March 31 – Innocent of Alaska; Acacius Agothangelos

Innocent of Alaska (1797–1879), né Ivan Popov, was resurnamed Veniaminov in seminary. He married and was priestified (as Ioann), and when a priest was requested for Alaska, he 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 pipe 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.

Acacius Agothangelos (d. ca. 251) was 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’s that? The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who is seated above the cherubim and seraphim. Are those gods? No, they’re angels. What gods do you want me to sacrifice to? Apollo. 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! I could kill you, you know. Then you’re no better than a highwayman. They say 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 with it, he promoted the governor and let Acacius go free.