May 17, 2013

At Saint Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska

Archimandrite Juvenaly (Repass) met me at the Kodiak airport last night and brought me to Saint Herman’s Seminary (it was a long trip from NYC, about 19 hours in all, via Dallas and Anchorage.)

St. Herman's Seminary Chapel
St. Herman’s Seminary Chapel

After an early-morning walk around the waterfront I heard today’s Scripture readings in the chapel, where they were read following daily Matins. I wish I could convey the beauty of that setting, the wooden Chapel, the scent of the pine mixing with the incense (the chapel design was based on the first Kodiak church built by the original missionaries with Saint Herman.)

The service was conducted mostly in English, with responses to the litanies done in Yu’pik, the native language of most of the students. I was surprised to hear “Tin timioteran ton herouvim,” the Hymn to the Theotokos being sung very naturally in Greek, and learned that they had been doing this for several years, ever since a Greek student put them on to the catchy Byzantine melody. What a testimony to enduring faith in the resurrection across time and cultures, linking ancient Christianity and Kodiak.

SHS Dean, Father John Dunlop, led the service and welcomed me and Archimandrite David [Mahaffey], the Administrator of the Diocese. I then had a chance to speak with Father John and his wife Beth, who teaches patristics at the seminary.

St. Innocent ordination petition
St. Innocent’s (Deacon John Popov) petition for ordination to the priesthood, 1821

Archivist Mrs. Daria Simeonoff gave me a tour of the seminary with historical commentary and then brought me to the library and archives to show some of the treasures housed here, including original letters and journals of missionaries Saint Innocent and Saint Jacob Netsvetov. Her husband Vladimir stopped by, from the village of Akhiok, and showed me an old Russian icon he had found discarded years ago. Daria is a linguistics specialist who also teaches Russian and Slavonic at the seminary (while completing her doctorate at Ohio State University), but her chief area of interest (her passion in fact) is in helping to revive the Aluutiq language used in Kodiak villages. Much of the living language has been lost, but she is interviewing village elders to recover the literary/church vocabulary that was alive in the churches into the 1960’s. This work has attracted attention locally and in the Anchorage press.

Tomorrow the SHS board will meet and then commencement ceremonies begin after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.

A photo gallery can be viewed on the OCA web site and OCA Facebook page.