In contrast to the more modern Russian Orthodox Church nearby with its onion-shaped domes, the 19th-century St. Nicholas Church resembles a weathered log cabin, complete with a hunched bell tower. A relic from Russia’s almost 150-year venture to colonize Alaska, it’s the oldest building in Anchorage and it is set to be restored, thanks to a $350,000 grant from the National Park Service.
The project, which began in October, is drawing increased interest to the small church in Alaska’s biggest city. It’s not just that the church’s crumbling interiors are filled with religious icons given by Romanov czars, oil painting panels, and incense burners adorned with precious jewels. It’s also that the church, built in the Alaska Native village of Eklutna in 1897, serves as an important reference point for members of the indigenous population: Many of their ancestors are buried near a Russian Orthodox cemetery, memorialized by spirit houses.
All of which is to say that the church’s renewal serves as a portal into a multifaceted and frequently overlooked part of Alaska’s distinctive history.
“With the restoration of the church, we can now once again walk where our ancestors walked, pray where they prayed,” said Charlene Shaginaw, whose grandfather was the final traditional chief in the village.
Speaking with the Associated Press, the Alaska native remembered exploring the church and the spirit houses in her youth. “With the rebirth of the old St. Nicholas Church, it will nourish our spirits and our souls,” she said.
The federal funding will also go toward documenting and refurbishing the icons housed within the church, a number of which were brought from Russia during the church’s construction. The Orthodox tradition considers a church’s icons inextricably linked to its structure.
“But with the icons there, that makes it the church,” Kolb added. “They are really essential for our Orthodox belief, our Orthodox worship.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.
DOWNLOAD THE WHITEPAPER