15 July 2009

'Shine on Us with Beams of Joy'—St Juvenaly, Protomartyr of America

Today, 2 July on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of Hieromartyr Juvenaly (1761-1796), Protomartyr of America and Alaska. St Juvenaly was born Jacob Govouchkin in Ekaterinburg, Russia. According to Fr Michael Oleksa, he ‘resigned his commission as a military officer’ to become a monk at Valaam in 1791 (Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1992], p. 107). He was only there for two or three years before being ordained a deacon and then a priest and was finally chosen to accompany a group of missionaries on an 8,000-mile journey to Alaska. The missionaries arrived at St Paul Harbour (now Kodiak) on 24 September 1794 (pp. 108-9). For two years, St Juvenaly laboured with the others missionary monks under extremely difficult conditions and in constant conflict with the Russian traders and hunters in the colony, who were bent on exploiting and mistreating the natives. But their mission bore fruit: after two years the number of converts is believed to have been close to 12,000 (see here), including almost ‘the entire Native population of the Kodiak region . . . , a total of nearly 7,000 converts’ (Fr Oleksa, p. 113). But then, St Juvenaly went on his own to carry the mission to the mainland (where he is thought to have baptised over 700 Chugach Sugpiag Indians). Fr Oleksa tells the story:

Hieromonk Iuvenalii travelled in 1796 to the mainland, where he baptized the first Chugach Sugpiaq and visited the Tanaina Indians on the shores of Cook Inlet before crossing the moutains to the easst and coming to Lake Iliamna, after which he was never heard from again. Before he left Kodiak, Father Iuvenalii had established that he intended to search for the Russian settlement rumored to exist on the Bering Sea coast, north of the Alaska Peninsula. Rival groups from other companies as well as the Russian American Company employees learned of his murder, but the site and circumstances were, at first, unclear. . . . [T]he unanimous testimony of the Native people of the region, together with reports filed by later explorers and missionaries all indicate that he died at the village of Quinhagak, at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, on the shores of the Bering Sea—the destination he himself had determined before leaving Kodiak. The newly baptized people of Quinhagak described Father Iuvenalii’s death in some detail to the Protestant missionary, John Kulbuck, who resided there for more than a decade at the end of the nineteenth century. Father Iuvenalii, as their version goes, stood up to preach in his ‘angyacuar’ (literally, ‘little boat’) but was forbidden to speak by the local shaman, who ordered him killed in a ‘hail of arrows’. Shamans on both sides of the Bering Straits customarily wore chains of metal or ivory as a sign of their status and magical powers. Immediately before his death, a later report added, he seemed to be waving his arm, as if he were ‘chasing away flies’. This indicates that the hieromonk was blessing his murderers with the sign of the cross, a gesture they had never seen before. His Tanaina Indian guide, probably from Kenai or Tyonek, tried to escape by swimming away, and impressed his Eskimo assailants by his remarkable swimming ability. They were forced to chase him in their kayaks, but he too eventually perished. The shaman then removed Iuvenalii’s brass pectoral cross from his body and tried to work some sort of rite, but was unsuccessful. Removing the cross, he noted that there was some other power represented here that prevented him from doing his own usual magic. Some years later, . . . a Yup’ik Eskimo, wearing a priest’s pectoral cross, visited the Russian trading post at Nushagak. Later Orthodox missionaries, Hieromonk Ilarion (1864), Father Zakharii Bel’kov (1879) and Father Vasilii Orlov (1885), when each visited the village, all recorded that Quinhagak was the site of Father Iuvenalii’s martyrdom. He was canonized by the Orthodox diocese of Alaska in 1977. (p. 113-4)

Most of the online sources on St Juvenaly seem to give the Troparion and Kontakion for 24 September, when the Protomartyr is celebrated together with St Peter the Aleut, the Native American Martyr. So here are the appropriate hymns for the celebration of St Juvenaly’s memory on 2 July (taken from The Great Horologion, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery [Boston: HTM, 1997], pp. 528-9):

Dismissal Hymn of Saint Juvenal. Fourth Tone
Thou Who wast raised up

Striving to free men from the darkness of idols, thou didst break forth bright as the sun as a Martyr when thou wast slaughtered for professing Christ, O Juvenal. Wherefore, as thou lookest down like a star out of Heaven, shine on us with beams of joy, for thick gloom doth surround us, thou who are splendid with the light of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, Whom thou didst preach to all.

Kontakion of Saint Juvenal. Fourth Tone
On this day Thou hast appeared

As the first to grace our land, O sacred Martyr, with confession unto death, keep us who honour thee with hymns in the confession of Jesus Christ, O righteous Father, most ven’rable Juvenal.

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