Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Seldovia’s Russian Orthodox church rests in transition

Expand Messages
  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://homertribune.com/2010/03/seldovia%E2%80%99s-russian-orthodox-church-rests-in-transition/ Seldovia’s Russian Orthodox church rests in transition •
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2010
    • 0 Attachment

      Seldovia’s Russian Orthodox church rests in transition

      • Land by church may be sold, but ancient church building won’t be

      by Naomi Klouda
      Homer Tribune

      Seldovia’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral,
      sitting atop its hill as it has for more than a
      century, is currently in transition because its
      members are so few in Seldovia that services are seldom held there.

      However, contrary to speculation, the church is
      not for sale, said Russian Orthodox priest,
      Father Michael Oleksa. Apparently the rumor
      started because land around the church is listed
      for sale, after a trailer court nearby has
      overflowed onto church property, creating a
      “squatting” situation that has left the church
      wanting to sell the land around the church.
      “We have a person who is willing to buy the land
      and we would rather sell it and let the new
      owners sort out the squatter issue,” Oleksa said.

      Oleksa said that no Russian Orthodox church can
      be sold. The buildings are owned outright by the
      diocese, and 30 of them in Alaska are on the historic register.

      For that matter, every ancient, onion-domed
      Russian Orthodox cathedral in Alaska has a
      separate story, said Oleksa, a long-time
      professor of cultural and orthodox history at
      Alaska universities and the author of several
      books on the topic. Some churches, like Holy
      Assumption at Kenai, will be going through
      renovations to replace its 120-year old rotting
      log walls. In order to raise the $1 million it
      will take to do that, the nonprofit Rossia is
      coming to the rescue to raise the funds.

      Still, other Russian orthodox churches will sit
      on their lonely hills without inhabitants to care for them.

      “We have a dozen churches in ghost towns
      throughout Alaska,” Oleksa said. “It happens.
      People move in and people move out.”

      In Anchorage, it takes five Russian Orthodox
      churches to serve an enormous flock — in addition
      to the European-style Cathedral off Muldoon. One
      church congregation even functions out of a mall
      at 58th Avenue and Arctic. Oleksa serves the mall
      church, and said he wishes it were possible to
      move an under-utilized church for service
      elsewhere where it might be needed more.

      “But that’s not how it works, and it would be
      very expensive,” Oleksa conceded. “As it is, we
      are probably serving the faithful from Seldovia
      right here in Anchorage. Some villages such as
      those along the Kuskokwim are as big as ever, but
      then there are villages seeing shrinking populations.”

      The Seldovia church’s fate is compared to the
      life that befell Karluk’s grand ancient
      structure. That one on Kodiak Island was built in
      1884, large enough to hold several hundred people
      when seven canneries and 3,000 people used to live there.

      “Now there are less than 20 people left in the
      village,” Oleksa said. “Every parish takes care
      of its own church, and there aren’t enough there
      to restore it to a historic site.”

      Before Homer was ever a dot in a coal
      prospector’s eye, Seldovia was the burgeoning
      center of all things important on the Lower
      Kenai. That included education at the turn of the
      century. According to historical records kept by
      the church, the young Native Alaskan children
      were receiving a better education than their
      European counterparts because they were attending school at the church.

      The original church was a small log structure
      located along the beach in Seldovia. The current
      one is purported to have been built in 1891, and
      was then named St. Nicholas. It was originally
      part of the Kenai Parish, but now is directly
      under Alaska’s Orthodox Bishop Gregory. In 1896,
      the first resident priest there, Father John
      Bortnovsky, wrote there were 17 houses and 110
      people and that they “raised some chickens and
      engaged in a little agriculture.”

      In 1904, the children were reportedly studying
      from Russian and English textbooks. Two of their
      text books were found in the ceiling area by
      Architect Sam Combs during the restoration
      project a decade ago. In 1906, a Russian trader
      purchased the big bells for the church. An
      invoice of the purchase still exists.

      In 1981, the Alaska Legislature funded a $127,000
      restoration to extend the life of the building.
      It was then registered as a historic site,
      recalled Seldovia resident Helen Josefsen, who
      worked on the project at the time.

      “At that time, the whole town participated in the
      restoration,” Josefsen said. “We kept the church
      open in the summertime for the visitors to see. It was really popular.”
      The orthodox population was significant in the
      past. When Josefsen was married in 1953, most of
      the town were members of the congregation. The
      church enjoyed a busy spell after the
      restoration, but slowly the flock dwindled, she recalled.

      “The old-timers passed away and there are only a
      few members now,” Josefsen said. “I think just
      two or so of us. We have a visiting priest at times on the holidays.”

      The idea that the church would sell this historic
      landmark was a persistent rumor that circulated
      for several months, but Josefsen said she told
      people it wasn’t true whenever she was asked.

      There’s always the possibility a town’s
      population will grow again or that, in the
      outward migration to Anchorage that empties
      Alaska’s villages, that they will return again,
      Oleksa pointed out. This cycle works its course.

      That means the ancient Russian Orthodox cathedral
      adorning the town of Seldovia might have a period of use in the future.

      Father Sergie Active, who takes care of services
      in Nanwalek and Port Graham, said he would hold
      services in Seldovia March 20-21.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.