St. Juvenal of Alaska, the Protomartyr of America, was among many Russians who served as pioneers for Orthodoxy in the late 1700s, helping to lay a foundation of faith in a seemingly wild land. Upon his wife’s death, Juvenal — a miner in frigid Siberia — dedicated his life to God by becoming a monk and deacon and later a hieromonk in the quiet Monastery of Valaam in northern Russia. At that time, Alaska was still considered part of “Russian America,” due to the heavy Russian presence which resulted from trading and its convenient proximity to Russia. This made it easy for Juvenal and four other hieromonks to begin missionary work on Kodiak Island, slowly moving inland as time and resource ran out. As Juvenal traveled into the mainland, he preached God’s word and baptized in His name, converting hundreds, if not thousands, of Alaskan natives to Christ. His apostolic zeal was boundless and his desire to fulfill Christ’s command in Mark 16:15 (“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”) made the natural obstacles of the foreign place trivial.
The accounts concerning St. Juvenal’s martyrdom are many and varied. In one tradition, the villagers killed him viciously because he instructed them to give up polygamy. In another tradition, the parents who had sent their children to be educated on Kodiak island upon Juvenal’s suggestion angrily “changed their minds,” murdering the saintly man out of impulse. However, regardless of tradition, it is universally believed that natives of the area killed him and that he suffered the pain of death without resistance. Despite these varied accounts, his martyrdom is not unlike the martyrdom of his fellow protomartyr Stephen, who also died at the hands of the people. Like St. Stephen, both St. Juvenal’s preaching and blood laid the foundation for future generations of the Church, for “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church (Tertullian).”
Kontakion — Tone 4
Today Valaam joins Alaska in celebrating this joyous feast, / as her spiritual son Juvenaly embraces the New Martyr Peter with love. / Together they suffered for the Lord in America / and united the Old World with the New by their voluntary sacrifice. / Now forever they stand before the King of Glory and intercede for our souls.
Sources and for Further Information
“Martyr Juvenal of Alaska .” The Orthodox Church in America, n.d. Web.
“Russian America .” Wikipedia , n.d. Web.
“Juvenal of Alaska.” Wikipedia , n.d. Web.
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