Saint Innocent of Alaska
Saint Innocent of Alaska was born Ioann Evseyevich Popov on August 26, 1797 in Irkutsk Province in Russia. His father, who worked in the local Russian Orthodox Church, died when he was six years of age. When he was about nine years of age he entered the local theological seminary and was renamed Veniaminov after the recently deceased Bishop of Irkutsk. In 1817, Veniaminov married Catherine, the daughter of a local priest, and that same year was ordained as a deacon of the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk. He served briefly as a teacher in a local parish school and then was ordained as a priest to serve in the Church of the Annunciation.
In 1823, the Bishop of Irkutsk was ordered to send a priest to serve the community of Orthodox Christian native converts in Unalaska, an Island in the Aleutian chain. Most of the resident priests in Irkutsk declined the opportunity, but Veniaminov volunteered. He and his family departed Irkutsk at the beginning of May 1823 and arrived in Unalaska at the end of July 1824. They had traveled across Siberia over 2,000 miles in fourteen difficult months. In the Aleutians, his parish consisted of Unalaska Island (where he and his family established their first residence in a mud hut) as well as the nearby Fox and Pribilof Islands. He traveled around his parish in a canoe and built his family home and his first church with his own hands. While in Unalaska he developed a written form of the principal Aleut dialect using Cyrillic letters and translated the bible into that dialect.
In 1834 Veniaminov was transfered to Sitka Island where he and his family took up residence in Novoarkangelsk (Sitka) and began working with the Tlingit people. He again studied the native language and wrote a number of pioneering linguistic studies. In 1838, he travelled to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev, to lobby for an expansion of Orthodox Church activity in North America. His wife died while he was in Russia and he became a monk at the end of 1840. As a monk he chose the name Innocent in honor of Saint Innocent I, of Irkutsk, and was promoted to the rank of Archimandrite. At the end of 1840 he was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and the Kurile Islands and he returned to Novoarkangelsk in 1841. In 1850 he was promoted to Arch Bishop and his diocese was enlarged to include Yakut. In 1853 he moved his residence to Yakutsk and again translated the bible into the local language. His scholarly work was recognized with election as an honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society and Moscow Royal University.
In 1865 Archbishop Innocent was appointed a member of the Holy Governing Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1867 he was made the Metropolitan of Moscow. He died on March 31, 1879, and is buried in the monastery of Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra outside of Moscow. On October 6, 1977, the Russian Orthodox Church raised Innocent to the sainthood.