Innocent of Irkutsk

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Our father among the saints Innocent of Irkutsk was an educator and early missionary to Siberia where he was appointed the first bishop of Irkutsk in central Siberia. His dedication to the task of preaching the Gospel and teaching the people of the area in their languages would be continued by his namesake Innocent of Alaska. St Innocent’s repose is commemorated on November 26. He is also remembered on February 9, the day of his glorification and translation, and on September 2, the date of the second translation of his relics to Irkutsk in 1990.

Contents

Life

John Kulchitsky, his birth name, was born into a noble family. His parents moved from Volhynia to the Chernigov region in mid seventeenth century where he was born about the year 1680, Entering a life of serving God, he received his theological education at the Kiev Theological Academy. In 1710, he was tonsured a monk and was given the name Innocent. After his tonsure he was appointed prefect and professor of theology at the Moscow Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, the future Moscow Theological Academy. In 1719, hieromonk Innocent was transferred to the St Petersburg Alexander Nevsky Lavra where he was appointed the chief naval chaplain. The following year he was named to serve as vice-regent of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

In 1717, with the repose of Archimandrite Ilarion of the Orthodox Mission in Beijing, China a move was initiated, with the support of Peter I, for the appointment of hieromonk Innocent to lead the mission in Beijing and act as the official representation of the Russian government. On February 14, 1721, in preparation for this assignment he was consecrated Bishop of Pereyaslavl. After having journeyed to Selingin on the Chinese border near Irkutsk, Bp. Innocent was refused entry to China because he was characterized as “a spiritual personage, a great lord,” a position that the Chinese would not accept. The Chinese emperor’s position had been formed by religious activities of Jesuits within China, leading to their expulsion. After existing in Selingin for three years in a state of uncertainty concerning his position, suffering much deprivation, and disarray in dealing with the civil government in Siberia, the Holy Synod, in 1727, named Bp Innocent to be the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk.

Having his authority defined, Bp. Innocent took charge of the immense job that was given to him to enlighten the great number of diverse Siberian nationalities in the Christian faith. He toiled tirelessly organizing the diocese and strengthening its spiritual life. The witness of his efforts have been passed down through the many sermons, pastoral letters, and directives that he produced. His labors were accomplished under severe conditions as he spent his years of labor for God, until his repose, without receiving any money from St Petersburg. Even under these adverse conditions he maintained two schools, one for the Mongols and the other for Russians, at the Ascension Monastery in Irkutsk.

While he was bishop of the diocese, its boundaries were expanded to include Selingin, Yakutsk, and Ilimsk. He initiated improvements in the diocese that included the construction of a stone church at Ascension Monastery, replacing the older wooden building.

Not noted for having a robust health, the primitive environment took toil on Bp. Innocent’s health. At the young age of 51 years Bp. Innocent reposed on November 27, 1731.

Glorification

During restoration work on the church at the Ascension Monastery in 1764, the relics of Bp. Innocent were found incorrupt. Over the following years many pilgrims flocked to his grave to pray. Miracles were reported of his intercessions at Irkutsk and in remote places in Siberia. Recognizing the miracles attributed to his intercession among the pilgrims and faithful, the Holy Synod moved, in 1800, to uncover his relics and to glorify him. He was recognized as a saint on February 9, 1804, and a feast day, to commemorate his repose, was established throughout Russia on November 26, since the actual date of his repose is on the date of commemoration of the icon of the Theotokos “Of the Sign” of Novgorod.

After the Bolsheviks came to power the relics of St. Innocent were removed from their shrine and placed in a Soviet anti-religion museum in 1921. The relics were again moved in 1939 to a museum in Yaroslav and exhibited as “mummified remains of an unknown man.” In 1990, the relics were returned to the Church and placed in the newly reopened Tolga Monastery in the diocese of Yaroslav, before their return to Irkutsk on September 7, 1990 and placed in the cathedral.

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Innocent of Irkutsk
Preceded by:
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Bishop of Pereyaslavl
1721-1727
Succeeded by:
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Preceded by:
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Bishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk
1727-1731
Succeeded by:
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