Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Russian Orthodox America: Old Kenai

Previous post: Vibrant Wetlands Along the Sterling Highway

Old Town Kenai celebrates both its Russian and American past. I’m most interested in the Russian part of that history, so I immediately head for the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The church was constructed in 1894 (it’s a log structure that has been sided over), making it one of the oldest orthodox churches in Alaska. It’s still in regular use, making it a real church, not a church museum.

I’m lucky: Father Andrew has the church open today. He is eager to talk and willing to tell me anything I could want to know about this church or orthodoxy in general. I’ve long been interested in orthodoxy, but don’t really know very much about it. Having been to Egypt, where I learned a lot about the Coptic church (which is also orthodox), I appreciate this opportunity to expand my knowledge. Besides, the church itself is pretty interesting – the new-looking icons on the iconostas were actually sent over from Russian in 1894 and were just recently returned after being cleaned and restored in Russia, while the small bejeweled icon in the back is a precious reminder of the church’s earliest efforts to help the local Dena’ina.

The Russian mission here was once a compound with a number of buildings. Several remain, including the 1906 Chapel of Saint Nicholas.

I like the fact that the chapel, even though it is one of the newer buildings here, looks really old!

We find another old log building, this one falling down and not listed on our walking tour map, leaving its role here a mystery.


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