NINILCHIK -- In honor of its unique place in the heart of the community and its picturesque location on the hill overlooking the village, Ninilchik's Transfigura-tion of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church is commemorating its 100th anniversary this weekend.
"The church means everything to me," said Edna Steik, who was born in Ninilchik 66 years ago and baptized in the church when she was an infant.
"It's the basis of our lives. It's our heritage."
Steik's children and grandchildren also have been baptized in the Ninilchik church.
"I always told them, 'It's what you are,'" she said.
For Steik, recognizing the church's 100-year existence honors other events that have happened in the village's history and increases the importance of the weekend.
"I feel like I should be there," she said of the events planned for Saturday and Sunday.
Orthodox believers began meeting in Ninilchik 150 years ago in a building near Ninilchik River. After fire destroyed that structure, a new church building was constructed in the present location. It sits with the altar facing toward the east, as do all Orthodox churches, and the door facing Cook Inlet, a welcome sight to commercial fishers returning home.
As was common in Ninilchik construction of that period, its walls are hand-hewn logs, hidden now beneath the white exterior siding.
As part of the celebration, a newly designed volume of the gospels, written in English, has been purchased.
"The one there now is quite beautiful and ancient, but all in Slavonic," said church council treasurer Benjamin Jackinsky.
Slavonic reflects the language spoken by villagers at the time the church was established in 1901.
In the Kenai Historical Society's "Once Upon the Kenai: Stories From the People," Juanita Anderson described the enduring role of the church. Anderson's mother, Alyce Anderson, came to Ninilchik as a teacher in 1912.
"Changes have taken place, but fortunately the Russian church still stands and is kept in good condition by those who have remained faithful to the beliefs of their forefathers," Anderson wrote.
The same can be said of the present-day congregation.
"The members who are here now are all from original Ninilchik settlers," said Archpriest Macarius Targonsky, who conducts services in Ninilchik twice a month.
"Originally, most of them came from Kodiak and have married into other families. Leman, Jackinsky, Cooper and Matson -- these all married Ninilchik ladies and then the name stayed in the parish. But of course, you have Russian names, too -- Demidoff, Oskolkoff and Kvasnikoff."
Targonsky said that in the 100 years since construction of the church, area parishioners have taken on the responsibility of maintaining the structure.
"They do all the work themselves," Targonsky said, including raising funds for big projects like a new heating system in 1997, and a new foundation in 1998.
Icons and vestments also tether the church to its Russian roots.
"We have a real old gold set of vestments that were made in St. Petersburg about 1906," Targonsky said.
Although the threads are frail and the garments fragile, Targonsky still uses the veil to cover the chalice and paten.
Beginning with vespers Saturday at 6 p.m., His Grace, Bishop Nikolai and several visiting priests will celebrate the church's presence. Following vespers will be a memorial service in remembrance of the departed.
Divine Liturgy will be held Sunday morning. Immediately preceding the liturgy, Bishop Nikolai will vest in the center of the cross-shaped church beginning at 9:30 a.m.
"It's a fairly long ceremony, probably lasting until 1 p.m.," Jackinsky said.
Because of the building's small size, he encouraged early arrival to ensure a place inside.
A "prasnik" -- church holiday -- dinner will be held at the home of "starosta" -- lay leader -- Cecil and Mae Demidoff following the liturgy.
It is open to the public, and people are encouraged to bring a side dish fitting the special occasion.
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