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Outreach Alaska


"Outreach Alaska" is a comprehensive plan necessary for the future of Orthodoxy in Alaska - America's Holy Land. If there is any work to be done by us as Orthodox Christians, it must begin at home - where the need and cause is the greatest. What greater need is there in our country than that of the struggling Orthodox of Alaska? This is where it all began. The chains of St. Herman and the many years teaching and treacherous travels of St. Innocent must not be lost to America - and Orthodoxy is losing in Alaska. "Outreach Alaska" is a mission of hope and empowerment. There should be no political barriers or deferred priorities to delay this plan. Alaska has been waiting for too long. As St. Innocent asked for his funeral: "If a sermon is to be said - let this be your text: "The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord'" (Psalm 37:32) Let us begin the steps that will bring the vision of hope and empowerment to fruition for our brothers and sisters in America's Holy Land - The steps directed by the Lord for St. Innocent and St. Herman -"Outreach Alaska"!

MISSION

Respond to the call of our fellow countrymen, heirs to the spiritual legacy of St. Innocent, as they struggle in America's Holy Land against the evil one, treacherous weather, harsh subsistence lifestyle, and poverty to preserve the Orthodox faith.

OBJECTIVE

Provide hope to the faithful of Alaska through programs of education, sister parish sponsorship, and church building. This will be accomplished through an organized effort of prayer and sharing our God given treasures: financial means, time, talent, energy, experience, and ability.

HISTORY AND NEED

"The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 37:32)

The Alaskan church is the Mother of all Orthodox dioceses retaining that historical element from our first missionaries as a guide to the life of Orthodoxy in America and throughout the world. The Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska has its roots in the first missionaries arriving on Kodiak, September 24, 1794 from Russia. Traveling nearly one year, the Valaam Mission journeyed east across Russia and Siberia to begin the evangelization of Russian America (Alaska) - the longest missionary journey in Christian history. The first diocese for the Orthodox Church on this territory began in Sitka (1848) and later moved to the lower 48 to San Francisco. This missionary diocese would grow 100 years later into an autocephalous, autonomous church in the New World: the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

The OCA Diocese of Alaska currently maintains St. Herman's Seminary (Kodiak), some 87 churches and chapels, and 25 priests covering an area of 586,000 square miles. The Seminary and many churches are in great disrepair. Today we find results of decades of aggressive assimilation policies, war, welfare and misdirected education efforts, have left Alaska our number one state for substance abuse (alcoholism), suicide and violence. The Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of Alaska suffered 9 suicides and 37 fatalities (alcohol related) during the month of February 2001. Orthodox faithful in Alaska are among the poorest of the poor. They are faithful to their Orthodox heritage but are struggling to build and maintain a church against harsh elements and lack of funds. They are in great need of Orthodox Christian teachings in order to truly understand and "hold fast to traditions".

The Orthodox Church in Alaska is a Native institution - the first in America to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the efforts of our Russian missionaries (St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent, St. Yakov, St. Juvenaly, and Peter the Aleut) beginning in 1794, the faithful of Alaska possess a uniquely Orthodox heritage resulting in deep commitment to and love for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Up until the time of the Russian Revolution and civil War, the Alaska Mission was financially and spiritually supported by Russia. The church in the New World was suddenly left without financial support or administrative guidance. All jurisdictions of Orthodox Christians (Antiochian, Greek, Serbian, Russian) were under the Patriarchate of Moscow. Orthodox Patriarchates from other areas of the world responded to the floundering Orthodox in America by sending priests into the U.S. to provide guidance and support to their various ethnic communities. However, there was no one to send into Alaska since the Native church was of the Russian Mission. The growth and survival of the Orthodox Church in Alaska depended almost exclusively on local commitment and initiative. Left without any well-funded, centralized administration, without any coordinated plan for maintenance or expansion, the church not only continued but also increased. Regional conferences and lay preachers worked with Native clergy to propagate the faith - village by village.

However, over the decades, incredible hardships have fallen upon the Orthodox Christians in this great and Holy Land. Following America's purchase of Alaska in 1867, the U.S. Government attempted to obliterate the native Alaskan culture through severe, aggressive assimilation policies. Since the late 19th century, confident they knew what was best for Native Alaskans, federal officials removed adolescent children from their homes and communities, transporting them to district boarding schools for instruction in the ways of modern America - "the Anglo Saxon frame of mind" and "These Natives have embraced the wrong kind of Christianity" - an Ethnic Cleansing, denying them all traditions of the Orthodox faith inclusive of burial. Following the Japanese bombing and invasion of the Aleutian Islands, June 1942,the Aleut Natives - Orthodox Christians - became the first Americans since 1812 to know the fear of foreign invasion on their own land. World War II brought relocation, internment and a scorched earth policy by the U.S. Government to native communities of the Aleutian and Pribolof Islands. The American relocation and Japanese prison camps resulted in 60% of the natives dying from disease and malnutrition. American troops garrisoned the islands for nearly 2 years - using Orthodox Churches for target practice, decimating holy objects, vandalizing and looting native homes, churches and community property. The work of reconstruction was mammoth, particularly when it was thrust upon people who had been impoverished by the war. What enabled Alaska Native peoples to endure and survive was their essential spirituality. Tragically, this inner strength was undermined in the 1960's when the Great Society discovered that rural Alaska was, per capita, the most impoverished region of the country. Although the Natives had successfully managed to survive in the Arctic for centuries, they were suddenly and unexpectedly inundated with non-reciprocal institutional assistance - welfare checks, food stamps, and an entire bureaucracy to sustain and perpetuate these programs. Then the government decided they must educate the Native Alaskan peoples. The ultimate goal of dominant culture, but at the lowest level. The "educated" person was caught between two worlds, fitting comfortably into neither.

"Outreach Alaska" is a comprehensive plan necessary for the future of Orthodoxy in Alaska - America's Holy Land. If there is any work to be done by us as Orthodox Christians, it must begin at home - where the need and cause is the greatest. What greater need is there in our country than that of the struggling Orthodox of Alaska? Through the St. Innocent of Alaska Missionary Prayer Society, Spiritual Travel, and Adopt a Seminarian projects of "Outreach Alaska" - the new Alaska Mission - American Orthodoxy will be strengthened through the support of all jurisdictions. What better way to fight the evil one than with prayer, pilgrimages, and the education of priests?

It is said: "He who denies his heritage has no heritage". This is also true with our faith heritage. Alaska is the heritage of American Orthodox - the land of the Saints of America - St. Innocent, St. Herman, St. Juvenaly, Peter the Aleut, St. Yakov - As a result of isolation and years of neglect, American Orthodox have not recognized our faith heritage in Alaska. What was given to us is at great risk. We are losing in Alaska. If we deny the needs of this faith heritage, there will be no faith heritage. "Outreach Alaska" is the new Alaska Mission. It is time to learn about this faith heritage because it is right. It is time to see our faith heritage because it is right. It is time to remember our faith heritage because it is right. It is time to give spiritually to this faith heritage because it is right. "Outreach Alaska" - the new Alaska Mission - is right for all American Orthodox. As St. Innocent traveled beyond his limits among the Alaska native peoples, it is time to recognize the heirs of his spiritual legacy. As we work to assist in other areas of the world, it is time to end the isolation and neglect of our own - Orthodox America - the Alaska Mission. Because it is right! Let us begin!

"The Steps of a man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 37:32)



*The need for this project was determined by writings and conversations with OCMC Alaska Missionary Teams (Summer 2000), IOCC Preliminary Needs Assessment for Alaska (January 2000), conversations with readings provided by Bishop BASIL Essey (A Sure Foundation -Aleut Churches in WWII by Barbara Sweetland Smith with Patricia J Petrivelli, ORTHODOX AMERICA 1794 -1976 Development Of The Orthodox Church In America, General Editor, Constance J. Tarasar and Associate Editor, John H. Erickson with Editorial Committee), Orthodox Alaska by Fr. Michael Oleksa; Village Journey by Thomas R. Berger (The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission), travels, notes, and research of Mary Ann Khoury)



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A humanitarian project of Orthodox Christians answering the call of
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Latest Update: Saturday, April 17, 2004

Published with the blessing of
His Grace The Right Reverend NIKOLAI, Bishop of Sitka, Anchorage & Alaska
2003 Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska

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