Saturday, August 17, 2013

As most of you know, Alaska was a Russian Territory until the United States purchased it in 1867 for 2 cents an acre or $7,200,000. Many of the towns in Alaska have Russian names like Kodiak and Sitka. What most of you don’t know is that a second wave of Russians arrived in Alaska not so long ago. They are called the Old Believers branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Old Believers are descendants of Russian Christians who chose to retain the old rituals when reforms were introduced in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1660’s. Since the early 1900s, Old Believers had searched for a place where they could have the freedom to worship in the way of the Old Rite Russian Orthodox Church. Their search took them out of Russia to China, South America, Oregon and finally to Alaska. Several Old Believer communities have developed on the southern Kenai Peninsula including Ninilchik, Voznesenka, Razdolna, Nikolaevsk and Kachemak Selo. The largest community, Nikolaevsk, with approximately sixty families, is near the southernmost tip of the Kenai Peninsula and is connected to the small towns of Anchor Point and Homer by challenging dirt roads. Other Old Believer villages, also on dirt and gravel roads are barely accessible even by hardy four wheel drive vehicles. 

Old Believers value their privacy and their way of lifestyle. Russian is spoken in their homes, Slavonic is the language of church services (which are 5 hours longs) and English is used everywhere else. Old Believers’ clothing is an old traditional Russian style. Men and boys wear colorfully embroidered shirts with handwoven belts; women and girls wear ankle-length dresses. Girls wear scarves to cover their heads, when they marry they wear a sort of cap.
Largely because of the transition from a rural to an urban society, Old Believers find it increasingly difficult to maintain their culture. When they lived in isolated regions in China, Brazil, and Turkey, they were able to preserve their way of life to a great extent, though some accommodation had to be made, including learning the local language. Today many of their young people cannot speak the old Russian language. Like so many young people today they want more freedom, want to see the world. I think it is only a matter of time before this unique culture is lost.

We visited two churches on our Russian journey, Nikolaevsk and Ninilchik. Both churches were locked so we had to satisfy ourselves with exterior photos. In the case of Nikolaevsk, the community is modern and there wasn't much to see. This church had paintings done by a famous Polish artist that I had been looking forward to seeing. Oh well. The community is in the process of building a much bigger church (you can see it behind the old church.) The onion dome for the new church is HUGE.

Ninilchik didn't disappoint.  The church is situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the town. It has a large cemetery out front surrounded by a white picket fence. I loved this cemetery, it was wild and exuberant, filled with wildflowers and silk flowers. Unlike most cemeteries this one was a cheerful place to visit.

The town is down below in a canyon and sits beside Deep River. My apologies for the rain on the camera lens. Notice the salmon fishermen in the river. The silvers were running.
 An old sign greets visitors as they travel the steep muddy dirt track. I think it says it all.
The tiny village has it's own protected port on Deep River. At low tide there is no ocean access. The blue building in the background is their fish packing facility.  

No comments:

Post a Comment