The first biography of St. Innocent, part 3

Rt. Rev. Charles R. Hale, the first biographer of St. Innocent

What follows is Part 3 of Charles Hale’s 1877 biography of St. Innocent. Click here to read Part 1, and click here to read Part 2.

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.

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

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:]

June, 1845

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.

One Reply to “The first biography of St. Innocent, part 3”

  1. “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.”

    This is a big deal: the shaman’s hair was a sign of his authority and power. When Jackson and company came, learning this, they used to take the shaman on board a ship in the harbor, gather the natives on the shore, and shave his head before them.

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