Exactly a century ago here, in San Francisco, our church celebrated the first centennial of its mission in the New World. For this occasion, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands issued his message, which we publish today in our newsletter as is, in its original style. We thought that even its imperfect English cares the air of the time and testimony to the zeal with which pioneers of Orthodoxy in this land tried to get their message through. The English version of Bp. Nicholas' address slightly differs from the Russian text published in his 1896 collection of sermons and speeches.
to the pastors and congregations of the Alaska-Aleutian Diocese of the Greek-Russian Church in America on account of the one hundredth jubilee anniversary of the foundation of the Orthodox Mission in North America.
The 25th of September 1894.
Grace be with you, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1,3)
It is now, this year, beloved, a hundred years just completed since that time, when it had pleased the Providence of God, through the will of the Most Holy Governing Synod of the Russian Church - to send hither the first Orthodox missionaries with a special aim to enlighten with the light of Christ's faith the inhabitants of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, who, until then had sat in the darkness and the shadow of death. These were the names of the first company of evangelists: Archimandrite Joasaph, after - the bishop of Kodiak (he was the superior of the mission); Hieromonachs (monk-priests): Juvenalius, Macarius, Athanasius; Hierodeacons (monk-deacons): Stephen and Nectarius; and the monks Gherman and Joasaph.* All this band came hither from the town of Ohotsk in two of the Russian-American Company's ships: "The Three Prelates" and the "St. Catherine" on the 13th of (o.s.) August 1794. The first place of their activity was the Island Kodiak, and then from here the Orthodox Faith went spreading into other places of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. How fruitful the work of these missionaries had been - may be seen from the fact, that in the first two years of their stay here, there were baptized about 12,000 people, male and female.** One of these missionaries, Hieromonach Juvenalius, sealed with the death of a martyr his zeal for God. This took place in 1795 by the lake Iliamna, in the main land of Alaska. The superior of the mission - Archimandrite Joasaph - himself, who was consecrated a bishop in the city of Irkutsk, was lost in the waves of the Pacific Ocean, together with the ship "Phoenix", on which he was returning as Bishop of Kodiak in the year 1799. Thus it was this work had commenced in North America!.. From that time, during one hundred years, for the relief of the missionaries, others arrived, to take their places, from the borders of Russia; the Orthodox Faith grew, became strong and spread; the wild and barren shores of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, with the cooperation of the Russian Commercial Company, were ornamented with churches and chapels, around which a community of natives and Russians emigrants sprung up; the Russian civil life was introduced, Christian morals and customs took hold of the populace, and the country became enlivened and elevated by the higher inspiration...
On a level with the names of Shelehov, Riazanov, and Baranov, who labored chiefly in the direction of developing the civil life among the natives, the names of the monk Gherman, who is buried on the Yelovoy Island and the Ounalaska pastor John Veniaminov (after - Innocentius, the first Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, and finally the Metropolitan of Moscow) - should be forever sacred as two, who labored for the Christian enlightenment of the population. As such as the first by his saintly life, and the trials of a monastic life, assisted in strengthening the faith among the Aleuts of the Kodiak district, the second by his pastoral and archpastoral activity, especially by the compiling an alphabet for the Aleutian language and the translation of Holy Scripture, the catechism and other books, assisted in enlightening the understanding of the natives in that which concerns the faith of Christ. Under the latter's guidance not a few were educated and brought up to work in the missionary field in the same spirit, and their names are still alive in the memory of the natives, as the names of such who were indeed their benefactors in all - even unto death. While reading of the life and works of Innocentius, one does not know which to wonder at most: his zealous love of God, or the zeal and fervor of his hearers?! So brightly, so purely, and so holy has his work in America commenced; and it seemed that success was a thing insured for the future... But the ways of God are indescribable! After such a rapid growth of the Orthodox religion in this country - there suddenly commences a period of inactivity, and then even a falling back. This is especially noticed at the change of the civil authority in the country: Orthodoxy everywhere commences to feel a pressure of constraint. Foreign missionaries appear on the spot, and all means, not only to unRussianize, but to undo the Orthodox Faith, are opened up! All of this, of course, has been illegal; against not only the Declaration agreed upon when Russia transferred Alaska, but even against the Constitution of the United States., A protest should have been made against this; but, alas! they who should have done so, did not it in time.
This is painful to speak of all this; but what can be done, when it is all the truth, and it all has been thus, and it is so just now... But it must not be so; it is time to put a stop to all this... Therefore we should arise, come to ourselves, and take our stand to guard our salvation. Let all, that cast whatever shadow upon us, go into the region of the past together with this passing century, and let nothing of the kind be repeated again now or in the future; let the name of the Orthodox be known again, but not blasphemed throughout the nations, let it arise again in a new brightness and in a new glory!
Orthodox pastors! First of all unto you I turn with my word. Watch, and be awake, - be ye good shepherds, but not hirelings, - keep your fold safe from ferocious wolves by your edifying word, and by the example of your zeal in God! Let the example of your predecessors move you for good, especially the example of the good pastor - Father John Veniaminov; imitate them in faith and piety; in the church and in the school teach the people of God the words of eternal life; - remember, that for every sheep, entrusted to you, but lost by your carelessness, the Lord will exact of you.
My children in God, the fold of Christ, - children in the spirit and faith! Be obedient to your pastors, do not weaken in the faith, learn and be sober, take care of yourselves and of your children, keep away from false teacher, that come to you in sheep's skin, but they appear in the inside as wolves ferocious. Remember that the Orthodox Religion is the only treasure, which was left to you as an inheritance from your ancestors, and there is nothing on earth more holier, higher, and more precious than this treasure: if you lose it, you lose all; because in it is your salvation in this and in the next life! As in the days of Noah there was no other place of salvation from the waters of the deluge but his ark, so in the present time there is no other place for the salvation of people from sin, the curse, and death, except the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church... More constantly and earnestly pray to the Lord God, that He may strengthen you in that which concerns your salvation.
Pastors and people, ye that are near, and ye that are far off! Let us unite in love, being of one mind, feeling that obedience to the Church, our mother, is our duty, and let us enter into this new century of our church life with faith and hope in a better future; let us stand with fear before the altar of God, and cry to Him - our Savior:
Enlighten us with Thy commandments, O Lord, and with Thy mighty hand grant us Thy peace, Thou, man-loving One!***
*There were, truly, attempts made on part of some laymen to convert the natives to the faith of Christ, but they were in the first place only trials, and in the second place these people acknowledged this work to be beyond their competence, yet, nevertheless, they also should be remembered with praise. Their names are: Glotov, who in 1759 on the island Oumnak (in the Aleutian Archipelago) baptized several Aleuts; then Gregory Shelechov, he in 1784 baptized forty Aleuts on the island Kodiak. He, with John Golikov (another trader) petitioned the Most Holy Synod to appoint a special mission for Alaska, which was granted.
**"Historical Review of the Russian American Company, by Tichmeniev, p. 59.
*** Canon to the Most-holy Theotokos, 5.
8(20) September 1894
Published in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 2, No. 1, September 1994.