lundi 31 mars 2014


Saint Innocent (+ 1879)
Il naquit dans un petit village près d’Irkoutsk en Sibérie. Il se montra très brillant dans ses études et très habile pour les travaux manuels de menuiserie aussi bien que d’horlogerie. Il continua ainsi jusqu’à ses derniers jours à travailler de ses mains. Elevé au sacerdoce peu après son mariage, il lui fut demandé de devenir missionnaire en Alaska. Après un voyage de 14 mois, il entreprit de convertir les Aléouts dont il apprit la langue et pour lesquels il traduisit les textes liturgiques et les Evangiles, composant ainsi la première grammaire de leur langue. Il eut fort à faire devant l’opposition des chamanes. Il construisait lui-même ses églises. Il fonda des écoles, fournissant aux élèves des manuels en russe et en langue tinglit, rédigés par lui. Venu à Moscou pour le Saint Synode, il apprit à ce moment la nouvelle de la mort de son épouse. Il confia ses six enfants à l’Eglise et fut consacré évêque pour le Kamtchatka et l’Alaska. Il parcourut son nouveau diocèse partageant la vie des indigènes dans des tentes en écorces de bouleau. Il apprit le yakoute et continua ses voyages au coeur du désert sibérien malgré le blizzard et la neige. Il obtint d’abord deux évêques pour le seconder. Appelé à devenir métropolite de Moscou et primat de l’Eglise russe, il organisa la Société Russe des Missions, allégea les formalités bureaucratiques de l’Eglise. Bien que devenu, aveugle à cause des journées passées sur la neige, il continua à célébrer de mémoire la Sainte Liturgie, remettant son âme à Dieu quelques instants avant l’office de Pâques.

St. Innocent of Alaska (1797–1879)
by Jenny Schroedel
St. Innocent (John) was born on August 26, 1797 in Russia. His father was a church server, and died when John was only six years old. John attended seminary, married and was ordained a priest in 1821.
Two years later, when he was twenty-five years old, he volunteered to take his family to the rugged Alaskan island of Unalaska. He traveled 2,200 miles over the course of a year with his mother, his wife, infant son Innocent, and brother Stefan. They finally arrived at Unalaska — a volcanic, windswept island — on July 29, 1824.
There, he and his family dug an underground hut for the family to live in, similar to the ones the natives inhabited. Fr. John also created a school for the locals were he integrated his growing knowledge of the local culture and customs into his lessons about Christianity. He also began work on a church and a pine home with wood from Sitka and trained members of his parish in carpentry so that they could assist him. Over the years, he built furniture for his home, as well as clocks and musical instruments for friends and family.
For the next ten years, he traveled by kayak, dogsled, reindeer, and ship to serve more than a thousand Russians and native Alaskans spread over ten different settlements. Out of his devotion for the local people, he translated many hymns and services into their native tongues, as well as creating an alphabet and translating portions of the Bible. He also wrote the first book in Aleutian: An Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven.
In 1838, when Fr. John was visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow to consult with church authorities about his work in Alaska, he received word that his wife had died. He wanted to return to his children immediately, but was persuaded to become a monk by Church authorities. As a monk, he took the name Innocent.
In 1940 he became a bishop and continued his missionary work. He continued to devote himself to the local people, traveling between the islands and working on translations of the services and scriptures into the local Yakut language. On November 19, 1867 he was appointed the Metropolitan of Moscow. He continued to care for the Church in Russia and America. He suggested that the Russian Church in America be based in San Francisco instead of Sitka, and he expressed his desire that the services would be translated into English, that the clergy would speak English, and that Americans would be encouraged to become priests. His prayerful desire and tireless efforts helped seed what is now known as The Orthdox Church in America.
He died on March 31, 1879. He was canonized on October 6, 1977. He is commemorated on October 6 and March 31.
To read more about Eastern Orthodox saints in America, try Portraits of American Saints, compiled and edited by George A. Gray and Jan Bear (from Diocese Council and Department of Missions Diocese of the West Orthodox Church in America, Los Angeles, California, 1994). This unique, readable book offers vivid profiles of contemporary American Eastern Orthodox saints and provided valuable source material for this chapter.

His Grace, Bishop Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska

Equal to the Apostles of North America


Saint Innocent (secular name: John Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov) was born into the family of a church server on August 26, 1797 in the village of Anginskoye, Verkholensk District, Irkutsk province. In his fifth year he was already receiving instruction in reading and writing from his ailing father, who died in August 1803.

In 1807 the future bishop entered the Irkutsk theological seminary, subsisting on a meager state grant. In 1817, a year before completing his studies at the seminary, he married, and on May 18 of that year was ordained deacon of the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk. Upon graduation from the seminary in 1818, Deacon John Veniaminov 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.

Father John Veniaminov 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.

But the Lord did not intend Father John Veniaminov to fulfill God’s call in Irkutsk. Divine Providence led him onto the path of apostolic service in the distant Aleutian Islands.

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. Then Father John Veniaminov announced his willingness to devote himself to pastoral service on 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.

On May 7, 1823 Father John Veniaminov departed from Irkutsk for his new home accompanied by his aging mother, his wife, his infant son Innocent, and his brother Stefan. Their journey was long and exceptionally difficult. It took them more than a year to travel from Irkutsk to the island of Unalaska, which they finally reached on July 29, 1824.

It was from this point in time and place that the man who in his own lifetime became known as “the apostle of America” began his indefatigable apostolic mission, a mission that was to last almost half a century. His apostolic feats were achieved in the severest climatic conditions constantly fraught with mortal danger.

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 of the Ascension the following July.

Father John Veniaminov’s parish included not only the island of Unalaska, but also 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. 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 St. Matthew, as well as the most frequently used prayers and hymns. 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 Veniaminov was transferred to Sitka Island, to the town of Novoarkhangelsk. This opened up to him a new and 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 Veniaminov’s fifteen-year missionary service on the islands of Unalaska and Sitka, he was likened to St. 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 Veniaminov 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 John 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 to 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 clergyman and missionaries, and the establishment of a deanery under a diocesan bishop.

This article is adapted from the English translation of the Act ot the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, English Edition, Issue 1, 1978.

Innocent of Alaska, Enlightener of North America and Apostle to Alaska, was a Russian Orthodox priest and bishop. He is known for his missionary zeal, his great abilities as a scholar and linguist, and his leadership and administration of the Church in Alaska and the Russian Far East in the nineteenth century. He was elevated to archbishop in Alaska and was later appointed Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia, an office that he held until his death in 1879.
Innocent was born Ivan (John) Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov in 1797, into the family of a church server in the village of Anginskoye in the Verkholensk District of Irkutsk, in the Far East of the Russian Empire. His father died when he was six years old. In 1807, John entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, completing his formal studies in 1818. He married in 1817, and later that year he was ordained to the diaconate. On the completion of his studies he was appointed a teacher in a parish school, and in 1821 he was ordained priest.

In 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions to send a priest to the island of Unalaska, in the Aleutian archipelago. John volunteered for the mission and set off with his wife, his infant son, his aging mother, and his brother Stefan. After an arduous journey of a year’s duration, they arrived in Unalaska in 1824. He immediately set about his study study of local languages and dialects and began his work of evangelisation that would last for fifty years and would lead to his becoming known as “the Apostle to Alaska”. Living at first in an earthen hut, he trained the local people as carpenters, blacksmiths, and bricklayers, and with their help he built a church for them.

His parish included not only Unalaska, but the neighboring Fox Islands and Pribilof Islands, whose inhabitants had converted to Christianity before his arrival, but who had retained many of their pre-Christian practices. Father John traveled between the islands by canoe, braving the sometimes stormy waters of the Gulf of Alaska. His travels between the islands acquainted him with many of the local dialects. Choosing the most widespread of these, the Aleut dialect of the Fox Islands, John devised a Cyrillic alphabet for it and, using this alphabet, translated the Gospel of Matthew and many hymns and prayers, which were published in 1840 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1829, with the blessing of the Bishop of Irkutsk, he traveled to the Bering Sea coast of the Alaskan mainland and preached to the people there. By 1836, his missionary journeys extended as far south as the (Russian) Ross Colony north of San Francisco, where he conducted services in its small, wooden chapel. In 1834, John was transferred to Sitka Island, where he devoted himself to the Tlingit people and studied their language and customs. Despite their adherence to their own customs and traditions, he converted many of them to Christ. His studies at Sitka produced his scholarly works, Notes on the Kolushchan and Kodiak Tongues and Other Dialects of the Russo-American Territories, with a Russian-Kolushchan Glossary.

In 1838, Father John traveled to St Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev to report on his activities and to request an expansion of the Church’s activities in Russian America. While there, he received word that his wife had died, whereupon he requested permission to return to Sitka. Instead, church authorities suggested that he take vows as a monk. At first he ignored these suggestions, but in 1840 he made his vows, choosing the religious name Innocent in honor of Bishop Innocent of Irkutsk. On December 15, 1840, Archimandrite Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands (in Russia) and the Aleutian Islands, with his see located in Novoarkhangelsk. He spent the next nine years in the administration of his diocese as well as in missionary work, undertaking several long journeys to remote areas. In 1850 he was elevated to archbishop, and in 1852 the Yakut area was added to his diocese, leading to his taking up residence in the town of Yakutsk in 1853. Innocent traveled frequently throughout his much enlarged diocese and devoted himself to the translation of the Scriptures and liturgical materials into the Yakut (Sakha) language.

In 1865, Archbishop Innocent was appointed a member of the Holy Governing Synod of the Russian Church, and in 1867 he was appointed Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, succeeding his friend and mentor, Filaret. As Metropolitan, he undertook revisions of the Church’s texts to remove errors, raised funds to improve the living of priests, and established a retirement home for priests.

He died on March 31, 1879, and was buried at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra. In 1977, the Russian Orthodox Church, acting on the formal request of the Orthodox Church in America, declared Innocent a saint. His relics were discovered during at excavation of the cemetery near the Church of the Holy Ghost at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra in 1994 and are now venerated by the Orthodox faithful both in Russia and in America.

In one troparion for his commemoration, the faithful proclaim
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!

(prepared from various sources)
The Collect

Holy and immortal God and Father, you blessed your people by calling Innocent from leading your Church in Russia to be an apostle and light to the people of Alaska, and to proclaim the dispensation and grace of God: Guide our steps, that as he labored humbly in danger and hardship, we may witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever we are led, and serve you as gladly in privation as in power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.