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Orthodox Christians around the world watch the war in Ukraine with horror; not just because of the brutality of the invasion by its Russian neighbour, but because it pits two predominantly Russian Orthodox nations against each other.
Father Innocent Dresdow is the priest of the Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection in Kodiak. He says the reaction to the war has been universal within the Russian Orthodox community in Alaska.
“The initial reaction, of course, was one of sadness and heavy heart. Because whenever there is violence and aggression, it is something that is against our faith, whatever whatever the source,” Dresdow said.
Father Innocent has a diverse parish; people from all over the world come to work in the Kodiak canneries, and among them the Russian Orthodox go to worship at the Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection. It is not unusual for him to have several Ukrainians and Russians together at the cathedral, although this year has not seen many overseas Russian Orthodox worshipers at his services.
Russian Orthodoxy in other parts of the world has factions. In 2019, churches in Ukraine were separated from those in Russia by decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – the highest spiritual authority in the Orthodox world – and granted autonomy from the Moscow-based church.
Father Innocent says that for him, his main job remains to serve people, no matter where they come from or what the state of the world is.
“In our experience here in the United States, we serve Russians or Ukrainians. We seek to serve them with the same compassion, love and grace, because clearly they are not responsible for what happens in their home country,” Dresdow said.
Outside of the ministry, the war in Ukraine is having a big impact on the Orthodox community here on Kodiak Island. For followers of the Russian Orthodox faith, Kodiak has long been North America’s gateway to the Russian Empire. On Spruce Island near Kodiak, pilgrims from around the world travel each August to honor St. Herman, who converted thousands of Alaska Natives living around Kodiak in the 19th century.
“It’s a story that Russians are very proud of. And so they actually have hundreds of pilgrims who have come over the years to Kodiak, from Russia, to walk in the footsteps of the monks who inspire them, as an act of faith and an act of pilgrimage. And so we feel a heavy-hearted feeling – I’ve had cancellations of pilgrims who were going to come from Russia this summer before,” Dresdow said.
To this day, Kodiak has a thriving Russian Orthodox community, many of whom are descendants of Alaska Natives who were converted by Saint Herman in the early 1800s. There is also an Orthodox theological seminary on the island and a Orthodox school for young people at risk.