In Alaska, a Tradition of Russian Faith
Those who brought the Orthodox church here are long gone, but the diocese is thriving.
By Sam Howe Verhovek, Times Staff Writer, October 1, 2006
TATITLEK, Alaska — Steve Totemoff keeps faith alive in this tiny Alaskan village — the Russian Orthodox faith.
Totemoff, a native Aleut, keeps the faith when he caulks, paints, or replaces the wood of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church after it is cracked by ice heaves or pulverized by the driving, salty, sleet-filled winds that come in from Prince William Sound.
Because of the work he and other Aleuts do, the 100-year-old church still stands….
Today, though the statewide Russian Orthodox diocese has 30,000 adherents and 40 ordained priests — both all-time highs, the church says — it is nonetheless struggling to preserve some of its most iconic landmarks: the historic chapels in poor native villages such as this one, about 90 miles southeast of Anchorage. ..Forty of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places or designated as National Historic Landmarks. Some are meticulously maintained; a few are “literally ready to collapse,” warned a report last year by Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska, a nonprofit preservation group. …
At the seminary, four of every five graduates are from native Alaskan groups: the Aleut in the south, the Yupik Eskimos in the west and the Tlingit of the southeast. Those who become priests sometimes mix three languages into a service: English, Slavonic (an old form of church Russian) and their native Alaskan tongue…