new doctrines or accepting those which had been proclaimed from time to time by Rome.
It is Orthodoxy, declares Irvine, which is the “Mother Church of Christendom,” and has alone “neither added to nor taken from ‘the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.’” Irvine continues:
The chief factor in the unity of Christendom, therefore, is the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church. This Church is free from all the entanglements of Rome; free from the perplexing questions of the Anglican Reformation or the Continental Protestant Revolution. She has had neither hand nor part in any of these. Rome, of course, will still hold on to her presumptions. She will still blindly hold herself up as the centre of Catholicity and Christianity, but her stand in this matter will, as it is now apparent, be passed by; for as the dismembered portions of Western Christianity come together they will ask the question Where can the Ancient Faith be found unchanged and unadulterated? And learned and reasonable men will say as they have already said “it can be found alone in the Holy Eastern Church.”
According to Irvine, the Orthodox Christians in the West — and particularly in the United States — have a particularly serious responsibility. First, says Irvine, the Orthodox in America must remain true to the Church, “and under no circumstances whatever be induced to either join the Church of Rome, the Anglican Church or any Protestant Church.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy must adapt, externally, to its new home in America. Speaking as a Westerner, Irvine writes, “We want to see the Eastern Church in the dress of the language of England and America. We can never study her well in either Slavonic, Greek or in Syrian Arabic or in any other foreign language.” This leads to Irvine’s second point:
We want, therefore, the Holy Orthodox people to build Churches for their English speaking children and place at those altars priests who can speak the English language and look upon the Christians of the English speaking world as friends who are enquiring after “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
Finally, says Irvine, “We need here a class of priests of the Holy Orthodox Church who, however dear their native land may seem to be to them, and however great the temptation in a financial way, should regard the building up of the Holy Eastern Church in the United States and the proclaiming of her Ancient Faith and practices a greater duty than going home.” In other words, American Orthodoxy needs missionary, rather than mercenary, priests.
Especially at this early stage of his Orthodox career, Irvine viewed himself as a bridge between Western and Eastern Christianity. He closes his article with an anecdote about a recent Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. Bishop Innocent Pustynsky of Alaska (not to be confused with the earlier St. Innocent) was the celebrant, and was assisted by Irvine and the cathedral dean St. Alexander Hotovitzky. An Episcopalian priest, Rev. Dr. Calbreth Perry, was allowed to stand in the sanctuary, wearing his Anglican vestments, and while he in no way concelebrated or communed with the Orthodox clergy, he was clearly treated with great honor. For Irvine, Perry’s presence was especially important. Perry had been Irvine’s Sunday School teacher, and was representative of those in the Episcopal Church who were not upset by Irvine’s Orthodox “reordination” in 1905.
Irvine argues that he — Irvine — is “the one man who could well explain the position of the Holy Eastern Church to a congregation of Anglican Priests. There ought to be such a gathering.” He goes on, “Both sides now, surely understand that there was never intercommunion and that, therefore, the reordination of Dr. Irvine was no offence but God’s way of giving a terrific shock to the dreadful sin of schism. May the effect of that shock raise us all up to the real sense of our duty.” To Irvine, that “duty” is the “reunion” of Christendom, which is nothing less than the conversion of other Christian groups to Orthodoxy, whether individually or institutionally.
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Fr. Paul Hodge, pastor of St. Thomas Orthodox Church (Antiochian) in Sioux City, Iowa, and former priest of St. George Church in Kearney, Nebraska. It originally appeared in a 2008 commemorative journal, published on the occasion of a diocesan pilgrimage to the grave of Fr. Nicola Yanney, the first Antiochian priest to serve in the Great Plains. Fr. Paul has kindly given us permission to reprint the article here, but he did want me to indicate that “due to the dearth of written family records from Fr. Nicola’s lifetime further research may reveal some inaccuracies regarding certain names and dates, but that all information was correct and verified to the best of my knowledge when the article was written in 2008.”
At his enthronement as the first Bishop of Wichita and the Diocese of Mid-America [Antiochian] on December 15th, 2004 our father in Christ, Bishop BASIL, made the following remarks:
Shortly after his consecration to the sacred episcopacy a century ago – - on March 13th, 1904 — St. Raphael of Brooklyn performed his first priestly ordination, the ordinand being a young widower, Nicola Yanney, a native of the tiny village of Fi’eh in north Lebanon, living with his children on a farm in Gibbon, Nebraska. Father Nicola was ordained [on April 3rd, 1904] for what was then the westernmost parish of St. Raphael’s Diocese, St. George’s Church in Kearney, Nebraska, but he was given pastoral responsibility for an area that is nearly identical to the boundaries of our newly created Diocese of Mid-America. Father Nicola’s parish stretched from the Canadian border in the north, to the Mexican border in the south, and from the Mississippi River in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. It is Fr. Nicola who, as a circuit riding priest headquartered in Kearney, followed the example of his Father-in-Christ, St. Raphael, and visited Orthodox Christians in the scattered towns, villages and isolated farm lands throughout America’s Heartland.
From this, we can already see Fr. Nicola’s life and work are significant to us today. He was our first priest and a progenitor of Orthodoxy in the Heartland. In his life he continued the missionary work of St. Raphael. And if we follow his life and work to the end, we see that he is important to us because of the witness he bore to Christ Jesus in the remarkable circumstances of his repose, as well. Certainly, in these things is the lasting legacy of Fr. Nicola to us in Christ’s Holy Church.
The future priest, Nicola, was born the son of Elias Yanney in Fi’eh al-Koura, north Lebanon, on February 5th, 1873. Although there is little certain record of his youth and family life there, we do know that he married Martha George al-Baik of Qilhat, the nearest village to the ancient Balamand Monastery of Our Lady in north Lebanon, on November 8th, 1892, at the age of nineteen. Soon after, Martha and Nicola immigrated from Ottoman Syria to Omaha, Nebraska.
On October 29th, 1893 the first son of the Yanneys, Elias (known later to his friends and family as “E.K.”) was born when Nicola was twenty years old. Their second child, a daughter named Anna, was born two years later, on the 4th of July, 1895. In that same year, the Yanneys moved from Omaha to Gibbon, Nebraska where they took up residence as farming homesteaders in a two room sod house known as a “soddie.”
Their third child, John, was born May 22nd, 1897 and their fourth child, Moses (known as Mose), was born to them on July 31st, 1899. Less than two months later, in the early autumn of that year, one Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, on a mission trip from the recently established (1895) St. Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in Lower Manhattan, New York (relocated to Brooklyn in 1902) paid a visit to the Syrian community in and around Kearney, Nebraska and spent a day at what was very likely the Gibbon homestead of Fr. Nicola, as is recorded in the life of St. Raphael (Antiochian Archdiocese, 2000, pp. 38-39):
… He served Liturgy [in Omaha, Nebraska] on September 17 and then departed for Kearney, Nebraska arriving at midnight on September 20. The entire Arab community gathered to meet him. Exhausted from his travels, with a serious cold, St. Raphael stayed up until 4 A.M. speaking with the people. Too tired and sick to celebrate the Liturgy in the morning, he served the Typica service. In the afternoon he traveled to an outlying ranch [emphasis added], arriving there at 1 A.M. In the morning he celebrated Orthros with the Lesser Blessing of Water. In the evening, he returned to Kearney where he continued to meet with the people. On Sunday, September 24, at 4 A.M., St. Raphael served Liturgy, baptized six and performed a wedding…
The next three years, by the grace of God, were happy and prosperous ones for the Yanney family. But, as the well-known Funeral Idiomelon of St. John of Damascus asks, “What earthly sweetness remaineth unmixed with grief?” The stability of the early life of Nicola Yanney was capsized when, on February 11th, 1902 Martha died in bearing her second daughter, Catherine. Catherine herself died nine days later, compounding the sorrow. Through the kindness and compassion of a neighboring “American” farmer, Martha and Catherine were (and are) buried in a single, unmarked grave in the farmer’s own small, family cemetery outside Gibbon.
Nicola mourned his loss for eighteen months until, in late 1903 — at the invitation of St. Raphael and with the encouragement of the faithful of Kearney, who had just incorporated a church community under the patronage of St. George the Great Martyr — he made a journey to New York to receive training in preparation for ordination to the holy priesthood. He studied for a mere six weeks or soand during that time became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on February 9th, 1904.
On March 13th, 1904 – the mid-Lenten Sunday of the Adoration of the Precious Cross — Archimandrite St. Raphael was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop to St. Tikhon, head of the North American Archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, and given the title, “Bishop of Brooklyn” and head of the Syro-Arabian Mission. Shortly thereafter, Nicola was tonsured a Taper-bearer and Reader (March 17th, 1904), ordained a Subdeacon (March 20th, 1904), Deacon (April 2nd, 1904), and Priest, on Palm Sunday, April 3rd, 1904 — all at the hand of the newly elevated Bishop, St. Raphael.
Upon returning to Nebraska in 1904, the Yanney household relocated from the vicinity of Gibbon, Nebraska to a home in Kearney, where Fr. Nicola could be close to the center of his parish, the church of St. George. The church building was in Kearney, in a one room schoolhouse purchased from the Kearney Cotton Mill. The building still stands, having been long ago converted to a private residence. As of this writing, it may still be seen on the northeast corner of 11th and H Streets in Kearney.
While the structure of the church building was small, the boundaries of the parish itself were vast, encompassing all of the Great Plains of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, as well as the “southwestern states,” as they were then known, of Oklahoma and Texas. Additionally, Fr. Nicola, during the years of his priesthood until his death, would answer the call of communities of Syrian Orthodox Christians as far away as Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky.
Here is a partial list of Fr. Nicola’s pastoral service during the first years of his priesthood, 1904-1905. Listed are just the baptisms performed by Fr. Nicola during that time. Other sacraments and services of the church were celebrated by him on his journeys and duly recorded in his “metric books,” or “Registry of Sacraments.” The data here are taken from those books.
- St. Louis, Missouri, 5
- Omaha, Nebraska, 2
- Ironwood, Michigan, 5
- Iron Mountain, Michigan, 2
- St. Paul, Minnesota, 1
- LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 3
- New London, Wisconsin, 3
- Kearney, Nebraska, 2
- Bloomington, Illinois, 2
- Fulton, Kentucky, 2
- Campbell, Missouri, 2
- [Gebmond], Missouri, 2
- Morehouse, Missouri, 1
- Rugby, North Dakota, 9
- Rugby, North Dakota, 1
- Kearney, Nebraska, 6
- Ironwood, Michigan, 2
- Iron Mountain, Michigan, 4
- New London, Wisconsin, 1
- Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2
- Jackson, Michigan, 1
- Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 6
- Clinton, Iowa, 1
- LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 1
- New London, Wisconsin, 4
- Rugby, North Dakota, 3
- Sioux City, Iowa, 2
- Albany, Iowa, 3
- Omaha, Nebraska, 3
- Lexington, Nebraska, 1
- Kearney, Nebraska, 3
- Wichita, Kansas, 3
- Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1
- Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1
Among his first duties in 1904, however, was to serve the funeral of his first daughter Anna, who died that year at the age of eight. Years later, Fr. Nicola would again extend the ministry of the Holy Church to his own family when he celebrated the wedding of his son, Elias (E.K.) to Mary Abraham of Ironwood, Michigan.
The end of Fr. Nicola’s priestly ministry and Christian service on this earth came about in this way:
In the year of our Lord, 1918, the world was stricken with an epidemic of influenza, commonly called “the Spanish Flu,” which, it is estimated affected half a billion people across the globe, taking twenty million lives. Most of the dead in this worldwide catastrophe died not from the influenza itself, but from the pneumonia that would often follow the flu virus in the weakened lungs of the afflicted.
Kearney, Nebraska was not spared this suffering. In the optimistic days of the early twentieth century, the city fathers in Kearney, like many other Nebraskan communities, chose not to abide by the quarantine enacted by state authorities. This was perhaps not unreasonable, since in early autumn of 1918 the city had seen relatively few cases of the Flu and even fewer subsequent deaths. But with citizens freely associating at schools, public places and churches, the Flu would strike in a second, much deadlier wave in mid-October. At that time the city was officially quarantined and school classes, church services and other gatherings were outlawed for the sake of public health.
It seems that Fr. Nicola and the faithful of St. George observed this quarantine obediently, and for a few Sundays, as the sickness spread through the town, they all refrained from gathering together for the Liturgy as was their custom. Instead, Fr. Nicola himself “brought the Liturgy” to the homes of the faithful who were suffering and there continued his unflagging service of ministering the Holy Things to Christ’s flock. In this faithful service, Fr. Nicola contracted the Spanish Influenza and after one week of suffering, departed this life on October 29th, 1918. May his memory be eternal!
In closing, here are again words spoken by our father-in-Christ, Bishop BASIL, first bishop of Mid-America at his enthronement at St. George Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas in 2004:
We bless the memory of Father Nicola and his brothers in the sacred priesthood who came after him to minister to Christ’s flock in Mid-America, and we bless the memory of their wives and children and of all the sons and daughters of the Church who first brought Holy Orthodoxy to the Great Plains and witnessed to its Truth by their very lives. God grant that we be found worthy of their sacrifice.
To which words we can add only one: Amen.
[This article was written by Fr. Paul Hodge.]
Yesterday, May 19, was the 126th anniversary of the arrival in America of Protopresbyter Stephen Hatherly, a convert priest from England. Hatherly served under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and spent several months in the US, attempting to establish an Orthodox parish in New York. Last July, I wrote an article on Hatherly’s brief American tenure, but back then, this website had far fewer readers than it does today. For that reason, I’m reprinting my original article.
From 1870 to 1883, Fr Nicholas Bjerring was pastor of a Russian Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring was a convert from Roman Catholicism, and he basically operated an “embassy chapel.” He held services for Russian and Greek officials stationed in America, he ministered to the few Orthodox Christians living in New York, and he strongly discouraged inquirers.
In 1883, the Russian government informed Bjerring that they intended to close his chapel, apparently to save money. They offered Bjerring a comfortable teaching position in St Petersburg. Bjerring, upset and disheartened, turned down the offer and instead became a Presbyterian.
Word of Bjerring’s apostasy eventually reached the ears of one Fr Stephen G. Hatherly, an archpriest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hatherly was a convert himself. An Englishman, he had joined the Orthodox Church way back in 1856, and he was ordained a priest in 1871. He was based in England, but in May of 1884, he arrived in America. His plan was to band together the handfuls of Orthodox on the East Coast (mainly New York and Philadelphia) and establish a new church to replace the defunct Russian chapel.
Hatherly spent three months in America, and his mission was a resounding failure. There was simply not enough interest from America’s meager Orthodox population. At the close of his stay in the US, the New York Sun ran the following story (August 18, 1884):
S.G. Hatherly, the Greek arch priest who came to New York from Constantinople and established a chapel in St. John’s School in Varick street two months ago, conducted service yesterday for the last time, and the chapel will be closed. About a score of the Greek colony in attendance and as many curious minded spectators. Athanasius Athos, the son of a Greek priest, was reader. Father Hatherly did not deliver an address, but said briefly to the worshippers that it was because of their want of faith that the effort to establish a Greek chapel had failed.
In conversation Father Hatherly, who is an Englishman by birth, said that he wrote from Constantinople to the authorities in Russia to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York. The official reply was that no effort to establish a Greek Church chapel in New York would be undertaken after their “cruel experience” with N. Bjerring, who is now a Presbyterian. The Russian colony, Father Hatherly said, has kept away from this chapel in Varick street. Two or three Russians, he said, had said that they wanted something grander than Father Hatherly’s chapel.
“The collection to-day,” he added, “is $4.32. You can see that the chapel would not be self-supporting. However, that is not the only reason why the chapel is given up. The people do not attend as they should. I had hoped when I came on my mission of inquiry to be able to hold services alternately in New York and Philadelphia. It’s all over now, and I go to Constantinople in a few days.”
That’s an interesting article for a variety of reasons, but one in particular jumps out — the statement that Hatherly wrote to the Russian authorities “to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York,” and the Russian reply that it indeed was.
Up to now [July 2009], I’ve felt that the Russian closure of the New York chapel was an implicit abandonment of the city, and that the Greeks who, seven years later, formed their own church, were under no obligation to contact the Russian bishop on the other side of the continent. But Hatherly’s story drives that point home even further. The Russians didn’t implicitly abandon New York; if this report is correct, they explicitly did so.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee. After I originally published it in July 2009, I contacted the Ecumenical Patriarchate to see if they still had, in their archives, the letter from the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Alas, they couldn't find anything. It's possible that the letter is there somewhere, and it's also possible that something remains in St. Petersburg. Of course, a century and a quarter after the fact, it's just as likely that we'll never find the original document.]
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Fr. Michael Oleksa, the foremost historian of Orthodoxy in Alaska, retired dean of St. Herman’s Seminary, and member of SOCHA’s advisory board. The article originally appeared as a chapter in Fr. Michael’s fascinating book, Another Culture / Another World (Association of Alaska School Boards, 2005). Fr. Michael has graciously granted permission for SOCHA to reprint the chapter here at OrthodoxHistory.org.
In 1794, the first group of Christian missionaries to work in Alaska arrived on Kodiak, having walked and sailed over 8,000 miles from Lake Ladoga, on the Russian border with Finland. One of the priests in this delegation of ten monks, a 35-year-old former military officer, Father Juvenaly, was assigned the task of visiting and preaching among the tribes of the southcentral mainland. He began at Kenai, headed northward through what is now the area surrounding Anchorage, then down the western coast of Cook Inlet, across to Lake Iliamna, and out to the Bering Sea.
His journey would bring him from the biggest lake in Europe to the biggest lake in Alaska. But soon after he departed for Iliamna, he disappeared. No one ever heard from him again. Rumors reached Kodiak that he had been murdered, but there were no eyewitnesses or any other conclusive evidence of his whereabouts for several decades.
Then, about a hundred years later, an American historian, Hubert Bancroft, published an account of Father Juvenaly’s death purportedly based on the priest’s own words as he recorded them in a diary that a man named Ivan Petrov claimed to have found and translated. According to this diary, Father Juvenaly fell into temptation, having been seduced by the daughter of a local Indian chief, and then was hacked to death for refusing to marry her.
That is all I knew about this incident until my Yup’ik father-in-law, Adam Andrew, who was born about 1914 in the mountains near the source of the Kwethluk River, decided to tell me the story about “the first priest to come into our region.”
According to my father-in-law, this first missionary arrived at the mouth of the Kuskokwim, near the village of Quinhagak, in an “angyacuar,” a little boat. He approached a hunting party led by a local angalkuq (shaman) who tried to dissuade the stranger from coming any closer to shore. The Yup’ik tried to signal their unwillingness to receive the intruders, but the boat kept coming. Finally the angalkuq ordered the men to prepare their arrows and aim them threateningly at the priest. When he continued to paddle closer, the shaman gave the order and the priest was killed in a hail of arrows. He fell lifeless to the bottom of the boat. His helper (in Yup’ik, “naaqista,” literally “reader” — someone who supposedly assisted the priest at services) tried to escape by swimming away.
Jumping overboard, he impressed the Yup’ik with his ability to swim so well, especially under water. They jumped into their kayaks and chased the helper, apparently killing the poor man, reporting later that this was more fun than a seal hunt.
Back on shore, the shaman removed the brass pectoral cross from the priest’s body and tried to use it in some sort of shamanistic rite. Nothing he tried seemed to work satisfactorily. Instead of achieving its intended effect, each spell he conjured up caused him to be lifted off the ground. This happened several times until finally, in frustration, the shaman removed the cross and tossed it to a bystander, complaining that he did not understand the power of this object, but he no longer wanted to deal with it.
When I first heard this version of the story, I was dubious that such an incident could have occurred. I knew the first priest to come to the Kuskokwim had arrived in 1842, had served on the Yukon for nearly 20 years, and had died in retirement at Sitka in 1862. It did not occur to me that this was the oral account of the death of Father Juvenaly, until I later learned that the Bancroft/Petrov report was completely false — a fabrication of Mr. Petrov’s rather fertile imagination.
Hubert Bancroft, the preeminent American historian of his time, never came to Alaska and did not know Russian, the language in which all the earliest historical documents relating to Alaska were written. He hired Petrov to gather documents and translate them, but Petrov did not like Mr. Bancroft much and falsified a lot of data, creating entire chapters of what became the first history of Alaska from records that never existed.
Father Juvenaly’s diary was one of Petrov’s concoctions. This becomes obvious as soon as any informed scholar opens the manuscript, still housed in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Juvenaly travels on ships that never existed, celebrates church holidays on the wrong dates and even the wrong months, and miraculously understands Yup’ik within a few weeks, while finding Kodiak’s Alutiiq language beyond his reach. These two languages are so closely related that speakers of one believe they can readily understand speakers of the other. Not knowing enouch about Russian Orthodoxy to spot glaring discrepancies, Bancroft accepted the diary as authentic, and used it as the basis of his chapter on the death of Father Juvenaly.
Once I realized the published accounts were bogus, I went back to my father-in-law for another telling of the Yup’ik version. We then started to hunt for corroborating evidence. I found that every visitor to Quinhagak in the last 70 years following Father Juvenaly’s demise mentioned in their reports that this was the site of the incident. I heard from people in the Iliamna area that their ancestors knew nothing of a priest being killed in their region, but only that one had passed through, heading west. I heard from the Cook Inlet Tanai’na Indians that a priest who had come from Russia via Kodiak had baptized them, then left heading in the direction of Iliamna. And I discovered that the people in the village of Tyonek have always had a great swimming tradition, and are still capable of diving into the ocean after the beluga wales that they hunt. The oral accounts among all the Native peoples of the region were consistent with my father-in-law’s story. But how to prove it accurate, one way or another?
Finally, another scholar discovered a passage in the diary of a later missionary resident of Quinhagak, Rev. John Kilbuck, written sometime between 1886 and 1900, indicating that the first white man killed in the region was a priest who had come upon a hunting party camped near the beach. After trying to dissuade the priest from approaching, and unable to turn him back, the hunting party killed him. His companion tried to swim away “like a seal” and was hunted by the Yup’ik, who had to resort to their kayaks to chase him. The same story that my father-in-law had told me was being told in the village a century after the actual incident.
I have friends whoh visit and students who reside in Quinhagak, as well as a nephew who lives there. I asked them if they had ever heard the story of how the first priest to visit there was killed. I discovered that the story is still known and told almost verbatim the way my father-in-law told it to me.
Contrary to popular misperception, the oral tradition of tribal peoples tends to be very accurate, for the most part ensuring that stories remain intact over time. The story is understood as community property, not the invention of the storyteller, and, unlike my eastern European family’s tendency to change a story to make a point, in groups whose histories are transmitted through the oral tradition, retellings tend to be more faithful to the original story.
However, after looking at my written summary of the story of Father Juvenaly as it had been told to me, one informant did tell me that in a version of the story he had heard, there was a detail I had not been told. According to the story as it had been given to him, just before the priest’s death, while standing up in his little boat, he appeared to those on the shore to be trying to swat away flies. At first, this seemed to me a strange detail to include. What did it mean? What was really happening? When someone is about to die, facing his attackers with their arrows pointed at him, why worry about insects?
Puzzled by the account, I kept returning to the scene in my mind until it occurred to me what may have been going on. The man in the angyacuar could have been either praying, making the sign of the cross on himself, or blessing those who were about to kill him — but so rapidly that to those on shore who had never seen anyone do this, it could well have looked like he was “chasing away flies.” This detail from the oral tradition is a perfectly believable addition to the story, and adds credibility to the story itself, as the Quinhagak people remember it.
After carefully looking at everything I could find on this incident, I sent a summary of my research to one of my university students from Quinhagak and asked her what she made of the incident. She replied, somewhat sheepishly, “Well, they didn’t know he was a priest!”
The question remained, though, why were these armed men so fearful of an unarmed stranger, whom they so vastly outnumbered? True, he was pale, tall, bearded, and oddly dressed. He likely appeared exotic, if not totally alien. But why would they have felt so threatened by his physical presence as to destroy him?
The answer may reside in the brass cross that he wore. We know from exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., that at that time shamans carved ivory chains in imitation of their counterparts on the Siberian coast, who wore metal chains. Wearing such a metal chain was an indication that the stranger had spiritual powers possibly superior to the local angalkuq. The only way to defend oneself from such alien magic would have been to kill the magician. So it seems that Father Juvenaly died in a case of mistaken identity.
This history lesson tells us that while historical texts may contain many useful details and important data, they can be wrong. Historians usually depend on what is left behind in the reports, diaries and letters of others, in order to piece together a description of another time and place, and it is easy to be misled, mistaken or fooled. Such was the case with the death of Father Juvenaly two hundred years ago. It has taken nearly two centuries to solve the mystery of his disappearance and death. Original published accounts were based on false and forged information, but the truth survived in the oral tradition of the Yup’ik people.
At least when dealing with the Native experience in this land, no one should dismiss the stories as the indigenous people tell them. In my experience, while the published texts have often proven unreliable, grandpa has always been right.
[This article was written by Fr. Michael Oleksa. To order a copy of Another Culture / Another World, click here. The icon of St. Juvenaly was painted by Heather MacKean, and is used courtesy of St. Juvenaly Orthodox Mission.]
Originally, the following was made as a comment over on Frontier Orthodoxy, but I (Fr. Oliver) have asked Fr. Andrew Morbey to write it up as a separate post because I think it is good reading for everyone. I had forgotten that I had been told that Kamenskii was canonized. I am very thankful that Fr. Andrew reminded me of this. I should also point out that Fr. Andrew says he has not actually seen an icon yet at this point. His references are, at least in part, the Irkutsk diocese website and calendars from ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate. So, with no further ado, the guest post:
Readers may be interested to note that Fr. Antonii – actually Anatole (Alexey Vasilevich) – Kamenskii is glorified as a Russian New-Martyr on the calendars of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad. His memory is commemorated and heavenly intercessions are especially sought on the Feast of the Synaxis of of the New-Martyrs of the American Land (December 12/25). He is known as the New Hieromartyr Anatole (Kamensky), Archbishop of Irkutsk. Dates of his repose vary – September 20 (1920) and January 24 (1921) are sometimes given.
St Anatole went from Sitka to Minneapolis, btw. He even took a degree from the University of Minnesota – in History! He was born October 3, 1863 in the Samara diocese. In 1888 he graduated from the Samara Theological Seminary. He married and on August 6, 1888 was ordained a priest for the church of the village Hilkova in the Samara diocese.
Following the death of his wife, in 1891 he entered the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and graduated with the degree of Candidate of Theology in 1895. In the same year on August 26, Bishop Nikandr (Molchanov) tonsured him a monk and he was appointed the Rector of Sitka (Alaska) Archangel Michael Cathedral, Superintendent of missionary schools, and Dean of the Sitka District. He became an Archimandrite in 1897. In 1898 he is listed on the staff of the Bishops’ house in San Francisco. In 1899 he was appointed Head of Minneapolis missionary school (founded in 1897 it became the first Orthodox Seminary in North America in 1905). Some material concerning this period of his life can be found in Sergei Kan’s introduction of the recent edition to Tlingit Indians of Alaska. (The University of Alaska Press. Fairbanks, 1999) – a translation of St Anatole’s ethnographic work, Indiane Aliaski, published in Odessa in 1906.
Some photos of St Anatole in Alaska can be found at:
In 1903 he returned to Russia and was appointed Rector of the Odessa Theological Academy. On December 10, 1906 he was consecrated Bishop of Elizavetgrad, vicar of the diocese of Kherson. The consecration was held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Consecrators: Anthony, Metropolitan of St Petersburg and Ladoga; Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow; Metropolitan Flavian of Kiev, and other archbishops and bishops. On July 30, 1914 he was appointed Bishop of Tomsk and Altai. [Curiously, my son Rowan, also a University of Minnesota graduate in History ended up in Tomsk too] He was a member of the State Duma convocation. He attended the 1917-18 All-Russian Church Council in Moscow. In 1919 he was one of the main organizers of *Teams of the Sacred Cross* in the White Army of Admiral Kolchak. (There is an interesting story about his involvement in the attempt to move precious icons and relics to the east) After the defeat of Kolchak’s armies, however, he remained in Russia. In 1920 he was appointed Bishop of Irkutsk.
In April 1922, St Anatole was arrested by the Bolsheviks, charged with concealing church property, and in July he was sentenced to execution. His sentence was commuted to 10 years imprisonment in strict isolation, and he was retired as Bishop. In 1924 he was released from prison, and re-appointed by Patriarch Tikhon as Archbishop of Irkutsk. However,the Provincial Administration refused to allow him to register as Archbishop of Irkutsk or to occupy his Cathedral, which was then in the hands of the Living Church. St Anatole therefore resided in Omsk.
His repose is variously dated November, 1924 or September 20, 1925. One account has him dying in Omsk: “He was vouchsafed a blessed repose in the altar of the Bratsk church during the Vigil for Sunday. Sensing the weakness of his heart, he said good-bye to all and, sitting in a chair as the choir was singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ he quietly died.
Holy Hieromartyr Anatole, pray to God for us!