Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy – Marriane Poulos


Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy


Marriane Poulos



I first felt the words of Christ come to life on a Pueblo Native American reservation in New Mexico, at “Ok’Ay Oh Ween Geh,” (Place of the Strong People.) The first time I stepped into the home of my Pueblo friend I was told, “This is not just my home, it is yours, too. And know that you always have a place to come home to, no matter how long it takes you to return.” How Christ-like this Indian elder was. The more our friendship grew, the more I was able to admire his goodness. Once I even saw him give the last of his money to an enemy. I also began to learn more of his people’s history. When the Spanish first came to the Southwest they called the Native Americans pagans. By force the colonizers converted them to Catholicism. They severely beat and hung many tribal leaders unless they allowed themselves to be baptized, immediately. They were made slaves. They were given Spanish names. “The Pueblo,” as a name did not exist yet. To themselves they were simply known only as “The People”. So it was in this atmosphere of evil The People were introduced to Christ, for the very first time. Despite the surrounding cruelty in which the Word came to them, they accepted it anyway. And this is what made the Native Americans such great Christians – they forgave their enemies.

To many Native American elders, the Word and the Way of Christ seemed so much like the teachings the Great Spirit had given to them. When they heard the scriptures they were convinced of Jesus, but they wondered why these bringers of his worWord were so unlike him – searching the Southwest for the mythic “Seven Cities of Gold,” My elder friend told me, “We knew where the gold was, but, you see, in an Indian way it would be bad for the people. It might make us greedy or start fighting, so we just left it buried there. In the Indian way a person’s worth was not determined by what he could accumulate, but by how much he could give.” Another Native friend of mine once told me, “Our ancestors grew up fearing the cross.” To them it had become a symbol of violence and death, comparable to the swastika.

One can only wonder how it would have been had the Pueblo Indians been introduced to Christ through the Orthodox Christian church like the Aleutian peoples of Alaska. The Aleuts, who were not mono-theistic, were taught the Christian gospel over a period of then years, and not so much by teaching and preaching, but by personal example. The life of Orthodox Saint Hermen of Alaska was one of humble service to the Kodiak people. His miracles of healing and prophesies concerning the future confirmed the Sugpiaq faith in Orthodox Christianity.

Today Alaska has become the home of four Orthodox saints, all who have been canonized by the church. This includes the martyred Kodiak Aleut Peter who died under torture in California for refusing to renounce Orthodoxy, after being captured by the Spanish. (Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, edited by Michael Oleska) Perhaps there are many pathways to the Giver of Life, Who is Everywhere Present, Who Fills All Things.

But the question remains, can one reject Christ and still achieve spiritual wholeness? The famous medicine man Black Elk believed the Indian tradition had been given by God to prepare the Indians for the revelation of Christ. (Michael Streltenkamp’s Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala, University of Oklahoma Press.) In comparing the various Native American Traditions to the mystic heart of the ancient Orthodox Christian Tradition (the original persecuted Christian Church of Christ,) we can find several corresponding links supporting this very idea. In both traditions we begin prayers by offering sweet fragrance to our Father in Heaven, or in the Native American tradition, to “Sky Father.” The Native Americans honor The Great Mystery in all the directions, and pray facing east, just as we Orthodox face east in prayer. The Bishops of the Orthodox church face east, south, west and north – to honor the Sun, Jesus Christ, rising in all the directions.

The traditional Native American idea of the Creator is expressed as The Great Mystery, and The Great Spirit. The Orthodox Church also shares the notion of God as Mystery, expressed beautifully by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book,The Orthodox Way. He writes how the Greek Fathers “liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss…our normal assumptions are shattered… And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward into greater knowledge which is so much more profound.”

And if the Holy Spirit, as the dynamic, as opposed to the still, aspect of God, in Orthodoxy, can be equated to the Native American concept of The Great Spirit, then perhaps we have reached the point where Christianity can be presented as the fulfillment of Indian tradition – in a new aspect of God. God as Person. A God who came to us to show his humble love for us. A God who experienced manhood out of his deep sympathy. “In his ecstatic love, God unites himself to his creation in the closest of all possible unions, by himself becoming that which he has created.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware)“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This does not mean we replace or destroy the old. Many aspects of the Orthodox tradition correspond directly to the ancient beliefs of Native Americans, and perhaps this ancient window can also provide us with a greater scope of the deep Christ Heart.

One of our old, old holy men said,“Every step you take on earth should be a prayer. The power of a pure and good soul is in every person’s heart and will grow as a seed as you walk in a sacred manner. And if every step you take is a prayer, then you will always be walking in a sacred manner” (CharmaineWhiteFaceOglala Lakota).


The Shaman and the Saint


The Shaman and the Saint

St. Innocent, Equal to the Apostles had an illustrious career – he began as a simple missionary priest to the Aleut people of Alaska, and wound up as Metropolitan of Moscow. But even though he was an important and influential man, he was humble and unassuming, very aware of his failings and his temptations. Because of this, St. Innocent managed to miss meeting angels.

St. Innocent’s first parish was a series of islands spread over 1700 miles of the Bering Sea. He and his family settled on Unalaska Island, and he made a point of traveling by kayak and ship to as many islands and villages as he could during the year to attend to the needs of his parishioners.

In April of 1828, some people from Unimak Island arrived in Dutch Harbour. They had come to ask him if he would visit them. Unimak is about four hundred miles north east (as the crow flies) from Unalaska. He told the delegation that he’d be happy to come with them, but on the way, he wanted to stop at Akun Island, which lies halfway between Unalaska and Unimak.

We have to remember that in 1828, the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. Mail service was nonexistent, except when the company ships brought parcels and letters from Russia or Sitka, and in any case, the Aleut people, until St. Innocent arrived, hadn’t needed a written language, so they didn’t read or Continue reading “The Shaman and the Saint”

Saint John (Ivan) Smirennikov the Aleut of Alaska (+19th ce.)


Saint John (Ivan) Smirennikov the Aleut of Alaska (+19th ce.)

This Aleut Orthodox tribal elder was known as a local ‘shaman’ who cured illness and told fishermen where to find large catches, just as shaman had done throughout the Arctic since time immemorial.

St. Innocent arrived at Akun Island on June 12, 1828 (O.S.), on a trip from Unalaska to Unimak Island, some 400 miles to the east. This was nearly four years after St. Innocent had first arrived in Alaska. St. Innocent was surprised to note that the people of the island were waiting for him at the shore, dressed in their finest clothing. The islanders greeted him by name, even before he introduced himself to them. When he asked them why they were waiting for him and how they knew his name, he was told that their shaman had informed them of his coming. St. Innocent thought this strange, but as he went about his work on the island, he put the incident out of his mind. However, as the days progressed, it came to his attention that one of the elders of the island, who had diligently come to services, and had prepared for and received Holy Communion, was unhappy with him. St. Innocent, wishing to avoid all misunderstandings, called to meet the man, known as Ivan Smirennikov.

The meeting took place, and Smirennikov expressed dissatisfaction that St. Innocent hadn’t asked why the islanders called him a shaman, even though the title bothered Smirennikov. As it turns out, Smirennikov had been baptized by Hieromonk Makary, and after his departure, he told St. Innocent, he had continually been visited almost daily for thirty years by two bright figures, who taught him in the ways of the faith. He, in turn, shared this with the rest of the village. These figures would also sometimes tell him things that were going to happen, which is how the islanders knew that St. Innocent would be arriving and his name. St. Innocent was first curious to meet these two, and he asked Smirennikov if he could meet them as well, and while Smirennikov went to ask if this was permissable, St. Innocent thought the better of it, reasoning that there was no way that demons would spend thirty years instructing someone on matters of the Faith. Furthermore, he considered himself unworthy to come into the presence of these spirits, and that Smirennikov had demonstrated enough to him for him alone that he did not need to meet these spirits to believe.

Before leaving Akun, St. Innocent wrote all these things down, and had them attested to, in writing, by Smirennikov and by his translator, a man by the name of Ivan Pankov. Also, he instructed the Akun islanders to no longer call Smirennikov a shaman. He then sent a copy of his experiences and Smirennikov’s testimony to his bishop, Bishop Michael (Byrudov) of Irkutsk. A reply was eventually received; blessing St. Innocent to go and meet the spirits, should they still be appearing to Ivan Smirennikov on St. Innocent’s next visit to Akun. Unfortunately, by the time St. Innocent visited Akun again, the elder Smirennikov had reposed, and the Angels of Akun appeared to no one else.



Find an Orthodox Parish in Canada, USA & Mexico

Find an Orthodox Parish in Canada, USA & Mexico

Orthodox Christian Catechism in the Aleut language of Alaska (Eastern dialect of the Fox Islands) – Saint Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska (+1879) & Ivan Pan’kov

Orthodox Christian Catechism

in the Aleut language (Eastern dialect of the Fox Islands)


Saint Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska (+1879)

& Ivan Pan’kov – manuscript 1826 (0.2 MB)


Aleut (Unangan) Orthodox Language Texts

Η Ορθόδοξη Αδελφότητα Αυτοχθόνων Αμερικανών του Kenai της Αλάσκας





Ποταμός Kenai, Αλάσκα


Kenai, Αλάσκα



H Ορθόδοξη Αδελφότητα των Αυτόχθονων Αμερικανών (Native American Orthodox Christian Fellowship – NAOCF) στο Kenai της Αλάσκας, ιδρύθηκε από την επιθυμία να εορτάστεί η εμπειρία των Αυτόχθονων Αμερικανών με την Ορθοδοξία, η οποία πήγε στην Αλάσκα τον 18ο αιώνα.

Η Αυτόχθονες Αμερικανοί αγάπησαν πολύ την Ορθοδοξία και πολλοί βαπτίστηκαν Ορθόδοξοι.

Αξίζει να αναφέρουμε ένα περιστατικό το οποίο δείχνει την αγάπη των Αυτόχθονων Αμερικανών της Αλάσκας προς την Ορθοδοξία το οποίο μας το διηγείται ο Αρχιεπίσκοπος Αλβανίας Αναστάσιος:

Τον 21ο αιώνα πήγε ένα πλοίο Προτεσταντών σε ένα νησί των Αλεούτιων Νήσων της Αλάσκας. Οι Ορθόδοξοι Αλασκινοί κάτοικοι τους ρώτησαν, “τι θέλετε;” και οι Προτεστάντες απάντησαν ήρθαμε να σας κηρύξουμε το Χριστό.

Οι Αλασκινοί μένοντας πιστοί στην Ορθόδοξη πίστη τουςαπάντησαν: “Ο Χριστός ήρθε στην Αλάσκα πριν 300 χρόνια!”.

Και έτσι οι Προτεστάντες έφυγαν.,-151.26662?map=60.52883,-151.21014,12,satellite&fb_locale=en_US


Click HERE



Aleut (Unangan) Orthodox Language Texts ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* Aleut Unangan Alaskan




Aleut (Unangan) Orthodox Language Texts

Orthodox Christian Catechism
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) & Ivan Pan’kov – manuscript 1826 (0.2 MB)

The Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) – published 1840, 1899 (0.6 MB)

Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) & St. Jacob (Netsvetov) – published 1840, 1896 (2.1 MB)

Pascha Gospel & Apostle Readings
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) & St. Jacob (Netsvetov) – published 1840, 1896 (0.4 MB)

Beginnings of Christian Teaching
• Part 1: Introduction – Alphabet – Prayers
• Part 2: Sacred History
• Part 3: Christian Catechism – Conclusion
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) & St. Jacob (Netsvetov) – published 1840, 1893 (1.7 MB)

Two Sermons from St. Nicholas Church in Atka
by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) & St. Jacob (Netsvetov) – manuscript 1842 (0.5 MB)

Short Religious Composition
Selection from “Grammatical Outline of the Fox Island (Eastern) Aleut language”
by Ivan Kurbatov – published 1846 by St. Innocent (Veniaminov) (0.1 MB)

Preface to the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark
Preface to the first Eastern-Aleut translation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark
Fr. Innocent Shayashnikov – manuscript 1860 (0.1 MB)

Short Instructions, Biblical Quotations, and Prayers for a Blessed Life
Original compositions and translations into the Atkan-Aleut dialect
by Fr. Laurence Salamatov – manuscript 1860 (0.2 MB)

• New Testament translations into the Atkan-Aleut dialect
Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (0.8 MB)
Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (1.4 MB)
Holy Gospel According to St. John (1.0 MB)
by Fr. Laurence Salamatov – manuscripts 1861

Abridged Catechism for the Instruction of (Atkan) Aleut Youth
by Fr. Laurence Salamatov – manuscript 1862 (0.3 MB)

The Life of Saint George, Great Martyr & Victory Bearer
by Anthony Ugoril’nikov – manuscript 1868 (0.2 MB)

An Appeal for Orthodox Christian Youth Schooling & Education
by Bishop John (Mitropolsky), translated by Fr. Innocent Shayashnikov – manuscript 1871 (0.1 MB)

Prayerbook & Abridged Catechism in Eastern-Aleut
by Fr. Innocent Shayashnikov – manuscript 1872 (0.3 MB)

Prayer Fragment found in Financial Report
Translation of the hymn “If thou didst not intercede in prayer for us”
translator unknown – manuscript 1872 (0.2 MB)

Prayer Before Holy Communion
Translation of the prayer “I believe, O Lord, and I confess”
by Fr. Paul Shayashnikov – manuscript 1886 (0.4 MB)

Antiphon 15, Tone 6. Holy Friday Matins
Translation of the hymn “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters”
translator unknown – manuscript 1890 (0.1 MB)

Aleut Primer
corrected & expanded from “Beginnings of Christian Teaching (1840)” – published 1893 (0.4 MB)

Prayers & Hymns of the Orthodox Church
Hymns of Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy and Pascha
by Rdr. Andrew Lodochnikov – published 1898 (0.6 MB)

Short Rule for a Pious Life
Translation of the Russian-language text “Short Rule for a Pious Life” into the Aleut language
by Fr. Innocent Shayashnikov – published 1902 (0.1 MB)

• New Testament translations into the Eastern-Aleut dialect
Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (0.7 MB)
Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (0.5 MB)
Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (0.7 MB)
Holy Gospel According to St. John (0.6 MB)
Acts of the Holy Apostles (0.7 MB)
by Fr. Innocent Shayashnikov – manuscripts 1872, partially published 1902-1903

• Orthodox Alaska (periodical from Unalaska)
by Rdrs. Leonty Sivtsov and Simeon Samoilovich – manuscript 1904

Orthodox Temperance Society Pamphlet
by the Vicariate of Alaska, Diocese of the Aleutians and North America – published 1906 (0.7 MB)

The Pascha of Christ
by Fr. Alexander Panteleev and Rdr. Leonty Sivtsov – manuscript 1909 (0.2 MB)

Announcements from the Aleut Orthodox School in Unalaska
by the Aleut Orthodox School in Unalaska – typewritten 1910, 1911 (0.1 MB)

Collection of Sermons from the Aleutian Islands
by Fr. Alexander Panteleev and Rdr. Leonty Sivtsov – manuscripts 1909-1912 (0.3 MB)

A Pastor’s Farewell with his Flock
Farewell Address of Fr. Alexander Panteleev from the Aleutian Islands
by Fr. John Orlov, Fr. Alexander Panteleev, and Rdr. Leonty Sivtsov – published 1912 (0.2 MB)

Abridged Lenten Triodion & Pentecostarion
Hymns of Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and Ascension
translator unknown – manuscript 1938 (0.1 MB)

Abridged Festal Menaion
Hymns of Christmas, Theophany and Pascha
by Fr. Gregory Kochergin – manuscript 1940 (0.2 MB)

Supplement to the Abridged Festal Menaion, Lenten Triodion & Pentecostarion
Hymns of Christmas, Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha
translator unknown – manuscript 1967 (0.1 MB)