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The village of Ouzinkie on Spruce Island has an Orthodox church, and the far side of the island also has its own chapel over the grave site of St. Herman. But the three monks who live in the middle part of the island only have a small indoor chapel in their shared house.
Father Andrew is the superior of the monks living on Spruce Island. He said that even though there are places of worship on either side of the island, the new chapel will give the small community their own place of worship.
“Well, this is our home,” said Andrew. “And we have guests, especially in the summer months, and now also, local people in our Sunny Cove area who attend church here.”
The chapel is nearing completion, and should be finished sometime in the fall of this year. A golden dome has already been raised over the structure, and final artistic work still needs to be done. Father Andrew is hoping that it will be open for services in spring of 2023.
“Like other churches in Alaska… Although it’s very remote, you can see some nice architecture and fine carpentry,” Andrew said.
Over 200 years ago, the first Russian Orthodox monastery in North America was founded in Kodiak, in the modern-day city of Kodiak. The head of the monastery at the time Herman of Valaam – today known as St. Herman– renounced his position and took on the life of a hermit on Spruce Island.
“He ended up taking care of orphans, especially after the 1819 epidemic. Many orphans were sent to him and he had a community down in Monk’s Lagoon, and there are now four chapels down there. And it is a place of pilgrimage where people come from all over the world,” Andrew said.
Father Andrew says many visitors from Russia and Ukraine typically pilgrimage to Spruce Island during the summer months. He doesn’t expect them this year due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine – although he is still expecting summer visitors from around the United States and Alaska.