In December 1840, Innocent Veniaminov (the future Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna) was appointed Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuril and Aleutian Islands of a newly created diocese. The settlement of New Archangel in Sitka, Alaska, was chosen as the residence of the bishop. In January 1841, His Grace Innocent left St. Petersburg for the place of his service.
The Story of One Travel
An extract from a letter to Metropolitan Philaret:
“Finally, thanks God, due to His mercy and the Intercession of the Mother of God and the prayers of Saints and yours, I am in America! Now I will tell you about the travel and our arrival in America and so on. On one of the best days, August 20, 1841, we left the estuary of the Okhota River on the Okhotsk brig under the most favorable circumstances and directed our way to one of the islands of the Kuril chain – Simushir. On September 2, we approached the island of Simushir, and I sent the priest ashore for the edification of the Russians and Aleuts living there (there are no natives on this island, they are all on Shumshu — the second island). That day in the evening we left the island and went straight to Sitka. There were the most favorable winds for almost twenty days in a row and the weather was clear and warm. Our ship went so fast that on September 21 we were only in seven hundred and fifty versts from Sitka, having covered up to six thousand two hundred fifty versts from Okhotsk. The weather was so good that on each feast day we held services not in the cabin as usual, but always on deck. You can imagine what a spectacular scene it was: the ship amid the vast ocean is sailing calmly in full swing. There are people on deck, and the service is being held! Oh, this picture is one of a kind! On September 25, the day of St. Sergius, at about four o’clock in the evening (at about four o’clock in the morning Moscow time), thanks to His and your prayers, we saw Mount Edgecumbe located near New Archangel. And the next day, on September 26, the day of the beloved disciple of Christ, to whom the Church prays for the elimination of the darkness of tongues, we entered the harbor of Sitka and cast anchor at ten o’clock. On Saturday, September 27, I went ashore where I was met by the main ruler, by all the officials and by all the Orthodox. I went to church, where I greeted my new flock with a short speech and sent a thankful prayer to the Lord.
Let’s look at that historical epoch and places that St. Innocent described in his letter.
The route of the brig “Okhotsk” on the map of the Pacific Ocean
Okhotsk used to be the first city and one of the oldest Russian settlements in the Far East. Today it is almost forgotten that for the two centuries Okhotsk had been the main Russian gateway to the vast Pacific region before Vladivostok was founded.
The engraving by Dorgez depicts the port of Okhotsk. The middle of the XIX century.
Simushir is one of the islands of the Kuril Islands chain. It is nearly 60 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide. There are three active volcanoes on the island. Today the island is uninhabited. In the XIX century in the north of the island there were settlements of the Ainu and the Aleuts. Cows and sheep were brought to the island and razed on local meadows.
The capital of Russian America, New Archangel (now Sitka) was founded in 1799. According to the testimony of Lavrentiy Zagoskin, the captain of the
brig “Okhotsk”, in New Archangel of the 1840s there were no yards, no streets, no squares.
The watercolor depicts the view of New Archangel in 1837
By the arrival of the new bishop, the head of the Russian-American company had built a house for him. Nowadays it is known as the House of the Russian Bishop and is the oldest house in Sitka. This historic building is a monument of national significance. On the ground floor there is a museum. Here you can see the model layout of New Archangel of 1845.
The Russian-American company constantly had a small number of sailing ships. Their replenishment was mainly due to purchases from foreigners. In the period 1819-1827, the Russian-American company expanded its fleet with American brigs, which were listed under the names: “Golovnin”, “Baikal”, “Okhotsk” and “Chichagov”. They were of excellent quality and had high durability. The brig “Okhotsk” was lost only during the Crimean War. On July 16, 1855, the ship was intercepted by an English military steamer in the Amur estuary. The captain of the Okhotsk was forced to blow up the ship so that the enemy couldn’t get it.
In the picture there is a brig similar to the brig “Okhotsk”.
In the very first year of his stay in Alaska, Vladyka Innocent began to design a cathedral for the new diocese. St. Michael Cathedral was founded three years later and built in 1848 with funds provided by the Russian-American company. The bells were cast in local foundries, and Bishop Innocent manually assembled the clock that was placed in the bell tower. In 1966, the center of Sitka and its cathedral was burnt down in a fire.
The present building of the cathedral was rebuilt in 1976 according to the available drawings.
His Grace The Right Reverend David,
Bishop of Sitka and Alaska (OCA)
in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka