Alaskan Bishop Visits Unalaska, Aleutians

Emily Schwing/KUCB

Alaska’s Russian Orthodox Bishop, David Mahaffey was in Unalaska last week. He has held his post in Alaska for just over a year. He says in that time, he’s placed more focus on work with the Regional Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor Training Program, or RADACT, to address issues of substance and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

“They’re doing more with our seminarians so that when they graduate and when they go back to villages, they are better equipped to deal with people with these issues,” he said. “I have petitioned the governor to have more VPSO’s in the villages.”

But Bishop David says it’s unclear how successful that petition may be in light of cuts to the state’s budget.

Bishop David said there was something particularly special about his visit to the cathedral in Unalaska, one of the oldest in the country.  A chapel in the church is dedicated to St. Innocent, who served as the first Russian Orthodox bishop in the state beginning in 1840.

“When I came here and walked in the doors of this cathedral, the feeling that I had of just the overwhelming presence of St. Innocent was to me so spiritually uplifting, I would have been happy to not do anything else, but stand in the church all day,” Bishop David said. “This cathedral has that effect on me.”

Bishop David came to Alaska from Pennsylvania first in 2012.  He says he still grapples with the distance.

“I heard something the other day… a man was telling a story about a man who wanted to be a missionary but his wife didn’t want to go where he wanted to go and he kept saying ‘well, I either pick her for a wife or I go to this country to be a missionary,’ and he said it wasn’t until her realized he wasn’t picking between the woman and the country, he was picking between the woman and God and I kind of thought ‘yes, that’s what I was doing,” he said. “I was saying Pennsylvania or Alaska when I should have been saying ‘Pennsylvania or God?’”

Bishop David says he doesn’t regret his decision. He was in Unalaska to mark the Feast of the Ascension. In Russian Orthodox tradition, the celebration takes place 40 days after Easter. 

Bishop David also made visits to other Aleutian chain communities including Adak and Nikolski. 

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