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The Alaska Code: Rare Alaskan Orthodox Manuscripts Brought Back to Life

Fr. Geoffrey Korz

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HAMILTON, ON, CANADA - The Hamilton-area parish of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church has recently launched a new Internet resource detailing the rich linguistic history of the Orthodox Christian mission in Alaska at: www.asna.ca/alaska.

Alaskan Orthodox Texts
     Alaskan Orthodox Texts

Throughout all of 2006, the on-line Alaskan Orthodox library site (www.asna.ca/alaska) has been registering an average of 2300 visits per month from places as diverse as Alaska, Finland, Russia, Latvia, Belarus and Hong Kong.

"I was stunned," said Father Geoffrey Korz, priest of the English-language parish. "Our website design team had an interest in preserving historic Church texts online, many of which would otherwise have been lost or inaccessible. This is the living Christian inheritance of Alaskans who share the Orthodox Christian faith, and the response has been overwhelming."

The Orthodox Church is commonly known among Eastern European, Greek, and Arab Orthodox Christian communities, but less well-known is that the Orthodox Church is also a fully Native Church of Alaska.

The arrival in 1794 of Orthodox Christian missionaries to Alaska marked the beginning of the Orthodox mission to North America. Orthodox missionaries defended the Native peoples against the colonial administration, and fought for full citizenship for the First-Nations. Sacred texts were soon translated into the various native languages of Alaska's vast coastline.

"Until about 1900, the Alaskan native languages had a thriving literature and press under the auspices of the Orthodox Church, until American rule enforced an "English-only" policy," said Father Geoffrey. "Orthodox Christian mission work realizes that the Gospel is for everyone. Our goal is to share it across cultures and languages."

For a century, the culturally-diverse Native Orthodox Christians of Alaska survived on texts which were decomposing with time, until the Hamilton parish began its project to computerize all historic biblical, liturgical, and catechetical Orthodox Christian texts in the original Alaskan languages. Currently, 22 of 23 known published texts have been digitized in PDF format, in languages as diverse Aleut, Alutiiq, Tlingit, and Yup'ik in the original Cyrillic alphabet.

The project recently moved into a new phase of manuscript transcription. According to Father Geoffrey, "Many historic Alaskan Orthodox texts were never published, but were scattered across various locations as handwritten documents." One collection of these manuscripts contains two sermons in the Atkan-Aleut language, given by St. Jacob Netsvetov in St. Nicholas Church, Atka, in 1842. This historic text has now been transcribed, proof-read and published for the very first time. In addition, there are handwritten translations of the Holy Gospels, Prayer-books, and Catechisms which are now being prepared for digital publication. "If God wills, many of these should be available on-line at www.asna.ca/alaska by January 2007."

Many of these texts were authored by Saints Innocent Veniaminov and the Native Aleut Apostle Jacob Netsvetov, canonized by the Orthodox Church for their lives of holiness and dedication to missionary work.

"These are pieces of Alaska's rich Orthodox Christian heritage which are being preserved for the present and future generations," Father Geoffrey added. "In this way, the Orthodox Church continues to show the faithful and the world at large that Orthodox Christians have always taken the lead in defending the interests of the First-Nations of Alaska in proclaiming the true faith."

Work on the project began in May 2005. The linguistic contributions of the Very Revs. Paul Merculief and Michael Oleksa, both of Anchorage, AK, have been crucial to the success of this project. The work was undertaken with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa, and His Grace Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage, and Alaska.

"We believe that all saints of Alaska are praying for the success of this project," Father Geoffrey said. "The amount of interest in the website (www.asna.ca/alaska) has been phenomenal."

"Reaching across the globe for Christ has always been the goal. Glory to God, it's happening."

Media Contact: Church Information:
Father Geoffrey Korz www.asna.ca
(905) 318-6436 or (905) 387-6907

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BACKGROUND

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

  • All Saints of North America Orthodox Church is the first English-language Orthodox parish in the Hamilton area
  • The Orthodox Church (sometimes known as the Eastern Orthodox Church) has existed since the time of the Apostles in the first century; the Roman Catholic Church broke from the Orthodox in the 11th century with the introduction of the universal authority of the Pope of Rome.
  • The head of the Orthodox Church in each country is a bishop bearing the title of Metropolitan or Patriarch.

THE CHURCH IN ALASKA

  • Mission work in Alaska began three centuries ago with the work of Saint Herman of Alaska, a Russian monk who was part of a larger monastic mission. Work continued through the work of Saint Innocent of Alaska, the Native Aleut Apostle Jacob Netsvetov and others.
  • The Orthodox Church in Alaska has been blessed with numerous saints, including the native Aleut martyr Peter (Cungagnaq), who was martyred at the hands of Spanish soldiers for refusing to renounce Orthodox Christianity.
  • Spiritual writings and church services were translated by saints and other faithful in Alaska into diverse native languages, including Aleut, Alutiiq, Tlingit, and Yup'ik.
  • A thriving Orthodox diocese continues to exist in Alaska, with approximately one hundred clergy and parishes, pilgrimage sites, a local bishop, and a seminary dedicated to training native Alaskan clergy, continuing a three centuries old practice for the Church in Alaska.

ALASKAN NATIVE LANGUAGE PROJECT

  • Work on the project began in May 2005.
  • The original texts are very rare, some of which have less than 10 known copies in existence.
  • Many more historic texts exist in unpublished manuscript form.
  • The vision of Saint Herman and the brethren of the original 1794 mission to North America inspires this work today.

Read the entire article on the All Saints of North America Orthodox Church website (new window will open).

Posted: 27-Jun-06



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Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


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