In the Beginning Was the Word: The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures
Conversion to Christianity
The primary goal of the Alaska mission was to convert the Native population to Orthodox Christianity. Education and "pacification" of the Natives, despite their importance to the Russian American Company, were adjuncts to this goal. Conversion was encouraged by the Tsar, as head of the Church, and by the hierarchy. The Church Archives contain numerous statistical records of conversions and descriptions of exceptional instances, as in the case of one Stefan. The annual reports contain invaluable genealogical information: dates of births, deaths, and marriages; Native and Christian names; places of origin, and the like.
Rules for converting Natives strictly forbade using coercion. The emphasis was on voluntary acceptance and on participation in church life -- often difficult since many Natives continued to subsist on hunting and fishing. Nonetheless, records indicate that converts were active on every level, serving as priests and deacons, contributing financially, and decorating churches with carvings and icons they produced.
Orthodox missionaries were generally successful in their conversions, more so among the Aleuts and Eskimos than the Tlingits. Among the obstacles to conversion were the language barrier, temporarily overcome by the 1850s, and the shamanistic traditions of the Natives, deeply entrenched in the culture. With the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, and the coming of Catholic and Protestant missionaries, competition for converts became keen. Indeed, Natives who had been converted to Orthodoxy often tried other denominations -- at times to avoid Orthodox formalities -- and then returned. Equally often, they reverted to their old traditions of shamanism.
- Silkscreen image on plexiglass, from a photograph of a lithograph, die cut. Alexander II. Biographical File, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (33)
- Manuscript decree. Decree of his Imperial Majesty [Alexander II], Autocrat of all Russia, to the most reverend Petr, Bishop of Novoarkhangelsk, Vicar of Kamchatka Diocese, April 6, 1859, p.1. D330, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (34)
- Photograph copyprint, die cut from a large group. Some of our Eskimo friends. Eskimos from Port Clarence brought to the United States by the Reindeer Commission, Bureau of Ethnology 1894. Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (35)
- Color map. Map of Alaska and Adjoining Regions, Compiled by Ivan Petroff Special Agent Tenth Census 1880. Showing the Distribution of Native Tribes. Drawn by Harry King. New York: Julius Bien, 1880. TC Alaska Indians 1880 Petroff U. S. Int. Dept., Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (36a)
- Color photocopy of legend plotting Alaskan linguistic groups. From, Map of Alaska...by Ivan Petroff.... Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (36b)
- Color photocopy of legend "Alaska Natives," showing language groups. From the map, Alaska." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, May 1994. Interpretive Programs Office (37)
- Holograph letter. Dear Sir! Grigorii Ivanovich! Dear friend and benefactor!, from Archimandrite Ioasaf of Kodiak Island, May 18, 1795. Box 1, Yudin Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (38)
- Manuscript document. Kodiak Resurrection Church, book of vital statistics for 1826, pp.3 (verso), 4 (recto). E27, Alaska Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (39)
- Holograph copy of 1840 original. Instructions for any priest who is appointed for the conversion of the unbelievers and in charge of those converted to the Christian faith by the late Metropolitan of Moscow, Innokentii. Instructions composed before he became Bishop of Kamchatka , by Aleksandr Arkhangelskii, 1894, pp.16,17. D330, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (40)
- Holograph journal. Journal of priest Iakov Netsvetov about different occasions and actions, 1828-1843, cover. D45, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (41a)
- Photocopy of a manuscript map of Netsvetov's travels. From, Journal of priest Iakov Netsvetov about different occasions and actions, 1828-1843, [pp. 288-289]. D45, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (41b)
- Holograph petition. To the most holy governing Synod, from Innokentii, Bishop of Kamchatka, a presentation, July 22, 1852, p.1. From [Bishop Innokentii's letters recommending awards to priests for various achievements, 1850-1852]. D328, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (42)
- Manuscript census. To the Novoarkhangelsk Ecclesiastical Consistory: A census of Mednyi Island for 1866 to l January 1867, p.1. D28, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (43)
- Manuscript decree. Decree of his Imperial Majesty [Nicholas I], the Autocrat of all Russia, from the Novoarkhangelsk Ecclesiastical Consistory to the Brethren of the Novoarkhangelsk Cathedral, December 31, 1847, pp.1,4. D242, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (45)
- Manuscript document. List of newly converted non-Christians for 1882, compiled by Reverend Zakharii Belkov and Deacon Ioann Orlov, pp.5 (verso), 6 (recto). D219, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (46)
- Holograph letter. To His Eminence, my Gracious Archpastor and Father! [Bishop Vladimir], from Reverend Donskoi, pp.2,3. B6, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (47)
- Holograph document. Register for recording converts, given by the North America Ecclesiastical Consistory to the clergy of Juneau Church for 1902, compiled by Reverend Aleksandr Iaroshevich, pp.4,5. D308, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (48)