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Roger Seiler - Baranov, Saint Herman and the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska

Author and award-winning film maker Roger Seiler talks with Dianemarie Collins on The DM Zone.

Standing in front of Nyack, New York's Russian Orthodox Church, DM and Roger talk about Alexander Baranov, Saint Herman and the founding of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska.

From the founding of Russian America in 174l, sporadic, informal attempts were made to Christianize the Natives. In 1794, 200 years ago, the Russian Orthodox Church established its first mission in North America, at Kodiak Island in southeastern Alaska. and, in 1799, appointed the first American Bishop. By 1808 the capital was moved to Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka), where in 1848 the Cathedral of St. Michael was built, the seat of the Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, and Alaska -- a vast expanse stretching over 2,000 miles. This "Golden Age" of the Orthodox Church in Alaska ended with the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.

The story of the many remarkable priests and monks who served the Church in Alaska, recounted in a number of valuable journals in the Church Archives, is one of incredible achievements against often overwhelming odds. They contended daily with bitter cold and deep snows, traveling by dogsled to attend their widely dispersed parishes. The constant lack of essential resources led them to sell candles and books, and to sometimes sacrifice their own salaries to meet parish expenses. Not the least troublesome was the gnawing competition from shamans for the souls of the Natives, exacerbated by the need for Natives to abandon church and school for long periods in order to survive -- by hunting and fishing. Despite the sale of Alaska to the United States, and the incursion of other sectarian groups, Catholic and Protestant, the Russian Orthodox priests continued their mission, leaving an indelible mark upon the culture of the Native Alaskans, visible even today.

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