Monday, August 6, 2012

The Russian Orthodox Church of Kodiak

Beautiful Russian Orthodox Churches

A large part of the history surrounding Kodiak is the influence of the early Russian settlers. The Russian Orthodox ministers that came to this island became icons that now inspire pilgrimages from around the world.

There are two very predominant churches that reside in Kodiak. One of them (the white with the tuquoise blue tops and gold crosses) you can see in most pictures of Kodiak town. I had taken a picture of the church when I first came to Kodiak.

The second church is housed at Saint Herman's Seminary. It is the smaller of the two but has a lot of character and you can see.

This last week, the sun had decided to come out (which has turned out to be a very rare sight this summer) and I decided after dropping Tom off at work that I was not ready to go back home yet. I thought I would take the pictures of the churches that I had wanted to see since coming to Kodiak. As an art therapist and a lover of art history, seeing these buildings and their art work intregues me a great deal.

After meeting with Nicholas, a seminarian who once was a Psychologist in Anchorage, and getting a tour of the seminary church I was encouraged to go to the bigger and more popular church just down the road. It is the church where all the pilgrims go when they come to Kodiak. It turned out that a major Saint (Herman) in the Russian Orthodox Christian Church lived in Kodiak in the early-1800's. He was close with the natives, advocating for their rights when the brutal Governor Barnov took power and enslaved the natives to hunt for furs and other things that made Russian investors rich. Saint Herman's remains are now housed in the larger, white church where they get inundated with people coming to view his remains. The pilgrims also make a trip over to Spruce Island where Saint Herman is said to have lived. The pilgrimage takes place in August, each year.

The door was unlocked so I went in. Upon entering the church I realized it was filled with even more iconography than St. Herman's Seminary church had been.

There were several pictures of St. Herman that surround where his remains were located, just to the right of the sanctuary as I come in to the church.

Bonnie, a pilgram from Portland, Oregon, pointed to the coffin just above the candles at the center of the picture.

She was very friendly and clearly loved her faith. She was very excited about being in Kodiak and expressed what special meaning each of the items in the church had for her. She had brought some of her own items that related to Saint Herman, to share with the other believers...

The book she had of the saint was outlined in pictographs that depicted the story and miracles of Saint Herman. He had stopped a tsunami in its tracks by placing the iconograph of the Madonna and Christ Child in the sand. He had also prayed and the terrible storms would pass by Kodiak, saving the inhabitants.

On top of the coffin was a painting placed directly on the wood. It was also very beautiful and intricate.

Saint Herman is famous for the words of wisdom he imparted to those he came in contact with:  "From this day, from this hour, from this very minute let us love God above all."

There were also many other icons in the church that were also rather inspiring...

All-in-all, it was a beautiful church whose people seemed very humble and kind. The women wear scarves over their heads during the services, or upon entering the church sanctuary. And, the Reverands wear long, floor-length black robes with hats covering their heads. You can often see them walking around town.

We have been invited to a Thursday evening session (begins at 6:00pm) for church services. I've already talked to Tom and he's ready to join me in this cultural exchange! I will keep you posted on the experience and how it goes...

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