Monday, September 13, 2010

Saints by Letter: Week Ii

St. Innocent of Alaska, “Apostle of America”
Feast Day:  March 31

In the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament (First Kingdoms in the Orthodox Study Bible), we hear about the calling of the Prophet Samuel when he was a young boy serving in the temple.  Three times in the night, Samuel heard a voice calling him, and three times he woke the Priest Eli to ask why he had called.  After the third time, Eli told him that it might be the Lord Himself calling.  Samuel went back to sleep.  He heard the voice the fourth time, “Samuel, Samuel.”  Samuel’s response to the Lord is very important: “Speak, for Your servant hears” (I Kingdoms 3.10).  Samuel responded with an open heart, willing to listen to God and do anything God wanted him to do.

We see this same willingness in the life of St. Innocent of Alaska.  St. Innocent was born in the village Anginsk in the Irkutsk region of Russia, on August 26, 1797.  Originally known as Fr. John Veniaminov, he was a married priest with a son named Innocent, serving and teaching at the Annunciation Church in Irkutsk.  But in the 1820’s, though the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church began to realize that it was time to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the land of Alaska.  Bishop Michael of Irkutsk asked for volunteers, and Fr. John, like the Prophet Samuel before him, heard the voice of God and decided to go and preach the Gospel as a missionary to Alaska.  “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” he said, as he accepted the call from God.

In 1823, Fr. John left with his wife, his son, his mother and his brother.  It was a long journey and it took them an entire year to get to Alaska.  And when they arrived, they built and moved into a hut made out of dried mud.  Fr. John was a smart and talented man, who used all of his gifts in the service of God and the Church.  In the 45 years he served in Alaska, Fr. John learned several different languages of the native Alaskan tribes, and even wrote an alphabet for the Aleut language.  He translated the Gospel of St. Matthew and other Orthodox texts, and preached at every opportunity he had.  “Whoever abounds in faith and love,” said Fr. John, “can have mouth and wisdom, and the heart cannot resist their serving it.”  Fr. John built schools and hospitals, and even instructed local doctors on how to administer vaccines and other medicines. 

Fr. John traveled all over Alaska, parts of Canada, and even as far south as San Francisco, California, preaching and teaching the Christian faith as a missionary.  It is estimated that he brought around ten thousand converts to the Orthodox faith through baptism.  In 1838, Fr. John traveled to St. Petersburg in Russia to tell the Russian Church about his missionary work.  Sadly, he received word that his wife had died while he was away.  This prompted him to take monastic vows and accept ordination as a bishop under the name “Bishop Innocent.”  As a bishop, he continued his untiring missionary work among the native peoples in Alaska. 

Then in 1868, Bishop Innocent was chosen to be Metropolitan of Moscow, the most prestigious position in the Russian Orthodox Church.  He no longer traveled as a missionary after this, but the bishop used the authority of his new position to start a Missionary Society in Russia, allowing others to continue his work in Alaska and elsewhere.

St. Innocent fell asleep in Lord on March 31, 1879.  He continues to be a great example for all Orthodox Christians as a lover of the Bible, a preacher and teacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a missionary who believed that all people on earth need to hear, understand, and accept that Gospel.  

Troparion - Tone 4

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

Copyright © Sibling Revelries 2010
Icon and Troparion found at

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