The Regulars: At 9 am this morning when Ani and I were just barely bumbling out of bed and fumbling around with our Bunn Coffee Pot mi amiga Amanda sent, there was a rap, rap, rap, on our door. Hair looking less than unkempt and in my royal robe I opened it to 5 smiling faces. "Can we ski?" they chanted almost as if they had rehearsed it. The skis, you remember were in my house because we had all skied home from school Friday afternoon. So we got everyone suited up and off they whooshed across the street and onto the tundra. A few stragglers flailed around in the road having slipped on the icy crossing but they pressed on. Within about 45 minutes my house became the warming shack, in they marched having skied their little hearts out. "Can we visit?" they asked looking up with rosy cheeks and runny noses. Come on in. Out came the dress up clothes, markers all over the floor, the kitchen was converted into a restaurant store, the continuous game of hide and seek resumed and the house came alive. I'm so thankful for these kiddos, they are so full of joy and it is contagious. They keep me in line. Remembering what is important and what is not. I even got some help doing the dishes as you can see!
One day earlier this fall, maybe closer to my first week or so in Quin, while we were traipsing though town and chattering about everything, Jim and Steph pointed out one of the first missionary houses built in the village. Then Jim said, " You know what happened to the first missionary to Quin don't you..."
The Story of St. Juvenaly
Told by Father Oleska
In summary, this is what we know about the Priest-monk Juvenaly of Valaam. Born Jacob Korchinsky, the future martyr was a military officer who resigned his commission and entered monastic life less than three years before being recruited for the Alaskan mission. Young and energetic, he announced that he intended to visit the villages along the Pacific coast of Alaska and then cross the mountains and travel along the Bering Sea coast northward toward Chukotka, to establish a link with the Russian settlements that were rumored to have been established on the "nose" of Alaska that points directly toward Siberia. We know where he was heading when he left Kodiak in 1797, never to be seen again.
The oral tradition of the Yup'ik Eskimo and the Tanaina Indians, as well as the diaries and reports of St. Jacob Netsvetov, and three other Orthodox missionaries who visited the site in the 19th century, concur that Father Juvenaly was killed by an Eskimo hunting party near the village of Quinhagak.
Approaching the beach in a little boat, Juvenaly attempted to preach to the men who were ordered by their leader, a shaman, to dissuade him. They made hostile gestures and eventually aimed their spears and arrows at him, trying to scare him off. But the boat continued it approach, until the shaman gave the order to kill him. The guide and assistant tried then to escape, jumping overboard and swimming to the opposite riverbank, but the hunters got into their kayaks and killed him as well. According to the Yup'ik version, the shaman then removed the priest's brass Pectoral cross and tried to work some magic, but failed. Each time he attempted the rite, he felt himself levitated and became afraid. Removing the cross he tossed it aside, saying that there was some sort of mysterious power in this object that he did not understand and with which he chose not to deal.
Trying to confirm this version of events, I've asked people from Quinhagak if they've ever heard about a priest being killed near their village a long time ago. They have. One of them repeated this story to me with an interesting detail. Just before the priest, standing in the bow of the boat, was killed, it looked to the men on shore like he was chasing away flies. Indeed! The hieromonk was either blessing his murderers or praying, making the sign of the cross, a gesture the Yup'ik hunters had never before seen.
Why were the armed Eskimo hunters so fearful of an unarmed stranger and his guide? We cannot know with certainty, but there is a reasonable solution, linked to the hieromonk's pectoral cross. Apparently for thousands of years, Alaskan shamans had been carving ivory chains, in imitation of Siberian shamans who traditionally wore metal ones. St. Juvenaly was mistaken for an intruding, alien shaman. The only ways to protect ones self from such a dangerous foreigner were either to chase them off or kill them. St. Juvenaly was the victim of the first tragic inter-cultural misunderstanding in Alaskan history.
What principle can we learn from the tragic death of St. Juvenaly of Quinhagak? The work of
evangelization is necessarily risky, dangerous and may require self-sacrifice, if not to the extent of martyrdom as the shedding of blood, then a less violent but no less Total self-offering. To `commend ourselves, each other and all our life to Christ our God,' as the services of the Church constantly encourage us to do, can, of course, be done in one final, glorious moment, as in the death of St. Juvenaly, but it is today highly improbable. We must offer ourselves less dramatically, day-by-day, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. We are witnesses, martyrs, either way. There can be no mission, no evangelization, without self-offering, self-sacrifice, and we should not expect glory, fame or any earthly reward for the effort. We will misunderstand and be misunderstood, but we must persevere in love, and if necessary, self-sacrifice.
And today we (many women from Quin and teachers) are able to be part of an amazing women's bible study going on at Steph's Monday nights. We are studying the book of Esther with bible teacher Beth Moore through a DVD series. Thanks to Jim and Steph's mom gifting it to our group. In the village of Quinhagak we also have the blessing of being part of a very active loving Moravian church family. Reading the story of St. Juvenaly reminds me to be thankful for those with the Lord who came long before us and made a way. It is good to remember what God has done, is doing and will do.