Restoration of Anchorage's Oldest Building, A Russian Orthodox Church, is Underway

Nov 3, 2023

The oldest building in Alaska’s biggest city is the world’s first Christian Church. And it is getting a makeover.

Restoration of St. Nicholas Church has kicked off. A $350,000 grant from the National Park Service helped the affair. The church is a log-cabin structure. It was built in 1895. It sits on the outskirts of Anchorage. And its revival highlights a history written by settlers. But they were sharply unlike the Protestant pioneers fleeing religious persecution in Europe.

These were Russian Orthodox. Many of them were trappers and gold miners. Others were missionaries. The latter sought to convert thousands of Alaskan natives to the highly sacramental Middle Eastern faith. Orthodox Christianity is known, in part, for its practice of the worship of icons. It's also known for the ritual of crossing oneself in the opposite direction from Western Christians: right to left. 

The church’s icons include paintings given to the parish by Romanov czars. They include jeweled incense burners, too.

The parish is also of great importance to local tribes. Small native spirit houses stand beside Orthodox crosses in the church cemetery.

“With the restoration of the church, we can now once again walk where our ancestors walked, pray where they prayed.” Charlene Shaginaw told this to The Associated Press (AP).

Her grandfather was the region's last chief for the Dena’ina tribe. She recalled walking between the spirit houses and into the church as a child.

Aaron Leggett is president and chairman of the local tribal council. He told the AP there is a "long history" of the tribe taking care of the church.  That's even though few Russian Orthodox followers remain. "It’s part of our heritage and we do want to see it preserved,”  he said.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Jet Lowe.

Refect: Why might it be important to preserve historical places and traditions for future generations?

Which idea does the author highlight throughout the story? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. the importance of preserving historical paintings
b. the church's importance to local tribes
c. the connection the church to European settlers
d. the church's role in gold mining
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