Churches represent historic significance

Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

Their onion-shaped domes are unmistakable as they rise above the surrounding linear architecture, and when visitors spy one of the Kenai Peninsula's Russian churches, they often find a short visit irresistible.

But the houses of worship represent so much more than just a unique tourist attraction. They also are an important part of the rich mosaic that makes up the history of Alaska.

Located on the bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River and built in 1896, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Ortho-dox Church sits on Mission Avenue in the Old Town section of Kenai.

With three onion-shaped domes and its bright blue-and-white color scheme contrasted against the green of a well manicured lawn and surrounding spruce trees, the church looks like a postcard picture.

Not just aesthetically beautiful, the intricate designs of the church's architecture have significant meaning, as well. The three domes, properly called cupolas, represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The nearby St. Nicholas Chapel, which was built in 1906, has only one cupola representing God.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik, which was built in 1901, has five domes representing Christ and the four evangelists.

Every cupola is topped with a three-bar cross, which is a symbol of salvation. The three bars represent the inscription, where Christ's arms were spread and bound to the cross, and the third bar the footrest. The significance of their slant is to show the balance between salvation and sin.

Brightly colored icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and various saints adorn the walls of the church. Dating back before the construction of the church, some of the icons are more than 150 years old.

The art and architecture aren't the only features of the churches testifying to history. Surrounded by a white wooden fence, the chapel of St. Nicholas is considered a sacred site by Alaska Russian Orthodox faithful and marked as a memorial. This chapel was built over the graves of Kenai's first resident priest, Igumen Nicholai (Father Nicholas) and church song leader Makary Ivanof.

The church, rectory, chapel and cemetery are all national landmarks. Both the Kenai and Ninilchik churches ask that nearby cemeteries remain off limits.

Services in Kenai are held Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. For information about tours or to visit the small gift shop, call 283-4122 or 262-4103. A $1 donation is encouraged, which helps maintain the church and restore the icons.

Services in Ninilchik are held at 10 a.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month and on major church holidays. Vespers are scheduled for 6 p.m. on the Saturdays preceding Sunday services. Times are subject to change. For information, call 283-5362.

There are no guided tours of the Ninilchik church, but visitors are welcome at services. The scenic location of the church also offers some pristine views of mounts Iliamna and Redoubt on the far shore across Cook Inlet, that photographers are sure to relish.

Their onion-shaped domes are unmistakable as they rise above the surrounding linear architecture, and when visitors spy one of the Kenai Peninsula's Russian churches, they often find a short visit irresistible.

But the houses of worship represent so much more than just a unique tourist attraction. They also are an important part of the rich mosaic that makes up the history of Alaska.

Located on the bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River and built in 1896, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Ortho-dox Church sits on Mission Avenue in the Old Town section of Kenai.

With three onion-shaped domes and its bright blue-and-white color scheme contrasted against the green of a well manicured lawn and surrounding spruce trees, the church looks like a postcard picture.

Not just aesthetically beautiful, the intricate designs of the church's architecture have significant meaning, as well. The three domes, properly called cupolas, represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The nearby St. Nicholas Chapel, which was built in 1906, has only one cupola representing God.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik, which was built in 1901, has five domes representing Christ and the four evangelists.

Every cupola is topped with a three-bar cross, which is a symbol of salvation. The three bars represent the inscription, where Christ's arms were spread and bound to the cross, and the third bar the footrest. The significance of their slant is to show the balance between salvation and sin.

Brightly colored icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and various saints adorn the walls of the church. Dating back before the construction of the church, some of the icons are more than 150 years old.

The art and architecture aren't the only features of the churches testifying to history. Surrounded by a white wooden fence, the chapel of St. Nicholas is considered a sacred site by Alaska Russian Orthodox faithful and marked as a memorial. This chapel was built over the graves of Kenai's first resident priest, Igumen Nicholai (Father Nicholas) and church song leader Makary Ivanof.

The church, rectory, chapel and cemetery are all national landmarks. Both the Kenai and Ninilchik churches ask that nearby cemeteries remain off limits.

Services in Kenai are held Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. For information about tours or to visit the small gift shop, call 283-4122 or 262-4103. A $1 donation is encouraged, which helps maintain the church and restore the icons.

Services in Ninilchik are held at 10 a.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month and on major church holidays. Vespers are scheduled for 6 p.m. on the Saturdays preceding Sunday services. Times are subject to change. For information, call 283-5362.

There are no guided tours of the Ninilchik church, but visitors are welcome at services. The scenic location of the church also offers some pristine views of mounts Iliamna and Redoubt on the far shore across Cook Inlet, that photographers are sure to relish.



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