March 2021 - St. Innocent, Apostle to America

31 March

St. Innocent Equal to the Apostles

Apostle to America





Ivan Evseyevich Popov was born on August 26, 1797 into a clerical family in the village of Anginskoye, Siberia.  His father, Evsey Popov, was the church sexton and sub-deacon.  He died when Ivan was six, and Ivan lived with his uncle, the parish deacon.  In 1807 at age 10, Ivan entered the diocesan Theological School where the rector renamed him Veniaminov in honor of the recently deceased Bishop Veniamin of Irkutsk, Siberia.

In 1817, he married a local priest's daughter named Catherine. On May 18 that year, Ivan Veniaminov was ordained a deacon of the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk.

After completing his studies in 1818, he was appointed a teacher in a parish school. On May 18, 1821 he was ordained a priest to serve in the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk. In Russian he was known as Father Ioann, [John] the religious version of Ivan.

A devout explorer, John Kriukov, told Fr. John of the great spiritual needs among the Russian and native peoples in Alaska, which was then Russian territory.  Moved to serve Christ in this very difficult environment Fr. John sought a blessing to serve as a missionary priest in Russian Alaska.   


In 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions to send a priest to the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Father John volunteered to go and on May 7, 1823 he departed from Irkutsk, accompanied by his aging mother, his brother Stefan, his wife Catherine, and their infant son, Innocent. After a difficult year long journey by land and water, they arrived at Unalaska, Alaska on July 29, 1824.

Father John’s parish included several islands occupied by indigenous people who had been converted to Christianity before his arrival.  Father John traveled between the islands by kayak, battling the stormy ocean in the Gulf of Alaska.

Fr. John quickly became familiar with the local dialects. In a short time, he mastered six of the dialects. He devised an alphabet for the most widely used language.  In 1828, he translated portions of the Bible and other religious works into the Aleut language.  His spiritual classic, An Indication of the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven, was originally written in Aleut and later translated into many languages.

In 1834, Fr. John moved to Sitka Island where he devoted himself to the Tlingit people and studied their language and customs.  At Sitka he wrote the scholarly works Notes on the Koluschan and Kodiak Tongues and Other Dialects of the Russo-American Territories, with a Russian-Kolushchan Glossary.

In 1838, Father John journeyed to St. Petersburg, where on Christmas Day 1839 he was promoted to archbishop.  While he was there, he received word that his wife had died during a visit to her family in Irkutsk. He requested permission to return to his hometown. Instead, church officials suggested that he take vows as a monk.  Fr. John ignored the suggestion, but, on November 29, 1840, he was tonsured a monk with the name Innocent in honor of Saint Innocent, first bishop of Irkutsk. He was then elevated to the rank of Archimandrite.

On December 15, 1840,Archimandrite Innocent was consecrated Bishop of the Aleutian Islands in Russian America. His see was located in Sitka, to which he returned in September 1841. He spent the next nine years administering his diocese as well as taking several long missionary journeys to its remote areas. Wherever he went, he found the native Alaskan people hungry for the faith and his labors bore rich fruit which is still obvious today: Alaska has more Orthodox churches per capita than any other state.

On April 21, 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to Archbishop.  He devoted much energy to the translation of the scriptures and service books into the Yakut and other local languages.

In 1867, after forty-three years as a missionary priest and bishop in Alaska, Innocent was elected to head of the entire Russian Orthodox Church.  He left Alaska to serve the church from Moscow.   His concern for Orthodox Christian mission was undiminished, and as Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia he created the Orthodox Missionary Society which established Dioceses in North America.  The Orthodox Christian immigrants from Syria in the late 19th century became members of this Missionary Diocese.  He reposed in the Lord on March 31, 1879.  He was buried at Trinity-St. Serguis Monastery outside Moscow.

On October 6 1977, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Metropolitan Innocent as a saint, giving him the title "Enlightener of the Aleuts, Apostle to America." His feast day is celebrated by the Orthodox Church three times a year: March 31, the date of his repose; October 6, the anniversary of his canonization; and October 18, the Synaxis of the Moscow Hierarchs.

Innocent is widely venerated as an Egual-to-the-Apostles and the Apostle to America.




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