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Innocent, whose secular name was John Veniaminov, was born in 1797 in the village of Anginskoye, Verkholensk District, in the Irkutsk province of Russia.
In 1823, Michael, the Bishop of Irkutsk, was instructed by the Holy Synod to send a priest to the island of Unalaska in the Aleutians. Following only two years of service as a parish priest, John Veniaminov volunteered for the mission to the Aleutian islands. In May of 1823, John, his wife, his infant son, and his brother Stefan set forth on their long and arduous journey, which took more than a year.
He immediately began the work of evangelism and conversion that would last nearly ﬁfty years and would lead to his being called “The Apostle of North America.” He taught the islanders to be carpenters, blacksmiths, and bricklayers, and with their help, he built a church for the local people.
John Veniaminov’s parish included not only the island of Unalaska, but also the Fox Islands and Pribilof Islands, whose inhabitants had been converted to Christianity before his arrival. He became familiar with the language and dialects of the people he served, traveling the icy waters between the islands in a canoe. Choosing the most widespread of these dialects, the Aleut language of the Fox Islands, he devised a Cyrillic alphabet for it, and translated into it the Gospel of Matthew and many of the most used hymns and prayers.
In 1829, with the blessing of the Bishop of Irkutsk, he traveled to Nushagak on the American mainland, where he preached the Gospel to the peoples of the Bering seacoast. In 1834 he was transferred to Sitka Island where he began his mission work with the Tlingit people. Despite their faithful adherence to their own customs and traditions, he learned their language and converted many of them to Christ.
Innocent of Alaska, as he came to be known, was loved and respected by the peoples he served, and his work laid the foundation for a continuing mission to the people of the Aleutian Islands.
I Holy Immortal One, who didst bless thy people by calling Innocent from leading thy Church in Russia to be an apostle and light to the people of Alaska, and to proclaim the dispensation and grace of God: Guide our steps, that as he did labor humbly in danger and hardship, we may witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever we are led, and serve thee as gladly in privation as in power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.
II Holy Immortal One, you blessed your people by calling Innocent from leading your Church in Russia to be an apostle and light to the people of Alaska, and to proclaim the dispensation and grace of God: Guide our steps, that as he labored humbly in danger and hardship, we may witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever we are led, and serve you as gladly in privation as in power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.
Isaiah 41: 17-20
Mark 3: 7-15
Psalm 148: 7-13
Preface of Pentecost
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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