At the invitation of His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, Locum Tenens of the Diocese of Alaska, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Krystof [Christopher] of the Czech Lands and Slovakia began a 13-day pilgrimage to Alaska on July 28, 2012.
Accompanying His Beatitude were Protopresbyter Milan Gerka, Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Czech-Slovak Church; Protopresbyter Jan Polansky, Chancellor; Mrs. Tatiana Strelcova and her daughter Alexandra; and their interpreter, Mr. Ondrej Chrast.
After their arrival, Metropolitan Krystof concelebrated the Hierarchial Divine Liturgy at Saint Innocent Cathedral, Anchorage, followed by a banquet hosted by the parish Sisterhood; a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center; a short stop at the Tanaina Indian village of Eklutna, famous for its cemetery of colorful “spirit houses;” and a ground breaking ceremony for the new Saint Juvenaly and his Companion Church in Wasilla.
From there the group, accompanied by Archbishop Benjamin and Archpriests David Mahaffey and Michael Oleksa, were transported to a beautiful fishing lodge within Lake Clark National Park, where they were hosted by Mr. Robert Gillam, who also provided air transport and pilots for the delegation throughout their Alaskan trip. For the next two days, the visitors were treated to several uniquely Alaskan experiences: a flight to Katmai National Park to view brown bears fishing for salmon (and where one bruin came within a few yards of the group!); a tour of the now famous cabin of Mr. Richard Proenneke, author of “One Man’s Wilderness;” and a fishing adventure near the Tanaina Indian village of Nondalton, where they visited Saint Nicholas church and the local Orthodox Christians of the community. Flying to the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Napaskiak, they continued their visit on the Kuskokwim River, blessing ground for the Church of Saint Prince Rastislav, who invited the Byzantine missionary Saints Cyril and Methodius to Moravia 1150 years ago, in the village of Tuluksak, and for two other new churches dedicated to Saint Juvenaly and his Companion at the site of their martyrdom in the village of Quinhagak, and Saint Matthew the Apostle in the town of Oscarville. The final Liturgy was concelebrated by over 20 priests and deacons and attended by hundreds of faithful on Sunday, August 5. After attending the annual deanery conference at Saint Jacob Church, Napaskiak, they were flown directly to Kodiak for the annual Saint Herman Day celebrations there.
Unfortunately, Metropolitan Krystof had to abbreviate his pilgrimage after learning of the death of His Eminence, Archbishop Jan of Presov, Slovakia. After celebrating a panakhida for the Archbishop in Napaskiak, His Beatitude returned to Prague on Monday, August 6, while the rest of the delegation continued to Spruce Island. [They will return to Europe on August 10.]
“It was an honor and a joy to receive Orthodox brothers and sisters from the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and all the Alaskans hope that this visit marks the beginning of direct contacts with between the two Orthodox communities,” said Father Michael. “The pilgrims were delighted to hear a concert of Christmas ‘kolyadi’ (folk carols) during the stay and were amazed at the substantial repertoire of the Yup’ik Eskimo people. The Diocese is especially grateful to Mr. Robert Gillam and his pilots, Mr. Ben Hancock and Mr. Todd Gutherie, for their generous donation of time and energy as well as their extraordinary kindness that made this pilgrimage not only possible but comfortable and enjoyable for the visitors.”
Prior to his departure, Metropolitan Krystof issued a declaration, the text of which appears below.
“We, the delegation from the Czech Republic and Slovakia led by this Beatitude, Metropolitan Krystof having visited southwest Alaska July 29-31, 2012, wish to express our solidarity and unanimous support for our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ in their struggle to preserve their culture their way of life, and the integrity and sanctity of their natural environment.
“Having seen the incredible beauty and enjoyed the abundance of wildlife in the region, we agree with the unanimous resolution of the Orthodox Diocese of Alaska that this land must be forever protected from pollution and destruction.
“We assure the Alaska Native people of Bristol Bay of our continued prayers for them and invoke God’s Blessing on all of those who seek to protect and preserve this unique and precious ecosystem for future generations.”
A photo gallery may be viewed here.