Beloved in the Lord,
It is with great sadness that I report to you the tragic decision of the Turkish Government to make the great temple and Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul) and return it to a worshipping mosque. It has been maintained as a museum since 1934 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared it a museum to bring Turkey into the modern era. Now, President Erdogan has followed the decision of the Turkish Council of State which declared that the decision to make it a museum was illegal. President Erdogan has stated that it will remain accessible to non-Muslims, but no details have been given as to how it would work. Beginning on July 24, Muslim prayers will be heard in the ancient Christian Temple.
To support the “Day of Lamenting” I instruct our Parishes in the Diocese of Alaska to offer a pealing of Bells at Noon to show support this project. In addition, prayers for the Orthodox Church of Constantinople under His Holiness, Bartholomew should also be said based on the Molieben of Thanksgiving or an Akathist to the Mother of God, or Saint Herman to seek their intercession in this difficult time.
We now live in a world that has many trials. A virus is touching the lives of many people around the world. Churches were closed and deemed “non-essential” in a massive shutdown while liquor stores and canabis shops are found needed. In our country protests and riots have broken out in our cities that have now gone beyond care of the lives of the weak and defenseless in our society. It is open season on statues that have stood to mark our history and now must be taken down because one group of people have said so. Our political scene has taken on a harsh appearance where extreme hatred is launched against our president and his supporters in a way never before witnessed in an election. We are reminded of the words of Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” If we ever needed our churches, it is now.
We also know that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands”, [Acts 7:48] He dwells in the hearts of us all. As our Lord has said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am with them.” [Matt. 18:20]. The purpose of our churches are to be places where our lives are formed in the ways of God. We come together as a community of those who love and want to worship God in a common way. The word Ecclesia itself refers to a gathering together of the people of God. So while we are held apart from time to time, we are still the Ecclesia even when we are “together separately” as the new phrase has come into use. As His Beatitude, our Metropolitan Tikhon has said in his letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch, “We Orthodox Christians are his people, and he is our God. He lives and moves and dwells amongst us. [II Cor 6:16]. The actions of the Turkish Republic can do nothing to affect this relationship that we have with God.” Nor can a virus, or a group of angry people or political operatives effect our relationship with a loving God. Let us pray together not only for the people of Constantinople but those everywhere who are suffering from depression and loss of liberty and fellowship.
Therefore, let our bells ring and our prayers be heard in support of the Day of Lamenting.
Your servant of Servants,
+ David, Archbishop of Sitka and Alaska
Saint Herman Orthodox Theological Seminary Board of Trustees
Convenes Remotely to Address Current Issues and Impact of COVID19 Pandemic
Among the topics discussed were the continued Challenge-Based Education model, the Reader’s-Excellence Challenge, the Freedom Challenge and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Due to the current situation in Alaska during the ongoing pandemic, the Board decided that classes will continue remotely for the Fall 2020 semester. The well-being, health, and safety of our students and families, their villages, and the community of Kodiak are a primary concern; as such, no students will be returning to the campus this next semester. During this time the seminary will expand its educational opportunities by offering remote class auditing and enrollment to the general public. Information will be posted on the seminary and diocese websites as it becomes available.
After 23 years of serving the seminary—the last 12 years as the Dean—at his request His Eminence and the Board of Trustees have accepted Archpriest John Dunlop’s resignation as Dean of Saint Herman Seminary. In recognition of his many years of service, the Board has expressed its appreciation by conferring upon him the honor of Dean Emeritus. In addition, after 23 years of serving the seminary in various capacities, Matushka Dr. Bea Dunlop is leaving the seminary to teach in the public school system. The Board also expressed its appreciation for her many years of service to the seminary.
His Eminence expressed his gratitude to the Board of Trustees for their continued dedication and support of the seminary. Over the past year His Eminence worked closely with the Transition Team led by Victor Downing to develop the Challenge-Based Education model now approved by the Board. In completing their work this Team has created “a seminary like none other” for the development of clergy and lay leaders for the Diocese of Alaska. His Eminence expresses his appreciation for the Team’s diligence and dedication to His Eminence’s vision.
“Moving forward I am hopeful that these efforts will prove to be a great benefit to the parishes and peoples of Alaska. With God’s help and following our patron’s Saint’s instruction: From this day forward we will love God above all and fulfill His Holy Will.”
A formal announcement of the search for a new Dean of Saint Herman Orthodox Theological Seminary will be forthcoming.
On the evening of March 17, 2020, His Eminence Archbishop DAVID directed the following guidelines for clergy and parishes throughout Alaska. These measures are effective immediately. Updates will be posted as circumstances change.
Holy Synod Statement & Instruction
His Eminence Archbishop DAVID - Clergy & Parish Instruction
225 Anniversary of the Alaska Mission
On the Occasion of the 225th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Valaam Missionaries to Kodiak, Alaska
Most Rev. + David, Archbishop of Sitka and Alaska
On December 21, 1793, Archimandrite Ioasaph, along with three priest0monks, a Hierodeacon, and a lay monk, and a few support personnel left St Petersburg, Russia to journey over 7,300 miles to the Russian American settlement of Kodiak, Alaska. It remains the longest missionary journey by any group in recorded history. The treacherous journey took 293 days, traversing Russia and Siberia by land, and then a hazardous sea journey by ship to Kodiak. They arrived on September 24, 1794 to begin their work with the native peoples of Alaska, or as the Russians referred to them, “The Americans”.
They began immediately working with the local peoples and defending them against the harsh treatment they were receiving at the hands of the Promyshleniki, the Russian fur traders. They soon found the Alutiiq people flocking to the Orthodox Faith. Not only because of their defense of the native and their treatment, but because they did not present Orthodoxy as the abolition of their native religion, but as the fulfillment of it. The heroic work of these handful of men brought about the spreading of Orthodoxy on this continent. Everywhere they went to bring the Gospel, the Good News, to people who had not heard it before, they found a willing people seeking the True Faith.
When we think about their labors, we should immediately think of the era in which they worked. How difficult was it to get around at that time? What forms of transportation were available to them? Their own feet, perhaps a cart or even a horse and a wagon? Nothing more than that existed and so there was no other means available or even realized. What about their communication? None of our modern conveniences existed either. No phones, radios, teletype or wireless devices to use at all. All they had was a face to face meeting or a written letter, and relying on ships and couriers to get those letters to the proper recipient.
What literature did they have to hand out to help in teaching these new catechumens? They were dealing with a people who had no real written language. No books existed to explain the faith. There were no pocket Bibles to hand out in their own language, simply their own words to the eager ears of the indigenous peoples.
We might look at this and say, “Why bother?” Too much effort for too few people. Would our time be better spent with a people easier to work with in a milder climate closer to home? Fortunately for us, these were not the concerns of the Valaam missionaries. Their only concern was fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord in Matthew 28, to make disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing else was of any significance. All that mattered was what they knew, there were a good number of people living in Alaska that did not know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their zeal to “do the work of an evangelist”, as St Paul says in II Timothy 4, was what drove them, it was what they all lived for; and they were willing to give their life to that end if that was what was needed.
So they went to Alaska, that long and treacherous journey being completed by them all. Under the careful leadership of Archimandrite Joasaph they met every challenge and did so with joy in their hearts. It mattered not the color of their skin, the language of their tongue, the shape of their dress, they were all people created in the Image of God and needed to have that Illumination that only Christ can give.
It should be noted, that of the original missionaries, only Father Herman, the lay-monk remained entirely in Kodiak. In 1795, Fr Macarius was sent to the Aleutian Islands and eventually returned to Kamchatka. Fr Juvenaly, after converting the Kenai and Athabaskans of Cook Inlet, traveled through Lake Iliamna and on to the mouth of the Kuskokwim river where he was martyred in his boat along with his companion whose name we do not have. Archimandrite Joasaph returned to Russia in 1799, aboard the Phoenix, he and the entire retinue perished upon their return to Alaska before they reached Kodiak, articles from the boat floating on shore from the Aleutians to Kodiak Island itself. Fr Athanasius stayed almost entirely in Kodiak and went nowhere else.
By 1821, there was only the humble monk who now lived on Spruce Island, Father Herman. Always an example of true Christian piety and love, he cared for all who came to him, he built an orphanage and school to care for the children who were orphaned by an epidemic. He grew a garden and taught the basics of a Christian life both by word and example. His life, miracles and death are all remembered by the inhabitants of the area and his memory was kept alive in veneration by the native peoples until he was finally Canonized by the Orthodox Church in America in 1970, the first saint of a newly-autocephalous Orthodox Church, as their first official act.
So, let us ask again, “What can I do?” Looking at this history of the first missionaries, we can do much to further the life of Orthodoxy in our land by following the example of Father Herman. These brave and courageous Valaam Missionaries show us the way. How many more devices to we have to use today than they did? How much easier is it to communicate with others compared to them? How much easier is it to travel today than back then? Our resources are very plentiful and yet there is much more that needs done today than before.
This Anniversary is a way of marking the great work of the Valaam Missionaries, but it is also a way of showing us the path forward. In their time, the men of Valaam came forward and made a long journey to reach a people in darkness. How many of our neighbors today are sitting in darkness? How many of them do not know the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How many have forgotten it? Beloved, you and I are the New Valaam, put here by God to fulfill the Great Commission in our time, with our talents. We are called, as Saint Paul says, to do the work of an Evangelist, using the talents that God has given us for the benefit of those around us. Evangelism is never a completed work, it is always a moving force of transformation in each generation. It is now our time, it is our call to be the ones who perpetuate that great missionary work yet again. In our time, for our people. May All the Saints of Alaska pray for us and help us to fulfill God’s will both today in the time to come. Amen.
2018 All American Council Diocesan Video