St. Nicholas Comes to Juneau

Icon written for the 100th anniversary of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Juneau, Alaska
Lettered in Slavonic, English and Tlingit
St Nicholas Center Collection

In 1862 Tlingit1 leaders asked the Russian Orthodox Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska to come to Juneau from his headquarters in San Francisco, so they could become Orthodox Christians. As there were no Russians in Juneau, the bishop how the Tlingit had come to this decision.

He was told that a young Tlingit man had had a vision of a short, white-bearded old man telling him to go to Sitka and be baptized. (The Tlingit in Sitka had their own Russian Orthodox chapel with services in the Tlingit language—unlike the American missionaries who were under orders from the United States government to suppress native languages and customs and use only English.)2 The young man went to Sitka and was baptized.

Not long afterward, he became very ill. Nearing death, he called for the elders of the village and told them the white-bearded old man had come again, giving the message that the Tlingit people should be baptized.

After the young man died, the elders had the same vision, with the same white-bearded man. As this vision, or dream, spread, the Tlingit people became very eager to be baptized. When they saw an icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, they recognized him as the white-bearded old man who had come to them in their dreams.

The Tlingit leader Yees Gaanaaix and his wife were baptized, followed by seven hundred Tlingit people, all coming into the Orthodox faith.

Church logo
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Juneau, Alaska

The Russian Orthodox church in Juneau was dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in 1894. As the Tlingit people work on the sea, primarily as fishermen, they have a special love for Saint Nicholas, the protector of all who go to sea. The Juneau church is the oldest in continual use in southeast Alaska.

  1. Indigenous people in southeast Alaska
  2. The Orthodox Church had used local languages in worship since around 1800 in Kodiak and 1824 in the Aleutian Islands

SOURCE: St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Juneau, Alaska

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