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Teacher's Guide

Regional History
Russia's Colony
The Russian Orthodox Mission

The Russian fur traders came from a culture that believed in Christianity. The Russian religion, Russian Orthodoxy, had been established in the 8th century.


  • Russian Orthodox Church: Early History and Art
  • The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures

Greek Church Sitka, Sunday, c. 1890.
St. Michael's Cathedral, Sitka
Because Siberia was so vast, and far east from Moscow and St. Petersburg, there had always been a shortage of priests there. The first Russian Orthodox missionaries came to Alaska in 1794. Before that time it was the Russian fur traders who taught the elements of Christianity to the Natives.

Many of the Orthodox missionaries defended Alaska Native people. The tsar in St. Petersburg had always prohibited the poor treatment of Natives, but many fur traders ignored his orders. The government officially reprimanded Gregorii Shelikhov for making war on the people of Kodiak Island when he established his settlement there.

Several remarkable men served the Orthodox mission in Alaska. None was more important that Ioann Veniaminov, later named Bishop Innocent, the first Orthodox bishop in Alaska.


  • Orthodox Church in America : St. Innocent of Alaska
  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia : St. Innocent

On Unalaska beginning in 1824 he worked with Native leaders to develop an alphabet for the Fox Island Aleut language. He and the Aleut Ivan Pan'kov then translated some Russian liturgical texts into the Aleut language. He also made comprehensive notes on the population of the islands and on various aspects of Native culture.

John the Baptist's Society
Group portrait of men on the beach in front of the village. In the center of group are two Russian Orthodox priests.
In 1835 Veniaminov moved to Sitka where he began to learn the Tlingit language. He continued his valuable notes on Native culture. Veniaminov was a practical man. He helped design and build a cathedral at Sitka. He instructed Natives and Russians in carpentry, bricklaying and other skills. When a smallpox epidemic threatened the colony in the late 1830s he helped vaccinate many people. Veniaminov returned to Russia in 1841, where he was named the first Orthodox bishop of Alaska, taking the name Innocent. Bishop Innocent continued to serve Alaska until 1859, when he was appointed Metropolitan of Moscow, the highest office in the Orthodox Church. In 1977, the Orthodox Church named him a saint.


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