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Orthodox Christians across the globe are watching the war in Ukraine with horror; not just because of the brutality of the invasion by its Russian neighbor, but because it pits two predominantly Russian Orthodox nations against each other.
Father Innocent Dresdow is the priest at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak. He says that the reaction to the war has been universal among the Russian Orthodox community in Alaska.
“The initial reaction, of course, has been one of sadness, and heavy heartedness. Because anytime there is violence and aggression, it is something that is contrary to our faith, no matter what the source of that may be,” Dresdow said.
Father Innocent has a diverse parish; people from all over the world come to work in Kodiak’s canneries, and the Russian Orthodox among them go to worship at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. It’s not unusual for him to have multiple Ukrainians and Russians together at the cathedral, although this year hasn’t seen many Russian Orthodox congregants from overseas at his services.
Russian Orthodoxy in other parts of the world has factions. In 2019, the churches in Ukraine were separated from those in Russia by decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople-the highest spiritual authority in the orthodox world- and were granted autonomy from the Moscow-based church.
Father Innocent says that for him, his primary job remains ministering to people- no matter where they may have come from, or what the state of the world is.
“In our experience here stateside, we are ministering to Russians or Ukrainians. We seek to minister to them with the same compassion, love and grace, because obviously, they’re not responsible for what is happening in their home countries,” Dresdow said.
Outside of ministry, the war in Ukraine is having a big impact on the Orthodox community here on Kodiak Island. For adherents to the Russian Orthodox faith, Kodiak had long been the gateway to North America for the Russian empire. On Spruce Island, near Kodiak, pilgrims from around the world journey annually in August to honor St. Herman, who converted thousands of Alaska Natives living around Kodiak in the 19th century.
“That is a history that Russians are very proud of. And so they actually have hundreds of pilgrims who’ve come over the years to Kodiak, from Russia, to walk through those footsteps of the monks that inspire them, as an act of faith and an act of pilgrimage. And so we do feel a sense of heavy heartedness- I’ve already had cancellations of pilgrims that were going to come from Russia this summer,” Dresdow said.
To this day, Kodiak has a thriving Russian Orthodox community, many of whom are descendants of Alaska Natives who were converted by Saint Herman back in the early 1800s. There is also an orthodox theological seminary on the island and an orthodox school for at-risk youth.