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Bishop Alexei of the Orthodox Church of Alaska makes first Aleutians visit

Bishop Alexei of the Orthodox Church of Alaska made his first visit to several remote communities in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands this spring. He assumed the leadership position in the church in 2022.

One of his stops was in Atka, one of the westernmost communities in the United States, and its church, St. Nicholas Church, is one of the oldest Orthodox parishes in Alaska, founded in 1825. There, Bishop Alexei performed the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which is only served when the bishop is present, as well as St. Nicholas service for the church's patron saint.

St. Nicholas Church hasn’t had a resident priest since 1899 — still, the congregation has maintained the songs and liturgies for more than 100 years. They are performed in several languages, including English, Church Slavonic, and Unangam Tunuu.

The Orthodox Church holds a complicated position in Unangax̂ culture and history. While many Russian settlers committed atrocities in the Aleutian Islands, the Orthodox Church was widely embraced, in part because it integrated Unangax̂ traditions and culture into the church.

Church attendance in Alaska has declined in recent years, following similar trends of varying faiths across the nation. Still, more than 200 years after the Russian Orthodox Church was established in Alaska, the church cites roughly 50,000 to 60,000 adherents statewide.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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