Saturday, May 05, 2007

Alaskan Missionary Spirituality

That is the title of a very interesting book edited by Michael Oleksa I found in my school library. It consists mostly of primary documents from the Orthodox missionaries to Alaska. I have just reached that section, but the Introduction, written by Oleksa, was informative, interesting, and a very clear and (I thought) correct understanding of Orthodox theology and missions. I reccommend this book just for the Introduction. Here are a few quotes:

"Though the standard pre-1960s histories of Alaska portrayed the period of Russian colonialism as one of exploitation of the land and native peoples which ended only in 1867 when Alaska became a U.S. territory, the real story was far different. Yes, it is true that the colonial practices did involve a degree of exploitation but it is evident that they did not inhibit the growth of vigorous Orthodox missions. Those missions achieved a success that was unparalleled in the rest of North America. The native peoples often accepted Orthodoxy and saw the relation between it and their own world view. They acquired literary skills in Orthodox schools that instructed them in their native languages, and they blended far more harmoniously with the Russian colonists than ever did the native Americans to the South with the land-hungry English. With the imposition of Protestant missions and an English-only education policy inaugurated by Shelton Jackson after the U.S. acquisition, the real story of suppression of the native culture begins."
~John Farina, from the foreword

"The right and obligation of monastics to intercede with secular authorities on behalf of the poor and persecuted had been established in Byzantium and remained a permanent feature of medieval Russian society." ~p. 6

"[The Russian missionaries] came to Kodiak as representatives of a theological, liturgical, and missionary tradition....From the beginning the goal of the Valaam Mission to Alaska was to....establish an American Church, respecting and employing the languages and artistic culture of Alaska within the community of the Orthodox churches....Every successful Orthodox mission has had as its goal the creation of a self-governing "native" church, enjoying full administrative independence within the universal community of faith." ~p.7

"Before the introduction of written language, the invention of books, paper, and the printing press, human societies educated each successive generation in the ways of the world through a complex system of sacred stories, legends, songs, dances, artifacts, ceremonies, and celebrations. The goal of the educative process was to ensure that the next generation could carry on the traditions of The People and survive meaningfully. No society, no matter how "primitive," concerned itself exclusively with biological survival, but sought to give purpose and meaning to living humanly." ~p.8

"....the missionaries effectively communicated with the Sugpiaq in the Kodiak region, preaching to them the Christian Gospel without directly attacking the traditional shamanistic world view of the natives. They sought, as best can be determined from the archives, to present Christianity as the fufillment of what the Alaskans already knew rather than its replacement." ~p. 13

"Orthodox missionaries came to Alaska to announce and begin an eternal process of growth toward godlikesness, understood in Trinitarian terms. It was not therefore necessary or wise to inaugurate this infinite pilgrimage with lengthy condemnations of the insufficiency or corruption of "heathenism." Nor would it have been consistent with Orthodox theology or missionary practice to threaten potential converts with hellfire and damnation should they have refused the invitation to accept baptism. Salvation as theosis, acquiring godlikenss, is a positive transformation....Coercion and intimidation had no place in evangelization." ~p.32

St. Herman of Alaska

Image source


DebD said...

Hello! I found your site through Semicolons list of Saturday Reviews (I'm thinking of joining her Reading Challenge). Anyway - so nice to see another Orthodox Christian writing reviews and participating in challenges! I read Orthodox Alaska this past summer and enjoyed it very much. I had heard about this book, but didn't realize it had come out already.

MaureenE said...

It is indeed nice to see another Orthodox Christian in the book world!

I haven't actually finished it yet since it's from my college library and I have only been back at school for two weeks. But I will finish it sooner or later.

Monoglot said...

For further on-line research about Orthodox Christianity in Alaska, the following resources are available:
The Official site of the Diocese of Alaska (Orthodox Church in America)
Alaskan Orthodox texts in the original Aleut, Kodiak-Alutiiq, Tlingit, and Yup'ik languages
St. Herman's Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska