The Russian Orthodox Church has a long history in Alaska, evidenced by the historic buildings left behind and the active congregations that sprouted from those early roots.
Introduced by Alaska's previous owner, Russia, the Orthodox faith spread with Russian exploration. By the time the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, congregations were well established, including those on the peninsula.
Built in Kenai in 1896, on a bluff overlooking the mouth of Kenai River, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church sits on Mission Avenue in the Old Town section of the city.
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 150 years old.
Photographs may be taken inside, but visitors are asked not to enter roped-off areas.
Services are held Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. For information about tours or to visit the small gift shop, call (907) 283-4122, (907) 283-0922 or (907) 262-4103. A $1 donation is encouraged, which helps maintain the church and restore the icons.
Across a nearby field, surrounded by a tall wooden fence, is the chapel of St. Nicholas, built in 1906. Considered a sacred site by Alaska Russian Orthodox faithful, the chapel is the final resting place for Father Nicholas and church song leader Makar Ivanoff. It is open to visitors and has been preserved in close to its original form.
The church, rectory, chapel and cemetery are all national historic landmarks.
A new addition to the church this year is the St. Yakov Center for Orthodox Christian Learning on the Kenai Spur Highway between Seekins Ford and Glacier Pontiac in Soldotna. The center hosts retreats and seminars and is a comparative language center for the Old and New Testaments using Alaska Native, Russian, church Slavonik and English languages. For more information, call 260-3975.
Ninilchik's Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1901 on a hill above Ninilchik Village, situated on the shores of Cook Inlet. The site is a photographer's dream, with the inlet and peaks of mounts Iliamna and Redoubt on the far shore forming a breathtaking backdrop.
Services in Ninilchik are held at 10 a.m. on the first and last Sundays of the month. Vespers are scheduled for 6 p.m. on the Saturdays preceding Sunday services.
Although there are no guided tours of the Ninilchik church, visitors are welcome at services.
Both churches welcome visitors but ask that nearby cemeteries remain off-limits.
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