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March 31 Saints of the Day – Innocent of Alaska and Acacius Agothangelos

Happy Easter to our friends on the western calendar!

On this day in 1918, Daylight Saving Time went into effect in the United States for the first time, giving people more time after work to tend their WW1 Victory Gardens. The war ended that Fall; unlike Daylight Savings Time, it didn’t return the next Spring.

Innocent of AlaskaOur eastern saint today is Innocent of Alaska (1797 – 1879), who began life as Ivan Popov and was resurnamed Veniaminov upon entering seminary. He married and was priestified (becoming Ioann), and when a letter came requesting a priest for Alaska, packed his mother, wife, son, and brother, and was off. They arrived in Unalaska in just over 13 months, by which time he had already learned over 200 words of Fox-Aleut.

His first parish consisted of several islands, which he visited by kayak, protected from the wind and waves in his kamleika, a coat made of assorted sea mammal guts kept waterproof by liberal application of rancid animal fat. Within four years he had learned six of the local languages/dialects, modified the Cyrillic alphabet to fit their phonemes, and started translating the scriptures and services into the most widely-spoken. Just as he was getting proficient, he was transferred to Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka) and began learning Tlingit.

Shortly thereafter he returned to Russia to report on his work and ask for reinforcements. While there he learned his wife had died, and was prevailed upon to become a monk, made an archimandrite, given the name Innocent, and sent back as Bishop of Everything Between Sitka and Kamchatka. Once again he took many long kayak trips, as pastor, missionary, and teacher of crafts such as blacksmithing, masonry, and carpentry. He was also a skilled clock and organ(!) maker. When he didn’t have anything else going, he translated the scriptures and divine services into other native languages, and published works on native Alaskan languages, culture, and flora. Eventually headquarters realized how valuable he was, and called him home to be Patriarch of Moscow, where he worked cleaning up church texts and serving poor and retired priests.

We close with a story. Upon reaching one village, Father Ioann was told the “shaman” Smirennikov had predicted his coming and accurately described his appearance. “Two men come and talk to me every day,” he said. He described them, and they sounded exactly like Gabriel the Archangel as he is depicted on icons. Ioann at first feared they were demons, but later came to believe they were really angels. Smirennikov, a Christian, hated the title “shaman,” which the people called him because of his great knowledge and occasional miracles. Ioann asked if he could meet the two men, and Smirennikov said he’d ask. When next they met, he offered to take Ioann there immediately. To his surprise, Ioann decided not to go. “Who am I, to demand to see angels?” So he never saw them until he went to join them in heaven.

Ruins of Antioch in PhrygiaOur western saint today is Acacius Agothangelos (d. ca. 251), bishop of Antioch in Phrygia. We know nothing about him before his trial, which went, in part, like this:

“You Christians should love the Emperor.”

“Nobody loves the Emperor more than we do. We pray for him every day.”

“Then you should sacrifice to him.”

“Negative. We serve the God of heaven.”

“Who is…?”

“The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who is seated above the cherubim and seraphim.”

“Are those gods?”

Acacius explained the names, and asked, “What gods do you want me to sacrifice to?”

“Apollo,” the governor said, describing that god.

“The Apollo who went crazy about a mortal woman, but couldn’t get her to love him, and didn’t know his own fate? Some god!”

They bickered a bit, and the governor threatened to kill him. Acacius shot back that he was no better than a highwayman. They bickered some more, and the governor asked, “Your god has a son? What’s his name?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Who worships him? Give me their names.”

“Acacius and Agothangelos.”

After they had bickered some more, the governor sent a transcript to the emperor, who was so pleased, he promoted the governor and let Acacius go free.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

March 31 (Wikipedia)
Innocent of Alaska (Wikipedia) – Main source
Garrett, Paul: St. Innocent: Apostle to America (Book on paper)
St. Innocent of Alaska (Parish website)
Acacius Agathangelos (St. Patrick’s, DC) – Main source (well worth reading!)


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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