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.