Saint Innocent of Alaska, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of North America (+1879) – March 31

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ALASKA OF MY HEART

Saint Innocent of Alaska,

Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of North America (+1879)

March 31

Our father among the saints Innocent of Alaska, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of North America (1797-1879), was a Russian Orthodox priest, bishop, archbishop, and Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia. He is known for his missionary work, scholarship, and leadership in Alaska and the Russian Far East during the 1800s. He is known for his great zeal for his work as well as his great abilities as a scholar, linguist, and administrator. He was a missionary, later a bishop and archbishop in Alaska and the Russian Far East. He learned several native languages and was the author of many of the earliest scholarly works about the natives and their languages, as well as dictionaries and religious works in these languages. He also translated parts of the Bible into several native languages.

Life

St. Innocent, né Ivan (John) Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov, was born on August 26, 1797, into the family of a church server in the village of Anginskoye, Verkholensk District, Irkutsk province, in Russia. His father died when John was six.

In 1807, John entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary. In 1817 he married, and on May 18, 1817 he was ordained deacon of the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk. He completed his studies in 1818. He was appointed a teacher in a parish school, and on May 18, 1821 he was ordained priest to serve in the Church of the Annunciation.

At the beginning of 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions to send a priest to the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Father John Veniaminov volunteered to go, and on May 7, 1823, he departed from Irkutsk, accompanied by his aging mother, his wife, his infant son Innocent, and his brother Stefan. After a difficult one-year journey, they arrived at Unalaska on July 29, 1824.

After John and his family built and moved into an earthen hut, he undertook the construction of Holy Ascension Church on the island and set about studying the local languages and dialects. He trained some of his parishioners in construction techniques and with them undertook the construction of a church, which was finished the following July.

Father John’s parish included the island of Unalaska and the neighboring Fox Islands and Pribilof Islands, whose inhabitants had been converted to Christianity before his arrival, but retained many of their pagan ways and customs. Father John often traveled between the islands in a canoe, battling the stormy Gulf of Alaska.

His travels over the islands greatly enhanced Father John Veniaminov’s familiarity with the local dialects. In a short time he mastered six of the dialects. He devised an alphabet of Cyrillic letters for the most widespread dialect, the Unagan dialect of Aleut and, in 1828, translated the Holy Gospel of Continue reading “Saint Innocent of Alaska, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of North America (+1879) – March 31”

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