villages in Alaska
really a beauty, this wooden orthodox church on the mountain in Nikolaevsk.
People dressed as nineteenth century koelaks are celebrating mass. Women
and girls colourful in ankle-length dresses, men and boys in richly
decorated shirts, handwoven belts around their waists. Softly they speak
old russian, reluctant to visitors.
also Razdolna and Voznesenka. Eerie sounds of the past. Are we in a
remote part of Lithuania, Belarus or the Ukraine where there are still
and again such archaic communities? Not exactly. The inhabitants of
Nikolaevsk and five other villages speak fluently English to 'outsiders'.
No wonder, most of them are born and raised here, in the United States.
This is the Kenai peninsula in Alaska, not far from Homer and Anchor
Point. This is the region of the Russian Old Believers, or 'Staro-Obrachestvo'
as they call themselves.
The history of the
Russian Old Believers is caught in persecution and diaspora, just like
their baptist counterpart the mennonites (named after Menno Simons from
Witmarsum, three miles from Tseards home). Though from the same religious
zeal and devotion as the mennonites, the story of the Old Believers
started quite the opposite.
In 1652 Nikon, a Russian Orthodox Patriarch,
imposed a series of seemingly minor reforms which led to the Great Schism
in Orthodox Faith. Some protested vehemently, saw those 'corrections'
as heresy and kept to the old ways.
Since Church and
State in the tsaristic era were closely intertwinted, persecution and
torture followed. Especially under Tsar Peter the Great. The Old Believers
fled Russia and settled in remote regions all over the world. There
they could practice their religion in peace, away from so-called Western
civilisation with its all-invasive media - television - drugs and sexual
abnormalities. Alaska was such a place.
And now our challenge:
has western civilisation something to do with climate change? Can we
come at terms with nature by religion? What do the Old Believers have
to say? It's not a far-flung question: pretty much of them are succesful
fishermen. And fishermen do have to follow the seasons, their senses,
and their hunt...