Who is Saint Innocent of Alaska?

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Troparion (Tone 4)
O Holy Father Innocent In obedience to the will of God You accepted dangers and tribulations Bringing many people to the knowledge of truth. You showed us the way, Now by your prayers help lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Troparion (Tone 2)
You evangelized the Northern people of America and Asia, Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues. O Holy Hierarch Father Innocent, Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord, Pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!

Kontakion (Tone 2)
A true celebration of the Providence and grace of God Is your life, O Holy Father Innocent, Apostle to our land. In hardships and dangers you toiled for the Gospel's sake And God delivered and preserved you unharmed. From obscurity He highly exalted you as an example That the Lord truly guides a man in the way he should go.

Kontakion (2)
Your life, O Holy Father Innocent, Apostle to our Land, Proclaims the dispensation and grace of God! For laboring in dangers and hardships for the Gospel of Christ You were kept unharmed and exalted in humility. Pray that He may guide our steps in the way we should go.

(Equal to the Apostles of North America) [1797-1879]

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 Holy Bible into several native languages.

Saint Innocent, (secular name: 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, 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. Upon graduation from the Seminary in 1818, Deacon John was appointed a teacher in a Parish school.

Father John served only two years in that parish, but in this short time was able to win the deepest respect of his parishioners by the purity of his life, his conscientious celebration of divine services, and his pastoral zeal.

At the beginning of 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions from the Holy Synod to send a priest to the Island of Unalaska in the Aleutians. However, no member of the Irkutsk clergy was prepared to volunteer for this arduous mission. The Father John Veniaminov announced his willingness to devote himself to pastoral service o these distant islands.

In later life Saint Innocent would recall how after an inner struggle he had said: "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" and was consumed by a burning desire to devote himself to the service of people ignorant of Christ, but, according to eyewitnesses, eager to hear the teachings of the Gospel.

At the beginning of 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions to send a priest to the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Island 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 he and his family had made their home in a wretched earthen hut, Father John Veniaminov undertook as his first task the construction of a church on the Island, and set about studying the local languages and dialects. He trained some of the islanders to be carpenters, metalworkers, blacksmiths, bricklayers and stonemasons, and with their assistance in July 1825, he undertook the construction of a church, which was consecrated in honor the Ascension the following July.

Father John Veniaminov's parish included not only the island of Unalaska, but also the neighboring Fox Islands and Privilof Islands, whose inhabitants had been converted to Christianity before his arrival, but retained many of their pagan ways and customs. Their new spiritual father often had to travel from one island to the other, battling through the stormy ocean waves on a fragile canoe, at enormous risk to his own life and limb.

His travels over the islands greatly enhanced Father John Veniaminov's familiarity with the local dialects. In a short time he had mastered six local dialects, and selecting the most widespread of these, he devised for it an alphabet of Cyrillic letters, and translated into that dialect the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, as well as the most frequently used prayers and hymns. Eventually they were published in 1840 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. These were so successfully adopted by the local populace that they soon displaced the shamanic chants. The zealous missionary waged a vigorous campaign against the vicious practices of the natives, and soon succeeded in eliminating them.

Father John Veniaminov's first translations, the Catechism and the Gospel according to St. Matthew, appeared in Aleut (Fox Island dialect) in 1828. He also wrote an article in this language, The Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven and compiled a grammar for this Aleut dialect. Father John Veniaminov's zeal was not confined to the propagation and affirmation of Orthodoxy amongst the Aleutians, and so in 1829, with the blessing of Bishop Michael of Irkutsk, he undertook a journey to the American mainland, to Nushagak, where he brought the word of Christ to the inhabitants of the Bering seacoast, and baptized those who believed.

In November 1834, Father John was transferred to Sitka Island, to the town of Novoarkhangelsk. This opened up to him a new broader field of missionary activity amongst the Tlingits (or Kolushchans), who had not previously been missionized, due to their firm allegiance to pagan ways.

In Sitka, Father John Veniaminov devoted himself body and soul to the illumination of the Tlingit people, having first assiduously studied their dialect, mores and customs. His linguistic labors were crowned with great successes here too, and bore fruit in the composition of a scholarly work, Notes on the Kolushchan and Kodiak Tongues as well as Other Dialects of the Russo-American Territories, with a Russian-Kolushchan Glossary, the publication of which was greeted as a great event in the scholarly world.

In contemporary descriptions of Father John's fifteen-year missionary service on the island of Unalaska and Sitka, he was likened to Saint Stephen of Perm. His sound judgment and common sense earned him access to the coarse, but simple and good hearts of the local people. The truths of Christ's teaching were conveyed to them in accordance with their mental development: they were instructed in an atmosphere of total freedom of belief, and the truths were not forced upon them. Father John patiently waited until people manifested a desire to be baptized. A school was built for the local children, and he provided it with readers and textbooks that he composed and translated by his own hand into the local dialects, and he was their teacher. After leading them into the light of the Gospel, he instructed them in various crafts and trades, he even taught the Tlingits how to vaccinate. This approach won him the trust of the stubborn pagans. Father Veniaminov's contemporaries record that the natives loved their teacher and illuminator like a real father, since he was indeed both benefactor and father, teacher and patron of his spiritual children that he had saved for Christ.

In his fifteen years of missionary activity in the Aleutian Islands, Father John Veniaminov was led by his increasing familiarity with the problems of missionary work to the conclusion that a successful development of missionary service in these areas demanded, first and foremost, the construction of many new churches, the founding of a permanent mission in the American North, the appointment of clergymen and missionaries, and the establishment of a Deanery under the Diocesan Bishop.

In 1838, Father John journeyed to Saint Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, and Kiev, Ukraine, to report on his activities and request an expansion of the Church's activities in Russian America. While he was there, he received notice that his wife had died. He requested that he take vows as a monk. Father John at first ignored these suggestions, but, on November 29, 1840, made his vows. He chose the name Innocent in honor of Bishop Innocent of Irkutsk.

On December 15, 1840, Archimandrite Innocent Veniaminov was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and Kuril Islands in Russia and the Aleutian Islands in Russian America. His See was located in Novoarkhangelsk, which he returned to in September 1841. He spent the next nine years in the administration of his See as well as on several long missionary journeys to its remote areas. On April 21, 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to Archbishop. In 1852, the Yakut area was admitted to the Kamchatka Diocese, and in September 1853, Archbishop Innocent took up permanent residence in the town of Yakutsk. Saint Innocent took frequent trips throughout his enlarged Diocese. He devoted much energy to the translation of the Scriptures and service books into the Yakut (Sakha) language.

In April 1865, Archbishop Innocent was appointed a member of the Holy Governing Synod of the Church.

On November 19, 1867, he was appointed the Metropolitan of Moscow, replacing his friend the mentor, Filaret, who had died. While there, he undertook revisions of many Church texts that contained errors, raised funds to improve the living conditions of priests and established a retirement home for priests.

Saint Innocent of Alaska fell asleep in the Lord on March 31, 1879. He was buried on April 5, 1879, at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra.

On October 6th, 1977, the Holy Church of Russia, acting on the official request of the Orthodox Church in America, proclaimed Innocent a Saint of the Church. His feast day is celebrated twice a year--on October 6th and March 31st.

Personal note: My family and I were blessed a number of years ago to go on a pilgrimage to Alaska and the Island of Sitka to venerate the holy relics of Saint Herman of Alaska as well as see the church and other places that Saint Innocent had erected. Even the clock on the church was built by him.

The native Alaskans who are very Orthodox treated me with much respect and would stop me when walking with Presvytera Elaine, Mariam and Stefan to ask for my blessing.

It became known to us through their museum of history how after Alaska was sold to the United States Protestant Missionaries rushed to convert by force the Orthodox Aleuts and Tlingit people but without success.

Other Alaskan Saints were: Saint Iakov, St. Peter the Aleut who was young boy and was tortured and killed by the Jesuits in California who attempted to convert him from Orthodoxy to the Latin (Roman Catholic religion).

It is most important that you, the contemporary Orthodox Christians, continue our Holy Tradition of reading the lives of the Saints of our Holy Orthodox Church and by doing so to be inspired to live a more authentic Orthodox Christian life.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George