Russian churches are visual treat

Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula's Russian churches are living testaments of Alaska's rich and colorful past.

The peninsula has two Russian Orthodox churches; one is in Kenai, the other

in Ninilchik.

Kenai's Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Ninilchik's Holy Transfigura-tion of Our Lord Churches hearken back to Russian's ownership of Alaska that ended in 1867. Regularly scheduled services still draw the faithful.

Built 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. It is included on a walking tour. Maps and brochures for the tour can be picked up at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on the Kenai Spur Highway.

Brightly-colored icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and various saints adorn the walls of the church. Some of these icons are 150 years old.

Photographs may be taken inside, but visitors are asked not to enter the roped-off areas. No smoking or food is allowed in the church, and men are asked to remove their hats. Services are held on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. For information about tours of the church or to visit the small gift shop, call 283-4122, 283-0922 or 283-4103.

Visitors are welcome and encouraged to make a $1 donation. This money helps maintain the church and restore the aging icons.

Across a nearby field from the church, surrounded by a tall wooden fence, sits the chapel of St. Nicholas, built in 1906. Considered a sacred site by Alaska's Russian Orthodox faithful, the chapel is the final resting place of Father Nicho-las and church song leader Makar Ivanoff. It, too, 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.

The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1901 on a hill above Ninilchik Village. The village is situated approximately 42 miles down the coast from Soldotna. The site is a photographer's dream, with Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range on its far shore forming a breathtaking backdrop.

Services in Ninilchik are held at 10 a.m. 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 the cemeteries remain off-limits.

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