(NOTE: The following is a press release from Becky Latanich of the Sitka National Historical Park.)
On a crisp February Sunday morning, a magnificent procession of Orthodox clergy filed out from Sitka’s historic Russian Bishop’s House adorned in their finest vestments. The Metropolitan of North America was dressed in sky-blue, with his bishops, priests, and attending clergy in golden robes. All exited the landmark building and walked — as had many of his ecclesiastical predecessors — through the former capital of Russian America, to St. Michael of the Archangel Russian Orthodox Cathedral through song-filled air. The event? The installation of David Mahaffey, Jr., as the new Bishop of the Orthodox Diocese of Sitka and All Alaska.
Bishop David’s investiture ceremony links the rich legacy that ties Sitka National Historical Park not only to the history of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska, but more broadly to the history of Russian America. As caretakers of the Russian Bishop’s House, the park welcomed Bishop David on Saturday, Feb. 22, with a tour of the restored Russian America-era built structure along with its splendid chapel. The tour was followed by a tea service during which Park Superintendent Mary A. Miller presented the incoming bishop with a commemorative plaque detailing the names all of the Orthodox bishops who had preceded him in service to the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska.
On Sunday morning, Feb. 23, Bishop David and his fellow prelates dressed for the procession to the cathedral in the upstairs restored residence of the Russian Bishop’s House. By doing so, they paid homage to many notable men who called the Russian Bishop’s House home over the past 171 years, including Bishop Innocent, who was canonized St. Innocent by the Orthodox Church in 1977. Bishop Innocent’s presence and influence in the colonization of Russian America is a fundamental interpretive theme at Sitka NHP.
Sitka National Historical Park enjoys a unique relationship with the Orthodox Church and the community of Sitka. Sitka NHP is the only National Park chartered to tell the story of Russian America and the long-lasting local and national impacts of those colonization efforts. The park preserves this lesser-known portion of American history by maintaining the Russian Bishop’s House as a museum and restored residence. The park also preserves the history of Russian America and its official religion by caring for nearly 400 objects in the museum collection — liturgical items that are curated on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America. While the Church owns the gilded icons, censers and other ecclesiastical pieces that decorate the bishop’s private Chapel of the Annunciation, under an agreement, the park provides full curatorial care for all of the holy items in the Russian Bishop’s House.
Park Superintendent Miller notes that the “Ongoing use of the house for ecclesiastical purposes is exciting and emphasizes the importance of the NPS/Orthodox Church in America relationship. It is this ‘living history’ that energizes our ongoing interpretation efforts and brings to life the Russian American period. Special events such as the investment of a bishop only serve to underscore this park’s ongoing mission to preserve the Russian Bishop’s House and its associated significant Russian Orthodox collection for the enjoyment of the American people.”
About the National Park Service: More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more about the National Park Service at www.nps.gov. Learn more about Sitka National Historical Park at www.nps.gov/sitk or visit the park’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/SitkaNationalHistoricalPark.