ALASKA OF MY HEART
ALASKA OF MY HEART
CONVERSIONS TO ORTHODOXY
The Impossibility of Aloneness: When Christ Found Me in the Himalayas
By Joseph Magnus Frangipani, Alaska, USA
Printed in Issue 24 – Death to the World
DEATH TO THE WORLD
I’m an Orthodox Christian living in Homer, Alaska and experienced Jesus Christ in the Himalayas, in India.
I listen to the heartbeat of rain outside…
Cold, Alaskan fog blowing in off the bay, emerald hills now that autumn is here and summer chased away into the mountains. But a milky white fog spreads over the bay like a silken ghost. I used to visit Trappist monasteries, back when I was Catholic, at the beginning of high school, and searching for a relationship of love. I read plenty of philosophy then to know that knowing isn’t enough, that having a realization in the mind is entirely different from experiencing a revelation of the heart.
I spent two birthdays in the Himalayas…
Traveling along gravel roads that drop deep into icy gulches where the Ganges river rages below not yet packed with the filth and mud and newspapers of villages, not yet carrying remainders of Indians in her current, I found Christ found me. It’s a difficult and strangely compelling atmosphere to confront oneself, – – India, – – sandwiched with black corpses, white snow, pagan fires and virulent animals.
I took a bus north from Delhi. It was crowded, tight and cramped, flies buzzed between my face and the windows smeared with brown slime. It’s so Continue reading “The Impossibility of Aloneness: When Christ Found Me in the Himalayas – Joseph Magnus Frangipani, Alaska, USA”
MULTILINGUAL CHRISTIANITY – ORTHODOXY
St. Herman’s Spiritual Daughters:
St. Nilus Skete, Alaska
Living in solitude, I occupy myself with searching the spiritual writings: above all I search the Lord’s commandments and their commentaries, and the Apostolic traditions; then the Lives and Instructions of the Holy Fathers. I reflect on all this, and whatever I find after reflection to be God-pleasing and useful for my soul, I copy out for myself. In this is my life and breath.
St. Nilus of Sora
* * *
Nestled between Kodiak Island and St. Herman’s Spruce Island, amidst cold Alaskan waters, lies an emerald islet, forested by towering spruce trees, buffeted by powerful winds. A myriad of birds—eagles, swallows, warblers, seagulls—find refuge here, and colorful tufted puffins nest each summer in its craggy black cliffs. A large Orthodox cross stands above the main shore as one approaches the island by boat. Behind the trees is a wooden church modeled after the fifteenth-century Russian church of St. Nilus of Sora. On this tiny island live women who have dedicated their lives to God and seek to have a living communion with Him apart from distractions. Nearby is Monk’s Lagoon on Spruce Island where St. Herman of Alaska lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This beloved saint brought Holy Orthodox Christianity and monasticism to America in 1794 from Valaam Monastery in Northern Russia. Surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and often cut off completely from the world by violent winter storms, conditions here are ideal for solitude. One is able to free oneself from the distractions of modern life and to cast the heart’s gaze inward, striving to seek God alone and to love Him above all.
The Monastic Way of Life
With St. Nilus as guide and patron, the nuns seek to emulate the monastic ideals of poverty, asceticism and interior prayer. Known for his extreme simplicity and voluntary poverty, St. Nilus emphasized the inner life of the monastic—the inward self-trial and practice of the Jesus Prayer. St. Nilus’ rule of life consists of two to twelve monastics living in cells clustered around the church—the skete form of monastic life. Called the royal path, it avoids both the trials of the large coenobitic monastery and the dangers inherent in the Continue reading “St. Herman’s Spiritual Daughters: St. Nilus Skete, Alaska”
ALASKA OF MY HEART
USA OF MY HEART
New State Museum Named for Orthodox Priest Opens in Juneau, Alaska, USA
by James Brooks
The writer evidently ‘forgot’ to mention that Andrew Kashevaroff was an Alaskan Orthodox priest, or that the current bishop of Alaska, Bishop David of Sitka and All Alaska, gave the invocation. May Fr. Andrew’s memory be eternal!
After 12 years and about $140 million in development, Alaska has a new state museum.
The Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum, affectionately known as the SLAM, officially opened after an hourlong ceremony featuring speeches from state dignitaries and song and dance from the Harborview Elementary School Tlingit Culture and Language Literacy Program. Hundreds of people filled the plaza outside the new building, standing under a cloud-dappled sky that occasionally dropped rain showers. The clouds parted just as Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, rose to speak.
“This is a moment that will be marked in Alaska’s history by what is happening today,” Gov. Bill Walker told the crowd. “This building is absolutely phenomenal by what it represents.”
What it represents is a long-term commitment. Bob Banghart, deputy director of the state division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, has repeatedly said the new building — which combines the services of the capital’s museum, archives and library into one structure — can last 100 years.
The previous museum, built on the same location in time for the 1967 Alaska Centennial, lasted just shy of 50 years. It was torn down in 2014 as construction of the new building progressed.
“This building ate it,” Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said of the old museum, “and it has digested it well.”
At 118,000 square feet, the SLAM is seven times as large as the old museum, and it was intended to have space for 50 years’ worth of new collections. The closure of the National Archives office in Anchorage took up some of that room with transferred items, but there’s plenty of room to grow.
The building is one of the last significant state projects to be funded with money collected and allocated in the 2008 oil boom.
“One thing I’ll say about this building: Timing is everything, and it was really good timing by somebody’s part. We can afford to cut the ribbon,” Walker said.
Many lawmakers were in attendance at the ceremony, and Mallott alluded to their presence and the state’s current fiscal situation.
He said the building
“celebrates what, if we make the right choices about our future in coming days, we can celebrate both collectively, symbolically and really when we say, Alaska can build the most beautiful edifices.”
Museum conservator Ellen Carrlee was in the audience, listening to the speeches given by the governor, lieutenant governor and eight others.
In her hands, she held a framed picture of the decorative panels that adorned the old museum. It was given to her by a friend on the new museum’s opening day to commemorate the years of work involved in the new building’s construction and outfitting.
“It’s a huge relief to finally be here,” she said. “It’s like studying for a big exam: You study and you study — you could always study a little more — but to have it be here is tremendous. It’s not all the way done, but we couldn’t keep people out any longer. People want in, they want to see it.”
When the Harborview students finished their dancing and cut the celebratory ribbon, a crowd surged through the museum’s front entrance and into the gallery.
In front of one case, Juneau resident and temporary museum employee Tanna Peters explained the artifact mounts she’s been working on for the past year and a half. Curators from across the state were brought to the museum two years ago to help move artifacts into storage and to draft plans for the displays that now make up the museum’s permanent gallery.
To a regular visitor, the gallery looks complete. To a curator’s eye, however, there’s still things to do. Peters pointed out one display, where two artifacts were slightly touching — a no-no where preservation is involved. Pull-out drawers in some display cases are still empty, and the vendors in charge of the museum bookstore and cafe have not yet moved in.
Banghart said, however, that for all intents and purposes, the museum is complete. There might be a few little things to fine-tune, but it’s nothing that will keep the public from enjoying it.
David Shumway and Ken Ratcliffe, standing in the permanent gallery, couldn’t help but agree. For the past several years, Shumway has worked as the project’s mechanical engineer. Ratcliffe was its electrical engineer.
“This is a one-in-a-lifetime project for us,” Ratcliffe said.
To understand why, you have to look inside the museum’s walls, at things a normal visitor will never see. Museums and archives demand precision care, even with something you might take for granted — like the way the air moves in the building.
“There’s five separate and distinct environments in one building that are almost unnoticeable except for the Archives; they’re at 55 degrees,” Shumway said.
To understand, Shumway offered a suggestion: stand in the lobby for a few minutes and feel the temperature and humidity. Next, walk into the gallery and do the same. It’s much more humid, and it’s designed that way to protect the artifacts.
The lighting operates under the same principle — bright and inviting in the lobby and open spaces, but dimmer in the display cases to protect light-sensitive objects.
Shumway said fine-tuning each element of the building will take a little while longer. Plans are one thing, but actually having people in the building is something else.
To 5-year-old Eddy Seifert, however, the only thing filling his eyes was the mining locomotive in one corner of the gallery, with a section of the trans-Alaska Pipeline System towering overhead.
“This is my favorite thing, because it’s new,” he said with arms outstretched, indicating the entire building.
His mother, Shannon, laughed.
“We just walked through the doors,” she said. “I’m amazed how huge this is. I can’t wait to explore all the little nooks and crannies.”
The state museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The state library and archives are open during working hours on weekdays.
Admission is $12, $11 for seniors and children are admitted free during the summer. A season pass is $25, according to a rate increase approved last year.
ORTHODOXY IS LOVE
Saint John (Ivan) Smirennikov the Aleut of Alaska (+19th ce.)
This Aleut Orthodox tribal elder was known as a local ‘shaman’ who cured illness and told fishermen where to find large catches, just as shaman had done throughout the Arctic since time immemorial.
St. Innocent arrived at Akun Island on June 12, 1828 (O.S.), on a trip from Unalaska to Unimak Island, some 400 miles to the east. This was nearly four years after St. Innocent had first arrived in Alaska. St. Innocent was surprised to note that the people of the island were waiting for him at the shore, dressed in their finest clothing. The islanders greeted him by name, even before he introduced himself to them. When he asked them why they were waiting for him and how they knew his name, he was told that their shaman had informed them of his coming. St. Innocent thought this strange, but as he went about his work on the island, he put the incident out of his mind. However, as the days progressed, it came to his attention that one of the elders of the island, who had diligently come to services, and had prepared for and received Holy Communion, was unhappy with him. St. Innocent, wishing to avoid all misunderstandings, called to meet the man, known as Ivan Smirennikov.
The meeting took place, and Smirennikov expressed dissatisfaction that St. Innocent hadn’t asked why the islanders called him a shaman, even though the title bothered Smirennikov. As it turns out, Smirennikov had been baptized by Hieromonk Makary, and after his departure, he told St. Innocent, he had continually been visited almost daily for thirty years by two bright figures, who taught him in the ways of the faith. He, in turn, shared this with the rest of the village. These figures would also sometimes tell him things that were going to happen, which is how the islanders knew that St. Innocent would be arriving and his name. St. Innocent was first curious to meet these two, and he asked Smirennikov if he could meet them as well, and while Smirennikov went to ask if this was permissable, St. Innocent thought the better of it, reasoning that there was no way that demons would spend thirty years instructing someone on matters of the Faith. Furthermore, he considered himself unworthy to come into the presence of these spirits, and that Smirennikov had demonstrated enough to him for him alone that he did not need to meet these spirits to believe.
Before leaving Akun, St. Innocent wrote all these things down, and had them attested to, in writing, by Smirennikov and by his translator, a man by the name of Ivan Pankov. Also, he instructed the Akun islanders to no longer call Smirennikov a shaman. He then sent a copy of his experiences and Smirennikov’s testimony to his bishop, Bishop Michael (Byrudov) of Irkutsk. A reply was eventually received; blessing St. Innocent to go and meet the spirits, should they still be appearing to Ivan Smirennikov on St. Innocent’s next visit to Akun. Unfortunately, by the time St. Innocent visited Akun again, the elder Smirennikov had reposed, and the Angels of Akun appeared to no one else.
NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY
The Shaman and the Saint
St. Innocent, Equal to the Apostles had an illustrious career – he began as a simple missionary priest to the Aleut people of Alaska, and wound up as Metropolitan of Moscow. But even though he was an important and influential man, he was humble and unassuming, very aware of his failings and his temptations. Because of this, St. Innocent managed to miss meeting angels.
St. Innocent’s first parish was a series of islands spread over 1700 miles of the Bering Sea. He and his family settled on Unalaska Island, and he made a point of traveling by kayak and ship to as many islands and villages as he could during the year to attend to the needs of his parishioners.
In April of 1828, some people from Unimak Island arrived in Dutch Harbour. They had come to ask him if he would visit them. Unimak is about four hundred miles north east (as the crow flies) from Unalaska. He told the delegation that he’d be happy to come with them, but on the way, he wanted to stop at Akun Island, which lies halfway between Unalaska and Unimak.
We have to remember that in 1828, the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. Mail service was nonexistent, except when the company ships brought parcels and letters from Russia or Sitka, and in any case, the Aleut people, until St. Innocent arrived, hadn’t needed a written language, so they didn’t read or Continue reading “The Shaman and the Saint”