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The Apparition of St. Nicholas at Juneau
and the Conversion of the Tlingit-Aukwanton

Which we commemorate on 7 December

From an article by the late Dr. Helen A. Shenitz, Ph.D. Dr. Shenitz, who reposed in the Lord in April of 1973, was a leader in the return of the St. Nicholas parish in Juneau to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad from the Metropolia schism.

     In 1890, the Sitka Indians, headed by Prince Khliantych, informed the Russian priest, Fr. V. Duhov, that the Yarkon (Prince) of the Tlingit-Aukwanton people of Juneau, Ishkhanalykh, desired to be baptized into the Orthodox Christian Faith. To this, Khliantych added that he had no doubt that the entire Tlingit-Aukwanton would become Orthodox Christians if the priest would visit Juneau and baptize the Yarkon.

     On July 26, 1892, Bishop Nikolai of Alaska and the Aleutians, visited Juneau and was met by Tlingit leaders, who expressed the strong desire to be baptized. They also begged the Bishop to build a church in Juneau, promising to donate land, lumber and labour.

     Bishop Nikolai was curious concerning the obvious fervor and zeal of the Tlingits to be baptized. Then the following miracle was related to him:

     "A young Tlingit man had a vision. A venerable old (white) man came to him and advised him to go to Sitka and be baptized. The young man followed the advice, and soon afterward became sick. On his deathbed, he called for the elders of the village and told them that the same venerable old man had come to see him again and told him to advise all the Tlingit people to be baptized. The young man died, but his message did not die with him. Soon, other Tlingits began to have the same vision, and the fervor to be baptized spread like a wild fire."

     Upon hearing of this miracle, Bishop Nikolai left a priest in Juneau and promised that they would have a church in the near future. On July 29, 1892, Yarkon Ishkhanalykh and his wife were baptized. He was given the name of Dimitry, for the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios of Salonika, and the Yarkoness was named Elizaveta, for St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist. Upon seeing their prince baptized, the Tlingit-Aukwanton people flocked to the priest to follow his example.

     In 1893, with a donation from Bishop Nikolai, the building of the church began. Yarkon Dimitry gave the land, and the people kept their promise and gave lumber and free labour. The mind of the people was set upon one thing: that the church be named for St. Nicholas. Whether the Saint himself had directed this or not is not known for certain.

     On November 22, 1893, the church and priest's dwelling were completed, and early in 1894, Bishop Nikolai consecrated the church in the name of St. Nicholas, Protector of Mariners. The Tlingits, like the Greek islanders, are a seafaring people whose principal occupation is fishing, and so they have an especial love for St. Nicholas just as their brothers in Greece.

     The fruits of Yarkon Dimitry's true piety were to be seen in his descendants. His son, Yarkon Alexei, is known as "The Peacemaker," for his work in ending the warfare amongst coastal peoples. His granddaughter, Alexandra Cecilia Kunz, has been shown forth as a confessor of the faith in these last days.

     The Tlingit people still fervently call upon St. Nicholas to protect them at sea. Through his holy intercession, may this faithful Orthodox Christian people be preserved in the holy faith until the end.

Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 23, No. 4 (July-August 1973), pages 12-13.
The spelling "Tlinket" in the original has been changed to "Tlingit" for this HTML version.

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