Parish History

1795 Father Juvenaly

The first visit of an Orthodox priest to the Kenai Peninsula was between 1795 –1796 when Father Juvenaly spent the winter at Fort St. Nicholas (Nikoaevsky Redoubt), a Russian fur trading post, on the Katnu, Kaknu, or Kenai River. Not long after; however, when Father Juvenaly traveled across the inlet to Lake Illiamna, he was killed by the natives.

In the next few years, Kenai was visited intermittently by Russian Orthodox priests assigned to the Kodiak mission. Records indicate that Kenai people traveled to Kodiak on occasion to attend the Divine Liturgy services. Finally in 1838, Bishop Innocent Veniaminov ordered a resident priest for Kenai. Before a resident priest was appointed, the Russian American Company, in 1841, built a chapel inside the fort at Kenai, with reader’s services led by one of the men at the fort, A. Kompkoff. The current St. Nicholas Chapel sits on exactly the same spot as this first chapel
built by the Russians.

1844 Igumen Nikolai (Abbot Nicholas)

In 1844, a resident priest, Igumen Nikolai Militov began to establish the first permanent parish by adding an iconistas (icon screen) and altar table to the Russian chapel. For over 20 years, Father Nikolai served the Kenai parish. In his journal, he noted that his territory, the Kenai Peninsula, was so vast, it took him two years to make the complete rounds to all the native villages that existed at that time. During this time, smallpox ravaged the area, and it was Father Nikolai who sent to St. Petersburg for vaccine. By appointing his helper, songleader Makary Ivanov, to vaccinate the survivors, these two church leaders managed to keep smallpox from completely destroying the native population. It is noted in the journal of Father Nikolai that as a reward for Makary Ivanov’s dedication, the Russian American Company gave him one thousand fire bricks for his oven and glass for windows in his house.

Around 1864, Father Nikolai established a Russian school, called the Igumen’s School, inside his home for the native children of Kenai to learn the Russian language so they could read the Bible and other materials. Later this school was expanded by a subsequent priest. Father Nikolai’s work in Kenai lasted until his death in 1867. In the years after his death, Igumen Nikolai’s songleader, Makary Ivanov, served not only the Kenai church, but also Ninilchik and Tyonek until his death in 1878. Both men are buried beneath the St. Nicholas Chapel, overlooking the Kenai bluff, which was built in their honor in 1906.

1881-1886 Hieromonk Nikita

In 1881, Hieromonk (the title for a monk who is also an ordained priest) Nikita became the new resident priest in Kenai; however, due to illness, he was forced to leave just five years later. During his short tenure, he worked hard and achieved much. Noting that the chapel first constructed by the Russians needed much repair, Hieromonk Nikita was responsible for having a new roof installed and the iconostas repainted in oil in 1883.

In his journal, he wrote about the local burial customs:

We had time to see the cemetery and the grave of the former local chief, over which a small house in the shape of a chapel had been built. It had a door, a window and a table. Inside we found hanging on a wall his suit, wool topcoat, Zimmerman hat, etc., a complete outfit. On the table stood a samovar with a tea set, tea, sugar, tobacco, and tobacco pouch, three pairs of gloves embroidered with beads and very much valued by the Kenai people, a wash basin, soap, a razor, etc., all the things used daily by a well-to-do native.(Travel Journal of Hieromonk Nikita for 1881. Alaska Historical Research Project.)

Not long after his arrival in 1881, Father Nikita reopened the Russian School, which continued to operate after his departure under the direction of Alexis Ivanov, the son of Makary Ivanov. Historical records indicate that Alexis began teaching English to the Kenai children at this time when Alaska was officially a U.S. territory.

1886-1890 Father Nicholas Mitropolsky

1891-1896 Father Alexander Yaroshevich

Father Alexander Yaroshevich began his residency in 1891, and was responsible for the construction of the current church building. Father Yaroshevich felt that Kenai needed a new church. The 53 year-old chapel was again in a serious state of disrepair, so in 1894, the Holy Snyod appropriated $400 to build the present Kenai church, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church on Mission Street. The Russian influence brought good, along with evil however, and the presence of vodka and public drunkenness resulted in a temperance society organized by the church for area residents, under the direction of Father Yaroshevich. Not long after the new church had been built and consecrated, Father Yaroshevich was transferred south to Juneau.

1896-1908 Father John Bortnovsky

Father John Bortnovsky became the new resident priest in Kenai from 1896- 1908.

Father John’s journals represent a very detailed picture of life at that time and today are considered extremely important primary resource documents. In 1897, he reported on the changes he saw happening to the Kenai people:

The Kenai Indians are very kind and generous people…but at present they are experiencing many hardships…The hunting grows poorer. Frequent forest fires caused by American prospectors either exterminate the animals or drive them to safer places. The latter would not have caused too much hardship: the Kenai Indian is accustomed to roaming in the mountains and on the tundras; he can reach the animals anywhere and catch them. But, unfortunately, another scourge fell on them and completely depressed them: the fur prices fell terribly. For instance, a black bear skin of the best quality now brings only $10, whereas a few years ago it was priced at $30-$40 or more. The quantity of fish grows smaller each year. And no wonder: each cannery annually ships out 30,000 to 40,000 cases of fish. During the summer all the fishing grounds are jammed with American fisherman and, of course, the poor Indian is forced to keep away in order to avoid unpleasant meetings.(Travel Journal of Father John Bortnovsky for 1879. Alaska Historical Research Project.

The Russian school continued to expand its curriculum to include Slavonic as well as Russian and English, arithmetic, and music. His mother taught the girls sewing and cooking. According to his records, now in the Library of Congress, there were 18 students in his Kenai school which was the best school of the other four in his jurisdiction. In fact, students who graduated from the Kenai school were often offered jobs as teachers in the other schools. A Russian lady generously sent 150 rubles a year for books.

A report from 1902 provides some insight into the daily life of the school:

The students have learned their prayers in Slavonic and sing well, but are poor in arithmetic, English and Russian writing. The school day begins at 8:15 with morning prayers
followed by catechism. The next hour is devoted to Russian and Slavonic (the church language) with another hour to either arithmetic or music. The final hour is devoted to English, and the pupils are dismissed at 2 P.M.

1906-1952 Father Paul Shadura

In 1906, Father Paul Shadura, was appointed resident priest and served the Kenai parish for 45 years, serving not only Kenai, but also all the parishes in the Cook Inlet region. Father Paul was born in Russia. After graduating from the seminary, he was appointed as song leader to an Orthodox church on the island of Unga on the Aleutian Chain, and remained there from 1900-1901 until he was transferred to Unalaska and then Kodiak. He was ordained a deacon in 1905, and two years later ordained a priest for the Kenai Parish. Like his predecessors, Father Paul served many parishes including English Bay, Port Graham, and Eklutna. He also established churches in both Tyonek and Seldovia.

Subsequent priests of the parish include:

1952–1969 Songleader Deacon Alexander Ivanov

1969-1973 Archimandrite Cyril Bulashevich

1974 – 1991 Father Marcarius Targonsky

1993-1997 Father Sergie Active

1998 – 2003 Father Michael Trefon

2003-2018 Father Thomas Andrew

2018-2020 Father Daniel Charles

2020-present Father Peter Tobias

Temple History Through Photos

Photo History Timeline.pdf